"'b', 'l', double 'o'……"
She tasted the sounds on the tip of her tongue, rolling them in her mouth and sending them spiraling down her gullet accompanied by the pleasantly acid taste of new wine.
Her throat burned, and the back of her neck ached. It was a dull, silently humming ache – precisely the kind that made one feel, or at least wish, that the offending body part wasn't quite connected to the remainder of one's existence.
At least, that was how she felt: dissociated.
But of course. In this world, there was little water, only wine, and then she had lost Kamille.
In truth, Marissa had never been drunk before.
Marissa laughed the way only she could, sipping a bright pink liquor from a straw. Saturday was her day for drinking – she was determined to enjoy it.
The bartender leaned over the counter, watching her, and she let him – they had settled into a pretense of knowing each other, by now.
"You sure do like to drink," he commented, as she handed him her glass for a refill. It was her fifth.
"Here. On the house," he said, stretching his hand out to dangle a maraschino cherry centimeters from her mouth.
She took it without comment. Evidently it had been soaked with vodka and food coloring, in lieu of syrup. Of course. The only thing water was used for here was washing and making wine. There would hardly be enough left for a syrup factory. Pity.
The dashing blond maverick behind the counter paused mid-way in refilling her glass, eyes focused on the generous swirl of neon pink that he was trying to stir into the mixture of absinthe and vodka, despite the fact that his mind was evidently elsewhere. She caught the reflection of his gaze on the glass – even in these times, his obsession with cleanliness had hardly subsided; his glasses, though chipped, still sparkled – and knew at once that he could taste it, too.
"Come on, finish that and give it here," she complained impatiently, drumming an erratic tattoo on the wooden counter.
He felt the soft, but insistent and jarring, click of nails against chipboard. Her lack of patience, so contrasting with her relaxed posture, made him smile.
"You drink far more than is good for you," he chastised, handing the glass back, carefully averting his gaze. He didn't mean it, and he didn't mind the business.
"So? I only do it on Saturdays. Besides, what is ever good for you?"
"But you don't do anything else," he replied levelly, busying himself polishing another glass. He refused to look straight at her; liars too often knew their own kind, and he didn't like being seen through.
"Do you think I should, then?" Defiance.
Both of them looked up, and silver clashed with aquamarine, if only for a moment.
So rare for two persons who disliked direct eye contact above anything else in the realm of intimacy.
"Skye," she murmured dangerously against the cool rim of her glass. "I shall drink exactly as much as I wish."
He smiled at the memory of the name she did not know, feeling the steel in her words that she wanted to slide under his skin, feeling also her weak heart thudding wildly in her chest from the alcohol. He saw the scent of the perfume dabbed on her wrist.
It was crimson tinged with rust, and he thought he knew what it stood for.
He decided that, considering the imminent failure of her heart, she could be forgiven for the price of a kiss.
"But, Skye, why on earth would I want you to forgive me?"
He asked finally if she were drinking in the hopes of getting drunk. It was a question he had asked since the beginning.
She answered no; she had been trying since she could remember and if that were the sole purpose she would have stopped drinking by now. It had never happened, somehow.
He narrowed his blue eyes, focusing on a piece of eternity that only he could see.
Finally, he asked:
"Why do you drink, then?"
Marissa drained her glass, savoring the toxic taste of a surfeit of food coloring.
"I don't know," she told him, handing back the glass. "I don't imagine you do."
"Ah, so that was your day job?" the bartender asked in an unnaturally high sing-song voice.
Marissa's answer was to hold her glass out for a refill. This time, the liquor wasn't pink.
"30% alcohol, there you go. Careful."
She took it, sipped, swallowed. Even if she no longer knew precisely what she was doing, the motions of drinking had become a reflex action.
And it was a Saturday, so why not? She knew that, at least, because otherwise she wouldn't be here. (Although, really, that was her brain talking in circles.)
Her throat burned, and there was a dull ache in her neck.
"'b', 'l', double 'o'……"
The liquor was searing in its acidity ("this tastes more like grape vinegar than grape wine", some little functioning part of her mind quibbled), metallic, probably going bad – and dyed a faint rusty hue with blood. Skye had cut himself on the jagged edge of the broken glass and Marissa had done the same without noticing it, the rush of alcohol singing in her veins.
The café lay in ruins about them, as it had done for years. Skye nonchalantly sipped pure alcohol, little by little, from a small bottle. He fully intended to die of alcohol poisoning, today of all days.
They were the only ones left, indulging in nostalgia and a surfeit of alcohol amidst a wilderness of destruction.
"Marissa… You're 'Cybele', right? The chip implanted in your neck?"
She seemed not to hear him, and for a moment he wondered if she were so drunk that her senses had failed.
Then she drained her glass and raised her eyes to his.
Why on earth do you even bother to ask?
He had caught her on her "day job". He had known about 'Cybele' all along, really, for reasons few would have suspected: it was his project gone wrong; his ultimate betrayal of all he held dear.
So he hadn't been surprised, really, when he'd felt the fire under her feet, seen the madness consuming her mind – his fault? – seen, once again, the scent of her perfume on the wind. He had been a corpse and felt the glint of silver in her eyes.
He had learnt what it meant to die.
She was quite mad, and the silver wasn't her, and he had decided that 'Cybele' could be forgiven at the price of Marissa's life.
Although he supposed it was all his fault, at the end of the day, when all was said and done and everything that was left was to go to Hell.
Why on earth would I want you to forgive me?
He was guessing that some part of her had always known. Why had he used this child for an experiment, really?
She blinked at him again, like a child, absently tugging at the fine copper wires trailing from her neck where Skye had severed her connection to Cybele. Some part of her knew something was missing. The rest of her didn't know or care to remember. Perhaps that was for the best.
He was painfully reminded of the days when she had been his special friend, almost a sister, instead of a subject.
But she was a clone, and he had been the doctor. In their world, that had been the only way to go about things.
Although even that was an excuse, if you thought about it.
She squinted at him because her vision was fading; all she could make out was a halo of gold and a pair of bright blue eyes. The expression on his face was dim; obscure.
She could not possibly have known that he cried.
All she knew was that this was an angel, and that she was going to die.
He caught her as she began to slump forward. Her eyes closed almost immediately, hiding her from the world. Very well; she had always been a good liar.
The last thing she saw was the inscription on the silver pendant round his neck, one she had never before deigned to notice. Somehow she knew what the words were and what they said, though it was unclear how she remembered them, and she would have rolled them in her mouth for the last time had she not already lost her voice.
Instead, Skye said them for her and let her feel their weight.
"To Kamille, from baby Risa, with love."