Are you well? (Phone Call)

January 31, 2017:

Laura calls her friend to make sure she is well. It's a simple question with a complicated answer.

X-Mansion & A Forest in New York

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Tucked within the warm shadow of a lean-to, a young blonde is tending to… a lot of blonde, actually. With her hair pulled out from her hoodie and draped across her lap, Nerina is slowly but methodically working her way down with a hairbrush, smoothing and straightening the tangled mane that’s grown under her winter clothes. Kept company only by her freshly refueled campfire the flautist is once again without her leopard camping partner, and alone.

*vrrm, vrRM, VRRRM!~!*

“Eep!” Nerina jumps as something in her pants starts to vibrate and hastily fishes around inside her layers of clothes. Pulling out a cell phone, she gives it a momentary glare of offense before flipping it open and tapping the speaker button.


“Да?” Nerina’s voice asks evenly after several rings.


Upon the other end of that line silence reigns for a handful of seconds. Laura was never good with regular social interaction and it seems her phone skills are equally lacking.

Still, eventually, that familiar monotone voice can be heard. “Hello.”

Yup, that’s it. At least for another handful of seconds. Then with a faint indrawn of breath, Laura will add. “I have called to make certain you are well.”

While her words may seem stilted and formal what she really means is she wanted to make sure, as a friend, that Nerina was okay.


Nerina turns away from the phone and thinks for a moment as she resumes brushing her hair. Silence lapses on her end this time as the cheap microphone fails to pick up the ambient noise around her. “<I’m well enough to answer a phone. Hungry, cold… my heater wandered off again.>” From one mutant to another, Laura’s answer comes in Russian.

“<You decided to keep me secret?>” she leads, recalling the promise from their last conversation.


One has to wonder how a heater wanders off, but that question doesn’t get asked. Instead, Laura’s voice will answer with.

“For now.” Her words sound even tinnier than normal thanks to the reception from the two burner phones. “It could change if I believe you are in danger, or become a threat.”

And while others would have lied and simply said yes, Laura doesn’t. She’s truthful to a fault when it comes to answering questions.


Nerina frowns at her phone. “<Then you’re not keeping it, you’re just waiting to share it.>”


“I will not share unless it is needed.” Laura states, “It is the only promise I can make.”


“<That’s not much of a trade,>” the distant blonde critiques. “<And you understand what will happen…>”


“It is the only trade I can make.” Replies the dark-haired woman over the phone and there’s the slightest of noise from the other end, as Laura shifts her stance. “I understand what will happen, as well.” Is what Laura finishes with, before she falls silent once more.

The silence extends for a minute or two and then finally Laura will speak once more. “What will be your next move.” And while those words are more stated versus asked, there’s the faintest uptick to her voice that might reveal the question she’s asking.


Laura’s answer? More silence. It may be an answer of its own though - at least the blonde hasn’t hung up.

“<You called me, Walnut,>” Nerina replies, handing the burden of conversation back.


“Yes.” Agrees Laura, when Nerina answers with that statement of Nerina’s. “And I am not a walnut.” She continues with, even though she does realize that this is a nickname; much like one given to her by Nate Grey.

“I have asked if you are well and you stated you are. If you do not wish to speak we can end the call now.” And again, while her words may sound harsh and monotone, beneath that tone is something else. A thread of concern for Nerina and her situation.


It’s a thread that, thankfully, the flautist has begun to pick up on. Whether she cares or not though…

“<You’re like a walnut,>” she explains. “<Old and hard on the outside, but inside still young.>”

“<You don’t want me to hang up,>” Nerina concludes as she pauses in speaking to take a drink.


"What I want or do not want is irrelevant." States Laura simply, "If you do not wish to speak, we do not have to. You decide."

She ends with and once more, though her words may sound harsh, they're not. It's just how Laura speaks and emotes.

The description of a walnut while not overtly reacted to is filed away for later consideration.


Nerina sighs audibly enough to be heard. “<Go on.>”


“What will be your next move.” States Laura again, her question indicated by that faint lilt raising her voice upward ever so slightly.

“And you are staying out of trouble, yes.” Is her next hidden query to the other woman.


“<Trying.>” Nerina gives a half-answer to that. “<I don’t have a next move. You called, you lead.>”


Silence reigns from the other half of the line for a bit - X isn’t a big talker - and leading the conversation is something she definitely struggles with.

As such, she pulls upon memories of how other girls (and boys) chat at Xavier’s Institute. Typically they share more personal details of themselves and so, Laura will offer hesitantly. “I have heard people say they know how to kill a person a hundred different ways.” Comes her words in her usual flat voice, “I often find this to be an over-exaggeration of their skills. It is also better to focus on the easiest way to kill a person. Weaponizing yourself or whatever items are around you.”

Now she waits, to see how her overture goes.


A hundred miles away, Nerina looks at her phone like it just grew a second antenna. “<Like your claws,>” she infers.


"Yes." States X-23 with a small thread of approval in her voice when Nerina mentions her claws. "But there are other things a person can use, as well. A landline cord, lamp cord, or any heavy object at hand."

“One must only be observant to what is around them.” She states, reciting those words in such a way that it takes on the cadence of a lesson.


"<You can just say humans are fragile,>" Nerina summarizes. "<We can't help it - the rest of us don't have claws, or fangs, or thick scaly hides… or the ability to heal a bullet wound,>" she adds pointedly. "<We just wish we do when our back's to a wall.>"


"Fragility is not often what I see stopping people from defending themselves." Begins Laura, her voice still flat and quite monotone, "It is lack of awareness of what is around them and what is happening around them."

"If people would become more observant there would be less surprise when things occur."

And with that spiel of words, Laura finally falls silent. Perhaps her repertoire of subjects exhausted.


“<And what about fear?>” Nerina replies. “<Hand someone a gun, stand right in front of them, and show them your claws… they don’t move much, do they?>” It would be a hypothetical if the ninja hadn’t had a front row seat.


On the other end of the line there's the vaguest of headtilts from Laura as she considers Nerina's question.

"It depends." Laura states initially and then, "If it is an average person walking upon the street, then yes, my claws will usually stop them from advancing. If it is a military person, or someone with similar training - " Like mercenaries, villains, or super heroes, "- then no. They are not frightened to inaction. I do not always win every battle I fight." Admits Laura, those last words holding a heavier weight to them versus the previous.


“<But you’ve survived them all,>” Nerina notes evenly. Her attention is back on the knots in her hair as her eyes unfocus, lost in a memory.


"Because of my healing factor." Replies Laura matter-of-factly and continues in that same voice, "Without it I would have been dead on my third mission."

"I have offered multiple personal insights and from what I have watched about social interactions between young people it is now your turn to offer something about yourself."

Which means it’s now Nerina’s turn to speak.


The flautist sighs and pauses in her brushing. “<Neither one of us is really that young, are we, Walnut?>” The sound of fatigue lumbers through the phone on the back of her normally lyrical voice. Nerina smiles dryly. “<Most people our age haven’t seen anyone die - or been shot at, or…>”

The blonde stops and tries another sentence. “<When we were on the beach you sounded like you were… ten years old? Twelve? Was that the last age you felt emotion?>” she muses. “<For a moment just now you sounded thirty.>”

“<…How old do I sound right now?>”


So many questions to be answered, but for now, Laura will simply focus on that second question of Nerina's.

About emotion.

"Never." She states, voice taking on a slightly edgier tone. "I was raised not to feel."

But that's a lie. She has felt emotion, even when she was younger, mostly fear, terror and loneliness - though there were times she felt brief snippets of happiness.

As for that last question of Nerina's, X-23 can't quite help the cant to her head now, as she says, "You cannot often tell a person's age from their voice. Not until they reach a specific age range when the vocal cords do not vibrate as quickly as a younger person's would. This lack of vibration causes an older person to have a more breathy, wavering voice. I have used this knowledge to help identify correct targets over the phone."

A clinical description if ever one and only afterwards does Laura pause in consideration. "That is not what you are asking, is it."


“<For talking about observation you’re not very good at reading beneath the surface,>” Nerina notes dryly. “<Not just pitch but word choice, subject, everything else… and you’re a bad liar,>” the flautist adds. “<You were born with emotions, you just learned to bury them.>”


“I am not.” She admits, or rather agrees with that first sentiment, “It is not what I was trained for.”

It's that last part that Laura will offer in an even more monotone voice, "The Facility did not teach me to suppress my emotions. They required it. I was under strict dehumanization procedures to make certain I would become the perfect assassin."

Thankfully that protocol failed.

"It is what makes it hard for me to read social situations." Or anything else that isn't 'assassination or missioned' centric. Still, there's the slightest of pause, before she adds, "I have once again answered questions of myself, versus you answering something of yourself. You are deflecting."


“<I am. Good.>” It’s a terse mote of praise before the ninja takes a moment of silence to digest Laura’s reply. “<Ninjas are good at that; we don’t kill people, we avoid things.>” It’s a dour response. There’s no note of pride there.

Nerina’s silence doesn’t yield anything new. “<You haven’t asked me a question; catch me.>”


The mention of Ninja is considered by Laura as the two sit there in their communal silence.

Finally the slim assassin will say, “You are good at avoiding.” And while Nerina’s voice held a hint of praise, Laura’s doesn't.

Just stating fact.

And while silence could reign again that last statement of Nerina’s cause the dark-haired woman to state. “Who trained you.”


“<Life trained you; it trained me too,>” Nerina replies evenly as the slow tick of their conversation’s pendulum swings through another gap of silence and back to her before returning from whence it came.

Her face tenses in a frown as she rips through a knot with her brush and looks down at a blonde ball tangled in its bristles. The flautist sighs.


Dark eyebrows crimp minutely as Laura considers the others words.

“That expression -” About life training them, “- is true, but you have been trained professionally.” She states, her voice still quite devoid of emotion. “It is not the same level as The Facility but it is similar.”

And with that the ball is lobbed right back to Nerina.


“<There was nothing professional about my training,>” Nerina corrects sternly from the emotions she’s holding out of her reply. “<Yours was too professional.>”


While Laura may not be tuned to most emotional responses something about Nerina’s tones causes her to take notice.

“You are upset.” Though does Laura mean upset with her, upset with the conversation or does she realize that Nerina is suppressing emotions?

It's hard to say, as X doesn't really clarify what she means.


Laura's blunt observation takes the wind from Nerina's sails. "…Yes, I am," she admits quietly. "You should be too… you should be *furious* about your training."

"Is there anything that makes you feel better? Fighting? Sleeping?" It might not be the flautist's turn to ask but it's a question she can't keep to herself anymore.


There is silence on the other end after Nerina makes her statements and then asks her questions.

A heaviness might be sensed by from the other line as Laura considers how to respond to what Nerina just said and asked.

“It is all I have known.” She begins with, addressing that first statement of Nerina’s. And here is where she struggles, she struggles with how to express what she wants to say.

“It was not until after I was free that I realized what I have lost.” Perhaps meaning her childhood, innocence and naivety. Or perhaps being able to enjoy the world like a normal person would.

“I cannot say what makes me feel better.” She continues, her voice still flat and monotone, “There are situations that I understand more. Fighting, missions, training … But I cannot say it makes me feel better.” Her head cants to the side which might translate into a faint shuffling noise. “Does that help.”


Nerina listens quietly and sets down her brush. "<It does,>" she offers softly, turning introspective. "<They're comfortable, familiar to you, yes>?"

"<Can you sleep at night?>" The flautist asks abruptly.


“Familiar, yes.” Agrees the assassin, as she considers Nerina’s next question.

While she doesn’t necessarily answer that second question, she will state, “You have nightmares.” And while it’s spoken in those same suppressed tones, there’s that slight uptick again to denote that question of hers.


"<I do,>" the vagabond admits. The haggard bags that lived beneath her eyes told the tale anyway. "<Do you?>"


“Yes.” Laura states, once again in agreement.

“I do not believe they will go away. They are a component of post traumatic stress disorder.” X-23 says, in a rather clinical way.

“I am told that talking helps. I have yet to see the benefit of it.” She ends with, her answer blunt and truthful. Perhaps not something Nerina necessarily wants to hear.


The flautist doesn't reply immediately. She knows it already but it's still painful to hear. "<Talking just hurts,>" she replies dourly, rubbing her arm as a chilly wind passes across her. "<It takes more than talking… but I can live with the nightmares.>"

"<You sleep better than me.>"


"Talking is difficult." The slim assassin says once again in agreement. "Trust is hard." Possibly an odd statement from Laura, but it might mean finding someone to talk to is hard.

While Laura doesn't necessarily offer a sigh, there might be the faint sound of one heard at the end of those words.

And as for the talk of sleeping more, X simply adds, "No. My healing factor repairs the damage of not sleeping. It is easier for me to stay awake longer periods."


Nerina smiles sadly in agreement, something that's lost across the distance between them. She even laughs a little - it's a tired, hollow sound, like wind through dry grass. "<I'm jealous of your healing. You can recover almost everything, can't you?>"


“Physically yes.” Comes Laura’s monotone response, “It is very hard to kill me.”

There’s a tick of silence, before she adds, “It is why they created me. A perfect assassin.”

Again there’s a beat of silence, before she finally ends with, “Why were you created.”


Nerina doesn't reply immediately. She knows what's unspoken; not everything can be healed that way. Absent-mindedly she tugs at her sleeve. Long clothes are good at hiding scars too.

"<You think I was made in a lab like you?>" She asks with an even-tempered curiosity, mirroring some of Laura's monotone again.


“From what little you have said that is what I have surmised.” Laura explains how she came to that conclusion of hers.

“If not created then held against your will in some fashion.”

All said in that clinical tone of hers, as she speaks.


Instead of picking up her hairbrush, Nerina pulls a knife from her pocket and runs its edge along the side of her hand. She stares down at the sliver of a cut as it reddens and warm lifeblood forms a glistening gem on its edge. The wound disappears inside the flautist’s mouth and for a few moments of silence, the girl sucks her own blood.

When she pulls her hand off, the wound is gone.

“<When did you figure that out?>” she asks calmly, tranquilized by the act of self-mutilation.


"With our last meeting." Meaning the one at X-Red HQ and upon the beach, "Your emotional reaction to Nate touching your mind indicated that possibility that a telepath had likely hurt you in some way. Later upon the beach you reacted in the same manner when simply discussing telepaths. That particular pattern of reaction led me to believe something happened against your will."

There was more to it than just that, but that's really what cinched it for Laura.

While it may seem like she’s finished speaking, she does add another thought or two, “You try to disassociate yourself from others, which shows in your lack of trust upon first meeting someone. Most people without psychological wounds allow for a modicum of trust upon first meeting, unless something has occurred to otherwise tell them a person should not be trusted.”

All those words. Rattled off just like a textbook when in reality she could have simply said: You remind me of me.


Nerina fidgets with her knife. It’s a balisong and not one she’s well-versed at twirling. “<That voice is even harder to listen to over the phone,>” she admits, pausing for a moment to pick up the dropped knife. It looked a lot easier when the thug did it. “<…You’re right enough. I wasn’t sure you’d notice.>” The flautist does sigh. Words aren’t coming easily for her. “<I’m not telling you any more than that unless you swear to keep it between us. I can’t. You live with telepaths and anything I tell you, they can read from your mind.>”

“<I trust,>” she pauses, using the word intentionally, “<that you know I’ll leave if anyone else finds out about me, whether you tell them by choice or not. And you trust me - I can hide better than you can hunt.>”

-—-

“I would not tell them anything.” She states firmly, “And they do not enter my mind unless for communication.”

There's not much more she can say to impress upon Nerina that her secrets are safe with her, so, for no, she'll switch topics to the last of what the other woman said.

“You have not seen me hunt and I have not tried to hunt you while you hide - so I cannot say whether you hide better than my level of skill.”


“<But if they did, you wouldn’t know it,>” Nerina refutes. “<You have good eyes and a good nose but there is no sniffing me from the other side of the world or in a mountain cave. I’m a homeless nobody; I can roam far. Don’t try…>”


“I have tracked other targets who have thought they were hidden well.” X-23 states, “I use more than my senses to track people. My success rate was high.” Is what she ends with neither boasting or trying to be humble; just stating facts.

“But you have stated not to follow you so I will not.”


“<You can follow me, just don’t expect to catch me if anything about me gets out,>” Nerina clarifies. She lets the pendulum swing back to Laura. It was the assassin’s line of questioning anyway.


“Perhaps.” Laura will allow to Nerina’s words about not being able to catch her. Both have skills they have yet to see from one another.

“But as I stated before I will not say anything.” Not unless she needs to, but those words are unspoken.

“You will take care of yourself, yes.” Comes her statement-query, the slight increase to her voice allowing for said question.


“<I haven’t died yet,>” Nerina states in way of an answer. She looks down at the knife in her hand and loses herself in the glint of its edge.

“<I don’t understand you.>”

-
While Laura can relate to that last statement of Nerina’s, albeit understanding others not herself, she doesn’t quite offer that tidbit to the other woman.

Instead she’ll state, “What do you not understand.” And while it doesn’t sound like a question, it is, it’s just a question in Laura’s own particular way.


“<Why you live with those mutants and telepaths,>” Nerina explains thoughtfully. “<Why you trust strangers wandering your mind at their will… unless you were forced to live with them at first?>” It’s a guess, much like Laura’s.


“They have proved I can trust them.” Is Laura's response, still in those flat tones of hers.

And while she could end right there she doesn't. Instead there will be the faint sound of movement on her end, as she looks over the grounds of the Mansion.

“I was not created by mutants. I was created by humans. Even so, I do not see them as the enemy. The enemy is The Facility and those who would hurt innocents.”


“Then your enemy is the world,” Nerina replies cooly as her mind wanders and her responses come more slowly, pensively. “You must really be close to e

invincible…” she muses wistfully. “I’m jealous.”


“That is not an accurate statement.” Responds Laura to what Nerina says, “The world is neither my enemy and I am not invincible.”

Now she offers silence as she considers what next to say.


“<You’re close enough,>” the vagabond repeats. “<And it should be…>” Silence adds its reply as Nerina takes a drink from her thermos, another sound beyond the ken of her cheap microphone.

“<Fight who you want,>” she drones dismissively. “<Just don’t die too early.>”


“I cannot control when I die.” Comes Laura's quite logical words and while it may seem she doesn't quite understand the sentiment behind Nerina’s words, perhaps her next statement will prove otherwise.

“You should take care not to as well.”


Nerina looks down at her hand with a distant expression, turning it over to show her wound- and scar-free skin to the campfire beside her. “I won’t die before you do…”


Laura starts to say something and then pauses. She considers what they have both just said and something clicks for the slim assassin.

“You do not mean that literally.” She states, since Laura will likely live for a very very long time.

“It is a platitude.” She says as she hazards a guess in how Nerina really meant that.


“No it’s not,” Nerina replies glumly, then the phone line clicks dead.

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