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Imposter Syndrome

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From the open mouth of the barrel to the open mouth of a bottle, the sting didn’t much differ except in intensity, which left the feeling of her hand on his inner thigh the only human kindness he could reach for in the tumult of bullshit that was being shot where the sun hardly shone. He swore under his breath and closed his eyes, not wanting to see her press those bits of metal into his new, bleeding, hole to retrieve the bits of metal that had put it there in the first place.

‘You’re almost through it,’ she promised, head bent down between his legs so far for her better view that her breath ghosted against the shirt tails that kept him barely decent.

Booker Dewitt hissed. It was the silent grace of God and that alone which had allowed him to leak enough of his bodily humors on the way there that he was stuck temporarily impotent rather than entirely castrated by this violent intrusion upon his bodily sanctity. But no matter the cause, he would have found himself grateful for peaceful flaccidity in his current position.

His trousers were a tattered mess around the ankle of his left boot while his right boot lay on the floor somewhere out of sight where Elizabeth had thrown it in her desperation to have him rid of his confinement.

‘Almost through half of it,’ he told her.

The tongs she’d plunged into his newly crafted orifice had yet to find their mark, which he now sincerely worried had wormed its way up into his pelvis on his limp to relative safety. And even once they’d pulled the bullet free, he still needed to sit for the inevitable sutures to follow.

‘You’re doing fine,’ she promised him.

Silent tears leaked unbidden from the corners of his eyes and he could do nothing to calm the flow of his breath but he didn’t argue with her. Instead he took another long swig from the bottle and willed his knee not to bounce nervously under her weight.

Low blood content made room for more alcohol in his veins. Made the room spin softly as she held the smashed bullet up for him to see like a cat proud to have delivered him a grizzly gift.

‘What’d I tell you?’ She asked, and through the blur of his drunken vision, it was hard to discern her face from the memory of Anna’s, slightly faded from his mind by the eighteen years elapsing between her death and the present.

‘That I’m in capable hands,’ he bit through gritted teeth.

‘Exactly,’ she agreed.

He watched her reach back into the medical kit behind her for the sealed suture package.

‘It’s deep,’ she warned him. ‘If we had better supplies I’d recommend antibiotic treatment to stave off infection.’

‘You sound like a war nurse,’ he griped, meaning she sounded like his dead wife, and in his vulnerable state, with her pretty face and being nigh about the age Anna had been when she died this was a very confusing thing for him to grapple with. Much like it had been when she pulled him from the water in Battleship Bay.

‘I sound like what you’ve made me,’ she snipped.

Her head bowed forward again so that she could properly guide the needle through the tattered skin, close enough to the edge not to damage more, but far enough it wouldn’t pull right through the wound.

‘Fuck,’ he wined as the smooth metal gave way to the harsh tug of sinew.

‘Oh don’t be such a baby,’ she scolded.

Booker took another swig from the bottle. Perhaps unwisely, he thought to himself. He didn’t need blood any thinner than it already ran. He did need an extra helping of whiskey dick though. Enough to keep the girl from any great offense to whatever little modesty she had being finally ruffled and enough to keep him from thinking about his status as a widower when she reminded him so dearly of that lost which he’d most loved.

‘I’m not being a baby,’ he told her as deft hands guided the needle through the other side of the mess. ‘I’m being a bitch on account of them making me into half a woman.’

‘Oho, very funny,’ she told him sarcastically.

‘It’s not,’ he told her. ‘This is the only other use for a tampon.’

‘What’s a-‘

‘Forget you heard the word,’ he ordered.

Obediently she shut her mouth up and punched the needle through a third anchor point so she could loop the thread around the fissure that when she tugged the suture pulled the hole shut like the closing of a particularly ugly asshole.

‘All better,’ she assured as she cut the thread right above the knot.

‘Fucking disgusting,’ he muttered as her fingers found their way to his knees and she pushed herself to her feet.

‘Is that any way to talk about the lady who’s just saved your life?’ She asked in mock offense.

Booker glared at her.

‘Don’t suppose your sewing skills apply to that what’s less living?’ He asked, looking down at his trousers.

Elizabeth bit her lip and offered him a soft expression of apology, coupled with a doleful shrug. ‘Think I’d have fixed this sleeve by now if I did,’ she answered.

Booker sighed very deeply. He did not like the conclusion this left him to come to. ‘I need new duds.’

‘Well we do find ourselves in this convenient home,’ she placated. ‘Maybe I could find you some trousers to fit in the master bedroom.’

‘Maybe,’ he agreed almost sarcastically.

‘Stay here,’ she told him, turning on her heel to go.

‘And what? Just leave me stranded with the whole frank and beans out in the open air, pressed up on this cold damn porcelain toilet?’

‘What do you want me to do about it?’ She asked him.

‘I want to lie down,’ he griped.

‘Fine,’ she sighed. Her posture dropped as she turned back around to fetch him off the toilet. ‘I’ll bring you along then.’

What Booker was quickly learning was the girl had a bit more strength on her tiny bones than it looked she should. She’d helped him most of the way there while masking the difficulty of bearing his weight and did the same now as he lurched unevenly off the toilet with an arm over her shoulders.

His pants trailed from his ankle like a particularly ineffectual ball and chain as she half dragged him from the room. The master was down the hall on the right and sported a lush looking king bed his feet probably wouldn’t even hang off of if he laid on it laterally. Elizabeth dropped him over the edge sideways onto his back so his feet stayed firmly on the floor and left him there to search the chest of drawers along the wall.

‘Don’t suppose they’d come back home after work?’ Booker asked the ceiling.

‘I’d hope not,’ she told him. ‘Doesn’t seem he has a wife to cook for him so I’d expect this lonely man to eat at a restaurant with a pretty girl waiting the tables.’

‘Know a lot about the habits of the lone bachelor?’

‘It’s what they do in books,’ she told him. ‘I’ve read men can’t cook for themselves.’

‘Can you cook for yourself?’ He asked her.

Elizabeth made an odd noise in the back of her throat and the sound of her rifling through the dresser drawers came to a lull. ‘No,’ she admitted.

‘S’cus cooking’s hard,’ he told her.

She hummed thoughtfully in response to this learning and continued her rifling.

‘Y’know this ain’t that different from Peking,’ he told her.

‘You mean all the killing?’

‘Nah,’ he said. ‘Most of the fight didn’t even hit us once we made it into the city. Far as I remember we only lost two or three men on our struggle over the wall. Most of the blood’d been spilt by the time we got there and the Russians honestly got a much worse lot in it then we did which saved our asses from a world’a hurt. Was kind of funny for the big rescue to be the easy part of the slog,’ he mused.

‘In a way,’ she agreed.

‘This is more like the occupation that came after the fighting,’ he told her. ‘It was eight separate occupying forces all vying for space, trying to prove themselves against the remaining locals and foreign dignates we’d come to relieve from the Boxer siege. Everyone’d paid a high price for that prize, and they all wanted their money’s worth so we ran through it all. Every house. Every church still standing. Took everything of value. Some of it was the missionaries trying to keep food in mouths, clothes on backs, but most of it was for profit. Everyone wanted their dollar back, their trophy for winning the city. Parading ourselves through the streets, into their sacred spaces, that wasn’t enough. We needed the proof of what we’d done and if we had to we were gonna cut it out the locals’ damn hides.’

‘That is so ugly,’ she said, and he turned his head so he could see her. Upside down from his perspective, holding a pair of brown trousers over her arm.

She picked a careful path across the floor back around he bed and sank back down at his feet to remove the rest of his ruined clothing from him.

‘That’s not what we’re doing though,’ she told him.

‘You sure?’ He asked. ‘By my best estimate I’ve made myself a few thousand off these blood bags after they drop.’

Her nose wrinkled at this and she turned her face away under the guise of watching what she was doing as she tugged his laces loose.

‘That’s crude,’ she scolded.

‘Ain’t got no one to stop me being crude,’ he told her.

She slapped the inside of his knee just hard enough to sting the skin and ripped his boot off his foot with a glare.

‘Point taken,’ he said.

‘I’d hoped you would rethink that position, Mr Dewitt,’ she said bitingly as his pants followed his boot.

Then she paused. He watched her balling and unballing the trousers in her hands.

‘I don’t know, Booker,’ she said reluctantly. ‘It might be better to keep you out of pants for now to reduce the chance of it getting irritated.

‘Goddammit,’ he said, head falling back on the bed.

‘You really should get some rest,’ she told him.

‘And if the man of the house comes back?’ He asked.

‘With all the panic, what’s the likelihood? He’s probably staying with his parents,’ she argued.

It was a fair point.

‘You’re all kinds of bent out of shape,’ she said then. ‘And I only ever see to the worst of it.’

‘Don’t go soft on me,’ he warned her but that didn’t harden the look in her eye one bit. If there had been more blood in his body that probably would have undone him right there.

Her hands landed back on his legs again as she used the same trick she’d used in the bathroom to regain her feet. This made nothing better for him. There was a squirm starting to fit into the groove deep between his hips and no matter the lack of blood that felt of something.

‘Let’s get you out of this,’ she said and her hands slid up his chest to push his vest off over his shoulders.

Likely that she knew not what she did, innocent that she was but it still chased a shaken breath from his lungs. He went still and she removed him one arm at a time from the item, leaving it spread out under him without a second thought.

This was not Anna, he told his confused and drunken mind but the light was from the back of her now and with her face shadowed up, the rest of the imagining hadn’t too far to go. The smell of her too. So deeply familiar. So enrichingly close to how he’d remembered his wife’s clothes to smell before he’d gotten the nerve to sell them off for the money. God how he’d missed that. By the grace of life. Not a perfume, but the hard reality of a body on the air, weighted by their constant movement and panic.

She smelled like Anna had back when he’d first met her in a medical tent. When she’d still been Miss Annabelle Watson and he’d still been just another soldier out of line. If not a cute one. Oh she’d been mean on every man under her watch, but she was sweet on him. Kind enough to press her hands against the pain under his bandages and squeeze if he asked. If he was polite about it.

Elizabeth started with the bottom button on his shirt and worked her way up, pushing it open as she went. It definitely wasn’t the first time Booker had been in such a state of undress before a woman looking to doctor him but he felt a surge of embarrassment equal to the first time based only on account of his sure knowledge this was at least the first she’d ever seen a penis outside of a text book if she’d even had that luxury.

She may have only ever read about, or never at all-

He averted his gaze from her as his dignity was left in tattered shreds, pushed over his shoulders after his vest.

‘You’re a mess, Mr Dewitt,’ she told him, and by the holy fuck of it all she even sounded like Anna. Almost flirty, though he was sure that was imagined. She’d have no know as to how one would go about- what if she was fumbling into it accidentally on account of excitement?

No, thinking that was it’s own kind of wish fulfillment, wasn’t it? Pretty similar to her stealing things she wanted out of those tears. An unlikely reality he would very much like to be highly more likely on account of his being lonely and too broke to afford easy women of long late.

The tone she used to say the words, ‘You’re a mess, Mr Dewitt,’ which were certainly words Anna had said at some point to him in similar tones, did not mean what it had meant out of Anna’s mouth. He assured himself this in an attempt to dash his own fantasies before they even got started. It was a tone of motherly disappointment and kind worry, not that mocking kind of- fuck, if he’d had blood enough his ticket would be so far past up.

How right he’d been to think no dunk in some water would wash his stink off. God Damn, they’d tried to drown it out of him with that shit but here it still was thrumming loud in his empty veins even after his blood run out.

Her fingers trailed over a few glancing shots he’d taken on the arms and across his ribs, nails catching light on the edges of one or two as she went which caught his attention even harder on the feeling of his skin crawling. He refused to look at her, knowing how much worse that’d make this situation. Damned, by this point if he did manage to get any fucking sleep he’d be waking up to the rage of his own wrath in the morning for not having the ability to see one out on this nonsense.

‘Stay here while I get the disinfectant,’ she ordered him softly, and made her leave just enough past earshot for him to let out the breath he’d been holding as a quiet groan.

He should have found a way to get laid before he came up here to find some girl that looked unreasonably like his dead wife. Fuck he should he should have at least taken care of it all himself. The muscles at the base of his dick were iron tight, and he couldn’t will them looser by the life of himself. They persisted despite the orders he barked silently at them as if in some desperate attempt to overcome the current lack of fuel in his tank by sheer force of will.

Most likely because he couldn’t stop imaging what she must feel like on the inside. No way she’d ever had it before. She’d still be full intact unless maybe she was more adventurous than she let on with herself. He had to stop thinking entirely. Immediately. He needed to calm down. It wasn’t a good time to lose his head.

He felt like shit. Yeah he should focus on that. He felt like he’d fallen all 30 feet down the wall like that idiot he’d watched loose his grip and shatter like an egg on the down-below way back when. And Comstock was a douche with a terrible sense of theatrics. Getting mad was a good way to distract what blood he’d been able to get up, put it somewhere, anywhere, else.

She came back as he’d finally let his chest go enough to draw normal breaths again.

‘Not too restless alone in here, are you?’ She asked and he knew it’d only been about thirty seconds since he’d last heard it but it felt like ages since he’d heard her voice.

His nerves insisted on climbing back up as she neared him, stringing his chest out so he couldn’t exhale like a normal motherfucker.

‘’M alright,’ he promised her.

She flashed him a kind smile and dabbed a cotton ball into the cap of the liquor bottle he’d nursed on so heavy earlier. He hissed as she pushed it cold and burning across one of the deeper grazes above his hip.

‘You know, Mr Dewitt, there’s a certain power in attending to a horrible man like you,’ she said, sounding more than ever like the woman he’d fallen in love with twenty years ago.

‘Is there?’ He asked.

Her smile took a hard edge around it’s corners and the grip his pelvis had on the underneath of his cock tightened impossibly further.

‘Well you are entirely at my mercy, aren't you,’ she asked. ‘You might be able to cut your way through man after man out there and leave a river of blood behind you but you’d surely be dead if not for my attention regardless.’

‘You wouldn’t,’ he started, only to be waylaid by a groan as she pressed the cotton ball into the burst blister of a burn, ‘be the first of my nurses to think that way,’ he finished as he caught his breath again.

‘Well I hope I’m the last,’ she told him.

‘Wanna sign on full-time?’ He asked.

Same damn line he’d used on Anna. Fuck, he needed to stop at this point. This was bordering on complete disloyalty to her memory. Something similar to the notion of idolatry almost. She’d have been livid if she knew and he was sure if they’d just been on solid ground he’d have been able to feel the thunder of her rolling in her grave at his first treacherous thought.

Somehow, the idea of getting into trouble with her for it, did the opposite of helping his predicament. He felt a distant, but unmistakable quiver, and wondered if maybe he’d drank enough to to replace the blood he’d lost. Oh surely that would kill him, he thought manically which also failed at all to help despite him knowing it shouldn’t.

Though that had been what first got to him about Anna. The thought that he might not live through her.

‘Would you appreciate me the way I deserved you to, Mr Dewitt?’ She asked him.

‘More than you know,’ he promised, letting his eyes fall shut and finding himself much drunker than he’d been while he’d been drinking three or four minutes ago. The room to whirled wildly around him like a carnival ride.

‘How good of you,’ she told him which was enough to get another groan out of him.

He found he was too far gone now to find it embarrassing any longer. He’d lost what little blood he had for thinking to his dick with that last rush she’d given him. She ran the pad of her finger along a cut on his collar bone before following it with the cool swab so it burned twice over and he rewarded her with another hiss.

‘Does it hurt?’ She asked him.

‘Just right,’ he admitted before he could stop himself.

Her skirt fluttered against the insides of his knees as she bent forward and kissed that same cut better. Booker nearly died. The sound she pulled out of him was nothing sort of a rattle belonging to the edge of small death. He bit his lip and teetered there, trying to assure himself he couldn’t come off without getting it up right even as his sureness about this topic seemed to slip farther and farther from his fingertips.

Her nipples brushed against his stomach, hard through her shirt and he lost his thoughts on the idea of seeing her out of it, with just the corset cupping the bottom of her breasts, so hard he felt like the top of his head might give way.

‘Oh fuck,’ he swore.

‘Booker,’ she half asked, breath ghosting on his neck.

He refused to open his eyes.

‘Booker, what am I doing?’ She asked him.

Slowly, he opened one eye, then the other. She seemed too close, face nervous with an overexcitement he could no longer deny they were currently sharing.

‘Fuck if I know, little lady,’ he told her.

‘Tell me what to-‘ she started, breaking their gaze to look down at the mess of him under her.

‘N-‘ he tried but she wasn’t finished.

‘I read that when a man is aroused,’ she continued, pulling back off of him and dragging her hands uncaringly down his chest, smearing vodka and miniature licks of blood across his skin so his breath caught up in him and his protests all died, ‘his member becomes engorged.’

‘Haven’t got enough blood left to engorge anything,’ he answered her honestly.

She nodded, staring down at him now as though this was fascinating information. ‘Can I,’ she started, then stopped and started again, ‘inspect you?’

This was an incredibly odd question but he shrugged regardless, likely on account of how intoxicated he’d accidentally gotten himself. ‘Knock yourself out,’ he said.

This was a little less pressing, he thought. Sort of humiliating until her breath hit him like it had earlier and he found himself tipping again.

‘Does it always smell so strongly?’ She asked him.

He bit a laugh at her. ‘When you’re fighting and sweating and bleeding,’ he admitted.

‘I should bathe you,’ she told him.

He had no protest against this despite wanting to have at least one. He was frothing at the bit and unable to act on it. The impotency was driving him to lunacy at this point. He’d take any kind of contact just to have something.

‘And how are you gonna do that?’ He asked.

‘Stay put,’ she bid him again.

‘Not like I could get very far,’ he called after her.

This was getting too weird. He propped himself up on his elbows and felt the room pitch wildly from one side to the other. By all the shit he’d ever seen, how’d he gotten himself into this one?

She left him longer this time, long enough for him to really find some peace of mind, drifting in and out of consciousness before the whistling of a kettle brought him out of it. She was back not long after with a large mixing bowl on her hip.

It was filled with hot water, he saw as she set it down at his feet, and a wash cloth floated oddly in its center.

‘You’ll feel better when I’m done, I promise,’ she told him.

He groaned tiredly at this and put up no fight as she set about pushing the rung-out cloth over his skin. It was warm and calming. Here in this half waking state, she and Anna swam together into one figure and stood before him in double vision, preforming mirror tasks to wipe the grime off him.

‘You’re gorgeous,’ he told this odd, plural woman stupidly.

She smiled at him with both of her faces like he was adorable but of little consequence to reality and said nothing. Her hands were so gentle behind the cloth. That sort of tender intimacy she’d given him between the pain that had always really made him crave her. It had made her look like some kind of goddess in that moment between his eyes closing and opening again. Like some valkyrie come to ferry him out of the world. All his sins only she would be able to absolve.

‘I love you,’ he promised and she laughed at him.

‘Don’t be silly, Mr Dewitt,’ she said but he wasn’t.

He could feel it thrumming through his sternum, out into his shoulders and down his arms. He just wanted to touch her, to be close to her. Closer than close. He wanted his skin to give way and let them shore up together on proper as one continuous being. He needed it the way he needed air. The way he needed to fall off the abyss and let sleep take him.

He reached up and cupped a hand around her cheek as she pulled the cloth down over his abdominal muscles.

‘Booker,’ she scolded him, but even in the dying light, with her backlit he caught out the flashes of her smile and returned it. ‘Hold still and let me clean you up, you’re all bloody and you stink.’

‘I think I’m drunk,’ he told her.

‘I know you’re drunk,’ she said, dragging the warm cloth down over his cock.

‘Oh,’ he said lowly.

‘Oh?’ She asked, seeming legitimately curious about what had to be the expected response.

‘Fuck,’ he told her breathlessly.

‘Am I hurting you?’ She asked.

‘No,’ he whined.

Her fingers jumped gently on him and his breath began to fan like a pamphlet in the hand of a fat woman in a hot church.

‘It seems like I’m hurting you,’ she told him.

‘Please don't stop,’ he begged.

She didn’t. He could hear the sound of her breath going ragged over the raging of his heart in his ears as she curled her fingers inward around his flaccid cock and worked him slowly. Booker swore under his breath. He was riled to nine hells, between the dual unreality states of sleep and intoxication, and that was enough to set his nerves on fire without her even squeezing down. Without him even being hard.

‘Fucking perfect,’ he hissed, not sure if he was talking about her or the feeling, but she sucked a pleased gasp down her throat hearing it regardless. ‘Always fucking want you,’ he promised incoherently, one hand fisting in the bedsheets as he threw his other arm over his eyes to shield himself from the steadily brightening light behind her.

Or was the sun just still setting? He couldn’t tell.

His perception had narrowed down to her silhouette, the smell of sweat beading on her skin and the feeling of her hand on him.

They panted together as she worked him off, as he swore and muttered half formed praises to her. The kind of nonsense shit an idiot falling in love for the first time says because he really hadn’t ever loved a woman before her.

‘God,’ he whimpered as the edge rushed up and then past him, his frayed nerves all ringing out at the same time as he heaved himself into the cooling cloth in her hands. ‘Holy fuck.’

She stared down at him, looking flustered, eyes dark and cheeks pink, one hand braced by the bottom of his ribcage, the other still holding the wash cloth over his indecency.

‘I love you,’ he told her again. He meant it just like he always had. Like he’d meant it when he’d told her the day he asked her to marry him.

She looked vulnerable and unsure, so he reached up and closed the distance between their mouths for her before pulling her down onto the bed and letting sleep finally take him.