Julia watched as Carmen searched for her shoes. The coat and hat had been easy enough to find, their striking red color standing out against the beiges and browns of the hotel room they found themselves in this time. Her shirt had been a little harder to locate, and Carmen had eventually found it and her bra in a chair in the corner. Her pants, underwear and socks were fished out from underneath the bed, and you would think her shoes would be close by, but so far Carmen had been stuck making laps around the one bed suite. That was fine with Julia. She cherished any extra time with her crimson thief.
Detroit wasn’t the most romantic place in March, the sky a milky grey color to match the dirty half melted snow on the ground. Julia wasn’t sure what VILE were after here, but she was sure that whatever it was would end up on her bed once morning came.
Well, mostly sure.
In the months since their chance meeting on a train in Mumbai, Carmen and Julia had fallen into, well, Julia supposed she could call it a routine. She and the Inspector would follow a lead or tip of some sort (tips that Julia was becoming increasingly suspicious of), Carmen would briefly make herself known to the world, then she would show up at Julia’s door (or in most cases her window) regardless of where she was staying at the time.
Then they would fuck.
Julia hated to use a word like that to describe it, but it was what it was. Carmen often started by saying they didn’t have much time. What followed was typically a whirlwind, and while her attentions were thorough, they always had a feeling of being rushed. Like there was a timer in Carmen’s head that was counting down. Was that what it was like to live as a fugitive? Always aware that your time could be up at any minute?
Julia felt that way for Carmen. She knew that any night could be the night that the infamous Carmen Sandiego lost, whether it be to VILE or ACME. She knew that any one of these... encounters could be their last. She used to hope each night that it was. When Carmen would jump from the window after spending an hour taking Julia to the highest heights she’d ever experienced, Julia would lie in bed, sweaty and flushed and more determined than ever to capture La Femme Rouge. The way Carmen could so effortlessly steal her pleasure the way she stole priceless artifacts from around the world infuriated Julia. I will not be another prize for Carmen Sandiego , Julia would think as she stared at the shadowed figure becoming smaller and smaller with each rooftop it fled to.
But now she felt much differently. Now she couldn’t deny the pulsing of her heart whenever she saw a flash of red in her periphery. She couldn’t deny that her interest in Carmen had been immediate, only moments spent sat across from her on that train enough to make Julia blush and babble like a schoolgirl with a crush. She no longer tried to put up a paltry resistance towards Carmen’s advances, not since the time Carmen actually listened and left Julia alone, wet and frustrated out of her mind. Now she always left her window unlocked, if not open, and she simply waited in bed for Carmen to appear. She was done pretending that she didn’t want Carmen there.
Now she pretended that she was okay with Carmen leaving.
She pretended that if this night was their last, she would have no regrets. That she would pull the trigger and capture Carmen at a moment's notice if given the chance. That their frenzied encounters were enough to sate Julia’s desire for Carmen. That it was okay that they never took time to cuddle or talk. She pretended that the only reason she kicked Carmen’s shoes into the bathroom was because it felt good to outsmart the thief for a little while, not because she wanted to prolong their time together.
Julia had never been good at pretending. Even as a child she preferred the cold, hard facts of schooling to the fanciful imaginations of her peers. Math, geography, history; those were her interests. Interests that her peers never seemed to share. The Inspector was hardly the first person to mock her for knowing boring facts about dull things. Yet she was never quite able to shake her love of knowledge, or her love of sharing that knowledge. It’s an aspect of her personality that she had long since learned to be hesitant about showcasing.
Until Carmen Sandiego sat across from her on the train and her eyes lit up at the mere mention of the word history. From that moment on Julia took whatever chance she could get to tell Carmen some sort of tidbit of information. The population of Spain between orgasms (46,750,490), the national bird of Belgium before taking a nipple into her mouth (the common kestrel), Mexico’s independence day as a finger slides against her clit (September 16th). Julia had a feeling that Carmen already knew many of the facts that Julia shared, but Carmen would smile or chuckle, a breathless, “Really?” passing her lips. At first Julia assumed that she was merely being humored, her quirks tolerated for the sake of the release Carmen was after. Then Carmen started to trade her own facts in return. The population of Portugal whispered against Julia’s lips (10,203,720), the national bird of Namibia traced by Carmen’s tongue between her thighs (the African fish eagle), Papua New Guinea’s independence day bitten into her neck (also September 16th). Each new piece of information excited Julia far more than she expected. Carmen Sandiego could stimulate her mind as well as her body and Julia loved it.
Julia loved Carmen.
Julia sat up in bed, holding the sheet up high on her chest. “I hid your shoes in the bathroom.”
Carmen stood from where she was crouched by a table. Her eyes sparkled. “I know.”
Julia smiled softly. Of course Carmen knew. But she wasn’t the only one who knew things. “I suppose I won’t hear from you until the next time one of your cohorts calls in an ‘anonymous’ tip?” Julia would have actually done the air quotes, but she knew that the upcoming vulnerability would be easier to bear if she was able to retain some aspect of her modesty.
Carmen paused for just barely a moment on her way from the bathroom, both of her boots in hand. “Actually, my crew doesn’t make those calls. I do.”
Well. Julia certainly wasn’t expecting that. “Why?”
Carmen shrugged, the twinkle in her eye greatly diminished. She sat on the edge of the bed to put her shoes on. “It’s a great way to practice my accents. I try to sound like I’m from whatever region I’m in at the time.” Carmen glanced at Julia, a smirk on her face. “And besides, how would you know to be ready for me if I didn’t call ahead?” She turned slightly, leaning over to give Julia a deep kiss.
Julia threaded her fingers through Carmen’s hair, holding on even as Carmen pulled away. “You could just call me. On my personal phone. I can give you the number.” Julia chuckled, blushing as she looked down. “Although I suppose you could find it yourself if you really wanted to.”
Carmen reached behind her head, wrapping her fingers around Julia’s wrist. Julia relaxed her hand, letting Carmen hold it and bring it to rest in Carmen’s lap. “I...don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Oh…,” Julia closed her eyes. Screw your courage, Julia. She took a deep breath. “Why not?”
“Uh, well, to start,” Carmen said, sliding her foot into one boot and zipping it up. “I’m a thief and you’re a law enforcement agent. Those two things don’t really mix well.”
“O-okay,” Julia took a deep breath. Screw it . She raised her head, looking at Carmen directly. “That doesn’t keep you from having...relations with me.”
Carmen paused, halfway done zipping her other boot. “True. But that’s different, isn’t it? What we’re doing, it’s just blowing off steam.” Carmen looked over at Julia, her eyes questioning and oddly...innocent. “Right?”
“Well, that may be what you’re doing. But I find that I have developed...feelings. For you.”
There was silence.
Julia’s heart started to sink as the silence dragged on. She supposed she had her answer. She cleared her throat, her hand moving to her face as if to push her glasses, but they just met the warm skin of the bridge of her nose instead. That’s right, her glasses were on the bedside table. That must be the reason for her blurry vision. It certainly wasn’t because of the tears gathering in her eyes. Julia cleared her throat in a poor attempt to steady her voice. “It seems as though you do not feel the same, which I understand. Please feel free to direct your anonymous tips to Inspector De-.”
“At VILE Academy, relationships were forbidden.”
Julia barely restrained a gasp. VILE was an academy? One that Carmen attended? She supposed that explained why the woman was such a good thief, although it was still a mystery why Carmen stole from VILE and not for them…
“It wasn’t a written rule or anything, but it was definitely common knowledge. You wouldn’t be expressly punished for having a partner. But perhaps the Faculty would grade you harder, or they would make it clear to the other students that you were fair game. One day Coach Brunt and I were walking down the hall and we caught two students kissing. Coach was...not happy, to say the least.” Carmen couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought of Coach Brunt’s face. “Afterwards, I asked her why she was so mad. She told me that in her line of work...my line of work, relationships were nothing more than distractions. That it was okay to blow off steam sometimes, but anything more wasn’t worth the trouble.” Carmen sighed, resting her elbows on her knees and hunching forward. “Like everything else they told me at that bogus school, I believed it.” Carmen straightened back up, her hands reaching up to cradle Julia’s face. “When I saw you for the first time in Mumbai I felt...something. Immediately. I wanted to forget Paper Star and stay with you. Talk to you. Of course I couldn’t and I didn’t. But I wanted to. And even after I left the Magna Cartas on your seat I still wanted to stay.” Carmen sighed. “But then I heard Coach’s voice again. And I actually listened to it. Convinced myself that as long as we were just blowing off steam things would be okay.”
Carmen used her thumb to wipe away a tear that had tracked its way down Julia’s face. “But now you’re crying. And that’s not okay. I’m sorry that I listened to them. Everything they taught me at that school was wrong. Something that makes me so happy could never be a waste of time. I’m sorry I didn’t realize that until now.”
Julia didn’t think she could blush any harder. “I...make you happy?”
“Of course you do.” Carmen smiled. “Why else would I pretend not to notice every time you hide my clothes?”
Julia giggled. “I suppose I should leave the sleight of hand to the world renowned thief.”
“You should.” Carmen leaned forward, placing an impossibly soft kiss on Julia’s mouth. The tenderness of it nearly made Julia cry all over again. “I have to go.”
Julia clutched at the lapels of Carmen’s jacket, letting the sheet fall down to pool at her waist. “Do you?”
“I have to stop VILE.” Carmen skimmed her fingers across Julia’s throat and over her collarbones, down to her breasts. Her finger slowly circled a tightening nipple. “And someone has to stop me.”
Julia shivered. “I never stop you.”
Carmen smirked. “I can remember one time you did.”
Julia leaned forward, closing her eyes and resting her forehead against Carmen’s. “I immediately regretted it. You should have stayed anyway.”
“I may be a thief, but I’ll always respect your wishes.” Carmen pulled away, her eyes boring into Julia’s. “Always.”
Julia found herself breathless in the face of Carmen’s gaze. “And if I wish for you to call me after you’re done breaking the law?”
“Then get ready to start seeing a bunch of unknown numbers on your phone.” Carmen gave Julia one last kiss before standing and walking towards the window.
Julia managed to shake herself from her stupor just as Carmen stepped over the sill. “Wait! I have to give you my number.”
Carmen threw her a wink. “I’ve already got it.” And with that Carmen jumped out of the window, the telltale sound of her wrist grappler following not long after.
Julia stared at the window for a few long minutes, her face warm and her heart thundering. She came out of her stupor only once her phone rang. Julia fumbled for it, bringing to her ear without looking. “Hello?”
At first there was the sound of rushing air, then a light grunt followed by a short period of silence. Finally, “Belle Isle Park is the largest island park in the United States. 987 acres that includes a museum, golf course and an aquarium, among other things.”
The line went dead before Julia could respond, but she smiled anyway. For once she could answer the Inspector when he asked where on Earth Carmen Sandiego was.