It's a Matter of Perception
Characters: Anne, Drusilla
Summary: Anne/Dru story. Mostly Anne. Takes place after 'Crush' and 'Blood Money'.
Improv: sift, crawl, mint, cross
A/N: MUCH thanks to my beta-readers, Rowan and Kate. Love you guys lots!
Running was her ritual. Two, maybe three times a year. Like a clockwork cleansing of her psyche, wake up, move on. New place, new name, new diversion. She could shape herself into any mold. As skillful as a butterfly, as metamorphic, she could put herself into a private club and make the populace around her wonder how it was she hadn't been there from the start.
Life, as she learned, was muddled and chaotic. It didn't matter who you were, where you went, it was the same. When it boiled down to it, it was about having someone stand by your side. She prided herself in this hard-learned knowledge and passed it along freely to those who cared to ask. She crossed her fingers and hoped they would not take as long as she to catch on.
If she'd ever thought running was hard, staying was exhausting. Crawling out of bed each morning, that first step, trying not to trip. Knowing what horrors were waiting outside and opening the front door nevertheless. Hard to swallow the food on her plate when she sees the track marks, the bruises, the black eyes on those young faces. Hard to know when it's a hopeless case (and she does. She does know when it's a hopeless case, 'cause she's been there. To the end and back with a story to tell.) that she has to just let go. Going to the office with the knowledge she might have another picture to tack on her bulletin board of important dates and important people. People she'd known that didn't make it through the night. Even if it had been just another streetwise kid she'd failed to knock enough sense into the day before, if she had a picture, it went up.
She liked to think that every so often a spirit of one of the people on her board came back to see that she hadn't forgotten about them. To know they were remembered. And maybe, just maybe watch out for the more foolish, juvenile ones around her and help to show them the lessons and truths they were neglecting to see.
Such thoughts, she never said aloud. The time for fantasy was over and Anne was nothing if not a realist. But it was comforting all the same.
And it's hard not to cling.
To look for someone to take care of her, like in the old days. Wanting to curl up in a lover's arms or know that the members of her gang aren't going to let a soul touch her. To know without a doubt she's protected.
Anne raised her head from the desk, a piece of paperwork sticking to the side of her cheek and stifled an overdue yawn whilst smiling ruefully at the untouched Rum and Coke one of her kids had mixed for her. Shook her head, amused because they just didn't get it. She couldn't get drunk. It didn't even matter if she was having a miserable night. Day. Week. Whatever. She'd already drowned half her life away. And anyways, she couldn't let go of that pain. It was like a security blanket she'd become attached to.
Remember that pain, Annie. Because once it's gone, it's really gone.
And heaven knows it's easier to be strong for someone else. All the things you can do to help another that you would never do for yourself.
She glared at the mounds of paperwork underneath the drink with distaste and disinterest. Rubbed her forehead and scratched the small area between her eyes, above her nose. Decided against work. A leisure rest in a hot bath and eight hours of sleep were not only well-earned for the night, but desperately needed.
Locking the door to her office behind her, she moved towards the exit.
"You leavin' us, Annie?"
She turned at the familiar voice, smiling at the restless teenager roaming the halls, "Yeah, I'm gonna call it a night." He crossed his arms over his chest, standing a bit taller and she indulged, "Don't make a fuss and maybe we'll do the breakfast thing." Her eyes widened imploringly, happy to have the money to make such a promise and loving the look on her kids' faces when she came barreling through the door with armfuls of food.
He reached out a hand and she did the same, her nose wrinkling a bit as she smiled, confused but trying her best to figure out the handshake as his hand kept moving in seemingly random patterns until hitting the back of her palm with his own. "Be safe." His voice carried, just loud enough to catch her retreating form as she walked out into the night air.
Anne breathed in the familiar L.A. air, grateful for the slight wind bristling through her hair in the otherwise heated air. She walked slowly, knowing she could close her eyes and run full speed without the fear of once tripping. She'd walked these streets more than she cared to admit, knew them like she knew every stain of blood on several of the more soaked bills in her office.
She turned her head instinctively towards the small urban park where she sometimes ate her lunch. Despite the late hour there were still several people walking around the warn path, a pair of teenagers making out on a bench in the middle.
She smiled, taking a breath and then a deeper one. Closed her eyes and smelled the mint green grass and aging pine trees, her lips twitched further upwards at the sharp stench of car exhaust and asphalt.
Her smile wavered as she took a step forward, catching the faint sound of a whimper. Her hands in her pocket, she fingered the small cross inside. She wasn't a great believer in God, but whatever kept her safe, her kids safe, was good in her terms. If carrying a cross meant she might get a chance of escape from a vampire—
She scowled, opened her eyes and listened intently for the sound. It was probably nothing, a chance of the imagination, but even so she couldn't turn her back. She'd spent too many years doing just that.
"Hello?" she called out, stretching her neck to look around the ally corner before walking in front of it.
She sighed, relieved and yet. She turned sharply, caught by the sound of a slight moan. Shocked to find a small form sitting on the curb with her legs stretched out to the street.
She blinked, confused but reached out an arm to lightly touch the woman's shoulder. "Miss?" Anne asked. The girl's back straightened and slowly her head rose. Dark almond eyes framed by her long, equally dark hair. Anne smiled softly, her fingers itching to touch the faint wounds visible on the woman's face. "Hey," she said pleasantly, non-threateningly. "Are you okay?"
The woman rose in one swiftly elegant move. She was slightly taller than Anne but her eyes reflected the same image as the blonde's. Confused and saddened, the girl asked in a wispy tone, accenting every other word whether it was important to the sentence or not, "I'm searching for a something. Perhaps you can help?"
"What is it?"
"A word. I…" the woman frowned, "I can't remember. It's possible I never learned it. I'm unsure. Do you know?"
Anne leaned against the building wall next to them, saddened to see the frown marring the woman's features. "Perhaps. Could you give me a hint? To what this word means?"
The woman bit the bottom of her lip, looking heavenwards in contemplation. Her fingers danced lightly in the air between them and she used them to help express her statement, "It's the word for old love. If you don't love somebody anymore… but used to. And then, each time you see them, that somebody you once loved, when you look at them," the woman's brows creased, as though losing her train of thought before her brown eyes darted away from the sky, catching Anne's in the light of a nearby lamp-post, "you are reminded that in some manner you used to love them. Do you know?"
Anne shook her head, her smile wavering at the intense look in her companion's eyes. She wondered if the brunette was high. Strung out or tired. If she was lost, if she had a keeper somewhere, Anne should help her find him or her. The woman didn't appear very old, but then, neither did Anne. Looks sometimes betrayed a person like that. "I don't know. I don't think there is a word." The woman frowned in discomfort and Anne reached out an arm, placing her hand on the girl's shoulder. "Maybe you could create a word for it. What's your name?"
The brunette shivered slightly and Anne's face fell; it wasn't so cold out. She wanted to steer the conversation towards where the woman could be staying for the night, but felt the ground was unstable.
"Déjà vu." The other replied, her fingers came up to pull away Anne's hand from her clothing, weaving their fingers together. "I know who you are," she replied in an almost cryptic voice.
Anne squeezed her fingers around the other set in a reassuring manner, "Oh? Have we met before?"
"In another life perhaps." The woman swayed and Anne's eyes widened, fearing she might fall, but instead she straightened herself out, standing taunt and almost rigid. "Another… name." Her eyes appeared distant, a sudden cloud covering their shine. "I'm Drusilla."
"Drusilla," Anne echoed. "That's a very pretty name. I'm Anne."
Drusilla's eyes widened dramatically and she swung their intertwined hands absently, "I had a sister named Anne. She died young, but not me. Never me."
A drop of sudden rain fell on Anne's bangs, another on their clasped hands.
"Do you have someone you could go to? A home?"
"I had a daughter, she had a place. But," Drusilla looked down at their hands, three more raindrops falling on their fingers. Slowly she uncurled her long digits from the hold, licking at the beads of water. She took a step backwards and tilted her head, watching the patterns of droplets fall on the cracks in the sidewalk. "I'm alone." She drawled after a long moment.
Anne's eyes narrowed, saddened at the sound in her voice and thinking of a place she could take the woman for the night. As if reading her thoughts, Drusilla perked up, "Don't be sad, Tracey. Sometimes alone is fine comfort."
Anne's eyes shot up, "What did you call me?" An odd assortment of feelings at hearing that name again. That name she had tried so long to forget. She'd spent so many hours trying to find out who Tracey was, only to find that Tracey was nothing. Anne was the strong one, Tracey was just…
"You—you didn't." Her eyes narrowed and she took a step closer to Drusilla, searching the woman's eyes for the truth and finding nothing but a hollow reflection of herself, "Do I know you?"
"The only bother with alone is the bore of long hours." The brunette sighed, playing her long nails against the ends of her hair, "wile away the long." She giggled slightly, "Idle hands are the devil's work. My hands could be her playground. Do you know I was once a nun?"
A wave of tenderness and pity washed over Anne's face as she looked at the woman before her. The sad smile returned to her features as she asked, "Really?"
Drusilla laughed, "No," her fingers shot forward, as though plucking a flower from the air around them, "but I once loved someone, and now I don't. And when I look at him I remember that I sort of loved him." Anne smiled uneasily as the woman continued, "I know you, Anne." Drusilla leaned forward, tracing one perfectly painted nail along the blonde's jaw, "I've got your number." The pads of her fingertips pushed the blonde's head high, a splash of water hitting her forehead from above.
Anne didn't move to brush away the rain, intent on the large almond eyes regarding her with a serious and wise nature that made Anne wonder how old Drusilla really was after all. "I was once seduced by a snake charmer."
Seduction, Dru smiled. A favorable trapdoor in the impenetrable moral code. She could always fall back on those pearly gates, bat her eyelashes and say she accidentally fell from grace.
"I dreamt of damnation whether I was asleep or not. A little piece of Hell that plagued me with anguish and suffering and I begged God to send me hope and light and goodness but he was too far away to hear. Alice's white rabbit plunging for the well. Playing his fiddle on the three quarter moon, tick-tock, tick-tock. I didn't break. Almost, but not quite." she grinned, looking like a child. "And then, one day, it all stopped. Why?"
"You became numb." Anne said without thinking, without question.
Her laughter filled the small space between them. Drusilla sounded very much like a child mocking her elder. "No," she whispered while leaning in close in a conspiring way, as if ready to divulge the meaning of life, when something caught her eye. She jerked away just as fast, her eyes darting over Anne's head and then higher until her neck was arched backwards and she was staring straight up.
The blonde followed her sight, an anxious expression shifting through her eyes before confusion took its place. "What is it?"
Drusilla shivered, "The moon." Her head snapped back with a startling movement that made Anne jump. They both smiled slightly at that, the blonde pushing a lock of hair behind her ear while the other spoke. "That cursed ugly moon watching us, mocking us poor souls stranded in this ugly place. I should have brought a net, is what I should have done. Quick as that," She clapped her hands together sharply, "I would jump up and scoop that horrid rock out of the sky, and then I'd say 'Who's laughing now?'"
Anne laughed, chancing a glance upwards briefly, "You know, some say the moon is made of cheese, not rock."
At that her companion beamed, remembering the merriment of conversing with another who understood her favorite riddles. "And others of spider webs, tangled tight!" She replied, "But I know the truth of that deceitful light. It's made of fears, coiled round and round. It illuminates the earth late at night when I'm awake and makes everything beautifully frightening. Sometimes I think I can hear it sing. Off pitch, but lovely ever more." She paused, unconsciously fidgeting with the hem of her sleeves, "I've grown tired of staring at it night after night." and sighed dramatically. When she resumed speaking a slight sulk had entered itself in her voice, "There's only so long you can look upon your favorite picture until the very thought of it makes your stomach ache and head spin. How I loathe the gorgeous nighttime."
The blonde reached out, hesitantly, wanting to reassure the young woman before her, but before she had a chance, Drusilla was smiling once more, her voice filled with amusement and self-mocking.
"Oh!" She wailed, looking sheepish. "Am I rambling again? I do hate to ramble. I must focus myself, even if it is unfun. But my mind does so like to wonder. It went away because one can only be free and open while suffering the confines of terrible torment, confusion. restriction. I'm a lowly slave to my addictions, but they're much worse off. Slave to passion." She tsked in a patronizing tone.
Drusilla's finger trailed down the blonde's neck before she placed it thoughtfully against her lips, looking suddenly very mischievous. "I tried so hard to make him go away, at first. To make it untrue. But I couldn't. That power isn't mine. Then I simply stopped trying so hard to shun or embrace my environment and merely become indifferent to it all."
The brunette tilted her head, as though waiting for an answer to an unspoken question.
Unsure of what to say, Anne simply mulled it over in her mind, thinking it funny that every time she let her guard down, felt herself moving to welcome and appreciate the world for what it was and not what it could be, that it came back to slap her in the face. Knock her down for the count and laugh. Laugh until her side hurt from the back stabbing, neglect, sorrow and grief.
At length Drusilla questioned with a frown, "You don't understand a word, do you?"
The universe prizes those with courage, or at the very least, compensates. But it punishes stupidity, and Heaven knows, Anne thought, that trusting strangers was recklessly senseless.
Some ideas come without thought, "Death."
"Yes!" Drusilla clapped her hands, rocking on her heels. "All's well," she swatted at her hair, annoyed as the storm began to pick up momentum, beginning to soak her. "I rather like alone. I'm meeting all sorts of people. We should meet again, when it's not so wet. There's so many things I could show you. But you must promise to leave when the night is over, because alone is better. Not perfect, but very much better."
Anne took a step forward as the girl pivoted, ready to make her getaway. Her fingers brushed against the fabric on the brunette's back and Dru turned. She wasn't sure what to say just then, sad to see the conversation come to an end, but cold herself. The blonde smiled nervously, feeling very much like a sixteen-year-old girl, "Do you have a place to stay? For the night? Will you be okay out here?"
Drusilla smiled wide, her teeth shining brilliantly in the darkness. "Defenseless and unprotected, I'm gonna raise hell and then bathe it in holy water and say I made the Devil scream."
Anne blinked blankly and tried her best to smile, watched as Drusilla eventually leant to that smile and grinned herself, reminding her of the Cheshire cat from her pre-quoted Alice's Adventures. Reminding her of a bird as she turned around once more, humming a catchy little tune that was very pretty but in a language she didn't understand.
Her smile dissipated as she found herself getting quickly drenched in the rain and alone on the street as the eccentric brunette turned around the corner, her song fading with distance.
She began walking faster for home, the rain becoming a nuisance and raising goosebumps on her skin. Pushing her hands in her pockets, she thought of Drusilla's words and wondered if it really was true that human nature dictated mankind to suffer and to be violent.
Nevertheless, Anne decided, Drusilla had to be wrong. She didn't have to be rewarded in order to forge on forward. She wasn't Lily or Chanterelle anymore, sifting through, searching that great gift of eternal life or everlasting devotion.
She didn't need that type of restitution any longer.
She might be working low, but she thought back to the smile on Kim's face when she'd found a real apartment for her and her child. Joe's face when Kim likewise asked him to baby-sit for four dollars an hour and call her spare bedroom 'home'.
Anne needn't dwell on the negative in order to brace herself for the fall.
So what if the glass wasn't half full? It wasn't exactly half empty, and she could content herself with the knowledge of being on the road to higher sight.
- fin -