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The Oil of Refined Politeness

A trio of cowbells clonked unharmoniously as Watson led Megan through the small shopfront door under a handpainted sign proclaiming that this establishment was known as "The Mirror Crack'd." A wave of thick, powdery incense hit Megan straight in the sinuses, and so she didn't see the dangling ceiling display of maces and morning stars until the last moment. Some of the spikes grazed her scalp through her short hair despite her heroic ducking.

"Careful," Watson said, mouth twitching.

They moved through the store, and Megan spotted a large wooden corner display case containing what appeared to be handmade swords of a variety of what she thought of as European shapes. Around the case hung chain mail shirts, vests, bras, and other, even less likely forms of body covering. A number of glass cases took advantage of the excellent light from the front windows to show off smaller pieces of chainmail, as well as a number of different types of jewelry in silver, copper, and gold. A coffin was propped rakishly on the inner wall of the room, and a tuxedo-and-top-hat-clad skeleton semi-reclined inside. Another set of glass cases full of wood crafts, jewelled hairpins, and other expensive-looking items comprised the sales counter. A doorway next to the coffin led into the next room.

"Well," said the woman seated behind the counter to Watson, "I haven't seen you for a dog's age."

She was a few years older than Megan, pale-skinned and artificially black-haired, her long hair swept into an elegant updo and pinned in place with a pair of steel hairsticks. She wore a knee-length three-quarter-sleeved black dress with a moderate amount of lace at the bustline and the sleeves, and black stockings underneath. Over the dress, she was wearing a dark purple silk underbust corset, and she clutched a matching dark purple knitted shawl around her shoulders. She studied them through a pair of rimless octagonal glasses. Her lips were adorned with extremely red lipstick.

"Megan," Watson said, still with that hidden smile, "this is my younger sister Death."

Death stood up and politely shook Megan's hand, her fine-boned hand vanishing in Megan's rather larger one. "I'm glad to meet you, even if my big sister doesn't bother with context."

"We live in the same house," Megan said, opting for simplicity over exact truth.

"Not the latest girlfriend?" Death said, with a sharp look that reminded Megan uncomfortably of some of Watson's apparent ability to see completely through one.

"Um," Megan said.

"I have some questions," Watson said, adjusting her own wire-rimmed glasses almost fastidiously.

"Don't you always?" Death said, settling back onto her chair. "And you never seem to want to visit me at my house. What's up?"

"Been reading about the murders?" Watson said.

"You can't go to any local social networks online without tripping over them," Death said. "So I suppose."

"The latest victim was starting up as a pro domme," Watson said.

Death put her head to one side thoughtfully. "What was the name?"

"Dani Williams," Watson said. "A Wonder City University senior. She was majoring in medieval literature. She was using 'Olivia' as her pseudonym, according to my research."

"Don't recognize either name," Death said, "but I've been retired for a few years. Diarmid may know her; he's got friends in the pro scene."

Megan felt suddenly out of her depth, and looked more closely at Death. She'd been a professional? Megan thought she didn't look the type. But then Megan realized she didn't know if there was "a type" anyway.

"Is he in the smithy?" Watson said, turning toward the doorway.

"Yeah, you know where it is," Death said, then glanced at Megan. "You may not want to go down there. Really low ceilings. My husbands are only six-footers and they regularly cosh their heads on the beams."

Megan nodded vaguely, watching Watson disappear. Left with the Awkward Conversation, she turned to Death with a smile that was just short of a rictus and said, "So. Self-chosen name?"

Death's mouth quirked to one side. "Actually, it's one of my middle names."

"What's the first name?" Megan said, momentarily forgetting her resolution never to pry about these things.

"Harriet, I'm sorry to say," Death said.

"Could have been Mycroft," Megan said.

"No," Death said, "our mother made sure we had workably feminine first names. Living in that wacky house with Watson, are you?"

"Yes," Megan said. "That is, not with Watson. My apartment's on the first floor."

"Is the ex still living there?" Death said, lacing her fingers together around one of her knees and watching Megan closely.

"My ex? Oh, um, Watson's ex. Um. Actually, both our ex. If that's even a proper sentence construction," Megan said, abruptly becoming aware that she was babbling.

"Close enough for government work," Death said. "Bonding over your broken hearts?"

"Something like that," Megan said, trying to figure out a polite way of saying It's none of your damned business to Watson's -- her girlfriend's? -- sister.

"Well, if you decide to dump her, do me a favor and do it cleanly," Death said. "None of this dragging out for a month or more, trying to figure out if things are over or not. 'Kay? Her detection skills aren't so good at that sort of thing."

"Sure," Megan said, wishing Watson would come back.

Her wish was granted while she was still trying for a new topic of conversation. Watson emerged from the doorway, followed by a tall, broad-shouldered black man in t-shirt, jeans, and leather apron.

"Hi!" he said, extending a scarred and calloused hand to Megan. "Diarmid MacBride," he added, voice a pleasantly resonant basso.

She shook his hand, raising an eyebrow at the name. "Megan Amazon."

He winked at her. "Heard of the Black Irish? I'm the Black Scot."

Diarmid then leaned over the counter and kissed Death briefly. He was a massively muscular man, thick-bodied and bearded, his head shaved bald. Megan suspected that he loomed even when he wasn't trying. Death returned the salute and swatted at where he'd put his hand on the glass counter. "I have to clean that," she said.

"That's your job, woman," he said, but the tone was light. Megan thought perhaps he was closer to Watson's age than Death's.

"I'll remind you of that later," Death said. "Was this shiftless hunk of meat any use, Watson?"

"He told me some possibly useful things," Watson said.

"Like the fact the woman in question was trying to fly on her own without any wings," Diarmid said. "Vanessa was telling me about her, saying she was being a typical stupid kid about the whole thing. Like thinking all she had to do was pull an outfit together and buy a riding crop and she could be a domme 'cause she spanked her boyfriend a few times."

"Do you have a picture of her?" Death said to Watson. "I might be able to tell you if she ever bought equipment here."

Watson plucked a photo from her pocket and handed it over the counter. As Death frowned over it, the door clonked. Diarmid, Watson, and Megan glanced in its direction.

A tall young white man with a profile stolen from a Greek bust plucked a black top hat off rumpled black curls and gave the assemblage an ironic bow. He hung the hat and his fine woolen greatcoat on the antique hall tree tucked behind the skeleton and strolled over, smoothing his exquisitely tailored Victorian pinstriped suitcoat and arranging his gold watch chain. "What fun am I missing?" he said, kissing Diarmid.

"Oh, just one of Watson's cases," Diarmid said, patting the younger man's rear absently. "Al Kostas, Megan Amazon."

Al had long, sensitive musician's hands. "The pleasure's all mine," he said, smiling a Greek god smile up at her.

"Quit flirting," Death said without even looking up. "She's Watson's."

Megan blinked. Watson stifled a laugh. Al looked chagrined. "Sorry," he said to Megan. "Habit."

"She came in here about three weeks ago," Death said finally. "Do you remember her, Al?"

He kissed her as he took the photo. Megan felt a strange pang -- she never seemed to get involved with anyone who did this sort of casual affection.

"Ye-es," he said after a moment. "She was the one that picked up a couple of how-to books and was looking at floggers. She bought the purple sparkly one you made last fall."

Megan sort of casually tried to peer into the other room. Floggers? How-to books?

"Yeah, you had to help her," Death said, scowling. "I remember now. I had to chase that obnoxious kid from that TV show out of here. The camera hit one of the displays."

Megan and Watson exchanged glances. "Blond?" Watson asked.

"Yeah. Blond frat boy type," Death said. She raised both eyebrows and stared at her sister. "I gather that's an important clue?"

Watson grimaced. "Could be."

"Need to work on your poker face," Death said.

Watson shrugged and shook her head. "I suspect it will never be good enough for you, dear sister. We should be on our way."

"Of course," Death said. "You know, you could come over for dinner sometime. Bring her," she added, nodding at Megan.

Watson gave them all a measuring look. "Next Sunday?"

Death blinked in surprise. "Uh, sure. Yeah. Definitely."

"See you then," Watson said, herding Megan toward the door. Megan waved at the trio before ducking out the door. Diarmid grinned and winked at her again.

Megan tried to order her thoughts so she could ask a useful question. Brandon? Floggers? How-to books? Retired pro domme sister?

"Didn't scare you off, did they?" Watson said after they'd walked a block.

"Scare me off what?" Megan said, her head still spinning.

Watson stopped and turned to Megan. She reached up, grabbed Megan's jacket, and hauled her down. "Me," she said, and kissed Megan hard. There. In the middle of the street. Well, sidewalk.

Megan staggered back a step into the wall when Watson let her go, and managed to say, "Uh, no."

---

From Ye Olde Author:
Missed 50 comments in June by three! So CLOSE! (Alas, [personal profile] akycha's comments don't count toward the total, in case you're counting at home.) I will find a way to thank you all this month. And it kind of turns out to be for the best, since I'm going to be out of state, doing a big family birthday party for my parents part of next week and the week after.

We'll continue the comment incentive in July: if I get 50 total comments from readers in July, I will post twice weekly through August. As before, if you all post 75 comments, I'll post twice weekly through September too. Get up to 100 comments, the twice-weekly postings continue through October.

I will add more double-posting possibilities: if you post a chunky review of Wonder City (and link it from one of the WCS posts), I'd count that as 5 comments. And if some folks were to create a full-blown TVTropes page for Wonder City, I would count that as 25 comments. *whistles innocently*









I have one thing to say and that is

Date: 2011-07-09 07:31 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
Megan/Watson, I ship it. <3


(OMG, "What fun am I missing?" he said, kissing Diarmid. -- cute! and hot!)

Re: I have one thing to say and that is

Date: 2012-01-28 08:23 am (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Yay poly folks! <3 Glad to see them around.

And I'm glad that in Wonder City at least, geek parents can rest assured that no matter WHAT they name their children, it probably won't be the weirdest out there.

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