Title: The Queen
Rating: M (underage girls and alcohol, mentions of sex, foul language)
Characters/Pairings: Liz, Patti
Summary: When life deals you lemons, play cards
Notes: Liz's life on the streets. Originally written for se_ladyfest for pikabot. Can also be found on my livejournal fic dump.
queen of diamonds
Dampness permeated everything - her skin, her hair, her clothes, but most of all, the ceiling. Rain dripped right through the sieve-ceiling, right onto the card the Jenely held out. It bulged on the waxy card like an unnatural dewdrop.
"Did you know her portrait's based on an actual queen?" Jenely pointed to her card with a spindly, dark finger. Queen of hearts.
"Maybe you'd be better if you didn't show us your hand so much," Katy said, which meant she probably had a good hand. Liz recalculated her strategy. Katy looked down at the cards in her left hand and lackadaisically twirled her umbrella in her right.
Definitely a good hand.
"You'd be better if you stopped going to the library so much," Monica added. Jenely's books were in a sad state, thanks to last night's rainstorm and the numerous leaks in the burnt-out building's ceiling. It really wasn't the safest place to be. That was why they were there.
Monica took the last sip of the vodka they were passing around, causing Katy to smack her playfully. Monica laughed and turned the bottle upside down. "No more!" she sing-songed, sticking her tongue out at them all.
Liz laughed, too. "Are we gonna play or not?"
Monica folded. Katy made her bet.
Liz raised her.
Katy raised an eyebrow.
"Show," Liz said, flashing her flush.
Katy pursed her lips and tipped her hand for the table (really, a circle of girls gathered over what was initially a tray for breakfast in bed) to see her hand.
Liz raked the pot toward her, grinning at the dollar bills and quarters and the only slightly opened mascara Jenely'd shoplifted from the drug store.
"I think you cheat," Katy said, sniffing.
"Nu-uh. It'd be Patti who cheats," Jenely said distractedly. She rubbed her gloved hands together as though to generate warmth. Trying to get warm on a rainy November day like this was useless. "I don't even play with her anymore. She's too fucking good."
Liz cast a loving glance over at her sister, who snored in the corner. Her shoes were starting to look worn through. Time for a new pair of tennis shoes.
She looked carefully at the deck.
A new pair of boots for herself, too, if she could win a few more tonight...
raise your bluff
They lived like animals. During the day they laughed like hyenas, stole like rats, fought like cats. During the night they exchanged dreams in whispers, finally falling asleep as the sun rose.
Sometimes Katy didn't come back at night but she told them, in whispers, that she'd Done It with her boyfriend. Liz had seen him only once, a figure twice Katy's size.
Liz held her breath as Jenely laughed and Monica asked questions.
"Did it hurt? Was there blood?"
"No," Katy replied, in that tone she liked to use so much, the tone of superior knowledge. "That's only when you're a virgin."
Monica grew quiet.
"Liz probably knows," Katy said.
"Your mom was a whore, right? So you must know all about this kind of thing."
Liz didn't answer. She was glad Patti was asleep - always asleep, always separate, a little sister among big sisters. Something tumbled inside of her - a weird mixture of pride at being deemed worthy by Katy and apprehension at being caught in a lie. She should've never told Katy about her mother, even when she trusted her.
She came home every night, and we could hear her - and men - but Patti and I stayed in our room. Pause. Then she started coming home less and less. And then she stopped coming home.
And then she stopped coming home.
She and Patti had stayed out as much as they could during the day, shoplifting and stealing sips of beer when adults weren't looking. Liz tried smoking, although she'd never let Patti. If there was anyone Liz could protect it was Patti. Not herself - that didn't matter; she was strong, she could take it - but someone, at least.
All in all, life had dealt her a pretty sucky hand.
"Yeah," Liz said, faintly. Her voice sounded unlike her own, sure and steady. "Yeah. I've done it, too." She knew enough about the act from burning glimpses, R-rated movies, and porn that the boys slipped under her nose after her shirts started getting tight.
She could hear the boys' cruel laughing in that moment, but then she realized it was Monica, giggling nervously.
"Wow," she said, her tone wistful.
"You should join us," Katy said, in a fake-sugar welcome voice. Monica went quiet again, this time with shame. Monica had a bed to go back to, if she wanted it. Liz frowned, but averted Katy's accusative gaze. It wasn't like Monica's parents didn't have needles lying around, and trash. No jobs. They were worse than her own mother, who at least used to be pretty, before, and as far as Liz knew, her mother never took drugs - or, at the very least, never took them home. And there was food, too, even if it was mostly Choco Puffs, and her raised by the TV and Patti raised by her.
When Monica went silent, they all went silent. Liz's eyes glazed over, and she leaned over, mattress groaning, to stroke Patti's fine blonde hair.
Eventually she fell asleep to Patti's light snoring.
queen of hearts
They were excited. The whole group of them were Going Out - Liz stole a new lipstick, a cranberry red called Queen of Hearts, for the occasion. She put on sunglasses like an old-timey movie star, even though the sky was a typical winter gray.
Together, they giggled to his apartment.
It had heating, a welcome relief from the December streets. The girls sighed in pleasure and peeled off their layers, a shedding of fur in a false summer. Katy's boyfriend passed alcohol around and everyone drank happily. As usual, Liz passed the bottle straight to Monica, over Patti. Patti, as usual, seemed not to be disappointed by the lack of alcohol. She seemed more involved in pulling out every single tissue from Katy's boyfriend's tissue box and then hiding them under the couch cushion.
The night wore on. Liz kept drinking. A radio in the background crackled hard, biting rap, and she found herself swaying to the music, dancing drunkenly.
At some point, Liz felt hands at her hips, pressure against her back, swaying in time with her. She was so surprised she nearly stopped what she was doing but - oh, fuck it, maybe it was the alcohol talking but she was having a good time.
His hands sidled upwards, under the hem of her shirt, fingering the flat skin of her stomach. Confused and drunk, Liz simply kept dancing - until she got Katy's glare.
Liz broke away, glancing up at the figure to find Katy's boyfriend.
"Oh," she said, laughing, trying to ignore the sinking in her stomach, "You must have gotten me and Katy confused..." She laid the charm on thick, even though she was thinking, How the fuck could he possibly?
"Sorry," he said, smirking.
Things continued for about five minutes, until she saw him putting his hand on Patti's tiny arm.
Liz strode up to him and punched him in the face.
up the ante
She gave Queen of Hearts to Monica. Monica, not knowing the history, was delighted with the lipstick's cranberry-tart red. Almost as delighted as Liz was with it before Saturday night came along and happened.
Oh, you know about Saturday night? Me punching your boyfriend? Yeah...
"I was drunk," she told Katy.
Katy suddenly laughed. "Fuck, it was wild, wasn't it? You didn't have to leave early though. It was only a bloody nose."
Everything was okay if you were drunk. Nevertheless, Liz felt Katy's eyes clawing at her back as she walked away. You didn't have to leave early though.
Times like these, Liz felt like her secret would crawl out of her back and scream at her these girls. Her friends. Her family.
I'm a virgin, it would shriek, and, what's more, I'm a weapon, I'm a meister.
And then - when they learn she and Patti are made of metal - what will they think?
"I don't think we should go that way," Liz said, through alcohol's lull.
Katy blew her a wet, sloppy raspberry. "Scaaaared?" she asked, her voice slow and taunting. "You're gonna get raped, Liz!"
Liz felt annoyance break through her stupor. "I'm not afraid. I... I just don't... don't think it's a good idea."
Monica stumbled, trying to hold Katy up. "Why not?"
"Well," Liz said, stymied, "Why should we?"
"Anyone still awake'll see us," Jenely said. She sounded tranquil. Alcohol had a good effect on Jenely; it made her calm, easy-going. Better than Katy, who became combative, or Monica, who became tense and weepy.
"Jenely's right," Katy said, giggling insanely.
Jenely went still. "But I think Liz is right," she said. "We shouldn't go that way. It just... feels wrong. Not like muggers or rapists wrong. Just wrong."
Liz suddenly felt an electric shock of fear go through her, something more than her previous vague apprehension.
"Patti," she said suddenly, "Where's Patti?"
"Katy," she said sharply, trying to stable her legs, "Where's Patti?"
Katy's mouth went slack. "Relaaax," she said, "She probably just went home ahead of us."
Liz felt herself clutching herself in a huge, a desperate shield against her field. Her knuckles, clutching on her upper arms, went white.
"I can't relax," she said, although that did sound like Patti. Patti, who was surprisingly capable of taking care of herself, always a step away from the older girls, always removed from them by her age and strange demeanor.
But that mix of strange apprehension and total fear for Patti meshed to create a feeling that drove her feet to fly across the pavement, slapping it angrily and moving her arms, her second-hand purse slapping against her body as she flew.
"Liz!" Katy called.
But Liz kept running. Something in her told her to go down the alley, and she did, running straight into the dark apprehension, straight into a deeper and deeper wrenching of her stomach. She heard a rustle near the alley wall - she whipped her head over, only to read the vague shape of a homeless man. She continued running.
She kept going until the faint moonlight outlined a figure, running toward her, a small figure with moonlit hair.
She slammed into it and wrapped her arms around it. "Patti," she whispered, her breath ragged.
She had hardly wrapped Patti in a hug when Patti took her sister's hand.
"It's one of Them," she said.
Patti's hand felt like metal, tempting and power-cold, but Liz shook her head and resumed her running, this time in the other direction, away from the black-feeling storm ahead. She heard a horrible scream - a man's scream, another homeless man? and the crunch of bones, like a building-jump suicide - and only ran faster, dragging Patti along behind.
"No, Patti, no. We're not-" she gasped for air, willing her feet to go faster, "not going back-"
She dragged Patti out into the opening of the alleyway, finally feeling safe, though she could sense the black mass slowly making its way toward her.
Together, she and Patti made their way to the warehouse. By the time they got there, it was almost morning, and the black feeling had retreated, lost their delicious, metallic scent.
"Wow," Jenely whispered.
Liz stared over at the glowing light of the battery-operated alarm clock and pulled her blanket around her tighter. It wasn't that it was cold out - it was still only September. But she suddenly needed to have as much protection as she could, even if it was all in her head.
Jenely gave a crackly laugh. "Damn," she said.
The new girl - Megan, but probably Meghan or Mehgin or something, Liz didn't care enough to learn how to spell it - took a seat at the edge of Jenely's bed. The two girls went silent.
"Can I sit here?" Megan asked. Belatedly.
"Sure," Jenely said, but she nodded to Liz and the two of them rose. Liz noticed Megan putting her head in her hands and wondered if she was going to cry. She felt paradoxical stings of pity and jealousy - who was this girl, to choose the streets, to choose Katy, and then think it was going to be a cakewalk?
"She probably didn't know what she was getting into," Jenely said, as though reading Liz's mind. Liz, though, couldn't read Jenely's, and she didn't know if the other girl was referring to Katy or the streets.
Liz suddenly missed Monica. Monica, for whom Megan was some kind of half-assed replacement. Even Katy missed Monica, and it had been Katy who'd driven Monica away. When Liz had gone to visit Monica at her home (they'd dropped Monica off there a couple of times), she'd learned - by entering past Monica's drug-addled father - that Monica didn't live there anymore.
It had been the first time she'd seen Monica's room. It was more of a closet, really, with two beds - Monica had a sibling, at some point? - with dirt in the carpet and posters of so-two-seconds ago singers on the walls. Some appeared to be missing. In fact, a lot of the stuff seemed to be missing, a room lacking its vital organs.
Like the lipstick drawer. When she opened the drawer full of stolen lipsticks, the drawer Monica had boasted about, Liz noticed that Queen of Hearts was gone, too. She'd given it to Monica after that Saturday night a year ago, and it had been Monica's favorite ever since. Monica, who couldn't win a hand of poker to save her life.
Liz never told the group where she'd been, or what she'd learned: that Monica was, presumably, out on the streets with someone who wasn't them.
But now her attention focused back on Jenely, who was sitting on Megan's mattress. Megan looked over at them with large, puppy eyes, but Liz ignored her and sat down next to Jenely. If Megan wanted their spot, then they could take Megan's.
There was quiet for a moment. Liz wrapped herself tighter in her blanket. Jenely sighed.
"You should've told me sooner, Liz," she said.
Liz had never fully trusted Jenely. It was difficult for her to trust anyone outside of Patti, but then Katy had won her over by force of charm.
And look how that had ended.
But now, under Katy, she felt that she and Jenely were in the same leaky boat, and it was time for Liz to say something of her own secrets.
Liz remembered, too, that Jenely could sense the blackness, though not as keenly as Liz herself. It feels wrong, Jenely had said.
"It's just... why don't you go off then? To that school? Isn't it in Colorado or something?"
"Nevada," Liz answered. Shibusen. She'd thought of it before, but it was all so weird. Sure, she and Patti had encountered those black things before. And she knew she and Patti could both transform into guns - how weird was that? - but she never thought that Shibusen was the place for them. People enrolled into Shibusen. People with pedigrees, or nice, normal people who had been discovered. Liz hadn't been to school since her freshman year of high school. She hardly even knew how to fire Patti. Firing her sister? It wasn't normal. Sure, meisters and their weapons were respected, albeit mysterious. But her, Liz? Really?
"I'm not going," she said, and when she did, she understood that Jenely would understand: Shibusen didn't want her.
when the chips are down
Jenely stayed home that night, which turned out to be a good thing.
It was because someone had ripped up her library books, effectively terminating Jenely's tentative library membership. Before she'd used Monica's address; her time was running short, anyway. Nonetheless, it had been a spiteful, petty thing to do, and instead of staying mum like she should have she blamed Katy.
But maybe it wasn't Katy, Liz thought, maybe it was Megan.
She almost snorted to herself. Megan had looked transparently guilty during the accusation - an accusation that had justified Katy's yelling back, after which hair was pulled and Jenely's face ended scratched.
But if Megan had done it, she had definitely done it under Katy's orders.
After they were sufficiently drunk - drunk enough for Katy not to realize that Liz didn't drink as much as she'd pretended - they were out on the streets again, under a bright full moon. Liz felt her stomach twist. Full moons were always full of dark activity, and the more she noticed it the more she became aware, a vicious circle that she wanted no part of.
"Let's take East," she said.
"Why're you always so scaaaared," Katy said, slapping Liz carelessly on the arm. It stang, and Liz shifted away from her. She stayed rooted where she stood forcing Katy and Megan to pause.
Katy rolled her eyes. "Bitch," she said.
Katy waved her off with a sloppy flip of her hand. "Shut up. You're drunk."
"No," Liz said, so emphatically that Katy and Megan stopped where they stood. "You're drunk. We're not going. We're taking another way back."
"We're going" Katy said, spitting, unladylike, on the ground. Liz would have taken it personally, if she hadn't felt like nothing mattered anymore.
"No," Liz said again.
Katy stared Liz down.
Liz refused to avert her eyes. Megan looked down at the ground, as though she feared she'd be caught in the figurative crossfire.
"Fine," Katy snapped. "Do what you want. I hope you get raped."
Liz almost wanted to laugh, but she couldn't open her mouth. She knew that if she did, she would start crying. Nothing she could do would convince Katy and Megan not to go that way – but they wouldn't listen to her; when had they ever?
"Watch your backs," she whispered as they left, with equal parts venom and hope against hope.
She walked slowly the other way, careful to trust her gut and avoid the bad spots. When she finally entered the warehouse, it was dark and quiet.
Maybe someone picked them up on the way back, she thought, but for once the idea of a sleazeball got replaced by something worse: the vision of a Thing, tearing out Katy's guts.
It was not as comforting as Liz once thought such a vision would be.
"Jenely?" she called. "Jenely?" For a moment, with no response, Liz feared the worst.
"What?" Liz heard the rustle of blankets, then a light shined, right into her eyes. She squinted.
"Get that thing out of my face," she said, and she crept closer. Jenely sat up in her bed, reading the remains of her vandalized book with a flashlight under her many covers. Next to her, Patti lay, looking, by all means, angelic and childlike. Liz felt the December cold in her bones for the first time in a long time. She wanted a warm bath. She settled for a seat on the edge of Jenely's bed.
She wanted out.
"Where are Katy and Monica?"
"Megan," Liz corrected, not answering her question. Jenely sighed.
"Listen," Liz said, suddenly, "I don't want you to take it personally, but…"
Jenely started laughing her odd, raspy laugh.
"You're leaving me, aren't you?"
Patti stirred between them. Liz just stared at Jenely, at her brown eyes. She felt shame sinking in her stomach. But I have to do this, she thought.
Jenely smiled toothily. "Well, too bad," she said. "I'm leaving you, too."
For a moment, it stung. Then Liz could only laugh. It was only fair. It only made sense. The only thing bonding them was their shared misery. "Where are you going?"
Jenely shrugged, as though to deflect an expected judgment. "Back to school," she said casually. Liz wrinkled her nose.
"Won't you have to repeat some grades?" The idea of going to school – after all they'd been through – seemed bizarre.
"Yeah – but, you know…"
It was unlike Jenely to trail off, but she did.
"Good luck," Liz said.
She meant it.
Jenely put her head back down on the pillow and stared at the ceiling while Liz looted Katy's, then Megan's, things. When she came back to the bed she threw down a wad of money for Jenely.
"Half for you," she told her, stony-faced.
She didn't mention the syringes she'd found hidden under their stuff. Jenely didn't need to know. Liz hadn't wanted to know.
"So this is goodbye?"
Liz smiled, and started throwing things into her box. All her stash – her scarves, her stolen lipsticks, that coat of Katy's she'd always envied and finally had. The circumstances made her pause, but only briefly.
Things will be better now, she thought, clutching the coat, I'm going to have everything I ever wanted. Patti will have everything she ever deserved.
The next morning, she and Patti were out.
"I think we'll be okay," Liz said, cracking her neck. It felt good, free.
Of course, the new coat of polish on her nails probably helped, as did the nice, thick, faux-fur coat she'd stolen from Katy. It'd been new, Katy's favorite. And now it's mine, Liz thought, a bit smugly. Liz felt silly now. Katy knew how to run. She knew how to live. She would survive to crawl another day.
Liz giggled, bouncing in her new, clean shoes. "Of course we will! Katy was a bit-"
Liz looked at her sister – really looked – for the first time in a long time. Her clothes looked cold and raggedy, new shoes and coat aside. And she looked bigger than she used to. Older, a little less like a child.
Apparently reading her face, Patti smiled.
I've never given her enough credit, Liz realized. "We'll find a better way to make a living, Patti."
Patti slipped her cold hand into Liz's, trying to warm her. It felt tempting, metallic. Sometimes it was like Patti could read her mind.
"I think we'll be okay," Liz repeated.
It was a new hand, and this time, Liz planned to play her trump card.
There was a new queen at the table.