Wyldfire: Intentions Prose in Tales of Justice | World Anvil

Wyldfire: Intentions

takes place November 6th, 1999

The old neon sign said "Alexei's Bar". It had broken so many times over the years that it really wasn't fixable. Rather than replace it, someone had carefully emptied out the glass tubes of their noble contents, then refilled each tube with strings of randomly-colored holiday lights. Set within the reddish amber glass, the effect was ... strange.


The clientele were stranger.


"I'm only saying: it's nineteen ninety-nine," a young woman with sleek gray fur said to the rumpled blond on her left. "It's not the eighties any more. If a healthy woman with legs as nice as mine can't buy a guy a drink now and then, why are we even here?"


Her companion rubbed his fingers through his already frizzy curls. "I'm all for Women's Liberation, Mirabelle," he said, "I merely recommend against the purchase of any libation for that man."


"And why not?" the metahuman demanded indignantly.


"Because the logo on his ballcap is for 'Friends of Humanity', so I think he would throw the drink at you."


Mirabelle frowned. She snuck another stare at her intended target. "No one with an ass that fine can be evil," she announced.


The blond turned for support to his own left. "Robert. Help me out here."


Robert chuckled. "You can leave me out of this, thanks! Right now, Jerry, her mom is going to kill you. I have faith in Mirabelle's resilience. And in bar policy."


Reminded of a possible escape from his doom, Jerry looked around for the proprietor's current location. Alexei stood a short five feet away, ringing up a customer's tab.


"He says he can give me a better price on replacing both arms than he could on replacing just one," a middle-aged biker punk complained to his cohort. "Now I'm not sure I want to let him cut on me at all. A giant scythe blade would be cool, and the drug pump I'd be wearing should take care of any phantom pains, but both arms?"


One of his buddies, in a strategically ripped green coat, waved toward the barkeep for another pitcher. "If you got both replaced, how you gonna steer your hog?"


At a smaller table away from the bar, Blackjack brushed one indigo hand over his wife's side. She sat in his lap, a nice surprise. She was tense. She kept turning to check the positions of three or four particular strangers.


"We can go," Blackjack offered quietly.


Rissa's whiskers brushed back and downward in an arc. Her ears flattened to either side of her head for a second. That was a "no" with some irritation to it, he had learned. His wife was not annoyed at him, nor at his suggestion, or she would have moved away from where she leaned on his chest.


Belatedly, Jarissa remembered that she should talk to her husband. She met his purple eyes with her brown ones. "Punks," she explained. "One with a camera. Trying to hunt in here. After the thing two weekends ago, Alexei is trying to shut them down before they start." She checked the most distant stranger's position again. "Not gonna work. They are all wound up."


They saw a gorgeous brunette on very high heels start ambling toward the bar for refills.


"Tffffft!" Blackjack felt Rissa's tail thrash under his chair. "Lemme up." Rissa sighed. "I'm short and I'm sober. I have to get us something from the bar -- what?"


Blackjack lifted his petite wife to her feet. "A 'Virgin Mary' has beef bullion in it, ma cherie. And lemon juice, very unpleasant if it is splashed in the eyes?"


Rissa's eyes crinkled in shared mischief. She kissed her husband briefly, then trotted off through the crowd.


Someone settled into the empty chair opposite Blackjack. He drew breath to object. Then he recognized Thomas: the silver-skinned metahuman whom his wife called 'Silver' or 'Angel'.


Blackjack sighed. This 'found family' that held his wife, they were delightful people; but they succumbed to Drama with frightening ease. "Monsieur l'Argent," Blackjack drawled, "if you are wanting the private conversation in the men's room, this is not the best time."


Blue eyes blinked several times. "What? Um. No! Thanks. No. And I'm Thomas. Why would I...?"


At merely five feet in height, Jarissa could not block the small camera in the distant stranger's hand. She used Robert's instinctive discomfort at her presence to nudge him around Jerry's side, instead.


Blackjack grinned quietly. He turned most of his attention to his visitor.


"Last week," Blackjack explained, "Jerry and Robert and Paul, they had stern words for Blackjack about a certain dark-haired lady's fate. I had hoped that would be the end of it."


Thomas blushed. "Umm."


"And here," Blackjack continued, waving one hand toward the silver-skinned man, "you conspire with your chérie to draw away my wife, so that you can approach me under cover of this crowd. Now you will demand my intentions, non?"


"Non!" Thomas said a little too quickly. "No. I mean, no. No. That's, look, I was gonna do this sooner but one thing happened and then another and I was trying to butt out until I saw Rissa pretty mad a week ago last Sunday and now it's November already." He took in a fast breath. "I rehearsed this. It went better. Let's start again, okay?"


Blackjack raised both brown eyebrows.


"We need to talk, you and me, about Rissa. If you are really serious about her."


"Ah! So it is an inquiry as to my intentions!" Blackjack settled in his chair. "Normally, mon ami, this is done before the elopement. You are five months tardy."


"Yeah -- no -- jeez," Thomas complained. "Okay, I'll be straight with you: I didn't know if you were going to stick around. And then it got awkward because you keep saying 'wife' and she acts like that's the right word. You make her happy!" he added in a rush. "I'm all for that. I'm all for this, whatever this is, if you're making Rissa happy. It's just that there's some stuff you need to know. Okay? Can I tell you now?"


Blackjack checked on the progress of events at the bar. The strangers knew that the small woman with the leopard spots made them nervous, so they tried to avoid her. It put them off their first target, probably Mirabelle. Tina, the gorgeous Hindu brunette, was flirting happily with Alexei; that left members of a biker gang, or a nerdy-looking man who would seem too easy a target, or Robert with his investment-banker pleasant face.


"We have a few minutes," Blackjack estimated.


Thomas resisted the impulse to twist around in his chair. "Great. Item one. When I first brought Rissa to the campus, while she was still unconscious, I explained some things to everyone else. Not enough time if I don't want her to hear. So I will give you the important part: this was my last chance to save her. You understand? Rissa's been ... deteriorating ... in bits and pieces over the last two years. She needed help. And she didn't think she deserved any. Every couple of months, the person I knew was a little farther drowned under the ugly things in her own head. She went from trying to live like a person, to camping out, to settling in a cave at the center of a hunting territory. She gave up easier, sooner, every time she ran into trouble while she was trying to talk to me.


"She quit reading." Thomas shivered a little. "That's when I knew it was really bad. She ignored the books I brought, she left my newspapers alone. She quit trying to start conversations. She still makes herself small and not worth noticing in a corner of a group, like she can melt into the shadows if given half a chance, and soon enough I look around and she's erased herself. So I brought her here. It was not the smartest thing I've ever done, survival-wise. But it's the only thing I had left. And I'm telling you," he tapped the table with one fingertip, "if she leaves here, I won't get Rissa back. I won't be enough to keep her a person. She's my best friend," Thomas said, blinking away a hint of tears, "I need her to be okay, and I know that if she walks away from this place, the day is going to come when she knows who I am but doesn't remember how to say my name."


Blackjack patted the younger man's hand. "You did right," he said quietly. "I remember when first I met the leopard lady. I remember, only weeks later, we encountered one another again; and it took all of Blackjack's charm to lift her eyes up, to see the woman in the face. I remember how easy it was to put her off her words, with only the slightest quip or flirtation. I have watched my Jarissa put together sentences as if she assembled a puzzle, as if to speak is something foreign."


Thomas nodded. "It kind of is. I'm pretty sure she's thinking in a concept-oriented language instead of in English."


"Ah. Well. I am French; I can think in English just fine, frère, when there is the need, yet there are concepts in my native tongue that English manages but poorly. I know that when I seduce a lock, I do it in French. So: yes. I understand how it is to think in one language and speak in another. Also, I see that something has been of aid to our Jarissa. She has joy in being herself. She is a cat as much as she is a human, frère, but that is not a cause for shame."


Thomas flushed again. It was a very odd effect in that silver skin, like a moment of tarnish. "Well, sure, yeah, I'm not ashamed! And I don't think she should be."


"But you do think," Blackjack said, "that I might take her away from this home?"


"She doesn't think she deserves help," Thomas repeated quietly.


One of the strangers broke a beer bottle on the edge of the bar. Another came at Robert from the side, wielding a short knife. Rissa stepped around Robert as if appearing from nowhere. She hip-checked Robert aside. Robert stumbled over the empty stool, went sprawling into Mirabelle's lap. The knife sank into the middle of the leopard-woman's right forearm. She punched upward with that paw, curling it into a fist at the last instant. The knife-wielder's head snapped backward. He lost his grip on his knife as he went windmilling back into the green-jacketed biker.


Rissa stepped toward the guy with the broken bottle. She knocked his weapon hand up, away from her abdomen. He sliced into her chest. Two of the glass spurs fragmented on impact. Leopard claws raked down the outside of his arm, severing tendons. She grabbed his shirt collar, twisted, slammed down onto the bartop. His head bounced with a meaty thunk.


Feral turned to stare at the third guy, the one with the pool cue. Blood dripped down her left breast and her right arm, staining her gray sweatshirt. Her ears disappeared into her wavy black hair. Feral flexed her claws, curled her paws into loose fists, flexed wide again.


"Oh, look!" the Hindu lady exclaimed theatrically. She plucked the video camera out of the fourth miscreant's grasp. "This is a Canon PV1, a digital camcorder, right? I've been thinking about getting one of these babies! Look, honey, the bigots have a PV1." And she tossed it, underhanded, over to Thomas.


"Hey!" The camera guy grasped after the camera. Since he was not telekinetic, nothing happened.


Thomas looked the camera over thoughtfully. "Not bad!" he agreed. "It has the stabilizer built in, that's nice. Oh, but look," he added sadly, "it isn't shielded against magnetic resonance fluctuations. That's too bad. You can't hire the Freakshow to be in your indie film if their cyberware is going to fritz the camera." He passed the now-buzzing camera back to his girlfriend.


The biker in the green jacket paused, mid-punch. "You were gonna hire us to be in a movie? That's pretty cool!" He glanced down at the former knife-wielder, dangling from his left hand. "So this is, what, a tryout?"


"Sounds like those assholes brought the wrong equipment," Mirabelle suggested, batting her lashes.


Alexei came around the side of the bar. He was a very large man in the best of circumstances. Now he absolutely loomed. "You three," he growled as he pointed at the less-damaged strangers. His accent grew significantly thicker. "You take your idiot friend, and you leave my bar. Do not return. We are outside city limits. We are in county. I have sheriff deputy here in twenty minute. If I have to close bar for court appearance, tell sad story to judge of how you four men attack tiny girly customer with no provocation, I will make sure you four men can have no drink in any bar of Pennsylvania. Da?"


Most of the bar patrons cheered.


"C'mere, sweetie," Mirabelle said to the shorter, older catgirl. "You have glass slivers sticking out of your boob." She leaned over the bar to grab one of Alexei's washcloths and the tongs for the ice.


"Oh! Your shirt. These animals wreck it. Wait, kotenok, I get you nice souvenir shirt from office!" Alexei glared at the four strangers. "After these idiots leave."


Rissa looked more alarmed by the prospect of Alexei fussing over her than she had looked when she spotted the would-be troublemakers in the first place. She tried to project the notion that she was fine. Bloodstains continued to slowly spread around the knife stuck in her arm and around the bottle shards in her chest.


"Rissa doesn't think she deserves any help," Thomas repeated as quietly as he could. "She's going to let them help her, because it makes them feel better about what just happened. She's going to grit her teeth and control her breathing the entire time. She's going to be ready for someone to say she isn't worth wasting time and a clean shirt."


The front door slammed. Alexei turned back to the bar. "Let us drink to their going!" Excitedly chatting, several people surged forward to help pass around glasses or clean up the detritus of the fight.


"If you weren't here, I think she would run right now," Thomas said under the crowd noise, "before anybody can say out loud what she already 'knows'. I don't think she would make it back to the house. I think she would stay in a tree until she doesn't feel a twinge any more, and then she'd go hunting, and then maybe she would remember to come home. Or maybe she wouldn't remember until I go find her. Rissa needs people. Rissa needs a family. She needs help, Blackjack, but first she's got to believe that she's allowed to have it!" Thomas fiddled with a lopsided coaster. "I haven't figured that step out. I was kinda hoping the Prof would. I definitely know the other thing would be bad, though."


Blackjack gave Thomas his slow, confident smile. "Have no fear, frère. Blackjack fix ... oui?"


He looked up as his wife approached the table. "Ah, chérie, we were just now speaking of you." He opened his arms in invitation. "You are entirely correct, chérie: that shirt is a travesty. Russians should never design anything meant for casual wear. Important clothes; epic garments; but nothing so humdrum as the cheap shirt."


Thomas half-rose. "You want this chair?"


Rissa's whiskers twitched as she sidled past Thomas. Her hand flicked sideways, as if tossing a piece of thread away. "Need to face that way," she explained. "Probably no more trouble tonight. But. Robert is on edge. Freakshow are coming off their adrenaline spike, might want another hit." She scanned the crowd of happy patrons. "And that lady -- with the ... green?" Rissa drew a fin, like the dorsal fin of a parrotfish or an angelfish, on her husband's upper arm. "Keeps trying to pet Mirabelle's fur. I think she means to flirt. She isn't asking, though."


As she settled into Blackjack's lap, she looked back and forth between the two men. "Me?" She studied them thoughtfully. "No more," she waved a few fingertips in the general direction of the restrooms, "playground stuff?"


"No," Thomas said. He sounded exasperated. "Let's get some revenge on those guys, okay? Because now I can't have a normal conversation with you two until I first say that I am not a Neanderthal, and Tina is not a Neanderthal, and I'm pretty sure if Rissa wants her honor defended then it's not going to be Paul at the top of her list."


Rissa smiled at Thomas -- one of the still-rare ones that lit up her entire face, swept her ears and whiskers toward him, even her tail curled in his direction as if describing an affectionate circle. "Did," she admitted. "Jerry, at least. Stamp Girl."


"Stamp Girl?" Thomas turned to look in the bar's direction. "Jerry helped knock you around the bathroom while you were tipsy, and your revenge is to fix him up with Stamp Girl?"


"Now, ma femme, mon frère, you are not thinking of it in the proper French manner. He is an impressionable young man with, shall we say, a limited role model. She is a lovely young lady. If they have a grand autumn fling, he is now far too occupied for the dramatic nonsense of Paul."


"Drama is bad," Rissa explained to Thomas. "Theatrics are okay. 'Drama' is a cuss word."


Thomas nodded. "Okay." He glanced around, prompted by the rhythmic clunk of high-heeled shoes. "But we're still going to prank Paul, right? Because I can crack all of his passwords if I have fifteen minutes alone with his equipment. I'm just saying."


Tina eased her way into the narrow space between Thomas and the nearby half-wall. She set a pitcher down on the small table. "Paul did something stupid again, stupid enough that you're offering to change his passwords? I'm in! I definitely need a chair, though."


While the younger couple searched, Rissa leaned into her husband. "What about me are you going to fix?" she asked curiously.


"Oh, ma cherie, you have not been ravished in simply hours," he said. "Blackjack fix! As soon as we are home. But, no, that was not what we had been saying when you came up. Your Thomas, he tells me that you do not think in English."


Rissa thought about that. She glanced at Thomas, up at Tina, back to her husband's glinting eyes. "Sometimes I do," she said. "Less often, though. I have to work up to it. And it doesn't last. Feels like," she looked at Tina again as the Hindu lady sat down, "like running a decompiler?"


Tina tapped one long nail on her beer glass. "I'm still getting caught up. You're decompiling the English language?"


Thomas made a small pedaling motion with his hands, a sort of vertical circle, in front of his sternum. When Rissa's whiskers twitched forward, he said, "Reverse that, I think. Rissa's thinking in a nonverbal language, with images and sensations to fill in the abstracts? Yeah? Okay. And then to talk to people, she has to translate it into words and spoken grammar. So she's decompiling to English."


"Not cleanly," Rissa added.


Blackjack studied Thomas for a minute. "You speak -- no, that is the wrong word. But you know this tongue. You are fluent in it."


Thomas met Rissa's eyes while he hesitated. "Yeah," he said at last, "I haven't used it in a few years. But yeah."


"Teach it to us!" Tina demanded. She bounced in her seat. "Holy Shakti's fancy hat, you should teach it to us. Just the four of us. First of all, there's no reason Rissa should always have to do all the work. Second, if this language is how your brain works on compiled code, and I can get fluent enough to start code switching, can you imagine the hinky new computer coding language I can put together? Third of all, if we can talk right in front of Mister Paul Grimdark Seriousboy and he misses out, I may never have to put coriander in his laundry ever again."


Jarissa laughed a little, embarrassed. "Tina. Almost all what you said? Can't say. Learn, yes. No 'teach'. No 'hat'. No 'reason'. I still think about hats. I have a picture in my head. I still think about reasons for yes, reasons for no, but I do not think the word 'reason'. Unless I switch back to English."


"No 'if'," Thomas added.


"Wow." Tina stared at the back wall for a moment. "No if/then statements. That's rough. I'm still willing to have you teach me, but I'm going to be terrible at this."


Thomas kissed her cheek.


"All right, if that is how things are going to be," Tina said, "then we need some food first." She took Thomas's hand in hers. "Let's go see if Alexei has that salami-cheese stuff this week."


Once they were gone, Blackjack kissed Jarissa tenderly. "I think we might exchange. Oui? I teach you French, you teach me this language of yours. We will both understand better."


Rissa's whiskers reached forward enough to brush his cheeks.


"It is not a painful thing, this language?"


She thought about that for a second. "Mostly no. I would ... stay English, if I could. And French. It gets vague. It is not a real language. Half of one, maybe."


Then, glancing at the younger pair's progress, Rissa adjusted Blackjack's arms around her. "It's good for scary moments," she said. She looked up at him. "Except the ones where it never had any of the words."


Blackjack looked down at his hand, placed carefully over a particular rosette. His palm covered the spot on her abdomen where the bottle-wielder had meant to stab. Rissa tugged the cheap cotton shirt down to cover his hand on her not-so-flat stomach.


Air rushed through Blackjack's head, drowning out the jukebox and the crowd and the noisy clink of glassware. His world narrowed down to the sound of his wife's breath.


The warmth of his hand on her belly.


The weight of her body on his lap, in the circle of his arms, trusting.


Blackjack kissed Jarissa as if they were alone in the room.


He rose slowly to his feet, turning Rissa's body to face him, backing her step by step away from the table. When they had enough space, he swayed with her slowly. They danced in place as they continued the kiss.


"Wow," Tina said softly when they finally parted.


Blackjack stroked his wife's face gently. "Mon frère, madamoiselle, we have decided that the hour is late. All the excitement of the evening has made us long for our bed. We can make our plots tomorrow, perhaps over a nice luncheon? Good, very good. Au revoir." His lips settled on those of his wife again. Blue smoke billowed in their place.


"I wonder what prompted that?" Thomas said.


Tina shrugged.


"You know," Thomas said as he sat down, "I never got to Item Two."


Tina paused in the middle of pouring her boyfriend a refill. Her eyebrows did the dancing thing that meant she was searching her memory. "Was that 'just because Rissa is silent, do not forget that she might be smarter than you'?"


Thomas snickered. "Uh. No! I'm not warning him about that. If he's not smart enough to already know it, he doesn't deserve to stay with her. No. Item Two was: Never say 'kitty'. It's an involuntary kill trigger. So is 'puppy', actually, but she's better with that one."


Tina handed him the glass. "I'm surprised Paul never tried it."


Thomas grinned crookedly. "Oh, he did!"


"No!" Tina slapped the table. "I missed it. What happened?"


Thomas leaned forward so he could lower his voice. "The Prof caught him mid-word and whammied him. Remember that time we cut practice short 'cause Paul kept coughing? Actually he was humming opera. Constantly. Claire finally asked him what the hell his problem was. He wrote it down. He went to test the catgirl's control. Prof disagreed. Dumped the soundtrack to something called 'L'Orfeo' into Paul's memory and whammied him so he would hum along. I looked it up, that's more than two hours long. Paul sucks at poetry, he couldn't figure out how to fit any words to the rhythm of the music. So he couldn't talk."


Tina grinned back. "And you know all this because?"


Thomas summoned up his Completely Innocent expression. "Somebody has to clean out the wastebasket. There's no rule that I have to wait until it's full."


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