fanatic (part one)
a waking nightmare
It tasted like nothing.
Just the flavor of the mint and soda water. Not even the rum hit her tongue - it must have been top shelf to taste like it wasn't there. It just faded against her palate, making it all too easy to down the beverage as she waved appreciatively to the doe-eyed, dark-haired man down the bar. A gift from him, he'd said when he sat it next to her and made brief small talk. They were on different playing fields; it was obvious in his gaze that he knew it. He was handsome, in his own way, but lacked the confidence to hook her. Not to mention the photograph of her and Ben Reilly smiling happily that was set as her phones background, illuminated by an incoming text. His face had faltered almost imperceptibly, but she caught it. He was nice about it; he smiled and wished her a good night to return to his spot three yards away. How nice.
It felt like nothing. Just the dip of her chin as fatigue set in.
"One too many, whoops." A reassuring smile towards the bartender who quirked a blond brow her direction while he shined a glass. The words were almost apologetic as they came out. She was fully grown, this wasn't her first rodeo. She'd counted her drinks, paced herself.
I did have a light lunch. She rationalized as the screen in her hands blurred while she tried to open the Uber app.
And I did spend an extra hour at the gym.
The palm of her left hand gripped the edge of the bar as she fought her own inebriation, feeling the well of embarrassment that she'd let herself get this far.
And I... And...
A warm palm on her upper arm, firm, holding her upright and suddenly the kind face of the man from down the bar was invading her peripheral vision. He smiled, and she did her best to return it even as the edges of the world softened into mush and her knees began to lose their ability to bear her weight.
"Looks like you could use a hand." Wordlessly, she tried to express her gratitude for his assistance, her lithe frame losing strength by the second as he shuffled her towards the exit. "Come on, let's get you home. He uttered it with such sincerity. Such delicate intimacy, the way a lover might murmur an invitation to bed.
The cold air stung her skin but her senses were too dull to express it. Just a furrow of her crimson brow against the abuse of the December chill of New York City. She expected to stop by the street so that they could hail her a cab and she could be on her way, but she was shuffled further down the street towards a dark blue late-model sedan.
"I forgot to mention." His words formed plumes of steam in the frigid night, breathing becoming slightly labored as he supported more and more of her rapidly dropping weight. He hitched her against him, wrapping an arm firmly at her waist and propping her against his hip as they reached the car. The passenger side door was negotiated open, his fingers digging against her side as he half hoisted, half rolled her into the seat. Consciousness was fading, her head lulling to the side, and nothing but her eyes following his movements as he bent over her to latch the seat buckle over her lap. His eyes lingered on the hem of her skirt and where it fell several inches above where it should have been, exposing the milky paleness of her thighs. The pads of his fingers brushed her skin, prickling goosebumps along her arms as he tugged the fabric down to grant her further modesty. Warm breath met her ear just as he was retreating from the passenger side, his nose brushing her mane of red tresses. "You're even more beautiful now than when you were younger."
It bloomed in her like a white hot iron against flesh, searing her from the inside out. The door closed with a metallic snap, and the struggle to stay conscious while he made his way to the drivers seat began.
So stupid. She should have known. She was smarter than this. Blinded by flattery, kept silent by her ego when she thought she'd simply had too much - but now the pieces stitched themselves together neatly in front of her. His gift of a drink had been a wolf in sheeps clothing. And as darkness descended upon her and the last glimmers of alertness left her, she found despair yawning inside her. How foolish, how foolish.
It had tasted like nothing.
And now all she had was nothing. Black on black, thoughtless, senseless, nothing.
Consciousness glimmered on the brink, sizzling like the static on an aging television. Her bearings coming to her first in sensation: her weight slung against her underarms where strong hands gripped her. The slide of her heels scuffing along what felt like hardwood, her body limp save for the weary lull of her head. It went unnoticed by the man whom dragged her. The smell of cologne, body wash, an expensive musk with the subtle burn of aged scotch to underscore it.
Scotch, because he'd been nervous.
Through slowly focusing vision she could make out the layout of a spartan house. Little more than nearly empty bookshelves and cases of wholesale goods could be seen. Someone had been stocking up.
No sound was made from her, all too aware that she was still in no state to be defending herself. She longed for her Hellcat suit and the comfort it gave her to crawl within it's persona. But this was not the time - it would do her no good to reveal her alter ego when she had no means to truly fulfill her title.
The hands lowered her, taking care to support her limp neck as she was put to rest on the floor for a moment. Well-shined shoes made their circle around her to press buttons on an unseen keypad. It bleeped agreeably, to be followed by the subtle shhhk, clik! of a door being opened.
Once again the hands hooked beneath her arms, drawing sore spots into her soft flesh as his fingertips drove her weight backwards.
Through the vantage of her thick lashes she could see a bedroom, the likes of which bore familiarity to something she could not place just yet. Not through the slowly lifting fog.
She was pulled to the bed, laid against the plush of high thread count sheets. She expected the worst. Braced herself for what inevitably would come, steeling some part of her mind away as she awaited a foreign touch.
It never came.
Nothing but the gentle ting of a fingernail rapping against glass, then the sharp bite of a needle prick in the lean muscle of her upper arm.
Then darkness. Always darkness.
"You must be hungry." The voice broke the inky darkness before she'd fully realized that she was stirring to life once again.
Warm bread, cheese, the spice of pepperoni and grease, it all filled her nostrils with a sense of familiarity. Cobalt eyes opening slowly to find a closed box being offered to her.
"It's not good for you, but I know it's your favorite." The words were offered with some meager insistence, a voice she recognized from the bar, from the car ride to this place. It was only a matter of time before her vision sought out the equally familiar face. The same wide, deep, doe-eyes and reasonably handsome features.
She refused his gift, sitting in stalwart silence until a sigh was heaved and his weight was lowered to the edge of the bed beside her.
"You need to eat. And drink. You're probably dehydrated." The gentle tone drew goosebumps up her arms, and she was appalled to find that both body and voice seemed incapable of hurling the vitriol she felt towards him. Petrified. Both fight and flight abandoned her. As their eyes met, his tongue clicked in the way a mother's might when a child neglected to eat their vegetables. "Have it your way."
The cheery mechanical burble of her text tone roused her, filling her with a sense of normalcy for a fleeting moment. Sure that she was just waking from a nightmare, her hand sought first to feel for a warm body at her side. For him, her paramour, for Ben. And when it yielded no result her other instead reached for the phone that might be placed on her bedside table. But it was gone, and in the wake of that fact she felt the realization settle over her again.
She had not awoken from a nightmare, but into one.
He stood near the window to the bedroom, dark hair in loose curls and dressed in new clothes. A nice, olive green sweater over a blue button-down and dark jeans. His focus was on the phone in his palm. Her phone.
"He texts a lot." There was a subtlety to the tone on his voice, and she wondered for a moment if he'd been here, talking to her unconscious form for a while. "He's handsome." His thumb flicked over the screen, dismissing whatever message had been sent and settling on the image of Ben Reilly's beaming face pressed against her own.
A sigh. His index finger pressing to the power button and watching the screen go dark.
"Are you hungry yet?"
She was. It burned a hole in her gut, betraying her desire to feel nothing.
She was silent. Their eyes met, stretching the time between them into an infinite loop of loathing and terror. He sighed again.
The vial. The needle. The velvet of oblivion.
She would break.
"the girl who could be you."