[AUTHOR’S NOTE] This is a short set in the Unlucky Seven universe (or Uni7erse as was recently suggested to me). If you like what you read here and you’re not familiar with the source material, check the links on the sidebar to buy/borrow Unlucky Seven and the Obligatory Sequel. You won’t regret it!
“Do we really have to unpack this now?” Zoey asked, her ice katana smoothly carving the head from the shoulders of one of Kurt’s ninja-bots, “We’re a bit busy at the moment, aren’t we?”
“Well, yeah,” Justin said, blasting another ninja-bot in the chest with a fireball, “But, you’ve been kind of aloof lately. The only time we get to see each other is when we’re out on patrol together and I’m usually too nervous to say anything.”
“And the middle of a fight is your idea of a good time to talk about things?” Zoey asked, parrying another black blade with a resounding clang of her sword, “You couldn’t have brought this up on the two hour stakeout waiting for these guys to show?”
“No,” Justin said, blasting the head of the robot whose sword was currently locked with hers, “Had to be now.”
“This is a little clichéd for you, isn’t it?” Zoey said, kicking aside the ninja he had just disabled and moving forward to engage with the next one, “I mean, this so tropey. The whole ‘let’s talk about our relationship while we’re fighting bad guys’ thing.”
“Maybe,” Justin said, throwing another fireball and hitting his target, “I dunno, I just feel, like, more open to discussion right now. Less anxious. Full of adrenaline.”
Her blade suddenly thrust in front of his face, blocking a potential deathblow.
“Maybe pay attention to the fighty part,” she said as he thrust both hands forward causing the midsection of the ninja who had just tried to split him in two to be violently ejected from existence, “That adrenaline will still be there when it’s over.”
The two of them finished creatively destroying the mostly inept yet still very real and dangerous robot ninjas which had appeared at the back entrance of an unsuspecting office building in an industrial complex far from the city. They were given the assignment because it was their night for patrol anyway.
They sat in the back of the black panel van they borrowed from Phalanx (on the condition that neither of them cause it to explode) eating some post-fight cheeseburgers, their legs dangling from the tailgate. It had been quiet since Zoey suggested they shut up and fight. Justin finally broke the silence.
“I think a discussion about this is warranted,” he said.
“I’m not sure if I’m really ready for this discussion,” she said, “I’m not even sure there’s anything to discuss.”
“I just want to know where I stand,” he said, “We haven’t really addressed any of this. It’s kinda nebulous and I want to put a bit of definition on it.”
“I think that’s kinda my problem with talking about it,” she said, “I have feelings here and I want to open up to you but I… I’m afraid that all you’ll end up doing is trying to define me again.”
“What do you mean?” Justin asked, taking a bite of his burger.
“I mean,” she said, pausing and sighing, unsure of her words, “Like the whole manic pixie dream girl thing. I was seriously upset by that because it felt like you were just treating me as another character in your ‘narrative’. You assigned a trope to me. It felt like a blind judgment based on the situation and, honestly, made me feel like less of a person in your eyes and more like some kind of shell that you were looking to fill with what you wanted me to be in order to preserve a storyline.”
She set her burger down on its wrapper and hopped down from the back of the van. She paced, trying to let the words come to her while not outright insulting him with what she wanted to get across. After a moment, she turned to him and spoke.
“I see what you do and I understand it. You built a narrative structure around our personal situation because you saw how well it worked for the group’s situation as a whole. You’re able to see what’s going to happen because, you’re right, things progress in a linear fashion and continue to be predictable. You use your pop-culture knowledge to call out all these things and make fun of them. It makes you feel more secure because you are familiar with the structure and can laugh about its nature.
“We are different, you and I. This is not something that you can assign a narrative to as if it was some kind of romantic action-comedy. I am a person; not an idea, not a situation. Our relationship – whatever it may be – isn’t a plot hook and I am very afraid that if I openly share my feelings with you, you’re not going to take them seriously. You’re only going to look for ways to plug them in to whatever device works for you before you categorize it and turn it into another narrative because that is what makes you feel safe from any potential emotional damage. You can prepare better because you think you can see what is coming.”
Justin sat, continuing to eat his meal, with wide eyes. They looked desperate, she thought. She had broken through something in his brain and she knew it. She hesitated to think that she was fixing him because that would be playing right into another one of his tropes. The other side of her brain was telling her that the tropes didn’t matter and what she was doing was important to a person she cared about.
He didn’t reply. He stared, silently, waiting for her next words.
“We don’t even really know each other,” she said, turning away from his gaze, “I mean, we’re basically co-workers. Like, we know each other to the extent of basic details but we’ve never really had time to talk about anything. Moving forward quickly – defining something – would only be feeding into that narrative thing.”
“I want to get to know you,” Justin said, “I like you a lot.”
“You find me attractive,” Zoey countered, “You like the surface. You appreciate the aesthetic. That’s good for a start. We’ve kissed, we’ve had some moments, but we’ve really never talked about anything that wasn’t immediately pressing. Like, we’ve had discussions about everything but our real selves and I feel like we need to explore that before we put any kind of label on it.”
“You kissed me, though,” Justin said, “That meant something, right?”
“You’re cute,” Zoey said, shrugging, “I’m not denying that I am also attracted to you, but, we’re adults. Just because we shared a kiss doesn’t mean we’re in some kind of exclusive relationship. From what Lisa tells me, you were reading way too far into that. It was a very emotional moment when that happened. We both needed to feel good about something right at that second. I gave us that something. It wasn’t the declaration of undying love that you think it was.”
“Really?” Justin scoffed, “That’s how she told you I felt about it?”
“Is that a lie?” Zoey said, raising an eyebrow.
Justin looked down. She could almost see the exact spot she had placed the pin in his mind to start his deflation.
“I was confused,” Justin said, “And emotional. And, really, girls don’t typically take an interest in me. They especially don’t suddenly kiss me.”
“Get over yourself,” she said, dismissing him with a hand wave, “You need to stop playing this role you think has been assigned to you. You don’t necessarily need to stop looking at the narrative, as long as it applies, but you need to stop looking at people as characters. Yourself included.
“You have yourself pinned as this chubby ugly nerd who is mad at the world because no one appreciates you. You don’t realize that you are so much more than the stereotype you’ve shoe-horned yourself into. Just like I’m not the manic pixie dream girl, you are not the depressive ogre nightmare man. Realize that you are attractive, you are smart, and you have a bigger part to play in the world than just the ‘character’ you think you need to be.”
“So,” Justin said, looking up, “You do like me?”
“Yes, you moron,” Zoey said, laughing, “Yes, I do. I want to get to know you better so that I can find out if I like you for more than just being attractive. I think you should really get to know me better, too, to make sure I’m not just another pretty face.”
“I know you’re not just another pretty face,” Justin said, “But yeah, I would like to find out for sure.”
“So, there’s your label, if you still need it,” Zoey said, “’Tentatively dating’. Yeah, still a little nebulous, like you said, but that’s good. The less you can associate anything to do with us to a plot hitch or a trope, the better. I don’t like being put into a mold. Stay away from that and we’ll see what happens from here.”
He was quiet. She was sure that this was going to take him a while to process. From the look on his face, she had hit every nail directly on the head, but it was clear he wasn’t ready for this. It was clear that he would have never been ready for this.
“Yeah,” he said, finally, nodding, “Yeah, I guess we’ll see.”
She put her head on his shoulder as she dug in to finish her burger. He leaned into her as well. There was a soft hiss as his cheek met her ice hair. It subsided after a moment.
“Are you saying you ship us?” Justin asked.
“Shut up,” Zoey said, a smile crossing her face.
“You totally ship us,” Justin said.
The pale, cold skin of her cheeks turned red, out of sight from Justin. She was very thankful for that last part.
They stared out into the parking lot of the industrial park. It was filled with the evidence of the preceding battle.
“A fight, cheeseburgers in the back of a van, and cleaning up dead robot parts,” Justin said, “Hell of a first date.”