“I know you don’t care. I know that. You’re a Crook — you don’t have to give a damn about my feelings but you’re always just—“ He shuddered again. “I know I’m fired. I don’t care. But I can’t — not today, okay? I just can’t play along today, all right?”
In the alternate universe coded ⎇001JW, super heroes and villains have been around for decades and tensions are rising between parahumans and their unpowered prosahuman cousins. This is Justice Wing in nadir.
A professional Steve never stands out — that’s the entire point. Supervillains employ Steves to act as lookouts and the Service employs Steves to monitor supervillains. The Steve assigned to the third tier villain called Leather was typical – he wanted to do his job without attracting notice – from anyone. That’s complicated when Leather kidnaps Todd Chapman, a third rate reporter for a second rate magazine, who despite everything turned out to be the worst kind of journalist — one who actually wants to understand his story. Things are complicated further when the Steve attracts the attention of the mercurial Moriarty James, learning she was behind the Service and Guild and had an interest in promoting the Steve… after she made him pass a test and assess his limits. Things went from bad to worse when the hero Darkhood broke up Leather’s ‘quiet job’ and even identified the Steve’s car — suggesting a leak had outed the operation. The Steve and James successfully escape and James offers the Steve a promotion… but also dismisses his reaction to her test out of hand. Now the Steve has to make his way back to the lair and find out if Todd Chapman is still there, find out if Leather or the henches were arrested, and find out if anyone was following them. His emotions would have to wait. After all, it’s hard being the Steve.
Being the Steve
An Interviewing Leather Concurrence
Moriarty had been right about two things at least — the Steve was the first one back to the lair, and there were no police waiting to greet him. He got inside, changed his clothes quickly and throwing the ones he was wearing into the incinerator — just preventative, really. You had to be sure — before heading to check the feeds and sensors.
No signs of unusual activity. He did see one VW Bug — one of the modern ones, not a classic — approaching, but he could see Marco through the window and it wasn’t giving off any signals. He took a deep breath. He’d grab a soda when the others got in, and then they’d divide up and patrol the ground triple checking things, with someone on the panic button just in case. Standard operating procedure.
Not that anything felt standard tonight.
He checked the logs while he was at it. No signals detected. No motion detected inside the building while they were out. Unless Chapman were a pocket parahuman he was still locked in Leather’s bedroom — there weren’t cameras in there to check, but there wasn’t a big enough window to escape through, and if he’d tried that would show up on the exterior cams. And still no sign of police…
The Steve’s heart was still pounding. He felt flushed and wanted a shower badly but he had to stay on post. His head hurt and he was so tired — the plunge down the embankment went by so fast but it was sheer luck and the hidden armoring on the underbody that made it possible. If they’d hit any thicker tree or rolled—
I’m not going to be lectured by a pissant Steve who doesn’t like work conditions any ninety-nine others would kill for.
The Steve shuddered, rubbing his face with his hands and leaning over. He felt nauseous. He convinced himself it was just the aftereffects of the adrenalin.
There was a bang as the henches came in through the door. “Is the boss back?!” Marco demanded. He looked pissed. The bagmen looked pretty roughed up and were still red eyed.
“No sign of her,” the Steve said. “You okay?”
“Not hardly. Thanks for the tip-off. Without it—“
“Hey, where’s that other Steve?” the brown haired bagman asked. He sounded pretty pissed off.
“She dropped me off. The Cape hit the car with a beacon. Car chase and double blind escape route.”
“Wait — the Cape made you?” Marco’s scowl deepened.
The Steve took a deep breath. He was shaking, just a bit. Just adrenalin. “He clearly knew the car.”
“Jesus,” the blond bagman spat. “Chapman.”
“What?” the other bagman asked.
“Chapman! How else’d they get our fucking number? The fucker ratted us out!”
“Jesus Christ — yeah, someone had to—“
“There was a leak,” the Steve said. “That’s — there had to have been. But it was probably someone in Transp—“
“Is Chapman even still here?” Marco snapped.
The Steve jumped at the wheelman’s anger. “Y-yeah,” he said. “I think. I mean, I can’t see in the room but there wasn’t any—“
“Then let’s find out what the fuck’s going on.” Marco spun and stormed for the stairs. With almost an audible growl, the blond bagman followed, and the brown haired bagman stayed in tow.
“We need to… we have to be on post!” the Steve shouted after them. “We need to…”
The Steve let his voice trail off. They weren’t listening to him. Why would they’re? His whole deal was no one ever noticed him, right?
“You’re not going to stay shackled to dear little Leather any longer than you have to. After all… you can’t stand anything about her, can you?”
He looked back at the feeds — watching the hallway cams as the henches made it up to Leather’s. He watched Marco kick the door in — he heard the bang all the way down from the center security office. He could just barely see inside from one cam — it looked like Chapman was in there all right. There were more thumps and banging sounds.
The external feed near the road lit up — movement, and fast. The Steve shivered, watching. Almost a blur in the trees—
No, he knew that blur. That was the Crook. Leather. When going overland she tended to bounce off trees or rocks—
Leather flying overhead, slamming into a tree that bent almost double, then snapping off it to the telephone pole, an arrow in her arm—
The Steve swore and turned up the gain on the outer cameras. This was the time to make sure she wasn’t being followed, but it wasn’t a one man job. He heard another slam from upstairs.
Leather hit the ground in front of the lair rolling, then ran to the door and through. He heard her slam and head into the kitchen. He shivered again, rubbing his eyes and looking at the feed. No signs or movement. Not even animals. Just nighttime and—
“Jesus, are you all right?”
The Steve half-shrieked, jumping back. Leather was in the doorway. She had a plastic tub of lasagna and a fork, and had clearly been shoveling it in. Her arm really was as bloody as it had looked, though the arrow was gone.
“Yeah — yeah. It was a hard chase. We almost rolled. Nothing compared to you. I… I don’t think the Steph had anything to do with—“
“I saw you two in the Ferrari. Double blind. Smart. Yeah, no she didn’t. Fucking Darkhood nailed you in the same opening attack he used to flare and gas the bagmen. If you hadn’t been on the panic button—“ She cocked her head. “What the Hell was that?”
“Wh— upstairs? Marco and the bagmen went up. They… Chapman—“
Rage flashed over Leather’s face. “Why aren’t they on their fucking posts? I thought they weren’t fucking back yet!”
“They… they thought that—“
“Oh those idiots!” Leather threw herself out the office door towards the stairs, blurring at parahuman speed, the tub of lasagna hitting the ground, clearly forgotten. He saw her bounce off the walls of the stairwell, getting up to the upper landing in less than a second, and saw her touch down in front of her broken door. She looked pissed.
The Steve closed his eyes. He felt horrible through and through. He’d seen Crooks lose it before — Leather was a better boss than a lot, but she also overreacted quickly. If she were angry enough—
He opened his eyes back up and checked the feeds. Looked for movement. Any sign they were blown. Any sign he’d need to hit the panic button for the service. He cycled through them — anything to not think about the night. To not—
“And what are you going to do now? File a sexual harassment claim? Go to Human Resources? Sue me? We’re criminals. As much as the Crooks, if not more, we are criminals, and we don’t need to be nice about it.”
Years he’d been a Steve. Years of training, of working his way up. And he was good at it. She clearly thought he was valuable. Just not valuable enough—
There were sounds. The Steve tried to put his game face on. The henches were coming back down — sans Leather and sans Chapman. The blond was limping. It looked like it had gotten physical up there. Well, why shouldn’t it? She was a Crook, right? She didn’t have to worry about their well being. They should count their blessings she wasn’t a psycho like Billhook or the fucking Jack O’Knaves, killing them for any random—
“Fuck,” the brown haired bagman said, pushing in the central security office. “I’m going left-forward. Anything so far?”
“No,” the Steve said. “It’s been quiet. I think we shook him.”
“Yeah, whatever.” He stormed down the hall, almost running into Marco, who was coming in. Marco was slightly hunched over, and clearly in some pain.
“What happened?” the Steve asked, quietly.
“Boss threw me into the wall. Wasn’t polite about it. Did worse to blondie.” He shook his head. “We fucked up.”
“I… yeah. Okay.”
Marco snorted. “I know. You tried to tell us. God what a fucking clusterfuck.”
“Did you have to ditch?”
Marco snorted. “No, that’s the fucking irony. We made the drop. Got a receipt. Millions of fucking dollars worth’a shit. Maybe the best score of the year. Well, for the Boss. We’re getting docked a quarter for insubordination and beating the fuck out of Chapman.”
The Steve opened his mouth, then nodded. “Okay.”
“Man, not you. You did your fucking job.” He glanced at the feeds. “Looks like the Bagmen are in. Take ten. I’ll take over here. You look like Hell.”
“If you’re getting docked I’m getting docked,” the Steve said, getting up. “It’s… it’s fine. I was part of it. If I’d spoken up or… it’s fine.”
Marco narrowed his eyes. “What happened out there?” he asked.
“I… we went down the embankment from Braddock to Riverside. Had about five or six cruisers in pursuit. I—“
“Are you nuts? I’m a fucking professional wheelman and I wouldn’t do that on a bet.”
“Yeah, well. I had no choice. M— the Steph had a backup ride waiting. We needed to use the tunnel to block—“
“I get it.” He shook his head, sitting down.
“I’m… gonna clean up the lasagna.”
“The boss… was eating when she found out you were upstairs. You know how she gets when she’s injured — heavy carbs and fats?”
Marco snorted again. “Shit, we interrupted her eating? We’re lucky she didn’t kill one of us.” He shook his head. “Tell you one thing. Chapman’s definitely not spineless. Fucker has stones.”
“What do you mean?”
“We worked him over good. Blood, maybe cracked ribs. He was in pain bad. And here’s Leather tearing into us, and the fucker interrupts her to get clarifications.”
The Steve stared at Marco. “Seriously?”
“Seriously. He’s still up there. She’ll keep him tonight, I think. Be dumb to put him back in the barracks after we lost a few thousand each over him.”
“So… he can type into his laptop half the night with her instead of us? Cool.”
Marco shook his head. “Man has stones. Does his job. Wants to know. So why the fuck is he writing crap about Traci Tay?”
The Steve looked at Marco. “Because that’s his job,” he said, quietly. “The same way your job means getting thrown into walls and mine means getting—“ The Steve looked away.
“Getting what?” Marco asked, looking back over his shoulder. “Seriously — what happened?”
The Steve paused, then shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. The point is… we don’t decide what choices we’re given. What we have to put up with. Why’s he writing crap about pop idols? Because that’s his job. But this time? This interview?”
“What about it?”
The Steve took a deep breath. “My job’s to keep watch, to work through the Service, to make the call if we need to make the call. But tonight I nearly wrecked sliding a car down a hillside, because sometimes things go weird. I think Chapman’s plunging down the hillside. The question is… will he hit the road and zoom off, or will he roll, crash and burn to death?”
Marco thought for a moment, then nodded, turning back to check the scans. “I think he’ll make it. I think he was always ready for bigger things, only he never had the chance.”
“You’re going to like your new job… You’re not going to stay shackled to dear little Leather any longer than you have to. You can’t stand anything about her, after all.”
The Steve shook off the moment. “Let me get the lasagna cleaned up,” he said, heading for the kitchen to get the mop.
The gang was sitting around the table, eating a pretty lavish breakfast. Leather had gone all out — she’d gotten up early, done the accounting, and bought everyone food. All good employee relations. And the score had been pretty substantial — one of the best of the year even with the penalty.
The Steve had indeed had his take docked. He knew he would. Otherwise… well, he’d stand out, wouldn’t he? And he didn’t do that. He ate buttered toast while watching Chapman type — he’d grabbed his laptop from the barracks when they first came down, and he was trying to get notes written. He looked pretty roughed up, but like Marco said — he was still doing his job.
Marco grinned. “There he goes,” he said, watching Chapman take notes. “When you list out that uppercut, remember my name’s Marco with a ‘C.’ I may need this for my demo reel.”
“How do you put a magazine article into a demo reel?” the blond bagman asked. He was working on an omelette.
“Wait, we’re supposed to have demo reels?” the brown haired bagman asked. Both bagmen were in good moods, same as Marco. Money made everything better.
The Steve tried to focus on his own breakfast, not to mention his own take. He’d made more that morning than Chapman probably made in a year of puff pieces — that should have been enough, right? It was just business, and he was a professional, wasn’t it? A professional nobody. Nobodies didn’t get to complain. That right was reserved for somebodies.
“Sorry, boys. Your little tiff probably didn’t even make the cut,” Leather said, grinning and stretching. “After all our passionate lovemaking and codeine filled revelations, I’m sure he can’t even remember you ruining my fucking bedspread.”
The Steve flushed. Did it always have to be about—
“Oh Jesus Christ,” Marco said, laughing. “I’ll buy you another damn bedspread.”
“No. I will buy me another bedspread. You will just pay for it. I’m not trusting your taste.” Leather grinned more broadly. “Okay. So. Thanks to Darkhood’s unexpected participation last night, things are a lot hotter than we expected. And to be honest, I’m not sure I trust that the leak that outed our job wouldn’t hit tonight’s work too. So, I’m thinking we cut the speed job. “The heat’s on. Do a job tonight and we’ll screw with the blowoff.”
“Makes sense,” Marco said. “Besides, the light’s good today — I assume this is the picture day? It’s supposed to rain tonight so who knows how tomorrow’ll be.”
“Good point,” Leather said, grinning more. “You get an extra strawberry.” She plucked a strawberry from a bowl of fruit and held it languidly out for Marco to take. Always on. Always so…
“Picture day?” the Steve asked, not letting any of his reactions show. Just part of the job.
“Yeah,” Leather said. “Chapman here’s gonna get a bunch of pictures of me for the article. Today’s nice enough — we use the shore-facing wall as a backdrop and we shouldn’t need other lights.”
“Oh. I’ll… um… I’ll skip that.”
“Big shock,” the brown haired bagman said. “Not that we’ll be in any of the pictures anyway.”
“Damn right you won’t,” Leather said. “Like I told you before. Me me me me me. My pictures. My article. My hostage. Me.” She grinned. “Full combat suit — Marco, give me a hand with it? And then we convene outside and Chapman makes me look fabulous.”
“Chapman is going to take a lot of pictures and hope for the best,” Chapman said, still typing as he spoke.
“We’re definitely canceling tonight?” the Steve asked. “I have to let the Service know if we are.”
“Oh, we are definitely cancelling tonight,” Leather said. “I’m thinking a nice quiet night in’ll do me some good. Oh, have them work out billing for any extras on last night, okay?”
“You already did the paperwork,” Marco said. “I know that ‘cause you already paid out.”
“Yeah — any extras are on me… of course, there’s also a leak they need to stop up, so any extras they charge me are gonna get contested, and that means they may end up refunding part of last night’s fee for… you know. Getting me shot in the arm with a fucking arrow.” Leather grinned even more broadly.
“And because you already figured our take, if there’s a refund you get to keep it all,” the brown haired bagman said, grinning as well.
“See? Don’t tell your Aunt Leather how to chase pigs. She’s a natural pig chaser.” She giggled. “Eat! Eat! You’re growing boys and girls and I had to wig up to pick breakfast up.” She took a forkful of eggs — they were at least half-cheese from the look of them.
“I’m done,” the Steve said. “I’ll go get the work done.”
“Yeah yeah. Have fun with it!”
“Whee.” The Steve got up, grabbed another mug of coffee, and headed out of the kitchen and down to his office. He was just as glad the night was cancelled — he felt like Hell. Everything from last night with a terrible night’s sleep piled on… it wasn’t like him. He didn’t let stuff bug him. Everyone knew that.
He settled behind his desk, opening up software and connecting to the VPN. He sent the usual communique out, detailing the change in plans and the cancelled mission. There would usually be a cancellation fee, but it wouldn’t calculated for a few days and given the leak it was possible it’d get waved entirely.
The Steve’s Pat talk requested. The Steve answered. “
Popcan.” He’d gotten the new passphrase the night before. Standard operating procedure yet again.
Foxtrot,” came back. “
Just confirming. Speed job is a cancel, not a postpone?”
Confirmed,” the Steve typed. “
Also, Local is requesting review and fee assessment for non-standard service last night. She has agreed to pay out of pocket. Local is also requesting for review of procedures against suspected leak in local operations. Local believes that Telemarketer interference came from Transport Services leak. Based on evidence I would concur.”
Understood. Review and audit has been initiated. Please advise local that fee assessment will be computed after review procedures are completed. No additional fees will be charged without her first being invoiced.”
Understood. Clear on this side.” The Steve wasn’t surprised — the Service knew that she would be angling for refunds rather than paying fees, and wanted to have all that sorted before they had to argue with a Crook over money.
Request performance assessment on Secondary.”
The Steve paused. The Pat wouldn’t have any idea that the secondary Steve had actually been Moriarty James, and wouldn’t have any more idea that James was at the Service’s head than the Steve himself had known before yesterday. Obviously she would see whatever he put down here, even though that wasn’t standard procedure.
But he couldn’t just not answer. A review was customary — especially if they were auditing procedures.
The Steve had been trying not to think about James that morning, but there was little he could do about that. Finally, he decided to focus on what the Pat was asking for — the specific performance of the day player Steve, regardless of who she really was. After all, being the Steve meant not having a real name or identity, right?
“And what are you going to do? File a sexual harassment claim?”.
The Steve took a deep breath. Not having a real name meant not having any rights or recourse. Leather could argue with the Service — even if Moriarty James had a low opinion of the thief, she was still a Crook who was paying them. Between that and her connection to Anchor and Beguile, the Service wasn’t about to piss her off if they could help it. Of course, they never wanted to piss off Crooks; too many Crooks did horrifying things in response and the rest gossiped. There was no way to win against them.
Of course, the Steve wasn’t a Crook. The Steve wasn’t anybody at all.
Secondary performed satisfactorily,” he typed. “
Minor errors in characterization – misidentified a play she claimed to have been in and misused a few colloquialisms, neither where others could hear.” Those were just the literal truth — he’d be expected to pick up on them. He took another deep breath. “
Held cover throughout, shifting to new cover as necessary. Reacted to crisis situation professionally and executed backup plan flawlessly.”
The Steve paused again. There was one other thing he was supposed to indicate in a performance assessment. It was standard, and expected, and…
And there was only one thing he could possibly type.
Would work with again.”
The Steve closed his eyes, then opened them and sent the assessment. He leaned back, breathing out slowly. He wasn’t sure if that was a tacit acceptance of James’s new job offer. It probably didn’t matter — what choice did he have? Stick around here and let Leather—
He shook his head, and turned back to his work. The Pat acknowledged receipt and closed the session. The Steve got his own Pat workload in and assigned resources and acknowledgements as necessary. All very correct and professional. After all, he was good at his job, right? He was even getting promoted. And the work was an easy way to push all this out of his head — it was involved and required creativity, but also anonymous. Just text on a screen…
There was a fast knock at the Steve’s door, making him jump. “Yeah?” he called out. He glanced at the clock — it was almost noon? How’d that even happen—
The door opened, and Leather stuck her head in. She was in the full combat suit. “Hey,” she said. “Need your help for a few.” She grinned impishly. “Gonna give Chapman something extra and give the guys a good jump-scare.”
“Uh… yeah. Of course. Sure.” The Steve got up and followed Leather out. She headed to the stairs. “What do you need?”
“Chapman wanted some scrapbook pictures or something of my Dynamo Girl days,” Leather said. “I don’t really have those but I’ve got a uniform — never actually wore it after trying it on for fit. Not really sure why I even had it fabricated, but what the Hell, right?” She passed by her room and went to the storeroom down the hall. She bounced up as they walked in, plucking a sealed plastic case off the shelf and popping it. “Anyway — it’s a bitch getting out of the combat suit without help, so—“
“Oh. Right. Sure.” The Steve stepped around behind Leather. “Hit the seal?”
Leather popped the suit-seal — it was a hidden trigger with a biometric, designed to make it hard to take the suit off if she were incapacitated. The suit loosened slightly, and the Steve began undoing the overlapping leather ‘plates’ that conformed along her spine.
“Mmm — that’s it. Strip me good,” Leather said, giggling and wiggling her butt slightly. She was in a good mood.
James’s body against his, her lips on his, his hands moving over her as though he wanted to do this–
The Steve lurched back, nauseous for a second, crying out despite himself. God damn it!
Leather craned around, turning at the waist further than a normal human could. Always showing off. “The Hell?”
“It’s… it’s nothing. Sorry. Let me—“
“No, fuck that. What’s going on?” She frowned.
The Steve paused. He realized he was shaking, slightly. "It’s nothing. It’s… it’s personal, and you don’t want to–"
"Never tell me what I want. And I asked you a question twice. What’s going on?"
Keep secrets? Keep his head down? Keep the Crook happy? What was he supposed to do?
"…please," Leather said, more quietly. "Just tell me."
“Okay. Okay, fine,” he said, looking down. “I’m ace.”
“I’m ace. Asexual. Technically asexual sex-repulsed. Apothisexual.”
Leather turned completely, facing him. “I… I’m sorry. I don’t… know what that means.”
The Steve was almost hyperventilating. “I don’t — I don’t feel sexual attraction, okay? That’s what ace means. I don’t have it at all. And there’s a lot of ways to be ace — some people it’s just nothing they feel and they don’t care about any of it and some don’t usually feel it and there are exceptions, but the ones… the ones like me… I’m not like that, Leather. Sex bothers me. It disgusts me. I don’t like thinking about it, or participating in it, or anything about it, and last night I was forced to act out foreplay and I hated every second of it but I didn’t have any choice and I know you don’t care. I know that. You’re a Crook — you don’t have to give a damn about my feelings but you’re always just—“ He shuddered again. “I know I’m fired. I don’t care. But I can’t — not today, okay? I just can’t play along today, all right? I—“
The Steve froze. He slowly looked up.
Leather had taken her mask off. She was looking at him. “Take a breath,” she said, quietly. “It’s okay. Just breathe.”
He paused, then took a breath. “You’re not… supposed to know that name,” he said quietly.
“Yeah. I know. It’s a big secret and everyone knows I’m a numbskull, because I want them to think that. But yeah, I know that name. You’re Jacob. Marco’s actually Milo. The bagmen are Larry short for Lawrence and Tab short for Tabor. Jesus — of course I know all your names. You work for me.” She took a deep breath of her own. “We don’t have a lot of time — they’re waiting for me down there, and I don’t want to leave Chapman alone with the boys longer than I have to.”
“I know. It… won’t happen again, Leather. I—“
“You’re right, Jacob. I act out. All the time.” She leaned forward. “I never got to be a kid, Jacob. Not really. I was in training for the Olympics from three years old on, and then when I expressed my parents died, and I went right into Dynamo Girl. When I became Leather… became me, finally… it was liberating. I could let myself show off. And that includes sexually. And I like it. A lot. I like flirting. I like shaking my ass and knowing everyone in the room is looking at it, especially because I’m smoother and more graceful than anyone they’ve ever seen. And as it turns out, I like sex, even when I don’t much like who it’s with. And I love being able to play off that.” She looked in his eyes. “But that is no excuse for making you feel like this. Ever.”
“…you don’t need an excuse. I can’t…” he shook his head, closing his eyes. “I can’t sue or go to human resources, can I? The Guild doesn’t even care if the Jack kills his henches. They’re not—“
“Fuck human resources and fuck the Jack, Jacob. This is being human. Look at me.”
He opened his eyes.
“I never even thought about how you felt,” she said, softly. “I… I’m not good at doing that. I never have been. Not unless I’m actually trying to play someone, and at home I’m not trying to play you guys to get anything — I’m just playing." She shook her head slightly. "Yeah, I’m going to still be me. I’m still going to slink around and tease the boys because I like it. But I don’t have to tease you, and I’ll… I’ll figure out if the other guys are okay with it. Well, okay, Tab’s into it. I’ll figure out the other two. And I know that if we were all in some fucking office I’d never be able to do any of this, but we aren’t and we live together and I’m going to be me… but we live together, Jacob. And you’re my employee and my responsibility and… and if you aren’t my friend I should try to change that. And I shouldn’t ever make you feel like this. And I’m… I’m sorry. I really am.”
He shivered a bit. “…you don’t need to apologize to me,” he said, softly.
“Yes. I do.” She took a deep breath of her own. “What I’ve done is terrible, and I never even thought about it. And that can’t go on. If you want out, I get it. If you need a reference I’ll give you a great one. And if you want to stay… I’ll try, Jacob. You may have to remind me. I’m really fucking bad at reading social situations. But I’ll try, and I give you full permission to tell me to fucking stop it.” She laughed, almost helplessly. “There’s no employee handbook for all this. No training guide for how to be a boss when your job is combination supervillain cat burglar and small business owner. My direct mentor was Beguile and trust me — what you see from me is what I saw from her.” She took a breath. “No one gets to make you feel the way you do right now, Jacob. Not me. Not anyone." Her eyes hardened. "And if someone hurt you last night, I will fucking end them.”
He shivered, tears dripping down his face. “You can’t,” he said, his voice clear despite his crying. “It would go badly for both of us if you did.”
“I can’t talk about it.” He paused. “But she knew what she was doing, and she did it anyway. That… you never did that. What you did was fucking wrong, but you don’t do it as a fucking power play or a fucking test.”
“…was this that Steph? I will—“
“This wasn’t a Steve.” Which was the truth. At the end of the day Moriarty James could act like a Steve but she wasn’t a Steve, even if she fancied herself one.
“All right.” She paused. “I really do need help with the costume. Will that… if that’s a problem I’ll—“
“It’s all right. Just don’t…”
“Don’t tease. Don’t make it about sex. I got that.” She froze. “Oh shit, do I have to stop kissing you before jobs?”
Despite himself, he laughed. “The kiss is fine,” he said. “That’s… that’s a ritual. Hell, it’s less sexual than almost anything else you do.”
She laughed. “Yeah, that sounds like me.” She took a breath. “I really am sorry. I feel — Christ, that’s… we need to talk about how I make it up to you without making trouble for you.”
He nodded. “Okay. Next week. After we get through all this… and… thank you for… for…”
“No. Don’t thank me. I’ve been horrible to you. I’m sorry and I’ll make it better.” She paused. “But right now I need to put both my game face and a leotard on.” She smiled, very slightly.
“Right. C’mere. Turn back around.”
She did. Graceful as always… but holding herself a bit more erect. Not playing to his gaze so much. She was right — it would take practice and work.
Still. He began helping her get out of the suit. “And you shouldn’t call me Jacob,” he said, softly. “I’m… I’m just the Steve.”
“I get that,” she answered, just as softly. “I’m Leather. So don’t you dare call me Eve.”
He paused. He’d known the name ‘Eve Shapiro.’ He had to, since part of what the Service did was keep former heroes from encountering old enemies professionally. He also knew that she was touchy to the point of violence about people using it. She even had an alias for when she was booked by police – they thought she was ‘Dara Gail Oswald,’ which was kind of ridiculous.
The Steve looked at her for a long moment. “I’ll do my best, Eve-sorry-I-mean-Leather.”
She giggled. “I believe you, Jacob-I-mean-Steve. And let’s speed up — time’s money and we’re losing the light.”