At this point, Jasper was, more than anything, bored.
Maria had been leaning in the suite’s archway, watching, long enough now that Jasper’d begun to make a show of his business here solely for her benefit. He’d long ago grown disinterested enough in his little game, in and of itself, to simply end it; he continued now out of petulant spite. With his back to Maria, unable to watch her expression as he felt her mounting annoyance, his game was less satisfying than it might be, but things were altogether more interesting with her here, fuming, and he considered that a victory in itself. Years spent in Maria’s company meant he knew exactly how to push her buttons , as they said these days. Doing so was one of his greatest joys. One of the few he had left to him.
“Hold the glass steady, darlin,” he breathed.
The angelic creature holding the wine glass turned her wide eyes on him.
“Wouldn’t want to spill, now,” he went on, “would we?”
The girl smiled, shivering in the chill of the room, and turned her attention back to the wine glass in her hands. She was near naked, one strap of her lacy black brassiere slid down her creamy shoulder, her short hair in beautiful disarray, wisps of it caught out and set aflame by the slanting sunlight coming in through the large window. Her big innocent eyes had been done up to appear even larger when he’d met her, more guileless, with cleverly applied makeup, but the gaudy stuff had long since smeared. Her pretty eyes were now sunken and black with misplaced mascara. It made her look even more fragile, somehow, with the smudged pigment there bruising that delicate skin. She looked worn. Not surprising. He’d been playing with her for… a while, now.
He regarded her dispassionately. She shivered, yes, but her hand on the knife was steady; her hand on the cup steadied out now as well. Her little friend in the chair, on the other hand—shining dark hair and velvet skin and pert, rose-budded breasts—had just… now , tipped beyond the point of ever shivering again, cold though her skin may grow. The blood dripped slowly into the latest glass with no pulse left to drive it. Plop. Plop. It was bordering on painful, the dramatic pause between drips, each one a fraction longer, each drop smaller. The well was dried up, it would seem, with twelve and what would soon be—he glanced again at the glass in his lovely assistant’s hand—one half wine glasses worth of blood lined up on the windowsill to show for it.
He would have thought there would be more.
“Oh, Jasper, look. Look! I’ve got it all! The last drop! She’s finally petered out, poor dear.”
His angelic assistant beamed and danced to place the last cup in its gleaming line at the window, then hurried over to jump into his lap, draping her arms—bloody knife loosely in hand—around his shoulders.
“I did good, didn’t I? I really did, didn’t I, Jasper?”
She nuzzled into his neck.
“Tell me I did good?”
Maria made a little sound that might be a laugh or a scoff from her vantage in the archway. Jasper could feel her disgust—and lust—and also her amusement. Her amusement most of all and always, a constant backdrop for the theatre of her emotion. Everything amused Maria. Everyone.
“No no no,” he said, pushing the girl back to balance on his knees. “You most certainly have not done good .” He shook his head at her solemnly. “You’ve killed your friend. See?” He watched her, her head still muddled, still confused, wanting to turn back but for the one tiny kernel of fear there, something he’d missed maybe, that warned her against it. “Just look at her,” he whispered. “She’s dead, sweetheart. Dead and cold on that chair over there behind you. Look.”
The fog of easy ecstasy he’d had the girl under he now yanked away. And then came a slow swallow, a terrible dawning of realization and the fearful glance she couldn’t help but take. The knife slipped from her now unsteady hand and clattered to the floor. She fell violently from his lap; seemed to curl into herself, a wail coming out of her so long and loud that it seemed to deflate her, diminish her, leaving her a shivering husk on the cold dusty wood of the floor, rocking this way and that as though swayed by a playful wind.
He toed her gently aside so that he could stand. Walked slowly around the overstuffed chair that he’d occupied, barely moving, during the hours he’d toyed with her, and bent to retrieve the knife, wishing mostly for it all to be over—to be away from this room, at least, if he couldn’t manage to escape his own company completely. And hadn’t that been the point of all this? The real escape he’d needed, had been searching for before this latest bid for freedom had started; before he’d been waylaid into this distraction by his damnable curiosity? By his cruelty and his need to what—punish himself? Some stomach-churning form of self hatred had perturbed his everlasting boredom and spurred him on, that much was clear. Ended him here, in this sparse chilly room, with the woman he’d thought he’d been running from looking on scornfully and nothing but tormenting her to keep him from...something; some terrible fate.
“Oh no, no darlin, don’t cry. Shh, don’t you cry now, don’t.” He knelt before the broken girl, stroking her soft head. “Only one thing for those tears.” He stroked that fine hair once more.
Then his hand fell to her wrist, turning up her tiny palm, and he slipped the knife back into her soft, trembling hand. Her tear-streaked face he tipped up to his own with one gentle finger beneath her little chin.
“You miss your friend something awful, don’t you?”
A fresh sob punctuated by a vigorous nod. “Yes. Oh, god, I do. I do! Oh god, what have I done? Why would I—? W-what have I—?”
“Well then,” Jasper said, cutting her off with a beautiful smile and sending her floating on a wave of peace. He watched her face soften and her eyes become bright; wiped her leftover tears. “You know how to get to where she’s gone, don’t you? You sent her there, after all. You know the way. Seems to me, all that’s left is to go ahead and follow her.”
“Follow?” She said, weakly, uncertainly. A single fresh tear tumbled her cheek and clung to the point of her chin, luminous.
He squeezed her fingers tighter around the knife handle.
“Simplest thing in the world,” he assured.
“Easy as pie.”
She giggled wetly.
“Easy as pie,” she repeated through a grin. “Pie. That’s funny, mister. Pie’s never easy. It’s a pain.”
“Have it your way,” he said, tipping the knife up to her throat. It remained poised there when he left her hand to its own devices, the tip just touching the skin. She stared up at him in bubbling wonder. He smiled. Winked. “Piece of cake, then.”
She giggled again and he tapped her nose; kissed her once, tenderly, atop her disheveled head admiring the fine down of her hair one last time. Then he rose, his smile vanishing; turned toward Maria and away from the girl, sweeping all his false contentment from her for good. Her pain seemed weak when it struck him. She may as well have been a rabbit in a trap. A mouse caught wriggling in the jaws of a fox. Her pleas fell on deaf ears. He’d had quite enough fun with her. Plenty. Time to have done with it. With her and this sad little scene he’d created.
The sobs didn’t last long after that, after he left her alone with her own emotions and the corpse of her dead friend and that convenient knife and not an ounce of pity from the strange, beautiful creatures that looked on, ignoring her suffering. The both of them stood as impassive as statues; as cold. The knife clattered one final time to the floor. Was followed shortly by the limp body of his lovely, unlucky, assistant.
“Finally,” he heard Maria sigh as he made his way to the windowsill. She sauntered into the room and crouched to dip her finger into a growing puddle. Tasting it delicately, she frowned, then shrugged and slid her finger through the mess again. “You know, I thought she would be sweeter?” She cleaned her finger once more, then flashed him a cruel grin, tracking his movement. After a moment her face hardened. “You’re not any less guilty if they do your dirty work for you, my love. The way you bend them with your little gift—so cruel.” She shook her head, mocking sympathy for the girl, then seeing her blow hadn’t landed she rolled her eyes and stood, brushing her skirt clean. “Nothing wrong with a quick snap of the neck now and then. You do not always have to play with your food. You are not yet too good to get your hands dirty like the rest of us.”
Jasper set the first drained glass down, admiring the glow of the sun through the thin red film that dirtied the bell of it. Shrugged. He didn’t feel guilt; wouldn’t recognize the taste of his own. He felt the emotion enough in others to know that much. It was everywhere, after all. And it was funny to him that Maria would attempt to make him feel guilt over this. He was personally convinced that Maria had never experienced guilt in her life. Imagine, her talking to him about guilt and innocence now. Her. It was funny.
He didn’t know if it was more funny, though, or more sad. He really didn’t know.
Jasper felt…. Well, he found he couldn’t finish the still-warm blood, which surely wasn’t a good sign. He felt, which was strange in and of itself. He felt. But what? Hell, maybe he did still feel some form of guilt for what he did—what he was. Maybe that’s what he’d been feeling all this time. Maybe every last one of his oversensitive emotions hadn’t been beaten to death back during the thick of the wars—the bad days that he’d been born again into. Maybe Maria was right. Maybe that’s why he’d run all this way; not to flee himself after all, or her, but to be alone with his guilt. To try to call it forth once more. Wake it.
He surveyed the room; didn’t bother picking up the next glass of blood. It stank. The room stank like a field slaughter. And the way Jasper’s mouth watered at the stench of it, the way the disgust he felt at his watering mouth outweighed even his ever-prodigious hunger, his sharpened instinct, well, what more confirmation did he need, really?
Guilty as sin.
“Why did you follow me?” He looked Maria in the eyes at last. Allowed himself. She didn’t answer and he grew more disgusted yet in the pause. Turned away.
He knew why she’d come. He threw on his coat and adjusted the fedora he preferred to the fashionable newsboy hats that he felt made him look too much the child. Without fanfare or a look back, he walked out the door and left it up to Maria to follow.
She did, slamming the door as she exited into the cramped hall with a huff of annoyance that was entirely feigned. Her stride was quick without becoming unnaturally quick. Her tall boots were noisy and sharp. Her steps echoed, chasing him.
“I love you.”
He turned, skeptical grin climbing, eyebrow raised. She frowned, more a pout.
“Fine. I need you. I gave you as long as I could for your little tantrum, but now I need you back. The territory is threatened.”
“Will wonders never cease?”
When was it not?
She sighed and he had just enough warning sense to tense before he hit the wall. Plaster dust rained around him. He placed his large hand over the small one crushing into his chest with force enough to actually hurt.
“Be serious,” she said, a command if ever he’d heard one.
Then she kissed him; dug her fingers into his chest cruelly to drag him down toward her lips and threatened to rip his shirt. He pulled his lips away, pulled back to height, head bumping the wall and dislodging more dust.
She stared up at him and he met her gaze unflinching, unintimidated.
After a moment, she backed away from him with a light shove that buckled the crater in the wall that much deeper. Plaster dust snowed, flouring her dark hair, clinging to her long lashes, making her look the dusty little doll, too long on the shelf and begging to be played with.
Unlucky for her, really, how poor he found his appetite for games, suddenly.
“You would kick and scream the entire way back, yes? If I were to simply take you now, as is my right? You would do this to me.” A shaken breath, completely unnecessary. “Even knowing how I need you, you would do this.”
His face softened a shade, feeling a real hurt from her, hiding there behind her contrived exasperation at his stubbornness, her feigned feminine fragility, behind her hatred of this conflict in him that she couldn’t seem to fathom, that pulled him from her. He tried to lean in again and kiss reassurance back into her, moved as he always could be by her subtle, hidden depths, but she sidestepped his lips; she glared up at him coldly.
“Child,” she said, simply, and with that one word, she vanished.
To human eyes, should any have been present to witness her dramatic exit, she might as well have been a ghost, here one moment and gone the next. Jasper’s eyes, on the other hand, caught the barest moment of a moment when she was forced to glance back at him as she departed. He caught the betrayal in her eyes, plain for him to see—as if he needed to see to know. Accusing him.
He knocked his head into the wall once more, heedless of the dust.
“Child,” he whispered.