One thing I learned is that the cigarettes you light one after another won’t help you forget her.
In case we’re no longer acquainted, I am the template for the perfect sentient being. At first glance the only blemish on my body is a small, flame-shaped, rippling scar that bleeds when I put extraneous weight on my abdomen or when I have bad enough nightmares and I scream too loud. Everything else is immaculate, eye-pleasing blacks and greys and tattoos swirling together across my upper half and all athletic and drawn attractively tight under equally tight clothing on my bottom half. Everything else is an angelic face and a devilish soul, a tongue that weaves gold and flesh averse to cold, charm like soft suede and bright blue eyes that won’t fade, perfect bones and even tones. If you found me a podium, baby, I could strike up a victory pose and salute for you whenever you threw a house party, and I could be the amalgamation of all the dreams your money can buy.
But sometimes, when I wake up, I hate myself; it’s clear in the inked-on nicotine stains on my fingertips that rub farther down my phalanges every time I brush a key on a piano. It’s in the dark circles slowly sprouting where the zygomatic bone holds up my eye like an anatomical Atlas. It’s in every head bob, foot tap, eye wink and slow clap, that hate. And it just won’t go away.
In the last few months, I’ve become acceptant. Obliging. Carefree. In that happy-go-lucky fugue state there is self-loathing laced in every puff of air I huff. In the cigarettes I light there are memories that burn at lip level and make me go cross-eyed trying to look away. When I play a piano I lift my fingers to look at the keys and I see white smudges on the ebony and telltale scarlet on the ivory. I’m on my third pack of cigarettes today and the buzz won’t come back no matter how much I beg on my hands and my knees. I have this feeling sometimes when I play that it won’t come back until my voice is so scratchy and raw like tissue made of sandpaper that singing will be truly a thing of the past for me. In every movement, the memories of she, and her, and them, and me, they drift and dance and glide like baby birds, and then they disappear when I make a move to grab them.
My name is Dorian Shaddix, and sometimes I really miss my old life.
Lives are transient; for instance, find a right actor and he could live a hundred – a thousand – lives inside just one body. My body is devilishly sexy and the same as ever: have I mentioned the immaculate, eye-pleasing blacks and greys and tattoos swirling together across my upper half and all athletic and drawn attractively tight under equally tight clothing on my bottom half? How about the angelic face and the devilish soul, the tongue that weaves gold and flesh averse to cold, charm like soft suede and bright blue eyes that won’t fade, perfect bones and even tones? Have I—
Yeah. Of course I have. I’ve mentioned it all before.
My old life was balloons, giant spheres of gas that would carry me as high as I thought the stars would let me go, and when they popped they burst everywhere in Technicolor rubber confetti that coated the floor and the people around me in its plumes. Then, slowly, the pump stopped; after a while the balloons stopped coming, and they kept popping, and in the end I was standing alone in an empty room with a bunch of rubber shards in all the colors of the rainbow, and all I could think about was grabbing another high.
Now, meet my new life, the same as the old life, except everything totally sucks now.
Because there are some things loathing just can’t touch, I was still wearing the same clothes, the v-neck that hugged at my upper biceps, the leather, the scarf. I still had a rolled up cig hanging tightly, flicked upwards, as I played at the piano and watched at the patrons. You see, drinkers have patterns. They float around like goldfish bellyup after their demons have sufficiently drowned them in beer and wine and whiskey and mixed drinks and liqueur and vodka, and they stick to the patterns because it’s all they know. What a pathetic way to live. Anyway, with clientele like that I didn’t have to look at the stars, or keep track of the time, when it was time for my shift. I just had to look for their tells, and that would be my signal.
It was like any other signal to start up my shift as the Lavapool Inn’s hottest bartender – a title I unwillingly claimed after drunkenly executing the last one and then falling in love with probably the worst possible parole officer you could get in this Koro –when the group of Le-Matoran down-on-their-luck jugglers circulated to the back table to grab a quick dessert of coconut rum after their dinner of vodka with a side of steak. They got up and hobbled as one, leaving me a clear view of the definitely-a-chick who walked in with a hood drawn up tight around her face. She was new; she had a physique like a statue and a walk like a robot, which intrigued me instantly. She sat down at the bar, patiently waiting for a bartender, so I stood up from the piano I had been playing at, muttering “Thankyoudorshaddix” under my breath in a perfect pantomime of some weird noise that was between an old landlady growling at a deadbeat tenant and the sound that a chainsaw makes when it’s starting up. The evening shift guy tossed me a towel which I caught around one finger and threw over my shoulder. The cigarette disappeared into a trash bin.
Apparently, Bad Company is the only job ever that lets you smoke on company time.
There was a drink on the counter, and I plucked the cherry on top away from the rim of the glass where it hovered on some sort of berry vodka. With a single flick I popped the fruit into my mouth and bit it away from the stem, putting it down with a single swallow and working on the stem with my tongue. Two and a quarter seconds later, it was tied into a perfect heart with a cherry-stem arrow running through it, and I rolled it off my tongue and onto the bar in front of her. The hood looked down in what may have been disgust – as it had been a while since I read the emotions of a piece of fabric, I couldn’t tell what she was thinking.
The fingers of the hooded Toa at the counter curled slightly around her drink.
Tuara wasn't too comfortable with Dorian here with her when she was doing what she was doing; which was getting ###### drunk of course. It wasn't like she had begun filling up her time with healthier habits since watching Dorian almost die in front of her. She was supposed to be doing better. Although she tried to downplay it alot, Dren usually was there to remind her of her poor habits. Dren hadn't spoken to her in weeks. Probably either confused as to why she had fallen for a known killer, or just not wanting to witness his counterpart and friend continue to try and fill empty voids.
Still, speaking to Dorian always made her feel better, and usually made her forget the problems she was facing.
She peered at the heart shaped cherry under her hood.
"Never heard that pick-up line before."
"That's drink one," I noted, pushing the stem up against her mug so that the heart would stare her in the face while she drank. "I'm keeping you at a three drink maximum during my shifts, remember? I'm serious. I'm making you cut back for real this time."
The angle of Tuara's hood increased, coming up higher. She didn't quite look at Dorian, but it was an acknowledgement. Under her Pakari, her eyes were worn and puffy, and clearly tired. Not so much from lack of sleep, although she was getting less of it recently, but because she was emotionally drained. Quitting the bottle was a lot harder than she thought it was going to be. Turns out she couldn't have "just quit if she wanted".
She brought her fist up to her face, fingerless gloved hand rubbing her eyes. Tuara had changed masks after having her Iden damaged, and after Dren stopped talking to her. She had no reason to keep it around. Right now, it sat on her counter above Joske's contraband.
A shaky sigh and a slight nod, Tuara licked her lips before speaking. They tasted like what she as drinking. She didn't want to quit. There were two things she felt good about; being around Dorian, and having alcohol inside her system. And since Dorian both had to exist in the real world, hold down his job, as well as not live life like an empty book, alcohol was the next best thing. It would be selfish to keep Dorian around her all of the time. She dodged Dorian's assertion with a question.
"How's it been here so far today?"
"Played a lot of piano. Slept a little bit, not a lot. I haven't eaten yet, don't have the appetite. I'll probably grab something before I get off."
I reached up gently and brushed back the hood, shielding Tuara's face from the patrons in the restaurant part of the Inn floor with the back of my hand as I softly held her cheek. She looked tired; not in a physical way, not really, but almost like the fumes she was running on were slowly huffing themselves dry inside her tank. I felt a slight tug in my chest towards her and with my other hand I poured her drink number two: sapphire gin and lemonade, on the rocks. Naturally, I made myself one, too.
"Stay in bed tomorrow," I requested - not ordered, I'd been careful to stay away from ordering people to do things now - with a wicked smirk. "I'll bring you breakfast or something cheesily romantic like that. I'm off for the next two days."
"Plus, jeez. You look beat."
Tuara bit her lip, looking down at the wood of the bar. Not totally able to say much with her words. Her toe on the foot of her stool began to make he knee bound up and down a little. She nodded again, taking a drink. "Yeah almost as bad as you. How's your back?" The Toa of fire turned her head to face Dorian.
Tuara was still adjusting to the raw strength her Pakari gave her. So was Dorian, and the home they lived in. Sometimes when she got too excited Tuara would find herself activating it by mistake, occaisonally throwing Dorian into their roof or something ridiculous. They had some repairs to be making.
"Would be better with a massage, if you nahhmean," I suggested coyly with a wink as I whipped up a quick mixed drink and slid it down to a guy about three stools down from Tuara. "But I can still walk when I wake up the morning after. More than I can say for you."
I'd paid for several cracked walls and damaged furniture over the last three months, even taking the liberty of siphoning the old stuff I'd gotten for my prison cell into Tuara's house for a bit of a facelift. She'd made fun of my interior decorating at first, but to be honest, the house really came together after I moved in, and I think she'd slowly begun to realize that. With the steady stream of income from the bar (plus my nigh extraneous tips) and occasional consulting both of us still did for the Guard, we were pretty well off. And that's not even counting all my blood money I have stored away: if I wanted to use that we would be the richest power couple in Ta-Koro.
For now, though, we – Admiral OCD - needed to repair the floor in the master bedroom. Tuara's house was pretty poorly constructed, all things considered.
"But no, really. About that massage," I continued, my face going rigidly deadpan again in an instant.
Tuara smiled pulling her hood off her face. Her cheeks seemed a little hollower than usual and gave her face more of a worn look, with her free hand she lifted Dorian's chin with a finger, "You're a funny one Shaddix," she looked down at her alcohol as though it were empty. Mostly because it was. She didn't remember having drank the second one so fast. She frowned.
"When did I finish this."
"We took shots together. Duh."
Man, she was a knockout. Even when she looked strung out and hung over with bags starting to crop up under her eyes, she radiated this aura of hot about her that could draw eyes from across the bar and restaurant. Plus she was a legend in Ta-Koro; that may have had something to do with it, as well.
"Tuara, listen. I'm serious. Tomorrow we'll stay in together. We'll eat breakfast in bed - not waffles - and we'll take it easy for once. You could use the rest and I have a sick day I've been finna call in for a minute anyway."
Tuara nodded, letting her blank stare at the empty glass in front of her waver. It moved from the glass itself to the heart where it lingered for a moment before turning to Dorian. She looked at his eyes, normally filled with a sense of dark playfulness. It was almost unsettling to see the sincerity in his eyes. There were always more layers to this man than anybody could see. Tuara had realized this during all her visits to him while he was locked up, and started to see them even more now. Which is usually what happens when you spend so much time with somebody.
God, the parallels between the two were uncanny, "Alright."
The relief in my chest was palpable.
"Alright," I repeated, grinning and biting down slightly on my bottom lip before leaning in and kissing Tuara over the bar. Heads turned to examine the happy couple but no one said a word, either too drunk, too apathetic, or too tired to say anything. There was a small draft of heat in the slipstream Tuara was sitting in, and it brushed me with all the subtlety of a heated up frying pan; Ta-Koro had been full of hot nights lately.
"Besides, it's nothing. You stopped me from bleeding out into the streets three months ago and I never really got a chance to pay you back, remember? Consider chocolate chip pancakes us calling it square."
Tuara pulled her hood back on, "Consider what you're doing right now payback," she gave a sad smile, taking hold of Dorian's hand discreetly before gripping it very tightly, "Thanks for being here."
Still semi-planking over the bar, I leaned in and kissed Tuara again, slinking my free hand under the hood and holding the back of her head in place. There was sadness in that exchange, a sadness so tangible between us that even feeling it broke my heart a little more, building on the cracks that had been carefully placed here and there as a foundation over the years.
"It's not a big deal," I brushed her off casually. "You know I love you."
Tuara almost crushed her glass in her hands before pulling her fingers away from it. She instead opted to crack her knuckles, ending the process by rubbing them sorely, "Another drink?"
"This is your last one. Choose wisely."
Tuara waved her hand away dismissively, "Your choice."
Without hesitation, I cracked open a bottle of bourbon and poured two shots, neat. One, I slid over to the lady friend. The other, I spun around my own fingers expertly.
"You should have seen that one coming. Link arms with me?"
"To the greatest couple this side of the volcano," I toasted, winking and blowing a kiss at the newly-coined love of my life before we both knocked our shots back as one.
Tuara felt the bourbon fall down her throat. She looked at the glass for a moment before putting it down on the bar hard. Tuara stared at it longingly, suddenly overwhelmed with feeling like she wanted another. She had to fight hard to even avoid opening her mouth about it. It seemed like minutes before she stopped looking at the shape of the glass; the way it distorted the wood of the bar, how the last drops formed on the bottom.
About to go and claim the last drops she quickly changed her mind, beating down any ideas she might've had about it. It wasn't easy, and only turning to Dorian did it make it easier. She hastily changed the subject to one she hadn't even structered in her head yet to get her mind off it, "I've been thinking of working out again, get back into shape."
"Go for it," I replied immediately. "I mean, not that I don't keep you in great shape or anything, but PE is like one of the four degrees I never bothered to acquire."
Tuara smirked, "You keep me in shape? Please. You may have died before, but you're not that tough," she released Dorian, stepping back, "It's not even that either, it's just I need some things to do again."
"Alright. I'll talk to some people I know, see what we can hook up," I decided, tossing a towel over my shoulder. "Um...I should get back. There are other, less attractive customers I have to grace with my presence and all."
"I can't shine all the light in my corner of the sky on you every time you drop by."
Tuara nodded, giving Dorian another smile, "I'll see you later then," she gave Dorian a quick kiss before getting up to leave, "stop distracting you from your work."
I watched her walk out and realized that as she opened the door, my heart was pounding in my ears at the sight of her. If I listened closely enough, I could hear its drumbeat, listen to it march in tandem with Tuara's feet as she made her way out into the soot-coated streets and back towards our place.
Buhm. Buhm. Buhm.
It was beating way too fast.
I let out a sigh and then toweled off my face, stopping in front of a Fe-Matoran and grabbing him a quick thing of vodka.
"God, it's hot out here, huh?" I asked, pouring him a shot and sliding it to him, not noticing the startled look on his face as he stood up. "Heat waves for days. I'm bakin'."
"Uhhh...what're ya talking about, guy?" he asked skeptically. "It's the coolest it's been out in weeks. You feeling alright? You're sweating."
I toweled off again quickly, grumbled something about how it was just a bug and how compounded with lack of sleep I was kind of under the weather.
But I was fine.
Tuara pushed open the door to her and Dorian's home. She sighed deeply before just looking at the house. Chewing the inside of her cheeks she pulled off her hood before tossing it onto the living-room couch as she passed it, lazily letting it slide off the side and onto the ground. Walking into the kitchen, her feet dragged behind her, skitting on a small crack in the floor she had made when getting up quickly once.
Making her way over to the cabinet, she opened it with tired hands. She picked up a cup, setting it down on the counter. Another cup. Another. Another. Picking up and carefully placing down the glassware, Tuara pushed aside what was left before reaching into the deep back, taking hold of a tall thick glass bottle, her fingers feeling the neck. Pulling out the shape she didn't even bother putting away the glasses.
Sitting down on the table, she looked at it longingly, yet with a hint of disdain and hatred. She hated herself every day. Every single day she'd do some Guard commission work, come home, go the bar, and drink. Today was the day she was going to quit. Tuara promised Dorian that last night, this morning, when she left, when she came home when he left, and once more at the bar tonight.
Without even bothering to take a glass from the counter, Tuara popped off the top of the bottle. Still, she hesitated. She couldn't stop. Tuara Drigton was terrible at keeping her promises. She brought the lid to her lips, letting it push against them, as though contemplating one last time the implications of a broken promise.
But she had to. She couldn't stop herself. There was simply no will-power left in her to decide otherwise. Impulse was too strong. Any ounce of fight she had left in her was quickly depleted before being cast aside and left behind.
Tuara tilted the bottle of vodka high into the air, letting the hot liquid run down her throat, sudden relief filling her from head to toe faster than the drink itself.