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Dancing, So As Not To Be Dead

Angelica made her way homeward carefully and casually, hoping that the God Squads weren't out in the neighborhood. She carried her heavy grocery bag in the crook of one arm and her purse slung across her chest messenger-bag style, just in case she needed to run. She'd taken to wearing sneakers when outside the house, especially since the warmth of spring had settled in and her heels were now strappy and easy to compact into her purse.

She had been embarrassed that morning when she realized her sneakers were covered in tiny Jane Liberty logos—the stars particularly prominent—but Jane hadn't seemed to notice.

As she rounded a corner, Angelica could hear Kit's voice saying, "So this Raven guy hacked into the company database..."

"That's not what a database looks like, man," said a young male voice that cracked over his adolescent protest.

Angelica peered up at the stairs at the side of the house next to her and saw Kit and two vaguely familiar hangers-on crouched against the worn brick wall.

"How would you know? Have you ever seen one?" asked Kit, angling what looked like the flat screen of a StarLeaf tablet. From her position, she could mostly see a bright reflection, although there appeared to be some sort of animation under it. She wondered vaguely where he'd gotten it; she didn't have a tablet and hadn't ever seen the need for the expense.

A second boy punched the first in the shoulder. "Shut up! This is the good part!" The first subsided reluctantly.

Kit smiled and glanced down at the square object he held. "ANYway, he hacked in and had to get through all the mazes and fight all the defenses they'd set up." Angelica could just see pixellated swoops and arcs under the reflection of the sodium vapor streetlamps, bright swashes of color glowing. "He knew the code he was looking for was in there. But when he found it, it changed his icon..."

Kit glanced up and saw Angelica watching. The glowing screen between his hands resolved, focused, and became a picture of a black bird holding something bright in its beak, revolving slowly. "You'll have to wait to see the rest of it. My date is here." The picture blinked out, and Kit was left holding a pane of window glass.

Angelica reminded herself that he'd already admitted to being para. Just because she'd never seen him do anything with his powers before shouldn't freak her out now.

The two teenagers looked over their shoulders. One of them grinned and muttered something to Kit under his breath. Kit smiled easily and said, "Yeah, she is pretty gorgeous isn't she?" The boy flushed brick-red and fled past her, his companion laughing and running after him.

Kit set the glass down in the grass next to the stoop, stood, and stretched. Angelica sighed happily at the sight of his brown belly peeking out between t-shirt hem and waistband, and the long, denim-clad legs that led to his impressive derriere. He kissed her, his sparse four-day-old stubble scratching at her chin, his warm and slightly beery breath washing over her as he laughed at her silly grin. "You look like a woman who's enjoying herself."

"Just reflecting on my luck," she said, glancing away from his amused gaze. "Come on home and make dinner for me."

"And your guest?" he said, taking the groceries and falling into step next to her.

"Yes, and my guest," she said. "How is she anyway?"

"I left at lunch, and she was flipping through channels," he said. "She waved and told me to have a good day at work."

"And did you?" she inquired. She noticed that the knuckles of his right hand were skinned and scabbed, and that he had a cut over one eye.

He laughed. "Oh, sure. I helped out at the shop."

The chop shop, Angelica knew, was one of the more consistent employers of less discriminating individuals in the area. He usually avoided it because the guy who ran it had a grudge against him. "Manny wasn't there today?"

"I didn't think so, but he came in," he said with a vaguely sheepish glance at his knuckles.

She unlocked the front door of the building and let him in. "What did you do to him anyway?"

"Oh, this 'n' that," he said, holding the stairwell door for her as she made sure the front door was locked again. "Might've had something to do with a lady. I don't actually remember."

Angelica snorted and they fell into companionable silence as they climbed the narrow steps.

The security system opened for Angelica and the two of them stepped into the living room, where the television was turned up to an ear-shattering volume and the whole place smelled of Lysol.

Kit and Angelica exchanged a bewildered look before turning to look for the houseguest.

Jane's tousled grey head poked into view over the sofa, and then she stood up from the kitchen floor, her sleeves shoved up. "Hi, there," she said, almost but not quite trying to hide the scrubbrush in her hand behind her.

"Were you…" Angelica began, advancing a step or two.

"Yes, I was scrubbing the floor," Jane said, somehow sounding irascible and embarrassed at the same time. "I got bored."

Kit slouched into the kitchen past her with the groceries and managed not to slip on the wet linoleum.

Jane dropped the brush into the bucket at her feet with a plop. "Sorry," she grumbled.

"No, it's awfully kind of you to do it," Angelica said, hanging her purse up and smiling to hide how baffled she was. "I just never seem to have the time to… do much of anything around here. I vacuum. You know."

"No, no, I used to hate it when my mother would show up and clean my apartment while I was off, you know," Jane said, drying her hands on her sweatpants. "And here I am, doing it."

Angelica said, "It's really all right. My grandmother would thank you."

Kit grinned at her over Jane's head as he unpacked the bag. "Okay, that's enough work outta you today, ma'am," he said, chivvying Jane out of the kitchen. "I hafta cook here." He picked up the bucket and dumped it into the sink.

Angelica said, as she headed for the cabinet where she kept her booze, "Would you like a drink, Jane?" She was suddenly feeling the need of one herself.

"Oh, sure," Jane said, lowering herself onto the couch. "Got whiskey or tequila?"

"Both," Angelica said, after a quick glance over her supply. "Though the whiskey's better. The tequila's cheap stuff, and I don't have any mixers."

"Whiskey and soda is fine," Jane said, rubbing her wrinkled forehead with the heel of her hand. "So I guess you're kind of a fan, huh?"

Angelica spilled whiskey on the tabletop and restrained herself from drinking straight from the bottle in embarrassment. "Yes! Yes, I guess I am."

"I like the glass case of the kitsch you've got over there," Jane said, waving a hand toward Angelica's little collection. "I remember most of those things. That doll was such a goddamn hoot, and so was the decoder ring."

"I just pick things up when I see them, you know," Angelica said, adding soda, mopping up the spill, and bringing Jane her glass. "I've been a fan since I was really little."

"I remember that poster too," Jane said, gesturing toward the framed print on the wall with her glass. "That was during the time they made me change my eyes blue, you know."

Angelica's hand twitched at this, but she managed to keep her beverage in its glass. "Really? I didn't know you could do that."

"I always thought I should study medicine or science or something," Jane said, examining the contents of her glass. "It might've made my power more useful. But I never had time."

Kit was deep into food preparation in the kitchen and didn't notice the look Angelica sent his way. To cover the fact that none of the histories or biographies of Jane Liberty had really covered the exact mechanics of her power, Angelica said, "I'm studying biology. Well, was studying biology. Genetics. I'm trying to save up enough money so I can go back to graduate school."

"You can't get a loan?" Jane asked, looking up and seeming suddenly very interested.

"I got caught up in a lot of red tape," Angelica said, sitting down opposite Jane and considering all the paperwork she had already filled out and would have to fill out again. "And my parents, uh, opted not to help me out." She waved a hand in a way she hoped was elegant and expressive. "It was a mess."

"You want to be a doctor?" Jane asked.

"Not… not a medical doctor," Angelica said. "A PhD. A researcher. You know, trying to cure cancer and all that."

Jane stared at her with an intense, disquieting dark gaze for a long moment, then looked down into her glass again.

"Dinner!" Kit sang, just when the silence was getting strangely ominous. "Hope no one minds rice 'n' beans 'n' some fish."

"Hah, sounds like something my mother would've made," Jane said, levering herself upright.

"Where was your mother from?" Kit asked, serving out dinner onto plates.

"Mexico," Jane said, "but no one was ever supposed to know that." She set her glass down on the table, then settled into the chair Angelica had put a pillow on for her comfort.

Angelica blinked. "You did a good job of keeping that quiet. I never saw anything like that in the biographies."

"It was easy to pass herself off as Italian, if anyone asked," Jane said, picking up her fork. "She didn't have an accent, and it was New York in the 1940s, after all. And then she died young, poor thing, so once I got famous, no one could pester her."

"Why break the habit now?" Kit said, falling to his meal while watching the old woman.

"Because everyone who wanted it kept quiet is dead," Jane said, picking out a piece of spiced fish. "And I'm as good as." She put the morsel in her mouth and chewed carefully.

"Aw, come on now," Angelica said with a horrible sinking sensation in her stomach.

Jane smiled at her briefly, lips pressed shut against the food she was chewing. After a moment, she swallowed and said, "It's a brief enough resurrection, kiddo. Take advantage of the weirdness of paranormal miracles. Do you have any questions you've always wanted to ask me?"


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