Conflict Resolution

Part Eight: Aftermath

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

In the aftermath of a charged evening, Chelsea and Sterling are both exhausted and stressed out. They both have significant matters to attend to, as well.

Port City, USA

The waiting room outside a makeshift ward in the Dockworks Medical Center

7:39 AM Sunday

The space is crowded and confused, but it's not chaotic, not really.

Chelsea comes rushing in, Sharon right behind her. She spots Sterling and calls his name, waving.

Sterling, standing by the triage desk, notices her, asks to be excused, hands the clipboard to the nurse there, and heads slowly towards the entrance. "Let's step outside," he says to the two women. They head out to the sidewalk where it's at least quieter.

Chelsea wraps her arms around him gently. "I saw it on the news. How are you doing?" It isn't a lie.

Sterling shakes his head. "It looked worse than it was. All the people inside, they're just being checked out. I got seen first since I got hit, and since then I've been helping sort through things." He yawns. "Mostly I'm just tired. I haven't had any sleep."

"I'm sorry I wasn't there," Sharon says. Chelsea knows she was going to say that. They had discussed it a half-hour ago before they left her apartment. "I figured at least I could pop by and say 'hi' before my shift." She gives Sterling a careful hug.

"Thanks, Sharon," he says as they separate. "Not much you could've done if you had been, except get frozen."

"Was that bad?" Chelsea asks, hoping she sounds curious and concerned for his welfare.

"Flamehammer left me winded but didn't do any lasting damage; I'll have a nasty bruise for a while, but that's about it. Arctic Angel's freezing seems to be harmless," Sterling replies. "That was... different. I've taken a few hits before, but I can't say that I've ever been hit like that."

"Like what?" Sharon asks, ignoring the look she gets from Chelsea.

"I was on my knees, there, trying to catch my breath," he recounts, "and Hannah—one of our resident medics—got to my side, and then there was this... It felt like a physical blow, like running into a brick wall made of a winter storm wind, one of those ugly January blasts that leaves everything around here covered in frost. Only way I can make sense of it, anyway. And then it was two in the morning, the street was crawling with cops, and the capes were nowhere around." He shrugs, then looks like he regrets shrugging. "Probably a good thing our media team was still streaming, or I think a lot more people would've been taken in. As it is, it looks like a lot of people were arrested on any excuse the police could find, which is just going to make more people here angry."

Chelsea takes his hand. "They didn't arrest you?"

Sterling chuckles. "I think it might have looked bad, dragging in the guy who just got hit unprovoked by the most violent superhero in Port City. They'll wait until things have quieted down a bit before bringing me to the station."

Who just got hit unprovoked? Chelsea thinks to herself in a momentary flare of anger. She hasn't slept much, either, but she can't let on, can't give away her secret. You were pushing every one of Reggie's buttons. Deliberately. She controls herself carefully. She's been guarding her identity for years, now, she wasn't about to let slip for this man she'd known less than a week.

"So what now?" Sharon questions.

"More protests tonight, unless the police call off their patrols. I'm guessing we'll get a reaction from them by noon. Meanwhile, I've got some work to do." He sighs. "Much as I'd love to be doing other things." He squeezes Chelsea's hand. "That's kind of been the defining feature of these past few days, hasn't it? Thinking of that, how's Tanya?"

Chelsea snaps out of her reverie. "Tanya? She's doing good, should be going home today. Actually the doctors kept her for observation because there was so little wrong with her. Either she's had a superhuman recovery, or there was some other reason for her to have been found unconscious, because there wasn't a lot of physical damage." She puts in the effort to smile. "I'm going to help her get home before my shift at the hospital."

Sterling looks in her eyes, and she quickly adjusts her expression to what she hopes comes across as grateful that everyone in her life is doing okay. Fortunately, Sterling seems to be so tired as to not notice. "I hope we can spend a little more time together this week, Chelsea," he says.

Her smile becomes genuine. "I hope so, too." And not with you frozen to the pavement.

"I have to get to work, you two." Sharon wraps the two of them in a strong hug. "I'll be on the line tonight," she says.

"See you there," Sterling replies. "If there is one."

She lets them go and gives Chelsea a quick peck on the cheek. "Call me if you need," she mutters in Chelsea's ear.

Sharon turns and walks away, and Sterling turns and takes both her hands. "Can I get you breakfast?"

She laughs. "How about I walk you home? You look wrecked." Besides, Sharon had made pancakes, and she would be feeling full for hours.

"What about Tanya?"

"I meet her at ten. That's a lot of time."

He seems to slump a little, gratefully. "Then... Yeah, sure. Things are winding up in there, I'm not really needed. Winding down. Wrapping up." He sighs. "I need about a gallon of coffee and forty-six hours of uninterrupted sleep."

"Are you marching again tonight?" she asks as they start walking away from the clinic.

He shakes his head. "No, I'll do whatever organizing needs doing, but I don't think I'm going out."

"Good." And she meant it. She was worried about him, but she was also worried about what he might provoke out of whoever was on patrol.

They walked a way in silence, holding hands. Away from the politics, away from the front line, this was... nice. Really nice.

Sterling says something that she doesn't quite catch. "Sorry, I missed that."

"I said, I'm really enjoying this walk."

Chelsea smiled. "I am, too. The streets are quiet this early."

"Would you like to come up, when we get to my block?" he asks.

She hesitates.

"I would really appreciate your company," he continues.

She takes a deep breath, considering her reply. "I'd appreciate yours, too." She smiles. Something about his presence is calming, even as harrowed as he seems. It soothes the aggravation, the aggression, she's been feeling since the night before. "Even if it's just long enough to tuck you into bed."

"Oh, I think we'll have a little more time than that," he chuckles.

Chelsea's heart flutters a bit at the thought. Easy, girl, you can't lose control this morning. Her free hand twitches, and her breath feels cold even in the cool morning. She grins. "Is everything sex with you?" she teases.

"It's been on my mind the past couple days for some reason," he laughs.

She squeezes his hand. He squeezes back. She feels like she's forgetting something. Time seems to fly by as they walk.

"You said you'd worked in labor relations?" she asks, trying to make some conversation.

He nods. "I still do, I suppose. I was part of the union organizers that made the deal with the corporate entities to buy out the dockworks, oh... twelve years ago? Sounds right. And now I'm in conflict resolution, which is a little different from representing the union to the employers. Mostly we deal with any friction between the individual units of the co-operative, but lately it's been a lot of interactions with the outside world. Most of them not nearly as dramatic as last night," he clarifies with a pained chuckle. "Before... all this, my big project was getting approval from the public utilities commission for the Dockwords rideshare operation to go city-wide. I guess that still is my big project, but..."

"Priorities," she replies softly.

He nods. "Priorities. In a way, this is a pretty strong call-back to the old days. Lots of clashes with the cops then, too. And Brights."

"Hm." Chelsea pauses. "Who would have been around then?"

"Do you remember Oceansong, or Djinn?"

She shook her head. "No, I'm not from around here, I'm a west-coast gal."

"Ah, okay," Sterling says. "Djinn can make emotional-filled gasses. I think he's down in D.C. these days. It could be rough, going out on a march only to run into a cloud that makes you weep, or giggle uncontrollably."

"Sure, that would be tough. What about Oceansong?"

He seems a bit distant. "Arctic Angel reminds me a bit of her, in aesthetic. Instead of wings, she had a mermaid thing going on. And they're both just stunning." Chelsea swallows, not wanting to blush to give herself away. They've arrived at his apartment and he opens the door for them. "She could blow bubbles that trapped people inside, or sing in a way that could disorient anyone who heard her."

"I can see why she'd be trouble, too," Chelsea says as they reach his apartment. "What happened to her?"

"She retired after the co-operative was formed," Sterling answers, unlocking the door. "She was chased out of town on a rail for changing sides in the middle of the strikes. The Brights wouldn't have anything to do with her anymore, and they waged a disinformation campaign to have her discredited."

Chelsea walks into Sterling's apartment and removes her shoes. "Why did she change sides?"

He chuckles. "I helped her see the error of her ways."

She turns. "You seduced her?"

He nods, grinning. "Sure did."

She steps towards him, wrapping him in her arms. "Is that how you'll deal with the Arctic Angel?" she asks. Careful, girl, careful, her mind warns her.

"Hm? Jealous, Chelsea?" he teases. "I don't think my charms will work on Flamehammer."

"He seems a little resistant to your seductions." She kisses him fiercely.

Sterling reciprocates, and once they part, he reples, "He's really not my type, anyway."

"Mmm, I think I know your type." She lets him go.

"You do?"

"Sure," she says. "Tall and strong. I saw you with Sharon, remember?"

"And there's you," he points out. "When do you have to see Tanya?"

"At ten."

"Which means you have to leave here by..."

"Half past nine."

"And it's now..."

She looks at the clock on his wall. "Eight-oh-five."

"That's a lot of time." He slips off his shoes.

"You're injured."

"You're a nurse."

"You're exhausted."

"Then you'll have to be gentle." He removes his crumpled and dirt-stained jacket, tossing it lightly over the back of a chair.

"And if I don't want to be?"

He smirked. "I'll cope."

"What if," she says, unzipping her sweater, "I don't want you to be gentle?"

"Well, that's different, isn't it." He unbuttons his dress shirt. "As you pointed out, I'm injured and exhausted. I'm not exactly up for a fight."

You couldn't take me even if you wereher inner voice growls. Her hands twitch. She wants that fight, and... no. No, she doesn't want this fight. She wants a fight with an equal.

"No... you're not," she says with a smile, putting her hands on his chest through his undershirt. She wants a fight with an equal, but she also wants him.

But not just him.

Necessary, but not sufficient.

"But that doesn't mean this can't be a good hour," she continues, gripping his shirt and pulling it up over his head. He responds with a kiss, passionate, but clearly tired. She pulls back and removes her own top.

"I think, when we were interrupted last time, I was preparing to do something like this." His warm hands dance lightly over her belly, and her knees tremble. He swoops behind her, wrapping his arms around her abdomen, pulling her close against him, kissing the back of her head and down to her neck.

And that's what makes him necessary, she reminds herself. She was still wearing her bra, both of them still had pants and underwear on, and she already felt deliciously naked.

Why can't he be enough?

His hands were sliding her pants down, pressing around the edges of her panties, his mouth finds the corner where her shoulder met her collar, and she shudders with pleasure. She realizes what he's doing, whispering in her ear, his fingers lightly teasing her nerves, recalling what was only four nights ago, four very busy nights, so busy it felt like... She can't think about that, can't think about much.

"Maybe it's good that I'm tired," he whispers. And he's right, maybe it is. "Or you might be late for meeting your friend." He pressed his fingers against the insides of her thighs, guided her down to her knees, and swiftly slipped her bra from her chest.

And despite the fact that everything had happened by consensus, somehow Chelsea can't help but feel that she was losing a nonexistent fight. She felt gloriously defeated. This is the noble war, lost, not the good fight that she had run from the night before. Last night she couldn't sleep because she wanted to do violence; now she feels that she has permitted a kind of violence to be done to her, and it was joyful.

She damn near transforms right there to offer the Angel's submission and surrender to the man that had forced her to flee a few hours earlier. Right of conquest.

What is it about him? she asks herself as his fingers tease her nipples, as she struggles to breathe, as she shakes and trembles. Why do I feel this and only think about what my revenge can be?

But that question is lost, drowned in a thousand other emotions and sensations overpowering her own internal voice and replacing everything with that touch, that whisper, annihilating the what-came-before for the strictest presence of the what-is-now, her mind giving in to the command of her body, for all things except that most important secret she must keep.

Violence, again. Always violence. You need violence. Worse, I think you actually want violence.

She hears his voice from the night before, knows that it is memory, but cannot dissociate it from the voice she hears now, that voice calling her to pleasure and joy and calm and submission all at once, that voice exercised in sound and in touch and when she looks up to see his steel eyes and even in the lightly sweaty, unwashed scent of him. She is naked, now, in body and in mind, and his fingers and his words strip her further and further, paring away every defense like it's another layer of rind from an orange, revealing parts of her she hadn't even known she'd hidden away.

All parts of her, except that most important part.

And in that moment where she walks the edge, where she teeters on the precipice of letting loose her terrible force, of revealing her false/true/other self, where that last secret is on the tip of her tongue and her whole being is begging to surrender to him and she feels she can't bear to keep hidden a moment, an instant longer, that, that is when her body explodes in pleasure, her voice cries out in ecstasy, the ice in her heart floods her veins but goes no further, countered by the heat of the sexual explosion within her. A contradiction contained within a physical being, angel and demon, spiritual and physical, the defeated victor, the cold flame, a thousand-thousand crystalline shards that shattered to make a complete pane of glass so clear that she wonders how he can't possibly look straight through her and see the magical hero within.

And where How could he possibly know? meets How would he have ever found out?, she takes a deep breath, and looks up at him leaning over her from behind, from where she's kneeling on the floor, naked and shivering and oh-so-happy, and she knows without question that if he asks she will tell him.

Violence, again. Always violence. I need violence, this violence. I think I actually want this violence.

Four days. Four days was all that it took to break her so completely. Meeting Sterling. A threesome with one of her best friends. The cafe fire. Tanya in the hospital. Being assigned to the docks. The patrol itself. Being up late with Sharon. They had been some of the biggest events in her life, and they'd all taken place over the last four days.

And she barely contains herself with the stress and anxiety and sheer, utter joy of it all.

He holds out his hand to her. She takes it, slowly gets to her feet. He offers her a shower. She gratefully accepts. He asks if he might join her. She wonders aloud why he thinks he has to ask.

She wants it hot. Scalding, if it can be. He accedes; after all, if he doesn't like it, he's not going out after, he can simply wait until she's done. It's amusing to watch him try to avoid direct contact with the spray until he acclimatizes. He agrees, his smile matching hers.

He washes her back, and though she knows it's impossible, he seems to spend a little extra time cleaning where her wings emerge; perhaps it's because she's clearly enjoying the touch. She reciprocates, cleaning his shoulders and back and sides, his ass and thighs, and then turning him around.

Touching him doesn't feel like revenge, really. Stroking him is right, fun, definitely pleasurable to watch him and feel him get hard in her hand. But he is exhausted, in a different way than she is, and while his body responds, he isn't having an emotional reaction like she had. It's more like relief, which is welcome, certainly, but a ... well, not a disappointment, as that implies that Chelsea had grander expectations; it feels far less revelatory, much more routine.

And that, at least, as he ejaculates into her hand and onto her leg, as she holds him in a warm embrace so different from the mystical ice she'd blasted him with not so long ago, that solves a small piece of the puzzle for her.

As she tucks him, still naked, into his bed so that he can rest, and retrieves her outfit from its discarded place on his living room floor, she knows what it means. Necessary, but not sufficient. She needs what he can give her. She needs the, for lack of a better term, violence he can mete out. That's the 'necessary' part.

But until she's able to dole it out herself, nothing will be sufficient.

She needs to go help Tanya, so she tries to put those thoughts aside. Still, as she walks through downtown, her mind keeps drifting back to that revelation.

And she tries to ignore the way Sharon's name keeps coming up in connection to those ideas.


Gerald Bright General Hospital

Recovery ward

10:02 AM

Tanya's not alone in her room.

The diminuitive hacker is sitting up in her hospital bed, wearing a standard-issue plain blue gown. Four men are standing nearby; one in a doctor's scrubs, one in an expensive suit, and two in police uniforms. Chelsea feels a bit awkward walking in to that scene. The doctor and the man in the suit are standing by the bedside, between the police and Tanya, and while there is no obvious hostility, everyone, including Tanya, seems tense.

"Chels, thank fuck you're here," Tanya says. "Alright, bitches, I'm going home."

"You're not going anywhere," one of the policemen replies, sounding exasperated.

"I need this room and this bed," the doctor says, "so she's going somewhere."

"Right," Tanya affirms. "Home." She turns in the bed to sit sideway.

"My client is asserting her rights," the man in the suit states.

"Your 'client,'" Chelsea can hear the sarcasm from the second officer, "is under arrest."

"Your client isn't your client." Tanya hops to the floor.

"Can I..." Chelsea begins. "Can I step in here?"

"You can take me the fuck home," Tanya snaps, "and you can tell these two pigs and this idiot of a public defender to get fucking bent. Not the doc, though, he's cool."

"I keep trying to tell you," the man in the suit pipes up again, his voice even. "I'm not a public defender. I was—"

"Keep out of this, nerd."

Chelsea rubs her eyebrows with her palms (her hands twitch, it would be nice to just...) "Look, I hate to be the adult in the room, but can we sort things out for a moment before someone gets hurt?"

"Is that a threat, miss?" the first officer asks, his tone dark.

"No," Chelsea replied, keeping calm, "it's the recognition that this is a heated situation and that there are two armed men in the room." (it could be a threat, officer, if you want a fight) "Can someone tell me what's happening?"

The second officer begins explaining. "We're here to arrest this arsonist—"

"Alleged arsonist," the lawyer corrects.

"Not-a-fucking arsonist," Tanya says.

The officer sighs. "— for the fire at the Dockworks Cafe Thursday evening."

"Which I didn't do."

"Tanya, one sec please," Chelsea says (suddenly glad for her earlier release). She turns to the lawyer. "Who are you, if you're not a public defender."

He produces a business card, all professionalism. "Oleksandr Kolesnyk, of the Dockworks Legal Collective."

Chelsea takes the card. "And you're here because...?"

"We believe Ms. Nomura to be innocent, as such we've offered to defend her."

"I don't need defending from something I didn't fucking do!"

Chelsea grabs her friend's hand (she wants violence). "These two officers seem to think differently. Tanya, you're being arrested, this is serious stuff. Maybe you at least ought to listen to the lawyer?"

"Okay, Christ, chill your tits. I just want to go home."

"Can we at least have a moment?" Chelsea pleads. "Give my friend some dignity, let her get changed, and let's sort this out, okay? You can all wait outside while she gets changed, please?"

"That would be what's best," the doctor says, starting to shoo the other men from the room. "Better still if you three would wait outside the hospital entirely."

"We'll wait in the hall," the first officer replies, his tone menacing.

"I'll be there as well," Mr. Kolesnyk adds. The doctor follows behind them and closes the door.

"Fucking Christ, let's just go out the goddamn window," Tanya says, tearing off her flimsy hospital gown. She grabs a day-bag that Sharon had brought over from her apartment and tosses it on the bed.

Chelsea finds her eyes trailing over her friend's bare back, over her slight bottom covered by blue panties, and shook her head. Tanya's definitely not a fight for me, or really for anyone. She lets out a sigh. "So you gonna tell me what happened now?"

Tanya shrugs, pulling out a sports bra and putting it on. "I got fuckin' jumped, or something. I dunno."

"Why were you there?"

She sighs. "I was stupid. I didn't trust Sterling Grey, but nothing was coming up. Then I got a note under my door."

Chelsea stares. "Under your door? At your apartment?"

"Yeah, fuck." She pulls out a pair of jeans. "I dunno who knows where I live. No one fucking followed me on the elevator or anything like that."

"What was the note?"

"What, you gonna go all CSI about this?" She lets out a breath, then sits on the edge of the bed and starts pulling on her pants. "'Want info on S.G.?' and then a time and a place. And of course because my life is a stupid fucking cliché, 'come alone.'"

Chelsea feels like her eyes are bugging out of her head. "And you went? And you didn't tell us?"

"Sorry! Jesus, you and Sharon were soaking for him, and I didn't want to ruin your fucking fun." She grabs a black t-shirt with a local metal band's logo plastered on the front. "Anyway, I remember getting out of the cab at the cafe and..." she shrugs. "That's it. Then I woke up here. And, I'd like to point out, without my goddamn phone, so I've been bored as fuck for two days."

"So... you don't remember the fire?"

She shakes her head. "Just what I saw on the news. Weird to see stories about me that I don't even remember happening. Speaking of the news, though," she grabs a pair of socks from her bag, "someone else I know had a pretty big night last night."

Chelsea looks around. "These walls aren't soundproof."

Tanya puts on an elaborate stage whisper. "Then I'll talk reeeeal quiet."

"And I'm not going to talk about it at all, here. That's for later. You've got two cops and a lawyer outside your door waiting for you."

"Alright, Christ. You sure you're not gonna put on your wings for me and we'll just fly away for freedom?"

Chelsea rolls her eyes. "Nope, we're facing this music. Besides, last time I tried to carry a person, it went badly. I can't even haul around someone scrawny as you, stringbean."

"Oh fuck off." Tanya laughs, pulling her socks on. "Okay, so, what do we do?"

"We let the lawyer talk."

Tanya sighs, getting to her feet. "Lawyers. Alright, fuckin' fine. Let's get this over with."

Chelsea holds up a hand. "Before we do. I think maybe you ought to trust him."

"Oh yeah? Why?"

"Word on the docks is that you were framed." Chelsea pulls out her phone and quickly flips to a news item, handing it to Tanya. Local paper, no video, small item. Quotes from various internet forums and anonymous interviewees, but it was significant enough to hit the Port City Crier. "It's not like I took a poll, but going through there a couple times I've overheard people talking about a girl that was found in the cafe, not a girl that set the cafe on fire."

"It doesn't say it's a paid piece," Tanya says, skeptically flipping through the article. "Hm."

"Look, it's a step up from the public defender, or from no lawyer at all, right?"

"You're the one who knows the legal system, not me."

"Right, so maybe you want to listen to me on this one."

Tanya lets out a loud, overdramatic sigh. "Fuck it. Let's go." She tosses the phone back to Chelsea and heads for the door.


Bright Tower

A meeting room on the seventh floor

4:22 PM

Reginald Bright is sitting in a comfortable office chair, waiting. He's been waiting for some time, nearly half an hour, and his impatience is starting to show.

His father hadn't called him to the carpet yet. That means one of two things: either his father views the operation as a success and thus has no critique to offer, or Gerald Bright is otherwise busy dealing with the political fallout. Such a ridiculous waste of time, when the Bright Society is in essence a private army, but it's still his father's private army.

For now.

The door opens, and Chelsea, in her nursing uniform, hurries in. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she exclaims, looking exhausted and out-of-sorts. "There was a code, I had to—"

Reggie gets to his feet and shakes his head. "Think nothing of it." He's furious, of course, but he's not about to tell her that. Not only did she deny him the fight he'd wanted so badly last night, she had abandoned him to run off, and she had been seen the next morning walking with Grey. And now she's keeping him waiting.

She badly needs a lesson in the proper treatment of her betters. But that's for another day.

"I understand," he lies easily, "the difficulties in maintaining something like a normal life while being involved in heroics."

"Thank you, Reggie." She takes the seat he indicates. "So. Uh. This is my first patrol debriefing."

Reggie smiles as he sits as well. "And it's a little more complicated than most, because of what happened last night. Most patrols you attend won't be so heavily opposed."

She flushes a little. His tone is calm, composed, even friendly, but he can tell that she feels the admonishment in it.

"Normally," he continues, "there would be a third party here, a Bright Society counsellor in case there's any need for their intervention. Today, I'll be fulfilling that role, even though I was present last night." The privileges of his position.

She nods. "So... what do we talk about? Sorry, I've still got work on the mind, and, uh, I do have to get back there in about half an hour."

He nods as well. "Of course. Most patrol reports are simple matters. Last night, though, since we made the news..." He leaves it hanging a moment. "While the Society has already given an official response, we have to provide them with details to keep there from being any unexpected surprises or to arm them with any salient details they might not have known."

"Right, uh," she begins. "I'm not sure what I have to add. It's all there on the news."

I think you actually want violence. He'd seen the clip, more than once. That moment that Sterling Grey had said that, and he'd struck. "Think back to the patrol. Before the riot, did you see anything unusual?"

"Before the... uh, oh of course, before the... riot. Hmm. I don't think we saw anyone at all until the prote— rioters cornered us."

She's accepting the language. Good.

"That didn't strike me as unusual," Chelsea continues. "It was late, the docks are basically closed at night, though of course not completely, and uh..." she trails off. "Then on the corner of Water and Pardie, the p— rioters closed in."

"Sounds right to me," Reggie agrees. "They were threatening, right from the start."

"Hm?" she says, looking confused. "I don't know about..."

"Think about it. Really think about it, Chelsea." He adjusts his watch, a seemingly-nervous tick that actually intensifies the subsonic waves from the hidden speakers in the room pointed at the young woman in the chair. "Their first actions, when they saw us..."

She closes her eyes. "They advanced," she says. "They hemmed us in on three sides. Some of them had weapons."

"Threatening."

"Yes," she agrees. "Threatening." Her eyes open. She looks tired. "Sorry, I didn't sleep well, and this is the first chance I've had to sit down. I went to..." she hesitates, and he realizes it's because she doesn't want to tell him about her connection to Grey. "I went to see a friend this morning, just to cool off a bit, then went to help Tanya get home from the hospital only to find that she was being arrested, then went with her to the station house but had to leave because I had a work shift and..." She lets out a long, slow sigh. "And it's been one hell of a shift."

"A fine night for your first patrol," Reggie replies in a sympathetic tone. "We've all had days like that, but for it to be your first... Clearly we have to do something about the docks."

"Mhmm?" she mumbles. "Yes, I guess we do."

"The rioters are clearly anarchic and violent."

She nods, but says nothing.

Between her exhaustion and the Mechanician's subsonic inducers, she seems open to all kinds of ideas. Reggie smiles in kind fashion. "You and I ought to get together soon to plan our next move."

"Mhmm," she says. "Soon, I guess."

"Over dinner, perhaps."

She smiles, a bit vacantly. "Sounds lovely."

Not for the first time, Reggie pictures how that beautiful winged girl must look without the shimmering dress, eyes blazing, body arched gracefully. The distant look in her eyes, her easy acceptance of dinner... it wouldn't be long before he might win her. The patrol the night before may have cost him a little ground, or may have gained him some, he's not sure, but that foundation is still there, and he would be able to take advantage of it soon enough.

Perhaps once he's pummelled that 'Conflict resolution' limpdick into the ground. Fighting for the girl. That would feel very, very good.

"I think we're pretty much finished here," he says, his soft voice covering his thoughts. How much he wants violence. How much he wants her. "If the Arctic Angel is questioned..."

There's a momentary pause, before she seems to realize that he's waiting for a response. Her eyes come clear, into focus. "Oh! sorry, yes, if questioned, I'll just say the truth, that the violent rioters hemmed us in, threatened us, provoked us, and then charged at us. Something needs to be done about the docks and the violent people there."

"Then we're in agreement," Reggie nods and grins. A little apparently-nervous touch on the watch and the inducers shut off as he rises to his feet. "Don't let me take up more of your lunch break."

Chelsea stands up as well. "Thanks, Reggie." She lets out a breath. "I hope things aren't too fucked up right now."

He shakes his head. "Not your problem. Go see to your patients."

She heads for the door, pauses, looks back, then thinks better of whatever she was going to say or do and leaves. Reggie watches her go with a level of admiration he's not used to applying to someone he intends to possess. Perhaps it's her family history, or maybe it's her powers, but she's held up amazingly well given the events of the past few days. The near-loss of one of her two closest friends had barely shaken her; perhaps it's time to look at the other.


Sterling Grey's apartment

5:18 PM

Sterling emerges from his room. His phone has been forgotten after his morning shower with Chelsea, but it had probably done him some good not to let it disturb him for a few hours. He turns towards the bathroom, only to hear a voice from behind him.

"Nice ass."

"Jesus Christ, Sharon, I just about jumped out of my skin." He turns to see the young carpenter leaning against the wall by the hallway, dressed as she had been when he met her earlier at the hospital.

Her gaze dips down. He doesn't bother to cover himself. She looks back up to meet his eyes. "I'm here with messages."

"You couldn't have sent an email?"

"Chelsea started to get worried since she hadn't locked your door," she replies. "And that you might not be all that well after being frozen in the street."

"I'm fine," he says, "thank you."

"And, well, maybe I want to see you myself. Though I wasn't counting on seeing so much of you."

As his heartrate slows a little, he's able to smirk. "Maybe not counting on, but hoping?"

She grins in reply. "You wish."

"Perhaps I do."

She takes a step forward. "I'm here for Chelsea and Tanya more than myself."

"But you're thinking about enjoying yourself, all the same," he says. His power thrummed in his blood, and he felt his cock twitch.

"Mmmm, thinking about it, and pretty sure you'd be up for it."

Sterling chuckles. "I remember Wednesday. Any chance I have to revisit that beautiful image is worthwhile."

Sharon smiles and flushes. "That's a nice thing to say."

"Helps that it's true."

She clears her throat. "Believe it or not," she says, taking another step closer, "I didn't come here to suck your dick." She takes a breath, pausing for thought. "Other than being here to talk about tonight's protests, I also want to discuss some personal matters. Other than fucking," she adds quickly.

Sterling nods. "Okay, I'll be serious. For now."

"It would be easier if you were wearing pants."

He laughs in genuine mirth. "I've been sleeping for eight hours, I have to piss. How about you take a seat in the living room and I'll make myself ready to accept guests?"

She winks. "I'll do that, sure."

He has host of notificaitions on his phone, but those will wait. It takes him a couple minutes to re-emerge in a decent t-shirt and boxer shorts. "Sorry it's not exactly a suit," he says, moving into the kitchen. "Can I get you a drink?"

"No worries, and sure, if you've got some soda or something that'd be great."

"Lemon-lime? Diet or not?"

"Lemon-lime is great, not-diet is fine."

He grabs two cans of soda, hands one to Sharon, and sits down opposite. "So. You've committed at least one felony to come see me. What's up?"

She laughs. "There wasn't any breaking, just entering."

He smiles. "I appreciate that, thank you. You haven't been waiting long?"

"Nah, a few minutes. I was here just before five, and I have my phone."

"Well, I appreciate that. I think." He takes a drink, and she does the same. "You came here to tell me things."

She nods. "Uh. Tanya's out of the hospital, so that's good. And she was arrested, so that's not. But there was apparently a lawyer there from the dockworks."

"Oh good, Sandy said something about going down to talk with her this morning. I'm glad he was there. Assuming it was him. He was going to look into getting the protesters out from lockup, too, so that'd be a natural stop on his way."

"Well, according to Chels, Tanya wasn't too happy that he was, and apparently neither were the cops." Sharon frowns. "Chelsea had to get back to work, so she couldn't hang out at the station, but Tanya was apparently pissed that she couldn't go home."

"Is she still there?"

"No hearing until Monday, apparently."

Sterling rolls his eyes and sighs. "She's not exactly a dangerous criminal."

"And you'd think they'd be happy with someone who burned down something in the docks, after last night." She shrugs. "I'm headed to her apartment after this to water her plants. And before you ask, I have her keys and her permission."

"Well, that's good, anyway." Stering frowns. He's certain that Tanya isn't an arsonist, and anyway, his interest is more in rebuilding the cafe than in punishing whoever burned it down. "And Chelsea?"

Sharon looks down for a moment. "Sterling... Okay, the three of us, me, Chels, and Tanya, we're tight, right? We're like ... okay, given what happened Wednesday, 'sisters' is a little weird, but we're that close." She meets Sterling's gaze. "I can tell that she's changed, and changed powerfully, since Wednesday. Something's got under her skin, and I think it's mostly you." She sighs. "I'd be lying if I said you hadn't got to me, too. I mean... Okay, look, I love to fuck. That's what I thought we were doing, Wednesday. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that you, and Chelsea, you both made me feel..." She shakes her head. "Beautiful. I felt beautiful. Not just sexy, not just attractive. I know I'm attractive. I've put enough hours into all this," she indicates herself with a wave of her hand, "to know what it is and how it's seen and I want that, Sterling, but you and Chels made me see myself on a whole different level." She runs her hands through her hair in a gesture remarkably similar to the way Chelsea runs her hands over her head when she's stressed. "But... but see here's the thing, Sterling. I have friends, family, a life. Other lovers. Chelsea... all she's got is me, and Tanya, and her work, and if you've done this to me, it freaks me right the fuck out to think of what you've done to her, you understand?"

Sterling nods, solemnly, and says nothing.

"I'm not going to tell you to let her go, God no, or even try to persuade you to do that, because... I mean, if you did, and she found out, I'd be dead to her, you know?" Sharon looks down again. "And I don't think that you're going to hurt her intentionally. And, and I think you could do her a lot of good, too, you know? I'm not expecting there to be bells and a baby buggy in the future, but that doesn't... I'm sorry," she says, once more meeting Sterling's gaze with a grin. "I'm babbling. I think you know what I mean." She gets to her feet. "You and me, Sterling, we can fuck until the cows come home, and I'll love every minute of it, and when it ends we'll walk away with a smile and a great big hug and go on to other parts of our lives and other lovers." Her smile turns sad. "Not Chelsea. There's... I don't really understand it yet, but already there's a massive shift gone on in her. She's a great big fuckin' skyscraper built on sandy ground, things are moving under her feet, and all I want you to do is make sure you build up the foundation."

Sterling stands as well, thinking. "I'll do my best," he says. Fifteen years ago you wouldn't, his thoughts tell him. "For what it's worth," he continues, speaking slowly, "these last few days have seen changes in me, too, although they're perhaps... less dramatic. More... I've been revitalized. Recharged. I'm... other people have noticed, too. I won't say that this was in any way a tectonic shift, but between the two of you—"

"Oh, you're sweet, Sterling," Sharon interrupts with a shake of her head, "but let's not pretend. You want to strip me naked and use my body, and believe me, I want you to do that too, and do the same back, but I haven't changed you. That's all Chelsea. Still, nice of you to think of me." She laughs.

Sterling doesn't object, but smiles with her. "Alright. Chelsea's had a major impact on my mood, and maybe even on who I am, and I'm unbelievably lucky that the two of you—the three of you, really, crossed my path."

Sharon walks across the room, takes his hands, and kisses his cheek. "That's what mama bear wanted to hear."

Stop. The power wells up within him, but he keeps silent. Turn around. Meet me in the bedroom.

"I'll be out protesting tonight," Sharon says. "Are you going to be marching?"

He shakes his head. "Not unless it's necessary." He chuckles wearily. "I need a break."

"What would make it necessary?"

"Something that other conflict resolution officers couldn't handle."

She lets him go. "Maybe I'll be back after the march, then..."

She walks past him and out the door. He sits back down and contemplates the half-full can of soda sitting on the small table beside his chair. "I think maybe I should order a pizza and settle in for the night," he says to no one listening.

He'd left his phone in the bedroom.

He got up. He has a lot of messages to get through, and it would probably take him a while, so he would place the order first.

What are Reggie's sinister plans? How will the protests go? Will Tanya be released from prison? And what information is Sterling being given?

Find out more in Part Nine!

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