By Matheiu Roy and Max Fauth
<Note: This happens AFTER Taking in a Stray Cat.)

Raven gingerly pushed the door to the Pit and stepped inside. The bouncer quirked an eyebrow at the arrival of the slight, unaccompanied girl; she looked back at him evenly, enough that he shrugged. On the stage a fight opposing a Puma synthetic and a metal-armed ganger was just starting to get bloody, the two of them punching each other with gusto, barely bothering to defend.

Raven glanced around the room, looking for Gem. She spotted one ganger eyeing her up speculatively, and looked at him threateningly, eyes narrowed. The man smiled but got back to cheering about the fight. Raven hoped he'd forget her. *What a beautiful place*, she thought, skirting around the fight stage and the massed audience to get a view of the other side of the room, avoiding the crowd as much as she could.

She eventually spotted her target at the bar, perched atop a makeshift stool. Her jacket was slung over the bar and she was wiping down her face with a bar rag.

Raven approached, wincing when she walked past one of the high-powered amps that poured nondescript heavy-metal "music" in the room. Small wonder the crowd was so bellicose. Finally she reached Gem.

The rag came away from her face bloodied. She wiped at a cut above her eye and dropped the rag back behind the bar. Gem then hollered for the bartender, apparently oblivious to Raven's presence.

Raven prepared a shield in case Gem tried anything violent, then said, "You know the nicest places to meet in."

Gem didn't even look up. She merely indicated to the barstool beside her.

Raven shrugged and sat unconcernedly on the stool next to Gem, spinning it to face her.

"Go for it," Gem said straight away.

The esper started toying with the white strand in her hair. "What happened to you this time, anyway?" she asked, indicating Gem's bleeding cut with her chin.

Gem nodded towards the stage. "I won," was all she said, before shouting at the bartender again.

"I see," said Raven. "Sort of a 'you should have seen the other guy' type of thing."

Gem ignored her comment. "You didn't come here to check on my health," she said, turning to face Raven. "What is it then?"

Gem ignored her comment. "You didn't come here to check on my health," she said, turning to face Raven. "What is it then?"

Raven gave her a half-smile. "I was rather hoping you could tell me that, actually. Behind the Edge of Night you started telling me a story. Now I want to hear the rest of it."

"Oh, boy." Gem leaned back. "Where to start?"

It's a clichˇ," Raven said, "but the beginning usually works well."

"I mentioned Rachel that night. Well, she was my best friend. She and her sister were recruited by S-T straight out of the zone, into a black ops team." Gem finally managed to get a drink from the bartender, which she downed instantly. "She became the leader of the team, but Nicole..." Gem stopped, clearly wavering. "Her own sister..." She shook her head, her hand shaking in emotion.

"She betrayed her?" Raven asked softly, taken aback by the depth of Gem's emotions over the woes of her best friend.

"Killed her," Gem said bitterly. "In the middle of a mission. Took out half their team, too."

"Nasty," Raven said. "So now you want to avenge Rachel, of course."

"Obviously," Gem spat back. "So now you know."

"No, I don't." Raven looked into Gem's eyes, her face grave. "I can see why you would want revenge against your friend's sister," she explained. "But I don't see what you have against the rest of the corporation, who had nothing to do with it." *That's a lot of emotion even for your best friend... Were you there?*

"Because this is about more than just me and her." Gem turned to look Raven head on, her own green eyes shining with an inner light. "THis is about how corporations treat their operatives. This is about people being used as tools, and nothing more." She returned to her glass, only to find it empty. "I'm sure you're familiar with the concept."

Raven shrugged. "Somewhat, yes." She turned the barstool towards the bar and leaned her elbows on it. "If that's your real objective, though, I can't help but feel that you're going at it in completely the wrong way. You think that random acts of violence against a single specific corporation will make them all see the error of their ways? Allow me to doubt that very much." She looked in Gem's eyes again. "All it will do is get you killed once said corporation decides you've been a thorn in their side for too long and sends some of its 'tools' against you."

Gem scoffed at her. "You think I don't know that?" She signaled for another beer from the bartender. "I've got plans, too. I want to hurt them, make them notice. Then I'm going to vanish."

Raven sighed. "You also know I can't just let you go around and hurt my employer." She looked squarely at Gem. "Any more than you would, I'm sure. Last time you tried to hurt them and make them notice, you were trying to kill me. Now you want to go at it again --who are you going to try to kill this time? You know I can't let you do that. So tell me exactly what it is that I'm supposed to do with you."

Gem shrugged. "Do whatever you like." Her beer arrived and she sculled it instantly. "But just think for a second. Who's to say you're not next?"

Raven chuckled. "I'm a triple-A class esper and the corp's top esper weapon, Gem. In the entire world there might be a dozen people like me, and that changes the rules. There's just no one who can take over my job, and I'm too valuable an asset to sacrifice unless it's for extremely high return. A rogue agent who tried to kill me would land in a world of trouble." She sighed. "It's a cruel thing to say, but it's the way corps think. And no, I don't particularly like it either. But I don't think you're going to change it."

Gem nodded. "I know, it'll probably never happen." She raised her glass, signaling to the bartender for another. "But there's no point if I don't try."

Raven sighed in frustration. "Gem, I don't know what your plan is, but it's all it's likely to accomplish is to get you killed." She glared right into her eyes. "Specifically, it's likely to get you killed by me, and I'd much rather not have to do that. I'm sympathetic to your situation, I really am, but that quest for vengeance isn't just suicidal, it's also counterproductive." She sighed, again, and wished she could have a drink, too. "You still haven't told me what you think I should do with you. I can't just let you go and attack S-T not knowing who is it you're planning to kill this time.

"Well what choice does that leave me now?" she shot back. "I can tell you, and you blast me now, or drag me in, or whatever. Or I don't tell you, and you blast me for that instead." Gem scoffed. "If you ask nicely, I promise not to gun down any of your friends."

Raven growled and grabbed Gem by the collar, lifting her one-handed clean off the floor and over her head. Her hair fluttered in an unseen breeze, the white strand of hair an incongruous bit of sea foam in an ocean of black. Around them people turned to watch with interest; some even cheered. Bets were being placed with the quickness of an often-rehearsed ritual, but the fight in the pit didn't even pause.

"Is that nice enough for you?" Raven snarled in Gem's face. "This isn't some sort of joke, dammit! This is real people you're talking about, you can't just go around killing them for who they work for." She shook Gem in the air for emphasis. "You've been lucky that I've been so nice to you. By all rights, I should've killed you! But if you play poke-the-bear with S-T like some ten-year-old kid, don't be surprised if the bear wakes up and eats you!"

All Gem could do was grasp at her throat, scratching and clawing with her hands at Raven's clenched fists. "It's all I have!" she screeched out.

"Is it? You don't have any family, you don't have any friends, you don't have anything that might be worth keeping your life for?"

Gem's only reply was a stream of tears.

"If you don't," Raven said gently, slowly putting Gem down on her stool, "I suggest you try to find some. It's much easier than you'd think. And much more rewarding than suicide." Her hair settled slowly around her; she shook her head to get errant locks out of her face. She heard grumblings of disappointment behind her, but paid them no heed.

Gem sat in her seat, quietly sobbing to herself. "It's all I've got... The bloody corporation took them all away."

Raven sighed. "I'm sorry, Gem. But you won't bring them back no matter what you do." *God, that sounded trite.* "Look, take a vacation. Think things through, try to meet people. You've got to live a little, otherwise nothing you do is ever going to be worth it."

Gem nodded, slowly bringing herself under control. "Can... Can you do one thing for me?"

"Possibly. Try and ask."

Gem stood from her stool, and looked up at Raven. Her bloodshot green eyes seemed to shine from within, with a spark that was missing before. "Can you find Nicole? And tell her..." Gem sighed. "Tell her Rachel's waiting for her."

Raven frowned. "I thought Rachel was dead."

Gem nodded solemnly. "That's what she wanted everyone to think." She half turned away from the bar. "I have to go... I need to think."

"I'm going to need her last name," Raven pointed out.

Gem shook her head. "She doesn't have one. Neither of them did." She thought for a second, then turned to Raven again. "She's in charge of black ops team alpha. I'm pretty sure you'll have clearance to look into them."

"Don't be so sure," Raven mumbled. Her position had its advantages, but rummaging through black ops data was not one of them. She was a strategic weapon, not a command operative.

"I understand." Gem hung her head, uncertain what to do. She looked up again, pausing, as if to say something. Finally, she simply said "I'm sorry."

"It's okay. Just don't make a mess for everyone, okay?" Raven said.

Gem nodded sullenly, like a scolded child. She slowly turned, and walked away into the crowd.

Raven quietly watched her go, again wondering why she bothered. Maybe because I like to take in strays, she thought, remembering Aunt Lydia's words earlier. Shaking her head ruefully, she went across the floor towards the door. The patrons carefully walked out of her way, unwilling to talk to her after her little display no matter how hot she looked. Grateful for small blessings, Raven made it into the street and strolled away. The walk would give her time to think.

Raven smiled warmly at Duke, and made her way into the 93U. It was packed solid, as it was most nights she had been here. The floor show was in full swing, with a pair of young ladies busy baring themselves for the crowd. Even in this kind of mayhem, her target was all too easy to locate.

Reno had a table right by the stage. What passed for his hair was even brighter and more extravagant than usual. He was shouting at the girls, whooping and hollering in delight and occasionally throwing money onto the stage.

Raven shook her head and sighed. Somehow, she thought, she should be surprised.

Raven wasn't usually around on the nights the dancers were out, and she was immediately reminded why. The floor was 95% male, and almost everyone's attention was squarely directed towards the stage. Dodging a young man somehow more interested in her than the girls on-stage, Raven went through the crowd, sneaking up behind Reno. Not too difficult to do, what with the noise and his attention purely on the girls.

"Hey there, Reno," she called out. "Fancy meeting you here."

Reno looked around, then suddenly started. He let out a small yelp, seemingly jumping out of his chair, before collapsing to the floor. "Owie..." he muttered, rubbing his head. He looked up again at Raven which only started his panic anew.

Raven leaned towards him. "Boy, do you look happy to see me!"

"I didn't do anytin!" he cried back. He held his hands in front of his face, pleading for his life.

Raven giggled. "Really? It'll be easier on you if you confess you know."

"Every time I sees joo, I gets into trouble! No more!" he cried.

"Relax. I just want to know about Nicole."

At the mention of the name, Reno seemed only to panic even more. He waved his hands frantically in the air. "Oh, nonono! I ain't tellin' nutin'! I'm in e-nuff trouble wid her already!"

"Maybe you can tell me what kind of trouble you got into, then?" she said sweetly.

"It's all joo!" Reno pointed an accusing finger at Raven. "She found out dat I was see-en joo, an' now she's gone all weird on me!"

"Keep talking. You've made me curious, especially if I'm involved."

"Uhm..." Reno paused at a loss for words. "One thing? Can I get up first?"

Raven made a show of thinking things through. "Okay. Actually, I feel like sitting down. Away from the stage."

"Joo ruin all my fun," Reno grumbled as he stood. The pair of them made their way to an isolated booth near the door.

"Reno," Raven said as she sat, "I'm offended that you think those naked girls are more fun than I am, after all that trouble I go to to keep your life interesting."

"Interestin' don't begin to say it," he grumbled. He looked up, and swallowed hard, remembering what Raven had done to Gem not too long ago.

"So anyway," Raven said, "what kind of trouble did Nicole put you in? Who knows, I might be able to help you."

"Juell, she ain't actually done anytin' yet," Reno began, "But I can tell she's watch-en me, joo see? It's like I've ticked her off, an' she's lettin' me know, only widout showin it, joo see?"

Raven cocked her head to the side interrogatively. "No, I don't."

"Er..." Reno scratched his head. "Juell, she's gone all cold to me of late. Not dat she weren't cold before, mind joo, but now she's doin' it to me too. An' I reckon that's 'cause she saw joo an' me together, and now she's all angry wid me."

"All that because you've talked to me?" Raven absently fiddled with the white lock in her hair. "Hmm. But would she know it was about her sister? Or was it just because it was me?"

"I dunno, joo see, she hasn't said a word to me in an age." Reno rubbed his chin. "But joo know, she used to talk 'bout joo a lot."

"Really? And what did she say?"

"Juell, she did an op wid Paula some time back, and she kept on comparin' da two of joo." Reno rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Shed said dat joo was 'safe,' but Paula was 'like her' a lot, but I dunno whad dat meant."

"Whatever she meant, it probably isn't good. There isn't much in Paula that I'd like to see in someone else."

Reno grinned broadly, his face a mixture of hope and relief. "So like... can I go now?"

"Hmm. I'm not sure. I think I'd like to meet Nicole."

"Sure, no prob, I can- WHAT?" Reno suddenly screamed at the top of his lungs. "Jor crazy, ent joo?"

Raven shrugged. "I'm just curious. I tend to do that when people try to kill me, and just might try attacking other parts of the company. I'm just trying to figure out who is in the wrong, here."

"Now dat's Gem," Reno said adamantly. "Nicole, now she ain't done nothing wrong. Just do-en her job, see?"

"So wiping out half her team was just part of the job?"

"Dat..." Reno sighed. "Dat joo'd have to axe her 'boot." He shrugged. "I dunno. It's not like she did stuff like dat before. She was always look-en out for Rache, joo see?"

"So why blow her up?" Raven flicked some stray hair out of her face and bit her lower lip thoughtfully. "You're right. I think I do have to ask her about this."

"Dat..." Reno sighed. "Dat joo'd have to axe her 'boot." He shrugged. "I dunno. It's not like she did stuff like dat before. She was always look-en out for Rache, joo see?"

"So why blow her up?" Raven flicked some stray hair out of her face and bit her lower lip thoughtfully. "You're right. I think I do have to ask her about this."

"Dat..." Reno sighed. "Dat joo'd have to axe her 'boot." He shrugged. "I dunno. It's not like she did stuff like dat before. She was always look-en out for Rache, joo see?"

"So why blow her up?" Raven flicked some stray hair out of her face and bit her lower lip thoughtfully. "You're right. I think I do have to ask her about this."

"I can arrange it, if joo really wants to," Reno replied. "But I gots to know - what's in it for me after all dis?"

Raven pouted prettily. "Why, Reno, don't you like me anymore?"

"Juell..." Reno rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "For joo, mee bay-bee, I'll do it for da charge of... a date!"

Raven's eyes widened. "A date?"

Reno nodded rapidly. "Jeah! I mean, joo an' me... We'd make a good couple, don't joo tink?"

Raven snorted eloquently. Then she sat back and looked at Reno thoughtfully. "Well, if you insist, I suppose you could take me on a date, as long as we finish the evening in separate beds, if you know what I mean."

"Aww... Juell, joo may just change jor mind." Reno grinned broadly. "Anywayz, how'd joo want to meet her?"

"Hell, I dunno. Someplace where we can talk freely."

"In dis city? Jor kidding, right?" Reno shook his head. "Forget it. I thinks dat Louie's is about da best jor gonna get for dat."


"'Za good neutral ground. Mostly free of spook an' all."

"Except those that follow me around," Raven noted.

"An' me, of course." Reno grinned broadly at his joke. "So, 'boot dat date..."

"Yes?" Raven said.

"Jor place or mine?" Reno asked with a grin.

Raven glared menacingly at him. "You said a date, not a fling."

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