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Contessa

Aberrant: 200X - All Day And Into The Night

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The Calamity Cave, aka, Contessa's basement, was the pinnacle of gamer engineering. It was complete with high definition television, surround sound and about every gamin console available on the market. With carpeted floors, paneled walls, and bright florescent lighting, this was Contessa Danae and trusty sidekick Mixie's secret hideout. Here they'd spent endless summers lounging on the big sofa playing any number of games or wasting away the days watching Hulu, Netflix or G4.

The only thing that made today different was that Mixie was watching television alone while Contessa fretted about the basement finishing collecting her things.

"Uh, Ceej, relax. I think you have it all." Mixie said without looking behind her, feet up on the table. She casually flipped the channels looking for something good on. "It's just E3. You'll be gone for a day, not a month."

"I know, I know!" C.J. paced back and forth, going through the mental list of everything in her N7 travel pack. "I'm just... I don't know, nervous. Alex and I haven't really hung out yet, it's different in person! You know?"

"I know what you mean, but relax. Alex is pretty cool." She let her head fall back and looked at her pacing friend almost from upside down. "So, you going to make a move or what?"

Tessa stopped and looked over at her. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, flirt with him. Turn on the Calamity Jane mojo." The Asian girl's giggly expression boderlined evil. "You said his girlfriend was a total psycho, he doesn't need a woman like that. Make a play for him, Ceej. You can't stay single forever."

Contessa huffed and turned to look in the mirror. Her soft blue tee read 'My Eyes Are Up Here' and it hugged her perfect nova frame in an almost unnatural way. Her jeans were faded and looked great on her, while her blonde hair nearly shimmered in the light. As always, Contessa was perfect. "We already talked about that. Whatever my personal feelings, Alex is a friend and he's in a relationship. If I respect him, then I must respect his relation ship too." She grinned as she noticed her her pink lip gloss was perfect, along with the rest of her make-up. "Wow, my fake-up is really looking good today. I wonder why."

"Because you want to look good for him." Her best friend rolled over and relaxed on the back of the sofa. "That's what you fake-up does, it changes to suit how you want to look and God do I hate you for it. You know it takes almost forty five minutes to get this face of mine on. And don't change the subject, at least test the waters, he might go for it."

The basement door opened and a shadow stretched across the floor. "Punkin', there's a glowing man at the door. Did Ming order anything I should know about, or is this one for you this time?"

"Okay, really?!?" Mixie tossed her hands up in protest. "You mis-order something off EInherjar's fan site and you never hear the end of it, geez!"

"He's for me dad!" She said with a smile at Mixie's antics. "I'll be up in a sec."

"You wish he was for you." Mix grinned evily and stuck her tongue out at Tessa's 'behave yourself' glare as she bolted up the steps.

Running through the house she darted to the front door and swung it open after a peek through the window. Once she cast her eyes on Alex the world slowed down and an obligatory pan up his body began in slow motion. All the was missing was Kenny G to do a slow sax solo while she took him in. She blushed almost instantly, he was so intense in person. "Uh, hi." Was about all she got out before she did her first tucking of her hair behind her ear. "Um, hi."

Mixie just banged her head on the door frame of the basement and prayed Alex just destroyed her quickly.

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An hour and thirty earlier

"You're sure you don't want to come?" Sunshine asked Jael as he sunned on the balcony next to the two women, wearing only a pair of trunks. The three were at breakfast, with Jael and Bombshell eating the normal nova-sized plates of bacon 'n' eggs and Sunshine eating, well, sunshine. His golden skin glowed with sub-dermal fluorescence as his physiology drank in the rays, making him appear to have a faint corona of golden flame around him. He was going to hang out at E3 today with Contessa, and though he was excited, he was also a trifle uncertain how Jael felt about it. After all, she had been jealous of Contessa before.

"I'm sure." Jael smiled at him, wanting privately to drag him back to bed and lose herself in him for the next three hours, or ten. Whatever. "Jason's got me a screen test for Valkyrie today. I just hope I'm up to it."

"Pff. You're kidding, right?" Jason and Alex both said in more or less unison.

"Jake's really looking forward to seeing you work, Jael." Bombshell told her expansively. "You've got the edgy-but-beautiful look they need for the part."

"You'll be awesome." Alex nodded in agreement. "And they're really cool on the set, too. Jake keeps talking about having me come on sometime as a young Balder, which means sword lessons!" he grinned. "Jase says once I'm graduated, she's got no problem with it."

"That's right." Jason nodded, managing to make shoveling bacon into her mouth look graceful and poised. "That's as much for Utopia's benefit as mine, though. If it was just up to me, I'd be more inclined to let Jake use you now and then, but the Project would throw a fit." She rolled her beautiful, expressive eyes. "Because it's a sex and violence show, I guess."

"No wonder you and Ein are such a hit on it." Jael said wryly, but she smiled at them both.

"Speaking of sex and violence, I'd better get going." Alex jumped up and pulled on his blue jeans and a white Left 4 Dead t-shirt reading 'Don't startle my Witch' in bloody red lettering. Jase grinned and Jael laughed as he held his hands out to the sides and looked at them for approval.

"And who is your Witch, exactly?" Jael asked him with narrowed gaze. Sunshine grinned at her as he picked up his bag. In it were a camera, his OpPhone, wallet and sandals, and he slung it onto his back as he bent over and kissed her on the cheek.

"You are, of course." he told Jael in a low voice as he looked soulfully into her eyes, smiling. Jason rolled her eyes and tried not to laugh. Jael grabbed Sunshine's face between her hands and kissed him properly.

"And don't you forget it!" she told him as she broke the kiss to breath, enjoying the dazed smile on his face as she let him go.

"Not going to happen." he answered with an ear-to-ear grin as he mock-staggered to the edge of the balcony and fell over the rail, waving 'bye' just as he toppled from view...

To rise again at speed, waving once more at the other two before he went into a wild corkscrew up further, trailing golden light in a waving pattern behind him before accelerating to supersonic speeds. In moments he was above the clouds, breaking through into direct sunlight and orienting himself towards Michigan.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

When Contessa opened the door, all cutely adorable and vibrating with nerves as she stammered through her greeting, Alex blinked. Contessa over the OpNet was brash and confident, quickfire with her comebacks and repartee, if sometimes a little dorky - a real console cowgirl. Seeing her blush red and practically nibbling her bottom lip to death as she tucked her shining hair behind one ear Alex, who was the same person in person as he was over other mediums, was a little taken aback.

Plus, of course, she was beautiful. He'd known that before, of course, but Ceej dressed up and uncomfortable at a big party was different to Ceej in jeans and tee. There, she'd been preoccupied and timid with all the new people around, and not so much focused on Alex. That plainly wasn't the case now, from the long look she'd given him from under her thick lashes.

"Uh, hi to you too." he smiled warmly into her big blue eyes. Gorgeous or not, Contessa was his friend, whereas Jael was his girlfriend. And, of course, his Witch. "You're looking nice, Tessa." he told her sincerely.

"Thanks!" Contessa almost glowed despite her blush deepening. "Uh, you too! The shirt is awesome. And SO appropriate." Her brain caught up with her mouth and inserted a couple of post-its. "I mean, because Jael's so... um, aggressive. Not that it's a bad thing she likes you so much. Because it totally isn't! I mean any girl would... Aaannd I'm going to stop talking now. Come in!" she said brightly, stepping aside and waving the glowing young heartthrob into her house. Alex stepped in, filling the hallway with summer and smiling at Doctor Danae, who was watching from the kitchen doorway, a mug of coffee in his hand and an expression somewhere between amusement and interest on his face.

"Hello sir." Alex said. Contessa whirled after shutting the door, realising that her dad was about to do a Dad thing... too late.

"Peter Danae." Dad said, stepping forward and offering his hand. Sunshine took it with a smile, shaking it firmly.

"Alex Andrews." he replied. "Pleasure to meet you, Mr Danae." he smiled.

"Call me Peter, I think." Dad told him after a moment. "And likewise it's a pleasure to meet you, Alex." Contessa recovered sufficiently to grab Sunshine's arm and steer him towards the cellar.

"Sorry dad, we've got to dash before Mixie decides to call up everyone she knows to come and mob Sunshine for autographs." she babbled as they went down the cellar steps. Mixie was already back on the couch, 'casually' reading a magazine and peering over the top of it as the two teens came down the steps in a faux-disinterested way that fooled nobody, especially Contessa.

"Okay Punkin. Have fun today, okay?" Dad called down. Tessa rolled her eyes slightly, then felt her 'Danger, Will Robinson' alarm go off as Mixie lowered the magazine and stared unabashedly at Alex.

"You're hotter in person." she said by way of greeting. She looked accusingly at Tessa. "You never said he was hotter in person. I was all braced for like, this much hotness-" she held her hand about a meter off the floor. "-and he gets here and I'm like, wow, I can't see the top of that hotness. Thanks, Ceej."

"Um. Thanks?" Alex said with a laugh, looking at Tessa with dancing blue eyes. She blushed red again.

"No, no. Thank you Mixie. On planet Earth, we say 'Hi, how're you, I'm Mixie.'" Contessa huffed as she went to pick up her bag. "Alex, that's Mixie, in case there was any doubt. Mixie, this is Alex, in case there was any doubt."

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"Uh, duh." Mixie gave Tess a look that scolded her for stating the obvious. She offered Alex her hand and, for a baseline, Mixie sire had a few curves and an alluring smile of her own. "It's nice to meet you Alex, seriously. Don't mind me, I'm like this with everyone, but now I can certainly see why Ceej has been sportin' the lady wood around here lately."

"Oh. My. God." If she was beet red before, she was about to border line on a heart attack any moment. "I can not believe you just said that..." She spun about and covered her face so Alex couldn't see he embarrassment and stepped away, feigning like she was looking for a few more items.

Mixie simply composed herself, looked at Alex, grinned and winked at him. Her best friend's life goal was to break Contessa out of her shell, even if it meant being a little bit a bitch every now and again.

"She likes you." Mixie mouthed silently to Alex while nodding her head. She then approached him and draped an arm over him, smiled, and said softly in his ear. "You seem like a great guy Alex, but I love that blond train wreck over there with all my heart. That means when your crazy girlfriend cuts her, I find you. You break her heart, I find you. You hurt her, I find you. Nova or not Glowstick, I will find a way, and it will hurt." She smiled wide and looked at him, then gave him a huge kiss on the cheek before winking at him again. "You two have fun, kay?"

"I'm, out of here Ceej, take lot's a pictures airhead, kay?" She skipped up the steps only to duck back down for a moment and look at Alex. With her index and middle finger she pointed to her own eyes, then slowly turned her hand about to point them at his, then like a ninja, she was up the last few stairs.

"Scram harlot!" Tess shouted as she walked back into Alex's currently dysfunctional personal space. "I'm mad at you!"

"Not you." She clarified in much more calmer voice. "Ugh, I'm sorry, she's just... well, her. I hope she didn't embarrass you. She's awesome, once you get to know her. Uh, well, I suppose we should get going? We flying or warping? I uh," She fidgeted and remained in a constant state of flushed. "I don't fly very fast, maybe warps would be faster?"

The basement wall wavered and then sucked inward like it was being pulled through a vertical drain, spiraling inward until it was so distorted in became another scene entirely: the rooftop of a building in the city where E3 was being held. "Um, after you. I, uh, don't get out much, you are probably a little more worldly than me, mind if I kinda follow along?"

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"Um, sure." Sunshine was still blinking a little from being Mixi-fied. What was it with him and dangerous women, anyway? First Jael, whom he loved to distraction but still, she could be a bit scary intense towards other women around him. Then there was Fahrenheit, whom he hadn't seen since the charity party, but whose interest in him had set the young godling on edge. And now Mixie, who threatened dire vengeance if any harm, physical or otherwise, befell her friend due to Alex. He looked at Contessa. At least she wasn't ready to cut, burn or otherwise wreak mayhem on or over him. "I'll go first and make sure it's safe." he said with a radiant smile that caused Tessa's heart to flip-flop.

Shouldering his bag, he stepped through the warp without any qualms at all, emerging on the flat roof overlooking central Los Angeles. Although it was still morning here, the sun shone down with scorching force, heat shimmer rising from the rooftop of the ESPN building where Tessa had decided to open her doorway through space. Ahead of him Sunshine could see the L.A Convention Center, a large glass and steel structure shining in the morning sun, and he smiled as he watched the crowds queueing up to get in for the 10 AM start of the Expo's second day.

"Whew!" Contessa blew out a breath as the heat smote her with nearly physical force as she stepped through her portal. "L.A. in summer." She looked at Alex, who seemed unaffected by the heat. Well, not entirely unaffected. Within the swirl of his aura Sunshine's skin seemed to glow brighter, taking on a shifting solar corona effect as his cells drank up the strong natural light. "Wow." she said before her brain could catch her mouth, then blushed beet red again. "I mean... Uh, we are so gonna attract attention."

"Really?" Alex said with a grin as he swung his bag off his shoulders.

"Really." Tessa told him as she watched him pull on a pair of sandals then straighten up.

"Don't worry." he said deadpan. "I've brought a disguise." And with that he slipped on a pair of false spectacles, thin black rims with just normal glass in the frames, and smiled brightly at her. Somewhat stunned, Tessa wondered if there was an opposite for the much-touted hot librarian fetish that guys seemed to have. If there wasn't before, there was now. "See? We'll blend right in." Sunshine told her with a exaggerated expression of helpful innocence on his face.

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"Mmmm." She smiled, arms folded and nodded her head. She knew the joke and where Sunhine was going with it but felt a cute blond moment was in order. "An MIT Grad, at E3. Alex, you're a genius!"

Alex opened mouth to add more to his joke until it registered that she'd completely missed it (or so he thought). Momentarily at a loss words he just wort of tilted his head, absorbed in her blond moment.

"Gotcha." She giggled and beamed him a smile the Jael would have flayed her for and him for becoming lost in it. "C'mon Clark, let's go see if we can get our geek on."

With a squeal she ran away from him as he gave chase for her blond ruse about his humor and just like that they were off the side of the building and soaring through the air on an instinctual impulse fro their node to not allow them to fall. "Just out of curiosity... is it Kent or Griswald you were going for? I'm still not quite sure..."

"That's it." He laughed and she squealed again taking off at a break neck speed to circle building. He gave chase, the two of them laughing the whole way until a truce was decided as they soared down lower to the pavement. Like a true gentleman, he offered her a hand as she stepped from defying physics to the sidewalk where her feet touched down softly.

"Why thank you sir." She was as bubbly as one could be.

"My pleasure." He offered her in reply with more charm than a Disney Prince.

Novas flying through the sky didn't garner too much attention in this day and age, mostly because they were out of reach, but once they landed the crowds of people seemed to come in droves to follow them around see where they were heading. Neither minded much, at this point they were both pretty used to it, but it made Contessa feel a bit awkward, she hated crowds. With E3 being an event not open to the general public, they both breathed a sigh of relief as they entered the event and began to wander around.

The booths were all lit up and drawing attention from their respective designers and the demo area was on fire with all hard core geeks already trying to master a game that was just the first ten minutes of play. Ceej never understood how mastering a game demo could be considered brag worthy, but some geeks made a life of it.

They hadn't said much since the street, but now they were alone to wander and the quiet was kinda making her feel awkward. Friends are supposed to talk to each other, so she thought she'd give it a shot. Without Mixie around, Tessa wasn't really good at starting conversations. "I, uh, hope Mixie's threats of destroying you if you hurt me didn't offend you. She's just looking out for me." When Alex looked at her she just smiled and raised her hand to stop the next question. "Yes, I heard. Co-locative perception, remember? If I wanted I could hear what was going on in the booth on the opposite side of this place like I was standing there. I heard it all and she's just looking out for me. She's been my bodyguard since we were four. It used to be her and this other girl, Monica Bowman, they'd always beat up the kids who picked on me because of my burns. Now it's just Mixers, and she really means well, she just worries."

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"Don't worry about it." Alex smiled at her, causing a couple of booth-babes who caught the expression to experience something best described as a 'flutter'. The sort of flutter that butterflies use to cause gales on the other side of the world, perhaps. Contessa wondered if string theory could explain that smile and the slow somersault it caused her heart to make. "I think it's awesome that you've got a friend like that. Jase and Jael are the same way about me." He shot her a sideways look and winked. "And that was even before we hooked up, in case you wondered."

"Of course." Contessa said brightly. "Jael found you, didn't she?" she asked casually, though the story was all over the OpNet for those who cared to dig into the Crush story. Which Ceej had, purely for research purposes since meeting Sunshine at the charity event. Alex nodded, studying the demonstration of a new graphics engine at one booth for a moment before replying.

"Yes." he said. "She was helping dig through the wreckage and came across me in a rock-bubble deep underground." He smiled a little then, dispelling the somber atmosphere. "She was the first person to speak to me. And dress me, too. In a blanket."

"What was it like?" Contessa asked him gravely, her baby-blues warmly curious as they studied Alex's profile. He was easy to speak to, not defensive like Se- that guy. "Waking up all blank." They paused, leaning up against a railing and idly watching the crowd between addressing each other.

"Strange." Sunshine said after a moment, smiling at a group of passers-by who plainly recognised him before turning his cerulean gaze on Contessa. "I was having thoughts before I had words to express those thoughts in. Forming connections without understanding what the connections were between." He pursed his lips slightly as he remembered the bleak frustration as he tried to mimic words in order to communicate, all to no avail. "It's like trying to fly by grabbing your ankles and pulling yourself along - without being a nova to help." he added with a dazzling grin. Contessa smiled back, imagining what it was like to be trapped in her own head and not even able to communicate.

"Sounds hell." she said with a cute wrinkle of her nose. "I'd have gone postal."

"It didn't last long, gladly." Alex chuckled as they started through the convention center again, heading towards the latest hardware displays. "Everyone was there for me: Jael, Jason, Katya, Paul - he's a friend of Jael's - and a girl called Ghostwriter. They got me reading and speaking with Hooked on Phonics." He laughed then as a memory struck him. "Katya said once that I should approach the company that makes them and give them an endorsement."

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"It'd be pretty cool of you." She nodded. "Oh my god, check it out," She held up OpBox controllers that had an incredibly familiar design to them. Alex was pretty impressed. " Batarang controllers! Oh, these are so cool, I have to get one."

She quickly set them down as a few unsavory geek types snapped a few pictures thinking she was a booth babe. She scampered away swiftly, falling into Alex's radiance, she wrapped her arm around his unconsciously. "Okay, moving along..."

"I swear, if I just lowered myself to shiny mini skirts and and excess make-up I could seriously make a ton of extra cash in a place like this." She mused with a snort as they passed a few of the lovely women taking photos with guys who probably never wash their hands again after touching such attractive specimens of humanity. "Y'know, low cut that baby, let the ladies balloon out and then watch as I spend the rest of my life paying off all the lawsuits as women sue me for making their husbands hearts asplode."

She rolled her eyes and giggled a bit, being here was awesome and being here with Alex was like a dream. It was almost enough to make her forget he had a girlfriend. Almost. "So, um, how exactly did you and Jael end up, y'know, together." Realizing suddenly that she was latched to his arm she let go and stood a bit straighter (in case Jael had a spy network, or nano machines injected in to Alex so she could see through his eyes and hear through his ears... HEY... it could happen...)

"You guys don't seem, I dunno, like you click." Oh, god... I'm trying to break them up. Tessa, stop this. Back peddle and make that sound right. You will respect the Jael, or the Jael will flay you. She quickly added, and the the back peddle was a bit obvious. "What I mean is, you're so different. You calm, collected, nice and she totally Wolverines any girl who looks at you cross-eyed. I mean, people talk Alex... and we just think that may she could tone it down a little?" The beauty held up her index finger over her thumb and pinched them closer. She was half kidding with him. Attempting to get a little information out of him without insulting him, or his girlfriend so she kept a winning smile on while laughing a little bit. "Maybe? I mean, I can actually smell her urine on your leg, dude. I didn't want to embarrass you, but there, I said it."

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He frowned a little, causing Tessa (not for the first time) to wish she had the ability to see into the future - not far, just the next minute or two of conversations so she could NOT say things that'd make cute guys frown at what she said. At least he didn't look mad: that'd be unbearable (as well as far too close to a Sean-like reaction to her opening her mouth). Then he sighed and shook his head, his smile once more lighting up the room as he looked at her.

"I'm not embarrassed, but I'd question the wording." he said softly. She could feel the gentle patience in his voice almost physically as a vibration in her center of being. He wasn't mad, and he wasn't calling her stupid or a know-nothing. He wasn't laughing at her either. "We're not the same, but we definitely click. I don't agree with some of Jael's attitudes, but I value them anyway because they're part of who she is, and that's who I love." He smiled at her then and took her hand, looping it through his arm once more as they wandered through the crowds.

"The charity event... That was tough on her, I could tell. We've been involved for maybe a week or two before that, but weren't telling anyone outside of the 'family' because it wasn't really anyone's business." He paused as they stopped at a Starbucks stand and grabbed drinks, Alex paying before they went on their way again. "I'm not going into details, but with one thing and another Jael hasn't had many people she truly, really loves, and no-one she's loved in a romantic couple kind of way. So anyway, then she sees me talking to a beautiful, smart girl who might conceivably be interested in 'taking me away' from her." Contessa blushed, blinked and fought for something pithy to say other than 'derp' at Alex's frankly delivered assessment of her.

"Uh... you don't need to apologise for her." she stammered, somehow more embarassed now.

"I'm not." Alex looked surprised. "I'd never apologise for Jael. She is who she is. But we're friends, and you asked a question. And the basic answer to it is: I think the fact that we're such opposites is why we click. Jael's a cynic, I'm the opposite: I gain enough of her worldly perspective to learn to protect myself, she gains enough of my optimism to believe that there's more to life than meets the eye." He steered them round a knot of boothbabes on a break, all of whom heaved a collective sigh as he gave them a sweetly radiant smile. "We shore each other up in the weak places. I can't speak for why she loves me, but I love her because she has always been nothing but caring to me, because I admire her confidence, and a dozen other reasons that lean towards the too-personal." he concluded with a grin.

"Wow. That's pretty deep." Contessa said, barely paying any attention to where they were going as she looked raptly up at her escort. "You've thought about this, haven't you?"

"No." Sunshine admitted with a huge smile. "I hadn't actually thought about why I love Jael until someone asked just now. I just knew I did since about January."

"So how did you hook up?" Tessa asked with deliberate casualness as she sipped at her chai latte, artlessly licking some foam from her top lip and damning several dozen men who saw that to Purgatory for impure thoughts. Alex stopped to watch a demo of an in-development MMO for a few moments before answering.

"Oh, I told her how I felt." he said easily. "And she told me how she felt. And then we took things from there. Shenanigans may or may not have been involved." he added with a mischievous grin, then laughed. "Blame Jason for that one. She came home and immediately knew something was up, and asked 'what shenanigans did I miss?' in that tone of voice. Jael said 'What shenanigans are you referring too?' and I said 'None' at the same time, then we exchanged a look and I said 'Shenanigans may or may not have been involved...'"

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"Wait." Contessa needed a second to process all this. "So, you confessed how you felt and then you two just skipped right to shenanigans? Wow.. It's official, I'mna die a virgin, I can tell. I feel like I'm going to hurl anytime I try and talk to a guy about, uh, well, stuff."

Alex didn't seem to know exactly what 'stuff' meant and the quizzical look on his face told her so.

"Don't give me that look." She grinned, slightly embarrassed that she didn't have Alex's natural flair for candor.

"What look?" he asked, keeping a dead pan expression. "This look? I'm not giving you a look."

She laughed and rocked into him, pushing him a bit with her shoulder. "Come on, I'm serious. You're laughing at me on the inside, I can tell."

"I am not." He delivered the line with his typical dazzling charm. "I swear, I'm not laughing at you, inside or out. Here, let's try this, why don't you tell me why exactly you think I'd be laughing in the first place, or giving you a 'look'."

"Well," She searched for a place to start once again finding solace in how easy Alex was to talk to. "It's like you just came into the world with all kinds of awesome. It was your friends who made you who you are, right? They taught you to read, to be comfortable around people, to love. You were a clean slate. I envy you for that, I guess. Heck I envy you for a lot of things, Jael too, sometimes," Her sapphire eyes sparkled as they met his. She pursed her lips into a forced smile as she lost her self in his gaze. Desire coursed through her. What she would not give feel his lips upon her own. "Like right about now."

She turned away and before Alex had the opportunity to ask what the heck that was all about (not that he couldn't tell) she continued on. "I wasn't so lucky. I was burned in a fire, spent years in the hospital getting treated, then spent eleven years having my 'peers' throw rocks at me, pick on me make fun of the ugly girl. I'm a hermit girl, Alex, I don't know the first thing about guys, or love, or... or... other stuff."

"Sex, you mean?" He interjected.

"Yeah, that, thanks." It was sometimes cute how she just couldn't muster the inner fire to say certain words. "I mean, I know about it, geez, I've studied more on that topic than I did working the numbers for taking the Lich King. But knowing isn't the same knowing, if that makes any sense. I'm not good with people, I don't connect, I don't relate to them at all. It's like I'm just waiting for them to throw stones at me, which they inevitably do."

"Fair enough. Good start," The glowing nova took her cup and placed them both in the waste bin. They slowed down and stopped at a demo for a fighting game. He handed her the second controller and made no hint that she was doing just fine talking to him. "But, I'm not quite following, give me an example."

"Okay," she was an open book now, it seemed. All it took was a bit confidence the right questions and nova-grade charm. "Do remember that guy Sean I mentioned?"

"He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named?" Alex clarified, with a grin.

"Yeah, him." Tessa tilted her head a bit as the camera angles on the screen became sloppy. "Wow, I hope they fix that by the release date, not good for a fighting game. Anyway, I used to have the biggest crush on him, but I had no idea how to tell him. Every time I tried I'd just get so frustrated looking for the right words, and being a afraid that maybe he didn't like me back that it sort of always came out wrong..."

"Came out wrong, how?" Alex experience the same glitch and it caused him shirk back in an attempt to focus on the screen. "Yeah, I see what you mean. I'm not liking that, it needs a fix. Fighting games don't need an 'over the shoulder' cam."

"Agreed, there's no depth perception so really, what's the point?" She fired off a few special moves then ducked in the corner to avoid barrage of Alex's fireballs. She smirked, barely dodging the attack. "Nice. I'm liking the engine. Wrong by, maybe," she winched like she was totally blameless. "I insulted him a lot. But it was my way of flirting! He had some really good material and man, he could fire off some one liners like you wouldn't believe."

"So you insulted the guy you had a crush on, repeatedly. What happened?"

"He left." She said somberly. "One day, he just left. I scared him off by treating him like the jerk he was." She fumed for a moment as the memory of Sean sent mixed signals through her body. "And every guy after that has pretty much been the same. I can't communicate with people. I'mna die a lonely ol' cat lady."

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"I dunno." Alex said as they finished up the demo and moved aside to let others have a go. "The cats might get fed up of being insulted too." He grinned at Contessa, who snerked and poked him in the arm.

"Are you kidding? Cats don't care what I say as long as I feed them and scritch behind their ears every so often." she said with a huff that puffed out her pink-glossed lips in a pout.

"Most guys wouldn't either." Alex shot back with flirtatious gallantry and a theatrical waggle of his eyebrows that sent Tessa into a giggling fit.

"Yeah, but guys that shallow I can do without." she said through her laughter. "I mean, seriously. All they can say is 'Gee baby, you're smokin', wanna go out sometime?' I mean, way to make me feel valued as a human being, people!"

"Ah, I see the problem." Alex said with a sage nodding of his head. "The interesting guys need to be separated from the sloping foreheads. A harsh, exacting process similar to refining uranium-238 into plutonium."

"Exactly." Contessa said with a sparkling smile that sent pulses racing in a 50 metre radius. "One misstep, and you end up with rubbish and have to start all over."

"Or end up with the wrong sort of big bang." Alex deadpanned without missing a beat.

"More like a meltdown." Contessa replied, giggling again. "The big bang is the result if you get it right, as I'm sure you know." She nudged him with one elbow, blushing red and smiling to see a similar coloring afflicting the young heartthrob's golden features. Flustering cute guys was fun, just like Mixie said. Who knew?

"Uh. Well, I don't like to brag." Alex muttered as he tried to rally, then smiled back at her. "You're not that hard to talk to, you know." he told her gently as the eddying of the crowd brought them to a food court on one of the upper levels. Sunlight filtering through the glass panelling of the convention center bathed the area in pale gold light as the two novas paused to get something to eat. "It sounds like you set up defenses - like you said, you're always waiting for the stones to get thrown."

"I don't have any trouble talking to you." Contessa said as she tried to decide what to get. Hah-hah, Mixie. I get to eat whatever I want, and you have to watch your diet! she thought to herself in a sing-song voice. She decided on two large steakwiches-with-everything and a shake. "You're, like, impervious to the 'Dreaded Tessa-field'." She noted his curious look as he picked out a fruit salad and explained. "That's what Mixie calls my inability to actually have a real conversation with half the planet's population outside my dad and Dr May. Is that all you're eating?"

"It's just for the taste and to be sociable, really." Alex said as he pulled out some cash from his wallet and paid for both of their meals. "My treat." he said firmly, smiling as he headed off Contessa's protest. "I only really need light-spectrum radiation to survive."

"Bet that saves a bunch on food bills." Contessa grumped. "I swear my dad needs to work overtime to pay for my dinner. So, what's the big Sunshine Secret? How come I can talk to you and not... well, other guys." she pressed as they grabbed a seat in a sunbeam, taking time out from her burger to surreptitiously gawk at the tiny golden corona that flared where the natural light touched Alex's skin. He likewise studied her, smiling a little at the deep blue eyes that peeked out from under thick lashes at him. She really was incredibly sweet, and pretty, and fun to hang out with. If he hadn't already been in love, he might be seeing this as a date-date, rather than a friend-date.

"I think..." he paused, his expression reading plainly as hesitation, then he shrugged and went for it. "I think it's because I'm not a threat to you, not like He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named." He smiled at Tessa. "You don't feel about me the way you do about him, so you don't get all spikey. I'm not dangerous to your feelings." He shrugged again, smiling dazzlingly at her. "That's my theory so far, anyway."

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