Black Tie Affair
“This is bullshit!”
“It would be a hell of a lot easier if you’d stop squirming. Don’t be such a baby.”
Her chiding earned her a huff of air in her face. Nina squared a glare back at Zephran, then set back to work buttoning his shirt closed over his chest.
“I don’t see what the point of this is.”
“Now that is bullshit. I told you, some rich fuck thinks he can pluck any monster he wants off the street and do whatever the fuck he feels like with them.” She felt all three of his stupid tiny eyes on her and looked up at him. He was looking her head on, and she could feel his nonexistent incredulous eyebrows raising.
She rolled her eyes as she fastened the top button. “Yes, I recognize the hypocrisy in that statement. We’re going to this gala he’s attending to get him drunk, get him talking, and if necessary, get him to take an interest in you. One way or another, we find out where he’s operating, get there, and do what we do best.” She buttoned his shirt collar closed and patted his broad chest twice. “And if some of the missing specimens are already dead, and a few more escape in the chaos, whereabouts unknown at the time we deliver our report...so be it.” She shrugged with a smile. “Sound good?”
The monster grunted and curled his lip, but didn’t argue. He shifted his shoulders uncomfortably under the constricting fabric of the white dress shirt. “I just don’t understand why I have to dress up. Wouldn’t it make more sense for you to go in by yourself, start talking to him, and tell him about me? And he could come try to snatch me in the alley behind the ballroom or some shit?”
Nina shrugged and turned his collar up, tossing the oversized black silk bowtie around his neck before flipping it back down. She began to tie the bow at the hollow of his neck. “DISE wants us both in. I dunno, maybe they think you’ll be more tempting if it seems like I’m unaware. Or maybe they want you around in case shit goes south in the ballroom, or they don’t want to risk you getting targeted for real without backup while I’m occupied. Whatever the reason, they want us both in, and they had this whole outfit custom ordered for you, so there’s no getting out of it.”
Zeph rolled his head in place of his eyes. “Oh, how gracious of them.”
Nina jerked either side of the bow to tighten it, perhaps a little more sharply than was strictly necessary, but just enough to shut him up. “Stop, I didn’t say they were doing you any favors. Can you put the vest and jacket on yourself, or do I need to button those too?”
He looked down to his side at the silver and blue brocade waistcoat and black tuxedo jacket laid out on the bed next to him. He picked the waistcoat up by one button between the tips of his thumb and index finger claws. It was no where near the pad of either finger. Nina sighed and took it from him, careful not to rip the button off, and straightened it out again. She handed it back to him.
“Put it on, then I’ll button it.”
Zeph did as he was told, wrapping the waistcoat around his back and slipping his arms through the holes. As Nina began doing the buttons for that, he tilted his head. “What about you?”
“What about me,” she asked, not looking up from her fingers.
“What do you have to wear?” As it stood, she wearing essentially what she always wore, if a bit stripped down. He recognized it as one of her workout outfits, in this case minus the usual sweat: a white glorified sports bra and black leggings with two white racing stripes down the outside of either leg. He assumed she was not going to be going in that. And if she was, he was going to have words.
“Don’t worry, I’m going to be just as uncomfortable as you,” she said, standing straight and smoothing the wrinkles out over his shoulders. “If not more so. The difference is, I know how to have fun anyway.”
He drew his head back in surprise and genuine confusion. “Fun? It’s a mission, Nina.”
“I’m aware, Zephran. But I don’t get to dress up often, so I’m gonna enjoy it while I can.”
That did absolutely nothing to help his confusion. “What do you mean, get to? You enjoy this?”
“Yeah, It’s nice to go out of your way to look nice once in a while.” She reached for the jacket on the bed and removed the hanger from inside. She gestured for him to stand up from the bed and handed the jacket to him. He pulled his arms through the sleeves as she stepped back to watch, arms folded over her chest. “I dunno, maybe it’s a girl thing.”
“Maybe it’s a human thing,” said Zeph, pulling the lapels of the jacket to get it to sit right. Nina stepped forward to fasten those buttons as well. “Your kind are disturbingly obsessed with this crap.” He pinched the fabric on his sleeve. “Fucking masochists.”
Nina smirked. “We’ve been wearing them for ten thousand years, and favoring look over comfort for almost all of them. I don’t think we’re about to stop any time soon.” With the last button done, she gave the bottoms of the waistcoat and jacket each a gentle tug to pull them taught over his chest, then stood back to admire her handiwork.
Zeph shifted uncomfortably in place, only growing moreso the longer she went without saying anything. After a few seconds’ worth of eternity, she lifted her brows and nodded, head slightly angled. “Not bad. You clean up nice, for an ugly son of a bitch.”
A sigh of relief escaped him as the tension rolled off his shoulders in a wave. He shook his head and tossed a dismissive hand at her. “Fuck off, go put on whatever sick torture devices they gave you.”
She laughed and patted his shoulder once he sat back on the edge of the bed. “I’ll be in the bathroom. Might take a bit. Don’t rip anything while I’m in there, we don’t have time to fix it or get new ones.”
A look of horror overcame him as he watched her walk away. “You mean I have to sit here in this shit until you’re done? Why didn’t you get ready first!? How long is this going to take!? Nina!? Nina!”
Laughter and the click of the bathroom door closing were the only answers he got. He groaned and flopped back unceremoniously onto the bed. This was going to be a long night.
After what seemed like hours - and when he looked at the clock, it was actually just over an hour - Nina finally re-emerged from the bathroom. Zephran lifted himself up onto his elbows to look at her and stopped short.
She was standing near the door with her back to him, facing the full-length mirror opposite the bathroom. She was in a form-fitting, floor-length gown the color of a moonless sky, and glittering with as many stars. It hugged her waist, splitting at the small of her back and wrapping around her ribcage to cover her chest. A collar of white rhinestones several inches thick wrapped around her neck with a single delicate strand cascading down her exposed back. In the mirror he could see the fabric of the dress stemming from the collar, but leaving an almond-shaped cutout over her sternum, revealing just enough of her cool copper skin.
Satisfied with what she saw in the mirror, she turned to face him with a smile. The white of her teeth parted her lips, now painted a deep burgundy, and highlighted the smoky, shimmering black and silver eyeshadow and eyelashes that looked like they’d been drawn on with a calligraphy pen. Two diamond studs - he had no doubt they were real - one half the size of the other, dotted each ear and every catch of the light directed attention back to her eyes.
If there was ever a moment he questioned his distaste for human appearance, this was it.
He shook his head. “Sorry, what?”
Her eyebrows were raised and she was leaned forward as though expecting an answer that never came. When did she move?
“I said, how do I look?”
“Oh. Uh, good. You look good.’
She snorted, but it was through a smile. “Whatever you say. Guess we’ll find out when we get there, won’t we?”
He tilted his head. “What does that mean?”
She sat next to him to slip her feet - nails painted black on both her fingers and toes, he just noticed, with a rhinestone accent on each middle finger - into delicate, pale silver shoes with a high, narrow heel. Ah. So that’s what she meant when she said she’d be even more uncomfortable than him.
She was right though, they did look good.
“Well, if all the men start turning their heads when I walk by, I’ll know I did something right.” One shoe buckled, on to the second. “Hell, maybe some of the women too.”
It took a second for his brain to remember what she was talking about, but once it got there, he smirked. “Trying to get laid on a mission? For shame.”
Nina barked a laugh and elbowed him. It was no where near enough to push him, but he swayed with the motion regardless. “Not even kind of. But I don’t mind making them wish I was.”
She winked at him, and for a moment he was pretty sure his heart stopped.
Fortunately, she got to her feet and snapped him out of it. “Come on,” she beckoned, pulling the long rhinestone strap of a small, black velvet purse over her shoulder. He wondered idly if she had a gun in it. What was he saying, of course she did. Or maybe one of those thigh holsters….
He jolted his attention back to her face and stood. “Right, sorry.”
Nina arched a brow at him, but decided not to question it. She turned to head for the door, a self-satisfied smile crossing her face only when he was sure he couldn’t see it.