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Chapter 1


Written by Raietta
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 1

"I, Cress," the girl said, "in the October day, in the dying October day."

It was not October. It was September, and the girl's name was not Cress. Her name, which embarrassed her, was Millie, and it was four o' clock in the morning, not the afternoon, so the statement she'd uttered was completely inappropriate. But she'd felt this great need to say something solemn, and that had just popped out.

She stood at the parapet of the tall apartment building roof and stared out into the black cityscape, the deeps of New York, full of vagrants and rapists and dealers, streets and alleys, late-night greasy spoons, tired waitresses, sleeping children, and sleepless superheroes. Somewhere, out there, would be SoHo, the Four Freedoms Plaza, the rich part of town. Darkened museums and deserted four-star restaurants and doormen with feet that hurt. Millie hated this city.

"I am going to die," she said. She said it to the air, and the air took the words away, into the morning. Yes. Yes. The solemnity of the night, the sky without stars but with a moon that wept, pressed in against her. The cement and brick of the parapet was like sandpaper against her hands. She pressed down, and felt the texture imprint into her skin. When the ambulance attendants put her on the stretcher, as they zip the black plastic over her, will they see that her hands still hold the marks of the concrete?

"I am going to die," she said again, more desperately, but nothing happened. Oh, God. Courage. Courage. She gripped the parapet. Wind pulled at her short, grimy hair. Courage.

"I am going to die!" she said, and willed herself to jump over the short wall. Her body refused to budge.

"Goddammit," Millie hissed, annoyed. She couldn't even kill herself properly. Even her death would be second-rate. She thought of how pathetic and miserable and sorry her life was, to bolster her spirits. She thought of the bruise on her back from where her boyfriend had hit her. She thought of her squalid apartment, and her equally squalid job. She went through her mental list of all the things that were wrong with her, starting out with her destitute state of life, running through her redneck past, and ending up with her shabby, pathetic appearance, from her multicolored hair, currently blue, which came not from some interesting mutant gene, but from a bottle, to the twelve piercings in both ears and the general fact that she was a second-rate punk knock-off.

"I am pathetic!" she silently shouted to her enervated hands. "Jump, dammit!" Her legs shifted, and Millie sighed with relief. Carefully, deliberately, she climbed up onto the parapet, then straightened slowly. The wind growled at her. It would help her when she jumped. It would practically push her right over.

Millie looked out over the silent city that was not silent, even now, at four o' clock in the morning.

"Yes," she whispered, squaring her shoulders, "yes.

"Jump!" she whispered, and there was a fantastic whooshing noise, like a rocket going off, from out of nowhere. Millie shrieked, losing her balance, as something, something, whistled past her ear and thumped onto the gravelly rooftop beside her. It was black and shapeless, as big as a man, and Millie was so surprised that as the object got to its feet her body finally did what she'd been willing it to do all morning; it toppled right over the side of the building.

"Here goes!" a voice in her head exclaimed happily, and she shrieked, a long, high, helpless, embarrassing scream, and she remembered hearing once that people who jump from buildings to their death do not black out before impact. They hit the ground wide awake.

She screamed, went over the edge, screamed and screamed despite herself, thinking I wasn't ready!!, and as she went over, screaming, the black object looked up, cursed in French, and raced up to the parapet.

"On a roll!" the voice in her head shouted jubilantly, and a hand snaked out and grabbed her shirt. The shirt ripped halfway up to her armpits, and Millie, choking now on her own screams, swung hard from the momentum into the building and smacked against the brick wall, where she dangled helplessly.

"I gotcha, lady!" a voice shouted at her, gripping her arm, and, stunned, Millie was unceremoniously hauled back up over the wall and dumped onto the ground. The world was spinning much more quickly than usual, all of a sudden. Millie lay prone against the parapet for a moment, gasping, images whirling in her head. She did not puke, and was gratefully surprised.

"You ok, petite?" her rescuer asked, crouched before her.

"I didn't puke," Millie said breathlessly, still in surprise.

The figure chuckled. "Close call, petite."

Millie wasn't really listening to the man's words. She lay still for another second, then shakily got to her feet. God. God. Millie's legs were suddenly made of Jell-O, and she stumbled forward. The stranger's hands shot out and grabbed her bony shoulders, holding her still.

God, she thought. God. I almost did it. I did do it. God. God. I really am gonna puke.

The man, still holding her, straightened her up, then held on while Millie sucked in a deep, deep breath of air.

"Better?" the man asked, and she looked at him. The man was tall, dressed completely in black, and hard to see, except for the occasional glint of metal at his belt. He had long brown hair hiding half of his face, and shadows hid the other half. The man cocked his head, and the shadows and hair slid to reveal a lean, stubbled jaw.

"Uh," she croaked. "Yeah. Thanks. Thanks." Good lord, what an unreal situation this was.

"Y' welcome," the man replied, and Millie was recovered enough to suddenly register the voice. It was rough and smooth at the same time, like honey and sandpaper mixed together. With an accent. It absolutely smacked of sex appeal. Goosebumps suddenly popped up along her arms. The man grinned at her, and she got a flash of brilliant white teeth in an even more brilliant smile. Millie's heart shuddered to a halt. She felt like someone had just snapped a thousand-watt flash camera in her face. The man lifted a gloved hand and ran a long finger down her nose. Electric shocks. More Jell-O legs. God!

"Next time y' feel like viewin' de city, padnat, don' be gettin' so close to de edge, ok? Not a good idea."

The man grinned again, then let go of Millie and started walking away. He moved like a cat, all sinew and grace, as hard as it was to catch his movements, and Millie could feel her brain turn to mush just looking at him.

"Hey!" a voice yelled in her head. "He's leaving!" Millie blinked, and realized it was true. Panic-stricken, she jumped to attention and shouted at the retreating form, "Hey, wait!"

The man glanced back at her as he made toward the rooftop door. Millie scurried after him anxiously. She searched frantically for something to say to make him stop. "Hey!" she exclaimed, catching up with the stranger. "You just friggin' saved my life and now you're just gonna wander off into the." she was going to say `sunset,' but stopped herself in time, ".shadows?"

"'S what I us'ally do, petite," the man replied, continuing on.

"But, but, I don't even know your name!" Millie wailed as they reached the door to the roof. The man opened it, and a bar of murky yellow light from a guttering bulb fell over them. Millie could suddenly see his face. An aria filled her ears. A thousand trumpeting angels paraded past. Her heart did an Olympics-worthy floorshow, complete with back flips and excessive cartwheels. Her hormones started squealing with delight. Her tongue dried up abruptly and withered away.

Hot damn. Millie should have attempted suicide much sooner, if having a total, absolute, screaming babe like him come rescue her was the result.

"Sorry, chere," his most supreme gorgosity said to her, giving a crooked smile, the smile Han Solo should have trademarked. "I gotta go. Business. I'm sure y' understand."

"No, I don't!" Millie squeaked, but the man brushed past her and started down the stairs, taking them two at a time. Millie kept right at his heels.

"You saved my life! At least let me buy you a cup of coffee or something! At least tell me how you ended up on the roof! Don't you want any coffee? I promise I'll pay!"

They reached the next floor, and the young man pushed through the gunmetal gray door, entered the apartment building, and started making his way down the empty, dim hallway. Millie kept right up with him. "Hey. C'mon," she said. She had the strongest urge to grab his sleeve and shake it like a toddler.

"Where de hell is de damn elevator?" the boy muttered, looking around. His thick brown hair fell away from his face for a brief second, and Millie finally got to see his eyes. They were black, completely black where the whites should be, and the irises were red. Cute! Millie thought. She'd once dated a guy with yellow eyes, but a mob of Friends of Humanity had swept up, noticed his scales, and tried to beat him to death, so he'd run away to Missouri or Iowa. Some fool place. Millie couldn't remember his name.

"There is no elevator," Millie told him, and the man stopped short.

"What?" he asked, looking at her.

"Well, there is one," she conceded, "but it's broken. Been broken since July. Can you believe it?"

"Yeah," he sighed, "somehow I can."

"I tell ya," Millie continued as they walked back down the hall, "this place is an absolute dump. You wouldn't believe the roach problem we got here."

"Chere, you got a real talent for conversation, you know dat?"

"Only when I'm trying to pick up hot guys," Millie replied, and the man glanced at her and grinned. Oooh-hoo-hoo- hoo. Heart-melting. "I try especially hard if they've saved my life," she continued. The man reached the stairs and continued on down them.

"Mebbe nex' time y'll have better luck, chere," he replied as they hit the next floor. "'Specially if y' get Spiderman. You two c'n talk t' each odder till dawn."

"Do you know Spiderman?" Millie asked, keenly interested. They were now at the fifth floor.


"If I guess your accent right, will you tell me your name?" she asked him. Fourth floor. The man chuckled.

"Hey," Millie said, grabbing his sleeve. The man stopped and looked at her. Millie pointed down the hall. "The elevator starts working, here. You can use it, now."

"How convenient," the man snorted as they went down the hallway, Millie's ratty tennis shoes squelching on the peeling linoleum floor, the man's black boots silent as mice. The only noise he made was from his belt, which was large and thick and had all kinds of pouches and weird metal doohickeys dangling from it, clanking softly. Maybe he was a carpenter or professional handyman, coming home from a client's leaky faucet via her roof. Sure! Good one, Mil! Idiot.

They reached the elevator, the boy pressed the `down' button, and lo! it actually worked. A pitiful note chimed off- key, the doors shook open, and the man gave the elevator only one dubious glance before walking inside. Millie stepped in right after him, and pressed for the lobby. After a moment of painful hesitation, the elevator doors slowly juttered shut, only to spring open again a couple of times before finally closing for good. The elevator descended.

"You put your life into your hands every time you ride this thing," Millie commented.

"What, no Muzak?" the man muttered.

"Thank God for small favors," Millie replied. The man grinned. Lord. He was a walking wet dream.

"Cajun," she said abruptly.


"Your accent," Millie said brightly, trying for her own charming grin. "Louisiana, right? I gah-run-tae!"

"Impressed, petite," he said, still grinning. "An' on y' first try, too. How'd y' guess?"

"Darkwing Duck."

The man gave her the kind of look one generally reserves for senile old men and rabid dogs. "Huh?"

"I used to watch this cartoon called Darkwing Duck all the time," she explained, "and in one episode there was this semi-evil villain named Jambalaya Jake."


"He was from the Louisiana bayou, he had an outrageous accent, and he had a pet alligator. I think the alligator's name was Gumbo, but I'm not sure," she finished pensively, trying to remember.

"Your knee is bleeding, petite," the man told her. Millie looked down and saw that her right knee was all scraped up and bleeding crankily from her little misadventure on the roof.

"Aw, shit," she said, wishing she had a hanky or a wad of toilet paper to pat it with. "I'll probably get all infected and die," she muttered. The elevator slowed to a surprisingly smooth stop, and after a couple of tries the door successfully opened.

The man in black escaped the lift and strolled across the dirty, run-down foyer.

"Hey! Aren't you gonna tell me your name?" Millie exclaimed, dogging him determinedly. "I guessed your accent right. My name's Millie, by the way." She offered up a smile, but he was still on his way out the door. "I hate my name," she said quickly, to detain him. "But it's short for something even worse. I tried to get everyone to call me Julie or Catherine when I first got here, but they all refused."

"Millie. Cute name. Nice meetin' ya, Mil. Real pleasure." He grinned as he opened the exit door. "Keep away from rooftops now, y' hear?"

"Hey, wait!" Millie felt panic swell her throat. She would never in a million years see him again. This was her only chance, and it was slipping away right before her eyes. "Please?" God, she was pathetic. No wonder he didn't want to be in the same vicinity as her for any longer than necessary.

The man stopped for a moment, as if weighing something in his mind. Hope flared in Millie's heart. The man in black turned around and smiled at her. It was the kind of smile that either melted hearts or made them explode, the kind of smile to tempt an angel, slow and sinful and absolutely beautiful. Millie had the overpowering urge to jump him, or just lie down right there on the floor and giggle.

"Chere," his royal hotness said, in a voice like silk and chocolate. He stepped close to her, and Millie felt like she'd just entered a heat wave. "I would love t' take y' up on y'r offer f'r coffee," he crooned, grinning salaciously. He stepped even closer, and gently touched her jaw line with lean, long fingers. It was all Millie could do to keep from toppling over backwards in ecstasy. "But I got t'ings to do, ma petite heureuse. Important t'ings. Ok, padnat?" He leaned in close, as if for a kiss, but stopped just centimeters from contact.

Her bones melting inside her body, her brain turning into a pile of goo, Millie was just about to giggle and coo and let him be on his way, when suspicion dawned. She snapped abruptly out of her euphoria. "Hey, wait a minute!" the voice in her head exclaimed indignantly.

"Hey, wait a minute!" Millie echoed, equally indignant, aloud. The man blinked and moved back a pace.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, buddy?" she demanded angrily, glaring at him. She was suddenly furious. This was too much. "Do you think I'm so stupid you can just flash me a smile and turn my legs to soup and then, while I'm all fluttery and senseless, you just waltz out the friggin' door?"

"Uh," the red-eyed man began. He apparently didn't have any lines prepared for this particular situation.

"You little slut!" she shouted at him, furiously. "You tease! You think I'm a fucking moron!! Oh sure, just give the pathetic little sex-starved self-loathing simpleton a wink and a grin, lead her on, then leave! She's so mindless she won't even notice you're gone!"

"Hey, now," the man began again, perplexed, but she wasn't listening. Something else came to her, and suddenly the man and the lobby weren't there at all. Instead a view of the empty moonlit rooftop spread out before her, and the city beyond it. It had been so quiet. Just her and the wind and the lights far below and away. And then other images drifted up to her, whispered in her ear, memories and views of dirty, crowded rooms, paper- thin walls, and then she saw her hands at registers,

punching keys all day long and making change, over and over and over again, over and over and over. She remembered how tired her body always was, and the face of the last boy to play at love with her, the one who lost her her baby, the one who took her money and called her names. The same names her father used to call her mother, before he hit her, and then her mother would hit Millie and her brothers and sisters, but that was all a long time ago, and Millie was still a loser. And she was ugly. She'd run away and taken up with bad boys and crazy girls and dyed her hair wild colors and given it wild cuts, she'd

gotten one piercing after another, worn combat boots and baby tee's, but none of it had been able to hide the fact that she was ugly. And stupid. Too stupid for college. Too stupid to make any money. Too stupid to stop that other thing from happening, the thing that made the baby go away, and she still had nightmares, and she was just too stupid.

And even here, in New York City, the city where even mutants get breaks once in a while, where the hated find refuge, even here, Millie could not hide from the fact, the unchangeable unalterable unavoidable fact that she was stupid, she was ugly, she was a nobody, she couldn't do anything right. She couldn't do anything right. And she would always be pathetic, until the day she died.

Millie went and sat down on the bottom of the stairs, her anger suddenly washed away. She put her head in her hands and sat.

"Petite?" the man said, quiet, hesitant, at the doorway, but Millie didn't reply. Her bones ached. She was so tired.

The man was in a dilemma. He glanced at the door, yearningly, then back at the girl. Door, girl, door, girl. He looked at his watch. He sighed.

"Hey, girl," he said, and on silent cat-feet went and sat beside her, belt jingling quietly. Millie didn't look up.

"I don' think y'r stupid, hon," he told her softly, a long strand of hair hanging along his cheek.

It was a moment before she stirred. "Yes, you do," she said quietly, her voice tired and old. "I am. I am stupid." She kept her head in her hands.

"No, y'r not," the boy replied, a trifle unsettled-sounding. "I don' believe dat at all."

"Go away," she whispered.

The man refused to budge. "Y' guessed m' accent, didn' ya? Dat's real smart, petite. Plus, it ain't ev'ry day a body falls off of a building, an' you handled dat real well. Mos' odder people, dey'd be a whole lot more shaken up."

"That's just because I'm a ditz," the blue-haired girl muttered, still not looking at her companion. "Anybody with half a brain would've taken longer to recover. I'm just too ditzy to react like a normal person."

The man shifted on the stairs and frowned pensively. "I don' see it dat way at all. I t'ink dat was damn mature of yah. I mean--"

"It doesn't matter!" she suddenly shouted, and looked up for a second to glare at him, her eyes wet. "I'm stupid, ok?! And I'm pathetic and a loser! I was out on that roof because I was gonna commit suicide! Ok? I was gonna jump off the building anyway, but then you showed up and surprised me! I'm a fucking nut case!"

Silence. Millie put her head back down and clenched her teeth tight, grinding them down to powder.

"It's Remy."

Millie's teeth became unclenched. "Huh?" she said, confused.

"M' name," the man said, looking resigned and ill at ease. He gazed resolutely at the wall of mailboxes lined up across the room. "You guessed m' accent, so that's m' name. Remy." He heaved a deep, long sigh.

Millie stared at him. "Really?"

"Yeah," he replied dully, looking defeated. He scuffed his boot along the linoleum, for all the world like a six-year-old boy.

Millie considered this. "Like in the movie? The Big Easy?"

"Like in th' drink," he said, still gazing at the mailboxes.

"I think that's actually a line in the movie," Millie said, trying to remember. "Smooth and easy, or something like that. The drink's a Remy Martin, right?"

"I need a cigarette," the demon-eyed man muttered.

"Smoking's bad for you," Millie intoned automatically, on reflex.

"So's a lot of stuff in de world," Remy said, with a remarkable show of control.

"Sorry." Millie grinned apologetically. "Coming from a roof jumper, that's kinda out of line." Then, on another track, she murmured thoughtfully, "Remy."

"Dumb name, huh." Remy gave his own half-hearted smile. It was self-depreciating and not at all like him.

"No! No way," she was quick to reassure, "I like it. It's cool. Different. I've never met a Remy before. Smooth and easy, like the drink."

"A tease," Remy remarked slyly, and Millie's face turned as red as her bloody knee.

"Oh, jeeze," she moaned, dropping her head from sheer embarrassment.

"Hey, it's ok," he told her, smiling, and patted her on the head. Millie peeked at him through her short, rough fingers. "I been called a lotta t'ings in my life," he continued, grinning roguishly, "but I don' t'ink I ever been called a tease. Or a slut. It be a whole new experience f'r me."

"Oh, jeeze," Millie reiterated, her cheeks burning. "Kill me now!" the voice in her head wailed.

The man in black shoved her playfully on the arm. Grinning, the girl shoved back, then socked him lightly on the shoulder.

They sat together in the lobby for another minute, silent and smiling, before Remy stood up with a sigh, straightening gracefully. Millie watched appreciatively. He moved like a dancer.

"Well, petite," he said, "it's been fun, but I gotta go."

"Business. Right," Millie said. Heartbreak! Wail of despair!

"I was in de middle of somet'in' when I came `cross y'," he explained, feeling odd, because he usually never bothered to explain himself to anyone, least of all a perfect stranger with punk hair and happy eyes. He guessed it was the way she smiled without actually smiling. He liked that. It made him chatty.

"That's ok," Millie said, still sitting on the steps. "I understand." Then she smiled at him, and he found himself smiling back for no good reason. Lots of smiles going on around here. He leaned down and, quickly, kissed her on the cheek, brotherly. Millie leaned in and kissed him back, on the mouth.

"Hey!" Remy exclaimed, straightening, surprised and grinning. Millie couldn't believe she'd gotten away with that. Neither could Remy. He was the one who did the chasing, not the other way round. "Ain't you a forward cuss," he said, his smile brilliant.

"I've got nothing to lose," Millie explained, her own smile matching his in brightness.

The thief chuckled as he reached the door. "Twerp," he said.

"Goodbye," Millie said softly, and Remy replied, "Take care o' y'self, pup. Be good. I'll see y' around."

"You will?" Millie blinked at him, perking up.

"Bet on it," he said, gazing straight at her. "Remy keeps `is promises."

Millie smiled. "What's up with you referring to yourself in the third person, all of a sudden?" she asked, but Remy just grinned, and then he was gone. The door swung slowly shut behind him, and Millie, once again, was alone. But this time, she was happy. The happiness was everywhere. It sang inside of her, in her bloodstream, in her bones. It was amazing.

Dawn was coming soon. Millie crept into her apartment, took a blanket from the couch, and went on upstairs. Back on the roof, the city was coming to life. Somewhere was a bird, being sleepy and soft, and somewhere else was the grumble of a garbage truck. Wrapped up in the blanket, Millie sat at the parapet and watched it all, the waitresses going home, tips in their purses, people flipping on lights and turning on showers, dogs barking, stores readying themselves for the day, and over it all came the dawn, the color and the sun, and over even that was the joy of a jumper with a reason not to jump, and she was happy.

She was happy.


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