Amadhay wasn’t sure if Christein knew that she’d noticed him paying for the clothes with a black credit card. She had, and considering she knew his resources were limited, (being only what Arne Riff deigned to give him for successful missions, which was far, far less than he deserved and less than even a quarter of what other Phoegani agents received for much smaller jobs than he regularly did,) it wasn’t his. That meant that it was a Phoegani credit card, which meant that he was spending Phoegani money. And that told her that he had been given a clothes budget.
She knew exactly how many shirts and pants he had in his closet. She had counted several times when she was bored and waiting on him. He had sixteen white button up shirts, thirteen black ones, two formal shirts of the Hakinato teal, four black pants, two dark jeans, and one pair of pinstriped pants that were shades of gold and silver for court. Putting his court clothes aside, that left twenty-nine shirts and six pairs of pants. She had personally ruined one white shirt, two if she counted her lipstick on the one he was wearing. The last few missions had taken out one of his worn black pants, and at most five other shirts had been torn from missions. He wasn’t nearly out of clothes, so she had known from the moment he said he was, that he had been lying to her. She just hadn’t cared, assuming that he was trying to butter her up for some reason by allowing her to pick out clothes.
She hadn’t expected him to buy all of them. She had honestly only expected to be able to get him two outfits and then buy the one at the other store herself and force him to take the gift. Unlike him, she had an inheritance from her dead parents, as well as the basic living sum Arne Riff gave her (because she was his ward but living outside of the homestead), the nice amount Anne and Nolando sent her bi-weekly (which was the real reason Arne Riff was giving her money to live outside the homestead, so not to be shown up by them even though no one would have known but the four of them), plus her Phoegani pay (which, while also not as much as other agents received, was still nothing to stick up her nose at). So she was hardly hurting for money. But then, he’d bought all of it. It had come to nearly 2,300 credits, but he had bought it. He hadn’t even flinched or seemed like it was physically hurting him to spend money like he normally did.
And that told her that his character for this mission was important. He was being ‘modern’ for the mission, not because he wanted to. What was bothering her, however, was how many clothes he was buying. He had said that he needed ten outfits, which meant that he was buying enough for months, not just a week or so. How long was this mission going to take? Surely if it was going to be long, he would have told her…right?
He flashed her a grin as they waited for the sales clerks to neatly fold and bag all of his clothes. “Thanks, Mayday. I wasn’t sure what to get,” he told her.
She smiled back up at him. “We aren’t nearly done, you realize that right?”
He gave her an amused look of surprise. “Oh really, and where else do you want to go?”
“It’ll be a surprise,” she told him, knowing that his retainer for this mission must have been ridiculously large if he wasn’t reminding her that credits didn’t just appear out of nowhere. She couldn’t imagine why Arne Riff would have approved a budget as large as Christein’s seemed to be. Why would it be so important that Christein look like an average twenty-something aelfe?
“I’m not sure I trust your surprises,” he told her warily. “I’m not wearing anything tight or glittery.”
She giggled. “Oh drat, you found me out,” she teased. “I was going to dress you in a skin tight, glittery one piece.”
“Glad I caught you before we got there,” he replied, grabbing up the bags on the counter. There were five of them, all very full.
“Silly Monkey,” she said, rolling her eyes. “C’mon now. You’ll like this one.”
“Oh, I will, will I?” he asked, following her as she led him out of the store.
“You will,” she grinned back up at him. “It is entirely up your alley. I saw something when I came here with Lando and Anne,” she noticed the way he became slightly tense at the mention of his brother and sister-by-Binding and wondered what the two had said to him. “And it just screamed out your name. I wanted to get it for you then, but…”
“You didn’t want to deal with the two of them,” he muttered bitterly.
“Nah, I just didn’t know your measurement,” she countered, even though it was a lie. She’d memorized his measurements shortly after she had started being able to buy him presents with her own money. She could recite them in her sleep, but he didn’t have to know that.
“Right,” he said, sounding unconvinced.
She smiled up at him. “C’mon,” she said, choosing not to continue with the conversation, in favor of leading him to one last store. She couldn’t grab his hand and pull him along, since he was loaded down with bags he’d refused to allow her to carry for him. She had a niggling suspicion that he had done that purposely.
He gave her a half smile and trailed behind her. When she glanced back at him again, she noticed that he was having trouble keeping up with her. He did on his best of days, considering her speed and the fact that he had a limp, but his limp seemed more noticeable today, which might have been because he was carrying so many clothes, and thus was weighed down quite a bit. Whatever the reason, she slowed her pace. She tried to do it subtly, but knew that he knew when she slowed down because his half smile turned a bit sharper, the same way it did anytime she tried to do something he thought was pitying.
He walked faster.
She sighed, but didn’t walk any faster, pretending to like the strolling walk she had taken to keep closer to him. “So what else do you need for this mission?” she asked casually.
His step faltered for a moment. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that you’re getting clothes for your missions and got a large clothes budget, so is there anything I missed that you need? Undies? Socks? Ties? Formal wear? Please tell me I can buy you new formal court wear, because those pants are hideous.”
“Those were a gift from my mother,” he argued.
“They’re still uglier than a rabid rat Feral,” she quipped with a shrug.
He rolled his eyes. “I suppose I probably need court wear.”
“Anything else? What’s the temperature going to be on this mission? Should I be getting you some warmer clothes so you don’t freeze your tail off?”
“What you’ve chosen so far is fine,” he answered without answering her question.
She didn’t look at him, trying to stay casual. If she looked curious, he would clam up and she’d never get anything out of him. “So no extremes? I mean seriously, Monkey, if you’re going to need a coat, you should tell me. What about a swimsuit? Or what about sneakwear? Do you have any good sneakwear? I know that Cowboy ripped your old sneaksuit.”
Christein gave a long sigh and she chanced a glance at him out of the corner of her eye. He wasn’t looking at her, instead looking away from her, at the crowds around them as if he were looking for someone. She followed his eyes and surveyed the crowd as well, but didn’t see anything suspicious, so assumed that he was just avoiding eye contact.
“C’mon, gimme something to go on,” she pleaded.
He sighed again. “I suppose I probably need an insulated jacket. It can’t be bulky, but it has to regulate my body temperate no matter how cold it is.”
She paused for a moment, “Why?” she asked.
“No questions. It’s classified.”
Classified against her? She was liking this mission less and less. First he wouldn’t tell her where he was going, then he wouldn’t tell her how long he would be gone, now he wouldn’t even tell her the type of weather he’d be experiencing. She needed to figure it out or else she’d be worried the entire he was gone.
“Okay,” she said, shrugging. Christein looked at her suspiciously and she looked away from him again, but then glanced back as she said, “As long as you come home, it doesn’t matter.”
He might not come home to her.
She took a deep, settling breath and tried to push the tension out. I’m just reading too much into it. He’s probably just been told specifically not to tell me about it. Me pushing him is making it hard on him.
She didn’t believe herself for a moment, but she did stop questioning him. “Here we are!” she said after a few clicks of silence, smiling back at him. The store in question was a specialty store. It specialized in one of a kind leather, formalwear, sneakwear, magic objects, and weapons. It was basically an all-purpose store for assassins, mercenaries, peacekeepers, and hero-complexed do-gooders alike. And right in the front window was the outfit she’d known was meant for Christein three months ago. Good, she thought, no one bought it yet.
She heard Christein’s sigh of relief as they entered Rose’s Toybox. This store apparently had his instant seal of approval, unlike the other one, where he had only grudgingly admitted it was a good store after she’d created a third outfit for him. She had known he would like this place. It smelled of leather and gunpowder, and it oozed danger, suspense, and competence.
So much competence that once they were inside the rust painted doors, they were stopped by the store’s equivalent of a bouncer. “I need you to check your weapons up here,” she said, flashing her fangs. Amadhay just stared at her for a moment, until she recognized her as a blood elf, one that she had seen before. She opened her mouth to say something, but the elf put a single finger to her lips to tell her not to. Glancing at Christein, who was reluctantly handing over his knives, she nodded at the woman and handed her a single knife. It was always better to do as blood elves wanted. Their tempers were legendarily short, especially when they weren’t obeyed.
The elf raised an eyebrow. “All of your weapons,” she told them.
Christein cursed under his breath before reaching under his shirt and removing his twin pistols.
Amadhay eyed her challengingly. “Why?”
“Everyone gives us all weapons,” the elf stated. “We don’t want any bloodshed in here.”
“But doesn’t that only put the magic users in a superior position?” she countered.
“Magic dampeners,” the elf replied, gesturing to the glowing crystals evenly spaced throughout the store. “Any fights in here would have to be hand to claws and we keep those to a minimum.” She gave a sharp smile that told Amadhay she was merely prey to the elf and could be happy that she was meeting her in the store, rather than out on the field. It was a smile meant to intimidate her and it did its job perfectly. “No one fights in here. We don’t care about grudges you bring in. You leave your weapons at the door.”
Amadhay paused for another long moment before removing the second knife from her right arm sheath hidden under her jacket and the pair from her left. She reached into her boot and pulled out the knives from her calf straps and, only after the woman looked pointedly at her hair, removed the needles she had chosen to use as hair pins. Her hair tumbled into her face and the elf offered her a black lace ribbon.
Christein shifted behind her as Amadhay eyed the ribbon for a long moment. “No thanks,” she finally said, giving the elf the kind of smile that showed exactly how much she trusted her and her ribbon. The elf shrugged before gesturing that they could go on.
Once the two of them stepped into the actual store, Amadhay felt her magic go stagnant. The dampeners were good. She glanced up at Christein and took his scowl to mean that he felt it too. It was an impressed scowl, so she knew that mean that the longer he was in the store, the more he found himself liking it. She counted that as a success for her.
“Just about everything in here is awesome, so you can pick out whatever you’d like,” Amadhay told Christein, who laughed at her.
“Why thank you for your permission to pick out my own clothes,” he teased her. His eyes weren’t on her, though. They were trained on a gorgeous red leather, belted jacket. She wanted to see him in it. She wanted to see him in it with the other outfit beneath it.
So first, she had to go and get that gorgeous outfit. She smiled at him, gesturing for him to go on ahead of her. “I have to check on something,” she said in a tone that, if Christein hadn’t been completely enraptured with the jacket, he would have found suspicious. Instead, he just went forward to get a better look at the jacket. She grinned and rushed to an attendant.
“Hey! Yeah, hi,” she exclaimed, getting his attention. He was a relatively short man, maybe about five inches taller than her, which put him at five foot five, and gave her the idea that he was most likely a born-vampire before he even turned to her. When he did turn and she saw the familiar blood cult symbol on his collar, she knew she was right. “I need the outfit in the front window. Can you get that for me?”
The long look he gave her made her incredibly uncomfortable, before he pointedly turned his eyes away from her. It was dominance play and she hated it. She hated vampires.
“I doubt it would fit you even if we rolled it up,” he taunted her, choosing not to even look at her as he spoke, his attention instead going back to polishing a set of blades. “Try the baby vamp store, unless you want to try something…” he licked his lips as he slid his finger over the sharpened edge of one of the blades, leaving a line of blood. His wound closed almost immediately and the blood bubbled on the blade before disappearing, “Specially done for you.”
She narrowed her eyes, knowing exactly what he was doing and hating that she had to deal with this any time she had to bother with vampires. Not only was it incredibly inappropriate for a worker to proposition a customer, but it was an insult to be seen as a lesser being purely because of her appearance. She recognized her height made her seem like an easy target, but she wasn’t. She wouldn’t be in this store if she wasn’t a real deal. She’d seen the blood elf turn away people who were poseurs. Yet here was this dim, bland vampire propositioning her and expecting to get away with it just because she was small and he was a vampire. She regularly dealt with vampires—both dead and alive—that could have eaten him for breakfast.
He had moved on to polishing a sword when she smiled sweetly at him. “I’m not getting it for me,” she said, trying to rein her temper in. If he worked here, she was sure he had some sort of strength. Otherwise, he would be a liability and they didn’t seem the type to hire liabilities. She didn’t really want to have to get violent and chance being thrown out, or worse, get into a fight and broadcast that Red Robin was there. She had a pretty distinctive fighting style when she got into it.
He pointedly looked right over her head. “Unless there’s something you wanted to say to me, I have work to do.” When he set the sword down and made a less than subtle gesture toward his crotch to leave no question about his intentions, she lost her temper.
She gripped his wrist. He gripped her wrist on top of his, flashing a fangy smile. Great, she thought, noting the elongated fangs, not only was he a blood practitioner, but a blood gorger. That explained his cockiness. She rolled her eyes and pushed in closer to him. “I want that outfit from the window in my arms in one clack. Otherwise, I’ll break your ribs too.”
“Too?” he asked right before she kicked his knee backwards, gripped his wrist tighter, and pulled him right over her shoulder, stomping on his shoulder once he was down. She heard the pop of it dislocating and let go.
“Don’t underestimate me just because I’m small. I can kill you faster than you can breathe.”
The born-vampire hissed at her, but got to his feet, holding his arm. “All you had to say was that you weren’t interested,” he snapped.
She narrowed her eyes and didn’t cringe when he popped his shoulder back into place, even though she knew how much it must have hurt. Blood gorgers always put her on edge. They didn’t seem to feel pain like normal born-vampires, not to mention they were possibly more depraved in their sexual interests than dead-vampires, which made him dangerous if he had his sights set on her.
“Right,” she drawled sarcastically. She waved her hands for him to get her the outfit. She had to make herself seem more predator than prey, not submissive in the least or he would keep her as a target, and with the bruise on his pride from her dislocating his shoulder, he wouldn’t be too gentle.
“There are strict no fighting policies in here.”
She smiled sweetly again. “I’m sure there are strict policies against threatening and propositioning customers, too. So I won’t tell if you don’t.”
For a long moment, she was positive that he was going to try something, but after a few more clicks, he nodded at her and, skirting past her carefully so that he didn’t touch her, he went to gather the outfit from the window. Only once he was out of visual, she gave a silent, full bodied sigh before looking over the sword he had been polishing. Blood Thirst was the unoriginal name engraved into the blade of the sword and, when she eyed it carefully, she saw a film of red smoke on it. She took a step back, but the sword kept the dark tint, beckoning to her.
She glanced over her shoulder to see that Christein was nowhere to be seen. It was only her and this sword. She reached out hesitantly, knowing that it was never a good idea to touch an enchanted blade, but unable to hold back her curiosity. There was something about the sword that called out to her, something that made her need to touch it, to hold it, to use it. Her fingers were almost on the blade when the vampire returned with the leathers.
“Don’t touch that,” he warned her sharply. She turned her eyes back to him, not pulling her hand back. “Or touch it. I don’t care. Our insurance covers death of stupidity.”
She frowned, pulling her arm back reluctantly. She glanced back at the sword before shaking her head and turning back to the vampire. “I’m good,” she said as casually as she could.
He gave her a sarcastic smile. “I’m sure,” he said before pushing the leathers into her chest and dropping them. Only because she was fast, did she catch them before they could fall to the ground.
“What are the measurements?” she asked before he could leave her.
He turned an irritated glare back to her. “Didn’t think to ask that before getting them?”
“I just need to be sure.”
“I’m sure they’ll fit you just fine,” he said with as much sarcasm as he could before leaving her in the darkened corner of the room.
She frowned after him before sighing. “Fine,” she muttered. “I think they’re right anyway,” she said to herself before going to find her cousin, who was, unsurprisingly, looking at magic blades. She didn’t have to look at them very hard to know that they were true aim blades, which she knew Christein had been wanting for a few years. She’d been planning on getting him some for his birthday this year, or possibly Binding Day. It was strange to her that he now had money, probably enough that he could get himself a handful and still be able to afford the outfit she was holding if his nonchalance about it was anything to go by. She wasn’t even sure if she had that much to burn.
“Monkey,” she said quietly, getting his attention immediately. He gave her a lazy smile before taking the leathers from her arms on top of the red jacket. Up close, she could see the glimmer of magic on the jacket, telling her that it was both magic resistant and heat regulating. The spells had been fixed on there by unique magic, an adept skill she still lacked. He weighed them in his arms for a moment.
“A bit heavy, don’t you think?” he suggested. She gave him a dark look.
“It’s armor, Monkey. If it isn’t a little heavy, then what’s its point?” He nodded slightly, looking over the black leathers in his arms. “And don’t tell me that you don’t want to take armor. It’s specially made to not look like armor, but still keep you safe. You need it.”
“Well, don’t be disappointed if they don’t fit me,” he told her gently after a moment of deliberation. “You know these were probably made for someone shorter than me.”
She didn’t say anything. He hadn’t looked at the mannequin in the window. It had been nearly his perfect measurements, long in the legs, narrow in the hips, thick in the arms and chest. It even had a hole where his tail would go. If these hadn’t been made with him in mind, then there was apparently some unreasonably tall, rich animal-kind walking around.
Strange coincidence, now that she thought about it. A flash of suspicion hit her so hard that Christein gave her a questioning look. “What?” he asked her when she wavered on her feet for a click.
Coincidences do exist, not everything goes back to him. Atlas would have no reason to have put in an order for Christein to get armor. He was trying to kill him. She tried to convince herself, shaking her head at her cousin. “Nothing. I’m fine, just haven’t eaten yet.” When Christein gave her a worried look, she waved him off with a smile and a laugh. “C’mon, go try it on! I wanna see you in it!”
“I think you’d rather see me out of it,” he muttered, allowing her to usher him to one of the private dressing rooms.
“Not this time. This time I want to see you more clothed,” she teased him as she got him into the dark curtained back rooms. There were three stalls, gendered by the dolls hanging on the doors. The one in the center, holding a My Curious Immortal doll was for the non-gendered creatures, the one with the fully dressed My Secret Goddess doll was for women, and the one with the shirtless My Mystery Escort doll on the door was for men.
Christein knocked brusquely at the door and, upon receiving no response, pushed the door open. “Stay out here,” he ordered Amadhay when she moved to follow him.
She pouted. “But Monkey, I can help you. You probably won’t be able to figure out how to put it all on on your own.”
“If I can’t, then I shouldn’t get it, now should I? You won’t be there to lace me up on the ship.”
The ship? As soon as the word slipped from Christein’s mouth, he cussed under his breath. Before she could say anything, though, he closed the door tightly. She moved to the door and pressed her palm against the smooth wood. “What ship?”
“Amadhay?” the voice came from the other side of the room, meaning that it wasn’t from Christein. She turned in surprise, genuinely happy to see Benjym Base in the curtained doorway, a long cloak in his arms.
“Benjy!” she gasped, running to him. He grinned at her as she launched herself into his arms. He hugged her for a moment, lifting her off of her feet before setting her back down. “Where on Resor have you been? I haven’t seen you in ages!”
Benjy chuckled at her. “Just out and about on missions,” he told her in such a casual voice that she knew he was hiding something from her. Whenever she asked about his whereabouts, he would tease her, rile up her curiosity, maybe even joke about it. For him to give her a straight answer told her that there was more to it.
“What are you doing here?” he asked her before she could try to push him into answering more questions. “I’ve never seen you here before. I doubt they have anything your size unless you custom ordered.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m here with Christein,” she said. The light in his eyes dimmed for a moment at her cousin’s name. “He’s in the dressing room.”
“Hullo then, Christein,” Benjy said loudly enough for the aelfe to hear him. He received a grunt in response. “I didn’t realize that the two of you were together.”
Amadhay blinked in question a few times before Christein burst out of the changing room. “We’re not,” the man said defensively, stomping to a stop behind Amadhay. “We’re First Family of the same damned clan,” he stressed as if to emphasize why they weren’t a couple rather than that they weren’t. It made her smile. “Come on and help me get this on,” he added as an order to Amadhay before returning to the dressing room, his shirt only partially on, bracers untied, and pants awkwardly twisted.
“He’d be lost without me,” she whispered to Benjy before dashing after Christein.
She closed the door between her and the phantom before drinking in the sight of her scowling cousin. He was looking at himself in the mirror, twisted back to attempt to right the leather pieces on his back. His chest was partially bare, where the leather pieces for his chest were falling apart and giving her a full view of his muscled chest. His sandy olive skin, darker than her own by a few shades was dusted with a light spattering of hair on his lower belly, which was strange for a reptilian aelfe and even stranger for him, since she knew he kept himself smooth to avoid friction problems from the few energy or fire based spells he used. His pants were twisted to rights, but partially open, giving her the view of his black underwear. His bracers had been abandoned.
She started with the bracers, taking first his left hand down and retying the black laces tightly enough that they wouldn’t move, but not tight enough to cut off circulation, and then she let go. Making direct eye contact with her, he gave her his right arm, allowing her to tie those as well.
“I need you to bend down so that I can get to your back,” she said softly, batting her eyelashes lightly. He leaned forward into her, taking his time until his face was almost to hers.
“Lace my front first,” he ordered.
She blinked rapidly a few times, her fingers fumbling, before she looked away from his face and down to her goal. She shifted the breastplates so that the faux vest partially covered them to hide the obvious defensive armor behind it. Tying the front of the vest together, she gently pressed his chest so that he would turn for her. He did.
It wasn’t until she was lacing together his back vest that she realized he could have done all of this on his own. The leathers had been loosely laced together when she had given them to him, so he had unlaced them purely for the purpose of having her lace him back up. This was so incredibly intimate that she paused, looking past him, into the mirror. His eyes caught her gaze and they both stared at each other for a long moment.
“For just two cousins, you sure are taking a long time in there. Are you sure there isn’t something you wanna tell me?” Benjy called from the door, making Christein jerk forward. Amadhay rolled her eyes, but didn’t try to catch his gaze again, instead finishing lacing his back.
“I can take it from here,” Christein muttered, nodding at the door. “Better get out there before Ben starts making incestuous First Family jokes.”
She touched the loose lacing holding his pants together, but he flinched. “Seriously, Amadhay. I’ve got this, get out,” he said again, his voice firm.
“But Monkey,” she whined.
“No. Out.” He turned and pushed her to the door. She dug her heels in for a moment before giving in and going out of the room, running right into Ben, who had been directly outside of the door. Christein slammed the door closed behind her.
“How long’s he gonna take in there?” he complained in a winningly joking tone, holding up a pair of aquamarine pants that were far too short for him. “I wanted to try these on.”
She giggled. “Benjy, I hate to break it to you,” she paused, looking up at him with a smile, “But I just don’t think that’s your shade of blue.”
He barked out a laugh. “Well you may just be right,” he said, making a show of looking at the pants again before setting them on the returns rack. He was now wearing the hunter green cloak he had been carrying and, just looking at it, she knew it had been custom made for him. It was long enough to hit his calves, thick enough that she was almost positive it was insulated and probably regulated temperature, and had a hood that easily covered the black hair that wasn’t tucked into the cloak, and threw his angular face into dark shadows. It made him look mysterious, nothing like the joking man she was used to.
“I like that on you,” she told him softly, smiling up at him when he winked at her.
“Good. I do like to set the mood right for you,” he teased.
She rolled her eyes. “You’re such a tease.”
“I think that’s you, actually.”
She grinned at him again, ready to throw more flirtations in, when the door to the dressing room opened to reveal Christein. The black leather of the outfit settled nicely against his skin, somehow managing to look comfortable and threatening at the same time. While it didn’t look like armor, it certainly wasn’t something the man should wear when he was trying to come across as unassuming. The red jacket only emphasized the casualness of the outfit. While it, too, gave him a dangerous vibe with the belt buckles closing the jacket not only at his torso, but also at either wrist and at his neck, the dark red also softened the black to look more fashionable. His normal steel-toed boots were the only things breaking his image.
“New shoes,” she decided.