I Should've Changed My Name To Alice
Murphy’s Fourth Law: If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong.
Louisiana was contemplating suicide by aspartame-overdose, and wondering if the chandelier in the ballroom was made of diamonds or just glass, when somebody flipped the script on her.
The normal routine was to enter the room, get stared at for lack of wardrobe cooperation, and make polite (read: mind-numbing) chit-chat with the locals. However, by the time she’d reached her third glass of red, fourth reintroduction to some fucking pseudo-aristocrat, and fifth mutter into her earpiece to “Shutthefuckupguys!”, Jules had found her and began dragging her to meet the host.
Even as Louisiana marveled at how easy that had been and what a nice change it made, she was thinking, That can’t be right… The way the night should have gone was to drink copious amounts of alcohol, make the rounds, figure out which stuffed shirt was Beauregard (made infinitely more difficult by the masque theme), and charm him up to the top floor.
Finding him immediately—or, more accurately, being summoned by him—was not part of the plan and made her level of general suspicion skyrocket up to border-line paranoia.
There is no such thing as paranoia. There is no such thing as paranoia, she repeated her mantra over and over again as weaved through a group of tuxedos trying to impress a mini-dress. It seemed as if Louisiana wasn’t the only one who’d balked at the Victorian monstrosities and opted for only the Venetian masks.
Maybe he’s just one of those types who greet every guest in person, she thought to herself hopefully.
Yeah, and maybe York is actually interested in you and not just trying to get Carolina to stop forgetting he’s alive, replied a nasty little voice in her head.
Louisiana almost snapped back furiously with a retort including the words off and fuck before she realized that she was essentially about to insult herself. Way to go, dumbass.
Besides, flirtation was attention without intention and Louisiana was determined to enjoy it, however fleeting it was.
Ducking between another perfectly-suited couple (trying to keep up with Jules’ much longer legs), she caught sight of an unmasked man in the middle of the room talking to a woman in a bright red dress. An unmasked man that Jules was heading directly towards.
His back was turned toward them so she couldn’t see his face but his thick blonde hair and the way he held himself made Louisiana’s stomach drop and set off a warning bell or two. Dozen. There is no such thing as paranoia.
When they had reached the man she assumed was Beauregard, her companion politely said, “Excuse me, sir, I found the woman you were looking for.”
The man turned around and Louisiana lost her breath and fought the urge to vomit, feeling like she’d been sucker-punched.
It wasn’t. It couldn’t be. But it is, said that little voice in the back of her mind.
Louisiana was seriously fucked.
She’d know him anywhere. The piercing blue eyes, broad shoulders, sharp cheekbones, and chiseled everything. Not to mention the smug arrogance that permeated every inch of his being, from his perfectly polished shoes to his perfectly coifed curls.
Well… this was an unexpected development. But nothing she couldn’t handle. Yeah, right, scoffed the traitorous voice. Nothing you can’t handle… by rabitting. Like you always do when shit gets tough.
But, as his gaze swept over her body, Louisiana couldn’t see any recognition, just polite curiosity.
“Of course,” the man said in perfectly modulated tones. “I’m delighted to meet you Miss… Essex. I’ve just heard so much about you that I feel as if I know you already.” His full lips curved in a not-quite-smile as he extended his hand towards her.
Louisiana had to fight every survival instinct she had so as not to bolt when she heard that voice again. Calm yourself, she silently ordered as she extended her own hand. And nearly yanked it away when he brushed his lips across the top of her hand in a would-be gentlemanly kiss, a mockery of the stunt Jules had pulled in the hall.
Five years is a long time. You’re not a scared little girl any more, she told herself firmly. You are an agent of Project Freelancer, a soldier, and you will not run from this room screaming “Bloody murder!” You’re wearing a mask so he shouldn’t recognize you. Now, stop being rude, smile, and say something polite, God dammit!
Louisiana smiled graciously and replied, in her British lilt, “Well, thank you so much for the compliment, Mr. Beauregard, but I’m afraid it’s not exactly deserved. I am just, for all intents and purposes, the black sheep of the Phoenixes.” She made a point of keeping eye contact and letting him hold her hand for a few seconds longer than necessary before taking it back.
The man smiled boyishly (completely aware of how attractive he was) before replying, sincerity made flesh, “Oh, please, Ms. Essex, feel free to call me Antoine!” ‘Antoine’ winked at her before whispering, conspiratorially, “Mr. Beauregard makes me feel old.”
“Well then, Antoine, I must insist that you call me Lucille.” Louisiana kept up her smile, and even threw in a little laugh for everyone’s benefit. But her stomach almost rebelled when his smile widened, as if delighted that she was playing his little game.
Evidently, he knew exactly who she was. That was the point of bringing her over here in the middle of the crowded room, invading her space. Invading her life.
The bastard always did like to play with his food, she thought bitterly.
Then he gestured for the red-clad woman to join their cozy little group of one girl-child on the verge of a panic attack, one cocky prick in a charcoal suit, and one blissfully oblivious moron.
The Red Dress stopped at his side, cringing so subtly when he put his arm around her waist that Louisiana didn’t even think he noticed (Interesting, she thought, clicking the mental File and save button), and looked the Freelancer over.
Louisiana stiffened when she saw the familiar tactic of sizing up an opponent, automatically straightening her back and lifting her chin defiantly (then rolling her eyes internally when she noticed her own reaction).
Quirking an eyebrow, she gave the slender woman the exact same treatment. Louisiana glanced at her impeccably tight little body in her impeccably tight little red dress, and the strappy gold heels that she wore to disguise her lack of a vertical advantage, and doubted that there was even an inch in difference between their heights. Her legs were long and sturdy, her skin that beautiful, porcelain type (nearly making Louisiana scream with envy) and her breasts were those perfect, perky B cups that men were always going on about.
Bite me, the Freelancer thought to herself.
By the time her eyes had gotten above Red’s cleavage, Louisiana was already green with jealously (as opposed to the still-present need to puke) and hating herself for it. But she forced herself to commit every part of the woman to memory. If that bastard was flaunting her then she must have been important.
The top half of Red’s face was obscured by a Colombina identical to Louisiana’s own (though it was red with gold accents instead of black with silver) but enough could still be seen to know that she didn’t have a single fucking freckle on her heart-shaped face.
Angels would have been afraid of marking up that oh-so-perfect, Rose McGowan complexion.
Louisiana also noted how pretty the tiny, tightly packed diamonds rimming the eye-holes (like it was designed by a color-confused raccoon) looked as they complemented those huge grey eyes. Not to mention how the golden plumes looked against all those dark, thick, silky curls that cascaded down to Red’s waist, the front locks pulled back so as not to impede her view of the world. And didn’t that golden, sparkling dust swirling from the corners of her eyes around and down onto her cheekbones in little spirals just look beautiful.
Suffice it to say that, despite her fascinating reaction to ‘Antoine’s’ touch, Louisiana hated the woman. Everything about Red brought to mind every single one of Louisiana’s insecurities…
After a silent moment (though it seemed much longer), during which the women scoped each other out, the dark-haired beauty before Louisiana stretched out her hand.
“I’m so pleased to meet you, Ms. Essex. My name is Jeanette Yankee,” she said faintly, her voice making Louisiana almost jerk back in surprise. It was soft and warm with a subtle, Tennessee twang (not to be confused with the Director’s Texan drawl) and made her reconsider how old the girl was. Yes, girl, because Jeanette couldn’t have been any older than herself. Quite possibly even younger.
Mentally shaking her head (after all these years that bastard hadn’t changed a bit), Louisiana took the girl’s hand, shook it firmly, and gave her a genuine little smile. Jeanette’s plump, shell-pink lips curved upward faintly (apparently Jeanette did everything faintly) in response.
“Lucille. Please,” she just couldn’t resist the urge to be nice to the little sweetling. Then she glanced at the man next to Jeanette and lost her smile.
What did he want? To freak Louisiana the fuck out? Check. To make her worry about every single person that she knew and had ever come into contact with? Check. But what else could it be?
Then Louisiana saw the blonde, blue-eyed bastard’s look of genial innocence falter as his eyes glazed over for a second. She peered inconspicuously into first one ear then the other, under the pretense of inspecting the other guests.
Lodged discreetly into his left ear was an earpiece identical to Louisiana’s own. Unable to keep herself from asking, she piped up, while snatching another glass of wine from a passing tray, “So, Antoine, I’m afraid I’m a bit stumped.” She sipped the sweet, albeit alcohol-tinged, liquid before continuing. “Certainly, it’s been quite a bit of time since my last attendance to one of our functions, but I’ve been careful to keep abreast of all Society goings-on. However, I can’t seem to remember ever hearing your name. Are you new to the Phoenixes?”
Louisiana couldn’t help but relish the annoyance that flashed over his face when she pulled him away from what information he was receiving (Ha, suck it!) but his expression cleared immediately and he smiled again, though it was much more strained.
“Yes. Brand new, in fact,” he replied, distractedly. He pressed his lips together in a thin line as he went back to listening and Louisiana took the opportunity to idly admire the mouth that a woman would betray her moral fiber to bite into. Too bad it was full of forked tongue.
She took another sip, this one more appreciative than the others as she savored both the taste and his expression. Obviously he’d expected her to flip at seeing him, so she’d do just the opposite, being cool, calm and totally, completely sane.
Well, at least it was a plan.
His expression dropped for a split second again, and a look of alarm passed over his face. “Ah–I am so sorry, my friends, but I’m afraid I must depart.” Then he looked at Jeanette and said, “Would you mind accompanying me? There seems to be a bit of a security-snafu and I’ve a feeling I could use your… particular talents.” His voice would have seemed smooth and effortless to anybody else but Louisiana had known this man for thirteen years of her goddamn life and could detect the undercurrent of urgency as he spoke.
Jeanette’s eyes widened, she obviously heard it too, and nodded. He apologized again (Jeanette adding her own into the mix) but before ‘Antoine’ left he looked directly into Louisiana’s eyes and promised, “I’ll be sure to see you again before this is all over.”
Louisiana couldn’t contain a shudder as the two walk off, their stride purposeful.
“Well,” Jules said, his eyebrows creased. “That was a bit weird.”
Yeah, no shit, Sherlock, Louisiana thought as she shook her head and excused herself as well, placing her glass on a passing tray as she walked. She looked back at him as she exited the room and noted his abandoned-puppy expression but pushed her guilt to the back of her mind.
Away from prying eyes, she looked down the hallway and contemplated her options. To the right was the elevator and to the left was a door with a sign indicating that it led to the stairs.
“Louisiana? Are you alright? Can you hear me?” York’s voice made her jump and she noticed, once again, the strange echo of his voice. Like it was being transmitted into a large room before being relayed to her… Her eyes widened with comprehension.
Well, unholy fuck.
Louisiana had her heels off and was booking it up the stairs within seconds.
“Foxtrot 12, initiate immediate radio-silence! Sever all communications until further notice and radio for evac! Now!” And get my fucking armor onto the roof, while you’re at it!
She didn’t even wait for a confirmation of her orders before she switched channels.
“Kale, are you there?” There was a slight pause before a single beep was heard.
Louisiana sighed in relief. “Instruction: comms One-Niner-Papa-Charlie-Zero-Five.” After another pause, there came a series of animalistic growls and hisses. A pseudo-Morse code, developed between the two specifically for a situation like this, which translated into:
Louisiana saw the sign proclaiming which level she’d reached. She’d have growled as well if she had any breath to waste. Another forty levels? Oh, for the love of fuck!
“Okay, good. Listen, it’s a bit of a situation over here, you know? Would you mind cleaning house? Or is that too difficult?” She knew that Kale was a sweetie but also that he was the very definition of vanity and the only way to make sure that he did something was to insinuate that he couldn’t.
Louisiana wasn’t sure whether or not she was imagining things as she checked all the doors on her current level—she really didn’t have time to jimmy a lock, though she would if none of them were open—but Kale’s silence seemed a bit resentful.
… All channels or just this one?
“Meh. Whatever you think is necessary.”
Affirmative. Do you want me to get your armor onto the roof, too?
Louisiana could have very well screamed when the last door at the end of the corridor was locked as well. “Nah, York’s got that covered.”
Who’s that, your boyfriend?
“Oh, can it you little pink cock-bite!”
I’m lightish red!
“Ugh! Could you do a favor for me and open this door? I have an idea for a quicker way to the roof…”