Who: Flash and Laura When: Backdated a bit to after the party Where: Flash's apartment What: Meeting up, eating delicious food Warnings: Talk of violent stuff, some blood. Delicious food.
Away from the club, distance spanned in fading bloody footsteps, X had finally sat down on a narrow concrete pylon at the edge of a construction site that looked like it had been long forgotten by the city. Distant were the sounds of the city, the honking of horns, clumps of people that laughed and talked as normal people did, from sirens that seemed like her shadow maide of noise. It had been a long time since she thought they followed her, but they did now and it felt almost like home. Almost.
It was human nature to crave what was familiar. That even as she wanted to be normal, wanted to want to have a bedroom made of soft whites and pale pinks, everything in her rebelled against it. That sort of bedroom belonged to the girl she'd been at the party, with fingers built for things like texting and holding hands with boys. Her hands -- her hands were blood stained, thicker clumps around the tips of her fingers where the blood of dozens of men had impacted first. It had been warmer then but it was cooler now, sticky, congealing as it dried on her skin. It was worse in her hair, sticky, stringy spikes forming at the ends as it dried.
There were places she could have gone to, places she remembered from when she was here before, but there was too much blood on her now, too many questions to be asked for the sake of washing herself clean. There was the Hudson, but even she was wary of those waters that held too many secrets and a wealthy share of dumped bodies. Eugene had offered another option and X knew she should take it. She could go up the fire escape, avoid being seen by anyone under bright, bright lights and no one would be the wiser except the two of them.
Tucking her hands in her pockets, she bowed her head forward, the look of despondent teenagers everywhere, her hair hanging down so that the blood on her face, her throat, the upper part of her chest wasn't immediately visible in the shadows. She wished she had a hoodie, but without one, she could make do. Leaving her spot on the pylon, forgetting the construction site as it had been forgotten by everyone else, she headed back into the city to find where Eugene lived. The blood on her shoes had either dried or been rubbed off by the time she made it to the main streets and there was nothing to suggest that she was anything other than another stringy-haired goth girl, pale faced and wreathed in her own angst and despair as she trekked through the streets. Only she didn't feel despair, only a sort of numbness that came after killing, as she slid from being alive and into hibernation, awaiting that next moment when whatever crooked, dark thing she might have for a soul could sing.
When she finally made it to his building, she checked the address again on her phone before doubling around back. The fire escape was up high, designed to be lowered by those coming down, rather than lowered by those wanting to go up. She looked right, then left, her claw snikting out before she drove them in the wall and began to climb up. As soon as she made it to the landing, she slid over the cast iron railing and onto her feet. Rubber tread muffled her noise as she took the stairs up, counting the windows she saw until she had the right apartment. The if not wasn't considered, wouldn't be until the answer was found to be true or false, and knocked on the glass with her claws. Tink tink tink.
Flash’s place was one of those comfortably lower middle class apartments with more space than he knew what to do with. Boxes of stuff he didn’t use stacked all over an all too white carpet. Ikea furniture thrown together out of necessity instead of style. Bare walls without any posters identifying his personality or pictures identifying his friends. A kitchen table he didn’t use for anything except doing his taxes and throwing junk mail on. It looked more like he was squatting there or his girlfriend left him and took all the stuff with her. But, Flash didn’t care. Cause Flash would take this over living in the dirt again any day of the week.
The last couple years would have been considered brutal by many. Camping out in the desert without running water for miles, chasing through disgusting urban areas that could barely treat their own shitwater, sitting on a rock of a military base with metal and buzzing tvs to keep him company. All of that he didn’t give a lot of thought to when there was always an assignment. Always a bad guy to catch. Even though he hated to admit it, he could see how Adam could get locked into his work and refuse to get out of it and sometimes Flash wondered if it was less of a crutch and more of a giant fucking trap that the robodoc couldn’t escape from.
So, he was trying to fit in all the normal he could while he was still in New York. Bars, girls, hookups, rinse repeat. SHIELD was still on his ass, especially now that there was a fucked up version of his alien goop on the loose, but he actually had more than a couple minutes to stop and take a breather. And, each time he did, Flash secretly wished he was back fighting terrorists out in the desert. He hated jumping right back into high school with the whole gang there making his life more awkward than it needed to be. Flash could barely talk to MJ, hated the shit Harry put Gwen through and constantly felt like he’d never live up to the great deeds of Spider-Man. In comparison, helping Laura through whatever murdery episode she just had down at some girl prostitution ring was a fucking cakewalk. It was something he understood and frankly had seen way worse cases with his fellow SHIELD agents. Sometimes the pressure just got too much and the sensitive ones cracked.
Flash was watching TV with a beer when she tapped on the window and he turned to look at her. Surprised, impressed and concerned. He got up, pulling a couple fresh towels from the bed and walked over to the window. “Go take a shower first. I put out some clean gym shorts and a t-shirt for you in the bathroom. Sorry for not having girl clothes laying around.” He said as it opened, smiling brightly and a little dumbly as if he didn’t notice all the blood and the homeless girl thing she was rocking. Flash did, of course, but to him it wasn’t as important as a warm place, a good shower and some hot food. “What Indian food do you want, I’m about to order.”
The decor, or lack thereof was assessed and filed. The chairs, tables, rooms, boxes, the items that were half hanging half sticking out of said boxes, anything that could break and be used as a weapon, anything that would break under the weight of a full grown man, places where the spartan apartment bottlenecked, and those corners where she could climb up and position herself against the ceiling, everything down to his beer -- all catalogued and remembered. Her gaze stopped on him, dropped to the towels in his hands. They were thicker than the ones at the Facility where they weren't nearly as interested in drying her off as making sure she was clean (her hands would never be clean and her soul could never be more than a tarnished, dirty thing).
"Thank you." Subdued, endorphin wind down and the conversation with Sam fresh in her mind. Sam. The first one to be nice to her on the journals, the first one she'd really talked to that she hadn't known before and she could feel his disappointment, twisting like a wild boa in her guts. Eugene offered acceptance without praise or the proverbial smack on the nose with a newspaper and for that alone, he could have lived in a cardboard box and helped her bathe with a stolen hose hooked up to a spigot that didn't belong to him in the middle of one of the city's many alleys.
The necessities of life came first. She crouched down, body folding up as she came through the window, right foot first. The blood had wore off the soles, leaving not a mark on the floor. She was careful not to touch anything else, even though she knew it was already drying by the stiffness in her clothes and the way they clung to her, like the dead skin of a reptile that hadn't yet been sloughed off. "Murgh makhanwala, extra spicy." He had a nice smile, one that made her feel like she'd made the right choice in coming here. Even if all he had was boy clothes. "They are better than paper drapes." Which was what she had sometimes at the Facility, so thin it had been like tissue paper, designed to cover her up but with no thought to comfort.
Taking the towels from him, she didn't wait for his instructions on how to get to the bathroom, simply followed the scent of soap and toothpaste, clean and mint after the iron wash of blood. Her fingertips pressed against the knob -- she could wipe it down later, remove the smudge of of blood prints -- and the door fell shut behind her with a click, metal latch into the strike.
Flash waited for her to get in the bathroom before he mouthed a wordless what the fuck am I doing?! to himself. He wasn’t afraid of her, no one carrying a big scary alien goop monkey on his back had any right to be afraid of what others could do. He wasn’t even regretting taking in a girl he barely even knew (again, he was pretty confident he could escape with his life if she went batshit crazy). No, Flash was worried that there’d be cops knocking on his door in a couple minutes asking him to explain why he was ordering Indian food for a murderer. He had a few ideas on how to get out of it, most of which included pulling rank on some NYPD, but he knew no matter what he was probably completely fucked if anyone managed to track her down.
He had to keep it cool though and the last thing he wanted to be was unsupportive for someone he had already deemed a teammate. Even if they were strangers. Too trusting. The doctor managed to chime in the back of his head, cold and judging of everything Flash did now instead of calm and supportive. Flash mentally told him to shut the fuck up and went to order food, lots of food, probably more food than two people needed and then returned to his spot on the couch. His beer and tv working their hardest to calm him down.
By the time she got out of the shower, Flash was tipping the delivery boy and pulling bags and bags of food into the living room. “Uh, do you want something to drink? Water, beer, orange soda...” Flash squinted, sticking his head out so he could see down the hallway. “Milk? I don’t know, dude. Some people really like milk with Indian food.” Flash made a face to clearly indicate that he did not and headed towards the kitchen.
The shower had been skin-pinkening hot and she'd remained under the spray until the water had run clear off her body, no more rivers and streams of red and pink drops circling down the drain. It was better than the showers at the Facility, no high powered hoses shooting water at her, the spray shooting up her nose and into her eyes. No powder clouds of soap thrown at her body, followed by more spraying until she came out, hair in limp strands around her head and dripping only to be covered up in a paper gown. No white tiles, followed by stainless steel gray table that acted as her bed.
She dried off as best she could, squeezing the water out of her hair with the towels until she was sure that she wouldn't completely soak the back of his t-shirt. They might not have been girly clothes, but they were dry and clean, smelled a bit like detergent and his smells from around the apartment that the cloth had picked up. Soap. Gun oil. Little bit of gunpowder. Something spicier -- the suit maybe? She wasn't sure how to classify it, besides other, unknown, foreign. Identifying it would come later.
The t-shirt was pulled on first, followed by the shorts. They were not what she typically wore (if her legs were bare, she was wearing a skirt, sometimes a dress, but never shorts) but she did not mind. Of her own clothes, she left those piled in the sink. They would likely have to be incinerated (too much evidence) and washing them would mean pouring bleach down the drain after them. Technically, she should pour it down after herself, destroy what evidence was there that she'd been there. Along those lines, she reached the toilet paper and tore off a few scraps to wipe off the door handle, the one thing she'd touched that hadn't already been wiped clean.
The now bloody sheets went into the toilet and she paused, sniffed. Food. Her stomach gave a rumble as she came out of the bathroom, barefoot and clad in his clothes. "Water. I do not like milk with my spicy food." It tended to cool things down and she wanted them just the opposite -- bursting with flavor and close to setting her mouth on fire. Laura headed to the bags of food first, realizing from their size and all the smells coming out of them that he must have ordered at least twice what they could eat.
It was almost like being back at the mansion. The slightest of smiles curved her lips as she began pulling out the boxes and lining them up across the floor in front of the couch. It was easier than trying to lay them across what should have been a table but seemed to be acting as a depository for everything else. A little more time and she could have arranged the boxes to be a table, but this seemed just as suiting.
Flash set a cool glass of water in front of her and then cracked open another can of cheap beer for himself. “That’s the spirit. Though, I’m going to be a pussy and have some mild curry. Don’t judge me.” He grinned at her, putting all the food out on the the table and then balling the plastic bags up in his hands and throwing them behind the couch. “What was the last thing you ate?” He asked, curious because he knew she was sleeping on the streets and willing to share war stories with her. “Back when I was on a mission with SHIELD they made us live off of energy bars. Not those nice ones with fruit and grains or whatever the fuck in them. No, the rubbery, plastic kind that are supposed to taste like chocolate chips.” He made a face, popping open his container of Chicken Masala and pouring a little on white rice.
He sat back, food in his lap and beer balancing on the arm of the couch. If Flash was nervous or worried, it didn’t show at all. To be fair he had broken bread in worse scenarios with people he really ought to be afraid of. It dulled his senses a little. As if he had lost a normal degree of fear and rational now that he had a goopy alien in his system at all times.
"Why does this make you a pussy?" Laura asked, displaying none of the shyness that could come sometimes with cursing, but with all the bland curiosity of a child encountering terminology she didn't understand. She'd heard the word itself often enough once she had left the Facility, dripping from the tongues of those she'd encountered on her first trip to New York. The words were rarely said to her, growled out and panting, her customers were the ones that preferred pain and blood, that wanted to hit and be hit and they did not often engage in dirtily spat words. They preferred blood spatter instead, the bloom of crushed capillaries into bruises on skin.
She did not leave bruises tonight. Cracking open her own container of butter chicken (or Murgh Makhanwala-- she liked that name better, it sat both heavy and light on her tongue, made it twist into previously unknown shapes to pronounce it correctly), she considered the use of a fork but reached for the naan instead. Most of what she'd eaten was finger foods -- pizza, the hamburgers, even the food at the facility had come in a little bottle that hadn't required any utensils at all -- "A hamburger that I found. It was still fresh." Kiden had taught her that. Where to look and definitely to make sure that it was still good to eat before shoving it into her mouth and eating greedily. "It all tastes the same, but this. This tastes different." The pizzas, the hamburgers from whatever fast food place they could find, the porridge that supplied all her needed vitamins and nutrients -- they all tasted the same.
Folding her piece of naan into a triangle, she shoved it into the still hot container and scooped out a piece of sauce drenched chicken. The first bite left her toes curling under her thighs as flavor pounded across her tongue, chased by extra spicy fire wraiths. It was good in the way that bland food wasn't and could never be. And it was bright enough, tasted of so many different things that for a moment, she didn't feel the way she always felt after she killed -- like she was just waiting for the next crescendo -- but more like she was going uphill instead of down.
He laughed at her question, practically snorting out his beer. “Pussies-” Flash gave her a look like he needed to think real hard how to phrase his explanation and such thinking was shorting out some of his brain cells. Gwen was always smarter, hell Parker too, but they also didn’t use the word pussy fucking ever. “..eat mild curry because they don’t feel like eating anything crazy spicy just to impress a girl.” Flash took a bite of the naan bread after dipping it into the sauce. Flash honestly didn’t care what people called him and it showed, so this falling back on tough guy talk was a product of his youth. Something most of the field SHIELD agents did, too, so he was rarely called on it.
Still, he was trying to play a good host and do his best not to be too abrasive towards her so he just gave a small smile and got back to eating. He liked how she appreciated good food. Liked how she let the spices from a different part of the world take away whatever pain had pushed her too far. Flash wasn’t a very neat eater and scooped up rice and curry and chicken like a kid who wasn’t sure if he was going to eat again anytime soon. Another bare reminder of his life before SHIELD, but he didn’t notice this one at all. “Glad you like it.” He said with a goofy smile after gulping down a mouth full of food. “Feel better?”
She didn't call him on his tough guy talk or turn her nose up at it, as some people with similar education to hers might have. The only teams she had ever been on had been full of teenagers and the other was X-Force. The one thing she had learned from both of them was not to judge her teammates on things that didn't matter. Language didn't matter. The ability to pilot a helicopter while it was carrying members of said team did. Lying, incidentally, also mattered, if only because it indicated that someone had something worth hiding. There was no sense of that with Eugene, no scents flooding her nose, no acrid tang of fear or tell tale sticky humidity that came with stress.
"You do not need to impress me." She didn't eat like a half starved teenager like he did, or like fresh meat in bootcamp, shoveling down as much food as possible, uncaring of what ended up sliding off the fork and back onto the plate because in the end it would all (hopefully) be stuffed down their gullet and well on the way to being digested. She ate more like a very meticulous cat, not dropping a bit either down her chin or back into the plastic container and licking her fingers clean of spicy hot-hot-hot sauce. The last question made her pause, the tip of her tongue licking her lips clean of stray droplets. Did she feel better? She did not feel worse. There was no panic crawling up her insides or dripping down her spine, no rage fueling her blood, but there wasn't the trough-dormancy-blankness that usually happened after she'd killed either. "I am," she paused, considering her next words. Laura didn't lie and even if she was the type, Eugene deserved a truthful response. The question likewise, deserved an answer, instead of her usual silence when she wasn't sure how to respond. "Okay."
She stilled in reaching for the next piece of naan, Sam's reaction still weighing heavily on her mind. He had been upset for what she had done, even without knowing the details, though knowing them did not seem to make anything better. "Are you also upset? Because of the men I killed?"
Flash smiled, cheeks full of food and eyes bright with amusement when she told him that he didn’t need to impress her. He knew that wasn’t true, all girls needed to be impressed and the sooner you did it the better, but he liked that she protested against it anyway. There was something calming about the chick with claws, even though Flash was aware of how crazy that sounded. He kept eating, not forcing any more conversation from her until they were done eating. He wanted to make sure she had a place to stay and if it wasn’t going to be here, he’d have to start making some calls to get her a warm bed and roof over her head.
He was busy thinking about other options and enjoying curry mixed with rice whens he spoke up again. Flash looked to her, expression turning a little more serious and he tilted his head thoughtfully. “I’m not upset.” He assured her and there was a kind of plainness in his voice that seemed honest in only a way a soldier could be. “Whatever you did to those guys, you’re right they probably deserved it. I kill dudes who deserve it every day...” Flash trailed off, picking at his rice before taking a swing of his beer. “If you wanna help people, though, you gotta do it through the right channels or you gotta be a no kill kinda fighter like Spidey. Get me?”
His smile was a lot like Sam's, but unlike the sunburst of warmth that it had given her before, this time it was phantom warmth, like when she sat down on a recently vacated set and could still feel the previous occupants warmth there. It was like everything else she felt between crests of killing, vague and distant, too far away to be real. But, then she remembered that real was what the hotel had given her, cool air that felt didn't carry city smells and human scents that she could never rid herself of. Even here she could smell those things, under the curry and the spices, under the pervasive scent of Eugene.
"Got you," she said distantly, like she heard but didn't fully understand. Whenever people wanted her to fight, they wanted her to kill. Except Gambit, who hadn't judged her when she'd killed and wanted her to make her own decisions about things, without following the orders of anyone else. Even in X-Force, she had obeyed Cyclops, where to go, what had to be done, all at her father's side. The X-Men had wanted her not to kill, but always thought they knew her better than she knew herself. With them she would never be anything more than a killer, an animal waiting for the slightest provocation before she ripped out someone's throat. It stifled and if she had remained, that's all she would have been until someone -- most likely one of her teammates -- caged her.
Laura did not want a cage. Not again. Not ever again. "I do not want to be caged," she told him in her overly-solemn way, like life was never smiles and laughter. "Men have been trying to control me all of my life. I do not want that again. I do not want to be only a weapon."
Flash was the kind of guy who didn’t see a cage when someone told him what to do. He saw an arrow, a direction he could follow with everything he had. He had coaches, generals, tutors. And, Flash suspected that wasn’t the case for someone who was manufactured as a weapon. The way she said cage made his stomach flip a little and erased the easy, food-happy smile from his face. SHIELD weren’t the kind of people to make promises like that. Most agents were lifers and didn’t think much about orders. Flash knew he was guilty of doing that, too.
“SHIELD gives assignments, but we do them our way.” He said, putting his food down for a second so he could lean forward and clasp his hands together with his elbows resting on his legs. “You don’t fucking like what they’re asking, we’ll figure something out. As a team. It isn’t complete freedom, but it’s better than being on the run, don’t you think?” Flash frowned. “The way things are going with mutants, we need some people like you doing good out there so they’ll think twice about locking people with abilities up.”
She missed the smile, but this was not a conversation for smiles. It was not a talk of happy times (killing didn't make her happy, it didn't make her smile or laugh or cast her arms wide to swing around in a circle beneath the shining sun, but it did leave her feeling like she could) and she watched him as he spoke. There was nothing he was hiding, no typical signs of anything but the slim truth that she appreciated from him.
"I have been running since I left the facility." Kimura, the other agents, they would never stop chasing her until they met death or managed to drag her back. She would not go, would never go, would do anything in her power not to be reduced back to the place where she was a thing, an it that they had created, devoid of anything resembling humanity. She didn't want to be Picasso's painting anymore, engineered out of pieces that never made a flawless whole. "I want to do more than kill," she whispered, green eyes bright as her gaze lifted to meet his, both slender arms wrapping around her calves as her knees bent to her chest.
Flash had gotten into this SHIELD business to do more than killing. In fact, he had the sweetly innocent belief that he wouldn’t have to kill people. That belief stayed in him until they deployed him off to the Middle East. From there, things changed drastically and it almost bothered the kid how easy it was to kill people. Just a crushed skull. Just a couple pop pop bullets. All in the name of his country or saving lives or fighting terrorism. All for doing what they said was the right thing. But, Flash was never very smart and he didn’t let himself think for long about all the questionable things he had done over there to prove himself. To show he could be a leader.
Which brought him here.
“I’ve done,” Flash paused, rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands. “A lot of bad shit. All so I could lead my own team and save people. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.” He looked up at her, rubbed red eyes looking tired in a way that only someone who had been to war could. “So, we’re gunna have to kill some people, but we’re going to save a lot more. A fuckton more.”
She listened to him because that was something she was good at. X could hear the things that were said and not said and with heightened senses, hear things that others simply couldn't. Her knees remained at her chest, tucked in close even as she set her chin between them to watch him. Where another might give comfort, she could not. It had never been in her programming and the few times when others sought to comfort her with words or hands on her narrow shoulders, it left her feeling like she needed to attack if only to protect herself from whatever trust they were trying to earn from her.
But she understood that weary look, had seen it on the faces of some in the days after M Day. She did not like seeing it on Flash's face now, out of place with the smiling man that had offered to let her into his home and ordered food for them, but refused to eat crazy spices to impress her. "I want to save a fuckton of people," she said, voice barely above a whisper, yet still strong as her adamantium claws were. Show me how to feel alive without killing.
Flash wasn’t used to being saved from his own shit. When he was a teenager and homeless, he hated taking handouts from his brony friends. He always smiled to hide the worry, always shook off the pain like it was nothing even if it lingered long after people stopped noticing. It was a trick he learned from his abusive dad. From being a popular kid. From being in the war. He wasn’t just physically tough anymore, deep down Flash was a guardian. A wall that kept the bad stuff out for other people. Finally he smiled at that soft whisper and took a quick sip of his beer.
“You’re gunna, I promise.” He looked at her for a little while, appreciating the strength behind everything she did. “Now, let’s finish up, dude. I wanna show you my video games.”