||Topic: The Flower Journal
Joined: 26 Aug 2010
Date Posted: Thu Mar 21, 2013 5:39 am
Subject: Entry #23 - Dead Girl Walking
For me, life on the streets was a very lonely thing. It is for most people, but I felt it keenly. I abruptly went from having a home, friends, and family that cared for me even if I wasn’t universally beloved on account of my mother. I’m not deluded enough to fail to recognize that I ran away from it, more than it was stolen from me. Aunt Elena’s never actually forgiven me for that, really. She was the one who was supposed to take care of me and Neri on the event of my parent’s deaths, so some of it is that she’s never forgiven herself for not keeping better watch over us. It isn’t her fault, we’d nominally ran off, and she was keeping tabs on us, trying to give us the space she thought she needed. It wasn’t a good choice, but she was trying her best.
A week after I sucker punched Charlie and split, I was hungrier than I’d been in my life, for different things than I ever thought to imagine for myself, and far, far lonelier. I don’t question what Neri and I had between us, but with her death I felt cut off and empty. I’d never been without my sister, and I didn’t know how to be without her then. That’s why I first started contemplating, not really explicitly, things to take the edge off. I wound up at parties, mostly just drifting through to kill some time and was offered a pill, a puff of something, a sip of this or that. Because why not? What was the point of not trying, even once? I wasn’t long for this world, anyway.
And I liked them all. A lot.
BTLs were strictly off the table because it’s hard to enjoy any kind of simsense when your immediate, very visceral response is to want to puke. But everything else? All that held some promise. Frag some, a lot of promise. I wanted something to take the edge off, and anything would do. This led to countless bad decisions, and one of them being I’d try anything anyone handed me, as long as it didn’t look like it was laced with razorblades. Even if it was, I’d consider it for at least a minute. None of it made me any less lonely, but at least it did find me some companions.
I didn’t have friends in the Pit. There were people that I used, and people who used me, and sometimes, when what we wanted intersected, we were a bit more honest about it than that. I was young and weak, and now if I saw myself, I’d immediately think exactly what Maga said, first time seeing me. It was a party, and I was there out of boredom and a strong need to not be alone with my thoughts. A group of young-ish looking women caught sight of me as I navigated my way through the crowds that mostly overlooked me. One of them, who might have been pretty before the drugs and the age that The Pit adds on sneered and said, loud enough for me to hear, “Dead girl walking.” She was one of two elves in the small gaggle, and she wore her greasy blonde hair over one cheek, but it wasn’t enough to keep me from catching sight of the scarring. It didn’t bother me and I just let the manic, wild mood of the party sweep me away.
I popped some pills, I drank, I danced, and eventually I found myself in the lap of a man with rather rough hands, but a smooth voice and a charming demeanor. All I wanted was something to pass the time and this was it. I didn’t want him, but he’d slipped a pill into my mouth that melted under my tongue and left me floating, and the world bright and sparkling. Sensitive and overwhelmed, I eventually excused myself outside for a bit of space and a smoke.
Sitting on the back porch and enjoying a cigarette – they were a new thing for me at the time and already I was hooked – I looked out over the trashed, junk filled tiny little “yard” that spread behind the house. I was wound up and yet felt like I was constantly coming undone, all light and airy. All I wanted was more of something that I didn’t have to slot in my fragging head. But sitting there, looking up at the cloudy sky and at the crumble of the Zone around me, I desperately wished for my sister, even as I tried not to.
Someone grabbed my arm and tugged me to the side, turning me so I faced the elf from before, her blonde hair still falling over her face. “Hey Dead Girl,” she greeted, grimacing at me and displaying yellowed teeth. “You don’t wanna go home wi’ him, chickadee,” she told me, her voice grating over my sensitive ears. Standing side by side I found that she was taller than me and slightly bigger in general for all her gaunt frame and long limbs. For a moment I thought she might be mocking me, but she looked dead serious, staring at me with pale hazel eyes. And okay, calling me Dead Girl probably was somewhat mocking.
“Why not?” I blurted before I could stop myself. “What’s it matter to you?” I asked with a little more distance, a hint of disinterest as I crossed one of my arms over my chest protectively. She considered the questions, her cheeks hollowing as she sucked on her teeth and then blew out a long sigh.
With another smile that was more grimace than grin, she brushed her hair from her cheek, exposing some rather deep and unfortunate looking scars. Even minus the drugs and hard living, she was never going to manage really beautiful. “Who d’ya think gave me these?” she demanded caustically. Letting her hair drop she arranged the lank strands to disguise it best she could. “Yeh, yeh,” she snarled, looking down into my face. “You don’t believe me.” I didn’t. “But y’oughta listen to me.” I arched one eyebrow and attempted to take on expression of practiced disdain, but couldn’t keep the tremble out of me. It’d only been a week, but I was already hooked, and I wanted more. It probably wasn’t worth the risk of the scarring – I didn’t want to be disfigured. Maga bared her teeth in a smile that made me uncomfortable, looking me over. “Yeah, I got it chica. Comin’?”
So I went with her. She introduced herself, and I told her my name. Maga just kept on calling me Dead Girl. She showed me, well, everything. Safe places to sleep, where to avoid, gang signs for some of the nastier thrillkillers, and…other less pleasant things. She prepped my first syringe of bliss for me, and injected it when I wussed out. She taught me to pick pockets, and we actually managed a good routine, eventually. She ultimately talked me into selling my necklace, which is something I’ve never forgiven her for, but…
The first time she saw the necklace her eyes lit up with greed. Even if it was fake, which it wasn’t, it was a pretty piece of jewelry. She stroked her fingers over it and licked her lips, and I could just picture her mentally calculating how long this could keep us (but more likely just her) in food and drugs (but mostly drugs). I’d done my best not to recoil, but couldn’t help pressing my hand over it. She’d noticed it when we were changing since I did a good job of keeping it hidden beneath my shirt. “Pretty piece of bling DG,” she’d murmured.
“It’s mine Maga,” I’d said, instilling a bit of steel in my voice for one of the first times in our sort-of-friendship. She’d laughed and waved me off, teasing me about it as she tugged a different shirt on. After I finished changing she tugged me out of the squat all laughs and smiles, as if it was forgotten. Three weeks later I sold it out a pawnshop and turned the yen into pleasant dreams.
When Charlie pulled me out of the Pit, I didn’t give too much thought over what Maga thought about it. After I disappeared into Jo’s private clinic for an entire two days, and then was incredibly people shy for a bit, she hadn’t seemed especially worried even though word on the street had been that I’d gotten myself geeked. When I showed up again she shrugged and carried on. After I got my head on relatively straight, I just wanted to forget about what happened out there. So I never bothered to look for Maga, and I put her away from my thoughts. Even if I did see her, even if I did go look, what would I say, what would I do? So out of sight, out of mind.
Not that she stayed that way.
Years later, when I stopped by New York out of DC to help Charlie out with a job, I saw her again. I was in The Pit for reasons pertaining to it and clad in bike leathers and with a short, blonde tipped mohawk I looked little like the lost little girl Maga found two years ago. It didn’t prevent her from recognizing me. I really, really hate when people feel the need to bellow my name in a crowded street. Even if it’s a nickname, it just strikes me as bad form. Especially when I haven’t seen them in years.
Not that I think Maga particularly cared about politeness and the like. She bellowed it loud and clear enough for half the street to hear: “Oy! Dead Girl!” It did get my attention though, but I was pretty pissed when I turned around. She looked exactly the same, and I still had to look up to see into her face. Well, exactly the same but worse. More haggard, more wasted, and simply older.
I bit my cheek and held my tongue as we looked each other over. My fist clenched all on its own although I resisted the urge to deck her. It was made easier by the fact that she actually looked pleased to see me. I could see the track marks on her arms though, and knew enough to be wary. Don’t trust an addict. It’s nothing personal, but nothing good will come of it. I wouldn’t have trusted me back then, and it would’ve been a smart thing not to.
She sneered at me, showing off yellowed and cracked teeth. “No warm welcome fer a old friend?” she demanded, narrowing her eyes and snorting derisively. “If I didn’ know better, Dead Girl, I’d think ya were fragged off wit’ me.” Chip’s voice whispered in my ear, asking me if there was a problem. It wasn’t really a problem. The biz wasn’t time sensitive, but hell if I was going to deal with that drek.
“I’m on th’clock, Maga,” I hissed and turned away from her. “I ain’t got th’time for you or y’drek.” I began to march down the street and froze when she called after me.
“What!? Think y’re better’n me?” she yelled, a bit of rage infusing her already harsh tones. “If it weren’t fer me, y’d be creased for real, DG. So much fer gratitude, right?” Something about that made me hesitate and then turn. I grabbed her by a bony wrist and dragged her into a tight, but fairly quiet alley. She smirked at me again, laughing raucously and yanking her wrist from my grasp. “That got y’attention, didn’ it?” I wanted to slap the self-satisfaction from her face.
“Th’hell d’I owe you, Maga?” I demanded, rubbing my fingers over my hair, the shaved sides odd feeling versus normal. I could think of a long list, and not much of it was complimentary at the time. Not really fair, since I would’ve been dead without her, honestly…but at the time fair didn’t come into it. “What’ve I got t’be thankful for from you?”
“Th’clearly shiny new life y’ve got, slitch,” she snarled and spat to the side. “Fer starters.” My blank look prompted her to explain. “I heard ‘bout a big guy stompin’ int’ Ace’s Den, y’know. How d’ya think he found an unimportant lil bit like you? Told me he was a friend an’ he was all worried. I figured it may give y’a shot.” Because she couldn’t shut her big mouth, she just kept on talking. “Offered me 50 fer th’ ‘fo.” It finally sunk in and I felt betrayed. I’m thankful that Charlie hauled me out of there, but that the one person I considered maybe a friend sold me out? Maga was trying to sell it like she did it for me, but it doesn’t take a genius.
I was silent for a couple moments and she finally shut up. Chip hissed a bit more insistently and I whispered, “I know.” Maga looked offended, like I may have said some sort of insult. For another moment I looked at her, and then I turned away, starting to walk back to the street.
She cursed and spat after me, stomping to keep up. “What, not even a thank ya?” she howled. “So much fer gratitude, y’whore slut!” I got the distinct impression that if I didn’t appease her some way or another she’d follow me through all this. Not good, so I turned and demanded what she wanted. Maga responded by unashamedly lifting her hand, rubbing her thumb against her fingers in a gesture that’s clear as day. I shoved my hands into the inner pocket of my jacket that held a wad of cash, yanked it out, and peeled off two bills. I didn’t give half a frag about the denomination as I tossed them towards her, and then turned to stomp off.
They fluttered to the ground and Maga dove for them, scrabbling them greedily off the ground. It’s the last glimpse I ever had of her, and I view it with a certain level of disgust. It’s also a palpable reminder of a part of myself I despise, which is really fun. Reeeeally.
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Joined: 26 Aug 2010
Date Posted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 3:45 am
Subject: Entry #1 - Fairy Tale
Written summer 2053
I think this is stupid. Neri handed this to me and told me she’s going to go practice piano and doesn’t want to be disturbed. She’s still sitting at the keyboard with headphones on, practicing like she said she would be, and either she’s oblivious to the fact that I’m trying to make her head explode with my mind or she’s just ignoring it.
Well, head explodie is a no-go, but I thought it’d be worth a shot. I know, wrong kind of magic, and I don’t even really want to, but sometimes she just pisses me off so much. Urgh. Since she’s going to ignore me until I do what she wants and she’s annoyingly right about this sort of thing normally, I may as well get started.
So I’m going to tell a story. That is what she suggested anyway. Sweet. (This really blows, by the way).
Once upon a time there were a pair of twin girls. They weren’t just any twins, they were identical, and identical twins might normally be close in ways most people can’t really understand, but these two both had magic that tied them up tight together. They were two sides of the same coin, the perfect halves of one whole. While, they were very, very similar, they were very different too, a perfect matched set that complimented each other with every difference and every similarity. One twin, the good one (though she’s gonna smack me if she sees that), would joke that she was the fork and the other the knife. Sometimes they would fight or argue, and sometimes they annoyed each other, but they knew that they could always rely on each other and loved each other very much.
One was named Nerissa Dionyza Ophelia Giordano and the other was named Cymbeline Veraline Cressida Giordano because their mother had no sense of proportion when it came to names, among other things. That’s a whole name more than anyone really needs, not to mention they’re pretty snobby names even to start with. The first twin went by Nerissa, although her sister and all her friends called her Neri, and the second went by Vera because Cymbeline is just too unbelievably embarrassing to stand. They did almost everything together, although Neri tired of martial arts and Vera didn’t have the patience to learn an instrument. Vera also rode her twin’s coat tails through a couple skipped grades because she had little patience for that too, unlike her sister.
You know what? This is stupid. My life isn’t a fairy tale, and I can’t pretend that it is. Neri might be able to play the part of a fairy tale princess with ease, but I can’t. Not now in particular. Anyway, if it was Neri doing this I’d get bored about now and tell her to get to the point and stop stalling. None of the above really matters, does it?
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t vaguely aware that my father did bad things for a living, although we never explicitly talked about it until now, because that’s not how the family does things. Many of my uncles also worked for the family, and well, they didn’t do great things either. Not all of them are really related to me, but that’s sort of how it is with some families. Uncle Marco’s one of the uncles that isn’t closely related to Dad anyway, if he is was at all. My family tree’s pretty screwy. Still, he always brought us presents or candy and he’d sit with us on his knees and tell us stories about when he and Dad were younger and the trouble they got into. Uncle Marco hasn’t been doing too well lately, Dad explained that he was sick and wasn’t supposed to be around children. There was something in his eyes when he said it and Neri and I knew he was lying.
The problem with lying to two reasonably bright kids is that they’re gonna figure it out, even if it means sitting at doors and listening. Which is how we found out that he had CIRS. We don’t really even know much about it, but we do and did know enough to realize it’s really bad. Neri chickened out before she heard more than that, but I don’t blame her. I didn’t like the sound of it either. Whatever was going on, as we understood it, our Uncle Marco was gone, and the man in his place was bad news.
We were home alone two weeks ago when Uncle Marco burst down the door. He was looking for Dad, or rather, was convinced that Dad was looking for him so…yeah, I don’t really know, he wasn’t making a ton of sense. Mom and Dad weren’t home, and Neri was practicing at the keyboard and I was lying on the floor by her reading. He came in screaming, yelling, his eyes bulging and his face red and angry. We both froze and stared as he advanced on us, and then Neri screamed and ran further into the apartment.
It’s like if you meet a dog or something that’s being aggressive, you don’t run from it because then you’re prey and it’ll chase you. He shot after her, and then I was on my feet running behind too. I know what I am and I know what my way is, and I can recognize a fighter. It’s like some part of me senses a kindred spirit, and also assesses them for how much damage they could do. I’m not great at it, but I knew that we were in trouble.
A couple of months ago I started keeping the switchblade Charlie gave me in my pocket. It made me feel safer. I didn’t even realize it was in my hands when I skidded into our parent’s bedroom to find him digging under the bed for my sister. Nobody hurts my sister, not when I can do something about it. I’ve hurt people before, I injured a girl badly enough that she had to get aesthetics done. But I was angry when all of those happened. Staring at his back the only thing I was is terrified. Stabbing someone in the back takes a certain amount of thought, it turns out, and courage if you’ve never put a knife in someone before I guess. I don’t know, in all the trids and everything like that it’s talked about as though it’s the most cowardly thing and make it sound easy, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
So I stabbed him. I tried to yank out the knife and do it again, but he spun and backhanded me hard enough that I flew across the room into a mirror. I remember the sound of it breaking and hitting the floor. I have this vague sort of idea that it hurt, but I don’t actually remember that. I felt wet at the back of my head and I couldn’t move. I watched him throw the bed aside with one hand and grab Neri by her throat. He pinned her against the wall near me by her throat, growling at her as she cried and tried to break his grip.
He was just holding her, not even squeezing, but her feet weren’t even touching the ground and I could hear her choking. I tried to move and couldn’t. I can’t say more about it than that, I simply couldn’t move. I was so helpless, and I couldn’t do anything. Neri’s lips started turning ever so slightly blue and she wasn’t fighting as hard and I was useless. I looked into my Uncle Marco’s face and it really wasn’t his. That was not my uncle. It was like a horror movie where something else was wearing his face and his body.
A red hole suddenly appeared in his forehead, splattering Neri with blood and he dropped her to land a few feet away from me. Dad was in the doorway, a pistol in his shaking hand and his face pale. I’ve never seen him that scared or seen his hands shake. Everything else is a blur, the last really clear thing was Neri curled up against me, clinging and crying, telling me that I can’t be dead. I think I spent the rest of the day in shock. I don’t really remember much of it, just sitting on Aunt Elena’s couch in a pair of sweats with a blanket wrapped over my shoulder and a mug of tea in my hands. I don’t think I drank any of it.
We stayed at Aunt Elena’s for a week. When we got back home the apartment was spotless, not a thing out of place. That hasn’t stopped us from having nightmares, but we had those at Aunt Elena’s house. Neri keeps waking up convinced that his ghost is somewhere in here, that I really did die and she’s alone now. She’s always been freer with her words about things like this, the upsetting things. She has a gift with them anyway, so it just comes naturally. Me? Not so much. And I really don’t want to talk about this.
You don’t hurt family, and Uncle Marco wasn’t really family any more the moment he attacked us and he wasn’t himself, but it still doesn’t feel okay. But it’s not supposed to, right? Dad’s tried to talk with me about it, Mom left it to him because let’s face it: I stabbed someone. Someone I loved. This is so far out of Mom’s area it may as well be…I can’t even think of it. Neri thinks that’s what upset me about it, and it does, but not as much as she thinks.
The look in her eyes when I wasn’t moving is what I have nightmares about. She was so afraid and so was I, and I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t even move. I felt helpless and could only watch as someone was slowly strangling my sister. I couldn’t do anything about that terror, and the thing that grew underneath it. Up until last night I didn’t realize what it was. It was despair. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen in her face, even worse than when someone makes her cry – and I know what happened, she thought I was dead.
So that’s it. The worst thing was seeing my twin need me, and being unable to do anything. It scares the hell out of me. It seems weird to say since I’m not even ten, and maybe it’s because I’ve never thought of it, but I haven’t ever felt helpless. I mean really helpless. It’s also the first time I’ve contemplated the idea of a life without my twin. What a horrible thing.
Looks like Neri’s getting finished with this piece and I think that I can get away without writing any more.
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Joined: 26 Aug 2010
Date Posted: Thu May 30, 2013 5:59 am
Subject: Entry #22 - Masquerades
Say what one will about New Orleans, they know how to party down there. Sure, it’s full of smugglers, swindlers, and slavers, but I only really have an issue with the last out of that list. Having done a bit of smuggling and more than my fair share of swindling, I can’t really throw stones there. But the point is: I’ve always been fond of Mardi Gras, and there isn’t a single place I’d rather be than The Big Easy for it.
Even unpleasant early experiences haven’t dulled my appreciation for masquerades, and the ones for Carnival are some of the best. Add on the occasional invites I had to accompany Jo to her more private engagements, and even when I was being her pretty, ornamental bodyguard, I always had fun. Of course, sometimes she just instructed me to go out, mingle and tell her what I thought, and once she simply instructed me to enjoy myself. The floating pleasure palaces that host some of the casinos throw some of the most extravagant bashes there are and have always been my favorite. Well, there’s something to be said for dancing in the street to whatever band is currently holding court….hell, I love it all.
The one time she told me to just enjoy myself led to a whirlwind thirty-six hours that I’m still not sure how much of which was real. So, it started the evening before Mardi Gras proper. Jo’d told me we were going to a party and that she’d provided the outfit for me. The dress was a glorious bit of work, although the black and white feathers reminded me of another party about four years past, but I set that aside. I can’t really describe how glorious it was, a romantic style tutu of long layers of gauze, set with sparkling jewels, feathers, and occasionally patterned with harlequin-esque checkered diamonds in black and white. The bodice was décolleté cut, leaving my shoulders bare but for the sheer silk mesh, decorated in much the same way as the tutu. Oh, and I can’t forget the recurrent theme of swans. Opera gloves and then split sole ballet shoes, actually pointe shoes, all done to match. The domino styled mask was a marvel of artwork, featuring swans, feathers, and the monochrome color scheme to match. All this was completed with a feathered fan which made me consider all the mischief I could get up to with that.
I’d laughed when I’d finally understood it, turning towards Jo who leaned in the doorway, a faint smile on her angelic face. “Swan Lake?” I asked, unable to help from laughing. I picked up the shoes, wiggling them at Jo pointedly.
“What can I say?” she responded, holding her hands up helplessly. “I thought you might enjoy the chance to show off. If you don’t like it, we can get you another, but it seemed…appropriate.” When I grinned up at her she clapped her hands lightly in near girlish excitement and laughed. “Excellent! Let’s see to your hair.” Cue hours of primping for both of us that ended with our delivery to the dock where we’d be boarding onto the casino.
My hair had been dyed back to its natural black, coaxed into curls and then feathered and beaded. Two combs bit into my hair and held the mask in place, and the only bit of color in the ensemble was my very, very red stained lips. Jo was resplendent in airy blues and whites, looking rather like some kind of sylph. As we walked onto the deck of the ship she looked at me and smile, instructing, “go enjoy yourself. Flirt, drink, dance, make friends. All your normal things.” The men were dressed in suits, fairly conservative and almost old fashioned, for the most part, and the women in costumes as elaborate as my own. I imagined the invitation came with a dress code and that Jo took care of that, like she did many things.
That’s the last I saw of her besides little glimpses here and there. I entered the main room of the boat, styled like an old steam driven paddle boat, but larger, and was rather awestruck by the sheer amount of wealth I saw being thrown around. So, I decided that I would endeavor to spend none of my own yen, and continue the night as I had started: gleefully freeloading. I love masquerades, and eating, drinking and gambling with someone else’s money just makes it better for me. It went well for me, but then, I’ve always found men particularly easy to play when they let their guard down. It’s nothing special to men, but an awful lot of women don’t particularly like me which makes it a little harder. So I flirted and then danced, whispered husky half-promises and enticements. Sometimes I wouldn’t even bother with words, using my eyes and the coy flick of my fan as it hid half my face.
Part of the trick is never actually promising anything to anyone, but giving the impression that you just might. People are perverse and fickle. They’ll work much harder for something if it isn’t theirs yet, and the appeal of something novel, something unattainable is hard to match. So I never gave anyone everything they wanted before I detached myself and moved on to my next dalliance. Interestingly but not particularly surprisingly, I was rarely asked my name, and instead most of the men called me sweetheart, lovely, or some variation. Darling was a popular one. Not that I minded or even told anyone when I was asked. Mystery is a blessing. I know that there’re some things I only want if I can’t have. It’s an unfortunate trait, but at least I’m not alone in it.
So I reveled with my fellow masqueraders and passed from man to man as I grew bored, and someone offered me more. I drank champagne and took sips from the glasses of whoever I graced with my presence at the time. I ate delicious tidbits of food from people’s fingers and occasionally stole them from someone’s lips when it was offered that way, always careful to never let mine touch theirs. Behind the tantalizing and false privacy of my fan I teased whichever fellow I was with at the time with almost kisses and private whispers.
Whenever I got bored of fending off too familiar touches while laughing and smiling, although I did it with a charm and grace that made them want more, I’d join a gaggle of women almost seamlessly. We would talk and laugh, some of the comments and the laughter more pointed than others. But that’s a group of women, of course so I couldn’t really expect much less. “You have an admirer,” one of the women I’d gathered with close to midnight pointed out to me, gesturing with the flute of champagne she held. Another snorted and rolled her eyes behind her mask, drawling, “she has many.”
Amidst the twitters of laughter and fluttering of fans and hands and I actually looked at the admirer indicated. While he hadn’t approached me yet, I’d noticed his attentions, but he disappeared before I could approach him or even decide if I wanted to. It’s always useful to actually know who’s watching you at any given time, and slightly tipsy or not, I most certainly was aware of at least him. Mentally I’d catalogued him under tall, dark, and perfectly handsome. The man was wearing a perfect black suit, accented with midnight blue, and a simple mask to match and he looked like he’d stepped straight out of a trid. He moved with the self-confidence I tend to associate with either the very attractive or the combat trained. Given his muscular build, I could only hope he was both. It made him much more attractive.
So, between the lack of advancements and the simple fact I only caught glimpses….yeah, I only wanted what I didn’t have. So I settled for less interesting companions. One would be too gangly, one too overconfident, one too forward, one too sleazy…. I felt like fragging Goldilocks but these weren’t bears and there were way more than three. It seems…ridiculous? Unappreciative? Something, to complain about having options, but a surplus of them can be wearing. So, at some point, inevitably, it wore thin and I snuck out a door onto one of the upper…balcony deck thingies. Sue me; boats and ships are not my thing.
Lit sparsely with glass sconce light fixtures and mostly shadowed, I made my way aft towards the slow, steady sound of the paddles. The few people who wanted to be out in the muggy Mississippi night air out there on the river were towards the brightly lit lanterns hung forward and away from the sound of paddles against water. I leaned against the rail and fanned myself absently, the constant flick of the feathers creating another layer of soft sound. Which is how, at the time, I figured I didn’t hear anyone walk up behind me. Now? I’m not sure he walked at all.
“Odette or Odile?” Wrapped in southern charm, the low baritone whisper was exactly what people mean when they say bedroom voice. Said pretty much against the back of my neck, I jumped slightly and whirled, my fan shutting as I flicked it in surprise, finding myself chest to chest with my mystery man. He grinned down at me, rubbing the slight, black stubble on his chin and his deep sapphire eyes seeming to go down forever. I had the very distinct impression he could see right through me, mask or no, and it made me uncomfortable then. Also even more intrigued. “One moment I believe perhaps Odette, and then I begin to think Odile the next.”
In an attempt for coyness and control that was a little hard given the man standing far, far too close to me, I snapped the fan open before the lower half of my face, smiling behind it but allowing him to only see the expression in my eyes. “Who says I am either?” I asked, raising one eyebrow and trusting that he could see me or at least read the expression. “I might be a simple cygnet.”
He laughed and the sound made me want…all kinds of things. Mostly him though. “Such a ravishing young woman as yourself? No, there is nothing simple here.” His eyes strolled down my form in a leisurely perusal that warmed me to my toes and made me want to blush. It should have been clichéd, but it worked. “I could not believe you a simple cygnet for a single moment, mon coeur.” In response I smirked and then snapped the fan shut once more. I tapped it against his chest demandingly and then turned over the fan in my hand, offering it out to the man to hold. He grinned wider and stepped back as instructed, accepting the delicate feather and ivory confection that I handed him. Without a word I looked up and down the narrow deck before positioning myself to have the most space to move in the small space.
To demonstrate just how cygnet like I could be, I performed a fraction of danse des petits cygnes. It wasn’t quite the same without the other three dancers, and certainly not without the music, but my footwork through the delicate, precise piece and the look in his eyes told me it was more than sufficient to impress. “I admit,” I murmured as I flourished a bow and then straightened, holding my hand out to the man for my fan, “it is better in a pancake tutu, but I assure you, I am a perfect example of a mere cygnet.”
Placing the requested item into my palm, his fingers wrapped about mine and his other arm snaked about my waist, pulling me tight to him. He pulled my knuckles to his lips and pressed a kiss to them, his eyes piercing into mine. “Ravissant,” he practically growled against my glove and took one step forward, forcing me both against him and backwards. Another step and then another, and I followed as he led me with all the confidence I expect from my dance partners. He leaned forward, the scent of blood orange, spice and chocolate surrounding me. The man smelled like an exotic, decadent dessert, and I found myself famished. My mouth watered and I made a mental note, marked urgent, that I’d lose all air of mystery and intrigue if I drooled, so I swallowed hard. His lips grazed my ear and made the hair on the back of my neck prickle as he whispered to me in that same low growl. “You are certainly not fooling me, mon beau cygne. After all, I have been watching you all night. Your talent is evident, and you would be wasted on such a thing.”
His lips stroked over my cheekbone towards my lips and sirens went off in my head along with squealing sounds and clamors of Mayday! Mayday! Evident to anyone who might watch, but most especially me, I was quickly losing complete control of this situation. His lips hovered over mine and I drew a deep breath. “Ah, signore,” I purred, making a mad grab for something resembling influence over the way this moment was going and emphasizing the lilt of Italian accenting my tone. “I am afraid you have an advantage over me. You have not just one, but two names with which you could refer to me, but I have none at all for you.”
He paused, his breath still warming my lips and a part of me flailed and stomped in a temper, declaring that it didn’t care about such games and it just wanted him to fragging kiss me. With a step back her flourished an elegant bow over my still trapped hand, kissing my knuckles once more. “You, mon mignon, may call me LaCroix.” He flipped my hand delicately, pressing another slower kiss to the inside of my wrist as his deep blue eyes grinned up at me. A small, black cross-shaped charm sparkled at the very edge of his mask, shifting as he moved and finally catching my notice. “And you, lovely, what should I call you?”
My real name came straight to my mind and I barely caught it at the tip of my tongue. So he had charmed me, but I was not about to use that. “Luciana.” I smiled behind my fan and lowered it although I knew for sure he could tell simply by the warmth in my eyes. “But you could call me Luci, if you want.” Based on his grin, LaCroix would be one of those people who chose to call me by the full version of whatever name I used. I liked Luciana, but a part of me sighed in disappointment that it wasn’t my name, but I kept it from my face. Well, I think I kept it from my face.
“A pleasure to meet you,” he said to me with a sly smile and I just knew that he was aware I’d been full of drek about my name. Without asking he took my hand and, to the low strains of a waltz playing, spun me around and began to dance with me. Sweet Mary, the man could dance. Way back when, in the days the waltz was first introduced, it was considered by many to be an utterly scandalous dance that would lead to wickedness and sin and blah blah blah. Of course, these same people would all die of simultaneous aneurysm if they saw the bump and grind that goes on in your average run of the mill nightclub. So it’s not even that I specifically agree, by any means, but I can kind of see their point. It’s a graceful, elegant dance, and you hold yourself close to your partner. It’s hard not to fall a little in love, or well, more appropriately in lust with someone when you’re gazing into their eyes as you whirl around, feeling elegant and beautiful while your legs brush against each other.
The effect becomes even more pronounced, I think, when you have two expert dancers. Whether or not they’ve met, two dancers good enough can dance together like they’ve been doing it for years. It’s a thrilling sensation, knowing exactly what someone’s about to do simply from the way they subtly telegraph their motions, and then when you match them perfectly, complimenting every action, every step? That is a glorious thing, and I don’t experience it much and never have. Sort of a constant in my life is that while I’m surrounded by marvelously fit, physically skilled men (it’s just not the same waltzing with a woman, seriously), none of them are particularly interested in classical or ballroom dance and certainly not to the degree that leads one to spend years training. Not that I particularly blame them, it’s not exactly the manliest of pastimes, but now I’m off topic and just bitching.
A tango brought us further up the deck, but still away from the majority of the revelers. I leaned against the railing and he stood close to me and we talked, bantering back and forth with the same ease with which we danced. We flirted in low voices with little flicks of my fan and tiny caresses of our hands. It all blended together until I really, really wanted to be off the damn boat. As if thinking it prompted it, LaCroix rather abruptly asked, in a quite abrupt detour from our previous topic of conversation, “Can you swim?”
The casualness of the question and its out of the blue appearance should probably have tipped me off to something being wrong. In fact, it probably would have, but my stomach failed to alert me to anything being amiss, and I may have been staring into his eyes like a lovesick idiot marveling at how blue they were. If the question didn’t alert me, when he very familiarly reached around and grabbed my bottom, hoisting me onto the railing with a very pleased sounding, “excellent, mon cygnes,” when I confirmed that I can in fact swim, I probably should’ve picked up on something then. But nope, too busy being a mooncalf and getting all fluttery over the fact that he might finally be about to kiss me. That is where my night took a very sharp left turn and departed from what I had expected and been planning, and he tossed me into the Mississippi.
To my credit I didn’t scream hysterically, but if the fall had been a second longer I probably would’ve. The last thing I caught a glimpse of on the boat were two well dressed and incredibly muscular goons approaching where LaCroix and I had been, and the infuriating and still incredibly sexy man watched me with a faint smile and gave me a little wave. The short fall didn’t even give me time to get the single thought of what in the fragging hell? through my brain before I hit the water. That’s where a whole lot of thinking happened in a jumbled mess like several trains of thought colliding in a clusterfrag of crossed tracks.
I sank a little before kicking back up to the top, the feathers and fabric on my costume becoming instantly drenched. The elaborate mask with all its feathers poured water into my face and eyes, and I blindly reached up and ripped it off, shedding even more feathers and some beaded strands from my hair into the water. Tossing it aside, I swam, keeping my head above the surface and my mouth decidedly closed, away from the boat a short ways because slow moving though it might be, I didn’t relish the thought of getting clobbered by the paddle wheel or run over in general. Oh, and the commentary in my brain went like this: Oh my God, I’m in the Mississippi and there are alligators and devil jack diamonds and BEHEMOTH and bloody giant mutant catfish and I’m in the Mississippi! The Mississippi! AGH! Ew ew ew I need a shower right now. WHAT WAS THAT? What just brushed my leg!? I’m going to get eaten! I’m too young to be an alligator’s snack!
I stopped to tread water and prepare myself for the possibility of alligator (if I was only a little unlucky) wrestling, and figure out what the frag I did then. Of course, my internal tirade was only getting more and more panicked, so I mentally took a moment to slap myself across both cheeks and give a yell of Dammit Vera, get ahold of yourself! I’d lost my fan at that point, but I felt the strong need to go find myself a chaise longue to recline on and fan myself while going on about feeling faint. Apparently I was getting in touch with my inner southern belle which is funny because I’m not southern. At all.
Since nothing was actively trying to eat or maim me, I decided that my best bet was to figure out which was the best bank to get on and then make for New Orleans. I was trying to puzzle through that as I had no idea where the frag I was when some sort of watercraft made its way silently up behind me and someone unceremoniously grabbed me beneath my arms and hauled me into the boat. I hadn’t really noticed there being anything that close up behind me, so my response to getting grabbed was to, quite embarrassingly, shriek and then flail about in an incredibly useful and really professional looking manner. Years of combat training? Completely ignored in face of the southern belle that I was channeling oh so much.
Dropped into the bottom of the small boat, I swept my hands of my eyes to rid them of any remaining water and also the damp strands of my hair and glared up at LaCroix who couldn’t help but laugh down at me, his eyes sparking with amusement. “The frag was that for?” I demanded rather angrily which I think can be justified. As I looked him over I noted that his suit was still impeccable and he wasn’t wet or mussed in the least. “That is so unnatural!” I accused next, pushing up on my elbows and looking over the low sides of the boat. It sort of reminded me of a really simple rowboat, but it didn’t have paddles, and it didn’t have any motor that I could see, and we were definitely moving and it barely made a sound as it glided through the water. That left turn the night took? Yeah, that’s where everything got fragging strange too. Just in case my point hadn’t been made clear enough, I repeated, “so unnatural.”
LaCroix, rather infuriatingly, continued to chuckle and simply shook his head, sitting at the back of the boat on a low bench and grinning widely. “Oh Luciana, I was thinking that it might be nice to spend some time just the two of us, and some old friends of mine had suddenly noticed my presence.” I somehow doubted they were friends. “I do hope you can forgive the rudeness, mon cygnes.” I lay back in the boat and stared up at the clouded night sky. The white on my outfit was showing pretensions of being see through in places, and had successfully achieved it in others. This didn’t bother me so much, but I did mourn the fact that it was irrevocably ruined, and the loss of that mask. I had quite enjoyed it.
Begrudgingly I forgave him, after a few moments of sulking, and we came into a comfortable silence, the only sounds around us those of the nighttime on the Mississippi. It was oddly peaceful, but only because no biting insects had found me. How LaCroix steered or propelled the boat, I didn’t ask and tried not to think about too hard. It didn’t seem to matter, and I relaxed, folding one hand over my chest and tucking the other behind my head as a pillow. Slowly I came to terms with the fact that my night was not by any means a complete bust, as it was currently very early in the morning, and I was with a very handsome, charming man. Getting back to the city a bit early wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
Eventually, however, I realized that increasingly I was seeing canopy over the waterway we traveled through, and that it was just a bit too quiet. Sitting bolt upright, I looked around, seeing nothing but bayou, and blurted, quite loudly and accusingly, “this is not the way back to New Orleans!” LaCroix flashed me a wide smile, showing off his rather fantastic white teeth. “Are you trying to kidnap me?” I demanded oh so brilliantly, my eyes narrowing as I studied him. A little caustically, I kept on talking, not very much appreciating that smile. “Oh great, I got thrown into the fragging Mississippi and then kidnapped by an admittedly very sexy, but probably insane human!” Ending with a distinct huff, I crossed my arms over my chest. I may have still been a little drunk, or a certain section of the middle of that would likely have been omitted.
LaCroix just laughed, his deep blue eyes twinkling at me as he lounged on the bench he sat on. “Well, I’m not really kidnapping you, mon cygnes, so much as borrowing you.” Suddenly his countenance turned serious and he said with the certainty of a man whose either telling the truth or lying incredibly well, “I swear by the stars in the heavens and my name that I will see you to your place of residence, completely unharmed, by dawn.” That twinkle of laughter reentered his gaze as he looked over at me and added, “and strictly speaking, I am neither human nor metahuman, but it is a common mistake, I assure you.”
I believed him whole heartedly because there’s just some things that, despite my tendency towards mistrust, ring true. There are also some things that, on hearing, achieve a certain level of pucker factor no matter what. A casual admission to not being (meta)human? Yeah. So I didn’t think he was kidnapping me, but now I didn’t know what he was. Did that pronoun even apply? LaCroix watched me and then busted out laughing, the sound raucous and loud, even on the unquiet bayou. Shortly after, I joined him. Sometimes you just get a feeling about people and I liked LaCroix from the start.
For the rest of our travel up the still water, I sprawled in the bottom of the boat, staring out of the water as we talked. He explained what he was, and confessed that I looked rather fun and he had a weakness for ballet and, in particular Swan Lake. Eventually we pulled up at a low, rickety dock, and he helped me out of the boat with the flawless grace of a gentleman. An equally rickety and dilapidated house greeted us, a little ways from the dock. House might have been a generous term for it, maybe cabin? A large space had been cleared of the thick undergrowth and trees, and it looked like someone was having a completely rip-roaring party in the middle of the swamp. Go figure.
Lanterns hung in lines, strung up between tall posts, and a live band played on a slightly precarious looking wooden stage. A quick scan of the gathered crowd and I estimated that there were easily over a hundred people, laughing, dancing, eating and drinking the night away. The dancing couples performed an open position partner dance that I didn’t recognize it and I itched to go try my hand. However, I smelled like swamp and looked a mess, even if I had dried out at least a little, so I hesitated when LaCroix put his arm about my waist to guide me towards the party. “I look like drek,” I protested under my breath, dragging my feet.
His blue eyes swept over me and he shook his head, disagreeing cordially, “you look ravishing, mon cygnes, but if it makes you feel better…” He waved his hand at me and I prickled all over, as if my entire body had just fallen asleep completely and then woken up. The water damage to my clothing disappeared and my hair neatened itself, moving from the bedraggled curls to the more natural wave, and the immediate stink of swamp stopped assaulting my nose, from myself anyway. “Happy?” I really, really was. LaCroix steered me towards the trestle tables that lined one side of the clearing, sporting an ungodly amount of food and drink. When I looked up at him in question, since I’d made a few noises about wanting to dance, he chuckled and mentioned, “it would be quite rude not to say hello to our host, would it not?”
As soon as he said the words, a short, stocky man in a top hat and tails meandered his way towards us, a bottle in one hand and a trio of cups held in the other. “LaCroix!” he greeted boisterously, his teeth flashing whitely against his dark skin and his eyes hidden behind sunglasses. I personally have never understood why some people insist on wearing sunglasses at night. It seems a little absurd to me, and like you’re just asking to walk into a post. “I see you decided to come after all.” He settled the cups on the table beside him and began to pour what smelled like rum into each cup from that unmarked bottle. “And you brought a guest, I see. Good good.” There was the very faintest hint of creole in the background of his accent, but I almost wondered if I imagined it, it was so slightly.
“This is Luciana,” LaCroix commented, pushing me forward a tiny bit. I gave a little bob of a curtsey as it seemed appropriate at the time and tried to repress my shiver when the older man took my hand and kissed my knuckles, bidding me welcome. He didn’t feel quite right. His skin was a little too cold, a little too smooth, almost waxy. I became highly suspicious, and that only grew when LaCroix gestured to the man brushing his lips to my hand, stating, “This is Papa G.”
Yeah. Well, that drink was definitely rum. Definitely. Cue the right lens of his glasses popping out, to much cursing on his part. The little bit of dark coated plastic tumbled beneath the table and he groused to himself, “And I liked those ones….” Shaking his head in resignation he didn’t bother to go hunting, and instead handed me a drink, then LaCroix one, and then kept one for himself. Absently raising his glass in a silent toast, he drained it and then poured himself another one. “You two young’uns enjoy the party.” With that, almost absently, he turned away, and LaCroix grinned, downing his drink as I stared at mine thoughtfully.
“That wasn’t…” I started haltingly, staring first at the retreating man and then looking up at LaCroix, my eyes probably massive. “…was it?” He laughed and patted my side, gesturing for me to drink, and then leading me towards the dance floor.
“After a fashion, yes,” he finally answered as he drew me into his arms, twirling me at the start of yet another waltz. Since LaCroix didn’t offer to elaborate, I didn’t ask further, because it seemed rude and maybe a bit ill-advised, just given the tenor of his silence. We danced and drank, and eventually I removed my shoes, preferring to be barefoot in the night. It wasn’t the party I had expected, but it was a hell of a shindig. LaCroix kept his promise and dropped me off outside of Jo’s townhouse just before dawn, brushing a kiss to my knuckles and informing me he’d see me tomorrow, on Mardi Gras proper.
I went upstairs and fell into my bed, not stirring until the evening at which point I woke up, bathed and then dressed in the costume for the evening. Garbed as a fire sprite in brilliant reds and oranges, I barely managed to get my knee-high boots on before I ran out the door into the dusk. LaCroix waited for me across the street and I felt a moment of elation when I spotted him. He looked me over and the blue accents to him changed to bright crimson, even his eyes turning the shade. I laughed and walked to him, taking his offered hand, and allowed him to lead me into the crowd.
So, to be honest, I don’t really remember the night. There’s bits and pieces of it that I can put together, and I remember a couple vivid images, but the exact details are sort of lost to me. Really, I sort of have a list of things that I distinctly recall being a part of the night in no particular order and with no particular relation. That might be due to the four and three quarters bottles of rum that I consumed. Alone or with help, I can’t remember, but I sort of hope it was with assistance. At some point, I’m pretty sure there was a police horse that, well, it may not have been police, but it was a horse, and I don’t know how else to explain it. There was also a goat that I recall being enamored, but I couldn’t say with what, and I can’t explain why it was in the middle of New Orleans. That was it in terms of hooved animals.
LaCroix and I played a short lived game that involved stealing people’s wallets and/or credsticks and replacing them with another in which at least twenty-five wallets were redistributed. He won, but I maintain that he cheated (the cheater). I recall exactly 0.175 liters of paraffin that I can’t explain (like everything else) but I imagine some of it was used in probably a fire dance. That’s my best use for it, and I am positive that there was dancing. I vividly recall one incredibly sexy dance that may or may not have interrupted a Voodoo service. I’m not precisely sure, I was pretty distracted at the time, but LaCroix swears it did.
There was something in a park, potentially, because I’m pretty sure there was a sorely abused park bench, not in the way most people would think, honestly, and also a rather unfortunately placed gardenia bush. Or at least, I think it was a gardenia bush. I’m not a botanist and I wasn’t strictly paying it tons of attention. There was a pair of handcuffs and I definitely lost the key to them, but I’m not sure it was particularly important, all things considered.
Scattered throughout the night there were five and a half police officers that we encountered for a variety of reasons and with a variety of responses. The half a cop was a dwarf and a rookie, because I’m not a complete racist. Coincidentally there were six (not five and a half) ridiculously ill-timed and incredibly ribald jokes told, not all of which were accompanied by a cop. Unfortunately, I can only really recall two and a third of them, and they’re so bad I can’t really bring myself to write them down.
The most ridiculous thing to me is that I have a vivid memory of flooding a men’s restroom while attempting to dispose of sixteen kilos of somewhat incriminating Mardi Gras beads. I wish to everything I could offer explanation for that, and sincerely hope that it wasn’t actually sixteen kilos, but that’s exactly what I recall. The last vivid recollection of mine occurred at around 2AM I think, and nothing about what I did was particularly brilliant. In an attempt to make the free spirit I was with jealous since he’d gotten distracted I engaged in a brash make out session with what I’m pretty sure was a vampire. Frag, phrased like that it sounds incredibly stupid. It directly led to an impressively sized bar brawl with three stooges level comedy, and a brief encounter with one and a half of the police officers I mentioned earlier.
At some point I made it into bed at Jo’s place. At some point I woke up the next day feeling like death warmed over and perhaps slightly congealed. At that moment I remembered even less of the two evenings than I do now, and spent much of the next few days contemplating whether I’d imagined the entire damn thing or what the hell I’d been smoking. I contemplated and questioned whether or not he was a fabrication of my potentially very drunk and maybe somewhat drugged up brain, and never did get a satisfactory answer from myself. A week later a package, marked for me, appeared on my bed. In it was the mask I had lost to the Mississippi, or a perfect replica, pristine and perfect on a bed of black gauze. It came without card or note, but I can get a message clear enough.
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Joined: 26 Aug 2010
Date Posted: Sun Aug 04, 2013 4:19 am
Subject: Entry #19 - Happy Fraggin' Birthday
I hate my birthday.
Hate doesn’t really adequately describe what I feel towards it. Loathe? Despise? Abhor? Ah, it still doesn’t really convey the emotion. Not at all. I refuse to celebrate my actual birthday, and I spin it as, since I used to move every half a year or so, a habit born out of greed. I get more presents if I declare when my birthday is, right? That’s not really why, and I still only actually celebrate once a year or so. The reason, like so many things, goes back to my sister.
I celebrated my first fourteen birthdays together with my twin. For most people a birthday is their special day, they don’t share it. I was never alone, and it was ours. So even when I denied the very fact that I ever had a sister, I couldn’t ever forget on our birthday. Ultimately, I find myself back in New York, normally for just a day or two, and it’s the few times I didn’t tell any of my friends or contacts there. Chip knows because he maintains and secures the storage locker where I keep memories and the like, and he knows when it’s accessed, and put it all together. He’s also, of all my friends, the only one who would instinctively understand that I want to be alone, and so he’s never shown up, and never told Charlie or Meifeng, thank frag. I love them dearly, but they’d want to show their support, or some other drek.
So, every time it rolls around I get a bottle of vodka or tequila, sometimes both, and go sit in a battered folding chair I tucked into the place just for that and drink. I watch and listen to old recordings of recitals and performances, of little snippets of our life that either Neri or I recorded, or sometimes Charlie or Chip. I thumb through the photographs she took with the black and white film camera that was her fourteenth birthday present from our parents, and try and fail not to look at the camera itself and dwell. I look at the matched set of pink pointe shoes and know which are mine from the wear on them, and read through the few bits of writing Neri did. Not her best work, to be honest, writing was not where her talents lay. Eventually and inevitably, I make it to her sketchbooks and the framed and mounted paintings. At that point, more often than not, I’m well and truly drunk.
Normally I end with a pair of stuffed tigers that were given to us on our fifth birthday. One’s a white tiger, and the other the normal vibrant orange and was originally given to me. Neri liked the colors on it better, and wanted it, and so I gave it to her, because I gave her everything she asked from me. So, I stroke their still soft fur, and bury my nose into them and they smell, achingly, nothing at all like home, and then I place them back in their box to protect them from the dust, and leave.
It’s just about tradition now. Six years of making my liver cry for mercy as I try to feel closer to my sister again. It’s appallingly…dramatic, but this entire thing is when I think on it too much. Every now and again I think that some good old-fashioned arson might set me free, but I’d miss the place. There’s more things in that locker than just from my life, well, before, and I have souvenirs from everywhere I’ve been, and mementos of all kind, some good, some bad. But those aren’t the ones I care about on my birthday.
Shortly after I arrived in Seattle I turned twenty. As always, my birthday rolled around and I suddenly and inexplicably (but not really) split and ran off to New York. Hastily made travel plans are not my favorite and I prefer to drive, as opposed to fly. I don’t like flying. It makes my stomach unhappy and somewhat prone to rather melodramatic shivers and wriggles as if my spleen somehow got a very small taser and decided to go at it and my liver might make a safe refuge. But fly I will, when I must. Potentially with some amount of prayer, which doesn’t exactly sweeten the deal on it so far as I’m concerned.
After the normal birthday ritual I did what I always do and wandered into a random rough and tumble bar in Terminal to drink more. I sat on the shortest edge of the bar, propped up against the wall, tucked far out of the way and out of mind, for the rest of the patrons. Having given the bartender a hefty sum to start my night, and informing him to keep my drink full, whatever the case, he’d shrugged and done exactly that, even if I was skirting what would be fatal alcohol poisoning for all but the most hardened of troll alcoholics. That night, I didn’t even look like myself…at least, not the one most people are familiar with. Without the flamboyantly colored hair and dress, I do a much better job of flying under the radar and without notice. So for once, with my hair, at least temporarily, dyed back to black, and my clothing consisting of boots, a t-shirt, jeans and a light jacket, I became nothing extraordinary and just me; a younger, sadder version.
Sitting on the wobbly stool with no back and getting falling down drunk was proving a bit too much for my sense of balance and safety, and I didn’t feel like an undignified tumble onto my rump, and wound up propping myself up against the wall. At the time, it seemed best not to consider what might be on the thing since I didn’t think the place had been cleaned in an age and a half. My world narrowed to the drink before me, and the distance between it and my mouth. I didn’t watch the other patrons, even when a small scuffle broke out, I didn’t watch whatever was playing on the battered trid set, and I didn’t care. The world didn’t seem to be watching me either.
Which is why I started and jerked forward, spilling some of my drink, when a low, resonant voice called to the bartender from my elbow. “I’ll buy the lady’s next drink.” My head felt full and unsteady on my neck and the world wobbled slightly as I twisted to face the man who smiled slyly at me, his cybereyes a brilliant, venomous neon yellow with equally neon blue striations intermixed with streaks of black. His pointed ears peeked through his hair, that he’d dyed black from what, to my recollection, was a muddied dun color. He had a face that would’ve been handsome except for the fact that my fingers itched to reach out and pry his cybernetic eyeballs out. It sort of makes it hard to appreciate attractiveness no matter the level. Poison’s pale skin, one step from sickly, contrasted with his lean, perfect physique.
It was a glance at his muscles, shown off by the ripped off sleeves of the shirt he wore, that decided my very drunk self against trying to wrap my fingers around his throat and squeezing until he turned blue. My stomach flipped over and gave an unhappy gurgle that I’m pretty sure was actually silent, protesting the amount of booze going through it and the proximity to him. The drek with Charlie and Poison and everything went so far back, and even though I’d been there, ultimately it was their feud. I was at the periphery of it, but because of my relationship with Charlie, the slothead in front of me targeted me…but not in the way I would’ve necessarily anticipated.
It had started, initially, with propositions for work. Small things to start, nothing dangerous, and nothing that’d interfere with the rest of the group. He did it, I think, not because he actually thought I’d do anything for him, but because it irked Charlie. Since I hit the age of eighteen, he’d moved to a different sort of proposition, taking advantage of the knowledge that once upon a time, we’d been an item. Even if Charlie and I are now just friends, he wouldn’t take it very well…not that I have any intention of screwing the man. Ever. For one thing, it’s somewhat disturbing that he’s so determined on jamming a woman who’d like to see him dead. I’ve even made a couple of attempts on his life, although I still haven’t succeeded. No one else has either.
It’s not that he’s been stupid about it. For one thing, he has a tendency to approach me when I’m wasted or the collateral damage would be just too high. Case in point. I narrowed my eyes and snorted, speaking slowly so my alcohol muddled tongue wouldn’t slur or fumble over anything. “Don’t mind that bit of solar wind. The lady will pay for her own drinks.”
His low chuckle made those tiny hairs on the back of my neck rise in slow prickles and I tried not to grind my teeth together. “You don’t mind if I sit, do you?” I definitely did, but he didn’t give me a chance to protest before he sat himself on the stool beside me, keeping on talking. “You look lonely, Vera.” I hate it when people do that, and I hate that a number of people in the biz’re in on my real name, the ones I didn’t share it with, anyway. At least that’s how it is in New York. While it’s not the biggest secret, it’s still galling to hear people use it in place of what I’ve chosen. Well, two could play that game.
I sighed heavily and lowered my head to the lip of my glass, taking a swallow of the harsh whatever the frag it was I was drinking at the time. “Maybe I’m just enjoying a bit of solitude, Dorsey,” I drawled and gave him a significant look that I’m pretty sure was meant to indicate that I’d just given him his signal to split.
All I got in response was that drek-eating grin of his as he leaned in close to me. Too close. I wanted to shy away from his presence but there was nowhere to go, I was already pressed up against the wall. Instead I just shot him a moderately disgusted look and shifted myself around, protectively crossing my arms over my body. “There’s no need to be like that,” he drawled and I disagreed quite a bit, at least to myself. He just kept talking though. “It was a long time ago, and it was just business. Nothing personal.”
The words stung and rubbed at the already raw ends of my nerves, burning like salt in an open wound. It’s such bull, saying that; a load of fragged up, worthless trash that the corps spew when they frag us. I didn’t quite register that my hand was in motion up until it cracked against his cheek, my open palm leaving a bright red mark on his face, snapping his head to the side even as it did no real damage. Given that I probably couldn’t stand on my own and that it’s a miracle I even managed to hit him at all, his response was, in my opinion, a little extreme.
His fingers knit in my hair, grabbing a fistful of it and using it to yank my head back sharply. My hand wrapped about his wrist and up around his hand, trying to pry loose his grasp, and the other braced against the edge of the bar, trying to push myself back in a desperate attempt for escape. I could feel his lips brush against my ear as he hissed into it, “always have to be such a frigid slitch, don’t you, Vera?” Even straining to escape, I wasn’t in much condition to escape him slamming my face into the bar. Pain exploded in what felt like my entire face, radiating out from my nose and I saw, at least for a few moments, pretty, pretty lights that danced in the darkness that subsumed my gaze. I could feel blood start to flow rather freely from my nose, some of it making its way into my mouth when he yanked me back up.
Levering me from the seat without releasing my hair, he wrapped an arm about my waist, practically holding me off my feet. The bartender actually looked like he might object to my treatment and imminent abduction, but Dorsey tossed some bills onto the bar which shut his mouth. The mercenary nature of bartenders, particularly in low security rated zones, never fails to amuse me, and I laughed shortly, spraying a bit of blood-flecked spittle into the air. That no one else particularly noticed, to my eye anyway, or mustered anything more than apathy or faint curiosity didn’t come as a surprise either. So he got to haul me out a back door and into a steamy New York night: too warm, sticky with humidity and rank with the unpleasant scents of a near Z-Zone: stale piss, booze, sex and an undertone of deprivation and desperation. I sure know how to choose the nicest places in Terminal.
My feet scrambled and flailed, tripped and twisted as he hauled me along. Dorsey or Poison or whatever I was calling him at that point threw me into the opposite wall of the narrow alleyway, knocking the breath from my body as he slammed himself into me, keeping his weight pressing me tight to the unforgiving surface of the wall. His hand wrapped about my throat, not squeezing, just holding, forcing my chin upwards so that I looked into his eyes that appeared to glow slightly in the darkness. The other slapped me hard across the face and then grabbed my wrist, bashing that hand into the wall and then keeping it pressed there and I was rather shocked to find a knife dropped from my startled fingers. I didn’t remember even drawing it at all, but when I feel threatened, I grab a blade. It makes me feel better, more secure, and sometimes it does me jack. He just as quickly managed to grab my free hand, catching them both up and pinning them above my head, and I didn’t struggle anymore because at least for a second, I was all out of fight.
Poison studied me with an irritated sort of distance, seeming just as surprised as me by the position he had me in. Finally he heaved a long sigh, that hand about my throat pressing upwards and grasping my chin, the tips of his fingers seeming to caress against my cheek. “Always picking fights with people bigger than you, hunh, Vera?” he murmured, leaning in close enough that I could smell the mix of minty toothpaste and alcohol on his breath. “Ever since you were little and I guess that’s why Charlie always liked you. All that spirit.” His smile grew into a wide, toothy affair. My, what big teeth you have, I thought to myself rather weakly. “I always figured it meant you’d be a wildcat in bed.”
I bared my teeth in a little snarl, blood staining my lips and still trickling from my nose. “We’re going there, are we, Dorsey?” I asked with a short laugh, giving him a mocking once over. “I always thought you, at least, were a little above that. Even just a smidgeon.” I managed to get my hand to cooperate and, still trapped against the wall, brought my forefinger and thumb together to show just how much of a smidgeon it was. Utterly tiny. “But guess I’m wrong…just try it, Dorsey.” I clicked my teeth together quietly in a bit of a menacing display. Kitties bite, right? It actually occurs to me now that he was doing a mighty good job of keeping me from leaning forward and getting a bite of him. I guess he remembered when I removed a couple knuckles off of someone.
My skull rebounded off the brick when he backhanded me, the tender inside of my cheek ripping against my teeth. Okay, so mocking the man currently holding my very drunk ass against a wall was not a good idea. It was my birthday though, and I don’t have good ideas on my birthday. My scraped, bruised cheek could attest to that, on top of my broken nose. I just laughed, a harsh sound filled with phlegm and offered him a dazed, drunken smile. Personally, I don’t buy into the whole thing about men shouldn’t raise a hand against women. Beating someone defenseless or simply that much weaker than you in a fit of temper, not that I count myself innocent of this, is such a base, low thing to do, and I grant that most women are more defenseless than I, particularly compared to those bigger than us who have all the advantages that go with. But me? A refusal to hit me based on my gender alone seems almost offensive, not that I won’t take advantage of it when offered. It’s saved my life, here and there.
But I’m not going to frag a man who’ll hit me, just like that, to say nothing of…everything else. The tightening of his fingers around my throat and wrists to the point of bruising sort of supported my point, after all. I’ve never been sure if he’d try to kill me or not, for all he’s shown no inclination to do so. Making claims as to understanding the exact inner workings of his mind are beyond me. My anger clouds my ability to comprehend.
More blood flooded my mouth, salty and tangy with iron from the split inside of my cheek and it tasted like futility. Briefly, just for a moment, I considered not fighting back at all, simply allowing him to continue unimpeded, but a sobering mix of adrenaline and outrage saw me with the motivation to act against him. Even with my mouth dry from too much booze and a sour mix of old sorrow and current pain – and fear, can’t forget that – I could still spit a mix of blood and saliva (mostly blood) into Poison’s synthetic, luridly colored eyes.
Even though it would hardly even sting he still recoiled, the instinct to protect his eyes just far too ingrained to be overridden by considerations like the fact that those eyes of his would barely be bothered by it, once he blinked it away. It didn’t buy me much except for a moment of distraction and for just a split second, his weight left me as he cringed backwards just a little. It wasn’t a lot, but it sufficed. Even though my mind floundered, my body knew exactly what to do.
I kicked one of my legs up and around, wrapping it over his arm as I twisted my hips out to the side. Too fast for him to respond I flicked the other leg up, catching the arm between my legs, squeezed, and did what came naturally and fell, taking him with me as the sudden redistribution of my weight got the best of his balance. He released my hands and throat in an attempt to get away before I mangled his arm, and briefly, just briefly, I considered seeing if I could finish the fight and come out on top.
I didn’t stay around to try. I was drunker than a skunk (where the frag does that saying come from anyway?) and already rattled and bruised. I’d rather not die in a stinking alley in New York, personally. For one thing, I quite liked Seattle. Among other things, there was this guy I found pretty interesting and I wanted to see where things went. Rolling my legs up over my head in a graceless summersault, I scrambled to my feet out of his immediate reach. Then I ran.
I made it three blocks before I had to stop. After briefly determining that I wasn’t being pursued, I braced my hand against a wall, throwing up the sour acid and strong alcohol that filled my stomach along with the distant memory of my last meal. Glowering down at the mess, I made it another two blocks to some tiny corner store that was still, miraculously for me, open at that god-forsaken hour. I get the suspicion that the skinny ork manning the counter thought I might rob him for a moment, but all I did was snag two bottles of water and a tube of antibiotic ointment. Dropping them onto the counter along with a crumpled bill, my last for the night which meant that whatever accommodations I sought, I’d be paying for by credstick, I cheerily asked him for the bathroom key.
At least, I tried for cheery and probably just achieved a false sweetness in my rough, slurred voice, which just made him look more nervous. Since I left him a note that greatly exceeded the cost of the items in my hand, he just nodded and handed it over. When I got there, I had to question why the frag they even bothered since the place was a grimy mess. Great. I still needed to clean up so I wasn’t wandering around looking like I’d just stumbled out of a fight that I most certainly lost. Frankly, any fight you’re still living after is a win in my book, although I do prefer to come out less battered.
Staring at myself in the spotted, cloudy mirror I grimaced at my reflection. Blood covered my chin and lips, shadowed my nostrils, and stained my teeth when I bared them at myself. My skin had split on the bridge of my nose and it was undoubtedly broken. One side of my face bore a red mark from being slapped and threatened bruises as well, and the other was already turning interesting colors, marked with abrasions and smeared slightly with blood from where it’d made contact with the rough wall. Tipping my chin upwards I saw the marks that would likely turn into finger shaped bruises about my throat and jawline. Gorgeous.
Gingerly I washed my mouth out, swishing around several mouthfuls of water and spitting them into the sink, watching the red tinted, acidic tasting water as it sluggishly drained from the dirty basin. Next I removed the blood as best I could from my mouth and nose before moving on. I washed off my cheek and the blood from it, dabbing it with the ointment and then tenderly doing the same to my nose. Hesitantly I traced my fingers along the currently uneven ridge of cartilage and bone. Before I could overthink the issue I placed fingers on either side of my nose and very firmly straightened it.
Bright lights bloomed in front of my eyes and I gasped at the pain. I blinked until I could see my reflection again, reflecting all the while that I should’ve just let a professional see to it, and that a visit to a street doc who owed me a favor was now in order. The cranky old dwarf wouldn’t much appreciate me hammering on his door this early, but going and finding Meifeng wasn’t gonna happen. I couldn’t handle that level of concern and care.
I narrowed my eyes at my reflection, and lifted one hand, catching sight of scraped knuckles on it, and pointed a finger accusingly towards the mirror. “Happy fraggin’ birthday.”
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