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This story arc has been published as a novel!

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An Equal and Opposite Reaction

Nereid walked back to the Young Cosmics' base with more of a spring in her stride than there had been for a long time. It was a pretty afternoon, for November. Brainchild had helped her study for her chemistry exam, and as a result, she'd aced it. And she had a... had a... friend? girlfriend? lover? She wasn't sure.

She knocked at Brainchild's lab door, and the door slid open silently. She saw Brainchild -- Sophie, she mentally corrected -- across the room, elbow deep in some sort of mechanism.

"Hey," Sophie said.

"Hey," Nereid said.

Sophie pulled some doohickey with wires out of the guts of the machine and inspected it. Her hands were covered in black grease. "What's up?" she said. "Could you come over here and shift one of my lenses for me?"

Nereid walked over. "The right side," Sophie said. "The thickest one, yes, that's it, just a little lower. Thanks, sweetie."

Nereid felt a little shiver go down her spine and still somehow set butterflies off in stomach. "I, um, I brought you some flowers." She displayed the little bouquet, picked up on impulse at the Student Union. It had a single pink rose in the center, and was otherwise surrounded by a variety of little wildflowers in vivid pinks and blues.

Sophie blinked owlishly at the bouquet, then at Nereid. A smile slowly blossomed on her face. She jerked her head toward the workbench. "See if I have something there that you can put water in, would you? I can't really take it with my hands covered in gunk."

Nereid smiled and obediently went to the bench, searching for something muglike or vaselike. "Gunk? Is that the technical term?"

"Yeah," Sophie said, peering at the doohickey through her selected lens. "Gunk. Stuff. Whirlygig. If a superbrain says it, it's technical."

Nereid found a mug adorned with an array of blue paisley octopi. "Is this all right?"

Sophie glanced over. "Yeah. I've only had coffee in that."

Nereid took it to the sink without asking what else she used mugs for. "I was wondering," she began as she rinsed the mug out, "if you'd like to, um, go out to dinner or something tonight."

The doohickey bloomed in Sophie's hands, opening like a complicated hydraulic puzzle box. She scowled at it. "Like a date?" she said.

"Yeah," Nereid said, filling the mug with cold water and shoving the flowers into it. "But if you're busy or something..."

Sophie walked calmly over to a large box, depressed a footpedal that opened the lid, and dropped the doohickey into it. The lid fell shut with a whine and there was a muffled WOOMPH. "No, I think I just became not-busy," she said. She pressed the footpedal again and smoke trickled out of the open box.

"What was that?" Nereid said, clutching the mug and flowers.

"Something that Jet really didn't want in his motorcycle engine," Sophie said, peering into the box. "He needs to be more careful about his relationships with supervillains. Let's go."

Nereid looked around Sophie's apartment as she sprawled on the sofa, her stomach very full of barbequed spare ribs. She spotted something she hadn't seen before. "Is that an electric guitar?"

Sophie finished washing the barbeque sauce remnants off her hands and wandered into the living room. "Yep," she said, walking over to admire it on its display stand. Polished brass fittings, pickguard, and frets gleamed and the garnet body seemed to glow under the track lighting. A cable ran from the output dock to a small amp. "A luthier in Seattle made it for me. I paid him by building and installing a home sound system for him."

"Isn't your stuff covered by the Paranormal Invention Control Act?" Nereid said.

"It is," Sophie said. "But, one, I was not quite 18 when I did it, and minors aren't covered by PICA. The government doesn't seem to think that teenagers, particularly teenaged girls, can make anything worthwhile that they want to keep. And, two, I wasn't inventing anything -- I was just putting together a state of the art system." She smiled and ran her hand over the head of the guitar. "If I happened to make a few tweaks along the way, no one's raising a flag."

Sophie ambled over to the couch and flung herself down. "What would you like to do now?" she asked, grinning.

"Isn't there a usual aftermath to dates?" Nereid said.

"Well, I wouldn't want to take advantage of you," Sophie said.

"Oh, do," Nereid said.

So she did.

Some time later, they were tangled together, breathing hard, each haphazardly stroking the other's damp back or shoulder. They were precariously balanced between being on the couch and being on the floor.

The doorbell chimed.

Before either of them could react, the door opened and Wire strolled in, saying, "Sophie, I..."

She stopped, staring.

Sophie slid toward the door and leaned on her elbows on the arm of the sofa. "Hey," she said, casually.

Nereid pulled a pillow over her head, trying to become one with the sofa.

Wire, apparently, pulled herself together. Nereid couldn't see. But Wire's voice was tight. "Sorry to... disturb you."

Sophie said, "No problem. I forgot to change the permissions on the lock. My bad."

Wire said, "I was unaware that you needed to change the permissions."

Sophie said, "Huh. I thought you made that pretty clear. My bad."

Wire said, "Glad I caught you during a pause in the proceedings."

Sophie said, "Me too."

Wire said, "And what's with the pause anyway? Doesn't she have enough stamina for you?"

Sophie said, her voice turning nasty, "I'm working her stamina up. Just like I did you. What did you want?"

Wire said, "I don't remember. I'm sure it wasn't important."

Sophie said, "You should see someone about that memory of yours."

Wire said, "Sophie, I..."

Sophie cut her off. "This isn't the time or the place. And I'm not sure I want to have the conversation anyway."

Wire inhaled and exhaled, and Nereid was sure she heard her breath hitch on a sob. "Right."

Sophie said, "See you later."

Wire opened the door. "I suppose I'll have to." Then she slammed the door, hard.

Nereid emerged from behind her pillow after a few moments of silence. Sophie gave her a quick smile and a pat on the shoulder, then went to the computer next to the door. "Computer, delete special privileges for Wire."

The computer said, in a light English accent, "Operation complete."

Sophie turned back to the sofa. Nereid was sitting up, holding the pillow against her chest, watching her. "She didn't know," Nereid said.

Sophie folded herself onto the cushions next to her. "No, I guess not. I thought she'd made it pretty clear she didn't want to have anything more to do with me."

"Don't you guys break up all the time?" Nereid said.

"We used to," Sophie said. "This felt different."

"But you didn't talk to her about it," Nereid said.

"No," Sophie said. "Look, don't let her get to you. She's just in a snit. Let's go on into the bedroom. I'm getting cold out here."

Nereid let Sophie persuade her into the bedroom, away from the awful exposure of the couch, but it took some time and hard work to drive the sound of Wire's choked sob out of Nereid's head.

Date: 2012-05-09 08:45 pm (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Augh, that is nasty, nasty stuff. This is exactly the sort of drama I try to avoid in my university, around people largely that age.


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