Conflict Resolution

Part Five: A Second Encounter

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

Chelsea has a lot to think about on her walk home. Sterling will want some company after dealing with the fire at the cafe. Could they be of support to one another?

Port City, USA

Downtown, the university district.

Around three on a Thursday afternoon. 

Chelsea doesn't walk home.

She had said that she would. After lunch, Sharon was going to head to her apartment before her shift, and Sterling was going straight to the office, so Chelsea had politely declined a ride and had said that she would make her way back home.

But she's not walking towards home.

She's thinking.

So she's walking wherever the walk would take her.

The moment she gets home, she has to do things. Sweep. Change clothes. Some... third thing, she's sure.

And as amazing, as utterly fucking wonderful the... wonderful fucking had been... Chelsea giggled. As great a time as she'd had, she has to admit to herself that the best part of the last twenty-four hours had been Sterling's fingers on her left hand, and what they might have done to the right.

And what she might have done in reply.

A picture of the possible scene, of Sterling and Sharon frozen in place by the sudden burst of her power as Sterling's hand brushes her other palm and she loses control, both of them taken completely by surprise, perhaps not even aware that she'd done anything, in stasis for about two hours, given the heat in that apartment, and...

She pushes herself away from that line of reasoning. That's the danger. The risk. But also...

The excitement.

Her breath chills the warm air, instantly condensing in a small misty cloud in front of her that swirls away almost as quickly. Her fingers twitch, and the hair on the back of her neck stands up. She'd been fighting so long. It would be something just to give in, to let go.

But then. The expectations. The work. She wants to keep her nursing job. She wants to keep her position in the Society. She can't just turn loose without warning. There are rules. She isn't a villain. She can't just go using her power without considering the consequences. That's what villains do, after all; they act without thinking.

Chelsea does not act without thinking. It's not who she is.

But... last night.

She folds her left hand into a fist, feeling the crude bandage Sterling had wrapped over the cut from the broken water glass, evidence that she had been less in control than she wanted to believe. One man, his hands, and his words, had nearly undone her concentration, months and years of training to keep herself hidden. She had nearly betrayed the support of Sharon and Tanya, the only people she trusts with her secret, and had almost betrayed it with Sharon right there.

She couldn't even bring herself to tell Sharon the problem. Or warn her about the danger. No, the perfect angel had to solve her problems herself.

She curses her thoughts. She actually trusts Sterling enough that she had nearly just told him. Or she just wanted him to finish what he started without worrying about...

And there's the excitement again.

She didn't—she doesn't—want them frozen, them or anyone else. But that possibility, that she might just have lost herself that much, that's what she wants. She wants to feel that edge of danger again. And again.

And she knows where she can find it. She has Sterling's number. She'll call him.

Just... later. Not until she hears from him first. Which she ought to, when he's done at work. Besides, she does have to go home at some point. She needs a change of clothes, and probably a bit of a rest. And she doesn't want to look too eager. And he has work to do, she shouldn't be distracting him.

She makes a decision. A shower. A hot shower. She'd had one, at Sterling's, but that was mostly functional. They were all hungry, they had to get clean, it hadn't been a moment for luxury.

They had even passed up the perfect opportunity to shower together, although... Sterling's shower would have been a little crowded for the three of them. Cozy for two, though...

But she isn't at Sterling's apartment. She's outside, angling towards home. She decides to jog, to burn off a little energy, perhaps to combat these feelings of wanting to be on the precipice of disaster. She's not exactly dressed for it, still in her dancing shoes and her skirt from the night before and having borrowed a fresh top, so jogging is its own threat.

She's tempted to fly.

She's surrounded by office buildings, in broad daylight. Someone would see.

But still, she's tempted.

She settles for jogging, sticking to the sidewalks of the main streets, the angel on her shoulder constantly looking for opportunities for her to do... something. But there's no chance, even with as few people around as there are, to break away from sight and let go of everything. Not even a phone booth to change in, she thinks to herself with a chuckle. Not that a phone booth would survive her transfiguration. The glass would...

She slows back to a walk and looks at the bandaged palm of her hand. Glass breaks when I lose control. She imagines silver-crystal wings of ice bursting through the windows of the small booth. The image is absurd, and makes her laugh. Not that she would ever actually be stuck, the power allows for that, but the idea of being trapped in a phone booth with her wings bursting through shattered glass walls, flying to the site of her call with a steel frame wrapped around her as she goes, is enough to prompt some glee.

She sighs and looks around. Life is going on as normal. She's close to the hospital, which means that she isn't too far from home. Getting in to the Bright Society's good graces had been a challenge, especially given her family history, but it had been worthwhile. Not only did she get the job, which was just where and what she wanted, but how many other hospitals would understand when a nurse had to leave mid-shift to run off and stop a supervillain? Not to mention the benefits, and the proximity to other people with powers. It's much easier to keep your private life private when you have other experts in the subject matter able to give advice and help.

Not that Sharon and Tanya weren't a great help in that regard. Tanya's hacking skills have always been invaluable, and Sharon's love and support... Chelsea feels warm inside, just thinking about it. And warm outside, thinking about what that had meant last night. She doubts that it will ever happen again, at least like that, but she's got no regrets about it, and Sharon had said much the same. Considering how much could have gone badly and didn't... She flexes that wounded hand, feeling the scab pull under the packing. She and Sharon were still friends. Nothing had changed between them, so far as Chelsea knows; things were the same as they had been, at least, or maybe better.

Chelsea thinks back to Tanya, hoping that she didn't feel abandoned. She has an apartment in this area, too, and she probably wasn't far away. Chelsea pulls out her phone and considers texting, looks at it for a moment, then decides against it. She hasn't really decided how to address things with Tanya, or even if there's something to address in the first place. They have plans tomorrow for their usual Friday late-night movie-and-game-night, which is scheduled later than usual since Chelsea's working until midnight, so if there's anything that needs discussing they'll doubtless discuss it then. Tanya's not one to just let things sit unsaid.

Chelsea puts her phone away. That discussion will happen tomorrow anyway, so it can wait until tomorrow. Tonight, she was expecting Sterling to call, as soon as he was done his work.

She decides to stop circling towards her apartment and turns directly for home. That shower is calling. It's also a chance to rest up, to find additional energy for the evening. She smiles, thinking about how that energy might be used. And she ought to clean, just in case she invites Sterling over.

She probably would, she thinks. Give him a chance to be somewhere other than his own home. And give her a chance to be on familiar ground. An edge, the upper hand. Maybe a better sense of control.

Glass breaks when I lose control, she reminds herself. So I'd better be in control.


The last message she'd got was at 8:30. There had been a couple minor issues at work, he'd said, but he should be done by nine. She had said that that sounded fine, she has a late shift tomorrow, she doesn't have to get out of bed before half past ten.

That was an hour ago.

Chelsea lies sprawled out across her bed, still naked from the shower she'd had after getting home, but long-since dried out. She'd picked up her clothes, put the plush animals in the closet, neatened and straightened about everything she could think of, did the dishes, and had been lying around texting Sterling and watching videos online for a while.

But the last message she has was an hour old, and she's starting to worry that she's being dumped.

Until her phone blips with an incoming text message.

Sterling: Sorry Chelsea, there was a fire at the new cafe, I had to take care of some things.

A fire? Chelsea pauses the video on her laptop and quickly does a search for Port City news.

Chels: Anyone hurt?
Sterling: One woman, already off in the ambulance. I had to handle police.
Chels: You ok?
Sterling: Me? Yes, I'm good. And I'm free now.

The laptop's search finishes, and sure enough, there's a very recent article about the Dockworks Cafe, pictures of it engulfed in flames. Shit, Chelsea thinks to herself. So weird, we were just there a few hours ago.

Chels: Ok I'll send you my address, you can come over any time, text me when you get here alright?
Sterling: I'll get a cab.

Chelsea sends one last message, then looks around, double checking to make sure the apartment is in good shape. All clear. She briefly considers answering the door naked, then decides that at least gesturing towards propriety is a better idea. She grabs a baggy blue sweatshirt and a pair of black sweat pants, pulling them on quickly. 

Depending on how quickly he can find a cab, Sterling should arrive before ten. That only leaves her at most twenty minutes to fret. She chuckles. Bringing a man home on the second date. Given what they'd done on the first date, she supposes this is hardly a stretch. She quickly heads to the kitchen and looks in the fridge; she doesn't have the selection that Sterling clearly had, but there are an acceptable variety of drinks, as well as a few things she can whip into a basic meal if needed. Snacks in the cupboards are plentiful. She has everything she might need to host five guests. Well, except for the space required. Three, plus her, would be tight.

But it should be nice and cozy for one guest.

She adjusts the cushions on the loveseat, makes sure the angle of the television is just right in case he wants to watch a movie, heads to her room and straightens the blankets on the bed, paces back and forth for a bit, then checks her phone again. There's a new message.

Sterling: I want a burger, you want me to bring anything on my way?

Yes please, Chelsea thinks to herself. She quickly types a reply.

Chels: Anything at all, just realized I'm starving :)

And she has just realized it; she hasn't eaten since lunch, and since then she'd had a long walk, a jog, a shower, and a lot of just being active. Her stomach growls at the idea of food. The phone beeps again.

Sterling: How much? Anything you don't want on a burger?

Chels: A lot, and no mayo I guess?

Chelsea really doesn't care about the mayo. She doesn't really like it, but she can tolerate it. She pulls the coffee table closer to the loveseat and heads to the kitchen to get plates.

She arranges and straightens, recognizing the inherent silliness in it but still trying to make a good impression. They were likely going to sit on the floor with their backs against the loveseat, but still she brought out the fancy plates.

Not like she had anything else to do but waste time.

The message arrives. Sterling is two minutes away.

Chelsea goes out to her patio. Not everyone in the complex is a Bright Society member, but those who are have main-floor apartments. Easy to get into and out of. She stands out at the edge of her patio, hands on the fence, watching the main driveway.

A small green car she doesn't recognize drives into the lot, and Sterling, carrying two paper bags, steps out, looking tired. She waves. With his hands full, he can't wave back, but he does give a nod before turning back to the driver, saying something, and pushing the door closed with his hip. He walks up as the car drives away.

"Here," Chelsea says, holding out her hands. Sterling gratefully gives her the warm bags. "Can you hop the fence?"

He laughs. "Sure, why not?"

Hop isn't really an accurate description of the rather awkward climb over the hip-high barrier, but he made it. She watches, only a little amused. "Can you get the door?" she asks.

He nods and opens the door so she can take the meal inside. She puts the food down on the coffee table by the plates, then turns back to Sterling, who is judiciously removing his shoes.

"Long day?" she asks. "I saw the news, after you told me about it."

He nods, standing up tall. "I'm just glad no one was killed. The fire started after the cafe was closed. It looks like the woman taken to the hospital was trying to rob the place and wound up overwhelmed by smoke, heat, or both."

Impulsively, Chelsea pulls him into a hug. It's a friendly gesture, maybe overly so, but it feels like the right one. Sterling responds with momentary surprise, but reciprocates quickly.

"Welcome to my home," Chelsea says, letting him loose. "Come sit at the table and share in the feast."

"With pleasure," Sterling replies, moving into the living room. "It's a lovely place."

Chelsea flushes with pleasure, and a little embarrassment. Her apartment still feels to her like a bigger college dorm room, and is decorated and furnished as such.

Sterling sinks down to the floor as Chelsea had expected, his back against the loveseat. "Sorry to rush things a little, but I'm starved."

"Me too." Chelsea nods and kneels beside the table. "What's what?"

"Each bag has a large cheeseburger, loaded, no mayo. One has fries, one has onion rings, and I just realized that didn't think about drinks."

Chelsea hops back to her feet. "I don't have the bar you do, but I've got crummy beer, juice, a couple sodas, water..."

"Oh, sugar please. Soda. Anything." He opens one of the bags and pops an onion ring into his mouth before making a noise that suggests that the food is still very hot.

"Got it," Chelsea says with a grin. She heads to the kitchen and brings back a pair of lime sodas. "I think I'll join you."

"I'd be honored to have you." Sterling shuffles aside as she sits. "Again, I suppose I should say."

She flushes, but still coyly runs a hand over her bare head. "Who's to say that you'll have me again?"

He chuckles. "I suppose I shouldn't assume." He pulls a significant cheeseburger from the bag. Chelsea looks at it in awe and naked hunger. Sterling laughs. "There's one like it in the other bag, too."

As though it was an invitation, Chelsea tears the second bag open, removes the overstuffed container of French fries, and retrieves a burger of her own. "There is!" she says, like a child opening a present.

Sterling laughs again. "Dig in," he says, leading by example.

Chelsea does, and while it's certainly not a gourmet experience, it's a cut above the fast food chains. She looks at the unmarked bags the food arrived in. "This is great," she says. "Where's it from?"

"A little place about half-way between our apartments, Catelli's."

Chelsea reacts with surprise. "I knew they made good pasta, but..."

Sterling grins. "It's something of a special customer."

"Are you trying to impress me, Mr. Grey?"

"Is it working?"

She takes another bite, thinks a moment, then nods. "Yes."

He laughs again. She likes his laugh, there's something about it that invites her to join in, and not just out of politeness. It seems to resonate in her like a melody that's familiar despite not having heard it before. She could almost sing the next notes without ever knowing the tune.

There's not a lot of conversation that follows, since both of them were low on energy and busy eating. There's an odd comfort between them. She'd barely known him for twenty-four hours, but there's an ease between them that she doesn't quite understand.

She wants to understand it, she realizes. So she does the only thing she can think of.

"Why is it that I feel so comfortable around you?" she asks.

Mouth full, Sterling only shrugs.

She turns to him. "No, it's really strange, I went out last night, I admit it, just to get laid. I wasn't expecting really much more than that. But we've barely known each other for a day and I feel like I could just tell you my life story." And that's terrifying, she realizes suddenly. I have to be on my guard even more around you.

He swallows and shrugs again. "No idea. Maybe I just come across as honest."

He seems nervous, for some reason. So you're human after all, she thinks to herself. And you can be rattled. But was that really a question worthy of being rattled by? And why?

"I am just about finished," he continues, letting out a deep breath. "Even after this day, I still can't eat a whole burger and side from Catelli's. They do kind of spoil me there, though."

"I'll drop your name next time I go there," Chelsea replies with a smile. "Not that I often do, but..."

"The burgers really are a hidden gem, although I do like a lot of the other things they..." Sterling talks on for a bit about Catelli's as he gets up, taking the plates and the few scraps left over, picking up the empty bottles as well. Chelsea tries to listen to him, but her own thoughts drown out his soft voice. She stretches, not rising, and leans back against the loveseat.

Only to hear Sterling chuckle. "Sorry, am I boring?"

"Hm?" she asks. She's slumped down a little, and realizes... "Oh shit, did I fall asleep?"

He laughs that melodious laugh again, reaching out to help her up. "We're in the latter parts of a long day, it's not surprising. Did you walk all the way home from the docks?"

She nods, and yawns. "Yeah, must be why I'm a little burned out."

"I get it, for sure." Sterling smiles at her. There's a pause. "Dinner was lovely, but if we're both tired—"

She shakes her head, cutting him off. "No. Don't go." She steps up close, toe-to-toe with him, and eye-to-eye. "I want you to stay." She takes his hands in hers.

"I want to stay, too," Sterling says softly.

Chelsea feels a sly grin on her face. "I don't hear a 'but' in there."

He can't help but laugh, it seems to her. He laughs a lot. A mark in his favor. And his laugh makes her want to laugh, too.

She kisses him, then, lightly, on his lips. She steps back, releases his hands, and with one swift motion removes her sweatshirt and drops it to the floor.

He stares, but his smile doesn't falter. "Are you trying to impress me, Chelsea?"

"Is it working?"

He pauses a moment, obviously pretending to think about his answer. "Yes."

She reaches for his hand again, excitedly leading him towards the bedroom.  "Good."


Some time earlier

Sterling Grey walks in to Catelli's Italian Restaurant, to the delight of the hostess. Despite it being a busy night and there being a party waiting for a table, the tall, cheerful redhead in her early thirties steps around from behind the desk and wraps him in a hug.

"Sterling," she says with a grin. "They told me you were coming to grab takeout."

He returns the hug warmly. "Astra. Wonderful to see you."

"Wouldn't be here if it weren't for you," she reminds him, letting him go. "I'll tell the kitchen you're here."

She's telling the truth. When Astra Catelli had flunked out of college after a rough patch in her personal life, it had been Sterling that had helped her get back on her feet and had convinced her that, at least for a while, working in her parents' restaurant wouldn't be the worst idea—and then had a couple talks with her parents that led to them being far more accepting of their daughter. More than a decade later, Astra had found her own place there and was enjoying her work and her life.

The Catelli family, in turn, had a soft spot for Sterling Grey. Astra continued to be more than warm with him, her parents insisted on overfeeding him and anyone he brought there, Astra's accountant brother was happy to help organize the finances of the dockwords co-operative for very low fees despite their complicated nature. And given how popular Catelli's is, little bits of important information, rumors and gossip overheard in the restaurant, often make their way up from Astra or the other servers to him.

Astra knows who Sterling Grey really is. He smiles to himself. She just doesn't know that she knows it.

Astra emerges from the back with two plain paper bags. "Momma insisted on overstuffing the sides," she explains, almost apologetically. She hands him the food and gives him a kiss on the cheek. "Don't be a stranger."

"With the food your parents make and the service I get here? Not a chance." He favors her with a grin. "Thank you, Astra."

"Thank you, Sterling, we'll charge your account." She blows him a kiss and turns back to her work.

Sterling goes back to the small green car where Devon is waiting, leaning against the passenger side. He opens the door. "I can smell it from here, Sterling," he says with a grin. "Now I wish I'd let you convince me to have a second supper."

Sterling laughs, getting in the car. "You can grab something after if you want. My date awaits."

"Wouldn't wanna make you late," Devon replies, hopping in and doing up his seatbelt. "Besides, it looks like you could use a break. And with all the work you do for us, least I can do is get you to a lady's home at a reasonable hour."

The biggest project that Sterling is working on at the moment is trying to get permission for Port City Rideshare to operate as a taxi service to and from the docks, instead of just within them. "Yeah, well," he says as Devon puts the car in gear. "Hopefully I can be done with you lot and working on something else. The utiliies board is ridiculously slow." He fishes out his phone and sends Chelsea a quick message.

Devon grins. "You know how happy we all were when we heard you were taking this on?" He pulls into traffic, heading through downtown. "Might take a while, but we know you'll convince them to let us take fares."

Port City Rideshare was, legally, only a ridesharing operation, and they weren't allowed to ask for money, although most people who call offer to 'pay for gas.' Upgrading their status to a proper cab company was a months-long effort that had required a few gentle applications of his power in order to talk to the right people and convince them of the rightness of his efforts.

"There's a lot of speculation on how you get stuff done you know?" Devon is saying. "One of the most popular theories is that you're secretly a billionaire and that you're bribing your way through city government." He laughs.

Sterling grins. "Not quite, no. I just know how to talk to people, I guess."

"Well whatever it is, it works, and we're all happy to have you on our side." Devon turns the car into the parking lot of the apartment complex.

"There she is," Sterling says, pointing to where Chelsea is standing in a partitioned patio near the road. He opens the door as Devon brings the car to a stop.

"Ooh, she's a looker," Devon says. "You're a lucky guy."

Sterling gets out of the car carefully, nodding to Chelsea as she waves. "Thanks Devon," he says. "I'll probably see you this weekend." He hip-checks the door closed and walks over to where Chelsea is waiting for him. She's standing in the dim light, wearing a baggy sweatshirt, and he realizes that Devon's right, even without the makeup and fancy clothes, Chelsea is a pretty sight.

He hands her the bags and climbs over the fence, managing not to embarrass himself too badly, then holds the door for Chelsea as she brings the food into her apartment, following her in and carefully taking off his shoes.

The space is cozy. A loveseat faces a fair-sized television with a DVD-player and a gaming console of some sort hooked up to it. A coffee table is pulled up to the loveseat with plates set out on it. A couple large posters for action movies are stuck up on the walls, as is a framed picture of the three women he'd met last night in a friendly pose, all smiles. It takes him a moment to recognize Chelsea, with long black hair, realizing that she must have been wearing a wig.

"Long day?" Chelsea asks him, after putting the paper bags down. "I saw the news, after you told me about it."

He stands up straight and nods. "I'm just glad no one was killed. The fire started after the cafe was closed. It looks like the woman taken to the hospital was trying to rob the place and wound up overwhelmed by smoke, heat, or both. But," he says. His power had been used so much lately, and it felt so good, so natural to be using, it just poured into his voice. "You don't want to worry about that right now, and you know I don't, either, because it's time to eat."

Chelsea blinks, her expression momentarily going blank, then wraps him in a hug, catching him off-guard. He quickly recovers and joins her in a mutual expression of friendship.

"Welcome to my home," Chelsea says, letting him loose. "Come sit at the table and share in the feast."

"With pleasure," Sterling replies, moving into the living room. "It's a lovely place." And it is, it brings back memories of his own college apartment, although with a little use of his power he'd managed to secure a space intended for two people, all to himself. He sits down on the floor,  his back against the loveseat. "Sorry to rush things a little, but I'm starved."

"Me too." Chelsea nods and kneels beside the table. "What's what?"

"Each bag has a large cheeseburger, loaded, no mayo. One has fries, one has onion rings, and I just realized that didn't think about drinks."

Chelsea hops back to her feet. "I don't have the bar you do, but I've got crummy beer, juice, a couple sodas, water..."

"Oh, sugar please. Soda. Anything." Sterling opens one of the bags and pops an onion ring into his mouth. It's still very hot, and he makes a few involuntary moans of pain, trying to cool his mouth.

Chelsea seems to be laughing at him, justifiably, as she retreats to the kitchen. A moment later she emerges with two bottles of green liquid. "I think I'll join you."

"I'd be honored to have you." Sterling shuffles aside as she sits. "Again, I suppose I should say." The power boils up to the surface, almost against his will. "And you're just as honored that I should be here."

The momentarily lost look on her face as she accepts his words is almost as attractive as the shy way she runs a hand over her scalp. "Who's to say that you'll have me again?"

He chuckles. "I suppose I shouldn't assume."

He sets his supernatural voice aside for a moment and settles in to easy conversation over dinner. Mostly dinner. Chelsea is easy to talk to, easy to like. He's glad that he didn't just use his powers to convince her that she'd just had a lovely one-night stand, as he'd done many times before to others.

Still, the rush of having done so much with his voice over the past twenty-four hours, of manipulating the police and of dominating Courier, pushes him to do more, to be reckless, to simply take what he wants. The memory of those moments where Chelsea went blank-eyed and silent feed into that desire. He shifts in his spot, adjusting for his growing arousal. The small talk is lovely, but it only serves to divide Sterling's attention between the simple discussion about the food and his self-control.

He'd told Courier that he doesn't like using his power in that way. It was half a lie. He doesn't always like who it makes him, but he loves using his power as he had earlier. Powers are made to be used, after all.

Chelsea manages to shake him from his state with a simple question. "Why is it that I feel so comfortable around you?"

Sterling manages not to choke on his burger, keeping apparently casual as he shrugs.

She turns to him. "No, it's really strange, I went out last night, I admit it, just to dance and get laid. I wasn't expecting really much more than that. But we've barely known each other for a day and I feel like I could just tell you my life story."

He swallows and shrugs again. "No idea. Maybe I just come across as honest." And the voice is there, ready for him. His fingers almost tingle with the power at his disposal. "I am just about finished," he continues, letting out a deep breath. "Even after this day, I still can't eat a whole burger and side from Catelli's. They do kind of spoil me there, though."

"I'll drop your name next time I go there," Chelsea replies with a smile. "Not that I often do, but..."

Sterling gets up, cleaning up the place setting, letting the power bubble up to the fore. "You're going to hear me talking about the restaurant as I clean up, but really, you're getting drowsy. You're comfortable. It's natural to be comfortable here with me. I'm very friendly, after all, and you're enjoying my company. It's easy to trust me without questioning." He finds the trash bin under the sink and throws out the scraps from their meal. "There's no need to worry about it; after all, I'm a friend. You trust a friend."

Chelsea's muted voice comes back to him from the other room. "I trust you, Sterling." There is a deliciousness to the monotone of it.

He washes out the drips of lime soda from the plastic bottles. "So it's only natural that you want to be around me, that you want me around. You can let your worries fade away, and you—" He stops himself short, before he says, will get to your feet, slip off your clothing, and fuck me. That's a younger Sterling speaking. "You will let your own conscience and desire guide you, free of care. You know that if you ask me to, I will stay with you. You know that if you do not, I will leave. You know that either way, I will still be your friend, and will happily accept your company in person and in my bed at any time."

He receives the somewhat-dazed response as he walks back to the front room. "I know this." Chelsea's voice is soft. Her expression is neutral. She seems transfixed by something on the television, despite the fact that it's not turned on. She's slumped down a bit from where she had been sitting. Her breathing is slow and even.

It must be a trick of the light, or a side effect of using his power, or maybe just that he's tired and had a stressful day; Sterling swears that he can see her breath.

He carefully composes himself, trying to hide his growing arousal. He covers his state with a chuckle. "Sorry, am I boring?"

Chelsea hums a bit, and her eyes flutter. She startles. "Oh shit, did I fall asleep?"

Sterling reaches down to help her to her feet. Her hands are cold, unfortunate for a nurse. "We're in the latter parts of a long day, it's not surprising. Did you walk all the way home from the docks?"

She nods, and yawns. "Yeah, must be why I'm a little burned out."

"I get it, for sure." he smiles. There's a brief pause. Chelsea's eyes seem to flutter a little, and Sterling recognizes his moment. "Dinner was lovely, but if we're both tired—"

She shakes her head, cutting him off. "No. Don't go." She steps up close, toe-to-toe with him, and eye-to-eye. "I want you to stay." She takes his hands in hers.

"I want to stay, too," Sterling says softly. And he means it, and not just because he's turned on.

Chelsea gives him a sly grin. "I don't hear a 'but' in there."

He laughs, genuinely. This feels much better than simply pushing her into sex using his power. He hasn't forced her into anything, merely offered her the choice without the inhibitions that might have otherwise interfered. It was the same as the night before. He hadn't driven either Chelsea or Sharon to blind obedience, merely softened any objections they might have had.

And as she presses her lips to his, he realizes, not for the first time, that that can be far more fun than just crushing wills. It was too bad he hadn't learned that lesson sooner in life, but people who can change the past are few and far between.

Chelsea steps back, releases his hands, and with one swift motion removes her sweatshirt and drops it to the floor. Sterling's gaze sweeps over that beautiful, curvy frame, not as sculpted or powerful as Sharon's but lovely in its softness.

He echoes what she'd said to him earlier. "Are you trying to impress me, Chelsea?"

"Is it working?"

He pretends to think for a moment, and replies, "Yes."

And she grabs his hand again, pulling him towards her bedroom much as Tanya had dragged him from the dance floor the previous night. "Good."

He follows along eagerly. "Want to feel my hands again?"

"No," she says. "I want you to feel mine."

The lights are off in the bedroom, and Sterling hardly has a moment to get an impression of the space before she closes the door, leaving them in almost complete darkness. The only light sources he can identify are the slim beam from the hallway coming under the door, and the minuscule point from a charging electronic device, presumably at the bedside.

"I don't have your skills," she says, running her fingers over the palm of his hand, "but I have a nurse's touch. I know my way around a body."

He can feel her hands on his waist, following his belt around, undoing the buckle. Her fingers slide up, untucking his shirts, running back down over his belly, finding the line of his hips. She carefully guides him, turning him around and pushing him back until he can feel the edge of the bed behind his knees. She presses up against him with a kiss, not the furtive, gentle peck on the lips she'd given him a moment ago but full on, forceful, hot, intense, enough that he hardly notices her pulling his belt out from his pants. Another kiss and he was sitting on the bed, and her hands were on his face.

"I got good at this," she says matter-of-factly, her voice deep and warm, "because I used to wear a wig." Her hands slip down his sides to his hips and she guides him back to his feet long enough to push his pants off and give him another powerful kiss. His head spins and his knees shake as he tastes her cool tongue, hints of lime soda still on her breath.

Her hand played with his hard penis through the soft fabric of his boxers. "I didn't want anyone to see how I looked without hair," she continues, before nibbling at his earlobe.

He manages to catch his breath long enough to reply, "I've never known you with."

"And you still find me attractive." It's not a question.

"Anyone who wouldn't," he starts, but as her hands slip into his shorts, he can't continue.

"Shh, I know." His boxers are around his ankles. He's sitting on the bed again. Her hand is around him now, stroking softly. "I don't wanna talk about other people. I wanna talk about you. And me."

He hasn't got an argument, and he's not sure that if he would make it if he did have one. Her hand running over his cock was perfection in the moment. One does not interrupt the artist at work, he thinks, bracing himself with his hands behind him on the bed.

The way her fingers move over him, 'artist' is not inaccurate. She's playing him like an instrument, cold fingertips tracing the legnth of his shaft. "And right now, Sterling, I wanna talk about how nice it is to have you, here. Someone I can call a friend."

He can barely concentrate enough to get the words out. "You treat... all your friends... this way?"

She laughs, but doesn't break her concentration. "Not even a little bit. Just you, and apparently, Sharon."

The thought of the strong carpenter came to mind, naked and exultant. A good memory. He imagines finding her at work, coaxing her away with his words, bringing her home for another night of fun. He moans both at the idea and the way Chelsea's palm slides over him.

"Someone's excited," Chelsea says, her other hand on his arm. He feels the bed shift as she puts a knee beside him. "Maybe it's because I mentioned Sharon. Or maybe it's because I can do this." She presses her body against his, gripping his wrist tightly and sliding her fingertips over him in a way that made his hips buck towards her.

She kisses his jaw from near his eye down to his chin, and that's enough to push him over the edge. He lets out another loud, low moan, feels himself pulse in her hand, feels his fluids spurting foward, feels her hand coming up to catch as much as she can.

She giggles in his ear as his body relaxes and his arms get shaky. "Just lie down for a bit," she says. "I'll be back."

He's in no position to argue.


That oughta keep him here, she thinks with a laugh, looking in the bathroom mirror. Not that that's why I did it.

She finishes washing her hands and looks over at where she left her sweat pants on the bathroom floor. She takes a look, trying to see what he sees, and, she thinks, succeeding somewhat.

She knows the plan, then. Walking naked to the bedroom. Leaving the door open so she can be seen. Letting his hands and voice work the magic they had the night before. Feeling that deadly edge, the knife of her own power pressed against her heart.

She wants that, badly.

She takes those first slow steps to the bedroom, steeling her defenses against herself. Five steps. Four. She can feel her excitement building.

Chelsea deliberately walks slowly, fighting with herself to keep from rushing. She can feel the ice in her breath, in her eyes, in her hands. She can feel the wings waiting to break free. Her hand is on the doorknob.

She opens the door.

Sterling is sitting on the edge of the bed. From the waist up, he's a bit ruffled, his hair is slightly out of sorts, his shirt is a little unkempt. He's holding up his phone, which he must have retrieved from his pants pocket. From the waist down, though, he's naked, soft, a bit messy in the sudden light.

He looks up. Instead of the expected awe and excitement, though, his face shows concern. "Chelsea," he says, "I didn't catch Tanya's last name."

She's taken aback by the not-quite-a-question. "Uh, it's Nomura."

Sterling nods as though he's not surprised. His voice seems composed, carefully neutral. "I just got a message. The girl who was found at the burning cafe. Taken to the hospital."

"No. No fucking way."

He nods again. "Tanya Nomura."

Chelsea feels her walls of careful defense start to buckle. She swallows hard, tries to control her power. She prepared herself to walk the fine line between revealing herself and hiding so that she could let herself go during sex, but with this concentrated mess of disbelief, fury, pleading, and fear charging through her naked body she finds keeping calm nearly impossible.

"I've got to..."

Sterling is right there beside her. His voice is supremely calming. "Let me help you," he says, and in that moment there's nothing more that she wants in the world.

She takes a deep breath, buries her face in his shoulder. She's not crying, she's not on the edge of tears, not really, she just needs that moment of stability. She's kept her composure through worse, this isn't anything terrible. Yet.

"I need to go see her," she says.

"I know," Sterling replies. "Would you like me to go with you?"

She's about to refuse, and she might have if he were anyone else. But against all odds, she looks him in the eyes and nods. "Yes, please, Sterling."

"Alright," he says. "Let's get dressed, and I'll walk you to the hospital."

How will Chelsea handle her friend's condition? How will Sterling put together the information he's got from Courier and from Chelsea? What horrible conspiracy is unfolding in the docks?

Find out more in Part Six!

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