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Invitation Accepted


"Boss wants you."

Martel didn't like Corday. She didn't like the little sneer he always had on his face. He wasn't the last person she wanted to see upon returning from a less than easy job, but he was pretty far down on the list. He couldn't even deliver his simple little message without spitting the words.

But she doesn't feel like starting a fight. Yet.

"Right, Corday."

"Hey, Martel," says Dorchet, tossing her the package they'd spent all afternoon retrieving. "Take this with you."

"Yeah, yeah."

She hears a thinly muffled snicker. She turns.

"What?"

The little messenger leers. "Boss wants you." Some of the other old boys snicker.

Okay, now she feels like starting a fight.

"Aww, Corday," she says making a pitiful face, "your girlish charms not doin' it for him anymore?"

Without waiting for a reply, she turns and walks down the hall amidst raucous laughter. Hell, even Roa's chuckling. Good. It would be a good fight later. Maybe she could get back in time for it.

That's just the way things were. She was military, she knew how that went. All the little dogs snap and snarl at each other when the big dog isn't around. Without Greed to "keep the peace," they broke into factions, the chimeras, former military on one side and the thugs of Dublith on the other.

She probably shouldn't say that dog thing to Dorchet, she thought. Then again, who knows? He might find it funny.

Did she know Greed wanted her? Sure. She wasn't stupid. He didn't say anything, didn't "come on" to her. But once in a while, once in a while she felt his appreciative, predatory gaze on her skin. The permanently open invitation from a perpetually available guy.

And he always waited for an answer.

It was plain common sense in the military. Don't get involved with your superior officers. It's more trouble than it's worth. In fact, it's nothing but trouble.

But then, this wasn't the military. No protocol. No regulations. No 'yes, sir. No, sir. Let me kiss your ass, sir.'

Still, even under that inviting scrutiny, she drew a firm line with the set of her shoulders, the stillness in her face.

He'd smile anyway. Content, she guessed, with the swing her fists rather than the taste of her lips. She'd rather fight anyway. It's what she's trained to do.

Yeah. That was a good answer.

It wasn't like he didn't have his girls, all powder and perfume, making all the right noises at the right times.

If she had wanted to be like that, she wouldn't have joined the military.

It was better to be safe than sorry, anyway.


It's hot, and this afternoon's job has left her sweaty. Sweat is something she hardly feels anymore. Snakes don't sweat. So, it means the human part of her insists on regulating her temperature, even as the snake part eagerly sucks in the heat.

It feels good.

The Devil's Nest is really the rabbit warren of tunnels and rooms underground. They had been here more than half a year and still, she hadn't seen the whole place. Still, Martel has more than her eyes and ears to "look" for Greed. She swings her head back and forth until she picks up the faintest prickles of moving heat.

She knows it's him somewhere in one of the back rooms. With all her senses, she knows, she knew the moment she saw him, that he was something else. Something other than human.

He looked human though, and that was good enough. Yeah, if she was honest about it she looked at him too. She'd seen some handsome soldiers in her years in the military, seen more than enough self-styled "ladies' men."

Greed was definitely "something else."

And somehow Martel knew all those perfumed girls probably didn't mind making all those noises.

But she isn't thinking about that at the moment. Right now, she's thinking about the fight probably going on in the main room, and how it feels good to be sweaty.

That's what she's thinking when she opens the doors to a back area, and the dim light from the hall shines on her boss lounging on the floor.

He's barefoot.

She almost laughs. His crazy boots almost seem like they grew straight out of his legs. She once even heard Dorchet and Bido having a semi-serious, semi-inebriated discussion about that.

No wonder she couldn't hear him moving around. She knows the sound of his step coming down the hall, not the crisp snap of a soldier's heels, but the unhurried swagger of someone who has all the time in a world that belongs to him.

He stands up.

"We got it," she says holding up the package of whatever it was that they'd gotten.

"Good," he says. "Bring it here." There's no sly suggestion in his voice, no set-up in his expression.

But—

But—

He's barefoot, and she's sweaty.

And for a moment, nothing moves.

Then he blinks deliberately, gives her that look from under heavy eyelids, a lazy smile on his lips.

Hell.

She'll probably miss a good fight, and that jackass Corday would really have something to smirk about. But hey, it'll be another excuse to punch him in the face.

So she rubs out that firm line she drew between her boss and herself. Rubs it out with a look of her own, with one step into a dimly lit room.

Darkness is meaningless to her now that she can "see" heat. She could thank the "doctors" in the bright lights for that.

But Martel doesn't want to think about that as the doors close behind her, as Greed watches her drop the whatever it is she's brought. She focuses on something else instead.

Why is there a mattress up against the wall?

Oh.

He doesn't touch her, doesn't let her touch him, maneuvering her backward to that mattress. It's a weird sort of dance, his bare feet moving without a sound, her boots following (or retreating, depending on point of view) his lead with muffled thuds. Only when her back presses against the soft, springy expanse does he nestle his face in her short, sweaty hair.

She wants to touch his chest, his stomach, his back. That shield thing. She's always wondered what it's like, if it's always there, if it's hard like diamond or soft like skin.

Soft like skin. At least right now. Even his shoulders and arms feel soft and relaxed.

He reaches over to run his knuckles lightly across the tattoos on her face, her neck, her shoulder. Some mad alchemist's pretty, permanent scrawls in her flesh.

If anyone else had done that, touched those marks, the deal would be off. With a fist to the gut, probably. But the hand Greed moves over her cheek has marks too. And when those fingers slip under her jaw to her other cheek, she presses her hands to his back, and pulls him to her. Body to body to mattress to wall. His arms and shoulders feels hard now, not because of that shield thing, whatever that is, but because—

She remembers the house cat she had as a little girl. Easy and fat. Soft as marshmallow in her arms. Unless something caught his attention. A far-off flap of wings. A rustle in the grass.

Then suddenly he became a mean little hunter, all muscle, lean and hard.

She doesn't smile at this memory.

Because that girl with the cat?

Dead.

Died screaming in a bloody blur.

Died in an unholy glow.

Died again and again in a sterile sea of satisfied smiles.

But still—

But still—

Someone is alive to remember that girl, to wear those deaths on her face, her shoulder, her neck.

Alive with a tiger's teeth at that neck, his muscle lean and hard in her arms.

She would rather smile at this now than that then. Smile at his grip on her wrist with one hand. Smile at his other hand, his marked hand, sliding over her ribs, up her breastbone.

Smile because this isn't some kind of schoolboy fumbling, some overeager groping. It takes her a moment to realize he's deliberately feeling for her pulse just under the skin. Neck, wrist, chest. He wants her heartbeat in his hands, feel it with his mouth. He wants her ragged breath in his ear. It wasn't just the press of flesh, the snap of teeth. Any bastard could want that. Greed reached out for whatever proved she was undeniably, unrepentantly alive. Imperfect, inhuman but alive.

Just like him.

And goddamn, goddamn, if he reached out to grab life itself with both hands, then so would she.

It won't solve anything. Fix anything. Hell, it might be nothing but trouble later. She doesn't really care.

With a small grunt she rolls them both off the mattress.

And pushes him hard into the wall itself.

"Ouch," he complains. She can hear the grin in his voice.

"Sorry," she murmurs at his neck, not meaning it.

No, she thinks with the beat of his manufactured heart under her lips. She hooks her fingers into his belt. She's not sorry at all.