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Title: _____________
Author: Elizabeth
Fandom: Alias
Summary: You could be anybody.
Warnings, etc: Minor spoilers for "The Coup," het fic, PG-13
Disclaimer: I like to make stuff up. The quote at the beginning of the story is from the Alias ep. "The Coup."
Distribution: List archives. Otherwise, please ask.

"I'm out of practice when it comes to personal matters."

You had four regulars already and you really weren't looking for anything more. But then you thought a new car might be nice; something fast and sleek and understated, something that could take you anywhere you wanted to go anytime you were ready to leave, and you needed extra cash for the payments. You are not the kind of girl who believes in credit or in banks.

Sandy set it up for you, like she always does, and told you up front that the only reason you were getting the guy was because she liked you, which meant you'd owe her a favor. Fine. Sandy always wants favors and they are always stupid things like breaking in a new girl by going with her to her first job. Most men don't object to threesomes--in fact, you've never met a man who does--and it's always easier for first-timers to have someone else there.

Most people think sex with a stranger for money will be easy, so easy--after all, it's a lot of money and they've had sex before, blah, blah, blah. It's a lot harder when you realize you have to just be a body, smile and be nice even if the guy is old and has bad breath and pinches your nipples too hard when he can't get it up fast enough. You go and ease the way for the new girls, let them learn from your smiles and your hands and your voice. Sandy says you are good at it.

Of course you are, because you don't care and can therefore offer up some words that sound kind but don't really mean anything. It's a lot easier to act nice than to be nice, but that's ok because people mostly just want to hear that everything is going to be fine.

So. New guy. You met him in a coffeehouse nestled inside a suburban shopping center way outside the city. It took you forever to get there. His choice. Sandy likes to set up first meets in bars because the lighting is good and everyone is easy to convince of anything once they've been drinking. You don't care where the first meets are. You're going to get inspected and you always pass.

You'd dressed the part to meet him based on where you were going--hair down and simple, minimal makeup, a skirt that ended right below your knees and a shirt that covered everything and was just on the polite side of too tight. You are good at matching addresses to expectations.

He was already there. You didn't notice him and it's the first and only time you haven't noticed a client. Usually you can spot them by their clothes, which are always too nice and too expensive--the need to impress doesn't die when one pays a lot of money for sex, it seems to grow instead--or by their faces, which almost always turn towards any opening door, alert and eager for a face, your face, for what you mean to them. Escape.

You figured out what you really sell way back before you ever even started.

You didn't see him when you got there though, and so you went and got a coffee, stood in line with everyone else even though you weren't thirsty and hate waiting in lines like you're some kind of animal, like you don't matter. You carefully looked for a place to sit and picked a table by the window, back far enough from the street so no one could really see you, bright enough so the sun would catch your face and show that you didn't have any wrinkles, that you are as young as you say you are. People expect you to lie about your age so you never do.

You sat down and pulled a magazine to match your outfit out of your bag--something light-weight and glossy, covered with the type of headlines that make single girl secretaries' hearts skip a little even as they hate themselves for admitting they want to catch a man, to sink their teeth into love--and kept an eye on the door. You expected him to stumble in about five minutes later than he was supposed to arrive, probably flushed and casting nervous glances over his shoulder. Everyone wants to get caught on some level and so everyone always imagines that other people notice--and care--what they are doing. Everyone wants attention.

You flipped through page after page of ads and sipped your coffee and watched the door and eventually he slid into the seat across from you. A total surprise. You never even saw him coming. He didn't say hello, just looked at you. He knew exactly who you were.

"Have you been here long?" you said politely, extra politely, because he'd fucked with your routine and you didn't like it but you needed the money--you needed the car, you needed something to keep you interested, and he said,

"Not long," just as politely, his eyes glinting, and that's how you knew he'd been there for a while.

That's how you knew he was almost as good a liar as you.

He was not and still isn't much of a talker. That day he drank coffee--black, no sugar, no cream--and didn't say much. All of the others you see talk constantly, as if to reassure themselves that they are with you, that they are having sex, that you know who they are. They want to know what you want to be, because fucking them isn't supposed to be your goal, it's supposed be the ending result of a dream that died, a loss you can share. You're supposed to need them, their support. You're supposed to give them a way to talk about their own dreams.

"A singer," you always say when they ask, but you turn down all their offers of help 'to get you started', turn their requests to hear you sing into what they want, which is sex where you moan their name loudly and scream as they come.

He didn't ask you anything. He just drank his coffee and looked at you, although every time you looked back at him his gaze seemed to be elsewhere. You asked him what he did (Banking), where he worked (In the city), had Sandy explained everything (Yes).

You found his silence irritating because you couldn't read anything in it and you were going to have to ask if he wanted you, which you hate doing. You like them to ask 'can we?' or 'would you like to--?' because it starts things off right. They have the money, but you have what they want.

"What's your name?" you finally asked, crossing your legs under the table, letting your foot slide across the line of his calf, just a hint, nothing crass.

"John," he said, and under the table his leg was stiff and unmoving against yours. He smiled though, sort of, his mouth curling up jerkily, like expressions were new to him, and you thought that he might be trying to make a joke.

You couldn't tell if it was at your expense or his own.

He was still just a man despite the surprise of his arrival and his silence, and said, "I'd like to see you again," as you prepared to leave. You nodded and told him to contact Sandy. Then you left slowly, making sure you walked directly in his line of sight. You turned back once, because it's always good to look like you are remembering. People like being remembered. You were sure he was still there, but you couldn't see him at all.

Later, when you tried to remember what he looked like, all you could picture was a bland, pleasant blur. He was forgettable, utterly forgettable, and you thought you knew why he'd come to you then, why he wanted what you had to give.

You see him once a month, sometimes only every other month. He doesn't have a pattern like the other four, who have picked days and dates and stick to them always. He never calls you directly, also not like the rest, who leave messages on your pager and wait for you to call back. He always calls Sandy, probably because she always answers her phone, and tells her when he wants to see you.

People expect prostitution to belong to motels, sleazy ones and fancy ones, anonymous rooms full of lost people. That's for amateurs. You have a house in the suburbs, a townhouse in a busy community full of commuters who barely notice their family members, much less their neighbors, and that's where you go when it's time for you to meet someone. You used one of Sandy's houses at first, until you'd saved up enough money for your own.

The house is full of furniture designed for fucking, huge soft sofas and chairs, big wide beds in all the bedrooms, tubs and showers big enough for two or three in the bathrooms. It's clean, ruthlessly so, and welcoming. You told the decorator you wanted something that people would feel at home in, and she did a great job. Your own place, your real place, is smooth and cold, a one-bedroom walkup in the very best neighborhood, with furniture that's all sharp lines and angles with space just for you. You like your things to be yours and no one else's.

He comes out to see you and shows up promptly five minutes after you arrive, knocking on the door once. Somehow he always manages to knock when you are right by the door so he never has to wait. You suspect he is always there before you but you never see him or his car. Maybe he knows the rules for a good getaway too. You won't ever ask him if he does.

"Drink?" you said the first time he came over, and gestured at the bar, which is tasteful, marble, and wide. Howard--number three--likes to have sex on it.

"No," he said and then, after a moment, "Thank you." His politeness always sounds forced.

He never wants a drink or something to eat, although you ask every time. On the one hand, that's nice because then you don't have to listen to him slurp liquor or watch him spray crumbs everywhere. On the other hand, eating and drinking kills time, helps people relax. It's a sign of trust. You like knowing who likes what--Tim likes cashews and wine, Gerald likes lots of gin and Twinkies (He likes the Twinkies because his wife won't let him eat them --Gerald talks a lot), Roger likes vodka and whatever snack food is trendy (lately it's seaweed crisps), and Howard is always on a liquid diet of Manhattans. You've learned a lot about them, watching them drink, watching them eat. People think sex tells everything but nothing reveals a personality better than snack products.

You never eat or drink in front of anyone unless they're paying you to. That happens on a fairly regular basis. People like to show you off, walk into rooms with you standing right next to them in any position they want you to, looking only at them. They want to 'treat' you, 'spoil' you, make you 'feel special.' What that means is they want to exist outside of fucking for you. They want you to think they are kind, generous, 'different.' They want you to owe them, they want you to throw in free sex and call it love.

He comes over and declines anything in the way of comfort, always sits awkwardly on the big sofa, not ungracefully, but like it's wasting his time, like the soft cushions are something he doesn't understand and doesn't want to. He doesn't take you anywhere, has never once offered. He just sits quietly, his eyes wandering over you but still somehow far away, until you say, "Would you like to go upstairs?"

Your job is sex, and you're good at it. You thought that since he's so quiet, right down to the plain suits he always wears, expensive but so understated that they are only perfect for a funeral, that he'd like it adventurous. Adventurous light, granted, but you figured him for a kitchen floor or a stairs guy, the kind of man who likes to tumble to the floor and have you pant in his ear.

But no, he's quiet all the way through. You always fuck in the bedroom and you always go upstairs first, his footsteps almost soundless behind you. He never asks to go to bed, never asks for your body, which means you always have to make the suggestion and lead the way. The first time he came over, you thought it was some sort of test, that he wanted you to follow orders and let himself pretend that it was your idea, your wanting. But the second time he came over, sat on the sofa and didn't make a move towards you or do anything other than answer your polite conversation starters with terse replies, you realized what was going on. He didn't want to be there, didn't know what to make of what his body wanted, needed.

You could sort of understand that.

He's boring in bed; an insert, thrust, and repeat kind of guy. Although to be fair, he's not like the others, with their half-hearted attempts to bring you 'pleasure' with their cautious kisses, careful licking of your nipples, and fingers prodding you open. He hardly ever touches you, just enough to get the job done and the occasional kiss. He's terrible at kissing, his mouth heavy and awkward, like he hasn't kissed anyone in years. He keeps his eyes open all the time, which freaked you out at first but now you're used to it (you can get used to anything), and besides, he's not really looking at you anyway.

You're just a body to him, to all of them, and he just doesn't try to hide it. You are pretty sure he views his need for you, your body, what he does with it, as a weakness. He must be an absolute shit at his office, the kind of guy who stares at people when they are upset and can fire someone and then pass them in the hallway like nothing has happened.

He would be the ideal client--infrequent visits, few demands, no bullshit, and great tipper--except that once in a while he remembers that you get paid to do anything, comes over, and goes for what he's really after.

Today you can tell as soon as you open the door and squint into the sunshine, see him standing on the doorstep, that it's going to be one of those days where you really earn your money. Something's happened to him. There are a few healing cuts on his face, and he looks even more tense than usual. He's got a scarf on and it's not tied in a knot, is instead dangling its way down around his coat. It would look normal on any other person but it looks like a train wreck on him.

He doesn't want anything to drink or eat, of course, but you offer anyway because it kills thirty whole seconds.

He doesn't even say no, just stands in the living room, coat still on, and stares right through you. You think of your car, how fast and sleek it is. It could take you anywhere and you could leave anytime.

"Would you like to go upstairs?"

For a moment, you think he's actually going to say no and walk out. His face doesn't change its expression--it never does--but something behind his eyes shifts, just for a second. In that second, you wonder what he's thinking, really thinking. What must it be like, to make everything so difficult?

He nods and you remember that he's a guy in a suit who pays you to fuck him. He's made his own complications.

Upstairs, he takes off his clothes and you take off yours. You have tried to gauge his lingerie preferences but he doesn't really seem to have any. Most men at least want a little mystery or pretense of it. He seems to have no interest in pretending.

There are fading purple marks on his ribs, across his back. He doesn't say anything about them. You aren't surprised.

When you first met him, the real meeting, the one that wasn't about setting everything up but was about what you got paid for, you noticed he was more built out of his clothes than is normal for a guy his age. All of your clients work out--LA is a vain town -- but they have gym muscles, short and bulky, structured to shore up their sagging skin. His muscles are long and lean. At first you thought he was a jogger but it didn't take you long to realize he wasn't. He isn't anything like what he pretends to be.

At first you thought he was what he said he was. In banking. You figured he was an executive on his fourth wife and well on his way to his fifth ulcer, a typical repressed shithead. You figured that after two visits he'd end up confiding in you like they all do, telling you all about how miserable he was being wealthy and powerful, how he'd say, "I don't have anyone to talk to," which would be your cue to mentally roll your eyes and not do anything but put a hand on his arm and say, "You can talk to me."

He never relaxed. He never talked. Four times in and all you knew was that he never called you directly, that he was quiet, and that his hands were callused, heavily so.

His calluses and silences added up to something else.

It added up to his cellphone ringing while the two of you were upstairs the fourth time you saw him, and the way he stopped, just stilled his body without any effort, and said, "Yes," into his phone in that cold firm voice of his. He was still leaning over you, one hand curved above your mouth, and he knew what he was doing then. He touched you awkwardly and as little as possible, but in that moment, his body knew what he was doing. He could have stopped you from speaking. Like you'd waste your voice on him.

You knew you didn't want to know what he did after that.

He stands there, silent and bruised, and you aren't going to ask him what happened.

This is what he wants when he remembers he can do anything: touching. Just touching, over and over again. You never touch him. You're not sure you could do it, even if he asked and offered you extra. You don't think it's something he would ever want anyway.

His hands start at your neck and the feel of them, too heavy, the touch too firm, makes you stiffen. He doesn't touch you there for long. Down over your shoulders, your arms, your legs, back up, everywhere. Not wanting, just touching, like he's forgotten what skin feels like, like he's lost whatever it is that makes a person human and your body is the road map that brings him back. He touches you until his hands are almost gentle. It takes a long time.

You watch the ceiling and wait. You picture yourself with a 'job,' something like you had when you first came to LA, before you realized that being talented and pretty was everyone's calling card and that being a waitress, a secretary, a person who did nothing important but was totally necessary, was all you were going to be.

When he's done he just stops, draws his hands away and gets up. He gets dressed, hands you the money you've earned. Everyone does that, a reminder of your place, of what they give you. You count it and thank him, pressing a kiss to his cheek. He always almost flinches under your touch. Sometimes you think it's funny. Today you think, *good*.

He leaves and you sit downstairs, watch tv for a while. Nothing's on, but nothing ever is. Later you drive back and go to the gym, get your nails done, stop and buy some new shoes.

"I haven't talked to anyone my whole shift!" the salesgirl says. "I never thought I'd be glad to have a customer. Um, you know what I mean. It's just nice to hear someone's voice."

You've said your shoe size and "Cash." You stare at her a moment, till her gaze drops away from yours, and then you take your bag and leave.

You sing on the way home, knowing no one is listening. You have a nice voice, strong and true.

You save it for yourself.

The next time he comes over his eyes look a little more human, maybe. He asks, "How are you?" when he walks inside and you both stand there for a second, silent. It's the first time he's ever asked you anything.

Something's changed for him and you aren't surprised when he blinks, turns on one heel, and leaves.

"I'm fine," you say to your empty house, and know he isn't coming back. You sell the car the next day and get another one. It's not as fast, not as sleek, but if can still take you anywhere. You can still leave anytime.

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