"Do you so desperately wish for someone to love you?"
He had been surprised, when she'd asked – it wasn't at all like Marissa to talk straight. She hinted, nudged, and engineered generally compromising situations until one got the point. He had never seen her get directly to the heart of any issue – except death, which was a topic she dealt with well enough.
"Why, whatever makes you think that?"
She had looked him straight in the face – which was uncharacteristic, too.
"Only everything about you."
He had given a strained little laugh. He supposed what she said was true.
"You know, you're a genuinely kind person, but there's something oddly jarring about the way you act, speak and move. I don't smell deceit. I smell desolation and desperation and intense self-deprecation. I smell someone who sees more than he ought to see and is ashamed of it. Why shouldn't you see? If it's there, who has the right to tell you not to see it? Why do you think there's something wrong with that?"
He had been sorry and faintly embarrassed when he'd offered blood, though he'd been the only one to notice and she was clearly desperate. She had taken him up on his offer, with no regret or false tenderness; she had never attempted to ease his pain. The contract was simplicity itself: blood, in exchange for her not asking questions. It had enabled them to indulge in a comfortable pretense of knowing one another, although they would never even know themselves.
But at some point, Marissa had abruptly decided that starving was well worth her trouble.
"I don't want you to become like me. I've lost every fragment of any identity anyone ever dreamt up for me; I've gone and crumbled them all up and turned them into alphabet soup. Trust me, it isn't pleasant."
"Oh, but we do know who you are. You're Marissa, whatever that implies. You're exactly who you are and you can be precisely who you set out to be."
There had been something akin to shock in her blue eyes right then, along with the familiar glint of silver madness that showed whenever she was upset. He should have been afraid, but he wasn't; he didn't care enough about what might happen to be frightened by the multiple possibilities doubtless playing out before her eyes.
Then she had smiled, her lips a taunt while her eyes held resignation. He was used to it; her bowdlerized mockeries that passed for smiles rarely aligned with her eyes.
"I suppose you can look at things that way."
"There's really no need to know precisely who you are, because you are whoever and whatever you are, and no amount of 'knowing' can ever change that.
"Besides, in this world, who would care?"
"We can reinvent ourselves anytime we wish, you and I. We'll always be pretending. But that's the essence of our characters, isn't it? So it's still us. So it doesn't matter.
"No, it doesn't matter at all, to us or anyone else. They want to see what they want to see, and we want to give them what they want to see. To an extent. It's a win-win situation."
He had realized then that she was using a collective, "we", not "you", and he wondered, because she didn't seem like him at all. Marissa did what she wished, however she wished, and stubbornly put up with the consequences later; how could they be in any way similar?
Then he recalled the falseness of her smile, the careful blankness of her features, and the ruthlessness she exhibited in getting what she wanted, and realized that, perhaps, they merely had very different outward manifestations of the same chameleon tendencies. It was their way of staying safe.
He pretended to be the harmless angel, while she slipped on the mask of the Devil.
Yet they were really merely lonely, rejected, frightened children.