Author: Guede Mazaka
Dwight liked to call Miho a cat. To her face he said high-bred Siamese, but when he and Gail were sauntering down the back-alleys, laughing like there wasn’t three inches of burning space carefully separating them, he called her kitty. Street kitty from the East. Someday Miho was going to overhear and cut off his damn fool head, Gail always told him. And he would grin yes and suddenly they would be leaning towards each other, one laugh shared between them because fuck if he didn’t already have a line waiting for his head. For a moment, everything would be fine and good, but eventually one of them would flex fingers towards the other and then they’d both come back to themselves. Remember the reality behind the black jokes.
They never peacefully finished a walk together. It was too hard to go their separate ways pretending that they were just another pair of friends saying see ya for the day, so they didn’t bother making it easy. Life had taught them to ignore sharp cuts better than it had frayed, stretched connections.
Sometimes Gail picked up another shift afterward so she could work off her steam and see that Dwight was being sensible, that they couldn’t risk breaching that intervening space. That was when she came away angry and bitter with fists beating a tattoo against her thighs. That was most of the time, because she had a damn short temper and she wasn’t about to rein it in for anyone.
But once in a while she came away with the click of her heels slurring and overlapping because she felt so worn down, worked over. Then she went home, which was a decent loft of an apartment but which was short of furniture. She liked it that way. Work meant putting on the mask and soaking up the atmosphere, meant lots of showy scene-setting, and work was the last thing Gail wanted to bring back with her.
After unstrapping herself and getting into something that wasn’t jacking up this body part or flattening that, she liked to make herself coffee. Most people drank it when they wanted to perk up, but Gail drank it when she wanted to mellow out. It just worked that way for her.
She usually left the window open because the air-conditioning was shit and breezes were cheaper anyway. It never was long before a shadow slipped across the far wall and she turned around to see Miho balanced on the sill.
For all Gail knew, Miho lived on nothing but coffee and the blood splatters of her victims. God knew she never saw the other woman eating or drinking much else.
“You want sugar?” Gail would ask instead of acting startled. By now she had gotten into the habit of setting out two cups, and she would pour while Miho carefully laid her sword on the counter and perched next to it.
Sometimes Miho wanted it, sometimes she didn’t. When she took the mug from Gail, she always paused to sniff. Didn’t show any expression about it, so Gail couldn’t tell whether Miho thought it was great or shit, but Miho always drank it no matter what.
Guess that meant Miho liked her. Some of the older ones said Miho had been a whore, back a few years, but she damn well wasn’t now. Still, she acted like she was one of the girls and no one saw any point in telling her different. She had spilled enough blood for their sakes to earn the right to it.
On those nights, Gail’s back and calves and ankles were usually killing her. All that strutting in high-heeled boots brought the eyes her way, but it was hell to get used to. And even after she had done that, the pain still came roaring, and especially when she was already feeling bad. She would ease herself onto the floor and lean against the cabinets, balancing her mug on her knees. If Miho hadn’t taken sugar, Gail would ask again after the other woman had taken her first sip. God knew Gail’s grinds tended to be months old.
Soft tinkling of Miho’s earrings as she would shake her head. Tiny quiet thing, she was. Could almost mistake her for a doll. Almost.
Here was where Gail rambled on and on about the bitches of the day, about her frustration with Dwight, about all the shit in her life because hell, if Miho was going to sit there, then Gail could pretend she had a sympathetic ear. Maybe Miho was, maybe she wasn’t, and maybe Gail’s babbling was going to bite her in the ass someday, should Miho ever decide to reveal some of the secrets she’d been told. But maybe Wallenquist would try a desperate final strike at Old Town and they’d all die in the morning, so who the fuck cared about a few paltry personal truths?
So Gail would talk and Miho would sip her shit coffee, and when either the coffee or Gail’s voice gave out, Gail would stumble off to the shower. Sluice tepid water over her muscles and pretend she didn’t give a damn.
Once Miho had come in while she’d still been rinsing the suds off of herself. It’d been a good couple of seconds before Gail had realized that those were small clever fingers tingling her and not merely soap bubbles, and by then her mouth had already been dropping open in a moan. Usually Miho waited till Gail had staggered out, rubbing her hair with a towel, and had flopped on the bed. Stressed Gail’s tired body less, though Gail had to doubt whether that was why Miho did it.
She never asked, and Miho never told, but afterwards when they were curling in the sheets and Gail had her hand gentle on Miho’s back, resting between the shoulderblades, she had to wonder. Because if it was one thing Miho didn’t do, it was let people touch her. Yet there she would be, muscles slack beneath Gail’s palm and eyelashes lowered to throw long shadows across her cheeks. It made Gail smile—not in triumph or anything stupid like that. More like the way she smiled at Dwight’s departing back.
In the morning there might be nothing but a long hair caught between the bottom of the shut window and the sill. Or there might be a delicious smell and soft cursing in the kitchen as Dwight tried to figure out where Gail hid the syrup to go with the pancakes. He always glanced at her once when she wandered in, half-apologizing and half-reminding that he couldn’t apologize for not doing wrong by them; doing wrong by himself or by Gail was a different fight that was too hot for either of them to touch. Then he’d turn back to his cooking and toss off a comment about the latest scandal in the papers, or about some weird happening in a corner of Old Town.
When Dwight came around, Miho stayed to see the sun rise. She would already be delicately forking bacon into her mouth, little ass back on the counter and eyes flicking between him and Gail. Sometimes Dwight would start to ask her for a plate, or for the butter, but she’d already be handing it to him. While her sword snugged her hip.
For a long time, Gail had figured that it was just him saving her life, but somehow that round explanation had never circled Miho’s angles. Then she tried looking at Miho as an Old Town woman as well as an icy assassin, and…maybe it was because Dwight was good-looking and because he talked to her like he would anyone else, deep respect mixing with a precarious insolence, and because he never touched her first. Her or Gail. He waited for Gail to swerve a hip his way, or in Miho’s case, to hold up her empty plate.
His reaction was usually to grin and drop a pancake on it with one hand, and with the other he’d risk a quick, nervous stroke of Miho’s hair.
She didn’t smile, but she didn’t cut off his hand, either. And while he talked with Gail, leaning against the counter and eating in between words, Miho would curl up on the counter with her head nearly bumping his hip.
If it’d been any other woman, Gail would have long since committed double homicide. Even if it’d been any other Old Town woman—that damn waitress was only safe because she was too much of a ditz to be competition—she wouldn’t have been able to tolerate it. But it was Miho and Miho was silent and deadly and loyal, and Miho softened the edges lying between Gail and Dwight. Surprisingly.
For all of that, Gail didn’t think the other two had fucked. She thought Miho wanted it, and she thought Dwight had had a few passing thoughts, but it’d gone about as far as she and Dwight had since that one night. Maybe that was it, too—other women came in with the assumption that they were going to get Dwight, but Miho did so knowing that she wasn’t going to have him, even if his prick did make its way into her cunt. There were too many lines to cross, and too many lines crossing between the three of them for any one of them to find a way free.
Dwight usually had Gail in a good mood within a few minutes, and by the time the food was gone, she’d be so comfortable that she would just fall quiet, grinning. He would smile back but with his lips together and his head a little bowed, and it would be long seconds before they noticed that their hands were resting together on the dip of Miho’s waist.
That was about as close as any of them got to peace, Gail thought. It was why she kept letting it happen. And maybe it was why, even though she never set out any treats, Dwight and Miho still kept coming back.