Shrimp, Kobe Sliders, Ninjabear

April 20, 2016:

Emma is working hard, and getting rather frustrated. Betsy steps in to try to help her ease up.

Private Suite - Xavier Institute

Several interior walls have been knocked down to form a close but comfortable living space for three people, turning the one-person dorm rooms into a suite with a common area. The common area has a small dining table near the kitchenette, atop tile floor, and a big bay window in the kitchen to let light pour into the room. A living room of sorts includes a sofa, high-backed reading chair, and a massive beanbag chair all turned to face one another with a television pushed into the corner.

One bedroom is decorated with a tasteful if Spartan view, a combination of baroque British Imperialism and sparse Japanese aestheticism wrangled into a relatively pleasing juxtaposition.

The northmost bedroom looks more like a study, with a large desk and computer station against one wall and a rumbled queen bed against the other. Books are everywhere, from novels to reference materials, and it's obviously someone's workspace.

The third bedroom is divided precisely in half like a cheap photo trick. One full half of it is done all in steel and glass, looking precisely like a high-rise corporate office complete with workstation. The other half sports white carpet, a four-poster bed with white sheets, and white furniture that costs as much as a midsize sedan. The room is surprisingly well noise-insulated, too.

Characters

NPCs: Cyberdata

Mentions: Nate Grey, Ripclaw

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

The door to Emma's office is actually slightly ajar, an almost unheard-of breach of her usual fastidious attention to detail and security. With that opening, a faint cast of flickering bluish light comes through, along with the soft clickety-clacking of keyboard keys in rapid succession. The only other sound is the soft swells of Beethoven, performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra.

Were one to have the unmitigated gall and temerity to open said door and look inside, they would see Emma Grace Frost at her keyboard, three computer screens arrayed before her, their light projected back to the door and through it, as images flicker across their surfaces, various web pages and other screens coming and going. Dressed in her usual pristine white feminine business attire, Emma is perfection incarnate, or at least so she would want anyone to believe.

The surface of Emma's mind is perhaps a bit less sanguine. Despite Emma's almost insurmountable telepathic shields, there is a sense of great unease filtering through, leaking past the edges of those bastions of psychic strength. Something is bothering the White Queen.


Betsy has the umitited gall of centuries of British breeding that lets her do precisely whatever she wants, by dint of the aristocracy being raised from birth knowing that whatever one does is proper, simply by the virtue of being the one who does it. Works for conquering India— works for personal relationships.

So she pushes Emma's door open with long fingers, resting a palm against the doorframe and leaning against it. Not quiiiiiite entering Emma's room uninvited. The slight upturned point of her heels don't quite breach the imaginary line of demarcation.

"Is something amiss?" Betsy asks in a perfunctory manner. "You've been grating your teeth for at least half an hour, and I haven't heard you get on the phone to fire anyone, short the stock market, or loose the hounds."


The sound of Betsy's voice does not cause Emma to startle; she is aware of the other woman's presence before that happens. But when she mentions 'loosing the hounds', the platinum blond flinches momentarily. Of course, it would never do to show weakness, so Emma responds as if nothing at all happened. "Given that what is bothering me is not the act of anyone who works for me, I am unable to vent spleen by firing them as they should be fired. Shorting the stock market will not help. And I have no hounds." Not really.

"If you are going to interrupt my work, Elizabeth, you could at least do so with a glass of wine, or some sinfully delightful confection." Emma complains, tapping a few keys to save the work she has done and the tabs she is looking at, all so she can go back to this later. Then she logs out of the computer and turns her chair on its swivel, to face the leggy purple-haired Brit ninja.

Emma arches one pale platinum blonde eyebrow momentarily. "Did I forget an appointment? One of your outings to … what did you call it? Ah, yes. The 'Teddybear Factory' ?" Yes. Emma is sniping. It is what she does.


"Mm. Catty -and- overworked. How on earth are you still single?" Betsy tosses back lightly. She knows Emma's in a foul mood and clearly doesn't take the insult personally. Loving Emma's a bit like trench warfare. Betsy glances pointedly at the ninjabear guarding Emma's room from intruders before disappearing from eyeline. Her heels click on the kitchen tile. A few moments later she returns with a bottle of Grey Goose VX, frost forming on the glass already, and two low glasses. She rattles the handful at Emma with a silently questioning eye of affmirmation, then moves into Emma's room and pours them each a drink. She sets one glass next to Emma, on the desk, and makes no effort to look at the computer, then moves to the edge of Emma's bed with the other in hand and sits primly on the comforter, her jeans whispering as she crosses one leg over the other at the knee and leans back on her hand for support.


"I believe I am still single because I have refused to be tied down to anyone, or identified by my connection to anyone." Yes, Emma is a feminist. Extremely so, in fact, though most would almost miss it. The woman did climb her way to the top in no small part due to her willingness to trade on her looks, after all. But that wasn't all.

Emma pointedly does /not/ look at the adorable purple-masked ninja bear on her bed. Or make any connections to the fact that there are now two ninjas making themselves comfortable on her bed. Instead, she picks up the lowball glass, swirls the freezer-chilled alcohol and then inhales its scent, breathing deeply with her eyes closed. Then she raises the glass to her lips and takes one long, slow pull off the glass, pulling it away as the incredibly pricey vodka swirls around her tongue and then slides down her throat.

"How was dance class?" Emma inquires, showing a far better awareness of Betsy's class schedule than she has ever shown before.


"The usual, unfortunately," Betsy says with a negligent shrug. "The boys are steaming piles of hormones. So are the girls, but they're channeling it into being utterly intractable. With springtime hitting, though, I expect I'll lose a fair number of my cavaliers to Scott's football team. Then two weeks before prom, everyone will suddenly remember they don't know how to dance and they'll be swarming back for emergency lessons." She rolls her eyes with an exquisite statement of irritation, and downs more vodka.


"The boys are going out for football during baseball season?" Emma queries. Yep. That's what Emma extracted from all of that. Obviously, the queen of snark latched onto the one thing she could pry loose. That's just how she is. "I take it, then, that dance class did not go well. I am sorry." Not that Emma could do a bloody thing about it, mind. But it shows some tiny modicum of actually caring how Betsy's day has gone; something outside her own self.

"I don't believe I've mentioned this." Emma begins, after a profound delay and more ladylike guzzling of overpriced vodka. "While I was away, Nathaniel came to me. Despite it all, he apparently is still going forward with this … union. He asked for my help to try to track down the finances of the Cyberdata Corporation." Emma pauses for a bit, staring at her empty glass, until she works herself up to saying more. "I agreed."


"Because Scott wants to see Xavier's participate in a better football division. So training camp starts early," Betsy explains.

She listens to Emma's explanation, nodding and sipping her vodka. "Don't mistake me— on principle, I'm opposed to working with SHIELD. It's not who 'we' are as an institute. And I tend to keep dating SHIELD agents," Betsy says with wry self-deprecation. "But I try to evaluate things dispassionately and on measure, working with SHIELD has more long-term benefit than long-term detriment to us. We can always disappear if we need to. Or sever the partnership with SHIELD," she offers. "But it's a good merger. We need intelligence— they need field assets. The best relationships are the ones that are mutually beneficial."


Emma eyes Betsy, listening to her evaluation. Eventually, she nods. "I agree with every word you said. But I have no intention whatsoever of being on any list anywhere of mutants Nicholas Fury, or anyone else in the 'government', can all upon for aid. I am not an employee of anyone."

Emma stays quiet a bit longer, until finally she reaches out to seize the bottle and open it, pouring more into her glass, then offering the bottle to Elizabeth to top off her own if she wishes. "That said, I still agreed to helping Nathaniel. The information I am gathering is … frustratingly difficult to assemble, woefully incomplete. But what I have found is sufficient to more than affirm my desire to see them brought low."


"The virtue of being who we are, darling," Betsy says, leaning forward for a refill. "Is that we're not bound by law or oath to do anything Fury asks of us. If he asks us to move, we can stand. If he asks us to stand, we can move. If we see a situation that can't be resolved by traditional means, then we're uniquely suited to handle it— quite discreetly, too," Betsy points out, taking another long sip of her vodka. Consuming it noticeably faster than Emma, too. "That's what makes us more useful than any crack squad of government agents. We can say yes, or no, with equal readiness, accountable only to our consciences."


"But it puts our names on a list, Elizabeth." Emma continues. "It means that information - our mutant status, and that we have worked for SHIELD - exists." Emma may be the paranoiac-in-chief, but she's not wrong about this. "Even if Fury never misused that intel - and you couldn't prove that to me with the word of the Almighty, so don't try - others will. Others who will have access to that information."

Emma has noticed that Elizabeth hasn't even begun to question or address the question of Cyberdata. Not that she doesn't understand. The corporation and its activities are terrifying, to say the least. They fit all too closely to the pattern of things she has seen in her worst nightmares. And while part of that makes her quake in terror and urges her to flee, it also makes her angry. Angry enough to beat back the fear, and take on those that threaten her and hers.


"SHIELD knows who I am, unfortunately," Betsy confesses. "They were among the retrieval crews who pulled me out of Madripoor. There was quite a bit of confusion over my identity, and in my distress I didn't know what else to tell them except all I could remember. When Scott had to arrive to validate my identity, well, that sort of clinched it." Her lips pull into a moue of frustration. "We're a well-kept secret in SHIELD, but we are known to them. And I suspect we have been for quite some time. There was a surprising lack of exclamation when I told them who I was, and somehow they knew already of Scott's identity. I'm not prepared to out myself publically," she assures Emma. "I just recognize that preserving the nuances of my identity from SHIELD is a lost cause at this point."


Yet Emma was never a student at the Institute, and had nothing to do with them until very, very recently. There's no big reasons for SHIELD to have any intel on /her/ like they would the others on the staff and the team. Yet the truth is that Nathaniel is the one with the best chance at a cover where SHIELD is concerned, and he's been front and center in these arrangements. "I cannot help that this concerns me greatly, Elizabeth." Emma doesn't pout. But it's a near thing.


Betsy nods sympathetically, brushing a few errant purple hairs away from the corner of her mouth. "I know, darling. We can get you a mask, if you like," she offers, with a playful glitter in her eyes. "Some sparkling domino mask or the like? Your callsign could be 'Snowwhite' or 'White Queen' or the like?" she proposes, her tone only half serious, half playful. "…Queeny… McSparklebutt," she says, tittering into her vodka as she downs it.


"If you're daring to call me 'Queeny McSparklebutt', Elizabeth, then you have clearly had too much of this fine vodka. I'm cutting you off." Emma offers. She's not pleased. That is /not/ the sort of nickname /anyone/, even Elizabeth, is 'cleared' to apply where Emma can find out about it. "I can make sure no one who meets us remembers me at all." And she would not hesitate to do so. Telepathic ethics be damned. "But if we have to meet with any of them, I'll probably avail myself of some kind of mask." After all, SHIELD and the like use cameras as well as people. Damned intrusive bastards. "White Queen … that has always been the closest I've had to your 'Psyclocke'."


"I would never presume," Betsy says with a wide-eyed innocence, putting fingertips against her sternum in shock. "White Queen is so much more … 'you'," she assures her friend, lips curling in an affectionate smile at Emma's predictable outrage. "Very you, in fact. So, yes, we'll find you a suitably fashionable masque of some kind," she tells the blonde beauty. "They're quite 'in' this season, you know. And a kevlar corset, just in case."


"That, I already have." Emma admits. yep, kevlar corset she most definitely has. She has an entire costume of the stuff. But she never bothered with a mask. She will probably change that opinion, at least whenever meeting with SHIELD. "I take it that you are not really interested in Cyberdata right now?" Betsy has made a point of sidestepping every time Emma has brought them up, after all. She can't really blame the other woman. But it was why she herself was so wound up when Betsy poked her head in.


Betsy's lips pulls down wryly. "I was trying to distract you somewhat, as it seems to be fouling your mood," she admits. "I know how easy it is to slip into a funk over a problem that is just a bit too small to be insurmountable, but a bit too large to be handled with anything but a sincere effort."

"Would it help to discuss it?"


The platinum blonde smirks a bit at that. "I don't know, honestly. I suppose if I was one of those sorts of people, all of this might make me want to lie down and cuddle with a teddybear." Emma isn't really making fun. She's just pointing out that isn't a solution that works for her; she's not that kind of woman. She has to be strong, proactive and powerful. "It is incredibly frustrating to realize how much help it is going to take just to map out this many-tentacled beast. And what I've already learned about what they're doing … doing to our people." Emma sighs. "And it's bringing up my nightmares." Elizabeth is the only person Emma has ever discussed those nightmares with, and that's largely only because Betsy proved she'd actually /experienced/ pieces of those nightmares beforehand.


"It's quite convenient you're suitably equipped for that," Betsy says with an impudent smile, sprawling sideways on the bed. She leans back and toys with ninjabear's scarf, then rests her elbow on the bed and props her head up. Her heels wiggle in the air so she doesn't mar the pristine white sheets.

"This is, however, the sort of work for which you are an exemplary choice," she points out to Emma. "You can dig where others can't, and because you aren't government, you can do so without a need for warrants or probable cause. Anything you want to know can be had for the right price and knowing how to ask the right questions to the right people. In some ways, you're better suited to dealing with this than any ten government agencies."


Emma sighs tiredly, putting down the lowball glass and resigning the vodka for now. "I know all of that, Elizabeth. And you're right. I know that." Emma wasn't questioning that she needs to be the one doing all of this. That would be madness. True madness.

For a good long time, Emma doesn't say anything. Her head is tipped back against her chair, her eyes are closed. It's a long, quiet pause. Then, finally, Emma speaks again. "I suppose a part of me wishes I were more the sort to hug the teddybear. That there was something that could ground me. Lower the storm surge of those feelings, thoughts and memories." The words are almost whisper soft. If anyone else were around, Emma wouldn't even say it aloud. As it is, she'd deny to the end of her days having said it.


Something soft taps Emma's shoulder. Should she open her eyes, there is a ninjabear, Betsy having moved with that damnable stealth of hers to retrieve it and stand just out of Emma's line of sight.

"Ninjabear not here to fight villains," she squeaks, throwing her voice playfully. The bear gives Emma a remonstrative, glassy eye, and wiggles its sewn-in sword menacingly. "Ninjabear only here to fight thing under the bed. Ninjabear philosophy, 'Not fight battle for you; ninjabear remind you, true warrior never has to fight alone." The bear brings little paws together and bows adorably to Emma. Just ignore the manicured nails moving it around.


Emma opens her eyes, peering up and around, watching the pantomime of the bear, listening to Betsy's squeaky voice. She would normally slap the bear away and lambast Betsy for her ridiculousness. But she doesn't do that. She watches, and she smirks just a little bit. Then she sits up and swivels around to face the bear-wielding Brit ninja. "I am very glad that I do not have to fight alone, Ninjabear."

Emma toes off her heels, and then stands up from her chair. "Elizabeth, are you busy tonight?" she queries, gently. "Perhaps we could have dinner together? Something quiet?" Just not being alone would be a big help, right now. And if Emma is going to be un-alone, Betsy is definitely at the top of her list.


Betsy smiles with warm fondness at Emma as the blonde rises, clearly warmed by Emma's reticent but sincere little smirk. Trench warfare's all about small victories. "I'm at your disposal, Miss Frost," Betsy says, her tone playfully teasing. "We can have a small meal here, or go into town— though I'll need to dig my eveningwear out." She brings up the bear to cover her face, peering at Emma over the little stuffed animal's hood, and bats her wide, amethyst eyes a few times. She brings the bear forward and softly *boops* Emma with the bear's snout.


Even Emma cannot hold back a brief snort, almost a giggle, at being bopped by the bear. "I think I would prefer to stay in. Whatever you're in the mood for, I can have Alexander bring it in." Because Emma does not hesitate to indulge in the benefits of convenience made possible by her wealth. "Why don't you consider that, and I'll change into something more comfortable." Because Emma isn't planning anymore business meetings by telepresence, so she's going to put in civvies at last. Emma heads out over towards the entry to her large walk-in closet and opens the doors, consideringly, as she starts depositing items in the laundry hamper, and hanging others up on the rack for dry cleaning later.


"Seafood?" Betsy offers, stooping to put the bear back on Emma's bed, then collect her Ferragamos. She heads back to her room. "Something light, though, perhaps a-" ~small amount of lobster bisque?~ she says, switching effortlessly to telepathy. She starts changing as well, eyeing her wardrobe, and sets aside her tight cami top. ~Pampano's?~ she suggests. ~A dozen of those Duxbury oysters, some of their mignonette sauce, perhaps some prawns and—~ She finds a loose fitting red sequined halter and moves back towards Emma. "would you judge me too much if I got some of their little kobe beef sliders?" she inquires, standing in her doorway on bare, athletic feet.


"Why would I judge you for kobe silders?" Emma responds, as she emerges from her closet in loose white drawstring raw silk pants and a very pale ice blue poet's blouse. As long as one doesn't check the labels and realize how overpriced they are, one might almost think Emma were dressed in truly plebian fashion. As if that would ever happen. "I'll get our order in." Emma offers, smiling a tiny smile as she moves towards the sofa, smartphone in hand. Soon enough, she has placed an order for the food in question, and ordered her driver Alexander to go get it and bring it to the Institute. Then she can put the phone aside and just watch the Brit. "So. We discussed dance class. How was the rest of your day?"


"Beef and seafood in the same meal? It's a trifle gauche," Betsy points out, affecting a loftily elitist tone. She collapses with an effortless grace onto the seat next to Emma on the sofa, sinuously curling her legs under her and sitting sideways to face the blonde. She rests an elbow on the sofa's back and props her fingers against her temple.

"Categorically uneventful," Betsy admits, in response to the question. "I'm considering taking up another project to occupy myself. I haven't tackled a new hobby in some time," she tells Emma. "I've never tried my hand at floral arrangements, so that might be an interesting challenge. The time of year is right for it and the gardens are looking a bit lovelost with Ororo not tending them quite so actively. On the other hand, I believe there's enough room in the garages I could try to restore a car— I've not done a full restoration project since my father passed. There's a lovely 1938 MG saloon that's in a bit of a decrepit state for sale, in the next borough over. That could take some time to get properly restored to working glory."


"True enough, but I won't say anything. If it is what you are hungry for, that's more than fine." Emma offers, proving it because she makes the order without question or editing, just increasing the amounts marginally so that they can share.

Emma makes a bit of a face at some of Betsy's project ideas, but she doesn't argue. Just because she wouldn't be caught dead at most of these things is no reason to tell Betsy not to do it. "Given everything we're working on, I have to admit I can't really imagine needing to pick up another hobby. But if it pleases you …" Emma's voice trails off, as she just rests against the sofa, looking at Betsy, watching her.


Betsy's bare shoulders move in a small shrug. "I spent a half a lifetime focusing on one thing to the exclusion of all else," Betsy reminds Emma. "I learned how to dance in order to disguise a blow to the throat in close quarters. I studied painting so I could disguise myself as a student at a university in Kyoto. For my entire life, everything I'd ever learned had no purpose or bearing than helping me be a better killer." There's that slight shift of inflection in Betsy's tone as she dredges up memories from her less dominant past, one of the two women in her mind.

"And then, suddenly, a lifetime of memories of developing skills for the sake of being a well-rounded person," she says, her words becoming slightly more erudite and polished. "Satisfying the propriety of the aristocracy while smugly thumbing my nose at it. Harry still hasn't forgiven me for beating him at archery at summer camp," Elizabeth points out. "He was this strapping seventeen year old and I was barely out of pigtails."

"It's not about distracting myself, Emma," Betsy says, her tones shifting back towards baseline. "It's finding fulfillment in things other than what we do here. Broadening my horizons. Challenging myself in ways other than how 'efficient' of a team-member I am."


Emma doesn't interrupt. She doesn't do that. She listens, and she listens to everything: word choice; tone of voice; inflection. "I apologize, Elizabeth. I suppose I am too much a product of my own upbringing. When I need to find that fulfillment, I've found the ways to do so." Business. Martial training. Telepathic training. Counseling. Even teaching, for pity's sake. Emma already has a wealth of things to do, before she ever consideres teamwork or training with the team for operations. "Given all of the things I know you know how to do, and quite well I might add, I had not realized how many of those things didn't feel like fulfillment to you."


"There's no need to apologize, darling," Betsy assures Emma, smiling briefly. "I take great pride in what I do and how well I do it," she informs the blonde. "But I find fulfillment in learning new skills as much as I enjoy honing those skills I have. It's the challenge that counts, not the victory. Developing a high degree of proficiency is just… how one keeps score."


"Keeping score." Emma smiles at that, nodding. "I understand that. I respect it." After all, in this way these two women are very much alike one another. "Alright then. So, you need something new. And I hope you find it, and enjoy it, and find your way to excel at it." Because she wants the best for the woman she honestly considers her only friend in the world.


"Thank you, darling. If you ever want to study some of the zen of gardening or engine maintenance, you're of course welcome to join me." Betsy's lips curl into a glorious, bright grin at Emma. "I've found that nothing shuts up the judgement of those who think labor is beneath one's station to ask them if -they- know how to plant a flower garden. There's certainly power in knowledge— any knowledge. Nothing is trivial," she assures Emma. "But your company alone would be more than enough."


Emma gives a wicked little grin. "Of course I know how to plant a flower garden. I pay a talented team to do it for me. The same with engine maintenance." Sure, that's not what Betsy meant. But that's what Emma would do, and does do. And she offers a saucy little wink as she flouts the other woman's 'rules' for the game.

Before much more, however, Emma gets up from the sofa and pads over to the door to the suite, opening it as Alexander comes in with several bags, which he then carries over to the small kichenette's counter.

"Anything else, Ms. Frost?"

"No. Nothing else. Thank you. Alexander. Have a good evening. I'll call you in the morning."

Emma sees Alexander out, closes the door, and then heads for the kitchenette to start arranging the food.


Betsy rolls her eyes eloquently at Emma, smiling tolerantly, and moves to arrange the little coffee table, pulling it close enough to be improvised dining table. She pitches in with a will, and in short order they've got a very properly tidy looking little arrangement— aperitif plates, small soup bowls, dining plates— and pours some white wine for both of them.

"Mmm. That does smell divine," Betsy sighs, inhaling through her nose, then exhaling langorously.


Emma returns to their seating area and settles in with Betsy once everything is arranged and wine is poured. "It does smell quite good. I think we chose well." That said, they can chat about all kinds of inconsequential things while they eat. Like food. Clothes. Shows. Concerts. Anything but the serious stuff. There's been quite enough serious stuff already, right? "I still think your 'ninjabear' is quite silly." But maybe silly is what it takes, sometimes, to get past her defenses?


"Duly noted and opinion summarily rejected," Betsy says, scooping some mignonette sauce into an oyster shell and slurping it up. "Ninjabear is the best defense against the things under the bed. Particularly when you wake up in the middle of the night and wish to reconnoiter the flooring before putting your bare feet on the floor." She scoops another oyster up with some of the delicately fragrant mignonette sauce, and waves it tantalizingly near Emma's lips. "You'll just have to trust my judgement here, darling."


"Now see here." Emma protests. "I did not say that ninjabear did not have its uses. Only that ninjabear is silly." Sure. Emma's going to use a teddybear ninja to reconnoiter her flooring. That'll happen. But Emma does take the oyster. Why not? "It is a rather cute gift. I find it very special." Which is why the garishly colored bear is still /in/ Emma's otherwise pristinely pale bedroom. On her bed.


"I'm glad, darling." Betsy smiles at Emma again and turns her attention to the food, bringing her bowl of bisque up after spooning a careful measure of creme fraiche into it. "It's good to be silly once in a while. We're not in a line of work that lends itself to whimsy," Betsy points out. "And select company excepted, I'm not in the habit of indulging my whimsical side. Expensive vodka and excellent food, and fine company notwithstanding, of course," she amends, sipping her bisque.

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