Valentines in the Dregs

byLucifer_Carroll©

He felt a pop and sank to the ground again. So much for that arm, he thought pitifully as a few murmurs escaped his gritted teeth.

"Oh my God, are you all right," she said frantically, her eyes still streaming.

James rolled his eyes angrily nodding to his now dislocated shoulder.

"Oh shit, I'm sorry, Mr. Not Rapist. It was a reaction." Her mouth moved with justifications and apologies streamed together. If he wasn't only barely able to see through the combined pain, he'd have been blushing deep scarlet. No one had ever fussed over him or seen him as worth an apology or condolence. He had even been kicked when grieving at his mother's grave.

He pushed himself through the pain, willed it into a dull roar. "James," he squeaked. "James Korbain."

"Huh?"

"S'my name," he spat out before grimacing again in pain.

"Oh," she said quietly.

There was a moment of silence. Perhaps, it would have blossomed into a romantic moment on TV with a heartfelt apology and a shared look. Instead in the real world, James merely gasped. "Um... could you fix my arm, please? And for God's sake stop wagging it."

There was a startled squeak, a scream, a pop, and another scream. He had supplied both the screams. He silently cursed the Universe. The first day that anyone gave a damn about him was the same day he was beaten half to death by the same person?!? The Universe had some explaining to do to him someday.

He sort of collapsed onto his side and lay there, looking pitifully up. He had only recently woken up, but he could feel the desire for sleep starting to grow in him. He was very much hoping this good deed would soon draw to a close. He couldn't stand very much more of the punishment of the chivalrous. Once the pain had dulled from searing to merely grating, he groaned and twisted himself in order to fit her face into view.

He could still see the tear marks down her eyes. There was sadness there too. Not just the obvious sadness, but also a deep scar of the soul barely concealed by the eyelids. There was something...attractive wasn't the right word, maybe attracting about it. He fought with himself for a second and then decided that the cocoon was the least painful of the routes he could take.

"Listen," he began looking away. "You should be okay now. So you can go home now."

There was a silence and it stretched. James fought the urge to groan. He turned around to say something callous and the words died in his throat. Of all the expressions he had been expecting to see, terror was probably near the bottom of the list right before glee.

"Uh," he began worriedly.

"Can't go home. Need my bag," she droned emptily. Her eyes were still wide with fright. "I need my bag."

He pulled himself up painfully but quickly with his good arm and stood awkwardly around her. He wasn't going to dare touch her, remembering all too well her last reaction, but he needed to do something for her.

"Uh," he said again uselessly.

"No home. Bag has everything I own. Need my bag." Her eyes were still glassy and she was beginning to shake a little. James battled internally for a second and unfortunately for him, chivalry won. He closed his eyes, bit his lip, raised one leg and then slapped her. He went down, but only with a bruised thigh.

He stood back up carefully and looked into her more stable, yet still frightened eyes. "Don't worry, I'll find your bag. And I guess I can shack you up for a little while until you get on your feet again. Okay?"

It was a stupid thing to say and he knew it. Get back in her feet? She was passed out in a gutter with tract marks all up her arm. He was merely inviting tragedy into what remained of his home. Not just tragedy, but tragedy that had a habit of greatly injuring him. If he were smart he'd turn her in to some Drug Treatment Program and wash his hands of her. He stopped and thought. Fuck intelligence. He was already inches from Rock Bottom anyway. He had no life to ruin.

And so it with barely a moment to change into a shirt less bloodstained and to clean up the fresh wound on his cheek, he was back in the alley digging around for the mysterious bag. Perhaps he felt used, but given his past, being used was one of the few good feelings in life. However, he couldn't help shaking a bad feeling. He suspected that what was so important in the bag for her was her drugs and he was just about to help her on her slow slide to death and that couldn't be right. He searched some more. Of course the quandary did become moot if he never found the damn thing.

"Hey Faggot!"

Oh god, James thought bitterly. Not these two fuckers again.

"Looking for something, fuckwad?"

He turned around slowly. They were the same two narrow-minded morons he had thrashed the night before. The first had one wrist in a sling and was carrying a knife in the other. The second looked a bit worse for wear but was grinning like a fox just the same. In his hands looked to be a lady's handbag, scuffed and greasy and faded, but a handbag just the same. Yep, that was probably hers all right

"So what you going to do, cocksucker?"

"Yeah, I bet you love wearing women's purses."

He could beat them down again. Well...maybe. Last night had been different. The Beast had been hot with righteous indignation. He had a purpose. He had fury. Right now, however, all he had was a slight feeling of exhaust. Not to mention that he was a bit worse for wear himself and he couldn't at all trust the movement of one arm and one leg. He was at a disadvantage this time. Reality filled in the rest. Yes, he could not win this time by brawn.

"C'mon faggot, what you gonna do?"

James thought for a second. He had always wondered something about people who were quick to call others faggots. Having been the target of such an insult more often than the average straight man, he had brewed up a theory that he had always thought of trying. He thought for a second and then grinned. If he was going to lose anyways and die, he might as well test it out. Couldn't hurt and worst case it might distract them.

He strode forward with the grin plastered and spreading across his face.

"Hey, assfucker, don't get any closer," he said waving his knife in front of him. "I'm warning you, fag-"

James grabbed and twisted the knife out of his hands and with his bad shoulder grabbed the back of his head and pulled him towards him.

With his face inches away from his own, trying not to revolt at the stench of bad cologne and hair gel, he whispered softly, "Oh yeah, bad boys like you get me hot."

The first brother's eyes turned wide with fright. He smiled and then spun his dazed self around so that he was hugging him around the back. He flashed a smile to the second brother who was too shocked to stop him.

"What about you, handsome? Would you like to join us? We could have a three-way."

The taste of fear was on the air and the dark side of James's personality was enjoying it. "It's okay. I won't bite...hard."

The second brother screamed, threw the bag at him and fled. James nimbly dodged it and laughed. "Well, looks like it's just us, you perceptive little man you. That is unless there's somewhere you need to be."

The poor punk nodded fiercely that this was the case.

"Well then, I suspect you need to really hurry over there. But remember, if you ever do want loving, just be sure to try and attack me again," he leaned in to his ear to savor the last bit, "sweetheart."

Racehorses couldn't match the acceleration the thug showed in escaping from James. He couldn't suppress the giggle that was building up in him. So wrapped up in their petty bigotry and fears. A lie, some fake homoerotic flirting, and he touched them where a thousand beatings couldn't penetrate. It was all so easy that he couldn't help cracking up for the first time in ages. He hadn't been able to do anything but half-smile for so long. He had forgotten the real emotions, visceral reactions. It was in its way, good.

When he had finished enjoying his laugh, he picked up the bag and began to sort through it. Sure, it was the unchivalric action to take, but at the same time, he didn't want to be handing her just another pointless and dangerous escape. He was probably moralizing, interfering, but somehow, he felt that was the important thing to do. To save her from ever being in the situation he found her in again.

He dug through, but there wasn't much to find. There was a locket with a woman on it, possibly her mom, a random mirror, the kind of which appears in every woman's purse as a matter of narrative consistency, and a driver's license, which bore the name of the woman, "Elizabeth Waters," as well as a picture of her smiling and happy. He looked hard at the picture.

There was an innocence to it, as much as could be inferred from a crappy proprietary teenage photo on a driver's license. He knew better than to infer from clues like one's looks to determine personalities. His own appearance had too many times been misinterpreted for him to do that, but there was something else to it. He couldn't escape the feeling that the photo woman was too innocent, that if something had happened to her, if she had gotten a good look at the evil of the Universe's machinations, that she would just break down.

He bit his lip and put it away. All that was left on top of all that was a big white bear with a red heart on its chest. It stirred a memory. Something about Valentines. His mind wandered. What day was it anyway? He knew it was February already, but...His mind flashed crimson. Ah yes, it was the day before, wasn't it? He had fairly constantly blocked the holiday from his thoughts for the last number of years. Being so solidly alone had made a necessity of the action.

It wasn't easy of course, but he tended to avoid malls and shopping centers where the push to placate your loved one with under-thought gifts was paramount. The rest was just a matter of keeping one's head down and switching off the senses. Overall, it was the same process he had used to escape every other painful feeling. Escape. Just like a drug addict without the hallucinations, but with the same headlong dive for death. He felt disgusted with himself and threw everything back in the bag. Hell, she didn't even have any drugs in there.

The march home was a bit more somber than the trip out. This tends to happen to people when they take an honest look at their lives. He hadn't been living for years, instead just wasting away in the Dregs. Chasing the pointless escapism of hermitage, not laughing, not crying, not being hurt, not caring. And now he was. His body felt like hell, but he was laughing, growing angry, being sarcastic, being cruel, being chivalric. All the things he had bottled up because the Universe liked to toy with them, make them hurt, make them sting.

And like all quandaries it led to the why. Why had he woken up? Was it her? Was it Elizabeth that was drawing it out? And if it was, was it just the circumstance of truly interacting with another person for the first time? Or was it something...else? Could he be...? Cowardly, he let the thought die there.

When he got back to the room, he found Elizabeth on the bed staring blankly at the wall. She seemed to be lost in thought. Not the mask of terror thoughts of whatever he had triggered before, but enigmatic just the same. Cautiously he coughed. "I, er, found it, Elizabeth."

"Lizzie," she screamed. "Never Elizabeth." She stopped for a second and her eyes narrowed. "How did you find out my name?"

He looked down sheepishly. There was no escaping it; he was going to have to take the punishment for what he did, even if it meant diminishing his standing with the one person who found him worthy of apologizing to, of using. "I looked inside."

He might as well not have bothered looking away. The inward gasp told as much as her expression would have. He had broken the bond of trust, thin as it had been before. True, she technically didn't mean anything to him, but somehow, he felt hurt that the bond was gone. "I didn't want to bring you back a heroin supply. I wanted you to...I thought maybe I could keep you from wasting your life on escapism. I...didn't want to help you speed to death."

The words were halting, flustered. He felt stupid. He felt like he was trying to justify himself, try to weasel out of the guilt of looking at the items that supposedly were her salvation from the darkness. He remembered the girl on the license who seemed so fragile with innocence. He was scum. "I'm sorry. That doesn't make what I did right."

He turned away without looking. Maybe that was the key bit. Maybe if he had looked he could have seen her face, could have seen her drop the bag. Maybe he would have even ignored the phone call that began ringing incessantly. Maybe things could have been avoided, complications smoothed over. But in life, missed moments are common, complications always arise, and people always pick up the damn phone.

"Hello," he muttered into the receiver.

"LISTEN, YOU SCUMBAG! I AIN'T PAYING DIRTBAGS LIKE YOU TO BE LATE TO WORK! EITHER YOU GET THE FUCK OVER HERE IN 15 MINUTES OR YOU CAN LOOK FOR ANOTHER JOB! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?"

Fuck, the job. He had completely forgot about that soul crushing repetition. He was working on a Sunday after working every day last week and they were still yelling at him like the crap on the crap on someone's shoe. Still, with the final notice on his rent coming up quick, he couldn't turn it aside. He glanced hesitantly over to Lizzie. There was a deep confliction within him.

Part of him was frightened to go, was worried that something bad might happen if he left her alone. But he didn't have a choice, right? It was leave her or become guaranteed homeless. "Um..."

"I heard," Lizzie said quietly. "It's okay. I'll be fine on my own."

And so James left for work. You see, in life, unlike TV, people often make the wrong choices, stress the wrong thing at the wrong time and only later do they lament and beg for a chance to make it all right. When he came home that evening and found her unmoving on the bed, an unhappy smile glazed onto her mouth, he wept or rather trembled against a wall while small lonesome tears battled sheer habit.

But this would be selling too much short and so we allow a brief glimpse at the other side of the equation, at what Lizzie went through in the dark quiet room.

James was correct when he thought that Lizzie was the type too innocent and fragile to take Life's harsher side. It wasn't that she was a coward. She had actually been reasonably tough. The only problem had been The Memory. It hung on the cusp of consciousness and swung its might when she could least take it. So she had sought escape from it, sought solace in the injected liquid.

It had been a foolish thing in retrospect. Sure, it killed the memory, sent it running back to the edges of the mind, back into the shadows from whence it came, but it birthed new horrifying memories and realities. They piled on like fleas. Each time waking up naked and covered in sperm inside of a dumpster or worse waking up tied to a bed. And then there were the worse acts, the ones she could remember. What she had done to get the escape, how she had let her soul tarnish further.

And further the noose had closed on her. Constantly she faced fresh evils, fresh evidence that she was all alone in an evil sick world. She had given up all hope on seeing good again, of being free from darkness and its poisonous Memories. As she became more abused to the drug, more degraded in appearance, it became more certain that no one would care for her, that more would find justice in degrading her broken body and mind.

She also felt horrible about what she had done to James. Here was a person who had apparently protected her in her most degraded and filthy form, who had bothered to make sure she would be warm, who had put himself into cold discomfort to do so. And what had she done to him? Thrashed him and cut him and broke his arm.

Sure, he had looked indecent with the scraggly beard and that fierceness to the eyes, but she had known even then that he wasn't a rapist. The little bit of trust she had left had been trying to get her to notice the look behind the eyes, the way it tried to apology for the eyes. And she had ignored it as a ruse and kept swinging. And even after when he tried to console her, she couldn't stop herself. Too many betrayed touches. Too many memories.

After all he had went through, she did all this to him. She wondered if he had noticed her peeking into the bathroom as he changed. The makeshift bandage dyed nearly half-red. He had not gone through unscathed to save her from the night. The Universe didn't send a flailing maiden more than one White Knight and she doubted that it looked kindly on those who did more harm onto them than the villains. It had hurt when he had told her to go home. Not just because of The Memory, but because he had given up on her.

So she had sent him out to find her bag. It was such a foolish request, but The Memory had been so close, so deep. It had been about to seize her. She needed her way out didn't she? Or else The Memory would seize her and she'd have to live out that day all over again. She glanced at the bag fearfully. But with the bag here, The Memory might find her again in life and repeat itself for real. She had been a fool.

She curled herself up tighter on the bed. But then, what had he said again, this morning? She smiled to herself, hiding it even in the empty room with her hand. Even after what she had done to him, he wanted to help her escape the darkness, the endless cycle of The Memory. She had been so worried that he had found her escapism at first, but he had been too kind to check everything.

She pulled out the Valentine's Day bear and peeled back the Red Heart. Inside the stomach were 12 glowing white bottles. Valentine Blanc, as The Memory had called them, the purest and best quality Horse in the town. She stared hungrily at the vials and the clean needle lay next to them. Another brief respite from the darkness lay within, so very close to her hand...

She stopped and with one eye closed pushed the bear away from her, out of sight. She could beat this, the darkness, The Memory. All of it was within the realm of possibility. He hadn't wanted her to escape anymore. He hadn't wanted her to rush towards death. He actually cared if she lived or died. He wasn't handsome or suave or anything else, but he was her White Knight, her aid out of the pit. How could she let him down so soon after she met him, before she got the chance to truly apologize to him?

It was about this time that darkness fought back. The dark tendrils of doubt peeling away the fragile and bruised trust and romanticism of a more innocent Lizzie. But he left, it whispered. He left you here alone with me and The Memory and the escape hatch. A job where they shout at him is more important that you, it muttered with glee. And he wouldn't even have agreed to let you stay here if you hadn't freaked out so bad in front of him. You are his bane, it squealed. You will never be free of me or The Memory.

A snippet flared and her eyes bulged. She had been doing so well up to this point. She owed it to him to be strong. Hadn't he suffered great physical pain on her behalf? Shouldn't she show similar resolve for the mental? The snippet grew longer and more detailed. Her eyes fluttered and sweat began pouring down her brow. The snippet grew still longer, the tendrils of darkness were nearly completely covering the old Lizzie. She was biting her lip and ripping the mattress at this point. The snippet became The Memory. Old Lizzie had lost.

She jerked in the air as it came rushing back. Her eyes were glazed over and her hands moved frantically back, grabbing a vial. Before she was even aware, it was set up and pressed into a vein. No, just need to hold on a little longer was the last thought before the oblivion of Pure Escape.

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