Part 5

From the Story Arc: Shyfting Perceptions

Previous Story in the Arc: Part Three by Shyft (Friday, October 28, 2005)

(posted Monday, November 14, 2005)

This was written jointly by myself and Hegemon in MoonEdit. Use it!

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The Hegemon walked from the Green Line. The tiny communicator spoke directions into his ear, ensuring that he would not lose his way.

"Take a left, Hege. Continue walking until you cross the footbridge into Liberty Town."

CeCe's instructions were easy enough to follow. He did not pretend to understand how she had managed to program his communicator to deliver them in the short minute that she'd had it, but it had proven invaluable. Soon enough, he would be standing outside of her Founder's Falls condo.

His heart leapt into his throat at the thought. Was he ready for this? He couldn't begin to predict how the evening might go. He longed to see CeCe, but also wanted to avoid making a fool of himself. It was the first time that he would see her outside of patrol. What would he be expected to do?

Mirage had tried to coach him, but it was no use. Verbal anecdotes were no substitute for hard experience. He had prepared as best he could, but he feared that it wouldn't be enough.

Before long, he was standing outside of her house. He removed the small communicator from his ear and placed it in his pocket as he walked along the short pathway. He wanted no interruptions from his other allies tonight. He held his breath before knocking on the door, crossing the point of no return.

-----

Shyft flitted from one thing to another like a hummingbird. Table set? Candles lit? Food warming? Hair and makeup set? CeCe felt as nervous as a schoolgirl going to her first mixer.

Hegemon was not the sort of man her overt advances would work on. She was glad for it. He was a gentleman in every aspect of the word, and she was terrified she would come off the wrong way to him. This was her first chance to show him her feminine side, and she was desperate to prove to both him and herself that she still had one.

Dating had turned into a predatory experience for her. She was a strong-willed woman and knew what she wanted. A seductive look, a coy smile and a wink - with her looks, it was usually all she had to do to get her point across. Hege was different.

And it made her crazy.

At the same time, she found it to be one of his most attractive attributes. He was old fashioned, proper and terminally cute when flustered. If she were to show him she was interested, it would have to be on his terms. Especially if she didn't want him accidentally taking out a wall or two.

It still made her nervous. "What if I come on too strong? What if he is just interested in your friendship and he's just flustered around women on a whole?" Her mind raced. Boomer had "scouted" for her, so she was fairly certain he was interested, but he was still something of an enigma. If nothing else, the evening would be educational.

CeCe froze. Footsteps and then, the doorbell. He was here.

---

The door opened. Vanilla and lavender mingled with whatever fragrance Mirage had furnished him with. Hegemon's traitorous heart smashed against his ribcage. She looked amazing; he was woefully outmatched.

"Greetings and good evening, CeCe. I trust that I have not arrived too soon?" He asked.

"Nyet." CeCe smiled. He was out of his armor and was just as amazing to behold. "You are perfectly on time."

"Excellent!" He said, bowing and trying to look graceful at it. "May I come in?"

"Please!" She waved him in, and closed the door.

He stepped through the gateway and his heart sank. Everything looked extremely breakable. He would have to be on his guard.

Then, he smelled the food. He was awed by her abilities; how had she found time to learn the culinary arts? The entire foyer was filled with a succulent smell. "Gods, CeCe, that smells delicious! I am glad that I have followed your instructions and kept my appetite for the encounter."

CeCe smiled and blushed. "There is plenty of it. It is Russian tradition to make enough for one more than you are expecting. 'You never know who will come to dinner.'" She reached over to the banister and touched a remote she had placed there. Rachmaninoff's 24 Preludes began to play softly. "I hope you don't mind. I like a little music during my meals."

"Of course. I am glad to see that your tastes are so refined. It will be a welcome change from the 'music' that Mirage listens to." He replied. "What shall we do first? I must confess, it appears that you have come far more prepared for this evening than I have. I would be glad to see your home, if you are of a mind to give me a tour."

She smiled, wondering if he planned the things he said, or if the perfect words just came to him. "I would be glad to show you my home."

"Lead the way, then." So far, so good. She had told him of her art collection and he was anxious to see it. If the rest of her decorations were any indication, it would likely be quite impressive. He followed her lead as she explained her gallery.

"The realtor who sold me the condo said four bedrooms were a big point in this area of town." She smiled and led Hegemon up the stairs. "A bedroom, an office, a spare bedroom for friends...what would I use a fourth room for?" Coming to the top of the stairs, she opened a door. "I have art all over my home, but I thought it would be...nice...da, that is good word. Nice to have my own private little gallery. A place of my own where the pieces that really speak to me can be, and I can enjoy them. It is a very personal thing." She entered the room and flicked the switch. Instead of a single overhead light, smaller display lights and case lights came on, illuminating a miniature museum. "In many ways art is exactly the opposite of science, and I find it to be very relaxing and inspiring at the same time."

He was stunned. Four bedrooms? He was a Hero of the City and still had a roommate. Her art collection was awe-inspiring, made even more so by the tactful illumination. He realized that he was seeing a side of her that few others were privy to - these were the pieces that she held most dear. Her collection wasn't one intended for frequent public display. Rather, it was for personal enjoyment. He was instantly captivated.

"The iron screens on the far wall are Edgar Brandt originals. He was an architect that dabbled in other mediums, but his work with wrought iron was groundbreaking." Symmetrical etched fountains in the wrought iron seemed to dance under their own power. "He breathed life into his work." She turned and pointed to a mosaic and brass vase. "This was a study done in the seventies of one of Gustave Klimt's murals. One of the things I love about Art Deco is that artists openly flattered others by taking a body of work and producing it in another medium. Like that vase." CeCe pointed at an etched crystal vase next to Hegemon...and disaster struck.

He'd grown careless. His elbow brushed against the vase, setting the breakable piece in an unstable wobble. The running women along the side of it seemed to dance in circles as it prepared for a spectacular fall. Hegemon made a quick and clumsy effort at catching it, but only succeeded in sending the work of art flying from its pedestal with an accidental backhand. It disintegrated upon contact with the floor.

His face lost all of its color as he perceived his evening collapsing around him.

"Gods! CeCe, I am... oh, Gods... I am sorry! I did not mean to... to..." He stammered a clumsy apology and waited for a reprimand.

She put a hand to her mouth, doing her best to cover a smile. A short sharp breath, and she was fine. "As well off as I am, I could not hope to afford a Lalique original. That was a mass produced study from his panels in New York." She waved her hand and the crystals glowed for a moment before winking out of existence. "It is easily replaced. Truly." She took him by the arm and led him into the room, keeping him close to her side. The Lalique study was replaceable. Several other things were not. Better to keep him close.

The slender arm that steered him dissolved all pretense of viewing art. Hegemon was grateful that the unique lighting hid the scarlet that assaulted his face. He'd gotten lucky. He smiled as she showed him the rest of her collection, trying to focus on the splendor of the art rather than the beauty of the woman that served as his guide. He thought that it would be best to avoid speaking until his mind regained its usual clarity.

She walked him through the rest of the small gallery. Geometric forms, stylized human shapes, symmetrical flowers all stood in display. She did her best to explain what he was looking at, but even with the small cards on each piece, she found herself flustered. She couldn't keep her eyes off of him. The dim lights, the art...he looked majestic. After misidentifying several pieces, she led him from the room. "Get your head together, woman! You are muddled like a schoolgirl!" She admonished herself, then looked up into Hegemon's eyes. "Most of the rest of the art in my home is reproductions or lithographs. These are my 'babies'."

"CeCe, that was most enchanting. With my abilities, I am not permitted to visit museums. Your 'babies' speak volumes about your good taste," he replied.

"When I see something that interests me, I go after it. It is something that has served me in many facets of my life." She looked down and blushed slightly, hoping he did not realize her thoughts were as much of him as they were her art collection. "Shall we eat? My office is just a mess of computers and papers."

"Of course! The meal smells delicious, even from up here. As I have said, if the scent is any indication of your abilities in the kitchen, I am already impressed," he said. "Also, after the... Er... 'incident' in the gallery, I do not know if it would be safe for me to see your delicate electronic equipment."

"Oh, nyet!" She didn't want him to focus on the vase and let it ruin their evening. "Really, is nothing in there." She led him one door over and swung it open. Her face went white. "Except, of course, for the Starshine suit."

His heart drooped, overburdened with fear. He had never understood modern technology - not since becoming the Hegemon, at least - but the suit looked complete.

"I forgot I had it here. It is running a few diagnostics for the navigational computers. I thought it was at CCCP headquarters." She sighed and nodded. "I am a bit forgetful tonight."

He forced his terror back into the depths of his stomach. Think, fool, he implored himself. "Is it... is it completed?" He asked.

She led him forward and nodded. "Da. All systems are a go. I have a few personal computations to complete. Mostly finishing the field generation matrixes. They will use my singularity as the engine." For the first time since finding the Starshine files she was not proud of the project. It seemed small and petty at the moment. "It will fling me to the stars."

"Is that safe?" He asked. He was puzzled by her tone.

"Da. It is...perfect." On the arm of this man, she realized, space was the last place she wanted to be.

"I am glad that you will achieve your dream, CeCe," he said, not daring to look her in the eyes. He prayed that he sounded sincere.

There was a moment of awkward silence, finally broken by the rumbling of Hegemon's stomach. Shyft laughed. "Enough of my project, da? It is time to eat." Wheeling him out of the room, she closed the door behind them.

"A welcome idea, I think," he said. He allowed her to lead him, blushing as he slipped his hand into hers. He refocused his attention on the matter at hand. One 'incident' was enough.

---------

"Are you sure you have had enough? There is still a half a roast left." CeCe smiled. The meal had washed away the discomfort from the mishap in the gallery and the presence of the Starshine suit.

Hegemon paled at the thought of more food. "No, no. I fear that the roast has defeated me. It was delicious, CeCe, but I do not wish to explode!" He said.

He didn't think he'd ever eaten so much in his entire life. It had started with salad, which moved on to roast beef and vegetables, which led into potatoes and green beans with almonds. The enormous dinner rolls seemed an afterthought and dessert was still to come.

She nibbled at a forkful of green beans. Her Aunt Olga had always said the way to a man's heart was through his stomach. She only hoped it was true. "If you are full, we can wait to have dessert later." She poured herself a fresh glass of Pinot Noir. Perhaps Althea had walked her through the making of the meal, but she had at least picked out the wine.

"Please," he said as he smiled. "I believe I will have to give my stomach a rest for a while."

He hazarded a sip from his own glass. He had never been much of a drinker, but the meal seemed incomplete without the wine. The time had passed swiftly, filled with pleasant conversation. He enjoyed hearing of her past, her previous work, and her recent assignments. It was the first time they had spoken of purely trivial things. She had spoken of her school, her upbringing, and how she had come to the United States. It seemed she turned the conversation, leaving a few points out, but there was no need to press the issue. The conversation was warm and friendly. Even when little was said, they learned much about each other.

CeCe smiled, charmed at his manners. Not since she had left her homeland had a man stood when she rose from the table. The glass in one hand, she moved around the table and took his arm in the other. "I believe you will like the movie." Never having seen it, she could only hope.

The movie was the last thing on his mind as she intertwined her arm with his. He was relieved to find that he was beginning to feel more comfortable with her. He took his half-filled glass from the table and allowed her to lead him to the couch. She heard a short breath as he saw the eggshell colored linen. "No worries, Hege. It has a process that makes liquid roll off. I cannot tell you the number of times I have spilled wine in here."

He sighed with relief. "That soothes my mind, CeCe."

He was confused by her next action. Were they not watching a movie? She took what appeared to be a compact disc from its case. "Do you not have a 'VCR?'" He asked.

"I do...but the DVD would not work in it. Trust me, the picture and sound are much better than a tape." The plasma screen came to life as the menu came on. She switched the stereo from the CD to the TV and they were surrounded by the voice of the Dread Pirate Roberts.

"I see," he said, blushing. "I will leave it in your capable hands, then."

The heroes sat next to each other on the couch as the movie began. Hegemon found it hard to concentrate on Wesley, Buttercup, and the Six-Fingered man while his leg and shoulder pressed lightly against Shyft's. It was a nice experience in a pleasant environment. He yawned, stretching his arms in the air.

Her glass drained, Shyft leaned forward, placed it on the table, and then snuggled back into the crook of Hege's outstretched arm, placing an arm around his waist.

He had fallen for the oldest trick in the book. He put his arm around her shoulders and tried not to blush. He sipped his remaining wine with his free hand and attempted to concentrate on the film. Despite the pink that garnished his cheeks, he felt oddly contented.

Although she found the movie very funny, CeCe didn't laugh much. The smile was ever-present, but the warmth of the wine and the closeness of Hegemon kept her detached. She reached over and pulled a worn, crocheted wool afghan over her legs. She snuggled closer. She was comfortable, and could have stayed in Hegemon's arms forever.

Hegemon was kept cozy by the warmth of the woman cuddled against him. The heat of the wine in his stomach migrated to his head and his heart finally steadied. He was glad for it; with her head resting on his chest, it was likely that CeCe could hear his heartbeat.

They remained as such for a time, maintaining an easy silence as the film ended. Hegemon said nothing as the credits rolled; he didn't want the moment to end. Looking down at Shyft, he discovered that she was asleep.

He had no idea what to do. The film was over - would it be appropriate for him to wake her? He didn't want to. She looked as if she was at peace and he didn't want to spoil it. What would it harm to let the credits roll? The loud noise that heralded the end of the available tape would rouse her, anyway.

The moment never came. As the DVD ended, the TV displayed the introductory title screen. Snippets of interesting and plot-significant scenes repeated themselves in the background as the menu text invited Hegemon to pick an option. He couldn't think of an appropriate course of action. The title screen kept replaying, ending each cycle with Wesley saying 'As you wish.' The sequence repeated itself several times. How long would it take to stop? Would it play forever?

Suddenly, a harsh blare came from the kitchen. Shyft bolted upright, her eyes wide as saucers. "Bozshe moi! The cherries!" Still half asleep, she stumbled to her feet. He feet tangled in the afghan and she crashed to the floor. “Chyort voz’mi!

Hegemon was taken by surprise by the screech of the alarm. "CeCe, are you alright!?" He asked over the din.

The coppery taste of blood in her mouth from a bit lip, she struggled to carefully remove the afghan. It was one of the few things she had from her maternal babushka. "I am fine. Please go and remove the cherries from the stove." Watching as he quickly left the room she cursed several times at herself in her head. "What? Are you little girl, now? Cannot stay awake through movie? He is thinking now that you find him boring. Or worse! Stupid, stupid woman!"

He did as she asked, striding toward the stove. He removed the saucepan from the burner, trying not to spill the contents. He cursed vehemently in Oranbegan at his foolishness. How could he have forgotten the dessert? If the cherries were beyond edibility, surely it was due to his complete lack of foresight. He peered inside, wondering what the dessert was supposed to look like. Were the cherries supposed to be slightly black?

Shyft came into the kitchen, slightly dazed, and obviously frustrated. Reaching up, she hit the smoke alarm reset, perhaps a little harder than needed. "I am very sorry Hegemon. I did not mean..blin. They are ruined are they not?"

"Of course not! They look fine to me," he lied. He dipped the tip of his finger into the warm cherries and placed it in his mouth. "You see? Nothing to worry about."

He had tried very hard to hide the grimace, and were she not as on edge, CeCe would have missed it. Here was her Lancelot. A knight in shining armor. He was too much of a gentleman to even tell her the still smoking cherries were burnt. If she let him, he'd eat them, just because it would make her happy. she had let too many other good things get away from her in life. "Do you have any idea how wonderful you are?" Using her powers she snatched the pot from his hand and tossed it into the sink. He opened his mouth to reply, but before he could, she flung her arms around his shoulders and kissed him.

Hegemon was taken completely by surprise. Is she not upset? Have I not failed to... His eyes widened as his mind pried itself from worry to focus on the kiss. He had expected an immediate eviction!

She broke from the kiss and smiled, looking into his eyes. His response was both eloquent and appropriate. The Mighty Hegemon returned her smile and fainted as he fully realized what had just occurred. He fell backwards onto the marble-tiled floor, the grin fixed on his face.

"Blin."

--------

Cerenje sat on the floor, Hegemon's head cradled in her lap, holding a bag of frozen corn to his head. With his armor charmed away, he could be injured just like any normal man. His head meeting the marble floor had knocked him silly.

Hegemon's eyes flickered open and he blinked several times. His pupils scanned the room as he tried to discern what had happened.

"Vsyo v poryadke?" CeCe stroked his long orange hair. He was breathtaking.

He didn't understand what she said, but he smiled anyway. He could think of no appropriate verbal response. He closed his eyes and lifted his head from her lap, meeting her lips with his own.

He was fine. And if he wasn't, she wouldn't be the one to tell him so.

-------

Hegemon waved farewell to Shyft, his other hand keeping the warming bag of corn secured in place.

"Goodbye for now, CeCe. I have had a remarkable evening - one that I will not soon forget!" He said.

"Do svidanya, Hegemon. It was a wonderful night. I hope we can do it again soon. Next time, no cherries." She laughed, and there was a musical quality to her voice.

"'As you wish,'" He replied, grinning and bowing low. He could barely believe his own fortune. Despite their best efforts, it had been a successful date. He was walking on air; he wouldn't need his flight enchantment to get home tonight.

She watched him walk to the end of the drive before closing the door. Her hands clutched together over her heart, her back to the door, she slid until she hit the floor. She would clean in the morning. It could sit for the night. She only hoped Thea had more recipes.


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Russian Glossary for unlearned Americanski readers

Chyort voz’mi! – Damn it! Oh Sh*t!

Bozshe moi - Oh my God (literally) A term of exasperation

babushka - grandmother

Chyort voz’mi! - Damn it! Oh Sh*t!

Blin – Darn/Shoot/Crud (very mild curse)

Vsyo v poryadke? - Is everything all right?

Do svidanya - Good bye