15397/Beware Lotus Invitations

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Beware Lotus Invitations
Date of Scene: 30 July 2023
Location: Safehouse, New York City
Synopsis: An invitation received. But do they really want it?
Cast of Characters: Phobos, Black Widow (Romanoff)

Phobos has posed:
    These are the moments that he'll remember.
    An errant thought that drifts across his mind as he wipes a hand across the steam-slick mirror. He smiles at the reflection, those eerie eyes looking back at him as he ponders, gaze distancing in thought. In the years to come, these will be the moments. This one in particular perhaps.
    As the room still steams and mists around him, he looks over his shoulder toward the partially open door that leads out into the main living area and training area of their converted safehouse. He smiles slightly, his body still glistening with the shower's spray that he had just gotten out of. A small mental list formed in his head of all the things he needs to do before wandering back out into that living area. He grabs one of the towels off the rack and starts to dry himself. But he nods, mentally saving this moment. Because it was... a happy moment.
    A little time later, out in the living area. The door down the hall of the bathroom opens. Alexander Aaron, God of Fear, Son of War... emerges. His blond hair is still a little wet, but not slicked back and instead wild and unkempt as hair becomes when someone just dries the hell out of it with a towel. His lithe athletic physique is hidden only by the single towel that is wrapped around his waist, tied at the side and hanging low off of one hip. Another is in his hands as he is still rubbing at the side of his head with it, one eye scrunched up almost like a Golden Retriever emerging from the water. The resemblance is uncanny.
    Then he offers greeting in his eloquent way.
Black Widow (Romanoff) has posed:
Natasha was on the couch. She was currently wearing a t-shirt and a pair of boyshorts, though they were barely visible because that shirt was long. As it was not hers. It was one of his. And thus, it was oversized and falling off one shoulder, leaving the skin there visible. She had her feet tucked up, sitting tailor style on the couch, a laptop balanced atop uplifted knees. She was clicking through something then frowned a little and clicked it again.

Hearing the sound of him coming down that hallway, she glanced up to see her very own puppy. Alright, he wasn't actually a puppy. But that expression with the golden wild hair was enough to make her think of one. Thus her frown went to a smile almost immediately. Though his greeting got a different reaction as she chuckled slightly.

"No wonder you used to get all the girls with smooth lines like that."

Obviously teasing because that was his way. He was the laid back surfer dude from California. Who wasn't from California. Maybe Australia if he had the accent, which he did not. Hawaii perhaps? That might work.

"Hey yourself. Did you use all the hot water again?" Because if he did, she was stuck waiting 30 mins for it to warm up. Or taking a cool to cold shower depending on the vestiges that might be left in the water heater.
Phobos has posed:
    "We need a bigger water heater." Is his reply. Which is neither yes nor no. Yet she could read it in the smile on his lips, that smile that brightened his features so warmly. He totally did use all the hot water.
    But then he's moving again, walking across the room behind the couch and her, still rubbing at his hair with the towel in his hand. He strolls across the way clearly on his way to the kitchen. His footsteps were quiet, bare foot padding very softly as he moves, crossing over those blue sparring mats that dominated a good portion of the large open plan floor. The television was on but muted, displaying a slow image of a train apparently traveling through a beautiful landscape of some place in Winter.
    "Oh hey, I heard a joke at work today." His lip curls up as he enters the kitchen. She'll hear the whumpf of the refrigerator door opening, the clink of glass as he roots around for something. "What five words best sum up the entirety of Russia's history?"
Black Widow (Romanoff) has posed:
"Not sure we can get a bigger water heater without upgrading the wiring in there," Nat murmured as she glanced off in the direction where the water heater lived before shaking her head and looking back to the laptop screen. "Does your Dad do electrical work? Wait. What am I saying. Of course he probably does. Like he'd trust anyone else to set up his bunker."

There were few things that would bring Natasha to a screaming halt in her activities. Him mentioning anything with Russia in it was one of them. Natasha frowned and moved to put the laptop, still open, down on the coffee table. Then she turned on the couch so she could see him more clearly from her position, over the back and through the bar area to where he was visible. She rested her right arm across the back of the couch.

"I don't know. What five words best sum up the entirety of Russia's history?"
Phobos has posed:
    He didn't answer her.
    Not at first at least.
    For she could see him as she turned to look at him in the kitchen. He was already grinning. And not just a casual grin. There was an almost boyish glee to his expression as he didn't answer her question. Because he could feel that charged energy between them as she warily got ready to hear whatever the joke was, because she knew how much grief he gave her over the Russian thing.
    But then he straightened, having purloined the mostly empty orange juice bottle and tilting it back to take a long sip. He exhales a soft 'ah' as he finishes that swallow. Then he meets her gaze and says, "And Then Things Got Worse."
    He grins again, punch-line delivered. He leans over to the sliding trashbin under the sink and tosses the bottle into it. Then he straightens back up. "Do we have plans for today? Obligations?"
Black Widow (Romanoff) has posed:
"Ha. Ha." Two distinct sounds, not connected, and with no amusement in them at all. The very opposite of amusement. More a disdain for such a joke even being uttered in her presence, wasting valuable oxygen.

She wrinkled up her nose but then let the expression drop as she watched him throwing away the empty bottle. "No plans that I know of. Unless the lotus message has something specific for tonight, we should be free to do whatever we want. Did you have any thoughts on what you would like to do?"

She just sort of skimmed over that middle part conversationally in the hopes he might miss it. But with them both home, he was going to hear if she opened the door. Unless she volunteered to go get food but again, when they were both off work he generally went with her if they opted to get something from the outdoors that couldn't be delivered.
Phobos has posed:
    "Oh come on," Alexander's smile tries to draw Natasha into enjoying his wonderful sense of humor. "It was a good joke." He says, smiling slightly, though it might not be such a good joke for someone who _lived_ those dark times. But then again the typical Russian sense of humor... might even cause it to resonate all the more.
    But then he abandons his foray into comedy as he walks out into the living area, sitting on the back of the couch slightly with one hip, leaning against it to look down at her. "Alright that sounds good. Can just play it by ear, I don't feel like..."
    Then there's a pause as his brain catches up after being a little behind for a moment. "Wait, what? Lotus Message?" He asks that with a tilt of his head curiously...
    Then his eyebrows rise as he starts to step around the couch, dropping into a seat next to her. "Is that an acronym I'm forgetting? LOTUS." His eyes distance as he considers that tv in front of them, "Lord of the United States. Laser Optical Target Unified System?"
Black Widow (Romanoff) has posed:
Of course he wouldn't just let it slip by. So it was time to come clean. "No acronym." Then she thought about it. "That I can remember, at least. Don't mention it in front of anyone high ranking in SHIELD or it will become one. They love those things. They had to in order to come up with SHIELD."

But enough beating around the bush. "The lotus flower. Sitting on the porch with the scroll. Which will be sealed with wax and a lotus flower stamp." In the wax, not like United States postage stamps.

"It was dropped off earlier when we were preoccupied. A couple of ninjas." She pointed to the screen. "Click on camera five if you want to see the full delivery. I personally say we just pretend it isn't there. Sneak out the back. Go get food. If we're lucky, a porch thief will take it and then problem solved."
Phobos has posed:
    She can likely map out his mental process at this point. Not that Alexaner is necessarily simple. But more she has just a vibe for him that she can realize the series of events going on in his brain. Most people would just see him as quirking an eyebrow and looking slightly curious. Yet Natasha...
    She can see him ease into the first glimmer of curiousity. Signified by that slight lift of his chin. Lotus flower. His thoughts drifting to the significance of that choice of flower. A message. What it could convey.
    Then she could see him factoring her into it, what he knows of her, what such an interplay with a lotus flower could mean. That part when he reaches it is a small tilt of his head to the side, his eyes meeting hers. Then the decision to action as he leans forward and activates the camera. Which also has him keying up a quick sweep of the area. Which involves him taking in several data streams in one go. He processes it and then she knows in that two and a half seconds he's ready to reengage with her conversationally.
    "Mmm, that's an idea." He says in reply to just ignoring it and wandering off. Not that it's a good idea. But it _is_ an idea.
    Then he scritches his chin and he says, "Maybe I could understand more if you told me what this would... mean. If we did acknowledge it? Also I am a little annoyed that ninjas know where we live. Are we going to have to move?" Since security was a concern for them. "Though I suppose Iron Man knows where we move, it's less a secret now."
Black Widow (Romanoff) has posed:
"We haven't exactly been being stealthy in our comings and goings," Natasha said with a little shrug. "We go out and get food, come back here. Your father would so not approve if he knew." A hint of a smirk, amusement at the thought of John Aaron's frustration with the situation at hand. "I don't really think we have to move unless you really want to. They won't cause trouble for us. At least not the Lotus."

Which brought her to the subject at hand. "The Lotus is a martial arts tournament this is run every so often. Very hush hush. Invitation only. Most people would never hear of it in their lifetime. They used to run it every year but I think that changed a few decades back to every five years or something. I haven't really been tracking it after I joined SHIELD."

Meaning, this was from the time when she was an enemy operative. "It's likely an invitation to ask one of us to join the tournament. I've done it before but again, a very long time ago. As in the same decade I met your father." Which was in the 1940s.

"I don't really feel like fighting in a tournament these days. But I suppose if you are the invited, you might find it interesting."
Phobos has posed:
    "Ah... no."
    Which might surprise her. Alexander's first impulse is to slightly turn his head to the side and one eye scrunching up as if the thought was distasteful. His hand lifts, "That sort of thing... how I am." He shakes his head, "My abilities and all." Then a slight smile touches his lips.
    "You know my dad loves that sort of thing, right?" He turns his back to the arm of the couch and then without even asking permission he rests his legs on her lap, looking across the way at her. "He loves when people battle for the sake of seeing who is best. Just loves the whole contest thing, and the more raw adn primal... the better."
    "But, he gave me advice one time." And now Natasha gets to hear a subtly different approach for the God of War. "And he said that there is no need to participate in glorified practice with others in a show before the public. That it is better to keep your sword hidden and an unknown. Let your prowess on the battlefield speak for you when it truly matters."
Black Widow (Romanoff) has posed:
At the no from him, she tilted her head slightly. Not because it was a no. That wasn't a huge surprise. It really could've gone either way with him in her mind.

He didn't have that egotistical drive to be the best. Because he already knew how good he was and yes, that he had gifts. Though those didn't help him in a fight in her opinion but that is something the'd discussed more than once.

Yet, he did like to find people who could challenge him in a fight. Since he was so much better than many people he'd met. So it had been a fifty-fifty thing in Nat's head.

"Good advice. Took me a little while to learn that." She shrugged and gave him a grin as she rested her hand atop his leg on her lap. "You're smarter than I was at your age. Be thankful."

A glance to the laptop then a sigh. "Well then we don't need to even open it since we both know we'd decline. Let's see if the porch pirates brave it."
Phobos has posed:
    "Well, I mean." Alexander then tilts his head the other way. "I am curious now."
    He bites his lower lip and looks at camera 5 again, his head tilting to the side. "I might not want to participate, but we could go..." He then shakes his head a little and rubs that towel again at his head before tossing the towel across the room...
    And missing the laundry hamper by a few feet. He grins over at Natasha, likely expecting the look of admonishment for his missing it, since there had been times in the past she picked up his dirty clothes behind him. And given him words about it. "I'll pick it up when I go get dressed." He promises.
    Fifty-fifty on that too.
    "So you see, I'm not _that_ smart." Since he's pondernig them going. He looks at the camera again, then hrms. "I mean, there's no harm in reading it right. Or is it a thing that if you accept it you're obligated or else they'll send hit squads to kill you?"
Black Widow (Romanoff) has posed:
There is a glance to the towel then back at him. No admonishment yet. After his promise to pick it up later, if he does leave it on the floor after that? Then there will be admonishment. Because as she explained, she was not his father to be picking up after his lazy ass. She didn't use the mother example because she didn't want to cause him any actual potential pain, as he'd never known her.

The question at the end got a laugh though, along with a negative shake of the head. "Nothing like that. You just don't show up if you don't want to. It won't have all the details in the scroll. But it will lead to next steps and next steps after that. I did mention secret, right?" A little tap on his leg with her hand to punctuate that point.

"We would be able to watch. I'm certain I could get us both in as spectators." She doesn't explain why she is certain of that. "As I said, the Lotus don't kill. They just like their tournaments. Though, they are not the nice kind of tournament you would see down at the Y. These are brutal and often will lead to extreme injuries. The participants can choose to make their matches to the death if they like. They make their own choices on weapons or no weapons, each round. That sort of thing. If the two participants can't decide, the Lotus decides for them. And they never choose a death match."
Phobos has posed:
    An eyebrow quirks as Alexander listens to her telling him about the people and their plans for such a match. He looks thoughtful, casually chewing on his lower lip, then letting his head slooowly lean to one side. Now both eyebrows lift as he says, "That sounds interesting, and kind of like... semi-humane. It makes for a more neutral vibe. Like now I don't immediately expect to be double-crossed and put into some sort of human trafficking or genetic breeding program underground thing. Which is always a bonus."
    Not that he had experienced such before. But he did consume media.
    "Still, would be good. And hm. Could pitch it as related to work. Investigating the tournament to see if it's on the up and up." He lifts a hand to rub the back of his neck. "I mean from what you say it likely is, though a bit illegal. But so long as it's primarily an exhibition for skill and the like. Or it's not secretly funded by like Taliban heroin sales or whatever."
    He looks back at her, "This a thing you want to do?"
Black Widow (Romanoff) has posed:
"I don't care about the Lotus anymore. It's part of my past. However, if you are curious, I have no problem with attending," Natasha says with a soft smile. "I doubt any of my old friends are still around but one never knows in those sorts of circles." Friends is a very loose term as he knows she had more associates back then and not friends.

She considered the work angle, eyes straying a moment as she went inner thoughts then focusing back on his face. "SHIELD no doubt knows about the tournament. But people go in knowing what they are getting into. There are no surprises. No slavery, no heroin. There is no money to be won, no ticket sales for those watching. It is purely about skill and talent. Though some people are assholes thus the darker options available to them. I believe they are funded through a fortune cookie company but again, that was a long time ago."
Phobos has posed:
    Alexander leaned over to touch a small kiss to Natasha's cheek, then _rolled_ off the couch as he started to stroll out of the living room. "Alright, we'll get it in motion. I'm gonna go change into my clothes and I'll go grab the lotus before the locals steal it off our porch like my caligraphy set." Since that made him very grumpy.
    He reaches the hallway and to his credit scoops up his towel. But in the same motion he takes off the one around his hips and tosses them both into the laundry hamper, at ease as he walks down the hallway in his current state of undress. Over his shoulder he calls. "Now for the harder part of the day, figuring out lunch!" As he says that he grins sidelong at her, gives a small wink, and then slips out of view into their bedroom.
Black Widow (Romanoff) has posed:
The infamous calligraphy set. Which is what ended up with them having cameras installed. Because they hadn't bothered originally. After all, they were living out of a safehouse. Yet once that Amazon package disappeared off the porch, the cameras were ordered--and delivered to work. Then they were installed between the pair of them. Hidden at that so no one realized they were being watched.

Not that they'd had another delivery since that time. Until now. And this wasn't exactly a tempting box sitting there waiting for someone to touch it. They had also set up a few cameras in the neighborhood under cover of night but that was a tale for another day.

As he wandered into the bedroom, she glanced to the frozen image on the laptop screen. Things were about to get interesting.