A Conversation In Silence

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(Author’s Note: this is fanfic based on the show The Boys, specifically following Season 3 Episode 6; I do not own and have no rights to these characters and am very much aware of it, and wrote this solely in the spirit of fan love — Christine Morgan, June 30, 2022)

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“Yes, Mom. I know, Mom.”

Anika held her phone wedged between shoulder and ear as she dug through her purse. She’d just buzzed the FleetEats deliveryperson into the building, and although she’d paid in advance when she ordered, she always felt strangely guilty not tipping in cash.

“I’ve just been very busy. With work … yes, I know … no, I do …”

Her mother carried on, fretful but well-meaning in the way that she was. Theirs was a large, close-knit family, very traditional, and Anika’s decision to leave home and move to the big city to pursue a career in computer technology remained a constant source of concern.

“… everything’s fine, really … no, of course I would tell you if something was …”

Concern, but not contention. They supported her choices. They just, as parents do, worried. A young woman living alone … the crime and the gangs and the drugs and the pollution … and now, this latest mess … though, to be fair, the idea of more crazed bad supes running amok, killing people and blowing up buildings, wasn’t going to help anybody sleep well at night.

“… what you see on the news … that was in Midtown, and I’m sure they’ve got it under control …”

Especially not someone who’d had as much of an inside view as Anika, though she certainly wasn’t about to say so. She couldn’t say so, for a variety of reasons, Vought’s exceedingly strict NDAs foremost among them.

“Mom, please, don’t worry about me. I’m all right, I promise.”

And never mind her current dubious employment status. The entire Crime Analytics team was just one of many departments ‘on hiatus’ or ‘under review’ or ‘being adjusted and streamlined in accordance with recent changes to the corporate structure,’ or whatever other buzzwords the suits had used.

“… just a little tired … no, I’m getting plenty of rest … yes, you told me, the purple mattress, I’m so glad it’s helping his back …”

All she knew was that most of them had been summarily fired, with generous severance packages and very stern reminders about those NDAs to make sure they kept their mouths shut. While she, and a few others, ended up in a ‘temporary suspension’ limbo, at sixty percent of their salaries but with benefits left intact.

“I will … I am … I know … yes, Mom, I know …”

The most stressful part was having nobody to vent to or commiserate with. She’d never really bonded with many of her co-workers, extracurricular socializing being not actively encouraged in the first place, and the nature of her job — as well as those NDAs — prevented her from discussing it with anyone outside the company.

“… who? Oh, right, I remember … you gave her my number?”

Not that she had many options in that regard, either. She wasn’t the type for bars or nightclubs, her dating life had been hit-or-miss but mostly miss, and she was only on nodding acquaintance with her neighbors at best.

“No, no, that’s fine; I’m sure it would be great to hear from her …”

Two short, sharp, discreet knocks sounded, and Anika stifled a sigh of relief.

“Mom, look, I’ve got to go … no, my dinner just got here … from Pho Real … I don’t do takeout every night … yes, I know, nothing beats a home-cooked meal … as soon as I can, once things settle down at work …”

The two knocks sounded again. She hurried for the door, juggling phone and money to free up a hand to undo the chain.

“Okay, yes, bye Mom, love you, love to Dad, love to everyone, bye!”

Finally disconnecting, she opened the door, and some hasty apology — “So sorry to keep you waiting!” — froze on her lips.

Standing there in the hallway, holding a bag emblazoned with the Pho Real logo, was Black Noir.

Black Noir.

In the hallway. Dark as midnight, silent as an eclipse, still as death. Black Noir.

Black-freakin’-NOIR!

Anika didn’t move, didn’t breathe. Her phone and five slightly creased dollar bills fell from her numb fingers.

He stood there. Dark. Silent. Still. Black Noir.

A logjam of thoughts collided in her head — wondering if her life was going to flash before her eyes, being glad she’d sent love to her parents, hoping it would be quick and painless and not too messy, weighing the futility of slamming the door in his face or screaming or trying to run or hide.

What did they think she had done? She hadn’t done anything! Hadn’t talked to anybody! Was it Ashley’s doing? The Deep? Had someone else from Crime Analytics thrown her under the bus to save their own ass?

Black Noir, very slowly, looked from her to the peephole in the door and then back to her again. He tilted his head reprovingly, and raised a forefinger in a chiding ‘tut-tut’ gesture.

A small, thin, indrawn gasp whined in her throat, then escaped in a tremulous exhalation — “hhhehhh?”

She wasn’t dead yet. She blinked eyes that felt wide as saucers, and still wasn’t dead. No heart-stopping stab to the chest, no sudden slash-and-splash of carotid and jugular, no brittle crack as neck vertebrae fractured.

Black Noir lifted the Pho Real bag, and, despite his all-concealing mask, she somehow had the impression of expectantly raised eyebrows.

“Uh …” said Anika, and gulped with an audible click louder than the word had been. “Black Noir … hi …”

He didn’t kill her. He waited, patient, posture unchanged.

The vision of some hapless FleetEats driver, crumpled at the bottom of the elevator shaft, tried to occur, but she wouldn’t let it.

Black Noir continued to stand there, waiting, patient, not killing her.

Unreality crashed over Anika like a wave.

“Would … um … would you like to come in?” she heard herself say.

He nodded.

Anika flattened herself against the foyer wall as he passed her. She flicked a glance up and down the hall, but none of her neighbors were within view. Gulping again, she closed the door and secured the chain.

Black Noir paused, alert and intent, as if assessing the apartment for exits, obstacles, and possible threats. It was small, just a combined living room / kitchenette, with a single bedroom and bath. No balcony, only emergency access onto a fire escape.

Setting the takeout bag on the kitchenette island, he ghosted to the windows and pulled the blinds, then paused again, seeming to take in the functional furnishings and touches of personal decor.

The prospect of not being murdered was gradually beginning to impinge on her consciousness, but Anika still wasn’t going to rule it out.

“I … whatever they think I did, or said I did –”

He held up a gloved palm, hushing her, as his gaze snapped in the direction of the short hall leading to the bedroom and bath. With an inquisitive mew, Chloe sauntered into view, fluffy tail curled aloft and ears keenly pricked. Her jewel-green eyes fixed on Black Noir.

They studied each other for an evaluating moment, then Black Noir stepped closer. He crouched, lithe as a panther, and extended a hand. Chloe padded toward him. She sniffed at his fingers, brushed her whiskered cheek along them, nipped the tip of his thumb, and flopped over to expose her silken-furred belly.

Of everything that had happened in the last two minutes, this most of all sent Anika’s mind reeling. To be here, in her very own apartment, watching Black Noir give Chloe tummy-rubs … she just couldn’t even.

Chloe purred and stretched luxuriantly and caught his wrist in a light grip with her foreclaws when he went to pull away. With a low, soft chuff of breath — a laugh? — he gently disengaged, rising and turning to face Anika again.

“Whatever they think or said I did,” she repeated, “I swear, I –”

He spread his hands, shook his head.

“Okay …” said Anika. “You’re not here to k … hurt me?”

Another shake of the head, vehement. It almost reassured her enough to relax the tiniest bit.

“Then, what …?”

Beckoning her to follow, he went into the kitchenette. The way he indicated, and shooed her toward, the Pho Real bag was so reminiscent of her mother’s mannerisms, she could practically hear the words — Go on, eat, eat, before it gets cold.

Food was, all considered, about the last thing on her mind at the moment, but she removed the takeout containers and set them on the counter.

“Would you like some?” she asked, opening a cabinet. “There’s plenty, I always order too much.”

He shook his head yet again.

“Something … to drink, then?”

He considered, then nodded, selecting a chai tea energy drink from the fridge as Anika dished herself up some pho and fried dumplings. Her sense of utter unreality continued as he sat across from her at the tiny table, sipping at a straw poked through a hole in his mask, toying with the silly novelty ceramic happy-hippo salt and pepper shakers. Chloe, still purring, twined in figure-eights around his lower legs.

“This is weird,” she blurted after managing a few bites. “This is just … really weird.”

Black Noir set down his energy drink. His chest rose and fell as he took a deep breath. Getting up, he unstuck the magnetized dry-erase board from its place on the fridge, unclipped the pen, sat back down, and wrote something in the clear space between her grocery list and appointment reminders. He turned the board around and held it out to her.

I NEED YOUR HELP

Anika stammered, flustered. “I … I don’t … I’m not … at work … I don’t know if I still even have a job … they fired almost everybody and put the rest of us on paid leave …”

More handwaves and headshakes conveyed negation, so she shut up and just looked at him in baffled confusion.

He took the dry-erase pen back up and underlined two of the four words he’d inscribed on the board.

I NEED YOUR HELP

“My help?” she whispered. “You … need my help?”

Black Noir nodded soberly.

“How? With what? I –”

He laid his upturned left arm on the table, displaying a slice in the close-fitting armored mesh material of his sleeve. The edges of the slice were caked with dried blood, and so was the flesh beneath, where a vicious wound appeared freshly healed.

“I’m not a doctor –”

Then he drove his forefinger and thumb at the wound in a pinching, pulling, extracting kind of motion, and she understood. Her jaw dropped.

“You … removed your chip?”

Black Noir nodded again.

“You … you’re leaving Vought? You’re going rogue?” Ice cold shock coursed through her veins. Him? Him, of all people? Of all supes?

He heaved a sigh, rolled his shoulders, looked at the ceiling, shifted indecisively in his chair, as if it was too complicated, too hard to explain.

“All right,” Anika said, thinking the less she knew the better … while also thinking it was already too late; she already knew too much … whatever was going on, Vought would go to any lengths to keep it under wraps.

The contrite tilt of his head told her he knew it too, knew he’d put her in mortal danger by coming here, and could only hope she’d forgive him.

“Why me? What could I possibly do?”

He thumped his elbows on the table, buried his masked face in his gloved hands, and his entire posture slumped in defeat.

Was he … shaking? Was he … crying? Was he … scared?!?

“You didn’t have anyone else to turn to,” she whispered. “You had nowhere else to go.”

Silent sobs wracked his body.

Guessing on pure impulse now, she added, “You needed someplace to lay low for a while, and figure things out. Where Vought would never think to look for you.”

Sniffling heavily behind the mask, still not lifting his face from his hands, he nodded.

“And …” Anika sat back, marveling, overwhelmed. “…you needed a friend.”

Now he did lift his face, and she somehow knew that if she could have seen his eyes, they would have been brimming with plaintive despair.

“All right.” She, not without an instant’s flinching hesitation, laid a hand on his shoulder. “You can stay here. I’ll help you. All right.”

If she’d thought any of the previous moments were surreal, they paled in comparison to him dropping to his knees beside her chair to hug her, and cling to her like a lost soul.

And if she thought that was surreal … a couple of hours later, after watching the latest episodes of Downton Abbey, Black Noir was sound asleep on her couch with Chloe sprawled on his chest.

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