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Fragrance

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She smells like death the first time they meet - or maybe it's himself.

She is young and small, and the lid on what should have been her face is turned up and there are cables plugged to what would have been her cheekbone. She looks up at him, at the cuts on his face, at the blood on his clothes that is (mostly) not his own, down the barrel of the gun he points at her. He's unsure for a second if she would be worth more dead or captive. And then she smiles.

Welcome back, she says, and points to the screen her cables are connected to. The captain is there, and he is talking to Kenji, telling him her name is Sophia, she is a resourceful ally, she will work with them for a while, he is to follow her directions. But all Kenji hears is Sophia, and then the captain's voice is static, white noise buzzing in his ears, words he registers and stores away for later. She is touching him.

Are you okay, she asks, frowning and brushing hair away from his eyes. Kenji only notices the open gash in his forehead that's been bleeding into his left eye for the first time when her fingers run over it, burning his skin like branding iron, leaving in him a patch of piercing fire that hurts more than all his injuries combined. She casually taps the pistol away and passes him by, leaving a trail of something he can't recognize in the air (he thinks it may be flowers, but he's not that sure what flowers smell like), and he just stands and waits, hearing her rummage through something behind him. The gun still points to the empty chair.

When she comes around him and settles the first aid kit in his free hand, smiling that little girl smile he doesn't believe in for one second, and says, Let's see what I can do for you, Kenji lowers the gun, but doesn't pull his finger off the trigger. She wipes his cuts with alcohol, but they don't really ache. He tries to remember what the captain was saying, but the only thing that occurs him is that maybe it's not flowers, but some kind of fruit, and how this room seems to reek of something dead and putrid, but she's still smiling and doesn't seem to care.

- - -

It's sea breeze, he eventually decides. He's never been to the beach before, but every time she opens the door for him and he is pulled into that wave, choking in the air she breathes, his lungs filling up with water and smoke faster than he can cough them out, Kenji thinks this is probably what drowning in the high sea feels like. She is always too young and small, and sometimes she is pointing a 45 at his face when the door opens, when he can't or doesn't remember to call first.

Welcome, she says, and lets him in with a smile, lowering the gun but not letting go of the trigger until he's dropped the bag and taken off his coat.

She talks to him. She always has news to tell him and questions to ask. One day she's excited and energetic, laughing and bantering and bragging about her latest hack, one day she is somber and tired, telling him of the loss of people he never knew or cared about. But she is always talking, and he will let her talk because she talks to Kenji, not at Kenji, and that's more than most people have ever done for him. He listens to what he can, but at some point her voice will become just a voice, a buzz he can hear but can't make sense of, and the last thing he will hear is Kenji, and then he is touching her.

Are you okay, she always asks. Sometimes she will ask this by the door, then step aside and let him in with no more questions. Sometimes, in the kitchen, coming around him with a glass of wine to put in his hand and a smile that makes his mouth dry. Sometimes, by the desk, her body plugged to machines and computers by places he wouldn't figure; the questions slips, out of habit, and he doesn't know what to say, so he turns back to the screen or to the phone, where the captain gives instructions he notes down with the hand that is not injured from his latest job.

And sometimes, when he is burning away, buried deep inside her and starting to dissolve into static and white noise, she frowns and runs her hands through his hair, and asks again, Are you okay. Her fingers burn like lava. He closes his eyes and waits, and the air around him is full of that smell he can't figure out. It's sea breeze, and it's Sophia; it's death, and maybe it's himself. It suffocates, drowns him, but she's smiling and pulling him deeper inside her wave, and just never seems to care.