Chapter 27: Friendly Stroll
Lenora picked a direction and started walking as soon as she was clear of the chaos at the front door. She made herself keep looking straight ahead, arms hugging herself tightly and purse to her chest.
He’s going to get caught, she thought helplessly to herself. He’s going to get caught because he thinks he can just walk out the front doors!
Every moment the urge to look back gripped her, but the small show of will not to surprised her. Her irrational mind quailed at the idea of drawing even the fraction of attention to him, claiming that if she looked back for him in the crowd, everyone else would look at him too.
Chewing on her lip, though a mild distraction seemed to help her focus on the sidewalk. Soon enough, the sirens dulled and she was walking down an unfamiliar street.
Please don’t get caught, please don’t get caught… She squeezed her eyes shut with her silent prayer and for the first time, her thoughts hazarded on her own dilemma.
Someone had seen her with him. Someone knew her face and her name, and had seen her with him.
Oh no, and they know his name! Lenora bit her lip in her shock, and she stumbled on a crack in the pavement. More likely it was her own feet betraying her and the shock of her realization was dulled by the sensation of weightlessness that happened as she started to fall.
A hand caught her elbow and righted her in a quick shove.
“Stop falling.” X-XIII scolded, and then he snickered. “Evil, evil sidewalks.”
Lenora gasped with surprise as she looked at him – hail, whole and healthy – standing right beside her. “You – how did you –“ She stammered, eyes wide.
X quirked an eyebrow and broke eye contact, looking instead down an alley across the street. His hands were back in his pockets and his eyes were half lidded in a predator’s relaxed state.
“Well, I killed the first one with a broken bottle. I jabbed it into his eye and twisted until he stopped screaming. The next one I killed with my very favorite knife –“
“No, stop!” Lenora shook her head to clear the images, and resumed her brisk pace, shivering at the tone X used.
It was blank, emotionless and factual. His eyes had betrayed no guilt and no remorse at his actions. If anything, she swore she saw a glimmer of malicious mischief glinting there.
She could feel his eyes on her, and after a moment, she could hear him falling into step behind her. It felt like a Hoverbike was whirling around in her brain without a driver, crashing and scraping into things carelessly.
Lenora put her cool hand against her forehead and took a deep breath.
“Where ya goin’?” X-XIII piped up, a lilt in his voice that sounded like trouble.
“Home.” Lenora responded, suddenly nervous.
Isn’t this what she wanted? Didn’t she want to find him again? Well, here he was! She should be thrilled, shouldn’t she?
Lenora nodded. “My apartment. You’ve seen it before.”
She heard him chuckle. “I remember. Soup.”
Lenora felt a faint smile stretch across her lips. “Yep.”
They walked in silence for a minute longer.
“I’m hungry, now.” X growled. He kicked something metal and it skittered across the street.
Lenora jumped, casting him a quick glance. The look lasted just long enough for her to catch his grin at her reaction. She scowled.
“Go get some Chinese, then.” Lenora tried to be dismissive. It was hard to ignore his eyes on her, however, and she found herself looking over at him again.
X was still watching her, but when he found that she was looking back, he shrugged and turned his attention elsewhere.
“Never had it.”
Lenora gazed at him curiously, studying his expression. He still wore the smirk – right corner cocked up, left eyebrow a fraction higher than the right one – but he broke eye contact with her and she thought she saw something cross his face…
“What?” he snapped.
Lenora jerked her head forward again. “Nothing.”
Lenora felt herself smile.
Once more, they were quiet. Lenora checked the street signs and picked another road to travel, all the while, X keeping pace with her like it was the most natural thing in the world.
She thought about the bathroom. Why she had followed him in she couldn’t say. Maybe it had been the big guy from the bar. She had heard that he worked for M. Jones, and if X had been going after his guys… well it was easier to distance herself from violence if she hadn’t actually met the victims. It was luck that had sent Lenora into the men’s room. She had seen X’s coat tail disappear inside, and she had to pick her way over the bodies and blood…
“…You’ve never had Chinese?” Lenora prodded conversation.
“…it’s a pretty basic staple down here. I mean, there’s a restaurant with Chinese food basically on every corner –“
X sighed. It was a dramatic gesture; chock full of equal parts annoyance and dismissal. “Maybe I have had it, I don’t know.”
“Maybe?” Lenora tried to catch his expression from the corner of her eye.
X curled his shoulders forward, and his eyes focused on the pavement with a rigid intensity. He brought his coat closed by using his hands in their pockets. However, other than the uptight body language, his face betrayed nothing past a mild irritation.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“I don’t know, I don’t remember, you going to repeat that too?” X muttered, furrowing his brow, left eye twitching slightly.
He didn’t look at her, but Lenora turned forward again.
She started chewing on her lip.
An idea crossed her mind, and instead of overthinking it, she just put it into action. It took them almost an hour to walk back to her apartment from this part of town, but with this man beside her, she felt strangely unafraid of the dark alley’s and strange sounds she heard.
Every once and awhile, X would hum something, or kick something down the street, or swing idly around a lamp post. He always managed to keep up with her though, regardless of the momentary distractions. Every once in awhile she would feel him staring at her, and Lenora couldn’t put her finger on the expression there.
Was it fondness? She had seen some of that in her apartment a month ago. Another part of her thought it may be suspicion; why was this random girl tolerating his presence? Especially after what he had done?
No matter her speculations, none of them seemed to fit, so once they had arrived back at her complex door, she had long since stopped trying to pinpoint it.
Like any normal night, Lenora went up to the complex door and started to unlock it. She glanced to her side to look at X, and then realized he was no longer standing there. Lenora slowly turned to look into the street, a brief gripping panic in her chest until she saw him standing just past the sidewalk, watching her.
They stood staring at each other for an awkward moment.
The both of them jumped simultaneously at the sound that came from surprisingly near by. Lenora spotted the creature just a few feet away down the sidewalk.
“Mrow.” The CAT stated again.
“Hello there.” Lenora smiled, crouching by the door and holding out her hand. “Are you damaged? Lost?”
The CAT approached with a struggling gait, and when it entered the direct light of the street lamp, Lenora saw why. The poor thing’s right hind leg was snapped at the ankle joint, and was dangling behind it. Not to mention the unseemly wear and tear that was its patchy fur.
“Oh, you poor thing!”
The CAT sidled up to her and ran a faint laser sensor over her hand before bonking its head into her palm. Lenora giggled – this one must have been with a younger family, they usually weren’t so openly friendly.
Her boss used to have a CAT – III, and it was a nasty little thing. It was apparently very realistic, but Lenora didn’t like thinking that real cats could be so snooty and angry.
She smiled to think that this low-grade model could be more appealing than the thousands of credits worth of technology that went into her boss’s old CAT.
“Mrow?” It inquired.
Lenora looked up to see X leaning in her doorway. She blinked, not having seen him move. He must have finished unlocking the door, because he held it open now with his shoulder and peered at her and the CAT with one eyebrow precariously raised.
“He wants to go inside.” X caught her eye.
This close, she could see all the little ‘x’ marks made of electrical tape, and how tattered and worn out and stained the black coat was. His boots were worn down to the sole and his dirty cargo pants were ripped at both knees and scuffed with blood and dirt.
Lenora could feel his discomfort as she studied him, but to his benefit he didn’t move and he didn’t flinch.
She almost smiled to think that her looking at him bothered him more then killing a room full of people.
“I guess today is just a day for taking in strays.” She said quietly.
Lenora scooped the CAT up and smiled at X. She slid through the door next to him, and pulled it closed behind them.
Pausing for a moment in the entry hall, Lenora leveled her gaze at X’s. She felt him tense in the space they shared, but she found that some of the light had returned to his eyes, and it soothed her. It was inexplicable. With the vibrant intensity she saw there, she felt equal measure of peace in her mind.
The longer she looked at him, the calmer he seemed to get, and by the time the moment had passed and Lenora was going up the stairs, a smile had crinkled the corners of his mouth.
“I’ll be a stray if you get Chinese.” X mumbled.
Lenora giggled lightly to herself. Her heart tumbled about in her chest as she held the poor broken CAT and her purse in her arms. In a moment it was as if she had seen the real sun glowing on her face.
Eight simple words, unrelated to anything important or earth-shattering, had turned her scant run down building into a palace.
And within those words, to her delight, Lenora hadn’t heard any malice.