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It was a pain in the ass to get Ellis to sign up for dating. After things with Stesha had fizzled, Ray was more than a little concerned that his friend may have given up entirely and that couldn't be healthy. This whole 'Eros Unlimited' nonsense sounded like a pile of hoodoo but he'd watched Ellis bounce from work to superhero to home to be 'Dad' without ever taking a break and that just seemed downright unhealthy. Humans needed other humans. Ray had learned that if he'd learned nothing else from his centuries upon centuries of recording humanity for the celestial heavens. So Ray fretted... and meddled. 

 

Once he'd slipped his jeans back on after a shower, Ray towel dried his hair before he glanced down to his phone. A cheery little alert announced 'new profiles'  and resolutely, Ray flipped his thumb over to open the screen. He absently swiped across the first few until a very large eye filled his screen. Ray snorted with amusement as he swiped down to check out the rest of the profile. He didn't remember every client but a Deep One was hard to forget. How the 'MatchMaker' was going to help that one, Ray had no clue. He rather doubted that there were any other heroic deep ones looking for love at all, let alone on a website. Still chuckling, he continued flicking through until a painting caught his eye. It was good, surprisingly so. When he flicked down, he recognized Aquaria's companion.

 

Good for her, working on her art.

 

The profile, however, made Ray laugh out loud when he got to the 'about me': I am looking for a man. This man must be like a normal human male, with a regular-sized mouth with normal human teeth, and limbs that all point the right way.

 

Still snickering, Ray went to flip through until he found the 'message' option: Well, I don't like to eat dogs but I'm not sure what you consider 'good smell'. I don't wear Ax body products. Does that count?

Edited by alderwitch

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When the vibration of her message came, Aquaria's's eyes snapped open. Ah-hah! she thought, snatching up her phone with her tongue. Without bothering to get out of the pool where she rested, she raised one hand out of the water - and was briefly torn. Oh, this is for Jessie, not for mewhat should I do? She thought about the human movies about romance she'd seen with Jessie, her primary source of information about matters of the four-chambered heart, then decided to type back in slow, deliberate pokes: 

"Yes. Those smell bad. Do you like art?

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'They do smell bad,' Ray agreed, typing with one thumb as he went to finish drying his hair. He slung the towel over the bar in the shower room to dry so there was a pause though the '...' made it clear he still was typing. 'I do like art. I do it for a living. I think we've met before. I did the tattoo on your roommate.'

 

Now, Ray felt just a little guilty. He was reasonably sure it was the Deep One that he was typing with. Unless, of course, he'd vastly underestimated Jessie's ability to write. For a moment, he flipped back to the profile to look it over once more. He was at least... eighty-seven percent sure that no human had written the profile at least. Ray flipped over to photos, absently flicking through and past the ones with Ellis' kids. He smirked when he flipped past the picture of Ellis himself scowling that Ray had taken for the Sandman's profile on EU before finding the photos of the most recent wall mural in the tattoo shop. 'I finished my mural. Here.'

 

He sent the image through the website's messaging service. It was definitely art though much more pop art graffiti than anything classical. 

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Aquaria croaked in relief. Whew! He doesn't suspect a thing! She typed back slowly and carefully, dots appearing, disappearing, and reappearing on Ray's screen, especially when Aquaria had to stop to wipe down the front of her phone. The tattoo artist was a good choice. He is very handsome! she remembered, or thought she did, anyway - it was all rather abstract to her. This was going well so far. 

 

"I remember you. Your art is good!" She reached behind herself and scratched with her back leg where she'd gotten that tattoo. She paged through her phone and found a picture of Jessie's. Like most of Jessie's she didn't really understand it; it was a picture of trees and flowers, and a charming little brook that looked like a cozy place, with a long tree called a willow dangling down over the water. She'd heard once someone say that there was something strange about the picture but honestly all Surfacer art looked a little strange to her. "Here is an art I did.

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'Moody,' replied Ray. He grumbled to himself about the small screen of the phone and squinted a little, trying to gauge what the picture looked like in real life. Digital reproductions just never had the same pop. 'And thanks. I try. Thankfully I have a lot of time to practice. So what's  your preferred medium to work in?'

 

That was both a genuine question and a bit of an attempt to fish around for who was at the keyboard, so to speak. (No pun intended). 'Ever been to the museum in Freedom City? Their rotating catalog is pretty solid.'

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Oh yes, I love pictures that rotate. I like to use paint to make my art. 

 

When she was out of her pool, Aquaria reluctantly patted herself down just enough that she wouldn't drip on the floor outside, then opened her bedroom door and gave a terrifying call. "Jessie! I have a surprise for you!

 

I have a surprise for you, she texted to Ray with her back right leg. 

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Jessie stuck her head out of her bedroom at Aquaria's call. The expression on her face looked like it might be unhappy, but Aquaria knew it wasn't because it was the same one Jessie always wore for Aquaria's surprises and special dinners and for a lot of their superhero team-ups. "A surprise?" she asked, then rubbed one hand over her face. "Aquaria, didn't we talk about surprises?" 

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Oh no. Ray had sudden grave concerns about this entire thing. 

 

'I am eighty-five percent certain that I'm actually typing with Aquaria and not Jessie and if that's true, DON'T SEND PICTURES.' Ray replied as quickly as he could type things out. For a moment, he had all sorts of horrified  thoughts of Aquaria taking things to the next mammillian level and sending flirty pictures. Chatting was one thing but he wasn't about to be part of something - anything! - like that. 'Hello? Aquaria? Jessie?'

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"Well this one you don't have to take," she chirped cheerily, "but I think you will be interested in it!" She scuttled down the hall to Jessie, looking up with her phone clutched now in her front paws. She heard the vibration of the text and said, "Do you remember that website for finding a mate? I made a page on it for me and," she croaked nervously, throat billowing, and said, "I made one for you, too! There is nothing bad in it!" She held up the phone, looking up at Jessie with big, pleading eyes. "I promise I will walk Baxter for a week if you look!

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"You did what?" Jessie snatched the phone from Aquaria's hand, the little machine making a distressing little crack noise as the screen gave way a bit under her fingers. That happened with Jessie sometimes when she was very excited. Phones were fragile things, and much too sensitive to things like water and super-strength. This one at least stayed turned on, though. Jessie scrolled through the conversation rapidly, then looked up at Aquaria with a face like the time Aquaria had brought home a live tuna and put it in the bathtub till she could figure out how best to eat it. "Wait... I know this guy, this is the tattoo guy... oh my god, why did you do this?" 

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Because you deserve better than to only live with me, Aquaria thought. She inhaled deeply, and spoke with the distinct throb of great suppressed emotion in her voice. "I thought it would make you happy, but I should not have lied. I did not know it was him, but then he said who he was. You can tell him it was me and that I fooled you and him and that I am a bad friend," she croaked. "But you should talk to him, or he will wonder what happened to us." She folded her hands together nervously as she looked up at Jessie. 

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Jessie stared at Aquaria for a minute, then rubbed her hand over her face and made a noise in her throat that signified deep emotion, though of course it lacked much resonance in a tiny human larynx. "Ugh!  You're not a bad friend, Aquaria, you know I like you, I know you just want to help..." Flattening her lips together so that they almost disappeared, Jessie furrowed her brow and began typing into the phone very rapidly. 

 

hi ray this is jessie

sorry about aquaria

she means well

she is a good friend 

but she forgot about no surprises

i go to the museum all the time

they sometimes let students paint there

 

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Ray let out a relieved breath as the surprise turned out to be Jessie, herself, although he still thought that Aquaria's surprises were perhaps best avoided in general. 

 

'Hi, Jesse. I sort of figured that Aquaria had made the profile... unless you really are concerned about people eating your dog? (I already promised not to),' Ray typed quickly, though he took the time for punctuation because he was oooold, as far as technology went at least. 'But I wasn't entirely sure who I was talking to for a bit there. It's a decent museum. Ever looked at Zdzisław Beksiński's work? He did some dystopian surrealist work that reminds me a bit of your landscape. He said he 'photographed dreams'. You might check  his work out. Here let me find it.'

 

There was a pause as Ray dug through web pages for a moment before sending a link to the painting in question: 'Here.'

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Aquaria considered offering helpful advice like encouraging Jessie to talk about how she was a very attractive female who was shaped in the way that Surface-Men liked, but figured Jessie could figure that out on her own as the conversation developed. "You are a good friend too," she croaked from down below. She considered strategy quickly, then (knowing Jessie) figured what would work the best. "I will leave you to talk. I will get the phone in the morning." She decided it was unlikely that she'd get any responses that night. And with that, and a song in her three-chambered heart, she turned and hopped her way back to her bedroom. 

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"Aquaria!" Jessie held out the phone in Aquaria's direction, but the Deep One was fast when she wanted to be. Jessie frowned at the phone, wondering what the hell she was supposed to do now. She hated when Aquaria got her into these things, and participating at all would probably only encourage her in the future. Jessie knew that, Jessie had been living that as a lifestyle for years now, but she couldn't bring herself to be mean enough to actually make Aquaria understand it was wrong. So now she was stuck with a fake dating profile that was probably absolutely horrifying, to judge by the eating dogs comment, in a conversation she wasn't sure what to do with. 

 

The thing was, she'd liked Ray, the one time they had met. He hadn't seemed that old, but he had cool-old-guy vibes everywhere, like her great-uncles back in the borrowed-memory days, who'd done exciting things like gone off to war or gone traveling around the world when they were young, long before they'd settled down to raise families and fix old cars with her grandpa on the weekends. He probably had really good stories. But as far as dating... Jessie wasn't sure she was ready to date anybody, much less somebody cool. If she was sure of anything about her love life, it was that she was bound to be hideously awkward at it, if she ever even got the courage to start. Nope, nope, nope. 

 

that's really flattering

i like his work a lot

he must have had some crazy dreams i think

i think you should probably know

i'm not really looking to get a date right now

i have a lot of stuff going on

aquaria doesn't really understand human relationships

or especially dating

sorry 

 

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'It's okay, I wasn't really looking for one. I signed up for this thing to make my friend Ellis join too - he's a widower with kids and despite his protests, pretty sure he's given up and is waiting for death. Nice guy, cute kids. Deserves better than shuttling back and forth between work and family and saving the world.' Ray replied easily, letting out another little huff of breath as he stretched out on the sofa in his apartment. 'I saw your friend Aquaria's profile and then yours and thought I'd say hi and... well, and maybe tease Aquaria a bit. Your profile, honestly, isn't probably going to get too many people bothering you right  now unless they're looking for an alien trying to be human? You might want to adjust it a bit, though. Super humans are a pretty small circle and I'm not going to tease you but some super heroes are real assholes. Anyway, you can't go to the mixer things without signing up and if I don't make him, he won't go.' 

 

Ray paused for a moment before asking, 'Ever been to the Louvre?

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Jessie breathed a sigh of relief and absentmindedly took the phone into her bedroom. That was some awkwardness avoided, at least. 

i think aquaria feels that way about me

because i don't have a lot of friends

but sometimes it's okay to be alone if you don't feel bad about it

i've never been to europe

i haven't really gone anywhere where i wasn't fighting

 but i watched a documentary about the louvre

maybe someday

have you been there? did you have to wait in line for the famous paintings?

 

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'Sure, but there's a difference between being alone because you're happy and being alone because you're afraid.' Ray replied, glancing up at the clock as he did a bit of mental math. 

 

'I've been to the Louvre many times but I don't usually wait through lines. Just have to catch it off hours. There are tours too, if that's your sort of thing.' Probably best not to add that he was there when it first opened although hidden from the eyes of humanity. 'It opens at nine, you know... three am our time. You could go and be back by breakfast.'

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sometimes not doing things makes you less afraid and that's enough to be happy

 

Jessie stared at the words on the screen, then deleted them. That was not something to be talking about with somebody who was a complete stranger. She took a long breath and kicked her leg idly off the edge of her bed, feeling the soft clink of her tracking anklet against the bedpost. 

 

i wish, can't leave the country except to fight evil 

two more years with good behavior

but i'd probably have to stop hanging around aquaria : ) 

what's your favorite? 

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'If I get you a day pass, want to go? I mean, I'd offer to sneak you over and have you back by breakfast but I think you'll fuss about rule breaking,' Ray replied. He paused and then searched for one of those winky face smile emoji's. It felt weird to him still. Like sticking a happy face in a letter but he was nothing if not adaptive. 

 

Ray had to pause then to consider the question. There was so much beauty that he'd gotten to see over the years. So many amazing creations by names big and small. 'Sistine Chapel; Descent from Mount Sinai. But that one has special memories. I saw it painted. Angels are allowed to hang around in chapels and places of worship after all. That's when I began to get, hm, distracted from my duties. Now I'm on sabbatical. More time to bounce about and see things, though. Sabbatical isn't so bad.'

 

Which was a good thing because Ray was pretty certain that all the tweaking and meddling he'd done to his human form made it reasonably permanent. 'Can't leave the states though. Hm. What about the Met? Been there?'

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yeah i'd love to

but you'd have to talk to project freedom

they're kind of pissy about it after aquaria took us to space without asking

 

Jessie winced at that memory, even though there was nobody around to see her. It hadn't been the worst adventure Aquaria had ever dragged her along for, but it had been one of the most unnerving. And she was never going to enjoy flying around in spaceships, with their unnervingly white walls and small rooms that reminded her inexorably of... nothing at all. Best not to think about that. 

 

space is weird 

i'd rather go to france

when you were working as an angel, did you get to tell them what to paint in the churches and stuff?

or did you get to tell them what you thought? 

i've never been to the met

but i did go to the national gallery one time when i was a kid

and the seattle art museum on field trips and stuff

 

Jessie paused before sending the last line, then shrugged and let it go. It didn't really matter that the memories she had of a family vacation to DC and field trips to the art museum weren't actually hers, they were close enough. She did wish they weren't quite so fuzzy in a lot of the details, but she took what she could get. 

 

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'I'll see what I can do,' was Ray's reply. Absently, he tapped his fingers along the back of his phone as he considered what strings he might be able to tug on to get a daypass. He didn't have all that much clout but ex-angel counted for something as far as trustworthiness went. He wasn't fallen, for pete's sake. While he considered his options, he glanced over the other texts that scrolled in and smiled slightly.

 

'Talking to humans wasn't something I was allowed to do. That's... well, it's above my pay-grade, you could say. In the heavens I was part of, every choir has a place and a purpose. Ours was to record the actions of men. We were, hm, book keepers of a sort. Silent observers, that sort of thing. You have to be a higher rank to be allowed to talk to humans. Which, I suppose, makes sense in a way. Otherwise, no one would get anything done. So, no, I didn't get to tell them what I thought, not until I had a human body which wasn't until the seventies or so and then I had to find a job and a place to stay. No one gives you a stipend and I didn't have'

 

The text cut off abruptly before Ray started again. 'I'm not SUPPOSED to have any non-human-standard abilities. It took me a while to figure out a workaround. But London in the seventies was interesting enough. Certainly gave me time to dabble in art. Good museums there too though a little - well - British.'

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Jessie scrolled through the reply, impressed at Ray's phone-typing skills. It made sense, she guessed, if he was one of the angels who wrote heaven's history books. It was weird to think about Ray as an angel, rather than as a guy who did magical tattoos and had painted beautiful art on his walls. 

 

is that why you went on vacation?

so you could talk to people instead of just watching? 

i remember seeing you do aquaria's tattoo

you were doing some magic stuff then weren't you? 

 

Jessie's memory wasn't very good, even for things that happened after the blank white hole. Sometimes memories didn't stick very well without something to hang them on, and sometimes it felt like her older memories were sliding slowly away to fill the years of empty space. Her time at Project Freedom was soft- edged and often impressionistic, like something that had happened when she was a little kid (when real Erin was a little kid), while her more recent memories were sharper and in better focus. Visiting Ray's shop was in between, sort of clear, but fuzzy around the edges. She'd almost gotten a tattoo, she remembered, but had backed out at the last minute. Her control hadn't been as good three years ago, and she hadn't wanted to risk a panic attack or falling into Singularity. He'd been nice about it. He was a nice guy, which was probably a prerequisite for angels. 

 

how did you learn how to tattoo? 

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'That's a nice way to put it,' Popped up on Jessie's screen along with a laughing emoji that followed. Ray smiled faintly as he remembered the 'we think you need a break speech. 'I didn't decide anything until I was on Earth. See, heaven's great and all but an angel needs to follow orders. Disobeying an order means falling - which I am not. I'm in an in-between sort of space. I wasn't doing what angels ought to but I wasn't rebelling either. There's not really a script for angel doing their own thing; free will is a gift for mortals but here I am, nonetheless. Grounded might be more accurate than sabbatical but it sounds so like a kid caught with a cookie.'

 

There was another laughing emoji. Really, Ray was lucky he came from a benevolent heaven. He was following his heart and while his family didn't understand (at all), he had their vague support, even if that support was to boot him out to the mortal plane to figure out his life. 

 

'I started on oranges in a hole in the wall apprentice shop in a bad part of London. I needed a job and the owner was kind. I had no talent. I was still maybe learning how my thumbs worked but as long as I tried hard and cleaned up around the shop, he'd teach me in between clients. I was awful. It took a year before he'd let me practice on my own thigh, even.' That tattoo was hidden among the other swirls of color now. It was small, poorly done and fading steadily but Ray had never magicked it away. 'Do you want to know why its my favorite kind of art?'

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oh yeah, you told me about the oranges, Jessie typed back. She wasn't sure what to think about the whole business with angels and falling. Erin, the real one, was the one who'd been to heaven and hell and met angels and all that crazy theological stuff. Jessie mostly had her stories about that and a bunch of very fuzzy memories of Sunday School to fall back on. They didn't seem to apply much in this case, so she decided to let it all go. Ray seemed happy with whatever he was doing. 

 

i guess it is convenient to be able to eat your mistakes : ) 

why is it your favorite?

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