Chapter 31: Background Beatdown
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“Hold still.”

Tee appreciated, from a distance, the grace with which Cassandra predicted Haze’s teleportation and his movements, slapping him out of her periphery with all the grace and precision of a particularly violent ballet dancer. His jumps were shorter and shorter, and Cassandra was ruthless. 

“That’s… quite something,” Tee heard from their side, as Flock stood next to them. 

“Yup,” Tee grinned. “She’s got a bone to pick with him. He’s the reason we ended up here to begin with, so…” Flock nodded, hands on her hips. “Besides, I think she can use the exercise, you know? Really work out frustration on someone who has it coming.”

“I can definitely resp-- ouch.” Flock hissed through her teeth. “I don’t think arms are supposed to bend that way.” Ellis stepped next to them. He had his gun relaxed in his hands, but he hadn’t slung it away just yet. It was probably for the best, just in case Haze tried something stupid -- or something clever. The three of them appreciated the beatdown in silence for a bit, until Ellis finally spoke up.

“So, uh…” he said, and Tee and Flock both turned to him, and he seemed more than a little bashful, avoiding the pair of playful gazes. “So, um…” he repeated. “Flock… Tee. Tee… Flock.” Tee crossed their arms and smirked at him.

“We’ve met, Ellis. Is there something else you’d like us to talk about, maybe?”

“W-Well…” he stammered. “Flock a-and I… we got, uh, close over these past few weeks, and I think, we, uh, would like to, um, maybe try to explore, uh, that relationship?”

“Is he always like this around you?” Flock asked, an evil smile on her lips as she raised an eyebrow at Tee, who returned one in kind, before nodding.

“Yes, he is. I think it’s delightful.” Tee paused and studied Flock for a moment. “Are you saying he’s not like that around you?” Flock blinked, then shook her head. Tee’s smile went from playful to wolfish. “Because Ellis is a hard switch.” They took a step closer to Flock, their voice thick with innuendo. “What is he like around you?” Flock took a small, seemingly involuntary step backwards. “Because if he’s all confident around you…” Another step forward from Tee, another step backward from Flock, whose face was rapidly becoming very, very red. “Oh my,” Tee said, and stopped, then looked at Ellis, and dominant became caring. “Of course you can explore your relationship, babe. Thank you for talking to me about it.”

Ellis, who had been enjoying the impromptu show, smiled back at her. “Of course. And thank you.” With that, he closed the distance between himself and Flock, who was still floating in the spheres between frazzled and flustered, and took her face in his hands. Tee appreciated just how weak this woman seemed to be to Ellis, and couldn’t resist biting their own lip. Ellis and Flock were very close together, and seeing the woman melt as Ellis kissed her filled her with a sense of almost inexpressible satisfaction. The noises Flock made were simply the icing on the proverbial compersion-cake. When the two of them pulled apart, Flock’s face was beet-red, and she looked like she’d been set to tumble-dry for an hour.

“How dare you,” she exclaimed, and for a moment Tee thought Ellis had committed some kind of faux-pas, but it immediately became clear that Flock’s ire, which was entirely fake and theatrical, was aimed at Tee. “You… you made me vulnerable!” Tee took another step closer to her, and again Flock retreated a little bit, her bluster melting like ice.

“It looks to me,” Tee said, “like it’s not very difficult for either of us to make you a little vulnerable, Flock.” The villainous Queen of Black-62 gulped as she seemed to understand the situation she’d found herself in. She looked between Ellis and Tee’s faces and realized that she probably would find no mercy with either of them. 

“Oh…” Flock said and bit her lip, otherwise doing a remarkably accurate impression of a deer-in headlights. Ellis was, ultimately, the one to come to her rescue.

“I’m glad to see you two are getting along already, Tee,” he grinned. “I think she’s not quite ready to see how well you and I work together. Not yet.” He winked at Flock, who only squeaked softly. Tee and Ellis both laughed softly. Ellis turned to Flock and pulled her in for a softer and much less dramatically poignant kiss, then whispered something to her that seemed to relax her, so much so that Tee wondered briefly if they’d have to mop Flock up off the floor. They turned to look at Cassandra, who, after briefly treating Haze like a hacky-sack, now seemed to be fighting him more seriously. Tee noticed he’d retrieved a knife from somewhere, but Cass seemed less than worried. 

“You think someone should tag her out?” Flock asked after she’d been disentangled from Ellis. Tee noticed with a little satisfied smile that the two of them were holding hands, but almost jumped when they felt Ellis’ fingers touch theirs, and their fingers entangled. They kissed Ellis on the cheek and got a proper kiss for it in return. 

“Nah,” Tee said. “I’ve seen her fight. I don’t know anyone who could take her in a fair fight.” There was a loud ‘thunk!’ as Cassandra hit Haze in the face with a bucket, before following up with a roundhouse kick that sent him flying. “And she doesn’t exactly fight fair.” Ellis sniggered. Tee noticed that Flock was looking between them with a puzzled expression. Tee drew her attention with nothing more than a simple look. “I take it you’re new to this kind of… relationship?” they asked, raising Ellis’ hand in their own. Flock nodded. “We’ll go over what we all want from this later, okay?” Nod nod. “The most important part is that we’re all here to make each other happy.” More nodding. Flock was paying rapt attention. “I love Ellis.” Flock blushed. That confirmed that. “You do too.” Heavy blushing. “There’s more than enough of him to go around. He’s not a cake.” For a moment, Flock seemed to get a brief injection of confidence.

“He’s a snack, though,” she said, causing Ellis to chuckle happily as he turned to Flock, giving them the perfect window of opportunity to kiss him on the cheek again. When he turned to Tee, Flock mirrored the gesture, and both her and Tee laughed at the same time. Flock took a breath. “It’s going to be a learning experience, but I’m a fast learner.” The look in her eyes, the one that had stars and adoration in it, convinced Tee that Ellis had found himself something worthwhile. “He’s worth it,” Flock seemed to mumble to herself more than anything.

“Looks like you are too, dear,” Tee said with a little smirk, having noted Ellis’ expression too. Flock’s face immediately flushed again, and she started to sputter a spirited denial. “I look forward to getting to know you, Flock. You’re… endearing.” More incomprehensible verbal noises from Flock reassured them that they would have a lot of fun indeed, but Tee decided that this was enough. They wanted to make sure to give Ellis and Flock some time to explore their new relationship without Tee adding fuel to the fire. They looked at Ellis and smiled. “I love you,” they whispered. 

“I love you too,” he whispered back, and they pressed their foreheads together in a perfect, quiet moment. They’d found him, finally. With Cass found, too, their family was, once again, complete. And with a little addition, apparently. Ellis sighed happily. “Thank you.” 

“Always,” they answered. “Thank you for coming home to me.”

“Always,” Ellis said. 

Aaaaa!” Haze added, as he sailed across the room in a perfect parabolic arc. Cass sauntered past the three of them on her way to continue the pummeling, when she saw Ellis holding two hands and she paused to ‘awww’ for a moment. 

Tee pointed at their eyes, then at Cassandra’s. “You’re next,” they said with a happy smile, and Cass blushing furiously was its own reward. It was eminently amusing to see a woman who could KO an elephant with a single haymaker be turned into a blushing maiden, and Tee was never going to get tired of it. Her eyes flicked between Tee and Ellis, and they both nodded, answering the unasked question. Tee heard an exaggerated, exasperated sigh from their right. Flock had thrown up her free hand in mock frustration.

“I’m going to have to share him with both of you, aren’t I?” she groaned, but Tee could tell by the smile playing on her lips she wasn’t as bothered as she was pretending to be.

“To be fair,” Ellis said, “at the current rate, I’m going to be sharing you with them too, so I think, all things considered, this can be considered fair play, yeah?” 

“B-- I-- Wh--” Flock said, looking at Tee like she’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Ellis kissed her on the cheek again.

“You lot are cute,” Cassandra said. Tee glared at her, and made up their mind. 

“Ellis,” they said. “Get her. Or I will.” Ellis untangled both his hands from the two of them, and walked over to Cassandra, saluting Tee as he walked past them. 

“Aye, captain,” he said, and stopped in front of Cassandra with his hands on his hips. “Sorry Cass, orders is orders.” Cass blinked in confusion. “Cards on the table,” he said. “I like you. I liked you back then, I like you now, and while I know you’ve changed, I’d like to get to know you all over again. You were and are my best friend.” He took on a less powerful attitude as Cass grew more vulnerable and less self-assured with every word. “I love you,” he said, more quietly now. 

“Ilvytoo,” Cassandra mumbled.

“What was that?” Ellis asked, and Cassandra seemed to want to crawl through the floor. “I don’t think I quite caught that.”

“I love you too. Ass.” Her bashfulness was too precious for words. She shot Ellis a sideways glance, and Tee observed them both with rapt attention, standing next to Flock. They were aware of the effect they had on the woman, but right now, both of them were appreciating Ellis expertly flustering a woman twice their size. 

“Question,” Ellis asked. 

“Answer,” Cass answered. She seemed to be a little more relaxed again, but Tee knew where this was going, and Cassandra’s confidence was about to be nuked from orbit.

“Can I kiss you?”

“Wh--”

“Can I kiss you?”

“Y-- Do y--”

There was a pause.

“Yeh.”

Another pause, but this one had kissing in it.

“They’re very cute together,” Tee said. Flock nodded as she crossed her arms.

“You know, I thought this would bother me more,” she said. “But it doesn’t. Is that weird?” Tee shook their head.

“Weird? No. Unusual. And if, and probably when, you do get pangs of jealousy or envy, don’t hesitate to talk about it, all right? That’s normal.”

“Okay,” Flock said, nodding. “Thank you. This is all very new to me.”

“I figured.” They bumped Flock’s hip with their own. “Anytime.” The two of them shared a very genuine smile and a look that lasted for a second too long, neither wanting to look away.

“Wow,” Tore said, sitting cross legged on a crate. 

“Fuck off,” Cassandra said sweetly.

“No, it is precious,” Tore said. “Do not stop on my account. We are only here to save your lives.” 

“Point taken,” Cass said, and turned back to Haze, who was a sad little heap, trying to get back up. “We should finish up here.” She took a step toward him when the far wall exploded in a shower of dust and concrete and what appeared to be a hovering bus backed up into the recently created hole. The doors on the drone opened, and a large man in his late forties beckoned them. Flock sprinted toward him, and the others followed, with Cass glancing at the empty spot where Haze had been just seconds ago. “Fuck,” she muttered, just before Tee grabbed her by the arm and dragged her to their escape vehicle. She quickly pulled away to grab her hammer, leaning against a wall like a discarded toy. The drone took off almost as soon as Tore, the last one in the row, had set foot onto the metal ramp. Several of the other mercenaries were already inside. Tee recognized Mandy, who waved happily at them. Tee waved back with a smile.

“Everyone, Shakes. Shakes, everyone,” Flock said. “He’s my second. Sitrep?”

Shakes nodded. “We got two other vehicles,” he said. “On account of th’ mercs helpin’ us, y’see.” Flock nodded with a grin. Tee was going to have to find out what that was about later. “Also got the escape cov’red, ma’am,” Shakes added with a grin. Flock raised an eyebrow. “Slow bomb,” he said, as if that explained everything.

“Wait, there’s innocent people in that building,” Ellis said. “Even if it’s on a timer--” Cassandra interrupted him.

“It’s not… uh…” she said.

“Neutronium reaction condensed by a proto-magical containment field,” Mandy rattled off, and pointed. As the drone flew past the floor where most of the fighting appeared to have been, there was a glowing ball, roughly the size of a truck, which was expanding at walking speed. “‘Slow bomb’ just sounds better.”

“Oh,” Ellis said. “Any way to stop it?”

“Nope. You just gotta walk away and watch as the bomb destroys your stuff,” Mandy said with a shit-eating grin. Everyone sat down on the seats lining the walls, and one by one, strapped themselves in. 

“What now?” Ellis asked.

“Now,” Flock answered, “we go home.”

Now we go home :)

If you like this story and want to know how it ends, the whole thing is up on my patreon! Subscribers will get access to every single chapter right now. Other than that, I will be posting a chapter (maybe even two) every other day. You'll also have access to my other stories, including some that aren't available on scribblehub yet!

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Among Brighter Stars is an ongoing science-fiction series that anyone can request additions to. 

Eris, The First God of Chaos is a VRMMO with a (secret) twist. :)

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I also want to point people at the discord server of the ever-prolific QuietValerie (right here) where you can find her wonderful stories, like Ryn of Avonside, Falling Over and The Trouble With Horns, as well as other authors' works, and talk about them with fellow fans, and even the authors themselves! I heartily recommend joining it and reading their works! (Also check out Walls of Anamoor. It's rad as heck.) 

Thanks again for reading, and I'll see you all in the next one. 

<3

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