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What Can There Be To Know...?

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The audience stands at some point between the first and second curtain call, and Eve soaks it up with gracious radiance: the applause, the cheers, the stamping feet raising dust from the ancient carpet. It wells over her like the sweetest, freshest air she's ever breathed. They're beautiful, wonderful, courageous people to love her like this, and she extends her arms to them in a moment of giddy pleasure.

As she does, she sees Addison standing with the rest of them, row H seat fifteen, a small smile playing about his lips. She comes back to herself then. But she refuses to slink away - she imperially holds his gaze until the blue plush of the grand rag comes down between them and snuffs the contact.

Two curtain calls for this two-bit town, he said. New Haven may be a small opening according to him, but to Eve it's just one step closer to her New York debut - and her complete and utter freedom. Or it was.

She meant to do so many things at this moment, she thinks as she strides back into the dressing room and shoos out the chit from Wardrobe so she can change. Little things. One short meeting with autograph seekers (she'd never call them mental defectives), one short toast with Lloyd, during which she'd have burnt his eyes with her own until he bulled her into the dressing room and loved her in a way he'd never dreamed of taking Karen. The thought brings a smirk to her face, but only for a moment.

One pair of silk costume stockings, slipped out of habit into her purse. The diamond earring she took from Margo so long ago for luck and pride, she planned to toss off a bridge or a building, a secret thumbing of her nose at the old idol.

But Eve does none of it. She's been completely defeated. It takes a while what with all the euphoria from the play, but she can feel it - a dribble of poison running back into her glass. It saps her.

When Lloyd comes backstage (sticking to Bill like a shadow), he is ill at ease, and he keeps a proper distance from her across the dressing room. No doubt he thinks his sudden reluctance is due to thoughts and memories of Karen, invisible yet tangible in the space between them, yet she knows the truth. It's Lloyd's own insecurities, his own weaknesses, and of course, him. He is the one who defeated her, and he has yet to make an official appearance.

The earring glitters in her palm like broken glass, a bit of Margo, a tiny refracted young bit. It's foolish, really. There's nothing of Margo in the cold perfection - the only possible comparison would be the sharp edges. Never mind. There is no competition tonight.

She's taken off her wig, her dress, her makeup, even her too-tight theatre pumps; she's reapplied street makeup and she's poured herself into the narrow black velvet dress chosen especially for the occasion. But that was when it was going to be the occasion of her rise - her night as star, her night and elopement with Lloyd.

Addison had put paid to all of that. She could still see him, tall and smug, spinning his web over her.

He wasn't that rough with you, her instinct chides her, and Eve knows it's true. She felt the strength in his hands, and yet he didn't use it. Not then.

"And he won't," she says unbidden to the mirror. The round lamps blaze, picking highlights in her makeup case, her paste jewelry, her nails and hair. Her cheekbones look hollow despite the powder, but it's complimentary. No decent established actress would settle for less.

She's surprised she doesn't look different. After all, he has stripped away all of her armor. She expected to look raw, peeled. But even without the pancake, the play still provides her with some protection - she's still steeped in Cora, still involved in the passions and petty concerns and madnesses of Lloyd's world. Eve knows she shouldn't rely on it. Cora's a strong part, the first of many (she prays, hopes, knows), but she's still a paper woman, locked in pages.

If nothing else, tonight she has proved her talent a thousandfold. Even if to only one in that darkened space amidst the rows and rows of bobbing pale faces with their opinions, their fickle natures, their reactions to her plain as if she were looking in a glass...

The knock at the dressing room door startles her, and then she hears what she's been waiting for, his voice.

"Eve, darling. We're all wondering when you're going to grace us with your presence so we can begin the celebrations."

Damn him.

"One moment," she purrs, and seizes her handbag, but he's already through the door and coming toward her in the mirror: tall and positively elegant in black and white. He eyes her with a sardonic smile, his hands comfortably in his pockets. He's repellent, omnipotent, utterly repulsive, and Eve can feel the power he wields over her like a live thing hot against her throat.

"Don't waste that docility on me, Eve," he murmurs. He comes up close, close enough to remind her of the impropriety; but he doesn't touch her. She restrains herself (and her hands) with some measure. "You are a vision, truly. Not, perhaps, a Venus rising from the foam, nor your virginal namesake," the emphasis unmistakable, "but a Lilith, hard as an uncut, yet-unnamed diamond."

She bristles, and Addison chuckles.

"Not so unknown. Not anymore. But still wound about with snakes."

Her hand tightens involuntarily around the earring, and he spots it in an instant. "What's this?"

She's never been one to play coy once she's caught. Eve opens her hand and watches his face.

"Ah, darling. Suddenly sentimental at the end?"

"Perhaps you don't know me as well as you'd think," Eve says flippantly. She's suddenly and fiercely glad she hasn't worn off her character yet. It's some kind of mask to him, too. Maybe he can't read Cora, can't peel her open like he peeled open Eve Harrington. She feels nauseated and fumbles about her table for her lipstick. More makeup, more mask.

He steps away and slumps into her delicate armchair, ruining the line of his tuxedo and affirming his own ease in one fell swoop. Her breath catches, and she feels it again. That delicious, horrific suspenseful feeling - the same as in New Haven, when he'd lazily reclined with a drink in her hotel room - she is completely powerless, and completely aroused, and - and certainly disgusted.

She's disgusted with herself.

Eve runs the lipstick over her mouth again, caps it, straightens her shoulders, and catches him watching her in the mirror. What does he see when she's occupied with her reflection?

"That I should want you at all suddenly strikes me as the height of improbability..."

"What?" she asks.

"Nothing."

"You're slipping. The easiest reply in the world. No defense, no ridicule, no attempt to scorch me or shame me from my knickers? I suspected you'd come."

"Oh?"

"Of course. Not simply to gloat, oh no. Comfort isn't necessary to you. And Lloyd's been and gone already."

Perversely enough, her one advantage in this final game is that he knows all her tricks. He knows all her pre-Margo secrets. He's on to her technique. Her only hope is to abandon it all, drop pretense, and meet him on the field of vulgarity, the one she suspects he indulges in privately, the one that drew him to her at first. He could smell the brewery on her.

He flushes.

It's such a shock that she's flummoxed, she doesn't know how to respond. She made Addison DeWitt blush - should she call the Sun or the Times? Is it as bad as laughing at him? Something to remember, someday if, no, when, when she has the upper hand... A giggle gurgles up in her throat and she quickly turns it into a cough.

As quickly as it comes, his blush fades, and she curses herself for not reacting more quickly when he opens his mouth again.

"Quite. Now that Lloyd's properly scarce, I'm much more at ease. But I have to wonder, given your history...are you?"

He stands up, and she leans back against her table. What a strange awfulness - to feel the world at your fingertips, the audience, the applause, the love enveloping you, and then this. From the keeper of the world to beast in a cage. It feels ghastly. She swallows. His eyes darken, and she fumbles for the conversation.

"My history? We've already established you know all about me."

"Yes, all about you. Your dirty little tidbits, each one." He looks like he wants to smack his lips. "But also your fawnings and followings, your goodness to Margo Channing, your duties, my, yes. How you worshipped her appropriately. Do you know - while I got a great dose of it during the show, I'm quite keen to see you in costume again."

She's startled, and she curses it. How can he do it? He keeps her on such a razor edge of uncertainty; it's enough to drive one mad. And yet she feels such a wildness in her veins - here is someone she doesn't have to pretend with, or eat humble pie with, or do anything other than be herself.

For some reason, that strengthens her resolve. She can't be with him, doesn't want him; she has her plans. Belong to him, like a bird in a cage. It's unreasonable, inhumane. And yet her legs are trembling at his gaze. He's ruthless, cunning, her image reflected. She presses her legs together and holds her stomach down and smiles with all the gentility she's practiced.

"I've just put on my dress. If you're all waiting on me to celebrate, then that leaves us with drinks in the one club in this ridiculous town. Since my room is out of the question now."

Addison's face hardens, and Eve goes very still until they're interrupted - Bill Sampson comes barging in and she forgets.

"Are you - oh, hello, Addison, we're all going to the Three Gates. Max and Danny and Lloyd and the rest. Come along, won't you?"

Bill is quick and noncommittal and still immune to her. She can't believe she read him so wrongly. The seduction had been ill-timed, but she'd been so confident, so sure of herself after the incredible performance... But then, there's always Addison to remind her of her facility for reading people.

"We're right behind you," she says, hurrying up to him. And Addison can't help but follow.

She can feel his gaze on her for the rest of the night, while they sit in the corner booth under clouds of smoke, laughing and reliving certain scenes with triumph and drinking martini after champagne after martini. She's a bit giddy still under it all; she may have to go back to the Taft with him, but he can't touch her here. It's almost as though their "conversation" earlier that day never happened. She's still free - and given the way Lloyd avoids her gaze, still capable of moving him. Perhaps after a few more drinks...

Dreaming, she settles back against the worn black leather seat of their booth and laughs at Max's imitation of a befuddled ticket seller, until she feels a hand insinuate itself upon her velvet thigh.

"Why, what's wrong, Eve?" Danny asks. Danny, her costar, the actor from Buffalo who never met a part - or a newspaper article, for that matter - he could understand.

"Nothing," she manages. "Just a little too much gin, hmm? Why don't you pour me some of that champagne."

Danny complies. They all laugh and raise their glasses to her - "You deserve it, Evie!" - and Addison's hand slides up, up, under her skirt, his palm a rough contrast to the satin lining. Eve fumes with a demure smile in place. She won't even glare at him, the bastard, the sorry cold-livered snake-lipped son of a - Addison's fingers reach the juncture of her thighs, press hard against her - she desperately thinks of cold, of polar bears, of Antarctica and waist-deep snows - and then he withdraws.

She feels more than hears as he rummages through his pockets, extracts a cigarette from his case and taps it into the holder. Eve bites her lip, hard. She lifts her glass and sips at her champagne.

Their eyes meet in the long mirror behind the bar. His gaze is so dark with something unnameable she's a little frightened again, even in the company of all these strapping young bastards who won't touch her.

She stands a little unsteadily and collects her handbag. "If you'll excuse me."

The ladies' room is small but decorated with expansive glory for a small town clubhouse: a quite-uninhabited sitting room with velveteen settees, a plum chaise lounge with sturdy oak legs, two three-sided cheval mirrors, and candle wall sconces to light the way past the narrow partition into the inner room. It's tasteful. Eve is surprised.

She goes to the toilet but is unable to do more than sit and shred at her handkerchief. She's putting off the inevitable, she thinks as she runs her wrists under cool water and dries them on the silken plum-colored towel. Sooner or later she'll have to go back to the table, and sooner or later they'll call it a night, and sooner or later he'll follow her to the Taft and up to her suite, or talk the night clerk into giving him a key to her room, or - she stamps her foot to work away the quiver. She freshens her lipstick and breathes deeply. She must do this. She must survive it.

She must outlast him, no matter what happens later at the Taft, if only to keep her feet on the starred path.

When Eve comes around the partition Addison is perched on the edge of the plum chaise, smoke wafting around his head in a parody of a halo.

"The ladies will be pleased to have a gentleman's company," she murmurs, gesturing behind. Her hands don't shake; they never do unless she wants them to.

"Unfortunately for them, none are present."

She reddens at the implication. Addison grins and taps at his cigarette. The holder juts from the corner of his mouth like a sword - or a pen.

"They'll miss you at the table."

"No, they won't," he says, pulling the holder out of his mouth and looking at it thoughtfully. "Danny and Lloyd will miss you, but on the other hand they can't wait to be rid of me."

"They'll miss me, then. Why are you here? Come to extract more assurances from me that I belong to you?"

"Hardly. No. I'm not in the mood for mere assurances or worse, listless acquiescence." He meets her gaze, and Eve understands perfectly. There is a thrumming between her legs - how unnerving - and a coldness in her belly. She wants to bolt. She will not quail, damn him.

"You needn't worry about any interruptions," he continues. "I locked the door behind me."

Her legs betray her then, and she runs for the door. He catches her by the shoulder and pulls her against him. He is too strong, and her mind gabbles as his hard hands run over her arms and her back, aren't they funny, aren't they too funny on a man who lives in indolence? He lives by his wits, as does she. So how can he restrain her?

He encircles her waist with one arm and trails his free hand up her neck, into her hair. He grips it and pulls, but not enough to hurt her. Remember that, she thinks. "Is this how you get the women you want? Blackmail them into a corner, then force them against their will?"

"You expect me to admit a weakness? I suppose I could go through all the courting and kissing and simpering, hold your roses, discourage the vultures and make you feel like the one woman in a lifetime who'd give my existence meaning. But let's face it, my dear, this way is so much more fun."

"Yes, for you."

"Darling, lies become you. Don't ever stop."

He kisses her, and Eve wishes it sickened her. But his lips are firm and heavy, and his hands slide out of her hair and down her body and up underneath the hem of her dress - and all she can do is gasp into his mouth and crush herself closer to him.

The rest is fast and dizzy and full of commotion: he tears off his jacket, and when she winds her arms back around his neck he laughs and laughs.

"None of your shy violetting. I got my fill of that with tonight's performance."

"You wanted me in costume earlier. I - I don't care what you want," she grits out against his neck, as he slips her strap down and runs his tongue over her shoulder. Her dress is fast becoming a velvety muddle around her waist.

Addison straightens and grins at her. "But you should. I want a brewery-bred tiger."

At that she strikes at him, but he catches her arm - always one step ahead, always - and levers her around so he's behind her and they face the cheval. He dips a hand into the gaping neckline of her dress and cups her breast. He wants to watch. He wants to take notes. He wants to show her he's in charge.

So typical.

She finds it hard to look at herself, and realizes he's outmaneuvered her again when he forces her to her knees and pushes her into the plum plush of the chaise, his hands burning her waist and cupping her breasts and his knee levering her legs apart.

"I want to see," he says, and Eve can hear a slight breathless catch in that urbane drawl, "how you act for me now."

"I could never act in a situation such as this - " she tries, and sucks in her breath as he rips aside her undergarments and then strokes into her with such haste that she wonders, dizzy with the hard length of him, how much her lies do arouse him. He wants her false self and her real self, and to join the two would be the shattering of her. She looks flushed and debauched in the mirror, like a common prostitute spread out on display. For a moment their faces are alike in blurred lust and she can't tell the difference. She wishes she could feel more shame - oh - but it's only a teaspoon, and that over quick like medicine.

"Watch." He takes her over and over, holding her by the hair so she can't look away and she wants it to never end, and she wants to murder him with a blunt spike of wood, and she wants - oh, she wants - she can't say, his eyes don't falter, he holds her gaze in the silvered glass, his fingers in her mouth and her cleavage and somehow below her belly - perhaps he does have a devilish left hand, it would explain the poison in his columns - but she still can't discern between their faces. His thighs slap hard against hers, and she loses her mind a moment. She can't see, she can. She could be Cora for all she knows. She could be Margo. She could be Addison, just like he said. She - she - oh. Oh. She can't possibly think.

She does know that she expected him to finish quickly. He doesn't.

By the time he stands and staggers away from her, her knees are trembling and numb, her nipples sore, and her eyes feel like they've been glued open. The plush burns against her cheek.

"Clever girl." He collapses beside the chaise and takes out a handkerchief. "You're thinking you'll wear me out."

"Oh?" She flops forward over the chaise, not caring how she looks, wondering if he's looking. She darts a look to the cheval and sees that he is, but through the mirror, as she is. The girl in the mirror is her, and she is him, and he is her. There is no tormentor, no Cora, no reflection, even. The masks are gone.

"You're wrong," she says.

Because she is still here. Eve. On her knees, true, but still golden and high as the moon as far as the rest of the world knows. Her feet are on the path. She can feel the stars pricking them.

She knows - she better than anyone - that the feeling won't last.

"You're wrong," Eve repeats dreamily. "I'm not thinking of you at all."