"You're supposed to be keeping an open mind." Codex frowned at Riley, who was currently sprawled out on the couch in Codex's living room, idly tapping at a laptop. "I tried Halo, remember? You owe me."
Riley rolled her eyes. "I don't know how I let you talk me into this."
"You feel bad for hurting Zaboo?"
Riley rolled her eyes, scrolling through the hairstyles on the character creation screen. "I really don't."
Codex's frown deepened, but she steeled herself. Confident, she reminded herself. I am confident. I don't have to get intimidated by Stupid Tall Hot Riley if I don't want to be. "Okay, so have you decided which class you want to play?"
"Do I look like I have?"
Inwardly, Codex quailed. Outwardly, she glared at Riley. "You're the one who agreed to this. Are you going to cooperate or not?" Wow. Tone of authority there!
Riley raised one eyebrow. "Ma'am, yes ma'am," she said, half-sarcastic and half-impressed to Codex's ears. Codex smirked. See? She could totally be confident and imposing if she wanted to. Mostly she didn't want to, but there was only so much complaining she could take.
"So. You like shooting things. Maybe you'd like to be a hunter?"
"Which one's that?"
"The one with the bow. There." Codex leaned over from her place on the floor, where she had dragged her computer and set it out. She reached one arm out and pointed at the screen. "That one. See? You can even use guns if you start playing as a dwarf."
"Ugh." Riley shifted in her slouch. She brushed against Codex's arm, and Codex immediately jumped back, withdrawing it. "What? I don't bite."
"Zaboo says otherwise," Codex said, her eyebrows knitting together.
Riley smiled, slow and predatory. "Well, maybe I bite sometimes."
Codex blinked, exhaled and cleared her throat. "Anyway, you can try that one out, if you want."
"What about that one? The one with the axe."
"That one's a warrior."
"So it just runs up and hits things?"
"Well, they can either do or take a lot of damage, depending on--"
"Yes or no?" Riley rolled mildly irritated eyes at Codex.
"Um, yes. Basically."
"Good," Riley said with some satisfaction. "I'll do that one."
"Good. Awesome." It was a pretty fitting choice for Riley, she supposed. Running up and hitting things seemed to be… well, precisely her style. She suppressed a sudden shudder, remembering some of the weirder things Zaboo had either told her or hinted at.
"Well, if I'm gonna do this, I may as well look good doing it," Riley muttered, fiddling with the menu. She swiveled her laptop screen toward Codex. "Tell me what you think."
The avatar on the screen was human, with an approximation of Riley's brown hair, the "fierce" facial option, and clad from head to toe in brown leather. Well, maybe head to toe was a strong term. Codex had always been of the opinion that the clothing options for the female characters had always been a bit... lacking. Riley's current avatar seemed to be wearing leather pants and an assortment of belts. On... places. Chesty places.
"It looks... um, it looks good," Codex said. "Really."
Riley gave her a look, one eyebrow raised and the corner of her mouth quirked up. "So let's get this over with."
"Okay. I've got a low-level druid alt, so I can heal you and take care of aggro if you--"
"Cut the nerd talk."
Codex frowned, reconsidered, and started again. "Just... stay there in the starting area for a second. I'll be right there."
An hour and seven levels later, and Riley was irritated. Very irritated. Irritated to the point where Codex's hard-won confidence was very nearly in shreds.
"--and I don't get why--"
"You don't have to get it!" Codex said her voice shrill and nearly breaking with stress. "If you don't like it, why are you still here?"
Riley sighed, her heretofore sullen demeanor changed in a second. Suddenly she was all solicitous concern, sliding over onto the floor next to Codex. "Hey, calm down. You know, you never let me give you a back rub."
"I--uh. What?" Startled by the abrupt change in mood, it took Codex several seconds to remember the Halo game and neck rub, interrupted by Zaboo tied up in the hall closet. "Oh yeah, that." She laughed nervously.
"What? You mean, now?"
Riley rolled her eyes. "No, for Christmas. Yes, now. Come on, lie down on the couch." She patted the cushions behind them.
On the one hand, that was a really weird sudden change from "growl growl snarl" to "let me rub your back." And on the other, there was no denying that she was tensed up into a nervous little ball after the past hour or so. Twinging shoulder muscles won out. "Okay."
Keeping a wary eye on Riley, Codex slid onto her stomach, stretching out on the couch. Riley started rubbing her neck and shoulders, working out the knots expertly. "You really need to learn the meaning of the word 'relax.'"
"I relax a lot," Codex mumbled, closing her eyes and enjoying herself.
"Working yourself up over a game doesn't count as relaxing," said Riley, quite possibly very close to Codex's ear. "You know, Wade told me that you play violin."
"Can we not talk about him, please?" Codex half-lifted herself up, but Riley gently--but very insistently--pushed her back down.
"Relax. We're not talking about him. We're talking about you."
Okay, Codex, how do you respond to that one? With stammering and awkwardness, apparently. "I--uh..."
"You know, if you played it for him, it's only fair you play it for me. I like music, too."
"I'm not sure the neighbors would appreciate--"
"Forget the neighbors." Yes, Riley's voice was really, really close to Codex's ear, and kind of whispery now. Something in Codex's brain began to ping. Something familiar, some connection that was almost there, almost...
And then Riley's hands were back on her shoulders, kneading right along her spine and smoothing out the muscles, and the tentative connection was gone again. "How come you're being nice?" Codex asked. "I mean, you've never really been nice before."
"I can be nice," Riley said, "when I want to be."
"But all that... um, bitchface stuff, back at your place--"
"Shh. You're supposed to be enjoying this, remember?" Her hands slid lower, and that thought that had almost formed itself before finally made itself known.
Codex jumped, knocking into Riley and banging their heads together. "Ow."
"What the hell was that?"
"Were you just hitting on me?"
Riley rubbed at her forehead. "So what if I am?"
"Aren't you with--what's her name, from the Axis of Anarchy... Venom?"
Riley rolled her eyes. "God, does the word 'fuckbuddy' mean nothing to you? We have fun. That doesn't mean we're exclusive." She smiled sweetly down at Codex, still prone on the couch. "You're interesting. You're cute. I like that."
"I--I don't get how--interesting? Really?"
"You're getting there." Riley shrugged one shoulder, leaning back down and doing that really interesting thing right down the center of Codex's spine, where it felt like she was spreading everything out. Like she was evening out clay or something. "This, right here. You're growing a spine, and it's interesting for me to watch. Really interesting."
Wow. Okay. That was... that was actually pretty cool to hear. And from Riley, of all people. Miss "I'm so much cooler and prettier and more awesome than you" was actually giving a compliment.
And a backrub. A really, really good backrub.
"And I like watching you fight back," Riley continued.
Full stop. "Whoa. Whoa, whoa, whoa." Codex finally turned over, visions of herself in Zaboo's place a week earlier dancing in her head and suddenly very anxious to not be putting herself in Riley's (very, very strong) hands. "First off? Thank you. Secondly? Don't think you'll be putting me in any position to fight you off. I'm not Zaboo, and I'm not a pushover anymore. Sort of. I--what?"
Riley was smiling, holding back laughter. "What do you think you're doing right now? There's more than one way of fighting. After this whole... nerd battle or whatever the hell it was, I thought you knew that."
"Oh." Good point there. "So... you know, I don't like girls. I mean, I like them as friends, but... I got hit on once, and it wasn't--"
"Flip over," Riley said. "Just let me do this. You're enjoying it, right?"
"So it doesn't have to be anything deeper than this. Just lay there and have fun, and let me have mine."
"And if I tell you to stop, you will?"
Riley held up one hand, smiling a little. "Promise."
Codex thought it over, shrugged to herself, and scooted back to lying on her stomach, sighing contentedly as Riley went back to work. She really did give a great backrub.