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alderwitch

A Fine Grey Line [IC]

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Just how Bombshell managed to evade both the Scarab and Avenger, neither of them were ever quite certain of. But she did indeed wiggle out of that net and a few more as she waged her 'game'. Refreshingly, however, as long as Scarab didn't violate her odd rules, she stuck to them herself. Who said there was no honor among thieves? The week drew to a close with the stakes distressingly close. Scarab foiled about half of her crimes while the other half Bombshell got away with by a tight margin. In all of those instances, however, it had become quite clear that Bombshell thought this Scarab was a pretender to the name.

It was true to form, however, that Scarab received a call late Thursday night from yet another disposable cell phone.

"Darling," Bombshell said, drawing the word out with faint hints of her original upper crust accent. Tracking the phone call would reveal she was sitting on top of the high rise roof of pyramid plaza, dressed in her skintight black bodysuit. For once, she wasn't hidden to Scarab's perception, which meant that she actually wanted to talk. "Tick-tock, tick-tock. Ready to concede the game?"

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"Darling. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Ready to concede the game?"

"With the scores tied, in the bottom of the 9th? Don't be ridiculous. But once again, you demonstrate the fundamental difference between us. This was never a game to me."

Never one to underestimate such a cunning foe, The Scarab made sure to open the portal from her Lair far above the tower. The idea of Bombshell slipping by her, having free reign in her home...it was enough to make her blood run cold. She flew through the swirling vortex with maximum haste, then thumbed the button on her teleport beacon to close the gate so quickly it almost tore the edge of her cape free.

The Scarab hovered down to the rooftop a few feet away from Bombshell, never quite touching the ground. "So, the culprit returns to the scene of the crime. It seems you will leave no clichè undisturbed during this feeble attempt to relive the glory days of your youth."

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Irritation flickered across the pretty blonde's face for a moment and she reached up to slide the slender black mask from her face as she took her time in responding. The leather slid down her nose and vanished into a slim pocket on the cat suit. "My 'glory days' are an eternity from here and an ocean away, thank you. I decided to call from the roof once I was finished paying my respects. Something, I rather do doubt you understand in even the slightest, my young opponent."

She stretched idly and rolled to her feet in one smooth motion, balancing along the slender ledge with an easy acrobat's grace. Her hips swayed as she meandered to conversational distance. "Neither here nor there. As I often told your predecessor, its all a game and you should lighten up and learn to play it. You'll be much happier and perhaps less prone to suicidal last stands."

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Irritation flickered across the pretty blonde's face for a moment and she reached up to slide the slender black mask from her face as she took her time in responding. The leather slid down her nose and vanished into a slim pocket on the cat suit. "My 'glory days' are an eternity from here and an ocean away, thank you."

"So it really is you. I think I always knew. I just didn't want to face it. I had such high hopes for you. That after all those decades in prison, you might have actually learned something. Even with as much time as I've had to walk this Earth, I still hate to see so much of it wasted."

"I decided to call from the roof once I was finished paying my respects. Something, I rather do doubt you understand in even the slightest, my young opponent."

For once, The Scarab actually let her feet touch the ground. For a moment, her voice softened. "Believe it or not, I appreciate the gesture. Your faults are legion, but a lack of grace was never among their number."

"Neither here nor there. As I often told your predecessor, it's all a game and you should lighten up and learn to play it."

"And as I told you so many years before, your actions have consequences beyond your own gratification. Every minute of time, attention, and effort the authorities have to spend indulging you pulls them away from a thousand other worthy causes. As I did so many years ago, I ask you to think of the other crimes they could solve, the emergencies they could respond to that much faster, the extra time they could spend with their loved ones, if not for having to chase you around the city, cleaning up after you. If you won't use your amazing gifts to make the world a better place, the least you can do is to stop wasting our time."

"You'll be much happier and perhaps less prone to suicidal last stands."

"Heh. Heroes die at the drop of a hat, but old habits die hard."

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In her day, Bombshell had been considered a statuesque five and half feet tall, these days, she was simply average of height. The blonde waves fell down over one eye again and she gave the Scarab a crooked smile, patiently listening to the the pedantic speech with a fond expression in her eyes before she shook her head, "Now, see, that sounded like the hero you took your name from. He was ever and always on me to reform my wicked ways and 'make good'."

She twisted on the ledge to look out over the city, uncaring of the epic drop below her booted toes. She spread her arms wide, chin tilting up like she was dancing with the wind, "Even convinced me - once - to actually try it. It didn't end well. For me."

Bombshell swayed at the edge of the ledge, letting her arms drop slightly. "Or for him either. He died not so very long after. And so it goes, so it goes. But I will stop reminiscing and say my part of this little speech. Nothing makes you all chase after me. I steal nothing that isn't insured or that those who I've stolen from can easily replace. I go places you can't and I see things that even you don't and every now and again, I save little old ladies from muggers or pass a long a tip or two that is useful. In return, I keep my immortal and very jaded self entertained. And sometimes, I even kept your predecessor entertained. Is that really so bad?"

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Slowly, but without apprehension, The Scarab walked across the roof toward Bombshell. "Because I believed in you. I didn't need my powers to see the good inside your soul, no matter how deep it was buried under bitterness and resentment. You weren't like the others. I wanted so badly to trust you." She knelt down on the ledge, facing her foe. Her cape flapped behind her in the crosswind.

"I...I am truly sorry that I couldn't convince the courts of that. I had hoped they would treat you fairly. I was sorely mistaken. I wouldn't have let the matter rest, I'd have kept trying, if only... She looked down over the edge at the streets below and sighed. ...if only I'd had more time."

She turned back to Natalya, and slowly, but steadily, reached over to brush her hair behind her ear in a gesture of unmistakably intimate familiarity. "The relatively benign nature of your antics helped me to sleep better after all the times I turned a blind eye to them." She cupped Natalya's cheek in her palm, lightly stroking the area under her eye with her thumb. "After all the times I painstakingly timed my arrival just a few seconds too late, or pretended that you weren't pulling your punches as I mused to myself about how much easier it was to fake momentary unconsciousness from behind a full-faced mask. But the fact that your disruptions are relatively harmless makes them no less wrong. You are capable of so much more than just breaking even."

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"Alex..." The word was a whisper, sighed out from her parted lips and tossed away on the wind. Scarab's words could have been one more mind trick but the physical gesture of the gloved hand against her cheek was no trick. She tilted her cheek into the gloved fingertips, "How...? I saw the funeral, there was a body. You died."

She had of course been in jail at the time but her lips curled in a wicked little grin that was very familiar in the memories from the Scarab's predecessor. "I snuck out for the occasion." And back in with no one the wiser.

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The crimson and gold armor folded and retracted and melted away from The Scarab's face and hands, exposing the small Latin woman underneath. "There was a funeral because I died." She looked down in her lap for a moment, never breaking contact with Natalya. "I understand how difficult and confusing this must be for you. This may help..."

Elena closed her eyes tightly enough to tense up her entire face for a moment. When she opened them again, she wasn't a "she" anymore. Sitting before her, Natalya saw not Elena Guerrero, but the old familiar face of Alexander Rhodes. The hand cupping her cheek suddenly felt larger and slightly rougher against her skin. When The Scarab spoke again, it was in Rhodes' deep tenor.

"Think of it as less an illusion and more a memory." He reached out with his free hand and grasped Natalya's own. "There is still a body, and if it would help, I can show it to you. My body is mortal, but my soul is...evolved. And cursed. I can die. I have died, countless times. But I always return, as I have now. The...vessel changes every time, but the experiences, the memories, the thoughts and feelings and hopes and fears, everything that makes me who I am, that makes us who we are, that endures."

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The psychic static around Bombshell had faded slightly when she'd recognized this Scarab as 'her' Scarab. She'd never given a straight answer about how she managed to blur herself to the psychic senses but it was at least partially under concious control as Alexander Rhodes had seen it fade a few times as Elena saw it drop away now. The thief tensed at the unfamiliar face beyond the mask and her expression clouded during the explanation.

Natalya Browning wasn't enlightened by any stretch but she had seen a great many odd things in her life and she wanted so badly to believe those words that it helped Elena's - Alexander's - case.

Bombshell let him keep her hand captured and leaned in to press a soft and tender kiss on familiar lips. "I always did like to date among the older set and that's grown harder and harder to do, sadly. Especially since I can't stand the American obsession with Bingo. Its just a good thing, I suppose, that I'm over little things like gender bias."

With her free hand, she reached up to touch Scarab's cheek gently, her bittersweet expression at odds with the witty reparte. 'Its okay,' her thoughts said, a rare gift of trust from her foe to let her shields drop quite so far. 'It doesn't matter. I'm just...' and then they grew jumbled into emotions. Relieved and ecstatic. Meloncholy and sad. In almost a hundred years, there had been a lot of deaths. Too many losses.

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"It's just a good thing, I suppose, that I'm over little things like gender bias."

"Alex" grinned. "How progressive of you." "He" responded to Natalya's kiss with one of his own. But while hers was gentle, tender, his was more forceful, insistent. Old passions from decades and lifetimes past, long buried, now flooded to the surface again, crashing out from his mouth, his hands, his mind, into hers, like tidal waves against the shore in a storm. The hand on her cheek slid further toward the back of her head, pulling her face into his. His other hand dropped hers and pressed the button on his teleport beacon. The swirling vortex opened up behind her. He wrapped his arm around her back, and pulled her down with him through the portal. It winked closed behind them, then tore open beneath them once more before disappearing a second time, depositing the entwined couple upon Elena's waiting bed.

Effortlessly falling back into old patterns of behavior, Elena didn't have to spare a moment's attention on maintaining her facade in Natalya's mind's eye as Alex Rhodes. Instead, Elena forgot that she wasn't Rhodes anymore...although in many ways, she was, and always had been. I've missed you. It didn't occur to Elena to wonder at the idea of missing someone so much despite never having actually met her before.

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I know, Her thoughts were smug and very content underneath the pleasure winding its way through her thoughts like a drug, blunting the sad edges into something much more fevered. It wasn't often for either of them that there was a second chance. It was a chance that both had thought the doors had long been closed on. And Bombshell was very much a carpe diam sort of girl. Also, a very flexible one as she wound herself around the Scarab much as 'his' thoughts wound around her. 'I missed you too.

--------------------------

Several hours later, the Scarab would find herself alone in her large bed, waking late in the morning. The sheets next to her still held the impression of tangled warmth although Bombshell had long ago vanished out of the apartment. Instead on the pillow was an invitation to a black-tie event for that night and a single crimson rose. On the side, was scrawled in distinctive swirling cursive, the kind they didn't teach in school anymore:

'Darling, wear red. I'll see you there.'

A little digging would reveal that the aging socialite was due to attend, most likely wearing the family heirloom that Bombshell had stolen almost thirty five years ago from a similar function. She did always have a flair for the dramatic.

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The next morning, fading gently into consciousness, eyes still shut, Elena rolled over and reached for someone she knew wouldn't be there, but hoped for anyway. When her arm hit nothing but sheets and blankets tangled into disarray, she opened her eyes and sighed. Then she rolled over the rest of the way, buried her face in the spot her lover had occupied a few hours before, inhaled deeply, and sighed again. She still wears that same perfume. There's so many experiences we've shared over the years...but "breakfast" has never been one of them. She picked up the rose, rolled over onto her back again, and brought it first to her nose, then her lips. Does she just bring these with her wherever she goes? Or does this building have a better concierge than I realized? She reached for the phone on her nightstand. Speaking of which...

"Front desk."

"Hi, this is Elena Guerrero. Can you please have a car waiting for me out front in one hour?" She traced her fingertips lightly along the cursive margin note on the invitation. "I have some shopping to do..."

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Bombshell had chosen her stage well. It was an old money party, the sort of glittering affair popular decades ago. Chances were good that several of the aging blue bloods at the party had also been at the scene decades ago. There was enough of a younger set that Elena wasn't out of place enough to raise more than a few eyebrows and that was more due to being 'new money' rather than young. Little did they know...

There was a grand ballroom, its doors opening onto a garden walk where the party spilled out into the gently lit patio and manicured gardens. The entire place was staffed with minor security, and would have been easy for Bombshell to waltz in blindfolded and backwards. Their host was a gracefully aging old woman, around her neck hung the gorgeous sapphire necklace that had been one of Bombshell's most notorious prizes. She'd slipped it right off the woman's neck that night and laughed as she'd slipped out into the gardens and vanished into the night.

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A few phonecalls earlier in the day, to Sofia and others, had provided Elena with at least some idea of who would be in attendance tonight (aside from her "host," that is), so she managed to come prepared with a few bits of fodder for small talk that, for once, she didn't need to pry out of anyone's mind. Which was a relief, because she didn't exactly relish the idea of knowing for certain which members of the crowd thought that she should be in the kitchen, not the ballroom. But Heru-Ra had been born the Prince of the Egyptian Empire, and so her natural inclination was to hold her head high regardless of her actual station in any given life.

Sofia had expressed some amazement that Elena was attending a high-society function of her own free will, but she was truly astonished that Elena was calling her from the inside the Freedom City branch of Sak's 5th Ave. Elena had stoically endured as Sofia laughed and threw all of Elena's old rants about "the misallocation of vital resources from the needy to the extravagant" right back at her. But tonight was different. For all her refinement, the fact remained that Natalya was the type of girl who liked shiny things. This was the sort of gesture she'd appreciate, and making Natalya feel as though Elena was meeting her halfway was absolutely vital if she was going to succeed in talking Natalya down from making any more mischief.

As per her "instructions," Elena wore a $3,000 floor-length off-the-shoulder scarlet evening gown, with a plunging back and neckline. She strode into the ballroom atop a pair of $800 gold-mirrored high-heeled sandals. The colors of her ensemble matched her "nighttime heraldry," and every single article of clothing bore a high-end designer label, save for the morphic-molecule costume which currently remained hidden beneath her dress, ready to overtake it in an instant. Heh. An Alexander Atom original, she mused to herself with a half-grin. She'd briefly considered renting a tux instead. Something to ease the mental transition. But she quickly decided that there was a difference between meeting Natalya halfway and bending over backwards for her. She would eventually have to accept Elena for who she (currently) was, or not at all.

Her gaze discreetly raked across the ballroom, searching for her...friend? Foe? Target.

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"If you're trying to distract me from my plans, I must say you're succeeding," a husky voice said from behind her. When Elena turned, there was a handsome young man slouching in an expertly cut tuxedo against one of the columns of the expansive room. The same shade of blonde and the same in-your-face sex appeal that Bombshell had but there the similarities ended. He was angular where Natalya was all curves and when he shoved away from the column to catch up to her, there was the same lethal grace but as masculine as Bombshell was feminine. Before she turned thief, after all, she had been a master spy. After all, she'd disguised herself as a little old lady while in prison for the last fifteen years.

The coat was expertly cut and padded to bulk out her shoulders and disguise her naturally narrow waist and when she stopped next to Elena, she was able too look her in the eyes even though Elena knew for a fact that Natalya was a good two inches shorter than she was. Clever make up blunted the fine boned structure of her features, turning them harsher but the small smile was the same as Natalya offered Elena her arm. "I do hope you appreciate my efforts. I last wore this in France, near the end of the War. Seducing a German girl, if memory serves. Despite Dietrich's bold strides, I must say she was very surprised at the end of that little affair. Sadly the sexual revolution was still decades away. Still, I dare say that I made her question her allegiances in more ways than one. Do you still dance?"

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Elena exerted a great deal of her formidable willpower toward remaining relatively calm and aloof, but just as with Alex, Bombshell could tell that she was far better at sniffing out deception than she was at perpetrating it. Her smiles were just a little too wide as she circled around Natalya, looking her up and down before taking her outstretched hand and sliding up against her with a bit too much enthusiasm.

"If you're trying to distract me from my plans, I must say you're succeeding."

"Well, if you won't play fair, you can't expect me to, either."

"I do hope you appreciate my efforts. I last wore this in France, near the end of the War. Seducing a German girl, if memory serves. Despite Dietrich's bold strides, I must say she was very surprised at the end of that little affair. Sadly the sexual revolution was still decades away. Still, I dare say that I made her question her allegiances in more ways than one."

"She may have been surprised, but I'm not. I already know how easy it is to fall for you. But I'm happy to learn that your tastes are every bit as flexible as your morals."

Do you still dance?"

"With admittedly less grace than I used to. You'll have to forgive me if I forget myself and try to lead."

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Natalya drew her hand through the crook of her arm and swept her out onto the floor, stretching her legs to have the stride appropriate for a man of the equivalent size. All the minor deceptions were second nature to her to maintain the disguise as an afterthought while the bulk of her attention was fixed on her opponent and dancing partner. "Well, I'm used to doing this all backwards and in heels, so I imagine we're even."

For all of her words, however, she smoothly guided Elena into position on the floor, as graceful as she was doing everything. It was an easy waltz that she led her into, the rise and fall of the beat a gentle back beat as they glided around the dance floor. Natalya was smiling, wickedly as ever, the expression a little strange on the face of her disguise. "I have to say, its a novel experience to be leading with you. Not to mention taller. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to get lifts put in men's dress shoes at the last minute. Do I always get to be the one to lead now, or is this a special occasion?"

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Elena glanced over at the aged matron wearing the necklace that had been the source of so much recent contention.

"I have to say, its a novel experience to be leading with you. Not to mention taller. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to get lifts put in men's dress shoes at the last minute. Do I always get to be the one to lead now, or is this a special occasion?"

Elena alternately grinned, laughed, and soliloquied as they danced. "When you've been around the block as many times as I have, spent as much time on one side of the fence as the other, and ridden the tire swing hanging in the yard in every possible direction, you come to realize that a lot of 'rules' are made to be bent, broken, and turned inside out. Which, I'm sure, is a philosophy you can get behind."

Suddenly, Elena seized Natalya, reversing their rhythm. "So when the question is, 'When will you lead?' the answer is..." She took the lead for a few steps, then actually dipped her "gentleman" companion.

"...Whenever you want to." She planted a kiss on Natalya's lips, then pulled her back up, reversed their rhythm once more, and let Natalya retake the lead.

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Natalya laughed and easily ignored the looks shot their way as she took over the lead once more. "If I had known you were willing to cause a scene, I could have done this in a dress, like the last time. But this crowd, half of them would have a heart attack and the other half would take pictures. Attention I doubted you desired. You've always preferred..." She spun Elena gracefully, skilled enough to keep her from stumbling even if she'd been a rank novice, "...a more subtle touch."

"Do you remember the last time we danced? Decades ago, but as in all things you've always excelled as a partner. Such fire, its amazing we didn't scandalize everyone on the dance floor. But then you've always been good about turning away from all my best temptations." She nodded her head to the band leader that she'd bribed earlier and the beat changed to a tango. Natalya adjusted her hold on Elena slightly, her grin playful, "You're trying to keep me distracted. Do you really think its going to work?"

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"If I had known you were willing to cause a scene, I could have done this in a dress, like the last time.

"And speaking as someone who's seen what you look like in a dress, I can confidently say that the world is a poorer place for it. But speaking as someone who's come to appreciate a man in fine suit as much as a woman in a beautiful dress, you look amazing either way."

But this crowd, half of them would have a heart attack and the other half would take pictures. Attention I doubted you desired.

"Half of this crowd thinks I should be in the kitchen instead of the ballroom, and the other half just kisses my ass in the hopes that I'll clue them in on the next hot stock. Sofia's the real face of the company, anyway. She's done such a great job running it, better than I ever did, that when I returned, I saw no reason to fix what wasn't broken."

"Do you remember the last time we danced? Decades ago, but as in all things you've always excelled as a partner. Such fire, its amazing we didn't scandalize everyone on the dance floor.

"The groundbreaking party for Pyramid Plaza. How could I forget? Took everything I had not to just fly us up to the penthouse right then and there. You'd convinced me to take the elevator. I considered the elevator shaft a fair compromise."

But then you've always been good about turning away from all my best temptations."

"There are some rules I won't break, even for you. Not that I can remember any of them right this second..."

"You're trying to keep me distracted. Do you really think its going to work?"

"You know me. Ever the optimist. Always seeing the best in people...even when they don't see it themselves."

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It was a matter of leverage rather than strength that allowed Talya to spin and dip Elena in the complicated whirls. She'd never had better than average strength but with such minute dexterity, and some significant training it made the difficult look effortless. Elena wasn't the only one pulling out all the stops tonight. Around them the dancers swirled completely unaware that the push-me pull-you of the tango being waged amongst them was a decades old war with a priceless necklace at stake.

"Flatterer." Natalya said for the first and then shook her head as she was tugged back from the edge of the dance floor where the matron was lurking. She smiled and ran her hand up Elena's back and over the zipper of the dress before spinning her back across the floor in a series of dizzying turns. She was far too much enjoying the dominant role on the dance floor for once. "For such an optimist, you certainly don't think highly of this lot. I think if you were to look in most of their minds, they wouldn't be thinking of either of those things but rather what a handsome couple we make and perhaps wistfully of what we're going to do after the party."

Natalya swung her down into a brief dip, murmuring, "And I am entirely certain - no mind reading necessary - that their imaginations don't measure up as there's one of two ways this evening's going to end. Both of them quite explosive. And, with any luck, a great deal less clothing."

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""And I am entirely certain - no mind reading necessary - that their imaginations don't measure up, as there's one of two ways this evening's going to end. Both of them quite explosive. And, with any luck, a great deal less clothing."

Elena's face hardened into a scowl for a moment, then softened into a vulnerable, wide-eyed frown, which finally gave way to a soft, open, but intense gaze. "There's only one way to find out."

When next their dancing brought the couple adjacent to the aged society matron, Elena's hand broke free from Natalya's for a moment, and gestured every-so-slightly toward the necklace. The tiny latch in back snapped free of its own accord, and the chain slid off the old woman's neck, flying through the air for a couple of inches into Elena's outstretched palm. She quickly closed her fingers around it.

Elena let their dance move them halfway across the room from her transgression, then abruptly halted mid-step. She grabbed Natalya's arm and pulled her aside, out of view from most prying eyes. She pulled up Natalya's hand and pressed the necklace into her hand.

"I won't let you sit on the fence anymore, Talya. If you really want this bauble so badly, then take it. I'll even give you a head start. Maybe you'll get away, or maybe this story will end with you sitting in a prison cell again. But however the dice fall, you'll sleep alone tonight. Because I love you, but even with a hundred lifetimes under my belt, I refuse to waste one more second on someone who'd choose an old grudge and some trinket over me and everything I stand for...no matter how much she makes my blood boil every time she looks at me."

Elena held Natalya's hand sandwiched between her own, the necklace still pressed into Natalya's palm. "Make your choice."

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Natalya's fingers closed around the necklace, that damnable smile never leaving her lips. She lifted it up, letting the fine jewels play through their linked fingertips. "A thousand lifetimes and you still have the strangest tunnel vision. You think I could be so much better than I am, and yet also believe whole heartedly that I'd steal a necklace from a little old lady. You'd die, no questions asked, a hundred more times for any person in this room but are convinced they think you're little better than a scullery maid. You, my love, are a bundle of black and white. Of right angles, straight lines and contradictions. Its been decades and I still can't figure out why I find that so entirely intriguing."

She let Elena continue to keep one hand trapped while she slipped her other hand into the tuxedo jacket slowly. She withdrew it just as slowly, a matching necklace dangling from her fingertips like blue fire. Natalya nodded to the one in Elena's hand lightly, her grip tightening on the super hero's fingertips before she jumped to another conclusion. "The woman's been wearing a fake for decades. When they raided my apartment after I was arrested, a greedy cop pocketed the original and had that one made up. As you'd already won this little game with the last time you foiled me, I thought I might as well return the original. Lord, but I hate crooked cops. They give honest thieves a bad name."

Natalya blew out a soft sigh and released her grip on Elena's wrist as well as the fake necklace, holding out the real one to her. "Here, take it, Elena. Sometimes, I do wonder if things wouldn't go more smoothly if you could read my mind. It might almost be worth getting caught more often for that."

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In the moments that followed dropping her "bombshell," Natalya Browning earned a sight that entire generations of people around the world had come and gone without managing to invoke: An honestly surprised look on the face of The Scarab.

Elena just stared blankly at Natalya, completely flummoxed past the point of even caring how obvious it was. After what felt like an eternity, she pulled the counterfeit piece up to her neck, clasping the chain around her own neck. Then she stepped into Natalya's space, folded her arms around her and squeezed. Elena whispered into her ear. "Thank you. I cling so desperately to the hope that people can be better than they are because of how rarely it ever actually happens."

She pulled back, closed her eyes, and kissed Natalya passionately. Then she rested her nose and forehead against Natalya's, her eyes still closed, one hand cupping Natalya's cheek while the other grabbed Natalya's hand and pressed it against Elena's chest, over both the necklace, and her heart. "My home contains an array of relics from around the globe, some of them thousands of years old. Any museum curator in the world would murder their own children for a single piece from my collection. But this cheap fake trinket is now my most valued possession, because of what it represents. And I promise, as long as that trust remains intact, it will never leave my neck."

Elena pulled away slightly from Natalya, but held her hand firmly. "Let's go." Elena guided her across the ballroom, stopping briefly to tap the old dame on the shoulder. "Excuse me, Madame. I think your necklace fell."

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Natalya's arms slid around Elena and that close, she could feel the sort of padding and corestry that went into the artful disguise and under that the vital warmth of the world-class thief. Natalya brushed her hair back tenderly when she had a hand free to do so. "You know, sometimes I think your ability to see so very much blinds you, darling. I am no more and no less than I ever have been. But I've made you happy and I'm glad for it."

Natalya was unresisting as she was pulled through the crowd, her smile soft and indulgent as she followed Elena through the crowd. She ran, Scarab followed and when Scarab pulled, she went where bidden. It was a comfortable dynamic even after a thirty year hiatus. She wasn't sure that they'd ever really understand the other's position but sometimes - at least in moments like this - it just didn't matter. She stood back quietly as Elena held out the necklace. The elderly woman's eyes filled with tears of relief and she took the necklace with shaky hands, professing her thanks. It was obviously more than just an expensive trinket as one of her son's helped fasten it around her neck. She touched it a few times to make sure the pendent held correctly and gave them a smile of thanks.

Natalya let Elena do any talking, merely standing aside with her lips curved in an amused smile until they were outside and in the open air. She raised their linked fingertips to her lips, brushing a soft kiss against the back of Elena's knuckles. Her manners would have seen her in good stead in any number of the courts of Heru-Ra's memories. "The other items, as per the terms of our agreement I will have delivered at your direction. Never let it be said that I am a sore loser."

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