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silver lining

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Nisha is T minus ten when someone says “Hello! Do you want to make a thousand dollars?”

She pauses on the sidewalk outside the bank, one boot on the bottom step. She turns a little, her hand still on the bandana around her neck, half-raised.

The woman beaming down at her is tall, dark, and handsome, dressed to the nines. There’s a hint of muscle underneath all her jewelry, and that kinda does it for Nisha. “Yes, you there!” she projects, someone too rich for an inside voice. “Hello! I’m afraid I’m in a bit of a pickle, and need someone to lend a helping hand. I will, of course, compensate you for your time.”

“Two thousand,” Nisha says, because why not.

“Done! Come with me.”

She turns without hesitation, heading down the sidewalk. Nisha pauses, then shoulders her duffel bag and follows. Scarlett is frozen in confusion in the driver’s seat of the car, staring incredulously. Nisha shrugs and mouths wait there.

Scarlett will, or she won’t. Sometimes Nisha bursts out of a stick-up to find the car already gone. She’s learned the hard way not to throw the goods into the car before she gets in, too. But Scarlett hasn’t tried to shoot Nisha in the back yet, so that’s good enough for her.

The woman stops at the front of a restaurant, the sort of place that Nisha would never in her life be able to buy her way into. She leans down to adjust Nisha’s bandana, pinkies raised. Nisha slaps her hands away, but the woman just laughs.

“You see, I was just about to head inside for an absolutely lovely meal, when who should I see already in there?”

Nisha looks through the window. All she can see is a sea of marks, interspersed with rubes and suckers. “Rich assholes?”

“Darling, they’re supposed to be there. Who else would be in a place like this? But who isn’t supposed to be there is my brother! And worse– he’s with a date!” The woman looks horrified. “He looked happy. I will not put up with the likes of that.”

“And you want me to…”

“Hang on my arm. Laugh at everything I say.” She grins. “Make him hate every moment.”

“Two thousand?”

And lunch is on me,” she trills.

“Deal.”

The woman offers her arm. “Lady Aurelia Hammerlock.”

It takes Nisha a moment to figure out how to take it, but she manages. “Nisha Kadam,” she says, because if she’s getting busted then she’s getting busted. She hikes her free thumb over her shoulder. “I was just about to rob that place.”

“Well, it’s a good thing I got to you before then,” Aurelia huffs. “Sirens would absolutely ruin the ambiance.”

The maître d’ greets Aurelia by name and exchanges air-kisses. Nisha patiently watches with detached interest, like it’s some sort of nature documentary. She’s ready to break his nose if he tries that crap with her, but when he turns to her, he just looks at her for a moment, and then wordlessly turns back to Aurelia.

Aurelia laughs and chatters away as he leads them to a table and fetches some wine. There’s a lot of words about the wine. Nisha understands approximately none of them. She kicks her duffel bag underneath the table, the butt of her shotgun thumping against a table leg, and waits for him to leave.

“So, where’s your brother?”

“Oh, don’t look, that’ll ruin everything.”

“I won’t.”

“Fine. He’s at your seven.”

Nisha lifts her wineglass, and moves it just a little, until it catches the reflection of the room behind her. There’s a guy who’s resolutely not looking at their table, but his date is, obviously worried.

“I see him.”

“Does he look like his day has been ruined?”

“Absolutely destroyed.”

“Marvelous.” Aurelia snaps her fingers, and the waiter appears. “I will have the chef’s best,” she commands, “and my lovely friend here will have a steak.” She pauses to raise an eyebrow at Nisha. “Let me guess. Rare?”

“Rare’s fine.”

“Rare,” Aurelia declares. “Off you go!”

Nisha watches the man scurry off. “I didn’t know a place like this did something like steak.”

“Oh, they most absolutely do not!” Aurelia assures her. “They’ll be positively widdling themselves trying to figure out how to cook one. Now, lavish me with affection.”

Nisha leans forward. “Mi amor.”

“What did Spanish ever do to you to deserve being murdered like that?”

“Sup, babe?”

“Better.”

Nisha brushes her knuckles against Aurelia’s cheek, and tenderly says “If I ever took you hostage, I’d shoot you last.”

“I’m positively swooning!” Her eyes are bright as she leans into Nisha’s touch. “Of course, I’d have the upper hand the whole time.”

Maybe it’s leftover adrenaline from the aborted heist, but Nisha feels like there’s not enough oxygen in the room. “Oh, would you?”

“Of course,” Aurelia smiles. She runs a hand up along Nisha’s arm playfully, and then her thumb is in Nisha’s wrist, her grip hard enough to splinter.

Nisha doesn’t move. She doesn’t move and she doesn’t breathe and she doesn’t look away from Aurelia’s icy gaze for what feels like white-hot minutes and minutes and minutes all the way up until Aurelia grins and laughs and lets go, and the blood rushes back into her hand and air into her lungs and she’s completely, utterly turned on.

By the end of their lunch, Mr Seven O'Clock and his date have excused themselves early, taking a blatantly circuitous route to avoid their table. Nisha is uninterested in picking at the details of whatever fucked-up family dynamic is on display, but she appreciates the blatant hostility. And the company. The steak is pretty good, too, even if it came with some fancy crap on top, which Nisha scraped off, to the visible horror of the waiter.

All in all, she’s in a pretty good mood, and no-one even had to die. Still, on the way out of the restaurant, there’s one thing left to get– two, if she can swing it.

She chivalrously accompanies Aurelia out of the restaurant, then shoves her up against a wall. When Aurelia lets out a little gasp, her heart beats hard. “My money.”

“My, aren’t you a bloodthirsty little thing!” Aurelia looks down at her with way too much amusement. With the hand that’s not pinned, she pulls a business card out of her clutch, and then a pen. She writes something on the back of her card before handing it to Nisha. “There.”

One one side are the details of her main office. One the other side is a different address, in handwriting that’s relentlessly precise despite the circumstances.

Nisha holds it between two fingers. “And these are…?”

“One, the office in which your payment will be waiting for you, and two, my own personal humble abode.” Aurelia cocks her head. “If you can’t break into the former, don’t bother trying to get into the latter.”

Aurelia kisses the air by Nisha’s cheek. Nisha turns her face and sticks her tongue in Aurelia’s ear, and Aurelia slaps Nisha hard enough to leave her ears ringing.

“Good date?” Scarlett asks, when Nisha throws herself into the getaway car.

“Romantic as hell,” Nisha says, clutching the card. “Step on it.”