Date: May 25, 2010
"The Price of Friendship"
Four Seasons Hotel - Miami
Porter is en route to his Little Bird for the ride home when his phone rings. Frowning, he thumbs it on and lifts it to his ear. "Code in," he says tersely.
"Alpha-Romeo four-four-six. Priority One for Captain Porter," a digitally muffled voice replies.
"Switching to scrambler channel… seven. This is Porter. Go."
"Captain, we have a broken arrow."
"You've got to be kidding," Porter groans incredulously.
"Not at all. It's approximately three hundred miles from your current location. Longtitude and latitude are being uploaded to your phone as we speak."
"You are to contain the situation. Quietly. Find our missing equipment. Dismantle and retrieve vital components if possible. Destroy if necessary. This is a very sensitive issue, you understand? We can offer you no tactical support."
"Understood," Porter rumbles. He ends the call and thumbs his touchscreen, bringing up a GPS overlay map. It only takes him a moment to locate the coordinates that have been provided. As soon as he does, he lets out a dry laugh. "Figures," he mutters, turning to head toward a very familiar hotel.
Most people are asleep at this time, in Miami less people are asleep but the night is winding down. Her hair is still wet from the shower when she lays her head down on the pillow and closes her eyes. Though sleep is near impossible, resting is not. So she closes her mind off to all outside influences and begins to mentally review her day, filing the details she needs for later, discarding the things that are unimportant. Vasha is completely still, to those who wouldn't know any better, it seems as though she is in the dead throes of sleep.
Instead of his usual suit and tie, tonight Porter is wearing loose black slacks cinched with a thin belt, a close-fitting black t-shirt with the sleeves pushed up to his forearms, and soft-soled shoes. With his training, he makes next to no sound as he ghosts up to…
…Vasha's door. He glances at his watch, winces at the lateness of the hour, and knocks anyway. One hand remains tucked behind his back and out of sight.
The knock goes unheard as Vasha's mind drifts through another sound, the blue ocean and the splash of water as her body snaked through the waves like a shark earlier in the day. Still motionless under the sheet, her breathing slows as she becomes completely motionless under the sheet, save for the flutter of her eyes behind closed lids.
Porter quirks an eyebrow quizzically when his knock goes unanswered. The hand behind his back in revealed to be holding two boxes; one long, narrow, and white, one much smaller, black, and squarish in shape. He tucks them under his arm and shuffles over to the next hotel room. From his wallet, he produces a transluscent wafer of plastic set with microchips in many shapes and sizes. He swipes it through the door's card reader and smiles with satisfaction when the lock clicks open.
Seconds later, he's perched on the balcony adjacent to Vasha's and eying the nine-foot gap between the two. Muttering curses under his breath, he slings his leg over the railing, finds a foothold, and leaps.
He grabs the railing to Vasha's balcony with one hand and grits his teeth as his shoulder is nearly jerked from its socket. The entire railing clatters and creaks ominously under his weight. Slowly, he starts to slide lower. Despite this, he appears unwilling to drop the two boxes that he's still clutching in his other hand. "Wheeeeeee," he says to himself, quietly sarcastic. "What a predicament."
The loud noise is enough to cause Vasha's eyes to fly open. She stares at the glass doors to the balcony for a few moments before rising. Dragging the silk sheet with her, she wraps it around her willowy frame like a sarong, making certain that it's tightly fitted. Then with a firm hand, she slides the glass open to see a hand gripping her balcony. The sight causes one of her eyebrows to twitch upward ever so slightly in surprise. Taking a rather foolhardy step out, she peers over the balcony and raises her eyebrows. "Why Captain, how are you this fine evening? Out for a stroll?"
"Great," Porter replies breathlessly. Despite his precarious position, he smiles lopsidedly up at Vasha. "Thanks for asking."
His smile turns to a grimace as he attempts to haul himself up one-handed, but makes very little progress. Each futile pull gouges the metal of the railing deeper into his palm. Finally, he gives up. In the process of sliding back down again, he reaches his other hand up just high enough to offer Vasha the two boxes. "For you," he explains.
"They are not bombs are they?" Vasha utters calmly as she liberates the two boxes from his hand, only to place them on the patio behind her. Then she turns back to him, gazing down at him for a long moment before reaching to grab his wrists in her own strong grip and pull him up just far enough to gain a foot hold on her balcony. Then she holds him there as though deliberating whether to release him to certain death or aid him in an effort to get into her balcony. "I suppose I should ask what you are doing on my balcony at this hour of the night but it is you. You seem to have no rhyme or reason for what you do."
Once he's regained a foothold, Porter seems positively comfortable. He lounges backward with the toes of his climbing shoes wedged under the bottom rail and his hands clasping Vasha's firmly. "There's a method to my madness," he promises, grinning rakishly and giving her a wink. "Look in the boxes. You'll see."
Lowering her hands to the railing, she leaves him just enough time to get a hold of it before she pulls away. Vasha seems rather unimpressed with his wily ways as she stoops to pick up both boxes. The large one is the usual type and when she opens it she seems rather blase about seeing the dozen long stem red roses inside. She fits the lid back on and then pries open the smaller box with a creak. This one has her eyes opening only slightly before she looks over at him, raising the box for his inspection. "What is this then? You are attempting to purchase … what?"
Porter lifts his eyebrows slightly, but otherwise remains expressionless. With a bounce and pull, he swings his body over the railing and lands neatly on his feet. Briskly, he dusts himself off and then crosses his arms over his chest. "Always the skeptic, eh?" he queries rhetorically. "Okay. You said you were buying a boat and I have need of one. I want to hire you. Consider the necklace my wager that you'll accept."
The box closes with a sharp snap and Vasha continues to gaze at him. "Very well, I will hear your proposal and we will negotiate proper compensation… Inside." With that, she grips the top of the sheet she is wearing and takes the few long steps inside. The roses are unceremoniously tossed onto the dresser and she points toward one of the lounge chairs before reclining back onto the bed and stretching out rather luxuriously. "I have an eighty foot yacht that I have purchased, it is suitable for expedition. Where is it that you wish to go and why is it that you cannot simply hire someone off the pier?"
"I'm headed out past Nassau. If you accept, I'll give you the coordinates." Porter follows Vasha inside, but rather than take a seat, he looks down at her from a standing position. There's something in his dark eyes that is rarely seen, if ever.
He pulls a velvet bag from his pocket and tosses it on the bed next to Vasha. It might look familiar, though this one is much smaller than the first. "That's what I'm offering. It's yours when I make it safely back to Miami. No questions asked, no questions answered."
Reaching down, she tugs the bag closer before swinging it up into her hands and emptying the contents into her palm. The diamond that rolls out is a rather impressive size and it brings a small smile to her lips. The brunette tilts her chin up to give him a rather long, rather impressed gaze. "I accept, Captain, I will personally see to it that you arrive back in Miami safely." Never let it be said that she can't be bought, even if the price carries the weight of her father's disapproval.
The diamond is placed back into the bag and she drops it next to her on the bed. "You certainly have risked much in coming here tonight," she purrs, reaching for the small velvet box to inspect its contents again. "How much did you spend as a simple wager of my acceptance, five thousand? Six?"
"Six," he verifies. The small, crooked smile is back on his lips as Porter moves closer. It's one part playful, one part apprehensive, and two parts confident. He gazes down at Vasha, looking her over without a hint of reservation. Absently, the tip of his flicks out to wet his upper lip. "You're not an easy woman to impress," he admits. "But I appreciate a challenge."
"It is quite lovely," she admits as she pulls the rose gold chain from its confines, freeing the raw diamond to dangle and sparkle in the dim light of the room. Sitting up, Vasha unclasps the chain and draws it around her neck. "If you would not mind, I would like to see it on." It seems to be an indication of her permission for her to step closer, perhaps to help her.
Porter steps around behind Vasha and lifts his hands to sweep her hair out of the way. Then, with a touch so delicate it nearly can't be felt, he connects the two ends of the necklace. Though his work is done, his fingertips linger boldly, exploring the first few bumps of her spine and trailing over her collarbone. Very suddenly, he grips her shoulders and gives them a squeeze. "It looks good on you," he says, his voice low and clear.
Turning her head to look over her shoulder at him, Vasha's hand raises to at first caress Porter's finger tips and then clasp them in her hand and lift them them her shoulder. The other is left where it is for the time being. "Does it?" Her other hand moves to grasp the top of the sheet at her chest and she glides toward the bathroom to examine herself in the mirror. Turning her head first one way and then the other, her impassive expression turns to a pleased one as her eyes drift to find his. "Thank you, you have a good eye."
"One tries," Porter replies, bowing his head and spreading his hands demurely. When he straightens, he follows her to the mirror and stands behind her again. This time, his hands drift down to rest on the generous curve of her hips. He leans forward to nip at her ear playfully. "So. Does this mean we can be friends?" he rumbles. "Or is this to be strictly business?"
"You wish to become friends," Vasha murmurs as her hands reach to place on top of his, guiding them up and around her stomach. "May I ask for what purpose? Is it to keep your status among the living? For I have already accepted the wage, you will return to Miami quite alive." She gazes at his reflection in the mirror, not turning just yet. Her eyes narrow just a little as she considers the two in the mirror, "A friendship with you… It might leave me dead."
Porter makes eye contact with Vasha using the mirror as an intermediary. For hands than can pick a lock or hotwire a car in seconds, the folds of her sheet are no challenge at all. He slips his fingers inside and rests them against the bare, smooth skin of her stomach. "If we were working together, maybe we could both stay alive," he says, a great deal of the playfulness fading from his voice. "I'd like that."
"I will consider your offer of friendship, Captain, for now." Vasha's voice is strong and unwavering, much like her posture to his tactile assault. Turning, she releases his hands and places a firm grip at the top of her sheet, lifting her chin haughtily to look down her nose at him. Without the protection of her reflection, there is a hint of fear on her stony features. "Thank you for the presents," she breathes as she slips past him and toward the door.
Only inches behind, Porter grabs Vasha by the wrist and spins her around none-too-gently. "You're welcome," he murmurs, his voice a bare whisper, his eyes drilling into hers.
When he pounces, it's with the speed of a hunting cat. He buries one hand in the hair at the nape of Vasha's neck and grips her waist with the other, kissing her fiercely and shoving her backward. They hit the wall hard enough to knock a lamp from the bedside table and send it crashing to the floor.
* * *
The water is lapping up on the beach as the bronze skinned woman climbs up onto the sand, dropping a net bag full of shells for inspection. They aren't a buried treasure, nor are they valuable but each one is picked through and cleaned off in the water, some tossed back into the water as they don't make the grade.
Her eyes move rapidly behind closed lids, her body is tangled in the top sheet from her bed and her mattress is a man that purchased her friendship for the price of a few diamonds. Stretching one arm out, Vasha's hand glides along his arm until her fingers intertwine with his. Only then does she open her eyes to look at him. He seems peaceful enough, almost undisturbed aside from the clenching of the fingers around hers.
Daylight has broken and the sun sparkles over the cool blue water. Inside the hotel room, it seems as though a hurricane tore through and rocked it to its foundations.
Porter doesn't know where he is. Only that it's dark and he feels very alone. Profoundly isolated. He gropes his way through the blackness in search of something, someone, anyone or anything to break the featureless void.
Someone reaches back.
Near-invisible lines of tension smooth from Porter's forehead and a small, lazy smile stretches across his sleeping face. He winds his fingers around Vasha's and squeezes gently.
With a heavy sigh, Vasha lays her head back down on his shoulder and closes her eyes for a moment. The sun is too bright, he seems a little too peaceful to throw off the side of the bed. Regret hits her near instantly, not enough to follow through on that first thought. Instead, she carefully pulls her hand away from his grip and lifts herself to a seated position. Laying the sheet back down on top of him, she pads into the bathroom and runs the water in the shower, letting it warm to a tepid temperature before climbing in.
"You read my mind," Porter says cheerfully. Though he's rumpled and bleary-eyed, he appears to be fully alert, and as usual, he's appeared virtually from nowhere. Smiling, he joins Vasha in the shower and immediately lets out a sigh of relief when fresh water splashes over his face, neck, and shoulders. "Good morning," he greets her, reaching out to touch her cheek.
"Good morning," Vasha utters as she leans her cheek toward his hand for a moment. Then she turns her back to him and steals the spray of refreshing water, leaving him to the stray remains from the shower head. The suds from the bar of soap in her hand wash away nearly instantly as she spreads them over herself, beginning at her arms and working her way down to her legs. Her bronze skin seems to shine under the light of the shower, only aided by the sheen of water. "It will come as no surprise to you that I have already given the number of your credit card to the concierge of the hotel to pay for the damages."
Porter's eyes follow Vasha's hands for a long, long moment. Finally he blinks, tearing his gaze away from miles of leg and expanses of soft, tanned skin. "Fair enough," he concedes, picking up a bottle of shampoo and squeezing a dollop into his palm. Then, grinning wickedly, he reaches up to massage it into Vasha's hair and scalp with slow, deliberate thoroughness. "I did start it, after all."