A resident of the Real World for over five years, he had never actually been inside of an apartment building. Seeing so many doors crammed together in the hallways seemed quite strange.
He looked down at the paper in his hand, which simply said: "Nova, East Ridge Apartments, #5."
"So. I guess this is the right apartment," He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Well. Here goes." He wracked the door with the metal on his knuckles.
He waited for a few moments before tentatively knocking again.
A muffled voice came from within, "Coming!"
The Viral's jaw slackened slightly and the breath caught in his throat at the sight of the young woman who answered the door.
Chunks of damp dark brown hair were plastered to the sides of her slender face while the rest hung limply just above the dark green material of the bathrobe that was wrapped about her body.
What intrigued Blaze the most were her eyes, they were a color he had never seen on a human before: a piercing light green. The brown of her hair caused the color to be even lighter than what he assumed was the normal coloration. They were lit up with curiosity and a hint of fear as they surveyed his face.
When she spoke, her voice was low and gentle. "Can I help you?"
The woman's voice brought Blaze back to his senses. "I...uh...Nova?"
"You're not afraid of me?"
She cocked an eyebrow. "Why, because you're demonic looking? I don't judge by looks. You'll frighten me only if you mean me harm...Do you?"
"Wh-no! I just...Yuri sent me-"
"Oh." She sighed and leaned against the doorway. She muttered something to herself, looking at the floor.
"I can come back another time..."
"No, no it's all right. Come in." She stepped back out of the doorway.
He stepped inside, surveying the living room. Although small, it had several pieces of matching burgundy colored furniture and a large flat screen TV sitting on an entertainment system.
Blaze settled himself down on the left side of the couch.
"Just give me a moment. I need to check on dinner."
The Viral couldn't keep himself from staring at her as she made her way to the kitchen.
A sudden aroma of meat and spices came wafting in from the kitchen that made his mouth water and stomach lurch with hunger.
"Bah...dammit. Shut up, stomach."
"Are you hungry?"
Blaze looked up to see Nova standing in the doorway, a warm smile etched across her features. "Uh...no, not at all."
The noise from his stomach betrayed his words, causing his pale face to darken slightly with embarrassment. He heaved a sigh.
She giggled. "I think your stomach says otherwise. Are you thirsty?"
"A little bit."
She disappeared from view for several minutes before returning, a plate of hamburgers and a bottle of beer in hand.
She set them down on the coffee table before sitting herself on the right end of the couch, leaving the middle cushion unoccupied. "There you go. I hope you don't mind hamburgers, I made them earlier for lunch."
"Thanks." He set to wolfing down the food with as much dignity as he could muster.
The young woman watched him quietly until he had finished the first hamburger, then spoke. "So, ah. What is your name?"
"Like as in fire?"
"So...do you use some kind of fire abilities then?"
Blaze chuckled. "Nah. It's just my nickname."
"Oh, okay. I know you're not human. What are you, exactly?"
Her eyes widened. "Really? I had heard rumors...but you can hardly trust those. That's so neat!"
Blaze tensed up as the woman's fingers touched the arm of his leather jacket. Although he couldn't actually feel anything more than the pressure of the leather against his skin, it still made him uncomfortable.
She ran a finger across the metal platings of his hand until she reached the claw-tips. "So are these gloves?"
"And you actually have claws, like if you take the gloves off, they're pointy?"
Blaze shifted uneasily. "Yep."
The young woman picked his metal-plated tail up suddenly, giggling.
Irritated, he pulled his tail from her grip, stuffing it under his leg.
Nova lowered her gaze, wringing her hands. "Sorry..." She stood up and hurried into the kitchen.
Blaze sighed and slumped down. "This was a bad idea. Should probably just leave."
After a few moments he got up and started for the door.
He turned to face Nova.
"Sorry if I bothered you. I don't want you to leave if Yuri sent you. He wouldn't appreciate if I turned down his friends."
Blaze stared at her for a few moments. "Turned down...wait. Did you...think I meant he sent me here for sex?"
Nova shrugged. "Why else would you be here?"
"I..." He rubbed the back of his neck. "I don't know exactly. I guess I just wanted someone to be around."
"I can do that, too." She walked over and sat back on the couch.
"I just think I've imposed too much-"
Nova smiled. "Oh, not at all." She patted the couch cushion beside her.
He tentatively returned to the position he had occupied previously.
Nova clasped her hands together in her lap. "I am sorry about bothering you."
"It's okay. I just don't like being touched much."
He looked down at his hands. "Just makes me uncomfortable."
"I'm used to physical contact, not much my choice, really."
"So uh...Nova, may I ask you something?"
"You're supposed to be a..."
"Why am I one?"
Nova's expression turned sullen. "That, well. It isn't a long story but is depressing."
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
"Oh, no, it's all right. Uhm. Where to start..." She furrowed her brow.
She laughed half-heartedly. "Yes, that would make sense. Okay...beginning. Might as well start with my mother," She paused for another moment, seemingly trying to collect her thoughts. "She was one of those rebellious high-class girls. Like what you see on TV. She got in with the wrong crowd and addicted to drugs. As the story goes, she found her way to this guy and he helped her feed her addiction by having her sell her body."
"That's pretty awful."
"You might have figured that isn't the end, since I'm still not in the picture."
"Well go on."
"Now, I'm still not entirely sure who my father is. Mom says it's this random guy she slept with. She refuses that it could be the guy she first met."
"What does the guy say?"
"He's tried to claim me. I think it's more so he can keep me in the fold. She just uses me to make her extra money. Since she's gotten older, she has less clients and less money."
Nova shrugged. "It's all I've known since I was a little girl. I never got the chance to go to school. Between my mother and the other ladies, I learned enough to get by. Not that this 'profession' requires any kind of need to read or write or skills other than to lie on your back and keep quiet. So I can read a little and write even less."
"How old are you?"
"N...nineteen?" Blaze stared at her in shock.
Nova nodded. "I don't think that's too young. Do you?"
"Well no? I mean...you don't look nineteen, you look older."
"I was nine when my mother first put me out onto the streets."
Blaze's jaw dropped. "W-wh...th-that's horrible!"
"She just wanted more money. There's plenty of creepy men willing to pay extra for a chance at a little girl rather than an older woman."
The pair were quiet for a short while.
Nova broke the silence. "So...may I ask about you?"
"Oh. Uh. I guess I could tell you some of it."
"You can just leave out anything you don't want to share."
"I won't start with before I was around, parents or nothin'. I'll just skip to what I did before coming to the Real World."
Nova tilted her head questionably. "'Real World?'"
"Here. There's a different place, where I come from."
"I was a Bounty Hunter, you know, bring in people," He paused, noting the woman's horrified expression. "Surprised? You can probably see the weapons I carry, they aren't for show."
"I...I did see the gun on your boot."
"They still get used."
"Is there anything else?"
Blaze tilted his head back to look up at the ceiling. "There is. How I ended up in this world, I guess. Kinda fuzzy now that I think about it. Been about five years. I stumbled across this kid one day. Shrimpy thing. Tough though. Wasn't scared of me. He had accidentally found his way into one of the portals that connect the two worlds. Long story short, when he went home, I went with him. Just to see what this place was like. Haven't really been back since."
"What happened to the boy?"
"The boy. You said before you were here because you wanted to be around someone."
"He..." Blaze stopped and closed his eyes. "Dammit!"
Nova jumped violently. "I-I'm sorry!" she squeaked.
Blaze covered his eyes with his hands. "Don't apologize. Just a...delicate matter."
She wrung her hands. "How about a different subject, then?"
"Do you live here with anyone?"
Nova nodded slowly. "I do," Suddenly her expression changed to fear and she looked over at the TV. "Oh no..."
She leapt to her feet, pacing nervously and muttering, "I...I forgot how late it's getting. He'll be home soon. Why did I not pay attention?"
Blaze stood up, bewildered. "What?"
"You have to go!"
She hurried up to him, stopping short so she wasn't touching him, but her hands were still out as if she was trying to will him to move. "Please!"
"Okay, okay! What's your problem? Who's coming?"
There was the sound of the door knob moving.
"Too late!" Nova whispered.
Blaze looked over his shoulder at her only to find her hiding behind him. He noted that she was shaking profusely.
He looked back to the door when he heard it open.
A man stood in the doorway, a look of surprise and rage on his drunken features. His short charcoal black hair was an untidy mess and his white t-shirt was splattered with beer and food grease.
Blaze cocked an eyebrow. "This is who lives with you?"
The man looked from Blaze to Nova. His face hardened. "Nova!" he roared. "How many times have I told you: no men in my house except me! Especially not your clients."
"Shut up, you whore!"
Nova whimpered, pressing herself against Blaze's back.
Blaze clenched his jaw in anger. "Hey asshole-"
"Oh, please don't."
The man looked up at Blaze, seemingly haven forgotten him previously. "Get out of my apartment!"
"Make me." Blaze growled, clenching his fists.
"Blaze!" Nova whispered pleadingly.
The man put a hand in his pocket. "I will if you don't leave now!"
"He has a gun." Nova murmured.
Blaze rolled his eyes, expelling a heavy sigh. "Fine. I'll leave."
He fixed the man with an icy glare as he passed by him. As soon as he was out of the way, the door slammed shut behind him.
He stared hard at the door. "If he harms her, I'll kill him."