2306: Walk Away

Posted: August 4, 2012 by Kelly in league, stories, the world

She finds herself knocking on an unfamiliar door in Cidade twelve hours after Cedeira discharged her from the hospital. The city that stretches itself along miles and miles of the South American coast is as quiet as it’s ever going to be. It’s four a clock in the morning, and she doesn’t know what she’s expecting, but it’s not for Ruiz to actually open the door and look at her as if she’s a figment of his imagination.

“Val?” he even sounds disbelieving. He must have been sleeping before she knocked on his door. He stands in front of her now, clad in a pair of grimy boxer shorts. There isn’t a hint of shame in is posture. It’s as if he always opens the door this way, no matter who is on the other end. Then again, he does have an alarm system. He probably saw who it was before he opened the door. He still looks surprised though.

Valentina shrugs, readjusting the duffelbag on her shoulder. “I don’t know where else to go.” she says, her voice fragile even to her own ears. Her entire body aches. No surprise there. She’s still healing, after all. Cedeira had told her to take things easy for a while. Arriving on Ruiz’ doorstep in the middle of he night doesn’t feel like taking it easy. It feels like she’s finally lost her mind. She shrugs, a tiny movement that sends a throb of pain through her side. Right. Bulletwound. “And you said I should come by sometimes, between seasons.”

Ruiz stares at her for a few long seconds before stepping aside and pulling the door open further. Valentina lets go of a breath she didn’t even know she was holding and walks inside. The spacious apartment is mostly dark, but it seems mostly clean. There are a couple of glasses on the small coffeetable in the centre of the livingroom, and a few empty bottles as well. The light in the bedroom appears to be on.

“Give me a few minutes.” Ruiz grumbles. “Have a seat, make yourself at home or something. You want coffee? I’ll make some coffee.” he rambles on, not leaving any room for her to get a word in edgewise. His voice is strangely gentle. It’s that, far more than the continued ache in her entire body that tells her she’s a wreck.

She can hear him putter around in the kitchen, before disappearing in the bedroom. A woman’s voice emerges. Val winces. Of course he had company. The woman doesn’t seem pleased with what Ruiz is telling her, if the yelling in Portuguese is anything to go by. Seconds later the door to the bedroom slams open, and the woman stalks out. It’s a gorgeous curvy Latina, with eyes like fire. She’s as naked as the day she’s born. She freezes before she’s two paces into the livingroom. Her eyes are wide as she looks at Valentina.

Val barely has the time to arch an eyebrow before the woman whirls around and storms back into the bedroom. She’s still yelling at Ruiz. Valentina tries a little harder to understand what she’s saying. Her Portuguese is a little rusty, but she can catch the general gist of it. Ruiz’ companion appears displeased that he didn’t deign to inform her that it was ‘Valentina, the legend’, waiting for him in his livingroom. Valentina shrugs and winces again, feeling anything but legendary at the moment.

Minutes later the woman emerges again, fully dressed and awash with apologetic smiles as she slinks out of the apartment. Ruiz smirks as he watches her go. “Girlfriend?” Valentina offers.

“Nah. Groupie.” he counters, puttering around in his kitchen for a moment before joining Val with two steaming mugs of coffee. “So. I heard you got shot.” he says, watching Valentina closely. She hides her face in her mug for a moment.

“Yep. And I don’t want to talk about it right now.” She mutters, glaring at her coffee.

“Tough shit. Waking me up at four in the morning with an ‘I don’t know where else to go’ days after you get shot means you don’t get a say in the matter. You’re talking.” Ruiz sounds like his usual gruff self again. It’s that more than anything that settles Val’s nerves.

“Screw you too, asshole.” she says, grinning at him. “Just… don’t tell Hugh or anyone else from the corporation I’m here, alright? I don’t want to deal with their shit right now.”

Ruiz chuckles. “You mistake Hugh for someone who gives a shit about what his competitors do off-season. Though how you expect to escape notice is beyond me. Unless you swam here from the Compound there’s no way the boys don’t know you’re in Cidade.”

“They know I’m in Cidade, I just don’t want them to know exactly where in Cidade I am right now.”

“And you figured this would be the last place they looked?” Ruiz looks a little impressed. “Good call. So, talk to me, what the fuck happened and why do you look like you’ve been stuck in a blender?”

Valentina sags back into the surprisingly fluffy pillows on Ruiz’ couch, her hands wrapped around her coffee. “You saw the match?” she asks. Ruiz offers her a little nod. “You know about the clusterfuck that preceded the match?” Her next question receives half a shrug.

“Some of it. You know I don’t really pay attention to the gossip, Val.”

“I know.” she offers an appeasing half-smile. “Either way, it was a complete fuck up. The corporation pulled Le Blanc in from the Euroleague because apparently last year’s league was too boring and people wanted to see a more satisfying battle. Which, you know, I get. Le Blanc was pretty good at what he did, so… yeah, I got that. He was a complete psychopath though.” She shrugs dejectedly. “Then again, who am I to pass judgement on that? I’m sure people say the same thing about me.”

Ruiz sinks into the cushions next to her. “I’m not going to lie to you Val, mostly people just talk about your tits.”

That startles a laugh out of Valentina. “I’m sure they do. Anyway, I hooked up with Joshua, which I’m sure you’ve heard all about because it’s such an important factor in the grand scheme of things. Whatever. And Joshua, he’s one of those kids that really has no place in the league, you know? He’s not like you and me or even Le Blanc. He’s one of those kids that has hopes and dreams and thinks the world is made of fucking rainbows or something.”

“Just another fucked up hopeful, you mean.” Ruiz interjects. “So what about him, Val? You fucked another league contestant, well done, welcome to the club. And then you killed him. Again, well done, welcome to the club. That’s not why you’re sitting here though.”

Valentina shakes her head. “That’s just a tiny part of it.” She sighs. “Joshua liked to talk. Fuck, I don’t think he ever really shut up at all, and the nights before the match he got to talking about how he wanted to live. I’m sure you’ve had that before. People get second thoughts, and all of a sudden they’re looking at you, as if you can somehow save their lives, when all they have to do is withdraw from the goddamned match.”

“Yeah, I’ve been there too,” Ruiz confirms, “and I agree, what the fuck is up with that? Don’t they know who we are by now? We’re killers. You, me, Chang, Le Blanc and dozens of other hardcore motherfuckers. We kill people. It’s what we do. I’ll never understand why people still expect us to hold back in a life or death situation.”

“I could have done it though.” Val interrupts. “I mean… I know the game inside and out. That match could’ve ended with Joshua and me alive and off in some far-off corner of the world.”

Ruiz gives her shoulder a comforting squeeze. “Like fuck it could have ended like that. Come on, Val. Technically? Sure. There are a dozen different ways to trick the probes into thinking you’re dead and gone. But you never would have done it. It’s not in your nature.”

“Stender disagrees with you.” Valentina says, her shoulders slumping. “He was convinced I was going to do it, so he… took measures.”

“What.” Ruiz’ voice is frighteningly calm.

“He thought I was going to let Joshua live somehow, so he sent Le Blanc in there with an irradiated bullet to make sure Joshua would die either way.”

When she looks at Ruiz his face in twisted in an angry snarl. Val’s voice is flat as she continues the story. “As you’d expect, Le Blanc didn’t give a shit about Joshua. I mean, Joshua was never a real threat to him. Me on the other hand… I was a five time league champion at the time, and he could use any advantage he could get. By the time the corporation figured out what he was going they were too late to interrupt the game. So I got shot, but luckily I passed out before I could get to the regen station, or I would have been dead.”

“Motherfucker.” Ruiz whispers.

“I know, right? Either way, both Joshua and Le Blanc are dead, I’m a six time league champion now, and I just spent the last few days in a hospital to deal with radiation sickness and whatnot.” She sighs. “And now I’m out, Ruiz. Stender can go fuck himself. If he wants me dead he can come do the job himself. I’m done making it easy for him.”

“You’re out?” Ruiz sounds stunned for a moment, as if a life outside of the league never occurred to him. “What, you’re going to switch leagues or something?”

Valentina shakes her head. “No, you’re not listening. I’m out. Done. They can find themselves a new stooge, because I’m done letting them fuck with my head. I almost died out there, Ruiz. Not because someone was better than me, or smarter than me, or because I fucked up… No, I almost died because fucking Stender didn’t trust me enough. Because he intervened. And I refuse to die because some asshole on a powertrip decides to flip a goddamn switch.”

“Hey, easy…” Ruiz’ voice is eerily calm, as if he’s talking to a wild animal instead of a person. “I get it, you know. I really do. And I don’t think I would have reacted any differently if I’d been in your shoes.”

Valentina snorts. “Bullshit. You would have wrecked the building before ripping Stender’s head off and pissing down his neck. You would’ve… hell, you would’ve done something, at least. I just yelled at him for a while, then gave him the silent treatment for a while and then I ran off. And here I am.”

Ruiz takes her hand in his and gives it a squeeze. “Here you are, depriving that son of a bitch of your company. That sounds like punishment to me no matter how you look at it, kiddo.”

Val smiles weakly at him. “The guy tried to get me killed. I don’t think he cares as much as you seem to think.” It’s a bitter realisation. She really did think she knew him better than that.

“Can I ask you something personal?” Ruiz asks, his voice still gentle. Valentina nods slowly, her thoughts miles away. “How long have you known Stender?” He asks, and it’s the last question she expects. “It’s just that I always got the impression that you two were close. More than what six years of semi-employment would allow for.”

The room blurs before her eyes and Val knows with absolute, mind-numbingly embarrassing certainty that she’s going to cry in front of Ruiz, the hardest man she’s ever met. “I… fuck, it’s been years…” She can’t help but remember the first time she saw him in the flesh, all those years go in Rotterdam. She’d saved his /life/, for all the good it did her now.

“Thirteen years.” she finally manages to croak out. Before she really knows what she’s doing she has her face buried against Ruiz chest. Much to her surprise she survives that impulse, feeling his calloused fingers card through her hair. The last thing she hears before she falls asleep is Ruiz’ voice, telling her it would all be alright, eventually.

~

She wakes up with the afternoon sun in her eyes, stretched out on Ruiz’ couch and covered in blankets that she doesn’t remember him getting. All she remembers is her breakdown the night before. Her cheeks feel red with embarrassment, and yet at the same time she knows it won’t matter to him. He’s already seen her far worse, covered in someone elses blood. Hell, he’d seen her roaring drunk at his first victory party. And now he’d seen her weak. She finds herself incapable of being upset about it. If anyone could handle seeing her fragile it would be Ruiz, who had seen some dark places himself throughout his life.

Valentina pulls herself upright and rubs a hand across her face, feeling as of she’s been on a 24-hour bender. Cedeira had warned her about the aftereffects of her hospital-stay, but she blissfully ignored the warning voice in her head now. /What’s a little radiation poisoning in the grand scheme of things anyway?/

Rationally she knows her problems are small in light of the grand scheme of things. So what if she quits the league? She’s rich enough to never have to worry about money again. She’s still young, even though she feels about a century old in the bright afternoon light. She could start over, still.

Without really consciously deciding to she finds herself wandering over to Ruiz’ bedroom. The door is half-open and the Southern League champion seems to be sleeping like a baby, one arm thrown over his face to block out the light. As she looks at him Valentina realizes that he would be next. If she stays with the league… if she returns to Stender and accepts his worthless apologies, he’d find her some other worthy opponent. It might not be next season, or even the one after, but eventually they would go up against each other.

It reminds her of all the matches she’s seen Ruiz win. The relentless mindfuckery with his opponents. All his flawless kills. Reckless. Fearsome. Truly an opponent to fear and respect. Young would cream his pants over such a match-up. Two perfect killers, matched in so many ways.

His eyes blink open, fixed on her. Always seeking out a potential thread. “Time’s it?” he mutters, glancing around for his alarm clock. Valentina leans against the doorframe, smiling. Ruiz fusses around for a moment, clearly not awake yet. “Alright, kiddo. What’s on your mind?” he finally grunts as he’s pulling himself in an upright position.

“I was thinking of killing you in your sleep.” She says, smiling warmly at him.

It startles a laugh out of Ruiz. “Heh. Where’s the fun in that?” He swings his legs out of the massive bed and heaves himself up. She can almost hear his joints creak. “Nah, kiddo. If it ever gets to that it’ll be in a good fight. I’ll die horribly, and you’ll cry and cry because you’d have no one to get drunk with anymore. Now get dressed, there’s a cantina in Salvadore that needs our patronage.” He slaps her on the ass as he walks by.

She doesn’t break his wrist. Maybe there’s hope for her, after all.

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