equalising: (Default)
The sooner this job was over, the better. Audrey couldn't stand laying about in the broken down house for one more second. She had been crashing there off and on for the last fortnight. She figured that would be an appropriate amount, enough so her presence wasn't questioned, but not enough that she'd draw attention. She could've gone full method, stayed for a month or more until she passed for a true regular, but she just didn't have the patience. She could've said that it was just because she wanted to land this score before anyone else. Would've been true. Everyone wanted this pay day, and Audrey needed a win for her notoriety. But really, the junkies just plain old gave her the willies. And who wants to spend all her time in a crack house anyway? Well. Besides junkies.

Tonight was the night. Audrey was lucky enough to see the mark for herself. Her man carried his operations on the third floor. The den improved its appearance as you went up, and the top could pass for a tiny club in the dark (and it was always dark). He was a surprisingly big guy. Being a drug dealer must put a lot of food on the table. Good thing size didn't matter in this instance. Audrey would've had a hell of a time trying to fight him, but fighting wasn't in the plan for the evening. A bullet would do the job just fine, even if it had to go through a few layers of bulk first. He hadn't paid Audrey any mind when he stepped over the wretches putting money in his pocket. All the better. Two hours later, enough time had passed for her to feel confident that he was ass deep in the reveling upstairs. Time for her to move.

She was about to clamber to her feet when a commotion from outside kept her in her place. A minute passed, then two, then the door was thrown open. A man stepped through, and Audrey was able to look around him to see the two guarding the door knocked out. Maybe dead? She focused on the newcomer. He had a few years on her, but damn if he wasn't a handsome bastard. His dark hair was slicked back and matched his black suit and goatee. He had a hunter's eyes and a tattoo on his neck that appeared to continue under the collar. Another time, she would've liked to find out how far down it went, but the club in one hand and gun in the other could only mean one thing.

He was another hitter after her score.

The man stepped gingerly around the people laying about on the chairs and floor, his nose wrinkled in distaste but making no move to take care of them, or even hide his face. Audrey needed to confirm her hunch. She carefully got to her feet, putting a good shake in her bones. He eyed her warily when he got to her.

"I don't have anything," she said, her voice trembling like her body. "Please don't hurt me."

The man looked her over. Her brown hair was greasy, what skin wasn't covered by clothes was filthy, and her large brown eyes worked in her favor. His frown turned to one of a sympathetic nature. He raised his hand, slowly, sure to keep the hand with the gun relaxed. "Don't gotta as long as you're out of the way. I'd recommend you leave for the night." His blue-green eyes were soft, too soft for anyone in the killing profession. Those were the real dangerous ones. He probably slept like a baby every night. Audrey clumsily grabbed the raised hand with the club. Sturdy hand. Calloused. That belonged to a professional, rough in the places Audrey's hands were rough.

"Then... then gimme something," she said. "Just to last me tonight. Please. Just a little..."

He wrenched his hand from her weak grip. His sympathy began to wane. "Look, I'm telling you you don't want to stick aro--" The man had grabbed her arm at the elbow. His warning died in his throat. He looked between the arm to her. Something in his brain clicked and his eyes narrowed. Softness dissipated and those hunter eyes remained. Audrey, somehow, was found out.

She took a second to grin at him, her act falling away like his kindness. Her eyes matched his. Then she balled her left hand and jabbed him in the throat.

He let go in his surprise, coughing all the while. Audrey reached for her gun, hiding under her baggy clothes in her hip holster, but he kicked at her hand. She had to back up. He dropped the club in favor of the gun. Audrey dove behind a pillar. Stone cracked around her hip. She swung around and took a shot of her own, but he found his own cover on the ground, behind a forgotten steel beam. She took another shot to no avail, then so did he. It was a stalemate, but it wouldn't last long. Audrey took the time to ditch the sweatshirt, a tight black workout shirt remaining underneath. "Can I ask what gave me away?" she asked, maybe too glib for her own good.

"Arm!" he replied cheerfully. She tried to peek around, but another round forced her back to her spot. Audrey had to make her scowl reflect in her voice.

"Bullshit! This was a flawless make-up job. I've been blending with real users for weeks!"

"The tracks were great. But you don't just let a person grab you where you put the needle. They're touchy like that.”

Audrey's head fell back against the pillar. Of course. Smug bastard. She didn't have the time to dwell, as a hollow click echoed through the room. Her new friend was out of bullets. Her chance loomed ahead of her. The stairs were a heavenly vision, one floor closer to her goal. She took off like the bullets firing seconds ago. Her mad sprint was characterized by the slaps of her trainers against concrete. She could outrun his hands. He wouldn't have time to reload before she slipped away, a new floor with its own advantages.

She had her eyes on the steps, and they rapidly flew up to greet her face as the man dove to tackle her at the knees. Audrey fell with absolutely no grace. Her chin smacked the wood and stars danced in her vision. He sacrificed his own grace for the advantage. He attempted to scramble his way up the stairs, all but crawling over her. Audrey could only turn herself sideways, but she clawed at him the whole damn time. He, in turn, shoved her down by pressing the top of her skull with his palm. The hand got tangled and Audrey yelped. A surge of irritation-- and maybe embarrassment-- ran through her insides until it worked its way into her limbs. Before she knew it, her right fist curled up and she swung with all her force. Audrey punched the hair puller right in the dick.

His strangled cry was the same pitch as hers. Audrey smiled.

They continued like this, with less dignity than either thought themselves capable of, until the man stood at the top, victorious. He put his ear to the door in an attempt to listen to what was happening on the other side. Audrey returned the favor and tackled him like it was a rugby match and he was about to score the final goal. The two of them tumbled through the door together. In a heap of interlocked limbs, they landed on the concrete floor. Audrey ended up on top, and when she looked down at her captive with a smug grin, he gave her back a look of mild venom and strong exasperation.

There was more venom from the six guards standing between them and the next door, if also more confusion. Audrey, in her haste, didn't stop to think why her man had been listening to the door. Smug quickly converted into sheepish. Her smile was more for the man beneath her than the ones staring down at them.

"... Heh..."

What happened next went so quickly she was only able to process it. There was the familiar tones of guns being cocked. Then Audrey spontaneously developed the ability to fly. Only after she hit the ground a second time did she realize that she had been thrown. She crawled the rest of the way to safety. Temporarily hidden behind an old chair (which looked like it had sat through more than one shoot out), she used the opportunity to process. There was a smattering of blood on the floor where she and her man had been. She followed the trail to him and he was behind yet another pillar, irritation still plain on his face. He was checking out his shoulder, which had been grazed in the first hail of bullets. It was a scratch at best, a nuisance rather than a problem. But that was down to luck, not prowess. It still stood that he took a shot where she didn't. He felt her gaze and they locked eyes.

How easy would it have been for him to use her as a shield? She knew how easy she was to hoist in the air, even for a weaker man, which he was not. It would've been an efficient way to take her out of the picture. The hit would be his for the taking. And he saved her instead?

What an idiot!

The look between the two of them could have only lasted for a second or two. There were guns being fired at them, after all. But it felt like forever. Why the hell would he do that? It wasn't that he had a bleeding heart. That was evident when a brief lull happened and he used it to kill one of the mugs with zero hesitation. And then the little shit had the nerve-- no, the gall-- to look dead in her eyes and smirk at her.

If he thought he could distract her by proposing a challenge... well then the idiot might not have been such an idiot.

Audrey cocked her head. She nodded. Then with a grunt, she kicked her hiding place across the room. It was a big chair, but she had noticed that someone had installed wheels at the bottom, she could only guess for easy transport. It rolled with good speed. Distraction now deployed, Audrey ran to the other side of the room. Along the way, she picked off not one, but two of the guards who had been busy trying to avoid the chair. Point Kingston. She dashed to meet her competitor behind the pillar. For his part, he took it with grace, even though his face read with anything but that. Another time, she could have laughed at the incredulous expression and wide eyes. Now, she took hold of him and dragged him into the nearby closet he had been eyeing in the first place. She slammed the door shut and propped up a box to it. She turned, and there was a gun grazing against her navel. Audrey swallowed. She looked up at the man on the other end of the gun. “Hi,” she said breezily, if at a higher pitch than normal.

“Hello,” he replied calmly.

“Alright, look.” Audrey didn't point her gun, but she didn't lower it either. “How about a temporary truce?” He barked out in laughter. Understandable. Two killers asking for a truce is a laughable concept, let alone when she introduced herself by lying to him, punching him, then trying to shoot him. “I mean it!” she insisted. “We got bigger problems. So let's say, this floor? Safe zone. I don't shoot you, you don't shoot me, it's all grand. I won't promise the next floor, the ground floor, or any floor in the world. But here, we kill other people and not each other. Sounds good, doesn't it?”

The noises outside their door made it clear that the men were regrouping. This couldn't be a drawn out conversation.

He considered his options with haste. “It does,” he conceded. “But is there any reason I should trust you?”

She bit her lip. She could drop her gun in a show of good faith. But, frankly, she didn't want to. Another day, with more time, she could have thought about their predicament at multiple angles. She could have thrown herself at him, try her luck and draw first, put on a show of pleading. There were a million things she could have done that didn't involve being honest. But time wasn't on her side, so she did the only thing she could think to do. “Because you didn't have to do what you did. I owe you, whoever you are. You got no reason to think I'd follow through on that, I know, but. I'm going to.” She nodded, willing him to believe her. “No killing on this floor.” It would be something she'd follow through on, no matter how counterproductive. Such a bad habit she never learned to shake, playing fair. She was told more than once that it would kill her some day. And maybe it would. But as far as she was concerned, this seedy little underworld of killers and thieves was hers to play in. It didn't control her, and it wouldn't change her. The day it did, she hoped that'd be the day she died. His little stunt of before made Audrey think that maybe, just maybe, this man would get that.

After a pause, she said, “Well. Again, no killing of each other, anyway.”

Despite himself, he grinned. She smiled back at him. Yet the guns were still up. Loud thumps came from the other side of the door. Were they making themselves a barricade? His eyes flickered behind her. “... Think they want to play.” Then, finally, he put his gun down. Audrey couldn't help but sag in relief. She nodded, and that was the closest she was going to get to a thank you.

“Yeah. Good thing I'm winning then, isn't it?”

“Not for long.”

He took her taunt in stride, his quip accompanied with him fixing his collar. Audrey scoffed and found herself very agitated for enjoying the moment. Again, she responded the only way she could. “You're a moron.”

Again, he was fluid with his reply. “A moron who saved you.”

“I'll get you back for that. Just you wait.”
equalising: (Default)
Audrey shuffled outside the door and wondered why she was fumbling about like this was some kind of first date. It wasn't as though she had any sort of interest in Scilia like that. Her informant was sweet, unnaturally so considering the criminal world they inhabited, but not Audrey's type in multiple ways. She liked boys, for one, and as open minded as she was, she couldn't quite wrap her head around the idea of dating a humanoid lizard, even if their tongues were supposedly legendary. She was sure most Galandrians felt the same way about soft, apeish humans. Still, as she absent-mindedly ran her fingers over the tree bark door, nerves rustled her stomach. It wasn't as though she ever just hung out with the girl before, no work pretext involved whatsoever. What else could she even talk about?

Before her woefully silly anxiety could trouble her further, the door opened to reveal Scilia on the other side. The Galandrian was dressed to the nines. On their planet, they took the meaning of going green to another level. Their clothing came from entirely natural materials, nothing manufactured in a warehouse. Tailors and seamstresses were among some of the most revered of professions, as they did things with cotton and leather that were unparalleled. It took Audrey a while to learn how to differentiate between what was considered casual and what was formal wear. Now, she knew that Scilia had gone the extra mile, in tanned leather boots which matched her vest, paired with a charming purple silk top which brought out her jade green skin color and dark slacks that Audrey couldn't identify the hyde the material came from, but it glittered in the sunlight. Scilia was also adorned in homemade bracelets and the necklace she always wore with its carved oak charm. The informant smiled broadly at Audrey. She pulled her in for a hug, not difficult as she towered over Audrey by more than a foot. Galandrians weren't really a small group. Audrey was surprised at this display of warmth, as it was never a standard between them before. She only had time to vaguely return it with one arm before Scilia pulled back. She reached into her abode to grab her bag before coming out and closing the door behind her.

"I'm happy you made it out," Scilia said. Galandrians had no way of speaking any human language. Their mother tongue, mainly comprised of hissing, didn't translate very easily. The only way Audrey understood her companion now was with a translating device embedded in her right ear. Scilia had one in as well to help with the human translating. Audrey figured that her language just shouted like a bunch of unintelligible grunts to their ears. Fortunately, they both had good tech which overcame communication issues with ease. So Audrey was able to reply, "Oh yeah, no problem. I always wanted to go to one of these things. Thanks for letting me tag along." Scilia just shook her head in response, not seeing it as anything for which she needed to be thanked.

They walked along the street together. Audrey's attention was captured by the city around her. The capital was one of the most high tech places she had ever seen, which was saying something. Combined with the naturalistic environment, it was truly a unique landscape in the universe. Nature interwove effortlessly with technology. Shining buildings hummed with life. She had no idea what kind of material was used to make their large office buildings and the like. All she could see was that it moved with the growing trees and accommodated the change with no problem. This was a good thing, with the number of trees there were in the city. She didn't think any single rain forest left on Earth could match what Galandria had in its urban cities. The jungles must be insane with plant life, Audrey thought. Distracted as she was, Audrey started when Scilia addressed her. "So ah... how's Nate doing?"

The alien broached the topic carefully, for which Audrey couldn't blame her. Last time she had seen Scilia, it had been an unexpected visit. Audrey needed somewhere to crash after dropping off her partner and friend Nate to a nearby hospital. He had just survived a brutal kidnapping, with Audrey running to his aid to free him. She needed to sleep and couldn't quite face the idea of being alone, so she showed up with very little warning on the doorstep of the one being on the planet in which she had any kind of trust. Scilia took her in. Although Audrey swore to herself that she would keep it together, more than once that night Scilia had to ply her with comfort food and give her distractions from her thoughts. Audrey knew that a shift in the relationship happened, but it was still strange to her to follow up on it. She rubbed the back of her neck. "Oh, he's alright," she replied. "Big baby was complaining more about the hospital than the knife wounds. He's such a man like that. But he's up and running again now."

Scilia smiled again. Audrey remembered a time when she thought that a smile on a Galandrian looked strange. The way the scaly skin stretched and the blunt teeth seemed unnatural. Now, Audrey felt a warmth upon seeing it. She grinned back. Scilia said, "Well I'm glad to hear it. I still want to meet this guy."

Audrey responded, "You probably will at some point. I gotta admit, when I first met him, I was sort of hiding you. You're one of my best people, I wasn't gonna share. But it doesn't seem like I'm shaking the guy anytime soon, so."

Scilia gave Audrey a sideways look, all the more effective for her reptilian nature. "So am I supposed to be flattered that you think so well of me or annoyed that you've been keeping business from me?"

Audrey stalled with a long "Uuhhh..." She quickly pointed to one of the street lamps, a clear post which clearly ran on hydraulics. "You know I've always wondered how those work..."

The amiable chit chat continued until the pair reached their destination. One moment, they were walking down a street that could've been the same as any other. When they rounded the corner, it was as though the festival materialized before them. "Whoa," Audrey muttered in awe. Galandrians kept things simple more often than not, but when they wanted to do something up right, they did it right. This holiday was one of their most important, so it called for a touch of extravagance. Other races often addressed it as Peace Day, although its full title came closer to The Hallowed Remembrance of Our Failed Civil War. Audrey only knew the bare bones of the history behind it. Galandria didn't promote fighting and bloodshed unless it was in self defense. There was odd dispute between countries, but the only time there was a full blown war, it raged across the entire planet. Details were beyond Audrey's knowledge, but then this was centuries ago anyway. Now they took a three day period to remember the fallen. The celebrations, reserved for the last day, served as a reminder that without peace, they couldn't have any of that joy. It was all very deep, Audrey knew. She had always wanted to see a Peace Day festival. Scilia sensed her excitement and grinned at her slack jaw. "Not going to get anything done just standing there," the Galandrian chirped. "Come along!"

Audrey nodded dumbly. Her steps were slow as she took in everything around them. Stands set up as far as her eyes could see showed off shimmering, brightly colored clothes and adornments, whirling, noisy toys, and food that she was sure to be delicious to any Galadrian but only looked suspect to her. She could smell the dirt and other earthy materials they preferred in their dishes. A soft laugh from her right made her realize that her escort must have seen her nose scrunching up when they passed a dessert cart. "Sorry," Audrey said, scratching the back of her head and grinning sheepishly.

"No, I get it," Scilia replied. "Although you may want to be careful about what kind of face you pull in front of the vendors..." she warned. It was about five seconds too late. The alien behind the cart tilted his head at Audrey, a fluid motion befitting a giant lizard man. "This doing nothing for your appetite, human?" Scilia said something the translator couldn't decipher, but the hiss conveyed her anger well enough. Audrey stuck her arm out to stop Scilia from moving in any further. No one said 'human' so derisively and got away with it on Audrey's watch. She walked up to the vendor with a purposeful swagger. She leaned down to look over the desserts. Audrey made a show of tapping her chin in thought, never mind that she had no idea what she was looking at. When she spent time on the planet, she was always either in The Bar, a hospital, or Scilia's house. All of these places catered to species beyond Galandrian and had food that at least looked familiar. Now the piles of wet dirt and bright green leafy arrangements did nothing to help her. She eventually pointed to a group of items that appeared to be some kind of thick bread rolled up into long swirls, dark chocolate oozing from the ends. Audrey consoled herself with the idea that they could be the Galandrian's version of crepes. "Those. Gimme those."

Scilia took a step forward to meet Audrey. "Wait, I don't think--"

"No, no, it's fine. I wanted to get a taste of Galandria outside the tourist-y bits. Didn't think it was gonna be literal, but..."

"No, Audrey, I seriously doubt--"

This time Scilia was interrupted by the vendor handing Audrey her plate. She had to rummage in her pockets for the change she dropped onto the top of the glass covering the dishes. She turned away from the guy with a snooty huff. She showed him, alright. Then she offered the plate to Scilia. "Here, let's split 'em." Her informant's dark eyes lit up at the offer. Audrey was pleased with the reaction. She didn't want Scilia to think that she was just trying to pass the food off on her. Audrey really did want to share. They both grabbed one. The Galandrian chomped down right away, humming her satisfaction with the dessert. Audrey had to motivate herself, bouncing from leg to leg while saying, "Here we go. Okay, just like crepes, just like crepes." Then she took a big bite out of it.

The chocolate had been correctly identified, although more bitter than she expected. She guessed they had different, less effective methods of trying to sweeten the natural stuff. The sweetness came from the bread. Fluffy and warm, it tasted much better than she expected. Just as she started to congratulate herself for winning the dessert roulette, an itch in her mouth made her pause. It took a second for her to identify the foreign feeling as wriggling. Slowly, her eyes moved to the food in her hand. Where she had bitten remained half of a bright green insect, a bulbous caterpillar. Its bottom half was much less lively than the top currently struggling between her teeth. Audrey pressed the back of her fist to her mouth to keep from spitting it out all over Scilia. Her informant pressed a finger to her mouth, the barest attempt to hide her smirk. "You know," she said while Audrey's eyes bulged, "Those regenerate if you don't eat them fast enough."

Audrey yelped, loud enough to be heard even with her mouth still shut tight. She started to chew again with a vengeance. Her jaw worked furiously fast, grinding the dessert and the animal inside it to bits. Scilia at last let go of her laughter and it rippled in the air like a pebble thrown into water.

Throughout the entire day, Audrey kept scratching at her tongue every now and then to rid it of any remaining caterpillar bits. This didn't stop her from enjoying herself thoroughly. Scilia was a wonderful guide. Audrey often made the comparison that the rest of the galaxy looked at humans in the way that most Europeans looked at Americans; not without merit and charming in their way, but with a great tendency to be loud, dumb, and violent. Scilia never patronized or talked down the way many did. She had an affinity for Earth and its cultures. Her love of preparing Earth food was part of what made Audrey seek her out repeatedly in the first place, besides her easy going demeanor and just being damn good at her job. Now Scilia was excited to show Audrey all the wonders of Galandria and Audrey paid close attention. She knew the planet was so advanced and different from her own, but now she was learning about how similar it was. They had just as devoted a following to sports, even having something that was almost the same as football. (Audrey bought herself a couple jerseys, never able to resist cool looking sports gear.) A new development was their importing of Earth movies, most of which came from America. Many of the festival games had similarities to what Audrey found in carnivals as a kid (although shooting games were most definitely absent). She and Scilia played almost everything they came across. Audrey had no idea the Galandrian had a competitive
streak, or that she was so good at skeeball. Even learning some of the history behind their civil war, it wasn't unlike World War One. Audrey thought maybe there was a reason Galandria was the first planet to extend their hand to what was a young planet in comparison to everything else. Scilia agreed with Audrey's speculation, even as she laughed when the human said, "We're kind of like your fuck up baby siblings, aren't we?"

Audrey found herself feeling melancholy when the sun was at last starting to set. Galandrian days were longer than Earth days, but it still felt too fast. Scilia had her arm casually entwined with Audrey's, still guiding her along. "Before we go," the informant said, "there's one more thing to do. I think you'll like it." They made their way into a large crowd gathered at a stage. Audrey realized that it must be some kind of closing ceremony. The carnival ended at dusk and then there would be parties all over that continued into the night. A speaker walked to the podium, a broad Galandrian whose lighter skin tone signified him as an elderly individual. The translator did its best at conveying his expression, but Audrey thought he likely sounded much more authoritative in his own voice.

"Galandrians. Friends. Today has been a wonderful gathering. In our joy and laughter, we remember all that came before, the hardships that have brought us to this day. We never forget our history, but we do not look back with regret. We do not hide our failures for to do this would encourage ignorance, and let those failures happen again. I want to thank those not Galandrian who came to celebrate with us today. Sonturians. Hephyrians. Earthlings. And so many more. I hope in addition to the festivities, you learned more about who we are, and what it takes to maintain peace. We strive to be an example. If you take these lessons to heart and spread them through action throughout the galaxies, it's all I could hope for. Galandrians, I have never been more proud to count myself among your number. With each new generation, we grow and we learn. We take lessons from those on all planets while never straying from our true selves. As long as we remember, we will maintain, and we will thrive, and we will never again fail ourselves or each other. Thank you."

Audrey was more than a little amazed. For all the similarities she discovered through the day, she was now reminded of their most stark difference. Galandrians achieved a maturity that humans weren't even close to reaching. They weren't perfect, but they knew that and constantly sought to better themselves. She looked at her informant. Scilia stood tall and smiled, her eyes burning with pride. Audrey always thought of her as gentle and quiet, but not once did she ever think to describe Scilia as meek. It was then that she realized why. The young woman carried herself with pride in everything she did, reserved but constant. For some crazy reason Audrey felt proud of herself just for getting the Galandrian's attention.

"And now we'll close with our oldest anthem, Galandria Strong and True."

Fear briefly overtook that pride. Was Scilia expecting her to sing? She shook her head to herself; no, that would be silly. Audrey did want to hear this. As far as she knew, Galandria was the only place in any solar system she ever visited that had a planet wide anthem. It must have been sing dozens of times today all throughout every city. She heard it now and again in The Bar, when a Galandrian would get sloshed and belt it out, inevitably being joined by others. Now it was sung with much more reverence. Still, Audrey frowned. The translator could make sense of the words, but sounded like a tone deaf old man when it came to trying to recreate song. Her inquisitive nature led Audrey to pull the minuscule device out of her ear. Unsurprisingly, she was greeted with the sound of hissing. However a strange thing happened. As Audrey listened closer and she tried to match certain tones with the Galandrian mouths they were coming from, the sound took on new life. She could hear different inflections and subtle variances in the voices. Audrey listened to Scilia and could tell that she spoke just like her calm words suggested she would, gentle in comparison to her peers. All of their voices came together. The sound put Audrey in mind of the ocean. It was beautiful.

Scilia walked Audrey back to the hotel she was staying in for her short break. The Galandrian looked at the human with her head tilted, clearly debating something with herself. Finally she asked the question that had been on her mind since the closing ceremony. "Why did you take your translator out during the anthem?"

Audrey looked up at her friend. "Oh, well..." She took a moment while looking at three Galandrian men walking down the street arm in arm, on their way to a party and obviously more than a little sloshed already.


Audrey snorted in laughter as they passed, Scilia joining in lightly. After their giggles subsided, Audrey sheepishly rubbed the back of her neck. "Well I... wanted to hear you." Her nose wrinkled at her own word choice. "I mean I always hear you. Obviously. But I mean, hear you, you know? Like, you you. Your language, I mean, your real language--" Scilia tapped on Audrey's arm, giving her permission to stop rambling. The girl looked up with a shrug. "Sorry."

"No, don't... That's really nice, Audrey."

The girls looked at each other with identical embarrassed grins. Maybe Scilia didn't do this hanging out thing so much either, Audrey thought. The hotel's marque loomed above them. The Galandrian shuffled in place. Audrey could take her leave now, but she wanted to know what Scilia had to say. So she didn't move. She leaned against a nearby column an waited patiently with her arms crossed until the words came pouring out of Scilia.

"I'm-- I'm quite glad we did this today. The festival, but also... just spending time together. It was really fun. You're... I like hanging out with you. I hope we can do it again sometime soon. When you're not busy, of course."

Scilia was the one trying to make a friend, yet Audrey was the one looking down nervously. She didn't have many friends at all. If she was honest with herself, it was just the one, and Nate had been a total fluke. They never really planned out or talked about their relationship, too cool for that kind of thing. They just talked and talked about everything else and accidentally found their friendship along the way. Scilia, on top of being proud, also had enough of a set on her to just say what she felt.

Audrey really liked that about her. Someone else to call a friend really wouldn't be so bad. A girl, at that. Audrey missed talking to girls, her line of work so grossly male driven. She glanced up shyly. "I had an awesome time today," she said honestly. "And could definitely make room in my--" she rolled her eyes at herself while saying faux-pompously "-- jam packed schedule of thrills and danger--" then she met Scilia's gaze with her own earnest one, "for more time with you. You're pretty cool, man. I like you."

An idea occurred to her. She pushed herself off the wall and clapped Scilia on the shoulder. "We could just keep hanging out now, you know. If you wanted. Not to brag, but I do have a huge hotel room and no one to share room service food with." She grinned hopefully, and once Scilia returned it, it became a broad smile. "Yeaaaah, that's the spirit! We'll find some movies. You got crap old ones in your hotels too? I'd love to see what a bad Galandrian film looks like."

Scilia shook her head, trying to look reproachful but failing wonderfully. "Oh, you have no idea. I'll find you something."

"Wicked. We'll get a bunch of junk food, it'll be fantastic."

Audrey held the door open for her friend. Scilia glanced at her, the picture of innocence. "Are you going to give the Trexil bugs another chance?"

"Oh, is that how this is going to be?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Alright, bring it on."
equalising: (there was no one on the wall)
The bitter wind whipped Audrey's long hair into her face. It took a few attempts to secure it behind her ears and under her hat again. Normally, freezing weather like this drove her into the nearest building. However, the snowflakes in the air and Christmas lights strung up on the lamp posts kept her on the street. It was surely the holiday season in London. It had been a long time since Audrey had seen such picturesque beauty in the city. She wasn't in it often enough, not to mention that her council estate didn't lend for scenes such as this. She let her feet carry her where they wished. Her arms crossed over her chest to fend from the cold, but she smiled all the same. After a few minutes, the glow of a familiar sign made her pause. She looked up to read the shop name and surprise touched on her features. Audrey hadn't set foot in this particular place in a long time. She supposed it had to be a few years ago, when her mother cheerfully dragged her inside to pick out a present for her father. The memory came to her so strongly, she could practically feel her mom's grip on her upper arm. 'Come on now, Audrey! You know about his music better than I do. Dinner's still going to be there when we get back. There might be an extra cookie in it for you.'

Wetness prickled at her eyes, too hot to have anything to do with the chilly wind. Audrey quickly swiped at them with her palms, scowling at herself. When she had left her flat in the first place, it was to get away from the nostalgia weighing heavily on her heart, as it had during the Christmas season for years now. Having managed to give herself a face full of it wasn't what she was after. She fixed her eyes on the window display, mainly to keep herself from looking too foolish on the street. Eventually she came across a stack of records. They once again made a resurgence in popularity, after having been all but discontinued for years. This particular music store always seemed to have them around, though. Audrey remembered that she had yet to buy Nate a present. Her partner was off with his family and rightfully so. He would love something like this, she was sure of it. They hardly would be able to use it on the shuttle, but it could be kept in his flat. She then thought about Scilia, her Galandrian contact and friend who had an affinity for Earth culture, particularly music. Audrey wasn't sure that she had ever gotten a Christmas present for her before. It wasn't like they celebrated the holiday on their planet. Maybe Scilia would enjoy taking part in something like that. The smile came back to Audrey's face. Maybe she didn't have a family to wrap her arms around for Christmas, but that didn't mean she was alone. Not anymore. With renewed zeal, she stepped inside the store.
equalising: (absolutely the face of innocence)
Today was the first day of the rest of her life and already, Audrey was bollocksing it up all to hell. The campus of her former university had been humble and in no way compared to sprawling grounds she stood on now. She chewed on her lower lip nervously. She had gotten through her first couple of classes with no significant problems. It helped that the building was located right next to her new dorm. The junior had a flip-flopping stomach to contend with, but those nerves were to be expected with a transfer student. Her former school hadn't been a good fit for her (and neither had been the one before that). Audrey hoped for a fresh start. Yet here she was, on her way to her next class and she had no idea how to get there. The large buildings loomed over her and she wondered how it could ever be necessary to have a school this big. Sure, the greenery was stunning and the classic architecture made it all look so fantastic. That didn't help anything when she was so hopelessly lost.

The thoughtful scowl on her face disappeared when she heard the slapping of heavy shoes against the pavement. Audrey turned her head to find a man skidding to a halt in front of her with no warning. She jumped back with a small shout. "Oh shi-- Sorry," he said, out of breath. He doubled over to catch his breath, hands on his knees. Audrey looked down at him. His manner of dress caught her attention first. With his leather jacket, old t-shirt, jeans, and boots, he made for an interesting picture. He popped back up with a grin. Audrey couldn't quite pinpoint his age. He was older than vast majority of students, but he could have been anywhere in his thirties. The smile and youthful face made it hard to tell. "Running a bit late," he offered as an explanation. The man hoisted his bag on his shoulder, tightening his grip. "Don't suppose you could tell me where Freyr Hall is, could you?"

Audrey tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear, looking down and shaking her head. That happened to be the very hall she needed to find herself. Maybe he was in her class with her. It wasn't uncommon for older students to take up Archaeology. "You know," she admitted while looking up at him again, "don't have any idea." Before she could elaborate, the man started up again.

"Oh damn. Well thanks anyway."

Just like that, he was off running again. Audrey watched him go, her head tilted in a bemused way. Rather fit, with all that running. She couldn't help but hope that she'd bump into him again at some point. However, first things first. She saw a group of students filing out of the building closest to her and headed in that direction. One of them would have to know.


She made a vow to start running on a regular basis again. Having to do so now was torturous. Audrey fell out of the habit over the summer and paid the price as she hurried through Freyr Hall. She at last found the damn place but was already late. It was only by a few minutes so hopefully this professor would be lenient. As she came up to the door, she noticed someone else hurrying up to it from the other end of the hallway. Audrey blinked in surprise when she recognized the man from earlier. She pointed at him with a 'Oh it's you!' sort of grin, which he mimicked. "Oh good, you found it," she said.

He looked her over, clearly surprised to see her there as well. "And I thought you didn't know where this place was," he replied questioningly, not accusatory per se but curious about the twist in events.

Audrey rubbed the back of her neck. "Honestly?" She told him. "Until two minutes ago, I didn't." She shrugged self-deprecatingly. "I was looking for it too. S'my first day on campus."

He cocked his head. "You're not a freshman." It wasn't a question. Audrey perked up at that. She was often confused with the fresh meat of the school, nevermind that her two-year gap between secondary school and university made her older than most in her class rank.

"Transfer," she confirmed for him. Audrey peeked through the window of the classroom door, although because the shade was pulled over it, she couldn't see anything. "But uh, maybe we should get in there? Hopefully this Rowntree guy won't come down too hard on us. First day and all."

The easy smile on his face took a mischievous bent. "Well," he said in a way that was far too innocent to be anything of the sort, "I would think as long as you beat the professor in there, you'd be fine. Wouldn't really be fair otherwise, right?"

Audrey's brow narrowed. "Well, I suppose..." she agreed uncertainly. "But why wouldn't he be in there already? It's his class."

"Maybe he couldn't find the building."

With that, Audrey realized what exactly had happened. First, her eyes widened in surprise. He was older, yes, but nothing about his demeanor made her suspect he could be an authoritative figure. Then she ducked her head. Of course. Of course she got caught being late on day one. She sighed, laughing a bit. It was just her luck, really. They were equidistant from the door. Audrey flipped her long hair over her shoulder. Groveling likely wouldn't appeal to him and that wasn't her style anyway. All you could do in this situation was laugh about it. So she asked with a grin to match his, arms crossed over her chest, "So are you proposing a foot race to see who gets in first, Professor Rowntree? I gotta tell you, I play football and I'm a hell of a sprinter."

The cheek seemed to surprise him at first, but he quickly took it in stride. The knowing smirk became a full blown smile as he laughed openly. It made her laugh too. They carried on like this for maybe a little longer than they should, with a class waiting. As long as he didn't mind, Audrey definitely didn't see a problem. He shook his head. "While I think I could show you a thing or two..." He let that dangle in the air for a moment. Audrey wondered if he was actually going to take her up on it. It was to the point where she rested on her back foot, getting ready to run. When she did that, he laughed again. "That's really more a midterm week activity, don't you think?" With that, he walked to the door. "And Nate. Just Nate. Don't really go in for that title business." The professor pulled the door open and nodded for her to walk in first. "Go on."

Audrey squinted at him. What a strange teacher. Yet as he waited for her to take him up on his gesture, and she realized it wasn't a trick, the biggest smile came to her face. "Thank you." She walked up to the door. "Nate." With that, she walked into the classroom. She had a feeling her year was about to get very interesting.
equalising: (windoor isn't a freaking word)
'It'll be genius,' she said. 'They'll never see us coming,' she said. Audrey wanted to punch herself for convincing Nate that this would be a good plan. A good punching was in her near future anyway. When their mark proved to be a very popular target in their little bounty hunter community, to the point where new allegiances were being made for just the one job, she had the brilliant plan of pretending to split up with Nate. She thought they could cover more ground, get a little sneaky by teaming with new people, see what intel they could gather. It worked damn well at first, but that cliche about best laid plans existed for a reason. Really, not only should she have expected it to blow up in their face, she should've called it ending like this. On Freeson, you always had to prove your word with action. The only action on this planet was to battle. Trapped in a dilapidated concrete building used for a sparring ground, a battle was exactly what everyone wanted. Their bluff now called, the two of them stood in the middle of a crowd, surrounded by whooping and hollering Freesonians and bounty hunters alike. They formed a circle around them. Different languages were being used, but it was one word being chanted in unison. Audrey's ears picked up the English. "Fight!"

Praying Nate would forgive her later, Audrey swung her arm around and clocked him square in the jaw. She took his moment of shock to run up and grab him by the back of the neck. She brought up her knee, but stopped it right before hitting him in the stomach. Nate preemptively bent down to protect himself, and that was exactly what Audrey hoped he would do. The crowd roared their approval at the sudden turn of violence and she had hoped for that as well. His head close to hers, she leaned down and hissed in his ear, "Fake it." She threw him back. Nate wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. After a split second of understanding where he nodded at her, she could see him slip into his competitive brawling mode. He gave her a good glare, eyes sparking with intent. She felt a shudder attempt to form at the base of her spine which she shut down immediately. The scowl that formed on her face looked as though it was meant for him, but really it was at her own reaction. What an inopportune moment for her strange attraction to rear its head. It was a new development, one she firmly ignored. Why give any thought to a dumb idea like Nate being attractive? Especially now, when there were much more important things at stake. She cracked her neck, ready to give the lads in the crowd a show. With both of her hands, she beckoned for Nate to come at her, smirking. She thought that maybe he wasn't used to her combative zeal being directed at him, because he had his own moment of pause where he licked his lips. Then he came up to her and mirrored her punch. It was slow and uncertain. She avoided it easily. "Oh come on, Rowntree," she goaded loudly, hoping he'd catch the double meaning in what she was about to say. "You're gonna have to do better than that." The bounty hunters were baying for blood while the Freesonians howled for a proper fight. They needed to sell this.

"Just wanna make it last, Kingston" he taunted right back. "It's been a long time coming, wouldn't be any fun if I took you down with one shot. Although we both know I could." Audrey knew he was doing it to make it convincing to the crowd, but the way the crowd so readily cheered for him and believed him made her blood boil. She rushed at Nate, intending to fake hit him a good one in the chest. He caught her arm mid-movement and spun her around. Nate brought his elbow down on the back of her neck, something that would've hurt like a bitch had he actually did it. Audrey grunted loudly, acting as though he connected. She stumbled forward, almost falling to the ground but catching herself. She turned to face him again. That clever bastard. Not only had Nate predicted how Audrey would react to the crowd, he called the exact move she was going to use. It didn't occur to her until then that at this point in their partnership, they knew each other's fighting style very well. They might actually be able to pull this off.

"Alright," she said. They circled one another, sizing the other up. Her heart pounded against her chest. The energy that always crackled in Freeson's damp air sunk into her blood. It was almost a shame that this fight wasn't real, she felt more than capable of really laying into someone. For now, she would have to make do with this dance. As she glared at Nate, she could almost feel that same energy rolling off of him. It made her heart rush even faster. No longer capable of standing still, she charged forward. He moved in at the same time. She threw a left hook; he blocked it. He tried to catch her in the gut; she blocked that. He was always the more technically proficient of the two, but their knowledge of one another made them evenly matched. Her own brawling style wasn't normally so easily predicted, but Nate could read her like a book. For every move, there was a counter. She'd kick and he'd catch her. He'd lift her and she'd slide out of his grip. It really did feel more like something they had choreographed together. Even with the stakes so high and their skin on the chopping block, it was hard not to smile. Audrey found herself enjoying it. She chalked it up to admiration of his skill. He really did know how to dance.

The crowd wanted a little more than that. During Nate's next swing, Audrey caught his arm. She tossed it back at him then with lightning speed, threw her own punch. He swung his head about, having taken enough real punches to know how to fake getting one. Audrey turned it up, throwing nonstop punches, only just grazing his skin before he did the rest of the work. Right hand, then left, then the right twice. She made a real show out of hitting the crap out of him. The Freesonians and bounty hunters alike appreciated it, their cheers becoming louder and more frenzied. Then Nate surprised her by grabbing her by the wrists. He pushed her back roughly, but not enough to really hurt her. He kept going until they reached a concrete pillar. The strength of his pushing let up, but Audrey sold the rest of it by practically throwing her back against it. She closed her eyes and groaned in surprise. When she heard a couple of wolf whistles in the crowd, she knew that her groan had been a little more salacious than she intended. When she opened her eyes, Nate stared down at her with an unreadable expression. He still had her arms pinned above her head. She attempted to wriggle her way out, but truth be told she wasn't trying that hard. Nate pinned her down again, and that time she couldn't contain the shudder of her spine. She didn't know if she wanted to really hit him or snog him into oblivion. Nate glanced up at the crowd, almost like he needed to. Audrey knew she would've liked the reminder of why they were doing this in the first place, although they probably needed that reminder for different reasons. When he looked down at her again, it was with that damned smirk, yet this close she could see how shaky his breath was. "Is that all you got?" he asked. He raised his voice as to be heard by everyone. In combination with its depth, she could actually feel the rumble of his chest against hers. She didn't even know what she wanted to do to him anymore.

She brought her foot down on his instep. She only barely touched him, but he yelped and let go of her wrists. She clapped her hands on his shoulders. Using the pillar as leverage, she pressed down and hoisted herself up on him. She wrapped her legs around his middle. The second she secured herself, Audrey knew it was a bad idea. Again the lecherous jeers of the bounty hunters started up. It seemed to be the first time that Audrey managed to surprise Nate; he looked up at her slack-jawed and gobsmacked. It made her grin, an utterly inappropriate reaction. She play-punched him once, twice. Before she could get in a third, he grabbed onto the backs of her legs, cupping her backside. Her jaw tensing up matched his. He must be concentrating very hard. She must be too, because anything would be insane. Nate used his grip to slam her in the wall (carefully). She cried out again in pain, although the mob's reaction to her indicated they took it as something else. They were loving it now. Audrey had to grip Nate to stay on, then realized that Nate had been trying to get her off of him. She hauled him in to get his ear close to her mouth. "Do it again," she breathed. Nate must have heard her loud and clear, for his grip on her became firmer still. She faked a headbutt. Thank God her hair had flown in her face, because her lip bite would've been difficult to explain. Nate again slammed her into the pillar. This time, she let go and clumsily landed on her feet. He threw an elbow, just grazing the corner of her mouth. Audrey fell like a sack of bricks. She landed face down purposefully, as her moment of indiscretion gave her an idea to help make it look more real. While down there, she bit down on the corner of her mouth as hard as she could. Once she tasted the metal tang of blood, she stopped.

Nate, for his part, took a lap around the circle, playing the part of the victor. Some of them cheered for him, but the rumble of discontent was louder still. They wanted more. Audrey didn't know how much longer they could keep this up, but trying to end it here could mean bad things for them. So she waited until Nate made it back to her. Audrey stiffened her arm and hit the back of his knees as hard as she could. It was enough to knock him off his feet. She pretended to try and move, but stayed where she was so she could at least break his fall. The grunt when he landed on top of her was very real. The crowd applauding covered her quiet wheeze. "Jesus Christ..." Her and her brilliant ideas.

Nate rolled off of her to let her breathe. She used the opportunity to clamber on top of him. A shock of worry flashed across his face. Audrey realized that this was the first time he could see the blood on her mouth. He must've thought that he did it. Audrey wiped it away. She tilted her head downward, her hair concealing her face from the crowd. Unable to say anything, she winked at him to let him know that everything was okay. His concern didn't fade, but mutated into something more panicked. It wasn't until then that their positions became apparent to her. She was on top of him, straddling him, with her hand splayed out on his chest. And she just winked at him. No wonder Nate looked so freaked out. God help her. She re-positioned her hands so they were around his neck. She pretended to choke him. He reacted appropriately, trying to pull her hands away with little avail. She felt his pulse point throb erratically beneath her thumb. Audrey could feel her heart in her own throat right then. She needed to stay focused. Why was he making that strangled sound that could've so easily been a result of something pleasurable? Why was this so difficult? They could only do this for so long without Nate having to pretend to pass out. He grabbed her torso. With a very soft "Sorry 'bout this," he flipped her over his head. Audrey landed hard on her back. The pain served as another needed reminder of what they were doing. Even though the Freesonians and bounty hunters roared louder than ever, she had trouble hearing them over her own rushing blood.

Nate deftly moved himself and slid on top of her. He tried to mirror her choke hold, but Audrey blocked it. The fact that he managed to really shake her off of him, inexplicably, annoyed her. She hooked one leg in his. Using the ground, Audrey flipped the pair of them over so she once again topped him. Nate looked up at her with his head cocked. They both possessed a competitive streak which reared its head now, of all times. He grabbed her and rolled them over again. Audrey knew she needed to concentrate, but she wanted to wipe that victorious grin off of his face. She reversed them again. They continued in this fashion, rolling on the ground together. Audrey desperately focused on the rocks digging into her back and the stinging of her mouth so the word 'foreplay' would stop popping into her head.

The pillar stopped their grappling and Audrey happened to be the one on top. Nate mouthed the words "Wrap up" to her and she couldn't agree more. This was getting to be too much. At this point they were chest to chest and nearly nose to nose. Nate grabbed her by the shoulders. Reflex made her wrench herself out of his grip. She scrambled to move further up. Audrey used her knees to pin his arms to the ground. The problem with this was that it put Nate's head directly between her legs. Then, although he didn't have a reason to, Audrey heard Nate groan " Fuck." The feeling brewing deep in her gut spiked. She grabbed Nate's head with both hands. Had he been in a more accessible position, she would've kissed that damned mouth of his to keep him from doing things like that. It would've been inopportune, at the very least. She settled for pretending to bash his head against the ground. One, two, three, and he was down for the count. She thanked God for that.

Now Audrey stood to claim the title of victor. She threw her arms up and bellowed out a winner's cry. In an attempt to calm down, she sucked in the Freeson air. It didn't affect her at all. The crowd whooped and hollered, more placated than before. She thought that maybe they somehow pulled this off. A bounty hunter stepped forward. Audrey recognized her as one of the women she aligned herself with when this started. Tough broad didn't even begin to describe her. Audrey could've admired the woman if they weren't pitted against each other like this. "I don't know about you," the hunter addressed the masses. "But I think the girl just won herself the match." Her voice held a devious quality that set Audrey on edge. Everyone else applauded. Their victory jeers indicated they were privy to something Audrey hadn't cottoned on to yet. "Okay, kid," the woman now spoke to her. She raised her voice with each word until the last was bellowed. "Wrap it up!" She tossed something in the air for Audrey to catch. Audrey fumbled a bit, but did manage to grab it before it fell to the ground. She inhaled sharply once she recognized the familiar metal. It was her gun.

They all laughed. Audrey then knew that all of their fighting was for nothing. She gave them away the second she realized what they wanted her to do to Nate. Maybe the hunter she teamed with knew it all along. It was like an unwelcomed ice cube slid its way down her throat. It wasn't as though Audrey could cause a lot of damage with the gun. Six bullets against a swarm of hunters and fighters. She fired into that crowd once and they were both dead. Audrey looked to Nate. He wasn't looking at her. His eyes roamed the building, seeking their way out. He even glanced upward, towards the exposed sky due to the lack of a ceiling in this place. What would he expect to find... Her eyes roamed up the walls, towards the exposed floors, and there it was. A steel beam hung from an old rig, an abandoned attempt to fix this place before it became the fighting ground it was now. The way the rig fell apart made it perfect. It would be dangerous and highly stupid, but better than the alternative. "Let's go then." Everyone faced her, Nate included. She took the safety off the gun. "The longer we fuck about here, the more time we waste. I've got a job to finish." A hush descended over them. No one expected her to call the bluff. She pointed the gun at Nate. Doing so made her highly uncomfortable but she hid it this time. She wouldn't screw up again. "Move!" she barked. Nate complied. Guiding him with the gun, she positioned him just so, hollering "Stop!" when he was where she wanted him. He wasn't the only one to listen. The circle of the bloodthirsty broke. Certain individuals in the crowd changed position so they were no longer behind Audrey. Everyone wanted to see the big moment.

"On your knees." The situation being so dire now, Audrey refused to believe that she had gotten a little thrill from Nate obeying that command. Now everyone contended with the same tense energy with which Audrey came into this fight. She could taste it in the air, the current of electricity. The urge to tremble almost overwhelmed her. If this didn't work, they were done. She straightened her back, renewing her resolve. Audrey got them into this mess. She would get them out. She leveled the gun at Nate's face. "Don't I get any last words?" he asked. His nervousness was not at all faked. She couldn't blame him. Silence hung oppressively in the air. She let it for a moment, if only to gather her bravery. Then she shook her head.

"Not yet."

She raised the gun above him and aimed for the chains of the rig holding the beam. Audrey couldn't do a lot of things, but shooting wasn't one of them. She might not have been a marksman, but she wasn't a slouch either. It took three bullets to break the chains. The beam swung down with remarkable speed for which she thanked every single deity. She ran forward and grabbed Nate by the collar, dragging him away from the carnage about to happen. The beam collided with its intended target, the pillar on which Audrey had been pinned against earlier. This all took place in the span of about three seconds. That pillar crumbled easily. It was one of the few holding up the second floor. The damage started with a few rocks and the sound of crumbling, but it wasn't long before it became a tidal wave. The one end had nothing left to stand on, and the floor came down in grand fashion in front of the bounty hunters and Freesonians. Some of them screamed, some of them pulled weapons, but all of them got out of the way to save themselves. It formed the perfect barrier. The barrier would only last five seconds, but that was enough. "Go, go, go!" Audrey finally let go of Nate, because as she just pointed out, they really needed to run now. She started going to the left, but Nate grabbed her by the hand.

"Cars are this way." Nate smiled wildly, eyes wide, and Audrey couldn't tell if it was out of relief or if he was impressed that she might've finally come up with a plan more psychotic than one of his. Either way, she didn't need to be told twice, and she ran with him. As they were both forced here by the others, he must have been planning to steal a getaway car. It was just another thing to add to the list of absolutely insane things they did today, along with destruction of property and indecent public brawling (in a manner of speaking). Then, while the sun set behind them, the skies darkened. Perhaps the only thing Freeson was known for that didn't involve battle was its peculiar weather. It was always on the brink of a storm, but rain was so rare that it sometimes took decades for any to fall. Then, of all times, the storm broke. The rain came down all around them. The entirety of what just happened and was still happening hit Audrey. She couldn't help it. Running with Nate away from a raving mob in a storm that shouldn't exist on a planet lightyears away from Earth, she laughed. She kept up with him but she laughed and laughed, like they had just pulled off a very memorable senior prank. Nate turned to face her, again while still running. The look was one of incredulity, but suddenly he laughed too. In the company of someone who understood appreciating the madness of the moment, neither of them felt inclined to stop so they didn't. They also never let go of the other's hand.
equalising: (with a twinkle in my eye)
-- 11:07 AM --

Slowly but surely, her lids fluttered until Audrey at last opened her eyes. She couldn't remember the last time she slept like that. The man in her bed helped in that endeavor. Sprawled out on her back with her bare leg resting on his, arm draped behind her so her hand rested against his neck, and her head on his chest, Nate proved to be the best pillow. He had a bit of her hair in his hand, playing with the ends absentmindedly. She smiled softly. "How long you been up?" she murmured, voice still thick with sleep.

"A bit," he answered noncommittally, clearly unsure of the answer himself. "Morning, by the way." Audrey craned her neck so she could look up at him. "Morning," she replied. He leaned down so he could kiss her on the forehead. She scrunched up her face like it annoyed her, but her growing smile said otherwise. Nate took the expression as a challenge. He brought his head down again, this time to kiss all over her face. "Argh, no, morning breath!" Audrey's feeble shouts of protest mirrored her attempts to fend him off.

-- 12:43 PM --

"Maybe we should do something today." Nate lifted his head after Audrey said her piece. "We are doing something," he pointed out. Then he added, "Sort of." She stretched her neck from side to side, still laying on her back. He had rolled over so he rested on his stomach. Her eyes fell on his shoulder. Her lips pursed in thought when she noticed the scar. She changed her position to match his so she could get a better look. Audrey rested her fingers on top of it. Their line of work wasn't the safest. She didn't want to do anything else and imagined Nate felt the same. Still, she had the urge to go hunt down whatever did that to him and give them what for. Not that the scar marred his appearance at all. It only served to show how tough he was and what he could survive. She traced along it until she came across the next one. He had more than a few.

"You can ask, you know," he said. "Surprised you haven't before." Audrey hummed a little as her fingers continued their path along his marks. "Dunno," she admitted. "Don't like hearing about you getting hurt." He turned his head to look at her, taking in how her brow furrowed in concern. He gently nudged her with his shoulder, in a way that Audrey normally did to comfort him. "I don't really look at it like that," he told her. "Take the one you've got your hand on now. Don't really think of it as the time I got shot. I see it like the time I outsmarted not one, but two very pissed, slightly trigger happy Galandrians who wanted what was rightfully mine... Or at least what I had rightfully stolen." Audrey laughed. His confidence soothed her. Her fingers moved along until they came back to the scar on his shoulder, which appeared to be an animal bite. "What about this one?"

-- 2:01 PM --

They sat across from one another on the bed. "Nuh-uh. You've taken it a step too far, Kingston. There's no way," Nate declared. "You don't think I can?" she questioned him. "It's on." She prided herself on athletic ability, particularly arm strength. Audrey got out of bed only to grab the tray usually used for breakfast in bed. She left their plates on the floor and set it between them. "One round, winner take all," she boasted. Nate raised a brow. "All of what?" he asked, wry and suggestive at the same time. " Everything," she answered immediately, doing a stalwart job of ignoring his wicked little grin. With a bemused head tilt, he said, "Well, with stakes like that..."

Never had there been an arm wrestling match with so much giggling. She struggled with it, but they had been more evenly matched than she anticipated. In the end, Audrey resorted to using her free hand to yank down the top of her camisole and expose her breasts to him. Nate tried to remain impervious, but it wasn't long before Audrey pinned his arm to the tray. "YES!" She jumped up so she stood on the bed, her arms raised in victory. She put on a voice one might expect to hear in a boxing ring. "Aaaaand the winner of the night and taking home everything, it's the petite powerhouse, the pride of Hackney, the one, the only, the-- AAH!"

While she had her fun, Nate had moved the tray out of harm's way. He grabbed her by the legs and pulled her back down on the bed. She landed on her back with an "oomph!" Nate used her moment of surprise to roll on top of her. Even with his playful rough housing, he was careful not to hurt her. He took her by the wrists and pinned her arms over her head. "Ready to get out of this one?" he asked, his voice lowering in the way that made Audrey shiver in anticipation. She wrapped her legs around his torso. "Why would I do that?" Her own voice took on a husky tone. "I'm owed a prize, Rowntree." They moved in at the same time and met in the middle, kissing each other with fierce abandon.

-- 4:10 PM --

This time, it was Audrey who woke up first. It was hard to tell which limbs belonged to who. She was on her side, her body pressed against his. They faced each other. One of her arms was slung over his middle while the other was cradled again her chest. He had both of his arms wrapped around her. Being so enclosed, Audrey flashed back to her days of using the pod for space travel. The similarities ended at 'having limited room.' At the time, she had herself convinced that she grew to handle the uncertainty of flying a tin tube through space. Now she could admit to the sense of dread she felt each time that door sealed shut. Laying in Nate's arms couldn't feel more different. It was warm and what she remembered home to feel like once. Here, she was safe. Maybe that was ironic, drawing security from a man known to be more than a little rash. She wouldn't have it any other way.

He wasn't one for stillness, her Nate. Audrey took the opportunity to watch him at rest. His face, usually so expressive, relaxed in the late afternoon sun. No worrisome thoughts tugged his brow. The only word to come to mind was lovely, although she was sure he wouldn't approve the term. She smiled softly and resisted the urge to stroke his cheek for fear of waking him. It was a feat for her. The affection Audrey felt then was so strong, it almost made her dizzy. He just had this way of making her happy. Even before they got together, Nate made her feel almost supernaturally good. All he had to do was be near her and something in her lit up. She sighed and got comfortable in his arms. Maybe she was just a silly girl waxing poetic without the poetry. In the safety of his embrace, she could be okay with that.

-- 6:36 PM --

The tray sat between them again. Once more, it served its true purpose of holding food. Audrey shoved the last bite of eggroll into her mouth. Nate's mouth hung open, making food a bad option for him at the moment. She shrugged innocently. "Soo I guess I never told you that story before?" she asked, her mouth still full. There was a beat of the silence. It took everything in Audrey's willpower not to laugh at his slack jawed daze. He then lifted up his own chin, aware of how goofy he looked. "So I'm to believe," he said slowly, "That you chased down a Sonturian, in Sonturia, in only your bra and knickers, and a stolen coat and pair of trainers?" Audrey rubbed the back of her head, wincing as she looked up at him. "I had to get rid of everything that got hit with the fluid. Would've paralyzed me. And it wasn't like I was gonna let her go. Especially after that..." Nate stared at her in amazement. "How did people not hear about you before we met?" She stole a piece of his Kung Pow chicken and popped it in her mouth. "Because I was just too subtle for people to notice?"

-- 6:38 PM --

"What do you mean you did a job on a nudist planet?! Nate, don't you hide from me, tell me everything."

-- 8:52 PM --

Audrey wished she had popcorn. She was still stuffed to the brim from their Chinese take away, but she would've liked something to throw at the screen. "That isn't even sort of right! What were these guys thinking?" Nate laughed at her indignation. "It was like eighty years ago," he pointed out. A moment later he said, "But it is pretty stupid." The two of them had decided to watch TV. The first plan had been to pop in a movie, but they were in the other room. It was Nate's turn to get up, as Audrey had answered the door to get the food, but he claimed to be too weighed down with chicken. After flicking around the channels, they settled on one of the classic movie stations. Audrey threw a hand in the air. "Could you imagine us trying to get any work done with a lightsaber? We'd be dead within an hour. Tops." Nate glanced up at her. He was sitting between her legs, his back to her. "Are you sure that wouldn't just be because you'd drop it on your own foot?" Audrey used her chin to hit the top of his head. "Ow!"

She continued to rub his shoulders while the movie played out. As it went on, they found more things to make fun of. Every once in a while, Nate would try to defend it, talking about things like hindsight. She knew he was just doing it to play Devil's Advocate. This became very apparent after Han Solo's ship was captured by the tractor beam. "Oh what rubbish!" Nate sounded like he was watching a football match, which amused Audrey to no end. He continued on, "We would all be fucked if that could happen. Imagine it! IEA would put us out of business. Then start rounding us up for good measure." She pet his hair. "Don't worry, love," she soothed. "If you get caught by the Empire, I'd rescue you."

"Wait, why do I have to be Leia? I don't want to be put in a gold bikini."

"Where did you see a gold bikini?"

"It's in the next movie."

For a moment, neither of them spoke. Nate piped up.

"You're picturing me in a gold bikini right now, aren't you?"

"I'm gonna need you to say 'Help me, Audrey Kingston, you're my only hope.'"

"That's so wrong. For so many reasons."

Audrey stayed quiet.

"Stop picturing it!"

-- 1:24 AM --

She ran her hand up and down his back. Audrey was still watching TV, but fading fast. They both had fallen back into laying down. Now it was Nate resting his head on Audrey's chest, her on her back and him on his stomach. She thought he had fallen asleep, but then he spoke. "Wasn't I going to take you out today?" He barely got the sentence out, down for the count as he was. "Oh yeah," she murmured. It wasn't too often that they were on Earth at the same time, but with his ship needing repair, they were given an impromptu vacation. The idea was to treat it as much, mainly so they wouldn't be bored to tears waiting to get back to work. "Sorry," he mumbled. She wondered if he was talking in his sleep. In case he wasn't, she kissed the top of his head. "Don't be." She stretched her arm to get the remote and turn the television off. "Best holiday I had in ages."
equalising: (hiding behind a tree because I love you)
It was only a phone call. Audrey knew that it shouldn't make her palms sweat and her heart go straight to her throat. She couldn't help the reaction. It was a call she only got to make once a year. The notebook showed a signal trying to connect as she waited for him to pick up. At least, she hoped it would be him. Last year, her mother appeared on the other end of the line. It had been a painful and awkward eight seconds before she passed his notebook over.

"Audrey? You there?"

She sighed in relief. Her little brother had grown a lot in the year. Less and less did the term 'little' apply to him. Last time she had seen him in person, he was almost her height, but she could tell that he shot over it in the few years they spent apart. He lost his baby fat as well. With their mother's dark eyes and father's light hair and bone structure, he was growing into quite the man.

"Hi Derek. Happy birthday!"

"Well you got that out quick enough. See you next year then?"

Audrey's face fell, no longer beaming but now surprised and hurt. At the change of expression, Derek hastily said, "Hey, oi, I'm joking! Come on, 'Dree, don't do that." Audrey recovered with a duck of her head and brief chuckle. Along with her eyes, he had inherited his mother's sense of humor, which had a habit of being too on the nose. "Still a little shi-- brat then," she admonished playfully, even though in the back of her head she was still thinking about how there were plenty of other things Derek could be doing on his seventeenth birthday. He rolled his eyes. "You don't have to censor yourself," he reminded. He then tacked on with mock pride, "I am an adult now."

"Shut up before I vomit on the notebook."

He really was though. Audrey noticed how his voice got away from the pitfall of his puberty. It all happened so fast. "So how's school going, mate?" she asked. This time, his eye roll was so dramatic that his entire head went with the motion. "It can't end fast enough," he whined. She smirked, although it held warmth. So he hadn't entirely grown up yet. "You're almost there," she encouraged. "In a handful of months, you'll be leaving that place in the dust and be off to... do whatever it is you're gonna do. Hey, what are you doing after you graduate, anyway?"

She should've known better than to ask that. It was now Derek's face that fell. She knew that particular face very well. She started making it around the age Derek was now and didn't stop until she found bounty hunting. Some things never changed. That appeared to include post-graduation turmoil. "Pat your shoulder for me, kid, I'm a bit out of reach right now," she said. He glared at her. Audrey remained nonplussed and stared right back. They continued like this for longer than necessary. The stubbornness Audrey often displayed was very much a family trait; there wasn't a Kingston who didn't possess it, even those who married into the name. At last, Derek relented with an almighty sigh and patted his own shoulder. Audrey clapped once, pleased as could be. She had planned to give a speech how it was all going to work out, but before she could get in a word, he suddenly asked, "Where are you, anyway?" She glanced around the little bedroom area. "Oh, this. On the shuttle. Heading towards Freeson. Ironically, about to make a particular son very unfree." He took a second to press his hand on his forehead in distaste for her crack, then showed his confusion. "But I thought you couldn't make calls from your shuttle?"

"Oh, right... Got myself a new shuttle. S'nicer, better at picking up far away signals."

This was both true and false. She never told Derek (and by extension the rest of her family) that until semi-recently, she had been traversing the galaxies in what was essentially a high-tech coffin. She couldn't make calls from the pod not only because of signal issues, but because she simply didn't have the room to hold up a notebook. It would make him worry (at least, she was pretty sure) and then give the rest of that lot an unearned sense of satisfaction. No way she'd let either of those things happen. It was all moot now with Nate and his ship in the picture.

Derek had grown a little wistful in the silence. " You okay there?" she questioned, her brow creased in concern. After a beat where he seemed to be debating with himself, he answered her question with one of his own. " You really like it? Bounty hunting?" It took Audrey a moment to realize what he was really getting at and her shoulders sagged once she did. She was the very last person Derek should be looking to as guidance in a career path. Her first impulse said to lie, but just the thought made her feel terrible. She's only been able to talk to him a handful of times since she left home. She's had to lie to him for every single birthday about her various conditions, whether it was the state of her "ship" or the extent of her injuries. She didn't want to do it again. "Yeah," she said with a sigh. "Yeah, I really do." After all was said and done, Audrey loved what she did. It didn't matter that her start was such a drastic one that made her lose so much. The job had been there to put the pieces back together, if somewhat haphazardly. It didn't matter how much flak she took. It only made her completed assignments feel even better. Every bump, bruise, scar, and tear was worth how she felt when she woke up most mornings.

But she would never wish it on her kid brother. "But it isn't for everyone," she advised cautiously. Beyond the obvious concern, she knew that he wouldn't take to it like she had. It's a certain person who thrived in that line of work. The skeptical eyebrow raise he gave her was so like her own that for a second she felt like she was looking into some strange funhouse mirror. "Kinda hypocritical of you, isn't it?" he chided. "Do as I say, not as I do," she replied. She went on, "But really. The people who do this are people who can't really do anything else. You're smart, there's plenty out there for you."

"But look at you. You're going across bloody universes. You got out of this stupid city and you're off on different planets." Audrey could see the envy on his face. She understood that. It was one of the best aspects of her job and she knew how much it would appeal to a seventeen year old going stir crazy. "Mum would kill you. Like, straight up murder. I'd have to hunt her down, it would be really awkward..."

While Derek laughed, she heard a knock on her door. "Sorry kid, one second." She then directed her voice at the door. "What do you want?" It opened and her current partner and sort-of mate popped his head in. "Maybe a nicer greeting, for starters," said Nate. She sneered at him jokingly. "Also to remind you that you wanted to watch me pull into orbit," he went on. "Who's that?" Derek interrupted nosily, trying to get a look at the newcomer. "Who's that?" Nate replied in the same tone, confused about the goings-on. Audrey sighed deeply at the pair of them. She lifted the notebook so Derek could see as she introduced. "Derek, meet Nate, my new partner. Nate, Derek. This is my brother." She turned it back to herself. Audrey was glad for it, because she caught Nate's look of surprise. Although Derek was the Kingston she spoke of most, it was still uncommon for her to talk about any of her family. She didn't want Derek to know that. "Right," Nate said with a bit of awkwardness, "Well nice to meet you over there, Derek. Audrey, we'll be in orbit in a few minutes. But if you... just want to skip it for now...?" "Next planet," she said briefly. Nate took the hint and with a quick salute, he left and closed the door behind him.

"You should go," Derek said. "If it's for work and all." Audrey shook her head. " No, no," she insisted. "He'll be fine. I'm all yours." She didn't want to end it so soon. Not when this would be the last time she'd see him until next year. He shifted uncomfortably. "I, uh... I have to go anyway. My friends will be here soon, we're going out..." Audrey nodded a little too quickly, her smile a little too tight. "Oh right, yeah, course. You have fun. But listen, before you go. There's plenty of ways of getting out of the house without getting into bounty hunting. Look into some other things for me, okay?" Derek frowned. " What if I want to go further than the house?" She smiled, looking down. Things seemed to be as maddening as usual at the Kingston household. Audrey wasn't sure how she felt about the fact that it was running the same as always without her in it. "I've been to a lot of worlds," she told him. "And there's been humans on almost every last one of them. There's a lot of ways for you get to see places that don't involve getting your hands dirty."

After a moment, he nodded. "I guess I can remember that. Thanks for calling, 'Dree." She patted the top of the notebook, remembering how his short hair would make her palm itch when she'd ruffle his hair. Her mouth opened, almost ready to tell him that she missed him. For another year, it went unsaid. She didn't think she'd be able to take it if he didn't say it back. It wasn't like he had reason to, she wasn't around for so long. He grew up without her. She instead went with, "Alright you sod, get out of here. Go have your fun." Derek grinned. "That's the plan. Bye, Audrey!" " Later, Derek." Once they disconnected, she laid the notebook down on the bed she sat upon. She clenched her jaw to keep any tears at bay. It was silly. They were both happy in their separate lives. She at least had her phone calls. It was better than nothing.
By the time she joined Nate in the cockpit, he already begun to descent to Freeson. He furrowed his brow at her appearance. "You didn't have to come out," he reminded her, the awkwardness in his voice so audible that she pictured him grinding his toe against the ground. Audrey buckled in with much more force than what was required. She may have hidden the evidence of her tears, but her disappointment was otherwise painfully obvious. "He had to go," she explained curtly. Audrey had yet to tell him, or anyone, her home situation and she didn't intend to do so ever. That was her business. Nate opened his mouth. "Can I--" In anticipation of him asking something she didn't want to answer, she talked right over him. "Come on," she interjected, attempting to show an excitement she didn't have in her, "Show me how to work this hunk of crap."

The descent went without a hitch. Nate even got her to laugh with a very poor joke about landing on Freeson's moon. After parking and climbing out of the shuttle, she stretched her arms. "Ahh. Alright, so we're hitting the Pafax Casino first, ri-- What?" Nate stared at her pensively. It caught Audrey off guard. She tugged down on her blouse, thinking she had accidentally exposed her belly while lifting her arms. Nate chuckled slightly at that. "No, you're fine. Just, uh..." He rubbed the back of his neck. Audrey tilted her head. "Just what?" She wondered if this was going to be some strange sort of break up, with how he acted. Instead, he came out with something that knocked her even further off-balance. "Are you okay? I mean, is everything with your brother... okay?" She straightened. She had been asked about her family situation over the years, sometimes by informants searching for idle conversation or the occasional fling wanting to know more about her. This was the first time a person bothered to ask more than once. Audrey looked down at her feet. "If you don't want to talk about it..." he hastily added. She realized that from his perspective, it was easy to believe that Derek was ill. "He's fine," she said sheepishly. "Not sick or anything like that." The silence stretched while Nate waited for her to go on. "We're not doing this," she bluntly stated. "That's just something I don't want to get into, okay?" Nate took a step back. The movement made her conjure up the image of a caged animal he was trying to soothe. "Consider my trap shut," he said.

It was too much history for her to go through. Not to mention she was well aware that she came out of that story looking like a terrible person. No point in advertising that. Still, the fact that he asked meant something to her. She didn't know what it was, but it made her feel at least a little better about the whole thing. Part of her wanted to thank him, but when she opened her mouth, she said, "So Pafax?" Again she fell under his scrutiny. The way he looked at her, Audrey could tell that he managed to hear the thank you she couldn't say out loud. There were benefits of being in a partnership where both parties wore their emotions on their sleeve for better or worse. "Pafax," Nate repeated, and off they went.