Spoilers/Warnings (if any): None. Spoiler up to Company Man and for the Graphic Novels Betty and Golden Handshake
Prompts: Stilettos, A mirror, The American Dream
Summary: "When she's been working too deep and too long, sometimes she puts on so many faces, she begins to forget which is hers. That's where I come in."
Word Count: 1,661
The manner in which Primatech, shall we say acquires employees might seem strange or disorganised to an outsider. In fact, there is an intricate system in place.
The potential employee is placed under surveillance, every aspect of their life monitored and investigated. Then, when I deem the time is right, I send whichever of my employees is best suited to bring them in. Bennet was sent for Eden as the father-figure she so desperately wanted. Haram brought in Claude, guiding the invisible man and teaching him to take things a little more seriously.
But Candice? I found her, I groomed her: Candice is mine. She'll be anyone for anyone else, but for me, she's as close to herself as she ever will be.
Even she doesn't realise how well I know her. I know about Betty, and Ren and what happened at her school’s Homecoming Pep Rally. I know about all the things that have happened to make her so caustic and cynical. More than anything, I know what happens when Candice stops being Candice.
And that’s the problem. When she's been working too deep and too long, sometimes she puts on so many faces, she begins to forget which is hers. That's where I come in.
"Is this where I get my 'You're name is Candice, not Psycho Bitch' talk?"
She's swaggering into my office with a self-confident air, reminding me of a peacock. Nothing but show.
"Sit down, Candice." I gesture towards a chair opposite my desk. She sits down sideways, hooking her long legs over the armrest, ensuring that the lace-tops of her stockings are just peaking out from below her skirt. She's trying to distract me. Things must be bad this time.
"I've had a report from Williams. Apparently during your last assignment you were a little, creative."
"The guy wasn't co-operating. I just gave him a reason to come quietly."
"Quietly," I repeat. "According to Williams, the man was screaming for you to stop. And Dr Arkus tells me our guest is practically catatonic now."
"Should make him easier to work with. Do I get a bonus?"
"Candice, The Company has procedures for interrogation. The first of these is not to do so in an environment in which outsiders can interfere. I understand you were forced to exit the apartment via the fire escape as his neighbours were knocking down the door."
She's rolling her eyes but I'm not going to stop. She's heard it before but I'm damned if she's not going to hear it again.
"You went too far, and not for the first time. This is not acceptable behaviour for one of our agents."
"Uh-oh," she gasps in that truly irritating mock surprise. "Gonna get your cane out? Bet it's just aching to teach me a lesson." For emphasis she shifts in her seat, revealing the smooth skin above her stockings.
Defensive sarcasm, innuendo and distracting flirtation - it is bad this time.
I smile and she looks at me suspiciously.
"I have found in the past that traditional punitive measures tend to have little or no effect on you." Her eyes narrow and I resist the urge to smirk. She has no idea what is coming.
"I'm sure you're as bored of the traditional speeches as I am."
She snorts derisively. "Aww, does that mean I don't get to hear another variation of 'you're just playing a part, blah blah, you're not that person blah, blah.'? Shame, you know they always get me so hot."
I smile patronizingly at her as I get up. She hates that and glares at me.
"I've decided to try an alternative method of correction."
I walk behind her and can almost see the hairs standing up on the back of her neck. I try and forget the last time I saw her like this. I can’t allow myself to get distracted now.
I put a hand forcefully down on her shoulder, just to feel her jump. Reaching under the chair, I un-strap a box taped to the base and bring it with me as I walk around to face her again.
"What..?" She begins, but I look at her and she stops.
The box is unmarked on the outside; I spent some time removing all the labelling so that this would truly be a surprise. Slowly, purposefully, I remove the lid and hook my index finger through the leather straps inside.
"A gift for you," I say, lifting the stilettos out of the box. I let them swing in front of her, heels gently knocking against each other. Her eyes are focused on them now and just as she's reaching out, I pull them away. "On one condition."
She raises a perfectly arched eyebrow and I resist the temptation to reciprocate. Mocking her now would accomplish nothing. So far, so good.
"I want to see you in them." I say.
Her eyes are momentarily wide. It's brief, soon replaced by the cynical and suspicious expression normally formed by her delicate features. It's why I work so hard with Candice, why I won't let anyone else near her. Those little flashes, where she can almost believe that someone would do something good for her. One of the few times that her rock-bottom self-esteem perks up, and whatever face she's wearing at the time glows.
"And I guess by 'in them', you mean in just them," she smirks.
Back up go the defenses.
"No," I say. "I want to see you wear the shoes. Whether you keep the rest of your clothes on is entirely your concern." I leave the box opposite her on my desk and return to my chair.
She's staring at the shoes, still suspicious. I know that look; she's waiting for the punch-line, for me to tell her I was kidding and they're not for her after all. Eventually she unhooks her legs from around the arm-rest and picks up the shoes. I wait for some sort of semi-seductive show of stretching out her legs as she straps the shoes on. It doesn't come. She just slips her feet inside the stilettos and buckles the straps. Of course they fit perfectly. I could get her size 12 shoes and they'd fit her feet perfectly.
"Now get up." I command.
No snappy retort, no banter. Candice just stands in front of me, waiting. "Come here," I say and admire the way her hips sway as she walks.
There is something undeniably sexy about the way a woman walks in stilettos. Candice is graceful in flats but now she’s stunning. She sees me watching her and emphasises her last steps, walking like a model on a runway. She's standing just to the side of me now, the large triple-paned window to her right. I stand up again, the distance between us negligible and I can barely resist the temptation to stroke her hair away from her face.
She still doesn't say anything. I can't remember the last time she was this quiet.
Carefully, I wrap an arm around her back and turn her to face the window. The rain-spattered glass serves as a mirror, dark skies outside reflecting almost everything.
Instinctively, she avoids looking at her reflection. Her head bows as she inspects the delicate leather criss-crossing her feet. I use my other hand to stroke her chin, gently raising it to look up at me.
"I want you to look."
"It's dark, I can't see anything out-"
I’m not letting her get away with that. "You know that's not what I meant. Look at your reflection."
She rolls her eyes again and scoffs "God, isn't that a line out of a Disney song?"
I raise an eyebrow and she sighs impatiently, finally looking at herself in the window. I hope that she'll listen to what I'm about to say. I really don't know what else to do with her and to, shall we say lose her, would be a waste. For the company, if not just for me.
"You, Candice, are the American Dream."
She begins to shake her head as though to disagree and I press on.
"The American dream has always been change and re-invention. You are the embodiment of that. You, Candice," I repeat her name, trying to get that through to her, "are what every woman and man in America would kill to be."
Her eyes are glistening, and if she's willing to let me see her cry then I'm getting through to her. She rarely lets me see this side of her.
"Anyone else you might pretend to be is a poor imitation. You are perfect. Never forget that."
The faint light from outside the window shows up the trails tears have made on her face. I pull her closer to me, her head resting on my shoulder and my arm curled protectively around her back. She stays there for a while, perfectly still, and I idly wonder how comfortable those heels are. Candice obviously doesn't seem to mind as it isn't until five minutes or more later that she pulls away slightly. I loosen my hold on her and she turns to face me.
"So this is the American Dream, huh? A four-inch heels and a mini-skirt?" She's smiling now. Not a smirk, not a grimace, not a plastered-on grin, an actual smile.
"Works for me," I say, unable to keep the suggestive leer out of my voice.
"Oh, I think we can do a little better than that." The world blurs for a moment as she changes. A flash of pale green and I can’t keep the smirk from my face.
It's taken a long time and a lot of study to pin down the psychology of Candice, but one thing I know for sure. When she's playful, she's better.
And she does make a stunning Lady Liberty.