All Viper wants is to read in peace.
Usually, Viper likes libraries.
For the most part, civilians are the only people that use Comet City’s five library branches – and barely any at that during the middle of the day when Viper tends to head out. No one recognizes her as long as she keeps her sunglasses and a hat on and wears clothing that covers up the scales on her arms, legs, and stomach. A little overheating and the almost claustrophobic feeling of being in clothes more significant than the crop top and shorts she generally gravitates to are a worthy price of admission and for privacy.
The buildings always smell like old books and dust, with the faint human scents of the librarians and janitorial staff almost light enough for Viper to ignore them, and there are plenty of quiet places for her to go and curl up with a book or two. As a (mostly) retired supervillain, Viper now has plenty of time to read and she intends to read everything she can.
Unfortunately, not everyone that comes to the library has the same devotion to quiet reading that she does.
Viper is in the superhero non-fiction section of the small library on the other side of the city from her den when she smells a new set of scents encroach on what she’s quietly claimed as “her” territory for the day. Human comes first, then a faint sour stink of sweat, and finally, too much of a smoky-sweet scent that makes her tongue feel like it itches when she dares to flick it out to taste the air.
From the sound of the footsteps that follow, Viper assumes that the person approaching this quiet but sunny section of the library is tall and heavy set, with some kind of leg injury that makes their gait echo somewhat unevenly in the silence.
There’s nothing else to the scent and steps. Nothing that makes Viper think “danger” and want to go on high alert. So she decides to focus on her search for something interesting to read. If the human behind her wants a book for this section, well… they can just wait for her to finish.
Straightening her posture, Viper tilts her head back so that she can take in the highest shelf in front of her. She’s been in a nostalgic mood lately, and this library is supposed to have a copy of a newly released (and absolutely unauthorized) biography on Mama Mambo somewhere on the shelves. Even if it’s unlikely to be accurate, it might be funny enough to take home for the woman in question to read.
She finds the Mama Mambo book wedged between a feminist analysis of female hero and villain appearances and a dusty autobiography of one of the city’s earliest rehabilitated villains. She grabs all three books, thankful for her long reach because it means she doesn’t need to find a ladder to reach the top shelves, and then immediately spies one of the many biographies that folks have written about her… Hawk two shelves down.
“Maybe this time,” Viper murmurs to herself as she snags the slim volume, “They’ll actually get basic details right.”
Of course, she knows that it isn’t fair to judge these authors on their missing details. It’s not their fault that most of the heroes and villains in Comet City have secret identities they protect with their lives.
Viper only knows as much as she does about Hawk because of their complicated relationship over the years and to this day she still can’t believe that he’d told her as much about his day-to-day persona as he did back when they were teenagers.
The sound of a throat clearing from uncomfortably close by makes Viper startle and she stiffens, bristling internally at the realization that the smoky-sweat scent is now right there and she hadn’t realized it. She doesn’t know what the human behind her wants, but it had better be good.
When Viper finally calms down enough that she thinks she’ll be able to talk without her fangs descending, she turns around to face the person invading her space.
The smelly human is about her height, with short, dark hair and a goatee. He’s smiling when he sees her face, but, his smile fades after a few minutes of stony silence stretch awkwardly between them.
“Can I help you?” Viper asks eventually, proud of the way that she doesn’t spit the words out like bullets. If not for the books cradled in her left arm, she’d already have both hands on her hips instead of just the one and she settles for shooting a dark look at the man before her.
A look that he can’t possibly see thanks to the mirrored lenses of her sunglasses.
“So,” he says, that smile returning, “You’re a fan of superheroes?” He leans forward like he’s looking at the books she’s holding, but there’s a suspicious scent of arousal that makes her question his nearness.
The question is innocent enough.
The patronizing note that Viper knows she isn’t imagining and the lingering look at her chest that follows? Not so much.
Viper sucks in a sharp breath through her nose and then exhales slowly, reminding herself that the man in front of her is a just a human. If she were to knock him into the nearest wall, he would probably die. Or something.
“We live in Comet City, don’t we?”
It’s not much of an answer, but then, Viper is still trying to figure out a way to extricate herself from the conversation without doing something that will land her back under the League’s notice. The thing is, that it’s not not an answer. Comet City is of several in the country to have active superheroes working as the main form of law enforcement. People come here hoping to catch a glimpse of Hawk and Nightingale taking down some big villain who thinks the small city on the state’s northeast coast is fair game.
Viper turns her back on the man and heads off to one of the tables far away from the windows that shine bright light in the corner she’d wanted to rest in. Usually, when Viper comes to the library she heads straight for the nearest beanbag chair, but as the man falls into step behind her, she has a feeling that her usual seat would be too inviting.
When Viper sits down at the table, she’s unfortunately unsurprised at the fact that he does too.
“I asked you once already,” Viper says, a growl in her voice, “Can I help you with something?”
The man sitting across from her doesn’t seem to notice that he’s bothering her.
Or, maybe he does notice.
And he doesn’t care.
That thought is almost enough to make Viper reconsider throwing him into the shelves anyway. Almost. He’s not worth getting a mark on her record over.
“Well? What do you want?”
The man holds his hands up in front of himself in an almost defensive gesture that’s belied by the smile on his face.
“Hey, I just wanted to talk to a fellow superhero aficionado,” the man says. His smile widens in a way Viper doesn’t like and then he reaches out to offer his hand to shake. “I’m Alphonse.”
“And I don’t care,” Viper says, speaking honestly. “You may leave now.”
She doesn’t take his hand.
Alphonse’s face darkens with ruddy splotches that remind Viper of a bruise. His fingers clench into a fist and then, when he realizes that Viper is actually studying the tight flex of his fingers, slowly release as he draws his hand back. The smile returns to his face, but, not without visible effort.
He still doesn’t leave.
“You looked lonely,” Alphonse tries.
“I looked alone,” Viper retorts, sitting up a little straighter in her chair. “And you somehow saw me as an easy target.”
Viper knows what she looks like. Nearly six feet tall, with broad shoulders, dark brown skin, and purple-black hair kept back in a mass of tiny single braids, Viper usually reads as a threat to most people that would dare to approach her. Even before they see the scales and her fangs.
For this civilian see her as prey (and not, as a potential partner) –
It’s… almost novel.
Still annoying, but interesting in its own way.
“I just want to chat,” Alphonse says, still trying to talk to Viper. It’s as though her standoffishness makes her even more appealing to him, turning her into more attractive a challenge. The splotchy flush on his face fades in increments until it’s no longer visible.
“About superheroes,” Viper says, one eyebrow raising. “Really?”
When she inhales through her mouth, careful to keep her forked tongue inside, she can just barely pick up on the sour twist of fear laces Alphonse’s scent along with the anger from earlier. He’s afraid (of her, of rejection, of something), but instead of leaving her alone the way he should because she actually told him to do so, he just… leans forward in his chair.
“Or villains,” Alphonse says quickly, eagerly. “I know everything there is to know about the villains in Comet City. Name one and I can tell you everything about them.”
It’s just too easy.
“Tell me about Viper then,” she says, her own name tripping lightly across her tongue. “Since you know so much about villains here.” Settling back in her chair, Viper gives Alphonse an expectant look and then waves her hand impatiently when all he does is stare at her. “I’m waiting…”
“She’s poisonous,” Alphonse blurts out after several moments of tense silence, clearly flustered as he glances at Viper. “Y-yeah, I mean – “
“Poisonous,” she repeats, her shoulders trembling as she struggles to keep her laughter to a manageable volume. “You think she’s poisonous – how adorable!”
The ruddy flushes come back to Alphonse’s face and he slams his hands down on the tabletop, rising to his feet in a jerky movement.
“I’m not going to sit here and let you mock me,” he spits out. “I –”
Before he can finish another word, Viper moves, coming to stand behind him in a blink of an eye. Her hand curves over his shoulder in a viselike grip, the tips of her pointed nails digging into his shoulders through the thin fabric of his shirt.
“Viper isn’t poisonous,” she says, delight lacing her voice as the fear in Alphonse’s unpleasant scent ratchets up and he tries to jerk away from her grasp. “She’s venomous.” Viper spins Alphonse around and then smiles wide enough that he can see the needlelike points of her fangs as they drop down. “And she really doesn’t enjoy being accosted at the library by human males that can’t take a hint.”
The faint scent of urine seconds later is unpleasant but not unexpected.
There, that’s almost as satisfying as punching him through a wall or two.
“Next time,” Viper says, her voice so low that she knows Alphonse has to strain to hear it, “Don’t bother a woman that clearly wants to be alone. She might bite.”