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Electra

Nighttime Networking (IC)

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Stesha waited until Monday evening to give Taylor a call, hoping she'd be able to sort out her thoughts and feelings from the day before into some sort of coherent pattern before she had to try and convey information. Guilt nagged at her though, not to mention the continuing anger at Jack that pulled at the darker corners of her mind. If it had just been about her and Jack, she reminded herself, she would let well enough alone. Taylor was a grownup and could make her own choices. But it hadn't just been her, it had been Moira too. Jack couldn't be trusted, and it wasn't fair not to say anything.

She waited until she got off work Monday evening before trying to call. A moment before she punched the button she wondered if Taylor would take her call at all. What if Jack had gotten there first and said horrible things, or what if Taylor was mad at her for getting her into the situation with Moira, one that clearly had implications Stesha didn't really understand yet. Well... she'd leave a voicemail if she had to. "Hello, Taylor? This is Stesha," she said as soon as the phone picked up.

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Taylor - well, Phantom - was dozing on the couch, cuddled into her cloak like some oversized blanket. Her feet dangled off one end and her head rested at an uncomfortable angle on the other arm. At the phone's tinny jingle of the theme song to Doctor Who, she jack-knifed into a sitting position and went incoporeal at the same time. Taylor slipped halfway through the couch before her sleep-fogged brain caught up to her surroundings. She kicked free of the couch and slid into an empty space in the room to solidify and scoop up the phone.

She looked at the number and winced slightly although she did pick the phone up and put it to her ear after a second's hesitation. Instead of the usual curt response, Stesha was greeted with a cautious, "Hey, Stesha. I know. I have your number programmed now. What's up?"

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Oh her end of the phone, Stesha automatically looked at the clock as well. Huh. "I'm sorry," she said, "did I wake you up? I don't want to call at a bad time, it's not very urgent for once. I was just wondering if you had time to talk. Tonight, maybe, or sometime soon. I know there was lots of stuff that didn't get said or got said wrong at the meet-up we had yesterday." She sounded embarrassed, uncomfortable, but determined to power through it.

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"I have odd hours," Taylor admitted, dismissing her costume with a gesture as she paced back to the couch to find a clock and peer at it owlishly. "Don't worry 'bout it."

Trying to wake up her brain, Taylor began to make slow laps around the living room. She'd done something horrible to her neck napping like that. "Yeah, yeah. Of course we can talk. Tonight's fine. Where did you want to meet?"

She hoped things would get back to normal. Having a friend who happened to be her boyfriend's ex. Well, it didn't look like the uncomfortableness was at an end for the week at any rate. "I can meet you in about an hour, anywhere you'd like."

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"There's this little place I like down in the Theatre District, a coffee bar called Aroma. I don't know if you know it, but it's on Greene street, about halfway between O'Neil and the Beckett Theatre. It's mostly an actor's hangout, but nobody's going to be there on a Monday night. The coffee is great, and they have good pastries, too." Meeting in public would be easier than at either of their homes, she figured, and maybe it would make a scene less likely. Not that she really expected one at all... but it was better to be prepared. "Sound okay?"

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"I've heard of it but I haven't been there. It sounds fine," Hell, she might even drink the coffee there. Too bad caffiene had ceased to affect her. Taylor squinted at the clock and resolved not to lay back down on the couch, "So I'll meet you there in an hour, then."

Taylor was as good as her word. For once, she was even early. Dressed in the same casual style she'd been when she'd stopped by Moira's, she picked up a coffee and staked out a back corner booth. Convincing herself that it would just look weird to sit down without anything, Taylor resolved to try and will the caffiene into working with the power of positive thought. She looked up from under her hat brim at Stesha with a small smile, "Hi."

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Stesha was dressed down for this too, wearing jean shorts and a t-shirt decorated with multicolored frogs. Her hair was up, like usual, but the little roses in it had seen better days. She'd picked some kind of floral-smelling tea over coffee, from the scent of it. "Hi Taylor," she said with a little smile in return, sitting down on the other side of the booth. "I wanted to start out by saying I'm sorry about dragging you into things between me and Jack yesterday. Ace was right, it really wasn't the time to be talking about any of that, but I was really upset, and it's been awhile since I actually had to deal with him. I want... I think I should talk to you about him, but that wasn't the way to do it, and I feel bad." She took the sugar container from the tray in the booth and began pouring it liberally into her tea.

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"S'Okay, it sounds like it was a relationship that ended messily. Jack told me he was a jerk about things, so, the tension's understandable." Taylor eyed the other woman over her coffee cup and refrained from sighing as she nodded and lifted her chin, "If you feel there are things you need to get off your chest, I'm happy to listen."

She stirred the coffee in the large ceramic cup a few times before she added, gently, "You do know that I'm going to assume your opinions are strongly biased, though?"

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Stesha picked up her spoon, stirred her tea. "I would if I were you," she told her, keeping her eyes on the silver handle. "There's nothing worse than a bitchy ex, right? If it were just about me and Jack, I probably would keep my mouth shut. But he's not a good guy, and I would feel like a bad friend if I didn't say something. I really liked him when I first met him, too, and I wish someone had said something to me. Maybe I wouldn't have listened, but you never know." She paused then, looking like she was trying to think about what to say next, or where to start.

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Taylor folded her legs up under herself on the seat and quietly braced herself. This week was certainly turning into a doozy. Maybe it was that time to go take that beach vacation she'd been promising herself....

"Take your time, I'm listening," Taylor pulled her hat off and set it down next to her on the bench. She considered Stesha a good enough friend not to hide her face for all of this but, man, it was tempting.

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There was a quiet moment while Stesha spooned up a bit of tea and let it trickle back into the cup. "The thing with Jack and I wasn't really that much, I guess, looking back on it. He came in to get flowers for some creepy weird party his friends were throwing, the sort where they say it's one thing, but when you get there, you realize it's a lot different. Black roses for a baby shower, yeah right." That last seemed more like an aside to herself than anything.

"Anyway, after I told him how expensive everything was going to be, he started chatting me up, which isn't exactly unusual, but he seemed more sincere than the guys who feed me lines so I take a little off the bill." She shrugged. "I gave him my phone number... and the discount. We went on one date, which went really weirdly and got cut short. It happens, I guess. Anyway, he didn't call and didn't meet me when I dropped off his flowers at what looked like some kind of orgy parlor, with this chick who purred at me that I should put the flowers on this antique velvet couch because that's where the "cake" was going to be served." Stesha made a face. "That kind of skeeved me out, but I don't actually know anything about it, or what happened. After the flowers were delivered he called, did the not-you-me thing, and that was pretty much the end. Except that I knew he had powers, because I'd seen him use them during the date, so he was one of the only two people I knew in town who had them." She took a sip of tea and realized she was rambling. And this time she couldn't even blame wine, so maybe it was just stress.

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Taylor wrinkled her nose at the skeevy description of the party. Velvet couch? Black roses? That just all seemed too weird to be total fabrication. Stesha didn't seem the type to make things up no matter how peeved she was. Hopefully she'd misconstrued it. Jack didn't like talking about his day-job... Was he in the porn industry or something?

Shaking her head to try and get her mind back on track, Taylor eyed Stesha, "Okay, he sounds like a jerk. Maybe a jerk with a weird job, but that doesn't seem like it's the end of what you want to tell me."

Please, please let that be the end of the story.

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Stesha set down her tea. "Well, like I said, Jack and Moira were the only superheroes I knew at all, much less knew in town. It's kind of a small world for people who do hero work. I was talking to Moira about something else, and the thing with him came up. I was upset about it still, and we talked about it, like women do, you know, over cheesecake and wine. It turned out she knew him, so she had some context for the whole thing. We both had more to drink that was smart. I hadn't been drunk since college, I actually didn't realize I still could get drunk, but Moira said this wine was special, that it could get a god drunk or something like that. I think that's the only time she ever mentioned gods before, before yesterday. Anyway, she got the idea that we should go and see Jack, because it's not right to break up with someone over the phone, and I should tell him how he'd hurt my feelings, or something like that."

Stesha shrugged self-deprecatingly. "Things get really blurry for me after that for awhile. Neither of us should've been driving, but Moira was in a little better shape than I was, and we made our way over to his house. I think I told him he was a jerk and passed out on his front lawn. Moira wasn't too much better off, I guess, but she was at least awake. Jack's not stupid, though, he had to know she wasn't in any condition to, you know, to do anything. He came back to her house with us, and he got Moira into bed. She barely remembered it afterwards. We all know Jack's not so green that he doesn't know when someone isn't sober enough to give consent. That's what really made me mad yesterday," she admitted, "when she talked about her being a creature of her appetites, like he was trying to make things her fault, or blame her for drinking and then not saying no. I wouldn't have called him at all, except I think he really owes Moira, a lot more than just an apology."

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Taylor stared at Stesha for a long moment. Too completely stunned by that story to even begin to formulate coherent speech. Once she got past the shock, emotionally she rejected that sequence of events. By her own admission, Stesha hadn't been in her right mind at the time. Having seen Divine in a fight, if things had happened that way, Taylor rather doubted that Jack would still be among the living. Moira would have beaten his corpse into a fine red mist.

She finally managed, "I'm sorry?"

Deciding she really didn't need the story repeated, Taylor pur her hands up quickly to prevent a repeat of that, "That's not anything like what I heard. Clearly, I'll have to talk to Jack. I can tell you this, Stesha, for all of his flaws, I don't think that Jack would ever do that. I appreciate the warning and I'm not blowing you off but I don't believe that's the way it happened. It doesn't sound like either of them at all."

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Stesha badly wanted to argue, but she bit her tongue. Arguing wasn't going to do any good if Taylor was infatuated, and she suspected it would only lead to more hurt feelings, and maybe Taylor being even less cautious in the future. The best Stesha could do was pass on a warning and hope it made Taylor pay attention to what Jack was like, and not just what she wanted him to be like.

She silently apologized to Moira for not leaping to her defense and spent a few moments stirring her tea instead. "I know you think I'm a biased source, but the story you heard probably isn't from someone objective, either, or someone without a strong motive to lie to you. I didn't tell you all of this because I wanted sympathy, for me or for Moira. I'm telling you because I would feel more than terrible if he did something to you that maybe you would've seen coming if I'd spoken up."

Looking up from her tea, Stesha met Taylor's eyes, held them. "It's easy, I think, for people who have so much power to feel invulnerable in certain ways. It's like nothing bad could ever happen to them because they have power, and they would stand up, or they would fight back. So maybe they don't pay enough attention, or they get into a situation they might not go into if they were being cautious. But we're all just people, under the costumes, and it can happen to anyone. I just want you to be careful, all right?"

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"I will be careful," Taylor promised honestly, "I know I'm not invulnerable to everything. If you're right about Jack's true nature, it'll come out and I'll put him through a wall. Or three. It's not that I'm not listening, Stesha. These people aren't strangers to me, and your description of their behavior just doesn't make sense with what I know. I am going to talk to Jack about things, not just sweep it under the rug."

Taylor flipped one palm up on the table to gesture to Stesha as she continued, "I believe you think this is true. You're not the person who makes up stories, no matter how angry you might be. I appreciate both the warning and the concern."

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Stesha closed her eyes for a second. She hadn't really considered that the first thing Taylor would do would be to go and talk to Jack about the whole thing, but it made sense from a certain perspective, she guessed. She didn't bother to ask Taylor to keep her name out of it, there were only so many sources for this information. If Jack was going to be pissed at her... well, she would have to deal with that. She was a big girl now, she didn't need to hide behind Moira, or behind Derrick, for that matter, if he would even step up for her.

She took another sip of tea "That's all I want, that you are aware and not just clueless and naive about what he's like," she said with some resignation. Stesha raised a hand and rubbed the side of her neck where the hickey he'd given her had taken days to fade. She hadn't mentioned that because it was just rude, not necessarily malicious. It was totally none of her business whether Taylor wanted to go out with a guy who was a lousy kisser. "I know we haven't known each other long enough for you to trust my judgment, but at least I feel like I've done all I can. And gotten a chance to apologize for the scene yesterday."

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"It's not that I don't trust your judgement, Stesha," Taylor sighed, twisting the amulet on its chain around her throat, "I would doubt something equally damning if it had been Jack's stories about you. I'd have little personal integretiy if I discounted all of my own personal experiences with any individual based one someone else's words."

She summoned up a ghost of a smile, "I'll do my best to take care of myself, I promise. There's nothing you need to appologize for. It wasn't a comfortable scene for any of us but I think we all share the blame equally. Well, except for Ace. He has a little more of it than most."

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"Ace was just trying to keep us on target," Stesha replied, needing to come to the defense of at least one friend tonight. "He jumped to the wrong conclusion, but it's hard to blame him, with the way Jack made things sound. If Ace hadn't gotten us back on track, I might have just stormed out, and we wouldn't have accomplished anything. That would've been even worse, and more embarrassing. Trouble with that sort of situation, it's hard to correct misconceptions without going way off track and getting into way more detail than you want in mixed company. It was better that we just moved on from there. But anyway, it's done now, and I think everybody's cards are on the table."

She drained her tepid tea, now mostly sugar at the bottom of the cup. "I probably shouldn't keep you any longer, I know you don't get much time off. But you can call me if you ever need to talk or anything," she offered, knowing it sounded a little lame.

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Taylor smiled at her quick defense of Ace. Stesha's loyalty to her friends was endearing. Although she was quite fond of Ace, Taylor doubted his motives were all that altruistic but she didn't argue, "You can call me anytime, Stesha. I don't get much time off but that doesn't mean I can't make time for friends. I'll keep in touch, I promise, and not just about Moira's situation."

She finished her cup of coffee as well and went to stand up from the table, "Let's hope everyone's cards are on the table. It's already been one heck of a week and its only Monday."

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"Here's hoping," Stesha agreed, rising as well. "Let me know if you find out anything, or if there's anything I can do to help." She left a dollar on the table for the busboy and walked outside with Taylor, into the somewhat busier streets of the Theatre District at night. "Take care, I'll talk to you later." She hadn't brought her car, but it was only a short walk to the nearest park.

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Taylor wasn't a very touchy feely person with her friends but she did stop to put one hand on Stesha's shoulder as she said, quietly but seriously, "I really do appreciate the warning. This all couldn't have been easy for you to go over again. You're right, I do tend to take the world on by myself but I do want you to know that I appreciate you looking out for me. It means a lot."

She pulled her hand back and resettled her hat on her head afterwards. "I'll see you soon."

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