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We Need To Talk

Blue Rose

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In Chicago, Sam paces her bedroom, circling her bed with the nervous energy of a caged tiger.

She'd had an ear to the ground for years, waiting for this day. And now...

Three letters. Three independent sources. Three clues, all pointing the same way.

Dammit, why now?

Not that later would be any better. Gotta go, gotta get to... but there's so much going on right now. To drop everything...


She stops, and sighs. She may not like it, but the decision is obvious. She looks out her window to the vast, snow-covered lawn and sighs. A thief must always be ready to pack up and move. She's gathered too many attachments. This is not a mistake, but it has a price. Time to pay up.

She pulls out a phone and sends her girlfriend a text, actually using proper grammar.

"Hey, Tona. Something came up. We need to talk. It's important. Mind making sure there's space in the broom closet?


This is going to suck.

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Tona Baudin did not want to be here, wanted to be almost anywhere else but here. She wanted to be swinging over the city; she wanted to be sparring with Mali; she wanted to be racing against Cerys; she wanted to be fighting for her life against some impossible robot. She wanted to be doing anything but what she was doing right now.

Tona made an unhappy noise and bent back to the papers in front of her. Numbers and letters crowded her worksheet maliciously, stupefying her. The textbook was even worse, where ‘x’s and digits spawned entirely new fields that only had the most tenuous, theoretical connection to the original equations. The book and the teacher insisted that this all made sense, but the archer could not spot it for the life of her.

She was searching for any release, any sort of distraction, which is why the upbeat midi ringing through the apartment caught her attention. She stood and wandered over to the hammock that been semi-collapsed by the simple notion of hanging it by one hook instead of two. The inside of the hammock was a wild ball of comforters, blankets, quilts, and pillows, and she had to hunt for a couple of minutes before she came up with the lighted rectangle of glass showing Sam’s face. Tona smiled and navigated through the unlocking, before she could read the message her girlfriend left.

And then she frowned, slightly. Sam was usually quick and breezy and wasn’t above popping into a storefront a few doors down and walking up. Tona left the smartphone next to her math homework and walked into the apartment. She worked for a few minutes, then returned to the phone and messaged back to Sam, slowly and determined. Bathrum open.ready for u she returned, then set the phone down and waited. At least, she considered, she wouldn’t have to worry about algebra for the rest of the day.

Edited by Raveled
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While Sam waits, she goes through a stack of letters. To Mali, to Cerys, to Elias, to Lia... and so many scrapped drafts. Too many ties, but it's worth the price.

One of the perks of letters; time. If she mails them as she leaves, they won't get them until she's well and truly gone. But there's one more letter to write, and this one will be much easier.

"Miss Vance-

They found her.

In pursuit.

I have the contingency.

Will return alive.

Please speak to the principal and look after Soot.

-Samantha Vance, The Phantom Fox"

Her first time using that name. That'll take some getting used to. Just like that brand new white trench coat lying across her bed-

"I've got sunshine on a cloudy day./When it's cold outside, I got the month of may..."

Her phone goes off with Tona's text. This... is the hard part. She pockets another contingency plan, then steps through her closet, into the shadows, through the cold black void, across the country, and out a familiar bathroom in New Jersey. Public transportation eat your heart out.

As she steps out, the first to greet her is her cat, Mitsy. Or rather, the remains of someone else's cat. The animated remains of a much older pet. Sam takes the time for some cuddling with the little skeleton, "Did Mitsy miss Mommy? Mommy missed Mitsy. Gimme kissy, gimme kissy," she greets her with an excessively sappy display.

This is going to be a heavy conversation, but it has to be played right. All gloom and no levity isn't going to help her get her point across.

Tona, she greets with a smile, a hug, and a peck on the cheek. "Hey, babe. Hope I'm not interrupting anything too important?" she asks, shooting a knowing glance to the math homework.

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Tona stood back and let Sam play with her skeleton pet. Mitsy fit right in with the general ambiance at Silberman's, especially now that the employees knew about Lynn's secret. Most of them weren't sanguine about a moving skeleton sleeping in sunbeams and chasing string and generally being a cat, so she had to stay locked in the apartment a lot. When Sam visited, Tona made sure she had plenty of room to pamper the little beastie.


She returned Sam's hug briefly, and gave the spread-out papers and books an evil glare. "You're not interrupting anything that doesn't need to be interrupted." It was the work of a minute of stuff the loose papers and pencils into the book, close the cover, and set the whole thing mess aside. Out of sight, out of mind, and Tona was able to turn her attention back to her girlfriend.


"So how is Chicago?" She slipped an arm about Sam's waist, not holding her close so much as just... holding her. "City's pretty cold these days. Did you find that backless parka for patrols?" She smiled slightly, her fingers tracing idle aimless patterns on Sam's shirt.

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"I'd rather sunbathe on the shores of Cocytus," Sam groans at the weather in the hellhole she calls home. "Couldn't find anything I liked, but I have a little custom something on order. I'm sure it'll get here around the time the thaw starts," she says lightly.

She rests her head on Tona's shoulder, arm slipping around her waist, and closes her eyes. For a while, she's just happy to be there; to hold and be held, to touch and be touched. For a time, she's tempted to put all unpleasant thoughts from her mind. To get swept away in the moment and let it go where it will. A last night together should be pleasant, after all.

Unfortunately, reality forces itself upon her as Tona's fingers wander too close to something she'd rather not discuss just yet. So, instead, Sam takes Tona's fingertips in hand, planting soft kisses upon the lady's hand. A smooth, suave, natural gesture. Some corner of her mind tells her she should probably feel guilty for how often she calls on her training in misdirection and deceit against her loved ones. But she can grow a conscience about that later.

"Have I ever talked to you about the old ways and the phantom fox? The title, not the person." A clumsy segue. But better to try and make this part comfortable small talk about her past than a prelude to the bad news.

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Tona allowed herself to be kissed and sat at the table. She rubbed her fingers together, enjoying the tingling sensation that Sam's lips brought while she considered the question. "I didn't know it was a title," she admitted finally. "I know it was a person who helped you when you left Dis. That she taught you a lot about, well, what you do. Before you went to Claremont." She titled her head to the side and smiled. "If you learned anything at Claremont."


"Um." Tona closed her eyes, struggling to remember anything else Sam had mentioned about her mentor. The little thief was even more close-mouthed than the archer about her past, and Tona didn't usually care to pry. "You're living at her place in Chicago. And she left you a bunch of money." She shrugged, hoping that Sam wouldn't be offended by her lack of knowledge. "You already met me pere, is this the point where I meet your mother?"

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Wow. Sam does make a point of being tight-lipped on her life as a thief, but she didn't think she'd been that tight-lipped.

"Not... quite. Fox did train me, but she didn't leave me anything. Actually, I left her. Now I'm living with Miss Vance. She's a cape, too, in Chicago. Goes by Masque. She's the one with the money. She was... well, her relationship with Fox was weird. I guess nemesis and girlfriend kind of sums it up? I want you to meet her, but... when she's ready."

As things get more complicated, Sam starts talking faster, but eventually catches herself and calms down, taking a seat in Tona's lap.

"But my teacher wasn't the first Phantom Fox, and she won't be the last. The title is for a kind of... thief paragon, I guess you could say? The Fox is supposed to be a champion of the old ways. What used to be the thieves' code, before it fell out of fashion. A kind of honor among thieves. The values I was raised with. The Fox is there to show the world that we can be great, that we can be successful, that we can be rich, and still be honorable, merciful, compassionate."

She sighs, reminiscing on what should have been. "I left Fox when she betrayed all that. One mission, she set some explosives as a distraction, for expedience's sake. A lot of them. She killed a lot of people, and that's... it's... It's not how we do business, so I left. I turned myself into AEGIS, and Miss Vance took me in and sent me to Claremont."

She goes over what she said versus what she thought, having trouble separating the two, and pauses.

"Does that make any sense?" she asks, hoping she was coherent.

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Tona listened intently as Sam laid out her situation, even as it was a little hard to concentrate with her girlfriend sitting in her lap. "Um. So, your teacher broke the rules she set out for you. She killed some people, and... disappeared? And you went to AEGIS and AEGIS sent you to Claremont." She kissed the nape of Sam's neck. "And then you found me and I found you."


She put her arms around Sam's waist, pulling the other girl closer to herself. "So if the Phantom Fox broke her own rules, is she still the Phantom Fox? Did someone else show up calling themselves the Phantom Fox?" She wiggled in the seat, trying to find a comfortable position with Sam's weight on her legs. It usually wasn't a problem, but now something kept poking into her belly and her thigh no matter how she repositioned. "Sam, are you wearing two belts or something?" Tona reached between them and felt her girlfriend's back, felt something rigid and metallic under her fingers.

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  • 1 month later...

Sam curls up close, each touch reminding her of other ways she'd like this conversation to end.  One last quiet night together, with significantly more skin touching skin...

But this all has to be said, before...

Then, Tona finds it.

Too late.  Best to explain quick.

"She... she gave up the right to call herself that the day I left, but there's only one person who can take that name, but she hasn't been able to step forward and take it.  Until now."  She licks her lips, nervous, unsure whether to hold Tona close for support, or distance herself in shame.  "I am the Phantom Fox.  But, since Fo-" she cuts herself of, "Since... my teacher didn't give me the title, I have to steal it.  Which means I have to beat her.  On even terms.  As the Fox.  I don't know how she'll react.  It... might not end well.  I might... I might have to..."

Her eyes begin to well up, and she can't finish.  Instead, she undoes her jacket, letting it fall to the floor, revealing a shoulder holster, with a black, metal handle protruding.  Attached to a 9mm handgun.

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Tona fell silent, her hands slowly tracing the hard, metal grip of the pistol. A cold tingling, feeling almost like it was spreading from the gun itself, filled her body as she realized what Sam was talking about doing.


Tona stood Sam back up and stood herself, walking deeper into the apartment. She was conflicted; she had an irrational urge to retreat as far as she could and jump off the back deck and disappear into the city, running away from this problem and getting as far away as she could. At the same time she had an urge to turn on her girlfriend, berate her: if Sam was going out into the world prepared to kill her teacher, how was that different from when Tona killed the Steam General? And she wanted to embrace Sam, to hold her tight until she abandoned this plan.


Tona walked to the end of the short hallway, as far away from Sam as she could get, and thought furiously. She wouldn’t run away from this problem, she wouldn’t abandon Sam even if she couldn’t see a good ending to this situation. She mentally discarded ideas as fast as they came to her, until one floated to the top. Moving quickly, the young archer strode back into the front room, walking over to the corner where her hammock was closed up. Underneath it was a canvas bag, with a folded compound bow sitting next to it. Tona picked up the bow and shouldered the canvas bag, turning back to Sam and standing easily with the weapon. “I should leave a note for Mali,” she said, “and for Lynn. Then we can leave.” She was really concerned with asking for time off, but Lynn had been a good boss so far and at least deserved to know where Tona was going to disappear to.

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Hadn't made the point clear enough before it all hit the fan.  Now, this is going to be that much harder.  She removes the holster while Tona grabs her gear, setting it carefully atop her jacket.  It's caused enough disturbance for now.

She approaches her girlfriend and shakes her head, placing her hand against the one with the bow.  "I'm sorry."

She sighs, and tries to explain, afraid there's about a snowball's chance in Hell of Tona listening.

"I'm the heir.  I have to take the mantle.  I have to beat her as the Phantom Fox, not Kit.  I was raised for this.  I was raised in the Trade, in her circles.  I have to stick to that in order to beat her, to prove I'm the true Fox.  If I don't respect the old ways, if I'm the one who breaks the circle, then there is no heir.  There is no Fox, and I've failed at everything she raised me to be.  I have to do this right.  To show her what she was supposed to be.  Otherwise?"  She looks back at the discarded weapon with disgust, "That's going to be the only way."

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Tona pressed her lips into a thin line. "When I decided it was important to go into the Terminus," she said, "you and Mali and Cerys all insisted on coming. You could have all died in there, but you would rather have helped me than stayed at home, safe. And now you say I can't help you?" She glanced past Sam, at the gun laying on the table. "Do all your rules say that thieves can't have friends? That thieves can't ever get help?" She locked eyes with Sam, taking a step forward, leaving only a tiny gap between them. "If you want to confront the Fox on your own, fine. But why do you have to go off by yourself to do it? Why do you have to disappear?

"Why would you want to disappear?"

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  • 1 month later...

As Tona draws near, and Sam looks up into her eyes, feels her warmth, bathes in her familiar scent.  Damn, it's hard to muster any kind of force or presence when all you want to do is shout, 'Take me now!'  There's no excuse for hurting Tona like this, but...

"I... I'm sorry..."

Sam shudders, looking smaller and more vulnerable than she normally lets anyone see unless it's an act.  It takes a moment for her to set her thoughts straight.

"That was a war against an unstoppable horde.  This is a duel against one woman.  Against one thief.  You know me.  First priority is always a way to get out alive; the fight comes second.  If she's at all the woman I remember, then she's still the same way.  Even if she goes to ground, I try again when she shows again."

"And it's not like I'm gonna completely disappear!  I can still call when I don't have to do the whole radio silence thing, and I'm sure I'll have to lie low some time.  And there's no where I'd rather lie low than with you."

Edited by Blue Rose
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Tona turned away from Sam, walking towards the front of the unit, hugging herself tightly. Thoughts were racing through her mind; not how to stop her girlfriend from going on her self-imposed quest, but rather how to convince Sam not to go alone. Tona understood what it felt like when there was a goal out there that you had to achieve at all costs, but she couldn't shake the feeling that her girlfriend was being obstinate. If Tona was given to more self-inspection, she might have found the situation funny.

She turned around to face Sam. "You need to find your mentor," she said, "to fight her because she's abandoned some sort of code. And this has to be a duel because of this code. What if this Phantom Fox doesn't agree with you? What if she has a whole bunch of bodyguards and security goons? You might still need help with those."

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As Tona walks away, the room seems suddenly colder, and Sam can't bring herself to meet Tona's gaze this time.

"I don't plan on fighting," Sam offers weakly.  "It's not that kind of duel, unless she makes it that way.  I'd rather talk her down, or beat her to whatever her next mark is.  But if I go in with a strike team, she'll go to ground and Talking won't be an option.  If she has goons, then she broke the circle.  All bets are off, I run, I come home, and next time, you come with me."

She draws closer, taking Tona's hand into her own and looking up into her eyes, pleading.  "I love you.  And there's no one I'd rather have at my side for this, but I can't.  At least, not yet."

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Tona let her hand be taken, but she didn't met Sam's gaze. Her eyes remained on their hands; slowly, she interlaced their fingers together, holding Sam's hand tightly. She kissed the other woman's fingers, then finally looked her in the eye. "Once you're the Phantom Fox," she said quietly, "does that mean you'll be able to change stupid rules about having to leave you girlfriend behind to worry?"

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Sam could go into the shifting in circles and the fact she won't have to change the rules, but at the moment, quibbling over little details like that seems counterproductive.  Instead, she brushes a strand of hair from Tona's face and smiles, warm hand coming to rest at the back of her neck.

"I promise," she whispers into Tona's ear, drawing close and planting a soft kiss on the nape of her neck.

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