A/N: this was written for the January 2013 WCC. The piece itself isn't over 2000 words; the A/N parts are what's making it so.
She tumbles down an alleyway, blond hair not far behind, her heels clicking-crunching against the cracked pavement and stray pieces of broken glass. Her mouth and eyes are too dry, her vision and hearing buzzing with dull energy, but both set of sensations are eclipsed by weaving numbness. She can hear every heartbeat pounding against her lungs and in her ears, its rhythm meshing with the sound of traffic.
Most people would call it late, but with the kind of company she keeps (and is, she reminds herself viciously), the night is barely halfway over—and by the looks of it, it's only going to get worse.
She knows she shouldn't be this drunk. Or gotten high, for that matter. She can't even remember how she got this way except for blurry-vivid snatches of memory (she's sitting at the neon-lit bar, there's metal lined up in front of the windows like a cage and she's laughing at a joke she doesn't even like because it's her job and she's nothing but a wall).
Nausea sweeps over her body before she can even feel it. The lurch of her stomach takes her off guard; she trips and her body collides with the building to the left as she folds, gagging. Her palms dig into the rough bricks, fingertips clinging to the cement as if it could keep her from collapsing. The remaining dregs of alcohol from the past two hours dribble from her mouth, sour-bitter and burning. She wipes her chin messily, vaguely realizing that she's only smeared it across the rest of her face.
If she didn't find a way out of this alley she would die. But goddammit, she hadn't survived for years to go out this way. It wouldn't be the first time someone died out on the streets, but there was so much more to her than the inhabitants of this godforsaken place.
She steps forward timidly, but her weak legs reduce her to taking rushed, clumsy lurches. She reels and topples; grit and shards of glass pierce her knees and palms, but the drugs and alcohol numb the pain enough for her to keep crawling. Unintelligible relief sails through her like a high when she reaches the curb—and just like a high, it's short-lived, cut short by another series of retches. She breathes heavily, trying to gather as much air as she can before her throat convulses, chokes her.
"Somebody! Anybody!" she manages to call out hoarsely. "Please, someone, help me."
The following silence fills her addled mind and poisoned body with despair.
Maybe she'll die here anyway.
She drops her head onto the cold, wet pavement, closes her eyes and waits.
She feels hands grip her arm and shoulders. She moans in dread; she's already had more than her share of hallucinations tonight and she isn't sure she can endure another one.
"C'mon miss," a male voice says. "We need to get you out of here." He lifts her to her limp feet with a grunt.
"Are you my Mauerspechte?" she slurs.
"I don't think so, miss; I don't know what that is."
He's supporting all her weight because she can't and there's a vague thought that she should at least be trying—but as far as she's concerned, he's just another fantasy her delirium has created.
"Bitte bringen Sie mich zu Berlin," she mumbles, the broken words coming to her mouth like muscle memory.
"I have no idea what you're saying, love," he says softly as he hauls her to the back seat of a car. "Close your eyes and breathe like I tell you." The engine starts and she groans, clutching her stomach with weak arms. "In, slowly. Hold. Now out."
She does her best to obey but her abdomen tightens, a warning sign that she's going to puke again even though there's nothing left but acid; a thin line of bile trickles down her face, staining the seat. She sobs, but it's interrupted by another retch. When it finally subsides, she squeezes her eyes as tightly as possible—yet the tears slip through anyway.
"Bitte bringen Sie mich zu Berlin," she whispers again and again. "Bitte bringen Sie mich zu Berlin."
She wakes up with a killer hangover and a nasty taste in her mouth. She sits up slowly, eyes closed and teeth clenched as her head spins. Despite the lingering acid from the previous night, she recognizes the saltiness in the sudden rush of spit in her mouth; she flails off the bed and frantically scans the room for a bathroom. She spots a door and tries to get to her feet but only succeeds in frenzied crawling. She barely makes it to the toilet as she hacks up bile. She collapses backward onto the slightly mildewy white tile, panting. She manages to totter to the sink to wash her mouth, cupping the water in her hands. She flinches at the sudden pain. She stares blankly at the array of cuts across her palms and fingers she had not felt just minutes prior. She dimly remembers falling in the alley, but there's no glass embedded in her flesh.
It's only then that it strikes her that she has no idea where she is.
Panic pumps through her and it's dizzying (there's a sense of déjà vu that makes her feel sick in an entirely different way) and she's already starting to hyperventilate—
No. This was no time to lose control. She needs to assess herself and surroundings (you must learn from your mistakes, mein Schatz).
She's still in her skintight mid-thigh dress but she's barefooted. Her face in the mirror has no trace of makeup or dirt or vomit. Her hair has completely lost its artificial straightness and faintly smells of cheap, floral soap.
She hates mirrors. There are shadowy bags under her bloodshot blue eyes and her lips are harshly chapped. Her skin is stretched too tight over her skull and sickly-colorless without makeup. The dark roots of her hair remind her that she needs to bleach it again (she remembers curly, tumbling black hair). She tries to bury memories of where she had come from, but she can't stifle the bitterness she feels at how her life's nothing like all those stories she'd read as a child, where the heroes emerging into a new world went on to do important things instead of becoming…
She shakes her head and turns away.
She leaves the bedroom and walks down the hallway into what appears to be a kitchen. It's clean, albeit old-looking. Then again, she's accustomed to luxurious surroundings. She isn't sure if she likes this—the worn linoleum floor and light gray walls—but beggars can't be choosers and she's too close to being one right now that she restrains her judgment. Besides, it's warm and the smell of food her host is cooking is pleasant instead of nauseating.
He's not much taller than her and has brown hair. She guesses he's in his early thirties. His clothes are worn and nondescript, characteristic of a plebe, and his stubbly face is just as unremarkable.
"I've made you breakfast," he says brightly. "I'm not quite finished, but there's toast on the table. If you need some ASA, it's in the cabinet." He flips the egg deftly with the frying pan. "I'm Brad, by the way."
"Thank you," she says warily.
"You should probably drink some water. There's juice and milk inside if you'd prefer," he says, pointing at the yellowed refrigerator. "Just be careful to avoid vomiting again; you're already dehydrated."
"Too late," she mutters, but he doesn't hear.
"I hope you like your eggs over easy," he says as he brings the pan over. It's still sizzling and the sound itself makes her mouth water. "If you don't, I can make you another batch."
"It's fine, thank you."
She begins eating. Everything is greasier than she'd like, but she's hungry enough not to mind very much. She pauses every few bites, self-conscious that he's watching her eat. It doesn't take long for her to finish. The sudden absence of noise amplifies the awkwardness.
"Thank you for the food," she finally says in a quiet, uncertain voice.
"My pleasure," he says with a smile. "Are your hands and knees okay? I did my best to get the glass out, but I might have missed some."
"They're fine, thank you."
"What did you say last night?" he inquired. "You were muttering something—I don't remember what—and I couldn't understand a single word."
"Bringen Sie mich zu Berlin," she tells him, her gaze fixed on her twitching fingers. "'Take me to Berlin.'"
"Nothing," she replies, her voice almost low enough to be inaudible. She looks down at her lap. "You wouldn't know anyway."
"I'm grateful for your help last night," she says again. "If you'd like, I can recompense you for your troubles." Her voice strengthens and she feels surer of herself. Transactions were familiar and safe. "I can hire people to repair any damage I caused."
"It's fine," he says with another smile. "I can take care of it myself."
"Then perhaps I can recompense you monetarily?"
"No, no money." He shakes his head.
"Then I don't know how I can repay you," she says, finally meeting his dark blue eyes. However, his smile falters and his next words are nervous and hesitant.
"I know…I know what you do." This time it's he who looks away. "I'm not rich and don't have many connections, and…and I know I'm not the most attractive, but…"
Her stomach tightens and drops when she realizes what he's asking.
Of course that's what he wants. It's what everyone wanted from her, bartered with and paid her for. How could she have thought otherwise? There was no such thing as charity in this world and she was little more than a glorified glory hole. Chances are he had saved her because he knew what she was.
She should really be used to this by now.
"I'm off duty," she says flatly.
"Just one night," he pleads. "I…I saved your life."
"You should have just fucked me while I was asleep."
His face spasms and stiffens.
"You'd be dead if I hadn't shown up."
She closes her eyes and clenches her jaw; inhales, exhales.
Might as well get it over with.
She stands, strips perfunctorily, and grasps his shoulders. She drags him toward her, backing up until she hits the wall. She kisses him hard and cold, her fingers snarling in his shirt to take it off before fiddling with the fly of his pants, ignoring that he's trying to move away.
"This isn't—" he stammers. "Isn't what—n-not now—"
She silences him with another forceful kiss. It doesn't take long for him to give in and let her pull him to the bedroom.
He asks her to say his name.
He asks her to tell him hers.
She does neither.
The only light in the room is sunlight but it still feels like a cage and she fucks him even though she hates it, because it's her job (he's no Mauerspechte and never will be) and she—she's nothing but a wall.
A/N: reviews much appreciated! Vote for this piece or others at the Review Game!