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sweet nothings

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Lucy doesn’t know when she first realized this, but she suddenly notices that her shooting accuracy is atrocious in comparison to the slick 0.87 average she’s spent over 200 game hours building up.

“Ugh,” she grunts to herself, jamming down the A button to move onto the next raid round. The recap screen fades to gray and a flashing circle flickers onto the screen, the word ‘LOADING’ underneath it.

“You doing okay there?” Erza asks, her voice overlaying the background music.

Lucy sighs, taking the last swig of water left in her glass. She places the cup back down, stretching out her right hand before bringing it back around her controller. She swallows her water before replying. “Yeah, my accuracy is just going down a few points.”

“I mean, it is kinda late on your end, isn’t it?”

She knows Erza is right, but she absentmindedly looks over at the red digital numbers of the block perched on the shelf in the corner of her room. The room is pitch black save the narrow slice of moonlight through that one broken window blind and the blue light from her computer monitor.

“3:47,” Lucy replies, shrugging and turning her face back to the game.

“You really should get to sleep,” Erza says. “Don’t you have a big day tomorrow? A presentation to your boss and your boss’s boss?”

Erza’s right, but Lucy doesn’t feel one wink tired.

“Yeah, but I’ll get by,” she replies.

Lucy’s been needing less sleep recently, or at least for the past few months since Lucy discovered, Kingdom of Fiore, this new RPG shooter game. Fiore had been released for at least a year already, but Lucy had been resisting the urge to buy it — even more so resisting the urge to get back into gaming. After years of wasting her nights away on games, Lucy had quit them cold turkey after landing a promotion that required a lot more of her energy and time.

But alas, while you can keep a game from a gamer, but you can’t keep a gamer from the game.

And Lucy fit right back in. She took about 30 hours to really get a hold of the controls, but she was already well incorporated into the communities, meet new friends, and was already accomplishing S Rank campaigns. She had a good team that she played with regularly, and while she didn’t know all of her so-called nakama beyond their online profiles, she at least knew ScarletKnight — aka Erza — by voice.

Erza had been one of the first friends she had made in the KoF community. They met over one of the forums, played a few missions together, and have ever since pretty much spent most of their logged-on time on their own separate voice channel. Most of the time they chat about strategy during the campaigns, but on down time, they chat about life or whatever is on their mind.

Sometimes they would just turn off the game altogether and just talk.

And maybe also spending time with Erza is another reason why she hasn’t felt so sleepy lately.

“Just one more campaign,” Lucy insists.

She hears Erza sigh on the other end, giving in to Lucy’s request. “Okay, fine, one more campaign. A very short campaign. I swear I’m logging off after this for your own good. You need the sleep.”

“Pff, as if you logging off would keep me from playing,” Lucy retorts.

She hears Erza smile. Erza knows Lucy well enough to know that Lucy would play through to sunrise if she had the option to. Erza also knows Lucy well enough to know that Lucy wouldn’t play for very long without Erza on her team.

“One more campaign,” Erza promises. “Only one. Very short.”

“Got it,” Lucy agrees begrudgingly.

She watches as Erza chooses the campaign — a simple search-and-rescue one that only needed two players. The landscape de-pixelates around her character and a brief countdown ticks down before her character starts moving.

She follows after ScarletKnight’s character, a muscular red-headed woman covered in silver armor and brandishing a sword larger than her torso. Erza’s main was a warrior-type, best at close-up fighting and being a tank when push came to shove. Lucy had never met Erza in real life, but somehow she couldn’t help but imagine Erza looked just like her online persona. Great hair, great legs, great butt. Erza’s voice also just happened to match her character exactly.

Honestly if Lucy ever had the chance to actually fly out to meet Erza in person, she wouldn’t know how she would react to see that this voice she’s known for so long on someone that didn’t look at all like ScarletKnight’s main.

Honestly, Lucy tried not to think too hard about it, because she rather liked Erza a lot. Liked Erza a lot, as in, liked Erza’s voice on her video game persona.

Lucy doesn’t know if that counts.

“Oh! I see them over there!” Erza exclaims. Her character charges forward, and Lucy looks out in the direction she goes, loading her spell for a distance shot.

“Got them,” Lucy says, holding down a few buttons and then releasing a magic arrow. The arrow lands into the enemy front, releasing a smog that would keep them in the dark while Erza cut them down with her sword.

“Ah, that’s perfect,” Erza replies. “I’ll take care of this side. Hold back the other side until I can get up real close to them?”

“You know it.”

“We make a good team, you know,” she says.

Lucy smiles. “Yeah, we do,” she agrees.

Erza doesn’t reply. The silence indicates to Lucy that Erza is focusing hard at task. Every now and then Lucy hears a quiet ‘shit,’ ‘fuck,’ or ‘damn’ over her headset.

Lucy laughs quietly to herself, before she suddenly reminds herself that she needs to get to work herself, and that she couldn’t just sit and listen to Erza’s voice.

She aims a firebolt toward the right side of the advancing enemies. A few fall at the first explosion, but there’s one that breaks formation and comes at Lucy’s character straight on. Quietly cursing to herself, Lucy resets her shot and goes for a head shot of the incoming enemy.

She misses. The enemy surges towards her at a high speed, jumping up for the opening attack.

“Fuck—” Lucy curses, backing her character into a defensive position.

Just before her character receives some major damage, a blur of red and silver fly over her screen. It’s Erza — coming in just in time to save her.

“Got you,” Erza says. The enemy vanquishes into black dust, and without missing a beat, Erza’s character rushes off to defeat the remainder of the front.

“Thanks,” Lucy replies, side-stepping the whole battle mess and skipping beyond the enemy line. She spots the green crystal indicating the item to retrieve, and she sprints toward it, shooting out a radius of defensive magic to fend off the minions closing in on her.

There are a few leftover enemies that she missed, so she casts an ice spell to freeze them, using up the last of her magic. She dodges a trap and then jumps forward to nab the wanted item.

‘MISSION COMPLETE’ splashes onto her screen. Numbers line up under her character and under Erza’s character. It’s clear that Erza did most of the heavy lifting in this one.

“Nice!” Erza exclaims. “Short and simple.”

“Honestly you did most of it,” Lucy tells her.

Erza laughs. “Yeah, what’s going on?” Erza asks. “You were tripping up.”

“Eh, I don’t know, my reaction time’s been off all night. Maybe my controller isn’t hooked up right,” she replies. “I told you my accuracy’s been declining.”

“Nah, you’re so sleepy you’re missing your shots,” Erza teases, her voice tickling Lucy’s ear. “Told you that you need to get to bed.”

Lucy laughs, or maybe it sounds more like a half-giggle. “You’re right,” Lucy admits, slumping back into her chair and closing her eyes.

“But seriously, you doing okay?”

Lucy thinks for a moment, her eyes still closed. “Yeah, for sure.”

She decides to not mention that she thinks she's maybe a little distracted. She decides not to mention that her mind tends to wander when Erza starts talking.

“I can’t see you so I don’t know if you’re just lying to me, but you know you can talk to me about anything, right?”

“I know,” Lucy says. For some reason, her heart feels like it’s caught in her chest. She opens her eyes, staring up. It’s so dark she can’t make out the difference between the edge of the wall and the ceiling, and the glow of the computer screen isn’t nearly enough to make up for the difference.

Is it possible to fall in love with someone by just a voice?

“Sleepy?”

Lucy closes her eyes again. “Mmm,” she replies, nodding slightly.

“Do I need to sing you a lullaby?”

She smiles. Erza’s voice sounds so close. Like she could be right there in the room, standing behind her chair and leaning over her, whispering into her ear.

“No,” she laughs softly.

“You don’t have to be shy about it.”

Lucy’s smile widens. “I’m serious.”

“Okay, then,” Erza says. “Good night, Lucy.”

“Good night, Erza,” she replies back, her heart warm.

She waits until the static clicks off before she removes the headset from her ears. Even offline, Erza’s voice still crackles like fire in her ear, and as Lucy makes her way into bed and falls into her sheets, she lets Erza’s good night linger, imagining her sleeping next to her as close as her voice.