“I think I’m going to throw up,” a very pale Arana said, three steps into the arranged restaurant. “I might be sick. Be right back.” She turned to bolt into the nearby bathroom.
“Drai.” That was Svorak.
Two tanned hands dropped onto her shoulders and turned her around. “You are not escaping,” Drai said, not laughing like a martyr. “And before you try, I checked. No window in either bathroom.”
She swallowed, digging her heels into the floor. “I can’t. I–I really can’t. It’s been… years. She’s a different person–”
There was a low chuckle behind her. “Arana Bella? Climbing out of windows?” A large chocolate dark hand with scarred knuckles wrapped around her shoulder and squeezed, while also propelling her forward, a little faster than she was comfortable with. “Of course she’s different. That’s why you’re having lunch with her. Well… that and you haven’t seen her for years.”
“She hasn’t seen me ever,” she retorted. “Her entire life. Stop pushing me or you will regret it.”
Drai took over, smirking at Svorak, whom quickly backed away at the Arab’s nod. “Arana. Calm down. Breathe. Focus. You with me?”
The brunette gulped, currently focused on her feet. She drew a deep breath. “Sorry, sorry,” she mumbled.
“I see her,” Drai said. “Good news; she won’t notice you’re late. Better news? She’s spotted you.”
“Please, God, just kill me now.”
The Arab snickered as he steered his lover to a nearby empty booth, glancing at the blonde and redhead approaching across the street. The redhead was making a face at the blonde, who was apparently slightly distracted.
“Nah, can’t have that happening,” the black merc drawled, turning back from glancing over his shoulder, the blue striped shirt that he wore settling again in straight lines. “You’ll miss your play date… Aw, don’t look at me like that.”
Drai forced the brunette into the booth, and made her scoot all the way in before sitting next to her. “I take it you made Baba stay home?” he asked, looking at Svorak.
The single blue eye rolled. “I had a feeling that Lady here was going to be skittish. Blondie would have let her bolt,” The merc gave the woman in question a pained smile, “and then we would be chasing her all over the city if not the next country.”
Arana ducked her head down, refusing to let them see the faint hint of red dusting her cheeks. Drai snorted. Then he looked up as the bell over the door dinged. The duo they were awaiting stepped in, the blonde speaking, “–thought that was the sort of thing you did during these kinds of–”
“No. Just no,” the redhead gritted out. “Where are the–oh.”
The blonde beamed, already wandering over. “Oh, bummer, blondie bear isn’t here,” she said in a musing, wistful tone.
There was a choking sound from the side as Svorak got himself under control. “–bear,” he snickered, shaking his head. “Oh, gotta tell him that one.”
Arana looked up finally, and gave them a wan smile. “Hi, kiddo. Have a seat,” she offered softly.
Lucy tilted her head, shrugged and slid into the booth. The redhead sat beside her, at the edge of the seat, as if daring someone else to even try sitting with them. “Helloooo~” the blonde sang. “How are you? You’re not as pretty today.”
Arana blinked, staring for a beat before she realized it wasn’t actually an insult, just a socially awkward comment. “Oh. I didn’t get as dressed up, no.”
Seeing as the others were seated, the one-eyed merc wandered off to a table near the entrance. The place was nice: big windows, padded seats, free bread… He nodded at the waiter who drifted by and left a small basket of sliced sourdough. Nice. Maybe he ought to take Blondie out some night soon. After the beating he was going to get from revealing Christoph’s new nickname, he was going to need nourishment. And energy. Svorak grinned and picked up the menu. Was there steak?
The redhead already looked bored, as Lucy brightened. “Oh! This here is Pretty-”
“Ember,” the redhead corrected irritably.
“-Pretty.” Lucy giggled and ignored the glare she got for that. “Her name is Ember. Amber. That color thing.”
Arana blinked, then cracked a smile. Even through reincarnation, Lucy didn’t change. “Do you like instruments?” she asked softly, watching as both looked at her, abruptly focused.
“How do you know that?” Ember demanded, eyes narrowed as she scooted a bit closer to her lover.
Lucy batted at Ember’s shoulder and leaned across the table, meeting Arana’s gaze. She stared. And stared. And stared.
Drai’s brows lifted slowly. “See something you like?”
“Yes,” Lucy said, sitting back again. “And no.” She smiled faintly. “Why are your eyes so dead?”
Arana’s jaw dropped. “What?” she asked, surprised. Dead? Her eyes? That didn’t even make sense! She was alive…
“Yes. Like all the light escapes them, and doesn’t want to go in,” Lucy said. “Your eyes are the eyes of corpses.” She tilted her head. “Why?”
The brunette swallowed and drew a quiet breath through her eyes. “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replied.
Blonde curls shifted erratically as Lucy shook her head. “How do I know you?”
Arana swallowed. She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t tell this girl she didn’t know- she couldn’t make her hurt. She couldn’t. Couldn’t. Her expression shut down, all the reasons she couldn’t do this running through her head. “I’m sorry. We shouldn’t be here. Everything has started over for you, it’s not fair for me to talk to you in this place.”
The biggest reason? Arana couldn’t tell Lucy that she’d killed her.
Uh oh… The black merc shook his head and eyed the waiter that was walking towards the group at the booth. Drai had conveniently left his mic on, giving Svorak a clear audio of the discussion that was steadily heading towards a cliff, if not already over.
The big man sighed and rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. Arana never did do well with personal demons. Her own existence being one of them; her past, another.
He thumbed the mic. “If she wants out, I won’t stop her. But she needs this.” Svorak took another breath, but let go of the transmitter instead. Wasn’t his life, wasn’t his decision. All he had was an opinion that he had stated. Which still begged the question, should he order to go or not bother at all? Cuz there was a waitress heading his way.
“Why are you afraid?” Lucy persisted. “Are you afraid of my reaction? Or are you afraid of the pain it could bring?”
“Both,” Arana said after a pause. She looked away, sighing. “And I’m afraid to drag you into something that you don’t need to experience.”
“But I want it,” the blonde retorted, temper flaring. “That’s why I’m here, isn’t it? I know I don’t react well with others, but you shouldn’t-”
Ember grabbed her hand, cutting her off with the sudden shift of her own focus. “Dollie…”
The blonde pouted and looked back at Arana. “Tell me.”
“I could shoot you again,” Lucy offered. “Maybe you’ll get back up again. Then I could shoot you again. And again. And again. That pain is the same, isn’t it? Tell me.”
Ember and Drai stiffened at the same time as the merc at the other table swore quietly and turned. Arana met Lucy’s gaze, and her shoulders slowly drooped. “I once had a sister, a little sister, a very, very, very long time ago. She meant the world to me. She meant more to me than… than breathing, or eating, or sanity. Her name was Lucille Abigaille Watson, she loved her husband, her music, and all sorts of sweets. She was born sterile.”
Lucy blinked. Her brow furrowed. “Born sterile? Did she want a baby anyway? She could have adopted…”
“Not really. No one adopted back then. The orphans… they just wandered the street. No one cared about them. Adoption wasn’t the thing. The thing was power, and bloodlines, and purity. Adopting wasn’t part of that.” Arana sighed.
“I don’t understand,” Lucy admitted. “What does this have to do with me-”
“We called her Lucy, for short. She… you’re her spitting image, Dollie. You look exactly like her.” The brunette tugged off her locket, opening it, and handed it over.
Lucy sucked in a breath, holding the trinket gingerly with the tips of her fingers. “How… how old is this?” she whispered, awed.
Snorting, Svorak handed the menu back to the pretty redhead waitress as he listened to the line. That piece of jewelry was a relic. He remembered picking it up out of the Mexican sand and holding it his palm as a half-dead Lady nailed to a wall peered at it with dry bleary eyes. In the entire time that he had kept it in a pocket, he hadn’t peered inside. The merc had only brought it out to hang around Arana’s throat when they got her to base.
“The locket is about… two hundred and ten years old, give or take,” Arana replied softly. “And… the picture… It’s a hundred a thirty-four years next month.” She exhaled. “It was painted three and a half years before my sister died. About four before I…”
“Stopped dying,” Lucy said flatly, looking up from the locket.
“How?” Blue eyes searched her face.
Arana swallowed convulsively, heart seizing, as Drai noticed Svorak tugging his earpiece out. “I was… cursed. I cut up whores and used their insides in black magic, to make Lucille have a baby. She wanted a baby so bad. When she found out she couldn’t… she was afraid that everyone would be angry with her. Everyone. She cried, and begged, and pleaded with me… so I visited the Undertaker.
“Some whispered that he did magic. Stories of necromancy to scare little children. He wasn’t a nice man, so I killed him first, and stole everything he had.” She shook her head and drew a breath, letting it out in a huff. “I ignored all the warnings of danger and the rule of three, and Karma. And I gave Lucille a baby.”