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“I don’t know, Sweets, I think you could make me see stars if you kissed me like that again,” Jenique said, her arm still holding Rabbit next to her. s**t, it had been too long since she’d been next to someone like this.

Jenique couldn’t help laughing at Rabbit as she spoke. She was like one of those cartoon villains, twisting her mustache at the thought of playing with Christmas. Damn, she was a gem for sure. In the time since HQ, Jenique had grown rather fond of the pink pixie. She couldn’t help being a little hopeful that they went home together.

Jenique’s attention turned to the stage where he partner in crime was taking up the microphone. Well someone looked sobered up.

Before she’d gotten herself locked up, Jenique hadn’t known Rook long. Really she barely knew him at all but she felt as though she understood him. Kimiko had told her of his troubles with his mom and everything with his dad. The crooner had had a rough time of it.

For this, Jenique felt she understood him. She herself had a troubled past, starting with the death of her own father. Everything from smoking, to drinking, full circle to hard drugs. She’d done things she wasn’t proud of, things she’d never tell dear Rabbit about.

Jesus, what would she think of her if she knew about…everything? Jenique couldn’t imagine anyone wanting her upon finding out about her past. She was damaged goods, she couldn’t really blame them.

As she listened to Rook sing, it felt almost like it was someone else. Someone berating her.

Were you born to resist or be abused?

Damn, that line hit hard. Her mood was suddenly changing. She could feel her heartache as she thought of the only person that would ever say that to her. She hadn’t seen him in so long. What would he think of her if he saw her today? Of how she’d allowed herself to be treated.

“I gotta get outa here,” she said getting up from the booth. She didn’t want Rabbit to see her cry, it showed weakness and she just couldn’t have it.

She walked around with this persona of someone that didn’t give a ********. Someone that was proud of who she was and didn’t care what anyone thought of her. But now she was calling all of that into question. How could she be proud of herself? She’d allowed her child to be taken from her, gotten herself into an abusive relationship, and landed herself in prison.

Who was she?

[********] she said reaching the backdoor of White Noise and slamming herself against the cold wall.

Looking up into the smokey colored sky, she watched the snow fall, trying to make the tears stop. Now her mind was wandering. Wayan, god, she missed him. What she wouldn’t give to have him here. He wouldn’t think she was weak…..hell if he was here she would be somewhat whole. Ever since he’d been locked up, she’d been a little off kilter. Then again, when he’d been thrown in prison, she was 16 and very pregnant.

Some wondered why she hated her brother so much, and that was why. He’d been the one that turned Wayan in. She was 16 but he was 21. So now he was serving time for “Sexual Misconduct with a minor” and Jenique was alone. Jocef was the reason that her family was broken, the reason her family didn’t exist anymore.

“How the ******** did I get here?” she said walking back from the wall, wrapping her arms around herself. She reminded herself to punch Rook later for singing a song that made her feel like this.

She needed a drink, many in fact. She just wanted to forget right now. She wanted to hide inside a bottle of Vodka until she didn’t know her own name. The bottle-blue female couldn’t bring herself to go back inside yet. She wanted to stay out here a bit longer, just to get rid of the tear tracks on her face.

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"I'll do my best to try and help you out with words, but to be honest, my vocabulary is somewhat lacking." Levi needed to start carrying a dictionary around with him, start using a new word a day. "And I'm glad you're good with names, I struggle a bit with them but I'm great at recognizing faces." Faces and dates were his specialty, anything with numbers he could usually remember fairly well but for some reasons names usually slipped away.

He managed a shrug at the confusion that the man seemed to be going through, he didn't quite understand why the woman had gotten that angry. It seemed like emotions always ran high when alcohol was in the mix but he was sure that it wasn't the drinks that had pushed her on edge. "I couldn't explain her if I tried, I don't know her too well yet."

"Alright, so dog lover, tall, fun guy, oh and can't forget the muscles."
Levi gave a slight nod and moved to look around the place, it was packed and he saw a couple of tall men, they were built but they seemed to be avoiding the dance floor. "I'll let you know if I meet one that matches that description." His mind was already thinking over the people that he knew but he wasn't sure if anyone really fit the bill.

"I think I lean more towards men, but I've met a few girls that...well, they would be nice to hang out with." Levi was trying to keep a conversation going but he tended to run out of things to say or he just ended up shifting towards awkward topics.
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              Sari took a moment to make sure all the different foods on the plate were tidily tucked into their respective spaces -- no juices straying into other dishes -- before he covered the top of the plate with aluminum foil. He had a feeling Jocef wouldn’t eat now, so…he took the extra step to make certain the meal was wrapped up safely until the sheriff was ready for it. He didn’t know how meticulous Jocef was with his food, but always better to play it safely, just in case. Though now that he thought about it, Jocef’s military career had probably squashed all dietary fickleness.

              Oh well.

              His thoughts were distant as he made the plate, his fingers folding the edges of the foil slowly, instinctively, as his focus wandered away from the festivities and his colleagues. The holidays were funny like that, somehow turning the simplest thought or action into something profound and sentimental. Sari wasn’t one to linger on the past or what could’ve been, but…

              Well, the holidays were funny like that.

              He smiled to himself, the gesture soft but hopeful. He was happy where he was, despite past mistakes and misfortunes.
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            Wasn’t he?

            Maybe there was a little something missing, but…he just had to be patient. He would surely find it, and in the interim he was here to focus on aiding those around him, right? Like making sure Jocef had some food before the entire feast was picked clean, possibly single-handedly by their beloved commissioner...

            “There, that should do it,” the minister remarked to himself, picking up the plate.

            By the time Sari was beginning his trek towards Jocef’s office, he noticed Elessa had already finished his own meal and was cornering Silas for that first drink. The minister smiled again, but he was thinking he might want to forego the alcohol, personally. He didn’t know what stories he’d told Elessa about his sister, but he felt bad about inadvertently giving her such a terrible reputation. Sure, she was a little headstrong, but still…

            The ginger knocked lightly on the Sheriff’s office door to give Jocef a forewarning, then gently opened it to poke his head inside. He’d learned some time ago that it was best not to startle the man, especially when there was a possibility that he could be fatigued.

            “Why are you cooped up in here?” the minister asked, slipping into the office and closing the door quietly behind him. “It’s Christmas, Jocef. Surely there are better things you could be doing off-duty.”

            Sari’s comment was more of a customary chide than a real reprimand. He approached the desk, placing the plate carefully down. He smiled gently.

            “You don’t have to worry about these things tonight, Jocef. You work tomorrow, don’t you? So go home, get some rest. Spend some time with your son while things are calm. Didn’t you say you were planning to see him?”

            Sari considered Jocef a friend, not just a colleague, and he had spent enough time around the veteran to know about the problems in his life. Jocef always played down his own value as a father, but…Sari knew better than that. He knew Jocef was hard on himself, though, so he tried to provide a different voice for him to heed, one more encouraging, one that had faith in him as a person and an officer. Gently, he touched Jocef’s arm.

            “It’ll be good for both of you.”

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          The blonde computer aficionado started to relax about halfway to the tech lab when no one stepped up to prevent him from reaching his destination; everyone was distracted by more important things, so the notion of pestering him seemed to bypass even his usual stalkers. With this great weight off of his mind, he became more preoccupied with whether or not he was likely to get a verbal warning if he installed an illegally-acquired copy of Starscatter Galaxy on the precinct computers.

          Who was he kidding? If he was that concerned, it’d be simple enough to guarantee that no one ever found it. The average employee wasn’t known for their technical prowess, though some of the younger recruits could be onto him. He had noticed a slight alteration to his save file for Crypt Shadows III….

          When he was only a few feet from his beloved haven, Suoh lifted a gloved hand to his mouth, pinching the end of a sewn fingertip and tugging off the protective covering. His other hand dipped into his back pocket for his sanitation wipes, fully intending to give the keyboard of his preferred PC a thorough wipe-down before he settled in for the next few hours. The thought of completing the evening with a Mountain Dew and a bag of chips perked up his mood considerably by the time he was finally accosted by unwanted attention.

          He knew it was too good to be true…

          The first time Suoh heard his name called, he still held the hope that he could slip away into the dark recesses of the tech lab, but Elessa’s long legs proved too formidable an opponent. Resigning himself to his fate, he turned to face the commissioner, one glove still dangling from his teeth. He lifted his bared hand to grab it, his other one holding the sanitation wipes.

          “Before you insult me, again, just… listen, ‘kay?”

          Suoh regarded Elessa blankly, not particularly irritated but a little surprised that the other male was going out of his way to make amends. Hearing Elessa out as requested, the technician slipped his hands back into his pockets – it rubbed him the wrong way to have his gloves off in the presence of other people. He wasn’t sure why, but…it was more than just the subtle burn scars that marred some of the nimble digits.

          “I’m sorry. I’m obnoxious, I know, but I’m hoping we can at least be civil to each other. We work together, after all, and… it is Christmas.”

          Weren’t they being civil? He felt they were being quite civil.

          Suoh exhaled deeply, his gloved hand reemerging to give a wave of dismissal. “It’s fine,” he answered. He was somewhat easy to put off, so he was used to letting incidents go unless it was something aimed to purposely unsettle him. “I just don’t like…the whole…touching thing.”

          Because apparently Elessa had missed that memo.

          “Especially as a surprise.”

          Elessa drew out a gift card in offering, causing Suoh to raise an eyebrow and regard him dryly.

          “So this is how you avoid harassment charges…” the blonde remarked, and as usual with his sardonic tones it was hard to tell whether or not he was joking. “You know I can’t legally accept that unless it’s requisitioned by WCPD.”

          “If you don’t take it, someone else will.”

          Ooh. That logic was hard to argue with.

          Elessa placed the card on the table, and Suoh appreciated the happy medium of being sociable while maintaining a safe distance. He didn’t really need the money, but…who turned down free cash? Even he wasn’t that stubborn.

          The commissioner grinned and wished him a Merry Christmas before turning to go, but Suoh stopped him, his protest blurting from his lips before his brain had time to finish the thought.

          “Hey, Elessa—?“ he started, but then paused. What had he intended to say? He didn’t even know himself…

          “…Merry Christmas.”

          Nah. Whatever was going on, it couldn’t be that bad. It was Elessa. Surely he wouldn’t betray them, and he didn’t exactly seem like someone capable of maintaining a hidden criminal agenda…

          Satisfied by this conclusion, Suoh picked up the gift card and turned to disappear into the tech room, his mind back to running over the specs required to play Starscatter Galaxy.

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          Lucien wandered slowly from his enigmatic host, drawn to the expanses of interesting objects that adorned the financier’s tables and shelves. The dim lighting in the room caused engorged shadows to ripple and stretch like a pooling darkness, but the ambience was reaching enough to prevent large sections of pure blackness. Welcoming the distraction from the pressure of his own emotions, Lucien allowed his attention to be seduced by the art and artifacts, and he lingered close to one of the tables to study its contents. Lightly grazing his fingers over tiny figures of gold and glass, he used the quiet moment to calm the overwhelming tide of uncertainty.

          The conditioning of his lifestyle caused his stomach to knot instinctively; people who possessed so many things, so many luxuries, had to have significant rank – lower classes would find it impossible to accumulate so much value, and even more impossible to defend it. Wraith was elite.

          But this was not the syndicate, and in the real world not every individual had to overcome constant opposition for their achievements. Money was earned, gained, inherited, and men were allowed the right to keep whatever they laid claim to. Lucien knew that was true here, and yet…

          It was still there, that swell of emotion that curdled his insides. That painful weight of fear, dread, submission, and reverence that bore down upon him, always threatening to grind him into an unrecognizable pile. Lucien would go head-to-head with an elite member of the syndicate if it was necessary, but he acknowledged his masters and the power they held over him. He had been reminded enough times how much he could be made to suffer, and his instincts told him he’d be reminded again this night.

          Lucien closed his eyes. He had to break that association; he had no evidence that Wraith was connected with Dasvae at all. Perhaps he was just a rich man with a power complex and nothing more.

          But the conditioned fear devoured up curiosity and charm, and the accommodations of Wraith Cross became more menacing than fascinating. The elaborate richness that clung to the structure seemed to loom ominously, compressing him into this tiny, insignificant mouse roaming an emperor’s palace. Only once had he been inside a home as rich as this one, and he would never forget that puppeteer.

          The emotional anxiety -- even in all its intensity – was something Lucien was accustomed to handling, so he followed Wraith at an easy pace, silent but calm. Dark eyes strayed over a few objects, but he didn’t speak as they progressed through the penthouse. It wasn’t until they reached the library that Lucien felt sufficiently adapted for his performance.

          “It is impressive,” Lucien complimented with a relaxed smile, taking a moment to casually walk the perimeter of the study, his eyes trailing over the bindings of the books without really seeing them. When his circular path brought him back to Wraith, he gracefully took a seat, seeming entirely in his element. He knew Wraith was expressing some interest in the syndicate, so the other man’s question came as no surprise. If Lucien assumed Wraith really was nothing more than a crafty financier, it made sense that he’d want to know what kind of undertaking Vivi had volunteered his money for.

          “I was officially indicted into Dasvae five years ago,” Lucien answered, settling his hands into his lap comfortably. “However, I’ve been with them for the past ten; my father was a prominent member, so naturally I fell into their care.”

          Lucien wasn’t particularly secretive about his history – it was all recorded in his file, which was accessible by anyone with any kind of rank. He didn’t assume anything about him would remain hidden.

          “After my membership became official, I was intended for the medical field, but I lacked the capacity for that level of study and precision. So I was shifted from occupation to occupation until I found my way into human trafficking, quite by accident.”

          Lucien rested his elbow on the arm of the chair, settling his cheek on the back of his hand as he regarded Wraith.

          “I trafficked for two years before an incident caused my status to be revoked, landing me here performing basic functions. That’s why, despite what Vivi may hope, Dasvae will not allow me to live outside their employ.”

          He knew too much about the routes and trafficking methods. If he ever parted with that intelligence, a portion of their business could be severely compromised.

          “Now it’s my turn to ask a question. What do you know about this syndicate, and how did you come by your information?”

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    Jocef was no longer even looking at the case file. He was tired and worn but he couldn’t bring himself to get up and go home. There was a knock on the door and then the minister’s face popped in with it’s welcoming air.

    “You know me, too stubborn to just go home and have a rest,” Jocef said with a sigh and a small smile.

    Jocef liked Sari. He was one of the only people he could be sure would never treat him differently because he knew of his past or what he was capable of. He was a bit like a fussing family member. He was always chastising him for working late, not eating, not sleeping, the things he should be doing. Truth was, Jocef was terrible at being alive when he was working a case. Taking care of himself was not one of Jocef’s strong points.

    “Spend some time with your son,”

    That echoed in Jocef’s skull. He hadn’t seen Isaiah in weeks. The sheriff would never admit it but he didn’t like seeing his son, if only because of what he saw when he looked at him. He was overworked, unpaid and at times, too irritable to be around. He was far from the model father. He knew he should cherish the time he got with his child but he felt that his place was away. Away from him. Jocef considered himself a bit dangerous, especially after what had happened when he’d come home from the war.

    “I’m sure my son would rather spend his holiday with Jane and her mother. Somewhere much less stagnate,” he said, his voice getting deep as he turned to look out the window.

    “You know…when they told me I could either take a desk job or go home, I thought coming home would be the better choice. Jane and I could do the family thing. If I’d known what was going to happen when I came home….I probably would have taken the desk jockey position. Maybe I‘d still be married. Maybe my son wouldn‘t be afraid of me,” he said, almost to himself, moving papers about.


    Yes, the sheriff had been married, only briefly. They’d been young, and yes even Jocef had been foolish.

    “You know…I thought we’d have a good life. Everything was storybook. From our wedding to the phone call I got telling me I’d be a father. The day Isaiah was born was the happiest day of my life, Sari. I had all these dreams for him. He was supposed to have a good childhood. Not like me. Not like my sister. Something good, something he could look back on and think how great it was growing up. I looked into his face, beautiful and round, like his mom and I believed in God. He was supposed to be my legacy. And all of it….all of it was ruined the day I held a gun to his head,”

    There was stark silence in the office now. Jocef had dark things in his past. Things only Sari and Dyllin knew about, and there was a reason for that.

    “PTSD is like living in a nightmare, every sound, anything in sight suddenly becomes an element of war. Everyone becomes an enemy, charging, with guns. I thought my son was an insurgent. Do you know what it’s like to have someone you love so much look at you with absolute terror?”

    “You know what I see every time I go over there?” Jocef asked Sari, pain flickering behind his eyes, “My ex has this look in her eyes like…she…like I’m some kind of monster. I can’t really blame her. Would you? Wouldn’t you hate someone that pulled a gun on their own child?”

    There it was. The self-loathing that pierced through him like the sharpest of knives, this is what lived within the soldier. The intensity that radiated from the colonel at all times, that was where it originated. He hated himself for what he’d done, the innocence he seemed to have stolen.

    “And him…he’s scared of me. Kids aren’t suppose to have nightmares about their parents. I should be where he runs when he’s scared but he doesn’t have that. Instead, I‘m what he sees when he closes his eyes. I‘m the reason he‘s afraid of the dark…” Jocef’s voice broke slightly. It was obvious that he’d warred with himself over these same thoughts on more than one occasion.

    He hadn’t meant to unload on the minister in such a way, but he knew Sari wouldn’t judge him. Though he knew Sari wasn’t Catholic, he often said that he was going to confession when going to see the ginger. It was hard enough for a man such as him to express himself in a general sense but even worse when it was important to him to maintain his image.

    He didn’t care what the other officers thought of him, he just wanted their respect. He wasn’t there to be liked, he was there to do his job. And what would they think of him if they knew what he was? Dyllin and Sari had had the unfortunate experience of being with Jocef whilst he was having one of his episodes. That fact was one that hung over his head at all times as well. They wouldn’t tell him what he’d said, what he’d done but he always felt like they looked at him differently after that, despite his faith in their openness.

    “I’m supposed to see him tomorrow after work. I’m picking him up and he’s staying for a week,” Jocef said, trying to make the last five minutes disappear, “Jane…is uh, she’s going off with a friend or something…”

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            User ImageOh, it was a pity that he'd no longer be forced to suffer in cold, seething fury for the amusement of a pompous a*****e? Ryuko's brows knitted in disapproval and unamusement, but he couldn't bring himself to be truly irritated at a time like this. A small smile stole over the edge of his lips.

            "Well, I hope you find the trade-off worthwhile," he teased softly.

            The guard was more than happy to allow Wraith Cross to pass from their thoughts, not at all eager to spend his Christmas Eve thinking about or discussing someone he regarded so lowly. There were other people deserving of his attention; one, especially, was standing right before him.

            Ryuko felt the soft brush of Vivi's lips against his palm and the exploration of his nimble fingers sift through his hair, and while the touch was familiar it also felt so very different. Contact with Vivi had never been meaningless to Ryuko, but reservation had always kept him from truly feeling the touch. And now...now that the barrier was gone, Ryuko discovered that even though it was different there was nothing foreign or unwelcome about the brush of the other's skin. And maybe he was a little nervous, but Ryuko was not afraid because he felt more confident than ever that he could provide what Vivi needed.

            Because he knew Vivi. Not consciously, perhaps, but intuitively.

            "Then let's go," Ryuko said, an unusual enthusiasm slipping into his tone as his right hand left Vivi's cheek to seize his hand. "Let's leave the city, just for tonight."

            His dark eyes sparked with subtle animation, he squeezed the other's hand and lifted the appendage to his lips, his gaze remaining on the leader's.

            "And for a few hours, Vivi, it'll just be you and I," the guard murmured imploringly against their joined hands. "In a place where there is no stress or...pain or pollution. We can really..."

            Ryuko paused, then exhaled as if to calm his swelling emotion. Was he even making sense? If they could leave their lives behind, just for a little while, they could have the chance to connect without any interferences, without anyone around to taint the experience. They could start with a strong foundation...

            He believed he could be something Vivi had never had before, if he had the opportunity to really show the leader how he felt. And, more importantly, he wanted to see Vivi, unadulterated. And feel him, and just...

            Make him happy. And at peace.

            But he didn't know how to articulate such an abstract idea, so he settled for having faith in Vivi's understanding of him.

            "Please. I'll have you back as early as you want."

            How much trouble could the gang get into in one night? And, at this point, Ryuko wasn't sure he even cared -- they could clean up whatever mess accrued in the morning.

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              “I’m sure my son would rather spend his holiday with Jane and her mother. Somewhere much less stagnate," Jocef returned, brushing off the minister's concern for his family life. Sari parted his lips to form some sort of counter, but before the words could form the sheriff verbalized his own trail of self-deprecating thoughts. Sari's brow drew in a gentle expression of understanding and sadness, but he fell silent to allow Jocef to ease some of the weight on his chest.

              He knew it was difficult for Jocef to discuss the things pressuring his soul, and he knew he was one of the few people the sheriff managed to really express himself to. So these impromptu sessions with Jocef were important for the man, and Sari was happy to be able to offer some kind of guidance for the worn veteran.

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            As Jocef continued, the sadness in Sari's eyes deepened, but he remained patiently silent. He remembered the day Jocef's fatigue had allowed his PTSD to get out of control, though he'd never asked Jocef to relate the scenario in detail. He'd told him more than once that the episode wasn't his fault, that his wasn't the only perfectly rational veteran to suffer from those bouts, but he knew it hadn't made Jocef feel any better about the incident.

            "Do you know what it’s like to have someone you love so much look at you with absolute terror?”

            "No," Sari murmured, dropping his green eyes. No, he didn't know what that was like. He'd lived a privileged life, sheltered and loved, and though he'd lost a couple people along the way he didn't know what it was like to truly suffer. Sometimes, he felt a guilty for his good fortune, like he was wrong for offering counsel when he couldn't possibly understand what it was like to truly struggle or be in real, unyielding physical or spiritual pain. But someone once told him that it was God's will that he was raised privileged, so that he could maintain the brightness and gentleness that caused others to smile. He liked to believe he would be able to retain all of his best traits even in the face of adversity, but...in truth, one could never truly know how they might be changed by the world.

            Jocef's second question -- most likely rhetorical anyway -- Sari couldn't answer. Would he hate someone who pulled a gun on his child? He didn't know...he couldn't imagine hating anyone, really. And Jocef...it wasn't like he meant it. How could someone hate him for this condition that he didn't ask for, a condition forced upon him because he'd made the honorable decision to serve his country and her people? No, Sari couldn't hate someone in such a circumstance, if at all.

            "Jocef..." Sari said finally, stepping towards where the sheriff sat. He framed the veteran's jaw with his hands, making the sheriff meet his gaze. "Now you listen to me, okay?"

            Normally the minister wasn't so forward with touching people, but Jocef really needed to feel...less alone right now. And he needed to listen.

            "Isaiah's just a little boy, but he will understand. He's extremely smart, you know, so don't be so afraid to tell him how you feel. I know you don't want to burden him, but he needs you, Jocef, and he needs you to be straight-forward and honest or how is he supposed to know what to think? He knows you love him, and he knows your affliction isn't something you can always control."

            Sari wished he had a little more knowledge about veterans, but...all he really had to draw from were his own experiences with Jocef and what research he'd conducted to better help the sheriff.

            "No matter what opinion you may have of yourself, you're still his father, and you owe it to him to be the best father you can possibly be. And that means taking care of yourself, that means resting up so you can enjoy your time with him and getting a handle on your PTSD. I know you don't want to turn to medication, so you have to keep your stress levels down and your spirits up or else that'll be your only alternative."

            The minister spoke his words with absolute conviction, keeping his eyes on Jocef's. Sometimes the only way to get through was to be firm, and Sari could certainly be stubborn when he truly believed what he was talking about.

            "Go home," he emphasized seriously. "We don't need you tonight, Jocef. Rest up and relax so when you have Isaiah, you don't have to be so nervous. And if you haven't talked to him about what happened, do it. Tell him you're sorry. You might be surprised by how much he understands even at his age, and I guarantee you'll feel better about it."

            Sari paused a moment, then gave a tentative smile, dropping his hands from the other's jaw and pulling back.

            "If you don't get out of here I'm telling Elessa to cut your hours," he teased a little in a half-hearted attempt to ease Jocef's tension. He picked the foil-wrapped plate up from the desk and offered it to the other man.

            "I'll see you in the morning, okay...?"

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        Wraith watched Lucien, but it wasn’t awe he saw in his eyes, nor had he expected to. He didn’t see the redhead as one of those wide-eyed fools that walked into his home and was surprised in its opulence. Such a reaction did not fit his companion, the thought was almost laughable.

        “I am pleased that my home has made in impact upon you. Other than an obvious show of my success, it is a place for…self-expression if you will. My home represents my personality and my achievements. To say that I find myself elegant and a bit elaborate would not be pure conjecture. I dare say I may even border on eccentric at times,” the financier said with a small laugh.

        Wraith had settled himself into an eye-pleasing wingback chair, readying himself for the coming conversation.

        “My dear Lucien, you pose a most interesting and invasive question. Then again you ask no more of me than I of you. The fact is I have done a fair bit of travelling. So, you can imagine, one with my connections hears things. You say you were a trafficker, then you know men with money have desires that lie in illegal acquisitions. I was actually made aware of this little operation by a late friend. If I’m not mistaken you knew him rather…well yourself. My condolences,”

        Wraith paused. He couldn’t help wonder just how much of this Lucien would believe. Honestly, more than half of what he was saying was true.

        “Dear Mr. Adams. He was such a lovely fellow. From what I understand the two of you were….rather close,”

        Wraith had no illusions about Lucien at this point. He knew there was nothing he could say about the other’s sexual practices or the like that would throw him off balance. He had a feeling he knew where Lucien’s weak spot may lie but he wasn’t ready to try that out just yet.

        “From my understanding, this syndicate of yours is top talk in the underground. Lots of hushed voices and whispering. I was lucky to get what chit chat I did. It seems whoever is in charge has quite the presence to strike such fear and secrecy in people. Still, everyone has a price, more or less….but then you know all about the price of a human being,”

        Wraith was beside himself in his entertainment.

        “I wasn’t wrong in assuming you to be one of the more interesting characters I’ve met. The things you’ve been through, the things you’ve seen. I supposed looking inside that pretty little head of yours would be utterly remarkable. And that’s not even counting your subconscious,” the impresario said with a smile, “Not to say that I’d do such a thing. You’re much too intelligent to allow yourself into such a position.”

        “Now, back to the matter of our late friend….again….very unfortunate, his death. But then, we both know that two can keep a secret….if one of them is dead,” Wraith said holding his chin in his hand. Oh yes, he knew that little secret too.

        “Mr. Adams had quite loose lips, such a naughty man to be serving on the city council.”

        Wraith was unsure of how any of this would affect Lucien. Wasn’t that the way he played it though? It was and eternal game of testing people and gaging their reactions. Perhaps that was one of his reasons for being drawn to Lucien so. He hid nearly any response to any situation. To someone like Wraith, that spoke volumes. However the minor reaction he’d received earlier, whilst at the Aphorism headquarters, that has been stirring to say the least.

        “I do not nor can I judge you for such actions. You’re a survivalist. That means doing whatever it takes to keep yourself and those important to you, alive. Although, I do believe you measure importance different than most. I dare say you would weigh individual value on the usefulness of the entity. You appear to lack emotional attachment to objects and possessions, much like myself. Yes, I have a grand home but there is hardly a thing here that I would categorize as valuable to me."

        “And please, if I overstep or make false claims in observations, feel free to correct me. “

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xxxxxxxxxxsчrαcusє ȷαxoɴ ɔαɗєxxxxxxxxxx

    ɴever coulɗ ɗecide
        ʜow чou ωanʈed us ʈo be.

        ωʜч ωon'ʈ чou sʜow
    чour inʈenʈions ʈowards me?

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          Better this treatment than his earlier reaction, Sword told himself. He’d much rather be treated a little cautiously than be outright rejected. Rook was trying to be considerate of his feelings, in his own way, and he knew that. Even so, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he could stand to… try harder to come to a solid conclusion.

          To either be with him or clearly reject him because their constant back-and-forth was killing him.

          Sometimes he felt like Rook was there with him, so close to giving in; not for Sword, but for himself. Didn’t he make Rook happy? There would be no question of his fidelity, or… affection, or anything else Rook wanted from a relationship. Rook had to know that. Things could be so simple if he just… tried.

          Sword reminded himself, as he often did, that things weren’t that simple with Rook. He grew up with the idea of taking a wife, that that was what was natural, or the right thing to do. Sword didn’t. His mother taught him early on that it didn’t matter who he loved, be his object of affection male or female. She wanted him to be happy with whoever treated her son right.

          And Rook, he… did treat him right, in those fleeting moments of his…

          All there was to do was be patient, he guessed.

          Sword smiled in an easy-going manner to reassure Rook that he was fine. No, he wasn’t offended. He was growing accustom to Rook’s attitude towards their relationship, after all. Adapt or die, he guessed, and he was nothing if not a survivor. He’d rather have Rook the way he did than not at all.

          Thanks for that,” He commented with a quiet chuckle, “Because no holiday is complete without drunken tomfoolery, yeah?

          He grinned at the male cheekily with a practiced ease. He seemed better once Sword decided against crossing that intimate line in such a public place. He couldn’t expect Rook to try if he wasn’t willing to himself. Even if that meant reigning in his desires quite a bit. Hopefully his patience would pay off in the end.

          Sword gave a nod in response to Rook’s answer. He wasn’t sure he believed him one-hundred percent, but he wouldn’t press the issue. He seemed fine so that was good enough for him. Then, rather unexpectedly, an arm slid around his narrow waist and Rook began to guide him back to their haunt. His smile widened subtly, and he stepped in time with his partner.

          Your song choice was a bit surprising is all.

          He had been anticipating something upbeat and empowering, not the mellowing, serious selection he’d chosen. Nevertheless, his performance was invigorating and inspiring and… Sword didn’t have the words anymore.

          Then, he heard a female call out to them. He glanced along with his brunette and quirked a brow upon seeing the bartender. Not unusual, but they typically didn’t start getting free beverages until their duet. But, with a performance like Rook’s that night, he couldn’t say he was shocked. He was sure other bar-goers would buy them drinks as well.

          Surprising no one!

          Sword called with a laugh when Rook left his side to cash in on his efforts. He watched Rook fetch his drink from where he stood, a small sigh leaving his chest. It was hard to distance himself from Rook, especially when the man knew him so well. It was significantly more trying to keep things from him, spoken or otherwise.

          He accepted the offered drink by giving murmured thanks, and sipped from his cup. He chuckled at his comment and gave him a wink. “Not to mention good lookin’.” That never failed to help things along~

          When Rook mentioned ‘his pretty boy,’ Sword laughed softly and gave a helpless shrug. “Jenique, uh… She thought you and I were a thing, she jumped his a** about being a homewrecker, and then he split.” s**t and assumptions happened.

          Suddenly in need of alcohol, he chugged the given drink and tossed the cup in a nearby waste bin before being tugged by Rook via his belt-loop. That was fine by him. It was some sort of contact.

          ’Course I’m up next,” He said, laughing quietly at his following statement. He loved to have his fans salivating over him~! “You were the opening act, sucker, and I am the main attraction!

          He gave a little hip drop and smiled handsomely at his best friend. And what? He too had his moments of vanity.

          “[******** won’t know what hit ‘em~”

          When Rook resumed his seat on the steps, Sword followed his example and nudged him in the shoulder once settled down.

          Thanks.” He murmured softly, glancing sideways at his friend. “For being there, I mean. An’… for tryin’ so hard to… be better at this time of year.

          It couldn’t be easy. Sword could relate. He still had a hard time with the loss of his mother; he couldn’t imagine the loss of a lover. Hell, just the thought of losing Rook at all was… heart wrenchingly painful

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          Lucien continued to calmly regard Wraith, his chin remaining comfortably perched on the back of his hand, almost as if bored. But Lucien Serbanescu was not bored, nor was he likely to become so in the presence of this Wraith Cross.

          "You say you were a trafficker, then you know men with money have desires that lie in illegal acquisitions. I was actually made aware of this little operation by a late friend. If I’m not mistaken you knew him rather…well yourself. My condolences.”

          The redhead's expression didn't change, but his focus on the man before him sharpened; now they were getting to the most important part of their dialogue -- information. Information shared, information withheld, information falsified, and all the faded lines that separated each category. Someone as well-spoken as Wraith could decieve without the slightest tell, he was certain, so Lucien would have to rely upon unintended implications to gradually reveal the aristocrat's true face.

          So Wraith was interested in trafficking, specifically.

          As soon as the businessman spoke his condolences, Lucien knew to whom he was referring. He refrained from interjecting for now, though, wanting to give Wraith the time to expose whatever he saw fit.

          A 'lovely fellow', the businessman said in feigned sympathy. Lucien smirked slightly; clearly he didn't know Adams very well. But Wraith was correct in implying that Lucien had established a sexual relationship with Adams, one that had ended about two months ago. Still, Lucien remained unfazed as he listened.

          As Wraith's brief monologue came back around to the topic of Dasvae, Lucien found himself carefully observing the other's gestures, discreetly studying the subtle animations in the motions of his hands and the glimmer of pleasure lighting his eyes. The more Wraith talked, the less Lucien felt the need to comment, and he didn't react to any of the words that fell so effortlessly from the finacier's lips. More than one of his sentences could be preceived as a hidden threat, and Lucien did consider that possibility, but at this point Wraith seemed to lack that menacing accent that usually punctuated even carefully-wrought threats. He appeared to be...eager, excited even, though Lucien couldn't infer why yet.

          And again, back to Adams. Clearly Wraith had some point to make regarding that man.

          "The councilman thought himself a clever entrepenuer, enticing pretty immigrants with promises and passports only to rent them out for his own profits," Lucien remarked nonchalantly. "It was only a matter of time before his ego outgrew his capabilities."

          Lucien did know the price of a human being, in multiple forms of currency; he knew the price of sex and labor, the price of freedom, of innocence, of life. Adams' little side business lacked efficiency and creativity, and the entire setup had been an affront to the professional part of Lucien's mentality.

          “I do not nor can I judge you for such actions. You’re a survivalist. That means doing whatever it takes to keep yourself and those important to you, alive."

          There was that word again, 'survivalist'. Lucien couldn't ever remember using it to refer to himself, yet he seemed to hear it echoed in the opinion of his non-syndicate colleagues, and it struck him as an odd term. Weren't human beings naturally survivalists? Just how much did self-preservation justify? It was easy for him to forget that most men weren't presented with so many opportunities to find out.

          "Well aren't we insightful," Lucien commented with a hint of a sneer, and now that their interaction had progressed further he found himself less and less uncertain. The chances of Wraith being a member of Dasvae dwindled enough to put him at relative ease, and he wanted to regain control of the situation.

          Even clever, fanged sheep were still just sheep in the end.

          "But you've failed to impress me, Wraith Cross, despite your eloquence and extensive resources. I don't know if you're seeking information or an acquisition, but I have no reason to believe you can aid me in any endeavor I may initiate against my colleagues. No amount of payment or blackmail will convince the syndicate to let the knowledge I've gained leak into potential opposition."

          Lucien shifted, then rose fluidly from his seat, stepping around it in a slow, wandering motion, his back briefly facing the businessman.

          "Dasvae is not a game of resources or money; they will win that. Dasvae is a game of ambition, of thirst. Of psychology. I've yet to encounter an outsider who truly possessed the mental constitution to play, because the elite are not like any of the other puppets you've mastered."

          The younger one completed the path around his chair, his nimble digits trailing along the back of it, and his dark eyes returned to his gracious host.

          "Successful sheep are so egotistical, unable to see that we are not the same breed," he continued, his hard gaze following Wraith. "If you want something from me you'll have to prove not only that you can collect data, but that you can extrapolate what's truly important. The former you've clearly shown, but anyone can purchase tongues and ears; the inference is the rare skill a puppeteer must hone. A real master can break down defenses with only his words."

          Slow, graceful steps brought Lucien closer to Wraith, and when he neared the older male he sat down on the edge of the coffee table directly in front of the other's chair, never breaking eye contact.

          "So frighten me," he challenged, crossing one dark-clad leg over the other. "Expose my fractures. Make me feel vulnerable and intimidated, if you can. Surely a smart man like you possesses the intelligence and creativity to at least elicit a shiver."

          Lucien smirked comfortably, that defiant glint to his sharp hues fixed on the man before him. He never liked hearing his weaknesses laid bare by a clever seeker, but sometimes the most direct path yielded the best results. Besides, he was confident in his ability to stomach just about anything.

          "If I'm impressed by what you can deduce and twist into weaponry, I might believe you have enough mastery to upgrade from sheep. Only then will there be any hope for further negotiation. So," he gave a light, indictive gesture with one hand, "Cut me open, Wraith Cross."

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xxxRabbit Kodiakxxx

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Art © Khiliel.
----------cσмвαт вαвч, cσмε вαcκ вαвч------
---------ғιɢнт σғғ тнε ℓεтнαʀɢʏ ----
∂σɴ'т ɢσ ɋυιεтℓʏ------
cσмвαт вαвч-------------
sαι∂ чσυ ωσυℓ∂ ɴεvεr ɢιvε uρ εαsʏ------
cσмвαт вαвч, cσмε вαcκ вαвч------

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        Now that I can do!

        Rabbit confirmed with a smile that rivaled the sun. There were few things in the world that Rabbit Joy loved more than kisses. They made everything right in the world in her opinion, and it was her very firm belief that bickering couples should just kiss to end their arguments. Yep. Rook and Sword? They should just kiss. Then everything would be peachy~

        Jenique’s little surprise kiss had filled the bunny with such joy that she hardly acknowledged the remnants of sadness over the Daniil incident. Her lips were soft, and she smelled nice, and~ Rabbit could see herself on her arm if that was what the blue-haired female wanted. Initially, Rabbit thought nothing of Jenique’s little flirtations, having simply deduced them as such. But, as the night wore on, Jenique seemed to pay special attention to her, and then the song dedication… Even people without her training could see it!

        So, deciding that she would roll with Jenique’s flow for as long as it lasted, the ex-marine cuddled up real nice and cozy to the female’s side and rested her cheek against her shoulder. However, her demeanor had changed during the course of Rook’s song, and Rabbit could almost feel Jenique’s mood change, like someone had flipped a switch. Did the song hit a chord…?

        Expectedly, Jenique pardoned herself from the booth, leaving Rabbit all alone in their booth. She watched after the woman until she disappeared into the throng, all the while wondering what she should do. She had decidedly not read her, so she wasn’t sure if pursuing was a viable choice… So she went with her gut instinct rather than skill. Rabbit rose from the booth and made quick work of following the female.

        No one truly wanted to be alone in their time of need.

        She pushed the door open and looked around for the woman before spying her rather bold outfit easily. Rabbit wordlessly approached her and touched her arm lightly to alert her of her presence. She learned very easy on that most people in this line of work didn’t react kindly to being snuck up on. Rook had almost karate chopped her head off once!

        I don’t know what’s wrong, and I won’t ask if you don’t want to talk about it.

        She smiled softly at the female and stepped closer to her in order to embrace her firmly. She knew what it was like to be unhappy, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. She knew suffering. She knew pain, just like anyone else. Maybe she coped better than most. Or, perhaps like she feared, she buried it so deep she forgot it was there.

        Rabbit stroked Jenique’s back in a slow, soothing motion to hopefully quell her tears. She didn’t like to see people cry… Especially on holidays. Besides, Jenique had a much better smile face than a cry face.

        But… know that you’re not alone, ‘kay?

        Sometimes that knowledge alone was enough to make her feel better. There were others like her, suffering from similar afflictions. Her situation, though unique to her, was not unique to the world. It was hard to look at things objectively like that, particularly when things appear to be so bleak, but it was something that helped Rabbit when she felt low. Though, something she learned from the wise deities Rook and Sword, sometimes a heartfelt embrace did the trick, words optional.

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Bronte was...well, even though he was still feeling extremely guilty over having let Elessa's relationship slip, he was in a much better mood. Not quite enough to party like he normally would, but in a good enough mood to want some company. The only question was who he wanted to hang out with...he knew Elessa was slipping off to drink with Silas, but he was a designated driver tonight so he couldn't touch anything. Jocef didn't seem to like him too much, so he wouldn't bother him. Sari was with Jocef, and Dyllin was...he wasn't even sure. Had he gone home? He'd noticed that the blonde seemed more...melancholy than normal. Even with Jocef, he just seemed...

Well, it wasn't really his place to pry, and he didn't know Dyllin that well. He liked the man enough, but the other seemed to enjoy his own company more than anything.

So, even though he wasn't sure that Suoh would want his company, but it never hurt to check. And...part of him just really...needed someone at the moment. Even if Suoh didn't talk to him, being in the same room was enough. That made him happy.

Knowing the blonde better than he really should, Bronte made his way through the precinct and down to the tech lab, knocking at the door a bit and giving a slightly bashful smile. ”Uh...hi, Suoh. Can I...can I come in, for a bit?”

Why was he so shy all of a sudden? That wasn't like him, normally he'd be all over the chance to be alone with Suoh. It was very possible it was just him, because he really was alright now, he just...

Ugh, why were feelings to hard to understand?

Propping himself on the doorway a bit with his hand, trying to seem like nothing was off, Bronte paused a moment, green eyes gazing at the blonde. He found himself lost in thought for a very brief moment, but was jarred from it when his hand slipped from the door frame, causing him to stumble a bit, but he laughed it off nervously and crossed his arms.

”I wasn't really in the mood to be around everyone. If you don't want company I'd understand.”
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I didn’t mean it that way.

He hadn’t meant to imply that he would take pleasure in Ryuko’s irritation caused by the redheaded oaf. If Wraith still affected Ryuko the way he had in the past, it would be that much easier to rid their lives of the man as a result. His eloquence was certainly failing him…

Venna’s expression turned dour for a moment as he considered his major ******** earlier that evening. He could not believe…

Even with how disappointed he was in himself, and how much he dreaded making amends (if at all possible at that point) with Lucien, he forced himself to momentarily put it out of his head. He had Ryuko before him now, and everything else seemed much less important. The gang, his countless issues…

Go? Go where? Venna raised his long eyebrows in surprise at Ryuko’s suggestion. He hadn’t ever known Ryuko to forgo facing one’s problems or work. He twined their fingers nevertheless when the male seized his hand. Leave the city… Could he? Ryuko appeared to be so excited by the prospect, and Venna couldn’t deny that he was thrilled to see this side of him.

He loved the idea of leaving the city with Ryuko. Like he said, it would be just them, all alone with no one to pester them over petty complications. No pain or pollution… Vivi inhaled slowly to calm himself. He wanted that so badly with Ryuko. He would go, he knew in that moment. He had to. He wanted to see Ryuko… See how he was without the burden of work and responsibility.

Venna smiled when Ryuko added a ‘please’. He squeezed his hand tenderly and kissed his jaw.

You don’t have to try so hard to persuade me, handsome man…” Venna wrapped his empty arm around Ryuko’s waist. He tucked his face into the male’s neck and closed his eyes as his scent surrounded him. “We’ll leave tonight and return whenever we see fit.

He straightened and peered into those lovely navy orbs of his.

Where will we go?

Not that it really mattered to him. He was pleased that Ryuko wanted to be alone with him. He cared about him so much that he actually wanted to leave their work place in favor of more relaxing endeavors. Ryuko, actually wanting to relax.

Venna chuckled softly at the thought and smiled up at the male.

I never thought I’d hear you suggest taking a voluntary break from our responsibilities…” He murmured softly, trailing his lips along his jaw. “I’m pleased you did. Shall we pack?

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