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A Special Occasion

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Max Tegan wasn’t sure what to expect when his dragon-lady boss Elise called him in that day for a meeting with no advance warning whatsoever. She’d just shown up at his desk and said, “Meeting. Now,” then told him he didn’t need his tablet when he reached for it. He nodded and stood up, trying to ignore the snickering coming from Josie’s cube, and then Elise had glanced over at Josie with a predatory smile. “Something amusing, Mata Hari?”

The snickering stopped abruptly, and Max’s mouth dropped open. Elise knew about Josie’s boyfriend at Match? Elise glanced at him and rolled her eyes. “Oh please, I know everything that goes on in this office. And it’s not like she was being subtle about it – I was about one more gloat away from handing her a ‘banging the competition’ trophy at our next staff meeting, since she was apparently campaigning to get one.” She looked back at Josie. “You can do better, Josie, really. I’m disappointed.” And then she swept off, Max looking over the cube wall to give his shocked teammate a sympathetic look and a shrug before hurrying after her.

He got worried when they bypassed Elise’s office completely, and that feeling only got worse when it became obvious that they were headed for Elise’s private shooting range. He didn’t think she’d kill him, but he did wonder if he was about to get the mother of all ‘don’t hurt my boy’ talks from the scary woman who was basically his boyfriend’s adopted aunt.

He followed her into the shooting range, and as soon as the door was closed she turned to him, frowning. “I understand you and Blake had a…discussion over the weekend.” Max swallowed and nodded. “How much did he tell you?”

“I know…I know his mother trained you, and you and her other protégé have been looking out for him since she…died.”

Elise nodded. “That’s a hazard of the business – even once you get out of it, unfortunately. I’ve been retired for years, ever since I…took an arrow to the knee, shall we say.”

He nodded. “That’s how Blake put it, too.” He bit his lip. “I…if it’s not inappropriate…thank you for your service?”

And she smiled. “You are actually welcome. Most other people…well, I just tell myself it was for the greater good and write them off as the inevitable result of unregulated breeding.” She sat down sideways on the low concrete-block wall that separated the range from the firing line. “So I take it you didn’t have a problem with what he told you.”

Max gingerly took a seat of his own on the opposite end of the wall. “No, I didn’t. I was…surprised, at first, but once I thought about it I was more surprised I hadn’t figured it out sooner. Kind of like the way you wonder why nobody ever figures out Clark Kent is Superman, because once you do know it just seems so obvious.”

Elise nodded. “It can seem that way, yes. It isn’t, though. And Blake…well, people tend to not look beyond the obvious symptoms of his condition. Basically, he was born with the camouflage the rest of us have to work years to develop.”

Max cocked his head. “But he can’t…”

“No, he can’t. His compulsive need for order would get him killed in the field, and everyone knows that – including him – so he keeps his training up by working with me or chasing down muggers and junkies.” She quirked a smile. “He’s off vigilante duty for at least a year, however, thanks to that last incident. Not that that worthless piece of shit I’d hired in HR didn’t deserve what he got, but the police can’t turn a blind eye anymore now.”

“Yeah.” Max made a face. “I thought Blake would be upset about that, but he just shrugged it off. He said it’s a hazard of the job…and he said it was worth it.”

He was actually blushing. “He’s the only one who can make that call…but for what it’s worth, I didn’t disagree with him.” She leaned forward. “So you do understand why no one can know that…Clark Kent is actually Superman?”

Max nodded. “I understood it before. After he told me what happened to his mother, though…well, I’ll be careful what I say, and how I say it, so I don’t give anything away accidentally. I’d rather have Blake alive and in my life than get killed trying and failing to avenge his death.”

That made her eyes widen. “You’d try to avenge him?”

He blushed again. “I know better than to think I’d be able to without a magical Hollywood training montage and a double helping of blind stupid luck…but yeah, if I could, I would. I told him that, he made me s’mores and then we watched my favorite movie together.”

“He told me about that. I approved.” She frowned. “If it ever were to happen…one of us will light the fire, but you can bring the marshmallows. Deal?”

My god, that smile. She hadn’t seen it before – no reason she would have – but now that she had it was no wonder her nephew was in love with this man. “Deal.”

She stood up. “Good. Now that that’s settled…grab some goggles and ear protection, you’re about to get your first lesson in self-defense – how to use a gun. I picked one that has minimal recoil so it wouldn’t hurt your arm.”

Max rubbed the recently healed arm in question and swallowed, standing up himself and going to get a set of ear protectors and a pair of the goggles that were hanging on the pegboard by the door. Which opened, and Blake walked in. “Oh…oh good, just in time.” He hugged Max, then grabbed his own goggles and put them on over his glasses, hanging a pair of ear protectors around his neck. “Target, Elise?”

She waved her hand at the range. “I put up a bullseye to start with, we’ll work up to the regular ones.” She showed Max a small handgun and magazine, then snapped the magazine into place. “Loaded, but not chambered,” she instructed. “Chambered means there’s a bullet ready to fire, loaded just means there are bullets in the gun. For safety reasons, however, you should always assume any gun you pick up is ready to fire.” She popped the magazine out again, then handed both to him. “All right, now you do it. Just slide it in until it snaps into place – don’t worry about doing it wrong, because you can’t.”

“It won’t fit if you do,” Blake added. “And the safety is on, so you can’t fire it accidentally, either.”

Max gingerly slid the magazine into the butt of the gun until he felt a click. This was not something he’d ever thought of learning to do, but if he was going to be in a relationship with someone from a family of…well, commandos, then he figured he was going to have to meet them halfway on the personal safety issue. So he listened closely while Blake explained gun range safety and then let Elise show him how to tell if the gun’s safety was on or off. And then she showed him how to hold the gun, how to aim, and had him fire.

His first shot didn’t even hit the target, and Elise frowned and adjusted his aim to compensate for his height coupled with the gun’s ‘kick’ that had made the barrel jump up just a little when he’d fired – since it was her shooting range, the targets were set up for someone half a foot shorter. This time he nicked the target. A little more instruction, and he put two bullets into it, although not in the center. Max put the gun’s safety on, ejected the magazine, and laid both parts side by side on the wall before lowering his ear protection. “Not bad?”

“Not bad for a beginner who’s never held a gun before,” Elise corrected. “I think motivation might help. Blake, switch out that target for Teddy.” Blake’s eyebrows went up. “Just do it. And turn it on once you have it secured.”

“O-kay.” Blake wasn’t sure what she was doing – she’d told him she was saving the Teddy Ruxpin toy for a ‘special occasion’ – but he knew she must have a reason. Especially once he saw that Elise was distracting Max, keeping his attention away from what Blake was doing. He got the toy out, put the batteries he found into it and checked to make sure there was a tape inserted, then carried it out and anchored it in place with the target stand Elise usually used for shooting melons. And then he turned it on, took down the paper target they’d been using, and hurried out of the hot area.

Max didn’t even appear to have seen him; he was staring at the bear with a very…intense expression that Blake was pretty sure he’d never seen before. His boyfriend’s jaw had set, his eyes had narrowed…and Elise was looking really, really pleased. She ran through the shooting instructions again, providing a new, full magazine for the gun. Max put his ear protection back on, put in the magazine, took off the safety, checked his stance and fired. The shot went wide. He scowled and readjusted his aim; this time, the bullet went through Teddy’s stomach, taking out the tape player. The next shot took off the bear’s head with its still-moving mouth, and then two more bullets removed the waving furry arms. Max huffed out a breath and went through the process to put the gun down again before pulling down his ear protectors so they hung around his neck. “How the hell did you…”

“Professionals can access information civilians don’t even know is accessible,” Elise told him. “Felt good to blow it away?”

“Oh hell yes. I’ve been wanting to kill that thing for twenty-two years.” He saw that Blake was just staring at him, openmouthed, and blushed all the way to the tips of his ears. “Oh, I’m…”

“Don’t you dare apologize,” Blake said. Huskily, which widened Max’s eyes. “That was…wow.”

Max blushed even redder. “My sister had one, when we were little kids sharing a bedroom. She played with the damned thing constantly, went through a ton of batteries. So dad…he monkeyed around with it and figured out a way to plug it into the wall, and then he put it in a Plexiglass case the way they used to display them at the toy store so Cissy wouldn’t get electrocuted by the DIY wiring hack he’d done. And after that…well, she’d even get up in the middle of the night to turn the thing on. It finally burned out – turns out you aren’t supposed to plug them into the wall and let them run forever, go figure – but that was after months of it being on almost constantly.”

“So you hate Teddy Ruxpin.”

“I completely and totally hate Teddy Ruxpin.”

“Which provided the motivation you needed to shoot more accurately,” Elise inserted. She looked really, really pleased with herself now. She turned Max around and looked him in the eye. “From now on, if you ever need to shoot something – human or not – you picture Teddy in that thing’s place and you blow him away, got it?”

Max swallowed, understanding what she wasn’t saying – and, on a basic level, what she’d just done. “Got it.”

“Good.” She patted his shoulder. “Come in and practice when Blake does – use his gun, because if something ever happened that’s the one you’d have at hand. If you want your own gun later on, I’ll help you pick one out.” She walked over to the locking cabinet on the back wall next to the pegboard and pulled out a much larger handgun with a smile. “All right, Blake, put up the polar bear target. I’m going to show Max how we take down a big one.”

 

When Max came back to his desk just over an hour later and started checking his email, he was startled when Josie sniffed loudly and then popped up to peer over the dividing cube wall at him with wide, alarmed eyes. “I smell gunpowder. Was she shooting at you? What did you do?”

He laughed and shook his head. “She was making me learn how to fire a gun, because I’m the only employee in the company who’s been attacked in the parking lot twice here at work. She’s seeing that as a liability issue.” He perused his next email, deleted it. “She had a point, actually. I may start taking some karate lessons or something, at least learn how to fall the right way so I don’t hurt myself hitting the asphalt like I did last time.”

Josie disappeared from view again. “I think Elise infected you with paranoia. It’s statistically unlikely that you’d get attacked again in the parking lot, Max.”

He smirked. “No, it was statistically unlikely that I’d get attacked in the parking lot a second time, Josie – based on the number of similar incidents within this city block, anyway. Two incidents in the same year in the same parking lot skewed the numbers considerably in the direction of more incidents being likely to occur.” She popped back up to stare at him, eyes wide and mouth open, and he grinned. “Blake ran the numbers for Elise – he gave her a cute little chart and everything.”

She rolled her eyes. “Of course he did. Was it color-coded?”

“Purple, green and orange, and for some reason related police activity was a hot pink line.” He went back to his emails. “If you asked him for it, I’m sure he’d give you a copy.”

Josie disappeared again with a huff. “One of us being paranoid is enough, thanks. And it’s still statistically unlikely for it to happen again in this same parking lot.”

Max didn’t correct her, even though he knew she was wrong. Because Blake had also done a projection based on that data of how likely it was that violence in the area would increase over the course of the next year while their local vigilante was on forced hiatus, and that one had been skewed to the left too. Because junkies have short memories…and eventually rabid assholes with tire irons get probation.