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 Something I am dallying with

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PostSubject: Something I am dallying with    Tue Feb 26, 2013 10:06 pm

This is a little (unfinished) story I have been putting off now for months. It is based off of a television show, and though it has nothing to do with Hellsing, I trust the opinions of those around me.

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Chapter I

Formal Attire Not Required

He was dragged from his oddly restful 90 minutes of sleep by the smell of…bacon? That alone was an oddity he'd never experienced; he was – on a normal day - the only one in his kitchen at 6 am. But there it was, the sweet-and-salty odor of thick cut, honey cured bacon currently being crisped in what he hoped to be a skillet of some sort.

It took his unusually sluggish brain to register something else amiss: he was very much alone in his bed. Although fuzzy, his brain nudged him to remember there were two people in this bed last night, but now…now he was left in his birthday suit trying to cypher why the hell he smelled bacon.

After sorely struggling into a pair of well-worn pajama pants, and feeling slightly less vulnerable for their presence, he makes his way out of the room, stepping over cast off clothing and a single high-heeled, expensive-looking shoe. It wasn't as though the previous night's jollies had robbed him of his normal physical prowess; it was the bruised ribs and tender shoulders from two days prior that gave his gait a slight hitch. He had to admit though, his recent "roll in the hay" had been rather enthusiastic.

While his thoughts attempted to coalesce into something useful, he was abruptly greeted by the sight of a pair of shapely legs partially hidden by one of his flowery aprons. Blue eyes roamed higher to be met with the image of a long-sleeved, holey sweater he often used for wintery workouts; the sleeves were rolled up, and the neck fell just off one of her tanned shoulders.

There was a woman in his kitchen, cooking him breakfast, and he couldn't for the life of him remember her name.

"I was wondering when you'd finally fall out of bed, Mr. Spencer."

Her voice, clear with a hint of joshing, cut through his thoughts in the same manner as her current attire. She stood with a white bowl in one hand and a fork in the other; he could only assume a pair or three of eggs was about to meet their end by the metal utensil. As he adjusted to the scene, he caught sight of a container of cream sitting on his center island, flanked by a carton of brown eggs and an opened packet of hand-sliced bacon; two pans were being heated on the gas range, one already popping happily at the presence of its contents.

It was then he realized she'd said something, and that he should say something back. Running his calloused fingers through the current "rat's nest" state of his hair, he offered up the best response his clearing mind could piece together.

"Uhm…yeah, sorry, darlin. Not somethin' that happens often…" he had to take a pause, brow turning down, "...or never."

He was apologizing to her. In his own house. As she cooked with his food. But it seemed right, for some reason, that he should say "sorry" to this woman; she had, after all, been forced to make her own breakfast in her host's home. She smiled at him then before turning back to the whisking of the eggs, the same smile she'd given him the night before, the smile that said "I'm happy in the moment".

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Interlude I

When we meet and how we meet aren't the same thing.

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He'd been through worse, that's true. He'd been shot, broken bones, broken the really important bones, and lived through what generally could be aptly described as "Hell". But that didn't mean none of it hurt; sure, he kept more of what he'd endured from the strange gaggle of people he could now call family, but that didn't mean he couldn't feel the bite of pain that seemed to dog him no matter the situation.

Sitting at a booth at a bar, for example.

He wanted to be alone, to drink and pretend his ribs didn't feel like they wanted to escape his chest, and to ignore the continuous ache his shoulders prodded him with. Normally he'd take up residence at the counter, but this wasn't a usual night on the town; he's always hassled Ford about his drinking, but the man relied on it for more than just a good time. At this point, he could understand why. He was tired, ever so tired, and though he wanted nothing more than to protect his family, he knew at some point he simply couldn't. There would be a moment in which his body would be too slow, and his reactions wouldn't be enough to save them, to save one of them, or all. He blamed himself, of course, anytime one of the team found themselves in impossible situations the hitter had been too slow, too hurt to help in.

They always said he was their hero, that they take him for granted, and that he shouldn't be so hard on himself.

But what did they expect? At first his was a job of protection only, of money and physical intimidation. Now, it had turned into a role he gladly did for free, and one he could never see himself giving up. Unless he was too slow. Too hurt. Too weak. And he knew that day was fast approaching; all hitters had a shelf life, he'd once told them. No one seemed to believe him, or wanted to believe him. So he'd come here, to a bar shunted to one corner of the city, too plain and unnoticeable to drag in anything other than those pleading to forget a hard day.

He was in a booth, at one of the farthest sections of the room, but he could still make out who came, and who went; years of necessary practice left him with the inability to simply relax. His beer was delivered by a rather comely looking waitress that gave him a quick once over; he was not the only person capable of reading someone. He had to admit, a good waitress could pull in more money than a CEO if they played their cards right. He was almost tempted – almost – to engage in her obvious flirtation, but his heart just sat there, unwilling to motivate him into anything other than a brief "thanks" to the girl. She didn't seem fazed by the generic answer, instead moving right along to the next table to possibilities; he envied her careless manner.

And that's when, over the rim of his beer glass, he saw someone entirely incongruous with the general…feel of the bar.

She didn't have the attire of a woman coming off of a second shift, blue collar dead-end; she wasn't overly tall, but her legs were something to stare at. They disappeared into a grey pencil skirt that was topped with a crisp white blouse, one not found in a K-Mart; it was faintly set off by her light tan, and auburn hair, which was pulled up into one of the neatest, cleanest buns he'd ever seen. She didn't belong here; she belonged in some sort of club, sipping Cosmopolitans and toasting to her friend's new promotion at a highly reputable accounting firm.

But there was an air about her that radiated confidence, of the sort that could fend off nearly any advance into her personal space. Whatever she was here for, it wasn't for company. Maybe that is exactly why she came. Maybe she wanted to do nothing more than drink alone in a place no one would recognize her. Maybe she wanted to be invisible for one night.

However, he already knew her presence was going to interrupt his night, if for no other reason than she simply existed within a dark, depressing, lonely bar. She may have wanted to fly by incognito, but the looks she garnered were nothing close to hidden. He wasn't surprised, then, when the first male occupant gathered the nerve to approach her; within the span of only a few moments, the man was rebuffed, though he didn't appear angry. He supposed this woman who gathered confidence around her like a familiar coat was quite capable of defending at least the verbal attempts at diving into her knickers, but he knew there would be more than that coming.

She was part way through a dark scotch before a less-than-savory gentleman ambled to the bar. This man was why he'd only nursed the beer in front of him; he had always been one to pull off a 'damsel in distress' meeting, and this was no different. He really only wanted to spend this night along with his thoughts, and this…woman had to wander into his bar. His watchful eye couldn't prevent his mind from wandering to more frustrated thoughts, such as why she had to stroll into this bar, at this time, when he was already in a foul mood. What right did she have to take away his miserable night? Why didn't she just skip his self-proclaimed establishment and move on to one she was more familiar with?

His brain reminded him of his previous thoughts of her possible reasons for coming.

He was still moody about it.

Distracted by his traitorous thoughts, he almost missed what happened next: the man who was now leaning in to play a bit with the auburn-haired woman had just moved his hand to wrap around her waist; this was more than too far. She seemed to be doing a valiant job of returning the man to a more proper distance, but he was having none of it. The drunken fellow outweighed the woman by a stout hundred pounds, but that just made him a much easier target. However, maybe this situation could be diffused with a different tactic, one that wouldn't leave him even more sore.

Standing – and giving himself a second to roll his stiff shoulders – he made his way through booths and tables in the direction of the pair. Just before arriving, he heard words come from the woman that caused him to smirk and cringe at the same time.

"Back. The fuck. Off."

Her voice held a calm sort of venom, and her body posture was that of a cat about to claw off the face off an unwary. The words rocked the fellow back a bit but didn't dissuade him from his goal; his cheering friends didn't help the situation. So throwing on a smile, the hitter ambles over and – as politely as he could – stepped between the two.

"Hey there, darlin. Sorry I'm late."

He only heard the man behind him stuttering out some phrasing of words that were too impolite to repeat; most of his attention was on the woman in front of him. It only took a second before recognition flooded her dark brown eyes, and she slid from the stool with enviable grace, taking his proffered arm and not casting a single glance back at her drunken, amorous beau. He led her to his booth in total silence, and waited until she took her seat before taking his own. It seemed he was in at least some luck tonight; the other man had failed to continue pressing the situation, which was all the better.

She settled onto the faded, torn fabric of the booth seat and politely checked her black leather purse to make certain of its contents; one could never be too careful in a dimly lit bar. He could appreciate the thought behind the action, and it seemed as though this wasn't the first time she'd needed to do this. But why did she have to do it now? Why couldn't she just go rummage through her designer bag in another bar, one without the rough men and dangerous situations and his presence.

The hitter silenced those rambling thoughts when he realized he could've no more left her to the drunken mess of a man than he could have hurt her himself. It was a problem, he knew, this inability to not step in for a woman in need, but had she actually needed him? Or had he once again played the protector role out of forced, sheer habit?

And then they were introducing themselves: she would courteously call him only by last name, and he could only call her by her first. They drank quietly, discussing this and that, watching the crowd dwindle. Eventually, they allowed the conversation to flow naturally, with small gestures and innocent flirtation following. Neither were looking for anything, particularly not tonight, not on a night that had been a series of missteps. But it was those missteps that had brought them to this point, and he couldn't deny his steady, slow attraction to the woman; it seemed she felt the same.

She mentioned they should leave. He asked if she wanted company.

She smiled.

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Chapter I, continued

Long Legs and Eggs

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He'd wandered back to his room to find a shirt of any sort; it was odd that he felt so exposed when he was with her. Certainly, he'd been completely in the buff in front of many a woman, but something about this one made him feel…obligated to be dressed. He bent to snare a white shirt from the unfolded pile in his overflowing laundry basket, only to find it was a thin, expensive blouse. The fabric was smooth, and it slid on his hands with the softest of touch, and a small part of him reveled in the feeling. Sure, he'd felt similar fabrics before – had even been forced into them by his team – but he'd never realized how often the clothing would wear the individual.

He could finally recall the night before, and the way the garment felt as he'd pulled it from her body. She'd adorned it with an air of dignity, and there was no denying she'd worn the shirt, not the other way round. The hitter laid the blouse on the rumpled bed covers, for some reason feeling the floor was an undignified place for it; he didn't know why, simply that it just felt wrong. Eventually choosing another one of his long sleeved sweaters, he pads back into the kitchen, only to see her pulling a tray out of the oven; already the eggs had finished, sitting piled on a matching white plate, as had the bacon, which laid in all its wonderful glory on a second. She slid the tray onto the island, nudging the oven close with her hip. He could see even from that distance the four slices of bread had been buttered, and then lightly toasted in the oven. The right way.

Her body moved about the kitchen with a practiced sort of ease, as though she'd been here as long as he had. It made sense, he supposed, as this particular kitchen would have been easy for practically anyone to use. Except for his hacker friend.

She'd gone to place the cream, bacon and eggs back into the refrigerator as he approached, and he knew she heard him quietly take a seat on the bar stool. He couldn't see it, but he had the feeling she was smiling again.

"Are you going to eat, or do I have to dive into it myself?"

As she turned back around, closing the doors behind her, he could see she'd indeed been smiling at him.

"Myself it is, then."

Grabbing up an empty dish, she scoops up a good portion of eggs, more than a few slices of bacon, and two pieces of the warm, buttery toast. She wasn't waiting on him, and he was actually grateful for that; she was initiating the moment, displaying an ease in the situation that led him to believe she was more than comfortable making breakfast at 6 am for a man she hardly knew. In his own house, no less. This in mind, he slid from his seat and rounded the counter, taking up a plate himself, but somehow not noticing the woman as she stood directly behind him; it was the distraction of food, he told himself later. So distraction in mind, he turned around to find her sitting on the counter, long legs crossed, and could only blink.

She had propped the plate on her knees, and sat with a look of "I'm pleased" dancing on her face.

He almost retreated back to his seat, but something about the situation told him to stay. He'd never allowed a woman to stay in his apartment longer than the time it took for a good toss-about, and it had suited him rather well. He didn't like attachments. He didn't like messy, which is what all attachments turn out to be. No, he had kept his life apart from others – even his family – and that life was smooth. There was no rocking the boat.

Here was a woman who seemed to understand that separation. She'd played grown-up at the bar, and in the bed, but here…here she wasn't pretending to be anything other than she was.

And what she was, was a woman who didn't like attachments. Who didn't like messy, which is what all attachments turn out to be. She was comfortable with him, without reservation, but she didn't need his approval; he could tell her to leave, he could ask her to stay, and she wouldn't cause a fuss either way. He understood all of this as he watched her eat, leaning his tired, bruised frame up against the island. They ate in silence before a thought hit him: maybe he wanted comfortable. Maybe he didn't want a relationship, maybe he didn't want attachments. Maybe what he wanted was comfortable, no strings, just…this.

He cleared his throat, and had no problem remembering her name.

"Eleanor…would you like me to make dinner?"
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PostSubject: Re: Something I am dallying with    Tue Feb 26, 2013 10:09 pm

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Chapter II

Our dance before dinner.

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He'd made dinner for them. He was in the middle of adding mushrooms and pearl onions at the final stage of his beef bourguinon when she'd arrived. The slow-roasted stew had given him over more than a few hours to think, but when he heard a rap at his door, he couldn't help but wonder if he'd just fallen into an entire other world of hurt. He called "it's open", and she appeared in his sight a moment later; her hands were full from a large paper bag and a bottle of wine, but she still looked, for lack of better word, graceful. She'd entered his home once more, but this time…this time he felt himself grow actively nervous.

How many times had he brought home a girl? Innumerable.

How many had stayed for dinner? Only one, and how well had that worked out?

She was dressed casually, escaping her corporate world in dark jeans and simple flats, a fitted sweater and no jewelry. Her auburn hair, once pulled back so tight it had been severe, was now swept up in a messy twist, held in place by a pen she'd liberated from her office. The woman was beautiful in her simplicity, and he was having a hard time remembering his fear.

After his moment of boy-like silence, he slid the rest of the mushrooms into the stew and closed the deep pot's lid, then followed it up with the smirk he'd suddenly found himself trying to hide.

"When I said dressed down, darlin, I didn't think you'd take it so literal."

She laughed at that, the sound clear and relaxed, and then went about stowing the wine on a rack and retrieving parcels of hard, brown breads from the paper bag. As she maneuvered through the spacious pantry, he noticed – not for the first time – how her body moved in the kitchen, as though it belonged there, sliding past him with ease.

"You should be one to talk, mon garcon."

She didn't need to look back to know he'd stopped all actions to look down at himself; baggy black chef's pants and a pair of worn-down crocs all topped with a shirt proclaiming "Chevy is God's Apology to Ford Owners". If there was anything else in the entirety of the earth he could've worn in place of this disgrace, he would have happily taken it. As things stood now, he was certain he would never, ever live this one down. And by God if the rest of the team found out about this…

Composing himself, he popped the lid to the stew again, knowing he shouldn't, but needing something to do other than just huff; the more Eliot side of him couldn't help but respond.

"Hon, I'm the chef. I get to wear whatever I want."

She broke into another smile at this, but quickly recovered, her face growing solemn as she strolled up from behind; she peered over his shoulder in mock seriousness and took an over-exaggerated sniff.

"True, hon, I suppose you can. But clothing aside…I'll not sit for dinner with a man that smells like…that."

She'd managed to contain her amusement long enough for him to turn around and stare incredulously at her scrutiny; it was only seconds under his stare that she broke out into another fit of laughter.

"Oh, come on, Mr. Spencer. Don't be a baby."

She made a gesture that encapsulated the whole of the kitchen.

"The love of your life and I will be just fine while you shower. Who knows? We may even become friends."

He hadn't expected this; he hadn't planned for events to take this turn. He'd learned long ago you can't predict everything, that there are some things that will always slip through your notice, some things will catch you without warning. He had trained with the best military and civilian minds in the world, and right now, at the very moment, he would rather be out in the field than dealing with the unknown that was Eleanor.

Speaking of which, the slightly shorter woman was nudging him out of the kitchen with her fingertips; it struck him as odd she was avoiding all the tender places on his body. Was it on purpose, or was she just lucky?

Retreating from her prodding – and being reminded strongly of a thief he knew – he rounded the bar and went to exit the kitchen until a thought stopped him. Turning back, he made to open his mouth to mention the temperature setting for the stew when he noticed his chef's knife being handled quite proficiently by his guest; she was finishing up the last ingredients for their salad, and even with her head down, she managed to notice his lack of 'going to take a shower'.

The knife was suddenly pointed lazily in his direction.

"If you don't get out in the next ten seconds, I'm gonna make…"

Her words faltered at the sight of him, at the sight of his body coiling tight, of his eyes hardening to shards of glass. He was panicking, barely breathing; it was something dangerous she'd brought in on. Those sharp, ice-like eyes couldn't look away, wouldn't look away and time had stopped at a precarious point; it was her move now. Slowly, ever so slowly, she returned her attention to chopping lettuce, not saying a word more, but giving him time to breathe, for them both to breathe.

The years of experience, of training had flooded into his mind, broken free from the meticulously stacked control he'd formed through the years; it had all fallen in a single moment, one that not calculated for and one that he knew would cause irreparable damage. He couldn't help but think that she'd run from him now; she would become an example to all the one-night stands he'd have in the future. This is why he didn't hold on to anyone, this is why he couldn't be considered the hero his family seemed to think he was.

He had been ready, within seconds, to kill the woman now placing out bowls in his kitchen.

His hands unclenched at this thought, trembling slightly at the notion of ending another life for no other reason than imagined self-preservation. He was ready now for her inevitable straying, of the dissipation of the comfortable they were beginning, and it all stemmed from a past he couldn't…wouldn't be rid of.

"You're still standing there. Far as I know, the shower isn't in your hall."

Her words cut through his thoughts like a hot knife through cobwebs; his mind could not comprehend her reaction. He'd expected fear or scorn, but not this; he was, for the first time in his life, incapable of understanding his situation. But as he took in the state of things, he was greeted with a sight that baffled and relieved him.

She had placed the knife on the counter next to the sink, and with every movement, her hands were kept above the counter tops.

He didn't question it, he didn't push for explanation; he simply turned and made his way to his room, controlling his breathing sniper style until his thoughts were more cohesive, and his hands were no longer shaking. It had been such a small thing, such a trivial thing, a thing he had witnessed many a time in the hands of his family; in the excited hands of the thief, the clumsy hands of the hacker, the delicate hands of the grifter, and the sure, remarkably steady hands of the man closest to him in all existence.

He had stood in a kitchen and as certain as he breathed, he couldn't remember a time in which his body had reacted so strongly to something so innocuous.

But it wasn't innocuous. The thing had been in a stranger's hands, in the hands of a woman he knew nothing about.

He'd stripped no small while ago, and now all he could do was stand in front of the mirror as the water grew hot, and then began to cloud the room with warm moisture, thick enough to begin condensing on the reflective surface he couldn't tear his eyes from; those eyes of his that had seen so much and had given so little. Those blue eyes that saw the worst in everyone around him, saw danger and warned of caution in every person he met.

And they saw a man in pain, not only of the physical type; his reflection told him he was a broken thing, a thing he shouldn't attach to any other innocent. He'd allowed those four into his life because they understood part of what it was to be him; not all, of course, because to know all of him would be revealing the inky darkness living deep inside him. And now he was playing about with a woman who seemed unafraid to know him, to see him, and if he were truthful with himself, at this moment it terrified him more than anything in the world.

The scalding water pounded away some of the tense tightness running over his body, but it did little to quell his thoughts. Why now, of all times? He'd been doing alright, by his standards; he hadn't had an episode like this in months, hadn't woken with nightmares, hadn't felt the pull of killing that rode ever so close to the surface. But in a single action, that woman had crumbled all the fortifications shored up by faith that he was getting better.

As he gingerly toweled off – some of the bruising had yet to fade – his mind bent in another direction: perhaps it was a good thing she'd inadvertently pushed him to this. Doesn't it follow that perchance his fortifications weren't as infallible as he thought them to be?

Though he didn't want to admit it to himself, maybe his brain had a point.

After fluffing out the majority of the damp remaining in his hair, he snared a pair of dark wash jeans and layered on a tee and long sleeved shirt; if she could do casual, so could he. Pulling on a set of brown, battered shoes, he gathered his thoughts, and composed what he hoped to be a genuine, resoundingly sorry apology.

He exited his room, stole softly down the hall, and took a deep breath before entering the kitchen.

She was still there, wine glass in hand, sitting on the counter and sporting a far away expression on her face. His mind nudged him along, urging him to speak up and begin his rehearsed apology.

Before any sound could exit his lips, Eleanor took a small sip of the deep burgundy wine and cracked a small grin.

"When I said you needed a shower, I didn't think you'd need a rescue team to get you out."

The corners of her lips quirked upward as she spoke over the rim of her glass.

"I suppose I could cut you slack for the hair."

She finally looked his way, that grin turning into a conspiratorial frown.

"Or were you up to something else in there…?"

All that he had planned, all that he had rehearsed flew completely from his mind. She acted as though nothing had happened; she was pretending for him everything was alright, that he had nothing to apologize for. It was surreal to him, the reaction she portrayed. He'd shown her a portion of his less-than-perfect side, and she'd merely brushed it aside with apparent ease; was anyone capable of this much trust?

He had his answer immediately: yes. There were four others who had formed a family around him, and they knew far more than she did, enough to turn anyone else away. Would she react the same should she witness more? Would she stay long enough to witness more? It was a question he wasn't sure he wanted an answer to for now; she was fast becoming someone he both wanted in his life, and wanted to be as far away as possible from.

And all he'd done is slept with the woman.

So he decided to do something he had never before done. Throwing caution to the wind, he mustered up the ability to stroll into the kitchen and take a peek at his culinary creation; oddly enough, it had been turned down to a heat that would only keep it warm. Breaking the seal on the lid, he opens it up to find it had been stirred gently and then allowed to stew a bit more. Raising an eyebrow, he turned to face her, one hand still on the counter.

"Darlin, I don't think we know one another well enough for that yet."

That did the trick. She smiled that smile again over the rim of her glass before swinging one leg in the direction of his stove.

"You know, if that doesn't get eaten in the next few minutes, the onions are going to taste like wet paper."

He crossed his arms and took on his best Eliot stare.

"There's only one chef in a kitchen, hon, and the position's already taken."

She rolled her deep brown eyes and slid from her perch on the counter; the act put them ever so close, and he found himself nearly uncrossing his arms in reaction. One hand on her hip, the other cradling her glass, she raised her chin in what could be construed as a defiant act.

"Yes, well, everyone knows you need a sous chef."

She motioned behind him with her glass.

"And I think I've done quite the excellent job, if I do say so myself."

He couldn't help it; his lips twitched into a small smile, causing her to give a "hah!" before she maneuvered around him to the island.

"I knew you could smile, but Christ, you're a stubborn one."

The worry, the fear of a break-down of control was fading fast, and he found himself at ease, falling into a rhythm with her as they dished out the salad and stew and bread, eventually taking the lot of it to his small, terribly appropriate table. He almost apologized for that too, but when he saw her scoot plates and blows around to make room for it all, managing dishes without complaint, he realized he didn't need to, and that she would most likely roll her eyes at him a second time.

They made small talk again, but this time, their choice of topics was varied greatly; he asked about her job, she asked what his favourite food was. She answered global marketing, and he responded with stuffed mushrooms.

He asked about her residence, she asked about his choice of paint colour. She mentioned a flat downtown with lots of windows, and he simply said the colour fit the room.

He found out she was a few years older than him, and had once lived in Virginia. She told him her family was small, though she still tried to keep in touch.

He realized not long after their meal was finished she'd never once asked what he did; she'd never once asked about his family, or his history, or what his hobbies were. She was keeping a small amount of space between them, and for that he was grateful. He had the feeling she would wait for him to fill in the gaps whenever he felt the need, and that space between them would only be allayed when he could find the courage to do so.

Cause that's what he needed: courage.

They finished the night on his couch, the bottle of wine between them and stereo on low. She curled up her legs beneath her as he sat a respectable distance away, one arm over the sofa as they talked about literally nothing; television, movies, music, books, anything that was nothing, and he found himself more relaxed than he'd been in a long time. There wasn't a pressing need to "get the small talk" out of the way so they could hustle to the bedroom; he was enjoying her company, and she, his.

When the night wound to a close, she didn't whine or put up a fuss about how sad it was she had to leave. She simply said "I have to work early tomorrow" and smiled. She'd smiled while brushing back his hair when he'd walked her to the door, and when he thought she might actually pout, the threat of a snicker twitched on her lips.

"You've got clean-up duty, big boy. I wish you the best of luck."

She'd patted his cheek and then she was gone, strolling down the hall in her trademarked confident manner.

The last person to "pat" his cheek lost a few fingers.

He was certain now he'd thrown himself into an entire new world of hurt, and he was surprisingly comfortable with it.
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PostSubject: Re: Something I am dallying with    Tue Feb 26, 2013 10:10 pm

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Chapter III

Holding Silence like a Shield

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He didn't know how it happened, really; all he knew is a month had passed and she was still there. A month, and within that time they'd begun a routine that fell into place without real thought. He couldn't fathom how two people could simply coexist and not need anything besides the presence of the other; their situation wasn't built on fleeting emotion or steadfast conviction. It was a thing born out of a one night stand and a dinner party, something he'd never known to exist, but found it to be simply an uncomplicated association.

They would have dinner, always at his place, and afterwards they would talk. About anything and everything except his life, and her past. She didn't push the obvious questions of "what do you do" or "where did you grow up" or a myriad of other, probing questions he hadn't completely answered, even to his family. And he didn't ask her about her life before Portland, only the life she lived now; what she did, where she lived, how much she hated or loved her job.

Those questions brought a smile to her face as she answered "both".

It was a routine they hadn't discussed or intended, and he found that for once in his life, he didn't need 'planned'; he didn't need certainty or probability or hard numbers. All he needed to do was show the smallest amount of himself, and that seemed to be enough for her.

Even when he was gone on "job outings", she never questioned or complained; when he came shuffling through his apartment door, beaten and bruised and bloody, he knew if he called, she would answer. Perhaps she wouldn't be free to visit, or maybe she was caught up in work; regardless, knowing he had someone to listen to the trivial things, who didn't pry into the particulars of the mess he'd just arrived from, gave him room to breathe.

And he found himself doing the same for her. She traveled as well, though not to run a con or steal a precious artifact; her work took her around the world, but generally she'd say how much she loathed living on a plane. It was understandable, of course; he wasn't fond of them either.

He could only recall them being in his apartment a handful of times – their schedules rarely aligned - but in those times he never felt the pressing need to keep himself closed off; even with his family, there was the desire to hold them to at least a manageable distance, one far enough away they wouldn't be hurt when the dark creature he knew himself to be came crawling back into his life. No, he didn't have to hide from her because she wasn't actively looking; she'd shown no desire to burrow deeper into his life, and in turn, she'd allowed him a little further into hers.

At first, this arrangement was put down for a trial basis, to test it and see if the entire situation was worth any sort of effort; he realized quickly the amount of "effort" he would need to put forth was menial at best. She didn't expect him to call when they'd exchanged numbers, and he'd felt no shame in thinking he might not; three days later he returned from a particularly draining job and found himself dialing her number with any real forethought.

She'd picked up, and within a few minutes they'd laid plans for another dinner.

It had been easy, ever so easy for him to call her after that, not just to put out an invite for dinner, but to simply talk. And they did talk, about everything, but always with a respectful minding of the invisible rules: don't talk about his work, don't ask about her private life. These rules never had cause to be spoken, as their understanding of one another grew quickly.

But not without mishap.

It was fitting, really, that whatever it was they had, had begun with a string of missteps in a dirty bar; along the way, they had their fair share of awkward, stumbling moments. Once, she'd mentioned the bruises on his body, and asked about their origin; he had shut down, unsure of how to react to such an inquiry from someone not in his family. She'd gone quiet afterwards, suddenly displaying a lack of surety he was surprised to find in her. To pass through the moment – and to allow him time to think – she had busied herself with the recent dirty dishes in his stainless steel sink. It was a reaction he was relieved to witness.

And once he'd nudged her about being a country girl in the big city, and she'd excused herself to the bathroom; he wasn't quite sure what her response entailed, but after a moment she'd returned with a smile that could barely hide scarred wounds.

So perhaps it was a good thing she never stayed over, and never invited him to her place; they hadn't slept together since their first haphazard night, though on a minor few occasions she found herself waking curled on his couch, only a scant handful of hours having passed by. He would let her sleep for only as long as it took to clean his kitchen, or do a load of laundry; then he would gently prod her from her dozing and walk her to the door. Again, it was a simple, easy thing for him to do, but a small part of him enjoyed having her within the apartment, even when she lay dreaming about who-knows-what.

And then a thought hit him out of the blue as he dawdled in his kitchen, a thought unbidden by anything other than the sight of her tanned, curved body drowsing on his overstuffed armchair: he didn't need her. He needed the polite intrusion into his life, one that left him room to be a lighter side of himself without questions or reservations.

What he needed was her uncomplicated presence.

After this thought, he stood quiet, attempting to process a rather harsh, calloused introspection; he'd just equated her to a thing, one that brought relief at the end of a day. A shower, a heavy bag, a car, a kitchen; all of these he had, and for some time he'd relied on them to ease his mind and body. But now he had something else, something he could engage, and something that lived. So was it true? Did he really see her as nothing more than these inanimate objects, ones that could be bought and sold at will?

Yes, he did.

It caused him to frown, this cruel thought, and he emotionally dug at himself in an attempt to find some part of him that felt it needed her; he couldn't and for the briefest of moments, he found himself berating the man he was, and the man he'd allowed to take control of their association.

But was this a bad thing, really? He'd been through so much in his life, so much it seemed he'd break under the weight of it; didn't he deserve a moment or two in his life he could breathe? In all the terrible, horrible, evil things he'd done, was there not a single instance he'd done something right? Within those seconds of good, did he carve out enough of life to merit moments, however small, to be free of the nightmares always a thought away?

Maybe not, but here was his chance, and he wouldn't let it go.

Her presence was a release, and though his mind brought down shame for these thoughts, his scared, charred heart screamed out over the emotion of guilt, begging him to let it finally beat without struggling, to let it beat within him without the constriction of worry and fear.

Within the second month, they'd solidified their involvement into a recurrent, easy interaction. She would come to dinner and stay long enough for them to converse about her day, or his views on current politics; but the more she became a part of life, so too did the guilt of using her.

And how, exactly, could he equate her objectification to that of other women he'd seen? Surely, he'd seen a particular woman, chatted her up and brought her to his bed, but was that any worse than what he was doing now? Using a woman to fend off his pain without her knowing his true intentions?

It was worse in an enormously monstrous way.

He'd dug a deep pit, one he could no longer see himself clawing out of; if he told her, he would lose his only opportunity at true calm, but if he held his tongue, he was far worse a man than he had ever been.
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PostSubject: Re: Something I am dallying with    Tue Feb 26, 2013 10:12 pm

::---------------------------------------------------------------------------::

Chapter IV

The things we should do are not always the best.

::---------------------------------------------------------------------------::

He had his bad days, and he had his not-so-bad days. Good days were rare. He couldn't remember the last good day, the day the con went without a hitch, the bad guy paid, no one got hurt; this never applied to him, no, because if he got hurt he was doing his job, doing what he was paid to do, doing what he couldn't help but do.

This was a bad day.

The job was finished, and the con went well, but someone was hurt, someone who wasn't him. He was just a little too slow, too tired and it was showing; he was slipping, minor but noticeable to him, even if the others still held faith he had their backs at all times. They were right in some ways; he wanted to be there, every moment, every second of the con, to have their backs and protect.

And so he'd had a bad day.

Bottom lip was bloodied, as were fingers and hands, muscles sore and ribs straining under the pressure of one too many connecting shots; he'd almost done his job, almost, but almost meant someone received pain only he should take. He was stretching thinner every day, with every job he noticed the little things, those small signs that one day, most likely soon, he would miss something entirely, and someone would die.

That was the nature of their work. Even though t they attempted leverage without violence, they pulled cons and jobs and played with their marks and none of them truly understood how perilous all of it was. There was always danger for them, just waiting for the proper time, danger that came with a promise of more to come because they swept headlong into their fights with only him to understand the real rules of the game.

It terrified him, this thought of losing; not the job, no, but the game. The game they all played without knowing.

He'd had a bad day, and he was drowning in fear and anger.

He didn't want to be alone.

For the first time in a very long time, Eliot wanted a human being next to him as he fought through the pain, the guilt, the fear, and the volatile anger stemming from all three. Something pulled at him, tearing at the man who wanted solitude and nothing else; this thing could have been brought about by a myriad reasons, though he had his suspicion the emotion stemmed from one thing: he was tired.

Not just the weary tired of a long day at work, or the draining tired of no sleep; it was the tired that came from a life without reprieve, a life forced to bear thought of suffering endured and suffering caused. Sure, he put on the face they'd all grown to know as his default state, one designed around frowns and furrowed brows and the seldom smile that always seemed to make the others happy. It was a small thing, his smile, but when it occurred, his family lit up about him. If nothing else, he was grateful they could smile around him.

For a long time, no one else could.

He remembered a time, so long ago, in which he could smile, that his heart didn't feel like it wanted to stop beating for the guilt, but remained doing so just from sheer force of will; he remembered faces and dates and occasionally names, all of them linked to a memory of laughter not forced from necessity. They were far away now, in the past before his past, and he didn't think he would ever find a time like that again.

Until Eleanor went from his bed, into his life.

She wasn't some sort of savior, come to pull out of his drowning state; she wasn't a goddess of love or a saint of peace or the catch of a lifetime. She was simple, uncomplicated, and Christ, he needed uncomplicated.

Maybe that's why he called her. Maybe that's why he didn't need a reason or a thought to dial her number.

He shucked his coat immediately, not bothering with the rack, simply dropping it as he moved. The door was left unlocked, something unheard of, his belt he unslung and left to the couch, his boots were pulled off in mid-stride, and all was left touched by a scarlet stain; he wanted out of everything constricting him, and he wanted out of it now.

His jeans were unzipped by the hallway; he slid a hand inside a pocket to retrieve a battered mobile phone, dialing her number as he slid an arm out of a torn shirt.

She answered, he asked, she said yes.

Something was different now, a question in her voice; he'd never called before six p.m., another one of their unwritten rules; it had, for months, been unbroken. His words where short, his voice ragged, and she had said yes before he'd inquired what she wanted for dinner.

The phone was left on his bed, tossed in amongst discarded flannel and weathered jeans, socks and boxers; he didn't want another call from his family, asking how he was or if he needed anything. They cared, all of them did, for his safety and sanity, but none of them realized how little he needed them after the fight; perhaps that line of reasoning was slightly off, as he knew one man in the family who always noticed the little things about him.

That man never called.

Hot water beat relentlessly on his scarred body, slicking off the blood and grime, though only superficially. He stretched his arms, rolled his shoulders, twisted every way he could withstand and then…stood. His mind was running through the day, reliving each moment and breaking them down into a personal after-action report; where things went right, where they went wrong, where they went to hell. In this particular instance, to him, they'd gone wrong; he didn't like to admit it, but "going all to hell" required a little more than a family member getting hurt. It was a line of thinking that caused his brow to turn down before he closed his eyes.

He didn't want to keep them open, not with those thoughts.

Time is subjective, some say; he would have to agree. For five years he'd spent a life of good, of guarding what he hesitantly called loved ones, yet it seemed only today he'd held a life in his scarlet-stained hands, a life he had every intention of snuffing out. There was no "yesterday" for him; it all compiled in the today and it drained him. Sure, he'd become calm, more introspective and able to deal with the shadows that dogged him relentlessly, but being "zen" didn't mean complete control.; it meant he simply dealt with the pain a little better than before.

He'd tried accepting hesitant, caring help from all those around him, and in some ways, their words, their occasional physical contact broke through the suffocating walls around him, and he could breathe; he could smile and laugh and do all the things one is supposed to do when one is surrounded by friends…by family.

There was only so much they could do. They knew him now. They knew there was a dark part of him and though they said they accepted it, they had no idea just how black the darkness could truly be. Because they knew him, had known him for five years, they only wanted to be closer; he could never get closer. He'd tried, on more than one occasion, but a small part of him was reluctant to forgo the steadfast solitude he'd found after the years of killing.

Because that is what it is: killing. Murder implies some sort of human attachment to the party on the receiving end; he was good at what he did because there was no human element involved.

The water had run cold. His skin was pale, the bruises standing out in already blooming blossoms of black and blue and grey, and his fingertips were wrinkled from too much exposure. He was fascinated at times by the human body's ability to heal; looking down to his hands, he flexed them, their stiff joints protesting slightly. But how many times had each finger, wrist been broken? Even now, there were scrapes over his knuckles, covering scarred, swollen joints, but he knew in time, there would be fresh skin over the wounds, and more flesh to be taken off later. Occasionally he wondered if he was still alive, still healing because his body found it amusing to repeatedly take damage no normal body would attempt.

He was entirely lost in these musings when he heard a knock at the door.

Not the apartment door. The bathroom door.

His mind froze until a voice carried in from the other side.

"I'm beginning to suspect you prefer the shower to my company."

She was there, already; she'd come and she was just on the other side of his door. But she didn't enter. She didn't press her appearance on him; she was announcing her arrival, and he could tell by the retreating sound of heels on hardwood that was all she'd come to do.

He exited the shower after a moment to gather up what little he could of his stray thoughts. The shower had become icy in his stay, and now, instead of a sauna, he had a less-than-warm bathroom with unfortunately cold stone tiles. The towels were cool to the touch, and he shivered as he dried, careful not to run the downy rectangle of cloth too hard over his ribs.

It was always the ribs.

He avoided the mirror on his way out, knowing already he looked tired and quite literally beaten. The door to his room was closed, and he was grateful she'd left him with privacy again. A white tank top, a button down shirt and jeans were all struggled into, the occasional grunt or grimace that accompanied pain won out of his self control; he decided to skip jewelry, making him feel somehow naked, but leaving less to put on.

There was no hiding the split bottom lip, or the swelling of his jaw; these were things he'd kept from her in the past with some fair amount of ease. She was only around when he called, so his ability to hide something, anything from her was rather straightforward. He had the feeling she wouldn't care either way, but it gave him one less thing to show her, in case she actually began to truly question who or what he was.

With a quick finger-combing of his longer-than-average hair, he steps out into the hall, and then rounds the corner to the kitchen.

She was there, once more in his kitchen, dishing out a boxed meal that smelled wonderfully of Thai food.

He had not expected this, or rather, he wasn't certain what he should have expected. As she moved around the bar, plate piled high in one hand and a beer in the other, he could tell she'd just fled from work; crisp, black high-wasted slacks were topped with a sleeveless sheer, pale pink top, of the ruffled sort. Her hair was soft for work, and when she turned her back to him, placing the dish and beer on the bar, he noticed her auburn hair was loosely swept into a rather complicated knot at the top of her neck.

He had the strangest desire to pull out a bobbin pin and watch what would happen.

The moment of childish urges faltered a second later as she patted the stool next to her without turning to face him.

"Sit. Eat. I didn't want to cook, and you didn't sound up to it."

Her words broke him free of whatever was keeping him from approaching, which is exactly what he did, although a bit slower to disguise the wince of pain he couldn't hide at every other step. As deftly as a man practiced at sliding onto barstools while injured, he settles onto the chair and exhales slowly, waiting for the moment she realized his appearance was more coarse than normal.

It didn't happen immediately. She busied herself with emptying out a mound of rice into a communal bowl, and tossing the box into his trash; he noticed something a bit odd after that. Stuffed down into the black plastic bag were bloodied paper towels, four or five all bundled up and tossed inside, and not too long ago. His mind was baffled until he remembered his hands, specifically his knuckles; they'd been bleeding when he arrived at the apartment, enough so he'd left a slight trail of small droplets on the wood floor, and smeared on his door handle.

She'd cleaned them. She'd not questioned or asked or bothered him with why there was blood on his floors, on his clothes; she'd simply wiped it up without comment, and he had the feeling she expected at least some explanation before night's end; at this point, he owed her more than one.

He returns his eyes to the plate in front of him, noting the food looked as good as it smelled; she'd chosen a heavier duck dish with clear noodles, and though his head was taking the first steps to a full migraine, his stomach was up for anything.

As he reached out to grab a pair of metal chopsticks, he realized his bruised hand was in full view; if she hadn't noticed anything yet, surely by now she'd gotten an eye full. Not looking up, he retrieves the utensils and slowly worked his way around the bowl, tossing about the ingredients until they were just right. It was then he noticed she'd taken her seat at the bar, slipping onto the stool next to him and sliding her own plate closer while he took his first bite; it was exactly what he needed.

Spicy, warm, flavourful but not overbearing, good.

Before he could twirl another portion onto his chopsticks, he paused, and finally glanced her direction; she was eating, and saying nothing, but he felt the strongest urge to explain himself to her. He wanted to apologize or give context or something other than just sitting in silence he knew she'd engineered. This situation was one they hadn't encountered before, and as always, she was giving him a chance to explain or not, either way was his choice to make.

While he was mulling things over, she set her chopsticks on the rim of her bowl and swapped them for her beer. She'd leaned forward onto one arm, not paying attention to the "no elbows on the table" rule; it was a silly rule anyway, he'd always thought.

Just after taking a short drink, she allowed the rim of the bottle to rest against her lightly-glossed lips; she was staring ahead, not paying him any mind, or so he thought.

"When dinner's over, we're doing something about that lip. And those hands."

She took another sip and played the swapping game again, returning to her food as though nothing had been said.

He couldn't think of anything to say, not really, and it came as a slight surprise to him that when normally asked to talk about his injuries, he would slide past the question, diverting or ignoring it all together. Here, however, in this moment, he wanted to tell her what happened, as though he needed someone to understand, someone on the outside who wouldn't see him as the hero of the day. Someone not complicated by intimacy.

The guilt came down on him with crushing force.

Could he not have her for this one last night? Could he pretend just once more he wasn't using her for his own selfish need? That was the entire reason he'd called her in the first place, right? He needed her presence for this night, he needed to forget his day just one more time.

But once again, he couldn't think of anything to say; or rather, he couldn't think of anything that wasn't a confession of his guilt. So to keep from just staring at her or blurting out the words "I've been using you", he turned his attention to his own beer. Drinking deeply, he could feel the slight alcohol burn on his swollen, cut lip and the sensation wasn't a bad thing; the little sharp pain focused his mind again. Normally he wouldn't drink on a night this bad, but he was craving something more than just water or a nice red wine; he felt like being a little sloppy, when the time really wasn't right for it.

They sat in silence for a long while, her not asking while he mulled over the best way to break the quiet; she'd forced him into a situation where he couldn't help but say something.

Eleanor had conned him with a single sentence and food.

That thought brought his mind to a grinding stop, which meant his body also halted movement. She'd conned him. And the only way you can run a game is to know your mark, to read them as they gave off even the most imperceptible emotions.

He dared to glance her way, and was greeted with the sight of her staring back at him; she'd been watching him and he hadn't noticed. Her chopsticks were placed across a nearly empty bowl, and her beer bottle was being run in small circles on the counter; she was lazily studying him in a way that brought to mind a parent waiting for their child to connect the dots, and for some reason, the look sent cracks through the guilt.

She knew. She already knew, and she was still there, still sitting at his bar.

Her brown eyes narrowed but softened when he laid his utensils on the rim of his own bowl, and picked up his third beer. As the dark bottle reached his mouth, he couldn't fight the twitch of a half smile on his lips; he'd been so incredibly foolish, and now he felt exactly like a child being taught.

"You already knew."

He didn't stop the words from exiting his mouth, and in truth he didn't want to; really, he was just stating what he already suspected, knowing it would be confirmed but still needing to ask.

Her face washed with both amusement and relief, and as she reached for a second beer, she actually smiled her smile.

"Why do you think I'm still here, Mr. Spencer."
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PostSubject: Re: Something I am dallying with    Mon Mar 04, 2013 9:07 am

This is really good. It's rare to see so much devotion poured into such an articulate fanfiction.
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