It's Not A Relationship (Ioanna Langstrom)

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It's Not A Relationship (Ioanna Langstrom)
Date of Cutscene: 11 September 2021
Location: Ioanna's Apartment
Synopsis: A look into Ioanna Langstrom's psyche.
Thanks to: Hibiki
Cast of Characters: {{{Cast of Characters}}}
Tinyplot: None

Ioanna never fell asleep at her desk.

Part of this was the sheer amount of stuff that covered the thing. Every inch of it that wasn't reserved for paperwork and writing was covered in knicknacks and brickabracks from all manner of civilizations. There were rubbings of alien languages she'd taken herself on archaeological trips, little wind-up toys she'd bought at gift stores. Her bookends were sculptures of two spiders from a myth about two lovers being separated. There really wasn't room for Ioanna Langstrom to fall asleep.

But right now, it was because she was working.

Ioanna was a professional. She didn't allow herself not to get her work done. She didn't allow herself to slack, to get things in late, to do less than exactly what she needed to do. It was a job she did and she was proud of her standards. They were high where she was concerned. That wasn't about to change.

She had been up all night, working. Not the usual kind of work. Hard, physical labor. Getting salt, garlic, and silver on the walls of the tunnels that would soon serve as a temporary foundation for the Paladins base on Rifts Earth. Plating those walls. She had been using the suit to do most of the work, sure, but it was still hard, and it went long into the night and early into the morning before the work had been done.

Now, she stared uncomprehendingly at her own paper, at her own research. Effigy of Cimilco's assignment was due tomorrow and she had so much left to do.

Normally, it was easy to balance school and work. Her work wasn't that strenuous. She was assigned to clean up small-time problems, non-Elite troubles, troubles you don't need a squad or people like Lilian Rook or Strawberry Princess to handle. Gangs, mafiosos, mundane assassins. Things that even someone like her could clean up. And that was rarely difficult. They didn't call her for infiltrating. They called her for the busting. Go in, clean up, get out.

But right now…

And then there were the maps plastered across the wall in front of her desk. A smattering of maps of Hibiki's Earth, with sites of interest marked. Texts from that world. Sticky notes and cloth lines and thumbtacks that would make a conspiracy theorist somewhat concerned for her mental well-being. It wasn't even a job. It was just something she felt she had to do. Something she had the qualifications for.

A tap on the shoulder.

The gun came out of her desk in an instant as she whirled around. It was a heavy pistol, always loaded, always ready.

A hand pushed the pistol to the side and over the shoulder. A different hand grabbed her wrist. Shock to her nerves from the touch of those fingertips made her drop the gun. And then the smell of warm Chinese food hit her as a bag thrown upwards to free up a hand fell.

The bag landed in Shinji Ogawa's hand. He set it down next to her, the smile never leaving his face. "You must've had a rough few days, Ms. Langstrom."

Disparate thoughts whirled. Then, "Yes, Ogawa-san. I have. Thank you for the food. Would you like to stay for dinner?"

"I did pay for it, after all."

She laughed, stood up, and went to sit at the table. Shinji spread out the food. She toyed with her chopsticks for a bit as Shinji ate, sitting there in silence. Then,

"I would've brought you some leftovers, but we haven't seen Muramasa-sama for a while. We've been worried about him. Is everything alright?"

Of course. You were worried about him.

"No. He's very depressed. I'd tell you where he is, but that's classified. Sorry."

Shinji just sort of nodded. "That's alright, Ms. Langstrom. I wasn't expecting any intel from you. Tsubasa and I were worried."

"That's not grammatically correct," she muttered over her rice. Shinji's eyebrow quirked slightly. Ioanna looked up at him. "I've been grading...grading papers all day. And I got home...this morning."

Both eyebrows went to his hairline. "That's a lot later than usual. No wonder you haven't called. Have you been working this hard for the last few days?"


"No," she lied, "Just last night. But what I've been working on is classified, so I couldn't have you over. Sorry."

"That's alright." Shinji went back to his food.

They ate in silence for a bit. Ioanna's distant, exhausted thoughts clambered for something to say, but she couldn't.

I wish this was a relationship.

I wish I could tell him how nervous I am.

I wish I could confide in him.

But she couldn't. She couldn't tell him how hard she'd been working to impress people who were so much more experienced, so much more skilled, so much better than she was. How she'd drawn up the blueprints for the base herself and had architects look over it personally. How she'd done all the requisitioning herself, only checking it over with a quartermaster afterwards to correct errors. How she'd stayed behind not to hurry construction but because she couldn't trust that nothing would go wrong. Nothing could go wrong. Not for this. Not for this operation.

I want to tell you how I'm feeling right now.

She looked back down at her rice. "Ogawa-san…"


Just say it. Say you want him to move in. Say you want this to be something more.

But you can't, can you? Because if you get into a relationship, it'll be just like all the others.

She purses her lips. ", it's nothing. I was just going to ask if you wanted to stay the night. I won't be very energetic but I'll still perform to the best of my abilities. The spirit is willing and the flesh is its subordinate."

"Are you sure? You look like you'd rather fall asleep, Ioanna."

I just want you to stay.

"I'm sure. Why, were you hoping for a break when you walked in here? Too bad. You know me better than that." She stood and headed for the bathroom, hips swaying as she walked just right to keep his eyes on her. She knew what she was doing. It was power, power over an Elite, a real Elite, and it disgusted her that she treated him this way. But what else was she going to do?

I just want to feel something other than weakness.

She headed into the bathroom, stripped off her top, and stared into the mirror. She wiped her eyes of any tears that might have been forming, preemptively.

This isn't a relationship. This is friends with benefits. Not even. How long has it been since you had friends?

You can't let him see or he might try to comfort you. If he tries to comfort you, you might ask him. If you ask him, and he says yes, you'll be in a relationship.

And then it'll end. Because it always does.

Don't let this end.

Please. Even if it's just physical, I need this.

Even if it's nothing but a power fantasy.

So she headed back out of the bathroom with a predatory smile she didn't feel. "You'd better hurry and finish eating, Shinji. You'll need the energy."

He laughed and unbuttoned his suit. "I don't need encouragement."

And the next morning, he was gone, and only then did she bury her face in the pillow, grab the shotgun underneath for comfort, and start to cry.