Conflict Resolution

Part Twelve: Violence

by Scalar7th

Tags: #another_day_at_the_office #any/all #multiple_partners #romance #superhero #urban_fantasy #bondage #comic_book #D/s #enchanting_voice #exhibitionism #scifi #socialism #villainy

Tanya carries on an investigation, while Chelsea manages her relationships, and through it all, new discoveries are made.

Port City, USA

Bright General Hospital

Second floor supply closet

Half past midnight, Tuesday morning

Chelsea lies on a small cot in a clear corner of the supply room, resting her eyes. She has a ninety-minute lunch break which she usually uses for quiet meditation or napping along with food. This night, though, she's too excited and nervous to sleep. There's too much going on in her mind.

Besides which, lunch hadn't arrived yet.

She'd watched Reggie turn himself in on the evening news, and even knowing it was coming, that moment had affected her more than she had expected. It makes her wonder just how vulnerable she is to legal proceedings. Her powers don't hurt the people she freezes, but it's possible for her to freeze someone in an inopportune situation that could cause them to get hurt accidentally—if the police, for instance, had driven into the crowd of frozen rioters, or if she'd frozen one of the people she'd seen on the rooftops and they'd fallen to the street trying to get out of the way. She doesn't know, and doesn't really want to know, what would happen if violence was done to someone she'd blasted.

Bright Society tests had suggested that her freezing powers weren't quite the same as just rapidly dropping someone's temperature (which makes sense, since otherwise every wing feather is a death sentence) so perhaps damaging someone she's frozen will only result in cracking a shell around them and letting the warmth in faster. Or it might—

A light knocking at the closet door interrupts her grim thoughts. "Occupied," she calls back softly.

"Good," Sterling says, opening the door into the small space. He's carrying a paper bag. "The nurse in charge told me where to find you." He looks around at the various medical supplies and the cot set up against one wall. "Not exactly the Abbot, but it'll do for today," he jokes.

"I kinda like it," Chelsea replies, sitting up. "It's cozy, it's quiet, it's dark..." She grins. "It's soundproof."

"It is not." He sits beside her on the cot.

She laughs, putting an arm around his shoulders. "Close enough, if you're quiet."

In reply, he hands her the bag. "I didn't think you would want another burger, after we grabbed Catelli's earlier. And I don't think I'll ask."

"It's extremely private if no one needs any supplies." Chelsea opens the bag. "What'd we get?"

"I swung by a Thai place nearby and got a mango salad with shredded chicken and cashews."

"Sounds good." She pulls out the significant take-out container and hands it to Sterling, reaching in again to bring out a pair of shrink-wrapped plastic forks.

"I don't know what your feelings are on spice, so I got it at its mildest." Sterling opens the package, and the sweet scent of the fruit spills out into the small space.

"They make spicy mango salad?"

He nods. "As spicy as anything else in the restaurant. I understand that it's an experience." He chuckles. "I never go beyond a five on the scale of one to ten. This is a one."

Chelsea unwraps a fork and stabs through a collection of lettuce, taking a big bite. A myriad of flavors fills her mouth, and she can identify a light dressing, the mango, and some remarkably well-seasoned chicken in among the leafy vegetation. A moment after she swallows, she feels the light burn of the spice.

"Well?" Sterling asks expectantly, taking the other fork from her hand.

Chelsea nods. "Very nice. Good guess."

He grins. "Lucky guess." He takes a bite himself.

The two of them ate in silence for a while. Chelsea hadn't had an evening meal; the last thing she'd eaten was a vanilla ice cream cone while she was walking with Reggie, so Sterling's offer of a midnight snack was welcomed.

"I had dinner with Sharon," Sterling says after a while, "so I'm not terribly hungry. You go ahead."

Chelsea blushes a bit, but she's not sure why. Must be the heat of the salad, she thinks. "Thanks, uh, you only had about a quarter of it."

He shrugs. "That's fine. Mostly I brought it for you. I've had plenty."

"Aw, thanks, Sterling." Chelsea smiles. "So many kind people around me these days."

"Makes life a lot better, I find."

Chelsea nods, her mouth full of salad.

"That's part of the reason I like the co-op so much."

Chelsea swallows her mouthful. Rioters. The word jumps to her mind too easily. She carefully moderates her tone. "Surely the fighting down there makes you re-evaluate that?"

Sterling shakes his head. "If anything, it does the opposite. Seeing people band together against the Brights and the police is inspiring, don't you think?" He smiles. "Certainly your friend agrees."

Chelsea purses her lips and pretends to think about it, taking another bite of salad so she doesn't have to say anything.

"I suppose there can be disagreements between friends," Sterling says with a smile. "But perhaps Sharon or I can arrange a tour at some point so you can see the other side of things."

Which would be a great way to gather intelligence, Chelsea thinks. She nods. "That would be interesting."

"And hey, if you really like it, we can always use another medic," Sterling laughs. He holds up his hands in surrender before Chelsea can even react. "Okay, I know, that's asking a lot, and I know this is a dream job for you."

She smirks. "Good." She skewers the last bits of the salad. "I admit that I have a bit of a bias, working at Gerald Bright Hospital."

Sterling nods. "It's strange coming in here. Gerald is no friend of the confederation, nor of me personally, so seeing his name presented so prominently is a bit of a shock." He lets out a bit of a breath. "How was your day?"

"You mean after I outed myself and one of my best friends?" Chelsea grins. "Really not too bad. I had a lovely jog home, a nice walk in the park with a... a friend, went back home and had a nap, and since then I've been here."

"Sounds like a good day. What about work?"

"Quiet," she replies. "Nothing much going on. Care for the patients, fill out the forms, rest up. Everyone's doing well, nothing weird is happening, and if that keeps up, it should be a restful work shift. Or at least as restful as it can be."

"Then I picked a good day to visit," Sterling says with a smile.

Chelsea chuckles. "And just what do you expect I might do with this free time?" she asks, turning to face him. "There's not a lot of room in here. Someone might come in at any time. There's nowhere else in the building with privacy, and I can't leave."

Sterling's smug expression makes her shiver, for some reason. "Alright then, the question is, if those weren't a problem, what would you do?"

"Oh, probably something like this," Chelsea replies, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him deeply. He responds immediately, his hands on her hips. He tastes of mango, and she's sure that she does too, and it's a lovely flavor.

"That is a fun activity," Sterling agrees.

"Nice to know that Sharon didn't tire you out completely."

Sterling can't help but laugh. "She didn't tire you out, either, it seems."

Chelsea bounces a bit on the cot, her hands falling to her sides. "This isn't really a comfortable spot for us to have much fun, and the shelves limit the wall-space."

His hands take hers, and he gently strokes the backs of her knuckles. "Your hands are cold," he says.

She feels the ice leap in her heart at his touch. "It's a circulation thing," she lies easily. It's the same lie she's told for nearly a decade. "They're always cold."

His fingers are doing a soft dance over her palms, his thumbs stroking her wrists. She takes a shuddering breath. Maybe she is tired, her control is already shaky.

"Sterling," she whispers.

"Yes, Chelsea?" he replies, his voice confident, self-assured. She can't remember when it was otherwise. An echo comes back to her, Sterling turning to her Wednesday night and saying, Would you like to be my guinea pig? And even those words were in that solid, comfortable tone. He knew her answer, even then.

And on Saturday night. I think you actually want violence. His hands are still dancing their magical dance. Her hands twitch, but whether it's the Angel looking for an opportune moment or the way he's manipulating her nerves, she can't tell.

"What," she breathes, nervous. He doesn't stop his tender ministrations. "What do you think... of me?"

His fingers slow in their movements. He seems to be considering the question. "Sharon and I had a ... a talk, yesterday. Sunday night." He pauses, and she waits. His hands haven't stopped moving. "I... Wednesday afternoon, I had a talk with a friend and co-worker. She told me that I needed a break, among other things, which is why I went to the club."

Chelsea nods, and swallows. Her mouth is dry. She presses her thighs together. She clamps down on the Angel, refusing to let her powers interfere with this moment or with her concentration.

"Since then..." he lets out a slow breath. "Since then, I've been happier than I've been in ages. Even with the cafe fire. Even with the protests, and the strike. And Sharon quite rightly pointed out—quite forcefully pointed out, I might add," he smiles, "that it's not her that's causing it."

Chelsea takes a slow breath herself. It would be easier to focus on the conversation if his fingers weren't making such exciting circles on her wrists.

"So when you ask what I think of you," he continues, "it's difficult to say, because my opinion has been severely muddled up by how hard I've been smiling for the past few days. You're beautiful, Chelsea, and you're wonderfully energetic, you're caring and competent and I'm honored just to know you, let alone to be sleeping with you."

Chelsea shivers herself into a grin. "You could've just said you think I'm nice," she jokes, trying to get some control of the conversation.

"I could have," Sterling agrees, "but wasn't my way so much better?"

Chelsea nods. Her breath is cold, she can feel it. She doesn't know if she can freeze someone with a kiss, but this isn't the moment to find out. She grabs Sterling's wrists, careful to push her power down. "Your way is beautiful and fun and wonderful but if you don't stop I'm going to be too far gone and I don't want that right now," she sputters, gasping a bit. "Sorry, I'm... You know? I'm not sorry." She asserts herself, still holding Sterling tight. "I don't need to be sorry right now. I regret that we can't strip off and fuck like wildcats, but I'm not sorry for putting a stop to this before I feel compelled to."

Sterling's smile never wavers as he nods. "Good. I'm glad you stopped me, then, before I pushed you too far. I didn't realize I was affecting you like that."

There's a strange hesitation in his voice, as though he's unsure—no, Chelsea decides, not unsure, like he's at war with himself. "You don't want to stop, do you."

Sterling laughs. "God, no."

She laughs with him. "Me neither. Just... tonight? Uh, tomorrow night? In about twenty hours, say?" She shakes her head. "The night shift messes with my sense of time."

"I have to work." He kisses her forehead gently. "Wednesday supper, then?"

"My turn to buy." She puts a finger to his mouth. "No objections."

Sterling nods. "Alright, I'll see you later, then." He grins. "I look forward to it."

"Don't plan to keep me too late, I work that midnight."

"I'll have you home before you turn into a pumpkin," he promises as he stands.

"Oh, please," Chelsea giggles. "I'm much more a doormouse."

He scoffs. "You're not very mouse-like."

"I'm hardly a vegetable, either."

He laughs. "Great point. There aren't a whole lot of good analogies."

She smirks at him. "How about you have me home before my dress disappears?"

"Oh I intend to make that happen almost as soon as dinner's done."

"That's not the Cinderella story I know."

"I tell much better bedtime stories than Grimm," Sterling says with a wink. "Shall I...?" He waves towards the door.

"Yes, thank you for supper, and thank you for the conversation and..." she rubs her wrists and grins. "But I think I'd like to try to sleep for the rest of my break. And that, I am sorry for."

"Then I'll be on my way, and I'll go get my rest so that I can be in fine form when we next meet."

Chelsea blows him a kiss. Sterling gives a little wave and departs.

She lies down on the cot to try to sleep, but the places where Sterling's fingers played over her hands still burn, fire on her skin over the ice in her blood. She shifts uncomfortably once, then twice, then grabs her phone.

She knows someone who'll be up early, when she's done her shift.

1:15 AM

Dockworks communications headquarters

Anna Tolman, a middle-aged woman with short dark hair and blue eyes behind thick glasses, walks out of the War Room and pauses, seeing a shock of green over one of the cubicle walls.

"Mark Spirit, you were off shift over four hours ago, what are you doing here?" she asks.

Mark shrugs, typing away. "Vanessa's working 'til two and she's my lift home so I figured I'd hang out a while and see how this whole weird hacker thing develops."

"So wait, you're still working?" Anna sighs. "Mark, you're not even supposed to be here. I admire your dedication, but..."

"Nah, you got me wrong, Anna, this chump tried to slip past me and now it's fucking personal, you get it?" Mark grins but doesn't look up from his work. "'Sides, this is the most excitement I've seen since, uh, Saturday."

Anna blinks. "It's Tuesday morning."

"Yeah, that's like two whole days without excitement, and today we got a hacker. You understand where I'm coming from."

"Can't say that I do. Besides that, you've been working for nearly twelve hours."

"You wouldn't wanna send a poor, tired IT worker home without a ride after he's put in so much work for you, would ya?" This time he looks up, all smiles. For a kid with a face full of piercings, he can pull off an innocent puppy-dog look better than just about anyone.

Anna softens at the expression. "Look, just... keep good notes, don't screw anything up, and for the love of God don't make me answer to any sort of disciplinary committee for this."

Mark looks back at his monitor. "No sweat, A.T., I'm off the clock. This is just for fun."

"And this is fun to you." Anna's voice betrays her disbelief.

"Anna, honestly, this is great. I love this stuff. Ask Vanessa."

"Oh God, Anna," Vanessa's voice comes from across the aisle, "it's non-stop. He does this as a hobby. Sometimes I catch him checking the Dockworks servers from home to make sure everything is running fine."

"What can I say, I love what I do," Mark says. "Almost as much as I love you, 'Ness."

Vanessa removes her small glasses and puts her head in her hands. "Ay, do you ever stop?"

"Nope." Mark's grin comes through in his tone. "And when we get home—"

"Enough, please," Vanessa says, getting back to her work, her already-tan complexion having deepened a shade. "I promise you if you say one more word about it, no you won't, when we get home."

Anna keeps her amusement to herself. "Just remember, Mark, that you and Vanessa aren't the only two people here. Keep it office-friendly."

It is Vanessa that answers her. "With the sort of friendliness that happens in these offices..."

Anna can't keep her giggle from slipping out. "Alright, children, do you mind finishing this little exorcism and letting me know how it goes?"

"You got it, A.T.," Mark says, giving her a salute with his right hand while continuing to type with his left.

Anna continues her walkaround, checking on the couple other people who'd pulled the late shift, but nothing else notable is going on, so she leaves her skeleton crew (plus Mark) and heads to her lunch break, confident in their abilities to handle anything necessary. If she's needed, they'll call.

2:43 AM

A non-descript fifth-floor apartment

Tanya looks at her prize, the holy grail, the connection, that piece of information she's been longing for. She easily bypasses security on the local college's servers to open a private email account, one that will redirect to her personal inbox, and she starts writing.

Dear Ms. Luna
I'm sorry to bother you. I'm writing on behalf of the Bayshore College Alumni Committee. We're looking for a graduate that's lost touch, one Mr. Sterling Grey, so that we might interview him for the Alumni Report given his connection to recent events, and all our leads have dried up.
By chance, we found a connection between you and him going back more than a decade, as a client of his when he was in private business from an old post you made on social media, and we were wondering if you would be willing to help us with the search, or perhaps if you're willing to give us a statement about your experiences with one of our most notable alumni.
Thank you for your time, we're looking forward to your response.
Tanya Lasallia, B.Sc.,
On behalf of the Alumni Committee, Bayshore College

There, that looked properly formal. Attached the official images and followed the templates she'd got from the Alumni Committee's pages, so if they'd been getting any emails from the university, it would at least pass the initial sniff test.

Still, this is a long shot. The only connection to Sterling Grey she could dig up that wasn't attached to the PCDCC, Amelia Luna, a daycare owner who graduated from college the year after Sterling, and who apparently in that last year of college made use of his services as a "life coach."

Tanya can't imagine the dockie coaching anyone's life.

And she had made a social media post about it, and Tanya had managed to dig it up despite Amelia's accounts being unused for the last five years. She had gushed about how much her new life coaching had turned things around for her.

She sends the email, not expecting a reply for a while. She puts the computer into its automatic mode, spinning in her chair. She'd fought for hours to get into the personnel files at the Dockworks and got nowhere. They clearly had some strong protocols for account creation and some very fast people working to protect them. Every time she tried to forge the necessary credentials, the new user was caught and banned before she could do anything. It hadn't mattered how often she'd changed her IP address or if she was trying to move through conflict resolution, communications, security... She'd even contemplated pretending to be Sharon in maintenance, but didn't want to get her friend in that much trouble.

So at least there was the social aspect. She could perhaps get a little more on Sterling if she was able to talk to this Amelia person.

And that's it, for now. Tanya makes her way to the bed, strips down to her panties, and tosses herself into it carelessly. No weird notes, no strange messages, no business to conduct, just an unsuccessful day of hacking behind her.

Now to see what the morning brings. No one is that squeaky clean. If Ms. Luna doesn't have the dirt, she might have the next step in getting to it.

8 AM

The front door outside Gerald Bright General Hospital

Chelsea sits on a bench, drinking a coffee, waiting.

A red convertable sports car drives up. Reggie sits in the driver's seat and waves her over, then reaches across to open the passenger door.

Chelsea gets in, closes the door, and buckles up. "Thanks for coming to get me, Reg."

"Don't worry about it," he replies. "You want me to take you home?"

She shakes her head. "Nah." She looks around as Reggie starts to drive off. "I want somewhere where we can spar."

"Spar?" Reggie seems confused.

"You know," she says. There's no one around. "The Angel wants to test her strength against Flamehammer. You know a good place for that?"

"I, uh... I don't have my equipment," he says, turning to go uptown.

"That's fine, just consider it training."

"Is my home okay?"

"If you have a good place to fight, sure." She smiles at him.

He smiles back, nodding. "Oh, sure. When I bought the place, I had Bright Society engineers dig out the basement to a nine-foot ceiling and fireproof everything, so I have a personal gym to work out my stress."

Perfect, Chelsea thinks to herself. "You alright with fighting there?"

"No reason not to be." They're waiting at a red light, and Reggie's fiddling with his watch again. "Just don't go too hard on me, okay?"

Chelsea smirks. "No promises." She sighs a bit, relaxing into the seat. She feels warm, comfortable. "I just want to work out a little aggression, and beating up on patients is considered impolite."

"Given the way the nurse treated me when I broke my leg, I'm surprised to hear that beating up on patients has gone out of fashion."

Chelsea laughs. "Okay, maybe I can be a little rough with some of the more obstinate ones."

Reggie turns the car on to the highway and hits the accelerator. The morning rush hour is in full swing, but most of the traffic is heading into downtown, while Reggie is leaving, so there's barely anyone in his way as he speeds down the highway. Chelsea feels strangely at ease; normally driving like this would put her on edge, but she's comfortable. It's exciting, feeling the wind on her face, her head and her arms.

Reggie's exciting. That must be what it is. Or... not Reggie. Flamehammer. Flamehammer excites her. Excites the Arctic Angel. Reggie's really just another rich kid playing with his toys, regardless of the fact that he's got five years on her. Flamehammer's something else: responsible, strong, forceful, even a little dangerous.

And it's definitely Flamehammer driving. The way his jaw is set, the wild look in his eyes. She imagines fire bursting from his hands, wreathing him in flames as they scream down the road. She pictures letting the Angel out, letting her hair and wings fly in the wind, using her powers to move traffic out of the way, or to keep pedestrians safe, as the two of them race to their destination. She barely notices Reggie speaking as she gets lost in the fantasy of the moment, closing her eyes, almost imagining theme music to go along with the ride, as though Flamehammer and Arctic Angel were some new broadcast show. She smiles. It's ridiculous, but it's a fun fantasy.

She feels the car slowing down as Reggie pulls over to an offramp. "Welcome to suburbia," he says as she opens her eyes. "I think you'll find it a perfect sort of place. Quiet, unassuming, with large lots, space between houses, a good deal of privacy."

"Privacy seems important," Chelsea says softly, mostly to herself. "Certainly there's more room than in my apartment."

Reggie pulls up to a split-level house that looks pretty much like all the other split-levels on the street. He drives into the garage, then walks around to the other side of the car to let Chelsea out. She takes his hand gratefully, and lets him lead her into the house.

The main floor has about as much space as the living room of Sterling's apartment, and roughly the same layout, minus the bar. "Did you want to sit down and relax, Chels?" Reggie asks her. "Take a load off before..."

Chelsea shakes her head. "Nope, I was having trouble keeping awake in the car, if I sit down now, I might not get back up." She points in a random direction and stands up tall. "To the training basement!"

Reggie laughs and leads her through the well-appointed and spotlessly-clean kitchen, past the double-locked and well-secured back door, and down into the lower level. The basement is as spacious as Reggie had said, with a remarkably high ceiling, a soft floor, and everything glowing a soft silver sheen in the dim lighting.

"My training equipment is all in the laundry room," Reggie explains, waving to a door in the far corner. "I don't think we'll need it?"

"I don't want to bash on a training dummy," Chelsea says. "I want to wrestle."

Reggie grins. "Right, of course." He slips off his shirt, revealing the well-muscled body underneath. "I hope you don't mind, I don't want to set my clothes on fire."

"Mind?" Chelsea raises an eyebrow. "I didn't bring the Angel's dress with me, so..." She slips her own shirt over her head and tosses it in the corner.

"Does it bother you if I keep my briefs on?" Reggie asks, undoing his belt and letting his khakis fall to the floor.

"Not at all." She doesn't feel a hint of embarrassment as she slips out of her scrubs and socks. She's comfortable enough around Reggie at this point that it's hardly worth thinking about. She grins at him. "Might help me concentrate if you're covered."

He chuckles at her reply and casually tosses his clothing into the corner opposite hers. "I'm ready whenever you are."

"I'll just be a moment," she says, undoing her bra. "Once I get out of all this, I have to transform."

"Normally it takes me a while to get my gear on, so I understand."

Chelsea drops her panties to the floor and kicks them into the pile. "Are you going to be okay without your plating?"

Reggie nods, and Chelsea can tell that he's trying not to stare (she preens a bit). "Yeah, just don't tell the Society that I'm using powers without being in disguise. The fire doesn't hurt me, the gear just lets me transfer it more cleanly."

"Just enhancements, then?"

"That's right."

Chelsea takes a deep breath and feels the cold (the ice) in her heart, barely held back, and she lets it free, lets it flow through her veins (changing). It feels... different (freeing), today, as though it was a spring, coiled (under tension). She feels the power stretch her muscles (her skin), her bones (her blood), reshaping (recreating), rebuilding (redefining), becoming (a part of her) instead of apart from her, quickly, so quickly (uncomfortably). She thinks of the way Sterling touched her hands (her hands twitch) and the words he said to her (her pussy throbs), and she imagines blasting him just as she'd blasted Sharon, leaving him frozen (helpless) in the storage closet. She pictures him as she saw him in the street (doubled over), as sheathed in ice as the (helpless) girl beside him (her hands twitch).

The ice pours out of her hands (she's aware of Reggie's eyes on her) at the nearby wall, seeming to double back around her (she feels the reflected ice building her wings) even though that's not how either her power (emerging away from her) or her transformation (bursting forth within her) work. She hardly notices the other bodily changes (she feels beautiful) until she opens her eyes and she's looking down at Reggie.

"What do you think?" The Arctic Angel asks, suddenly feeling a bit self-conscious.

"You didn't freeze the wall the other day," Reggie says, curious. "It was an impressive display." He's obviously very taken by her.

The Angel shrugs. "I never know how the transformation will happen," she explains (lies). She shakes off the nerves and takes a stance, not caring (in fact, fully enjoying) that Reggie's eyes are wandering. "Ready?"

Reggie also takes a strong stance, and his hands smolder and light. "Bring it."

His words thrill her (her pussy throbs), but she doesn't let it show. "Any ground rules?"

He considers for a moment. "I don't think I can block those feathers without my armor, so maybe don't throw them at me."

"Got it." She raises her (twitching) hands and gathers her power. The moment before she (uncages) releases the blast of ice, she notices Reggie's arms glow brighter, and he easily (infuriatingly) wards off the incoming attack, the cold melting away as it approaches his flames.

"Is that all you do?" he teases before rushing towards her, lowering his right shoulder as the flames travel up his arm. Her response (instinct) is to buffet him with wind from her wings and use the lift she generates to pull herself to the side, quickly putting a little ice down and watching (laughing) as he slips and falls on his back on the soft floor. He rolls away from her quickly before she can throw more ice at him, keeping his burning arms up as she shifts backwards to put greater distance between them.

She doesn't think he can hurl fire, not like she can toss bolts of ice, which means that she has the strategic advantage (also by being taller, more mobile, more distracting), but her ice can't penetrate his flames at that distance. She can keep him at bay to an extent, but he can still close with her over time.

Reggie hops to his feet, both arms alight from fist to elbow. There's a cocksure smirk on his face. "The best you can do?" he asks (infuriatingly), walking to his right, never taking his eyes off the Angel. She circles the opposite way (displaying her body), sizing him up (drawing his gaze), wondering how he might use his fire. Her tired mind wonders how he experiences that fire, if Flamehammer is a being within Reggie much like the Angel feels sometimes separate from (sometimes together with) her.

He seems to notice her (foolish) momentary lack of attention, and springs in her direction. A little off her guard (distracted), Chelsea takes a strong stance to receive him and unleashes (liberates) the full power of her ice, slowing him as the cold batters his advance, finally (finally) dragging him to a stop just out of reach. She steps in, touching Reggie's iced-over chest (tenderly).

He's (surprisingly) warm.

With a suddenness that startles her, Reggie's fist moves through the ice and strikes her in the side. There isn't a lot of force in the blow, as the momentum of his charge was stalled out, but the shock of it is enough to knock the Angel off her stride.

The second blow falls on the outside of her hip. The fire burns her, and instinctually her power concentrates itself there, cooling the area almost instantly. Reggie's other hand reaches up and grabs her shoulder, and she feels her blood boiling as pain (anger) and astonishment drive her to her knees.

She's not (will not be) beaten. Her hand grabs his wrist (violently), the fires go out as she (forcefully) pours her power into him, and he suddenly lacks the strength to grip. She turns and, without unleashing any feathers (keeping to the rules), batters Reggie roughly with her wing, (triumphantly) knocking him to the ground. He rolls quickly to his feet again as she once more flutters backwards, gaining room, gaining space, gaining breath. Her shoulder aches, and her hip will bruise, but she's still ready (willing) for more.

Reggie doesn't speak, doesn't give her any more time than he can, before simply rushing her, flaming shoulder leading. This time (we are unified), she (we) receive him roughly, using her (our) wings to lift her (us) a bit so that he doesn't meet solid resistance but instead carries her (us) backwards. They feel the heat of his flesh between their breasts as they grab him about the waist and spin with him, using his momentum and their numbing, icy touch to take his legs out from under him and toss him sideways and pinning him on his back on the floor.

He reaches up to grab their sides with burning hands, but they duck down and only grant him a handful of crystalline feathers. Meanwhile, with a firm grip on his shoulders, they freeze the fires in his arms. They feel his grip go slack as the cold touches his nerves, hears his arms hitting the padded floor.

They're inches from him, staring into his eyes, his defiant expression.

They could freeze him to the floor, and he knows it. His fire would let him out in minutes, maybe seconds, but they still could do it (want to do it).

Reggie growls, but there's no strength in his benumbed arms to get purchase, and no leverage in his legs to throw her off.

(we are unified)

They pause there for a second or two that feels like an eternity.

(I want violence)

(I want)

They plunge their head down, kissing him fiercely. His response is not resistance but an equally-fierce acceptance, kissing them back with as much energy as he can muster. They stop their power, and in a flash he's wrapped them in an embrace, his body feeling much warmer now than when it was on fire. Their kissing continues, more and more intensely, until Chelsea is forced to pause for breath.

(I want!!)

The Angel rises up over him, and in one swift motion, shreds his briefs, tearing them off his body, releasing his stiff cock. She descends on him again, her hands forcing his shoulders to the floor as she kisses him again, and again. His hands grip her ass under her wings, and she feels his hard member against her belly as she presses herself against him.

There was no more hesitation. The Arctic Angel pulls herself up tall, pushes his arms down, and with only a slight pause to get a nod from Reggie, she descends on him, feeling his heat deep inside her. She starts riding him immedialy, fucking him with abandon. Dimly she recognizes his hands on her breasts, his fingers clumsily groping at her chest as she holds him down and thrusts against him. She grips tight to Reggie's shoulders, hears him gasp, sees him grin, feels him thrust up into her with the same force she was pressing down. He closes his eyes, breathing coming fast and shallow.

She redoubles her efforts, fucking faster, harder, feeling the ice flow from her fingertips and imagining the fire meeting it. Not the only place she could feel ice melting under vital heat. She felt Reggie's climax inside her, pushed herself harder and harder, and just as she feels his body go limp and his stiffness soften, her own climax emerges, and she wars with herself to keep the power from bursting forth. She's not trying to keep her power secret, but trying to keep from freezing Reggie, who she can tell has lost the energy to maintain his fire.

He's my ride home, Chelsea thinks with unusual clarity as the Angel's body thrums with pleasure. She lets her wings down—she hadn't realized she'd spread them wide—and she releases Reggie's shoulders, still towering over him.

He smiles up at her, a satisfied look on his face. "Good match. Not sure who won."

Chelsea lets out a breath, fighting to control the ice in her blood. "Doesn't matter." She carefully stands up on shaking legs and reaches a hand to Reggie, helping him to his feet.

"How are you doing?" he asks her.

"I'm good," she replies (without considering the question). Unconsciously, Chelsea brings the wings around her front, covering herself a bit defensively.

"Do you need anything?"

She shakes her head. "Glass of water and a warm washcloth."

He nods. "A shower? Do you need rest?"

"No, thanks, I'll just get cleaned up, and then if you could take me home? I need some sleep."

"Of course, but," Reggie seems a bit reluctant, "are you sure you don't just want to stay here? You're welcome to crash in the guest room."

She smiles (falsely). "That's a very generous offer, but I need to get home."

"Right, naturally." Reggie nods, moving to get his clothes. Chelsea does the same, finally shuttering the power within her and (reluctantly) letting the Angel rest. The wings dissolve into vapor and she feels herself shrinking down to her usual size, her eyes changing, her hair vanishing.

If she doesn't do that, her clothes won't fit. (If it weren't for that, would she have turned back?)

Reggie jogs past, heading upstairs. "I'll be back with your water."

"Thanks!" she calls after him. She picks up her bra and shirt, hears the water running in the kitchen. She quickly covers her top, waiting to wash up before finishing dressing. She sits in the corner.

What just happened? Chelsea asks herself, asks the Angel, but gets no reply. She feels good. Nice. Comfortable. She hears Reggie on the stairs. She sees the washcloth in his left hand, and raises her own; Reggie tosses the cloth and she catches it easily. He sets down the water and politely turns aside as she cleans up.

"Mind if I have a quick shower?"

"No, go ahead," Chelsea says, eyes on his tight ass as he retreats back upstairs.

She takes her time, washing up, dressing, drinking down the water, then walking upstairs to refill the glass. She hears the shower turning off as she downs her second glass, and is half-finished a third when Reggie re-emerges from the bedroom in his khakis with his blue dress shirt hanging open.

"Sorry about that, I just—"

"It's fine," she interrupts with a smile. "You're just starting your day, I'm just ending mine."

"Ah, good, you understand." Reggie offers her a hand. "Let's get you home."

She nods. "Alright. And, uh, Reggie?"



He nods. "You're welcome, Chels. Anytime."

She notices him fiddling with his watch as he settles in to the driver's seat, and then can't seem to keep her eyes open, only waking up when he gently shakes her after parking outside her door.

6:12 PM

Trace Point

One of the poorer corners of one of the poorer neighborhoods in Port City

Outside a three-room building with a brightly-colored cartoonish sign on the front proclaiming it to be "Sun, Moon, and Stars Childcare"

Tanya gets off the bus, checks her location on her tablet (retrieved from the closet after months of inactivity), verifying that she's in the right place. She crosses the road with a couple other people, and walks in.

A pretty young Black woman, in good shape, significantly pregnant, is sitting by the entrance at a table with a chart in front of her. "Hello," she says. "Is there something I can help you with?" Her speech is heavily accented.

"Yeah, I'm, uh, looking for a Miss Luna?"

"Oh! of course," the woman says. "She told me you were coming, you are Miss Lasallia?"

Tanya nodded. "That's right."

"Yes, she is just caring cleaning up the classroom." She lets out a breath. "Please pardon me if I do not get up, it has been a long day."

"That's fine, you look like you need a break."

"Yes, I do, thank you." She smiles and rubs her swollen belly. "The classroom on the right. Your right, not mine."

"Thank you."

Tanya heads into the classroom, which had five low circular tables with child-sized blue chairs sitting on top of them, and a sixth with eight chairs still around it. A slim blonde woman leans against the wall nearby, catching her breath.

"Miss Luna?"

Amelia Luna looks up at Tanya. "Miss Lasallia, I imagine. Please call me 'Amelia.'"

"If you'll call me 'Tanya,'" she replies. She walks across the room and offers the childcare worker a handshake.

"Of course," Amelia says, giving Tanya a firm handshake. "I wasn't expecting someone so young."

"I'm a very recent grad, I just wanted to stay involved, you know?"

Amelia nods and looks around. "Sorry that I don't have anywhere better to sit. You get used to the tiny chairs after a while."

Tanya shrugs. "I'm good on my feet."

"Yeah, me too. So, what can I do for you?"

"Well like my email said, I'm looking for info on Sterling Grey," Tanya explains. "We're doing a bit of a profile piece on him, and—"

Amelia holds up a hand, but her smile never wavers. "You can stop there, Tanya, and just tell me: journalist, or police?"

Tanya plays dumb. "I... I'm sorry?"

Amelia laughs kindly. "I contacted the alumni organization directly, they've never heard of you. So, are you here to write about Sterling, or to track him down to arrest him?"

Tanya shrugs with a helpless smile. Might as well roll with it. "You got me. Independent journalist, looking to score a good story about the Dockworks, and Sterling Grey seems to feature pretty strongly there."

"Doesn't surprise me." Amelia shakes her head. "I watch the news, too, and Sterling's been a bit of a big deal lately."

"Yeah, he has. So I want a bit of a different angle, want to learn a little bit about who this guy is, instead of just what he's doing." Tanya tries to look hopeful and a bit desperate. "You're really, honestly, the only lead I have on anything about this guy's history. I'm really curious about this very short-lived life-coaching business he seemed to run."

Amelia laughs. "I mean, yeah, he did that for a while. He was successful enough with it in school that he ran it as a little business."

"Really? How did that work?"

"Have you ever had life coaching before?" Tanya shakes her head at the question. "He helped me to organize my life, keep my time in order, rethink my priorities and my attitudes... if you look at my transcripts, that last year of college was my best year, I was in my best shape mentally, physically, and emotionally, and I can trace a lot of it to his work. Actually, it was Sterling that pushed me towards early childhood education as a major, in my second year." Amelia shrugs. "We were very good friends for a long time. Things petered out a bit when his work on the docks picked up, but we still get together once in a while."

Tanya flips open her tablet and writes some notes using the stylus, more keeping up the illusion of her supposed profession than actually writing anything important. "That's really interesting, actually. And you've kept in touch?"

"Oh, yes, actually Sterling introduced me to my wife, but Natali should probably tell you more about that." Amelia put the emphasis on the second syllable of the name.

"Oh? Can I meet her?"

"You already have, when you came in."

"Ah, the woman at the door."

Amelia nods. "What else do you want to know?"

Tanya looks down at her tablet. "Uh. How personal are you willing to get?"

"Oh, is this where you ask if Sterling and I used to fuck?" Amelia chuckles. Tanya reddens a bit at the frank language from the daycare teacher. "I'm not going to pretend otherwise, Tanya. Sterling got around in college, and I think after, and yes, he and I were sexual partners. We were never in a relationship, other than being friends, but we did sleep together while he was in school. Not while I was seeing him professionally, but before that. And after."

"And now?"

Amelia laughs. "Not for many years. I'm a one-woman woman, now. Settled down. God, I hope you're not going to put all this in the article."

It's the stuff I want, but not what a journalist would need. Tanya shakes her head. "Nah, just trying to get a profile of Sterling Grey, generally. All this stuff is great background."

"I hope this doesn't make him look like some sort of narcissistic hedonist."

Nah, I've got enough information that says that. "No, really, this is all interesting, but it's just a little part of what I've been getting at. By the way—"

"Amy?" a voice came from the door. The woman from the front was standing there, leaning on the door frame. She's taller than Tanya originally thought, perhaps nearly six feet.

"What is it, Natali?"

"I think it's probably time to close up, I am very hungry."

Opportunity? "Can I buy you two dinner?" Tanya asks. "I would like to continue the conversation."

Amelia and Natali looked at one another. Amelia gives a subtle nod. Natali gives a thumbs-up. "Sure," Amelia says. "I'm tired out, and I don't think Natali feels like cooking, either."

"Is there a place you like to go that's quiet and private? And," Tanya continues a little apologetically, "not too expensive? I'm not exactly making Port City Crier money here."

Natali laughs. "How about Billy's? If you don't mind eating in the car."

Tanya shakes her head. "Sounds fine to me. Uh, I didn't drive."

"That is all right, we can all fit in Amelia's."

Tanya looks at Amelia. "Works for me."

"For us, too," Amelia replies.

"You're fine just letting a stranger buy you dinner?"

Amelia laughs. "We're practically best buddies now I think, after all the questions."

"You are okay with two strangers taking you to a strange place in their car?" Natali asks in reply with a broad grin.

"I see an exhausted teacher and a woman so pregnant she might go into labor before we even get to the restaurant, I think I'm pretty safe," Tanya says dryly.

The three of them laugh and make their way out to the parking lot, moving slowly for Natali's sake. Amelia's car is about as run-down as her daycare, functional and comfortable but not much to look at from the outside. Tanya got in the back behind Amelia, as Natali needed a good deal of room for her long legs and her large belly.

"So, Tanya, what got you interested in Sterling Grey?" Amelia asks as she puts the car in gear.

He's fucking my two best friends. "He's a bit of an enigmatic figure, you know? And when I start to look into someone and find nothing, well... journalistic instinct, right? If everything about his life was just up front and obvious, there wouldn't be any need for curiousity, but every lead is so mysterious..."

"So why did you not just say that instead of pretending to be from the college?" Natali asks.

"Because every time I've asked people about Sterling Grey, they've gone quiet on me." That's plausible, right? "I needed some kind of cover story. Or I thought I did, anyway, until you found me out." So I made up a different cover story. Good job.

"We were told that if anyone comes to us asking about Sterling Grey that we should tell them everything honestly and then say to go to him for details," Natali continues. "You have not found anyone else like this?"

"No one's been so kind." Let's take a chance. "The Bright Society sure isn't this charitable."

Amelia gives a sharp, bitter laugh as she turns towards a main street. "Won't get much from them. Either you're in or you're out, and we are definitely out."

"That's an unusual thing to say," Tanya points out.

Natali puts a hand on her partner's shoulder. "She just means that the Brights are not often in Trace Point except to cause problems." She turns a bit to better see Tanya. "When we saw Flamehammer hit our friend on the news, it brought back some bad memories."

"You've had a run-in with Flamehammer before?"

Amelia and Natali share a look that Tanya can't read. "That is not a story for tonight," Natali says. "You wish to talk about Sterling Grey."

Think journalist. "Well, you know, maybe I'll make it a series on the docks or something."

"Then we can talk about it another time," Amelia replies firmly. "Natali is fragile right now, and I'm in no mood to get into it."

"Of course." Tanya scribbles a few notes on the tablet, just for something to do. "Then, since you're so kind to talk to me about Sterling Grey, what's your connection to him, Natali? Amelia said that he introduced the two of you."

Natali nods. "My connection to Sterling Grey is that he saved my life and the life of about fifteen other girls from a human trafficking organization."

Tanya swallows. Careful or you're on a bus home. Let her talk. "Can you give me the whole story?"

Natali nodded. "My parents had enough money to put me on a ship to America, but they did not know who they were dealing with. I will not tell you about the ship, but it was not good. When we got to the docks, we were supposed to sell our bodies to pay the passage on the ship and our papers, but instead, there was a group of people from the docks there with Sterling Grey and they took us in to shelter."

The drive was taking them through Trace Point, towards downtown. Tanya was 'writing notes' quickly. "What a terrible experience."

"Yes, thank you. But Sterling Grey looked after us. We could not get our papers and we were going to be sent back, and after that time we did not want to go back. So Sterling helped us to hide and stay away from the police."

Tanya frowns. That doesn't sound great. "So how does that put the two of you together?"

"Sterling introduced me to Amelia, and..." Natali sighs and smiles. "I had never felt like that. I was with boyfriends before, but in my home, we never speak of men with men or women with women, it is considered inappropriate. So when I feel these things, I am very confused."

Amelia turns the car into the parking lot of a small, old burger stand. The sign over the window is fading and half the lights are burnt out. It says Billy's. "I hadn't ever thought that I'd find someone like Natali, either, but when Sterling introduced us..." She giggles. "'Love at first sight' sounds so sappy and cliché, doesn't it?"

Natali picks up the story. "I was already eighteen, so we could get married, and we did about a week later, so I could stay legally. And that is how Sterling Grey saved my life."

"And it's been about four years of absolute bliss since," Amelia concludes. "Did you run across the trafficking arrests in your search?"

"I never saw anything like that associated with him." But I'm sure going to check into it tonight.

"Four years ago September," Amelia clarifies. "Now, let's get some food."

"You know what I want, Amy," Natali says. Amelia nods. "Large fries all for me, please, I am hungry."

Amelia laughs, turning off the car and opening her door. "Fortunately it's not too costly here, or Natali might break the bank."

Tanya laughs pleasantly, hoping it doesn't sound as fake as it feels. Fucking fuck, is this fucker a saint?

Not possible.

She walks with Amelia to the window. "So, uh, I can't help but notice..."

"Sperm donor, a good friend, and no, it's not Sterling," Amelia replies with a giggle.

Tanya's laugh this time is genuine. "Wasn't what I was going to ask about, but thanks."

They're interrupted by the proprietor, an older gentleman who absolutely looks like he ought to be chain-smoking while he works the grill. He's not balding, but every inch of his short hair is grey. He's much more cheerful than he looks, and when he takes their orders he doesn't even punch it in to his register before telling Tanya the amount.

"So what were you going to say?" Amelia asks when the shopkeeper turns to the grill.

"Well it's just that you're off in the corner of the city, but you and Natali seem like you have a great story to begin with, why aren't you both better known?"

Amelia lets out a sigh. "Please, Tanya, don't involve us in anything, alright? We're happy. We don't need the spotlight on us. Natali especially. Just... I don't want to sound rude, especially since you're so kind to buy us dinner, and you seem like a nice person, so I don't really want to say 'never contact us again,' but..."

Tanya smiles a bit ruefully. "Yeah, I get it, Amelia. Sorry, I didn't really mean to drag you two into something you—"

"We haven't been dragged into anything. I didn't have to accept your email, but I talked it over with Natali and we agreed to share our stories with you. Besides, the Dockworks is getting a bad rap because of the strike, we want to help combat that as much as we can."

Oh Christ. Tanya fights the urge to roll her eyes. "Well, I'm more interested in the man than the movement, I guess."

Amelia laughs, a bit embarrassed. "Well, if you get close to the man, I bet you'll get wrapped up in the movement. He has a way with words."

Tanya thinks back to last Wednesday night. He sure does. Got to give the bastard that. "Has he always been so smooth?"

"What? Smooth? Sterling? No, no. Back in college? Absolute nerd. Awkward as Hell. Not much of a looker, either." Amelia takes a breath. "Didn't stop the girls from being all over him, though. He'd make a pass at someone, next thing you know they were heading off together. Confidence is a Hell of a thing, Tanya."

"Is that all it is, then? Confidence?"

Amelia opens her mouth, then closes it, pauses, then starts again, hesitantly. "Ye-es. I mean, people would talk, but there was never any evidence of anything."

The hesitation catches Tanya's attention. "Talk? What about?"

"You know, uh, some people thought he was a dealer."

She carefully composes her expression, trying not to reveal the ridiculousness of that thought. "Drugs?" He would be well-placed as a smuggler, working in the docks.

"Yeah, although he never offered me any. And no one else ever said he had anything. So some people thought he might be drugging the girls, but again, never happened to me, no one ever had any evidence of it except his success." Amelia sighs. "Then there were the other rumors. Money? I never saw it, at least. Threats? Have you seen the man? He's a softie, always has been."

A shiver runs down Tanya's spine. "So what did that leave?" she asks, knowing the answer.

Amelia closes her eyes. "One of the big rumors about him that was circulating when we were in college was that he had powers."

Before Tanya can query Amelia about that statement, their order arrived in three brown paper bag.

"You have to understand," Amelia says, taking her and Natali's bags, "that it was a dangerous time to have powers then. A lot of people that had them hid them." They walk back to the car. "So with hidden abilities being an unknown quality, you can see how a dorky psych student with a lot of success with the ladies might attract those sorts of stories."

Shit, that makes almost too much sense. Tanya opened her door, thinking. Natali and Amelia open their bags of food, and the whole of the vehicle starts to smell of hamburger and french fries. They ate their meals in silence.

"I think," Tanya says, "that I don't want to go home. I have something to take care of."

Amelia swallows. "That's fine, we live on the other side of downtown."

"A friend of mine lives near the docks, in Barwater, is that alright?"

Natali nods. "Sure, that's fine by me, Amy?"

"At least we can get you close."

"Great." Tanya scribbles a few notes on the tablet. "That sounds perfect. Thank you both."

"If you have any more questions," Natali continues around a small bite of her burger, "I'm sure we can answer them."

I don't really want to hear any more about this asshole right now. "Of course," Tanya puts on another false smile as Amelia turns the key in the ignition.

6:05 PM

Port City docks

Outside the PCDCC maintenance building

Crystal, freshly off her security shift, stands outside, waiting for Sharon, about to have her lunch.

I have to stay on her left, no more than three feet away, while I deliver the suggestions, Crystal recalls, thinking about the specifications of the subsonic inducer in her pocket. She'd spent her afternoon yesterday testing the way it would sit in her pocket, and had found a way to keep the device steady even while she's jogging.

Sharon emerges, in spandex shorts and top, showing off her muscular form, seeming almost inappropriate in the cool evening. Crystal, dressed in a warm sweatsuit, feels a slight pang of jealousy; she's in very good shape, but it seems like Sharon could tear her in half easily.

She clicks the device on as Sharon says, "Hey Crystal."

Crystal puts on a smile. "Hi Sharon, ready for a run?"

"You bet!"

Sharon takes up a position to Crystal's right and the two of them jog down the road.

Has Tanya figured out Sterling's secret? What will Crystal say to Sharon? How will the new dimension to Chelsea's relationship with Reggie affect things?

Find out more in part thirteen!

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