Paragon City Stories: Meanwhile at the Superbase
Hosted by UNINVENTIVEHEART
Chapter II, Scene 6
Place: The Brownstone...sometime before Halloween
((Takes place chronologically before Scene 5))
It is shortly before the end of October, and Monique has invited Linuial over for evening tea and a visit. The apartment is neat as a pin, with Monique’s Halloween decorations limited to the lobby below.
Monique has already set out the tea-tray with the teapot, cups, sweeteners and cookies, on the coffee table, and has settled in the stuffed chair in the living room, to await her guest.
There is a buzz from the intercom. “Monique? It’s Linuial.”
Monique rises, slipping Wu Shu off her lap, and moves to the door to buzz Linuial up. She opens the door and waits for her guest to climb the several flights of stairs - or fly up them.
Linuial makes her way up the last flight of stairs, drops to the landing, waves to Nyghtshade. “Hey, there. How’s it been going?” She waves a canvas bag. “Brought the swim suit…just in case.” She laughs, walks to the doorway and through.
Dipping into her bag: “…oh, here, I found some sandalwood oil for you.” She loops her bag around the back of a dining room chair, seats herself on the sofa…wrinkles her nose. “What is that…Earl Grey?”
“Actually, it’s supposed to be Chai. But Ah do have Earl Grey, theah in that mix on the side of the tray. Ah have pretty much eveh strongly flavored kind of tea you can think of, plus some of the moah regulah ones. Help yoahself to whateveh suits you. And thank you foah the sandlewood oil.”
Monique pours a cup of steaming water for Linuial and lets her select her choice of tea, as Monique settles back in the stuffed chair with her own cup. “Ah’m glad you weah free’. It’s nice havin’ company.”
The blonde woman takes her time fixing herself a cup of Earl Grey. “There’s always time for the things you make time for…” she muses, almost to herself.
Looking up at the undead woman, she smiles. “Did I ever tell you about the time I spent with Robert, the Earl of Grey, showing him how to hybridize teas to get exactly the flavor he wanted? I’m drinking it now…” She blows, sips cautiously, then looks up at Nyghtshade from under her eyelashes, a sly grin on her face.
Monique stares at her, eyes wide as she tries to decide if Linuial is joking or serious. “You… you didn’t really… did you?”
She breaks out laughing. “No, I really didn’t.” She goes on laughing for quite a while, until the laughter trickles off into chuckles, then a rather sad smile.
“It’s been that kind of a week, Monique. I hope yours has been better.”
Wu Shu, a decidedly pudgy middle-aged Siamese, chooses that moment to jump up onto the couch, study Linuial imperiously, and then settle down beside her, head-butting her elbow in a clear invitation to pet him.
“Wu Shu, do not be a pest,” Monique admonishes. “If he’s a botheh, Linuial, Ah can put him back in the bedroom.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Monique. He’s the reigning Pharaoh of this domicile, I’m just another slave here to worship.” She holds out a fingertip, waits for Wu Shu to touch the end of his nose to it, then reaches around the angle of his chin for The Spot, along the neck just under and behind the curve of the ear.
Wu Shu curls up in a ball, stretching his neck to get her fingers in just the right place…
Nyght shakes her head at Wu Shu’s shameless pandering for attention. “And so, you have become anotheh of his conquests.” She grins, and dunks the teabag in her own cup, taking a moment to appreciate the aroma.
After a moment, she continues, “Ah wanted to thank you the otheh day foah sharin’ yoah memories of taste. It’s been an awfully long time since Ah’ve ‘tasted’ chocolate. Scent is a powerful memory triggeh, but actual memories like that… it’s so much moah intense.”
“I’m happy to do so, Monique. It costs me nothing, you know, and I get to enjoy your happiness right along with you. When I say ‘anytime’, I mean it.” Her smile is open and free.
“That’s very kind, truly.” She dunks her teabag again, raises the cup and inhales the aroma. Lowering it after a moment, she muses, “Back when Ah first came to Paragon, back when Ah first first knew Loang, he could tell how much Ah missed strawberries, and he got determined to help me ‘taste’ them again, even though Ah couldn’t eat anything, couldn’t even swallow anything. The body won’t tolerate it any moah, you know.” She paused, gaze a little distant with the memories.
“He came home one evenin’ with these herbal strawberry flavored cigarettes, thinkin’ that the smoke on mah tongue would be like tastin’ them. Ah’d neveh really smoked, but Ah was willin’ to try, especially since he was so eageh to help me. So Ah inhaled, and… just foah a second, just foah a second it was almost like Ah really could taste strawberries. So… Ah inhaled again, and at that point mah body decided that was moah than enough, thank you… and Ah started to cough.” Monique’s smile grows rueful. “And Ah coughed… and Ah coughed… and Ah coughted… Ah sweah, Ah thought Ah was goin’ to cough up a lung! It was pretty miserable, and the worst was that Loang was so disappointed.” She sighs.
“But he wouldn’t give up, you know? He already knew Ah could ‘mindwalk’, Ah’d had to do it foah him once, and that when Ah did, it was like… well, like really experiencin’ what the person was dreamin’ or remembehin’… So, one night he came home and told me he had a special treat planned foah me, and he took me out to a restaurant and ordered a numbeh of mah favorite dishes, things Ah’d talked from time to time about missin’. It seemed a little odd, they wouldn’t have been his first choices. And then, he told me he had figured out that if he tasted somethin’, and Ah slipped into his mind… he was hopin’ Ah could taste it too.”
Monique’s smile is fond now. “And… Ah could. Ah could taste every bite of his dinneh. It was…” she ducks her head, glancing at Linuial out of the corner of her eye, “surprisin’ly sensual, like a secret between us in the middle of all those otheh diners. Especially when he ordered ‘Death by Chocolate’ foah dessert.”
Linuial laughs, softly. “That’s a lovely picture, Monique. I’m glad he was able to do that for you…and cared enough for you to think of it himself.”
“Oh, he was always thinkin’ of me. Very romantic, and kind and considerate and lovin’. Ah neveh expected… well, when Ah came to Paragon, Ah neveh expected to have any right to try ‘livin’ again, much less riskin’ lovin’ someone, but he was so persistent. He taught me it was OK, that Ah was OK, despite what had happened to me.” She toys with the teabag string, gaze fixed on her cup.
“What happened to him, Monique?” Linuial asks, quietly.
Monique looks up, expression wistful. “He had to leave. He was supposed to come back. But… he didn’t. It was a long time ago.”
“How long has it been since you communicated with him last?” She watches the other woman’s expression carefully, wary of crossing some invisible boundary.
“Moah than six yeahs.” Her voice is matter-of-fact, if hushed.
“Would you like to talk about him? I can be a pretty patient listener, when called on.”
The offer seems to catch Monique flat-footed. She sets her cup on the coffee table and leans back in the chair, hands clasped.
“Ah’m not shoah what to talk about. We loved… love each otheh, Ah know that’s true. He was almost stubbornly in love with me, even when Ah tried to convince him it was a terrible idea, that he really needed to find someone alive to love, someone who could give him all the things Ah couldn’t. But he wouldn’t heah it, kept insistin’ Ah was all he would eveh want or need.”
“How long were you together?” Linuial sips at her tea, leans forward for the hot water.
“Married? Or togetheh since we met? Ah guess it doesn’t matteh, really. We met, and he proposed 4 months lateh, and we weah married about 4 months afteh that, and then we lived heah in the brownstone foah a little oveh a yeah, and then he had a chance to go back to China, wheah he was raised. He and his family, Ah don’t think the family business was even close to bein’ on the right side of the law theah, and eventually they left and moved to Canada. And when he got his powers, he came heah, like me, to Paragon to learn to control them.”
“He kept insistin’ he wasn’t a hero, and Ah kept tellin’ him he was. And eventually, he did take the Cape, although he always said he felt a little silly wearin’ it. But we got married, and evehthing was wonderful, and one day he came home and said he had a chance to go back to China, to help them with a problem, a sort of way to make amends to helpin’ them, you see? And Ah wanted to go, but he said it would be best if Ah didn’t… so Ah stayed, and he went. And at first, he’d call and write, but as the months went back, that kind of trailed off, and eventually stopped, so… so… eventually, afteh a yeah or so, Ah packed away all his things, for if… for when he came back.”
“And then, one day, he did come back, but he was in bad shape, and had lost his powers. It was a hard adjustment foah him, and a few months lateh, he said he had to go back to China, that he thought he’d found a way to get them back. So, he left again, and, well, this time it’s been oveh six yeahs, so…”
She seems to just run down. A rangy young tabby with a kinked tail and a considerable notch out of one ear slinks in and springs up into her lap, and she strokes its head without really looking at it.
Linuial puts her teacup on the table, stands, crosses to Nyghtshade’s chair. She kneels beside it, takes the other woman’s unoccupied hand in hers.
“I’m sorry, Monique,” she says quietly.
Monique continues to stroke the tabby for a moment, and then admits softly, “Sometimes Ah think…. Ah think maybe he finally came to his senses and did what Ah urged him to in the first place. Found himself a livin’ girl to be with, after all. And if he did… well, Ah can’t fault him foah it.”
Linuial sighs. “Monique…have you ever gone looking for him? There is also a possibility that he might be in trouble…maybe he’s disappeared because he had to.”
She stirs sharply in the chair, startling the tabby who glares and jumps down to scuttle beneath it.
“Of course Ah’ve tried, the first time he left,” she snaps, “but the Chinese Embassy made it very cleah… very cleah that Ah was not welcome in China, that in fact if Ah tried to fly oveh, they’d meet me at the airport and march me right back onto the plane to come home again. They said a “Jiang-xi would be an unwholesome cultural influence.”
“So Ah went to Azuria, hopin’ M.A.G.I. could pull some strings, but she wouldn’t oveh-ride the Chinese government. So Ah told her Ah’d just damn well sneak into the country… and she reminded me that goin’ someplace wheah if Ah tried to feed and lost control, theah’d be no mediportehs… well, she pointed out it would be worse than just an international incident.”
Monique slumps back in the chair. “Ah knew she was right… and now… in a country the size of China, wheah would Ah even look? And how would Ah… well, Ah have to feed, and they wouldn’t undehstand.” She sighs heavily.
“Ah tried to get the Embassy to tell me wheah he was, what he was doin’, if he was OK, but they just said it wasn’t theah business to get involved in domestic disputes, and if mah husband wanted to contact me, that was up to him.”
Linuial releases Nyghtshade’s hand, settles back onto the carpet, locking her arms around her knees.
“You know, Monique…I don’t have the same problem. With ‘feeding’, I mean.”
She waits to see what the other woman will say in response.
Monique stares at her, puzzled. “Are you sayin’ you have to feed off people too?”
She laughs. “No, silly. I eat food like any mortal. What I’m pointing out, is that the reason that is keeping you from going to China…isn’t keeping ME.”
For a second Monique looks painfully hopeful, and then she slowly shakes her head. “Even assumin’ he’s still in China, it could take you yeah’s to track him down, especially if he neveh got his powers back. Yes, he’s Caucasian and has long red hair… or… he did yeahs ago, but… you have yoah own life heah, with Jon and yoah friends in Starfire. Ah wouldn’t ask this of you, Linuial, although Ah can’t tell you how much it means to me that you offehed it.”
And besides… if you did find him and he had remarried… Ah don’t think Ah’d really want to know that.”
“He’s resourceful, and he had a lot of, well, underworld contacts and friends. So if he got into trouble, Ah don’t think he’d be in trouble long. And Ah know he’s not dead – Ah’m shoah Ah would know if he had died, not out of any sappy romance logic, but because he and Ah have a, well, a magical bond, so theah’s that.”
She draws a slow breath, and lets it out, shaking her head. “It’s all right, truly. Ah’ve learned to live with this. Ah’ve even become one of those ladies who live alone and raise cats. So… Ah’m OK.” She gives Linual a crooked smile.
Linuial turns, stares into the blue flames of the gas-fired fireplace.
“Monique, I don’t want you to think I’m pushing you into anything you don’t want to do…this is not like a medical issue. But I do feel that I should explain everything clearly enough that you understand exactly what it is that you are turning down.”
She turns back around, locks her gaze with Nyghtshade’s. “I might not be the one to go. It might be Jon. I don’t know how much you’ve picked up about Jon’s past, but he learned how to track people down over the past year, seeking his own identity and family. He’s really quite good at it. He does, however, have a problem with flying, with all of his hardware…so it might be someone else, communicating with Jon here in Paragon for guidance.
“I wouldn’t send Chris, this is nothing to do with him. Blood and Pangea might be up for a trip to China, just the two of them, for some together time. Or even Mathias and Anya, same story.
“Or…assuming we ever hear from him again…it could even be a certain roguish mercenary we know. I bet he could drum something up…and in a hurry, too. All he’d need is a monetary incentive, and he’d even be cheerful about it.”
“Money’s not an issue,” Monique murmurs, almost under her breath, thinking hard about everything Linuial has said.
For a few moments she sits, head bowed as she wrestles with the choices. At last, she lifts her head, meeting Linuial’s eyes. “Mr. Devereaux, Ah could talk with him about it, next time he’s in town. It hadn’t occurred to me to actually hire him, but Ah could.
“If Loang has moved on… it would be hard to learn that, but Ah guess it would be closure. And if he hasn’t… if he did get himself into some kind of trouble somewheah in all of Asia, Ah… Ah’d be a dreadful wife to let him stay in in trouble.”
“You’ve given me a lot to consideh, Linuial, and Ah thank you. Maybe Ah got too complacent, or… well, or just gave up. Maybe it is time to try and have someone find mah husband.”
Linuial smiles, nods her head. “Good! I always like to do whatever I can to help out a friend.” She jumps up, does a couple of quick pirouettes in front of the fire, her eyes closed, her arms outstretched.
With moods lifted, Monique suggests they change and cap off the visit with a little time in the hot-tub. Before long, they’re letting the hot water soothe and relax them, before returning to the regular routines and new possibilities of life.