12 – snake eyes
The Staff of Ra. A few thousand years ago, it was held by Egyptian rulers as a symbol of ultimate trust, and now David Bateson is retrieving it from a hermatically-sealed glass chamber for this evening, up in his private chambers.
He's just finished checking on the hotel's finance records, certain that tomorrow's gigantic event with the Black Rose will give his shareholders the huge boost they've been waiting for – over ten millions in ticket profits (not including the other income sources).
When he goes to check on the Black Rose's rehearsal backstage – they've already gotten the gist of their acts, with Renton now being able to fish out yin-yang (Baoding) balls from an unsuspecting audience member – having practiced on a waitress who has free time to spare.
Good.. if everything runs smoothly, along with the auction, I'll be sure to go down in the hotel's history as its best owner. Not to mention a suave retirement.
"For my next trick," LeBlanc twirls with her staff, smirking, "I'll make your 5G reception bars disappear."
Satisfied with the proceedings, David sips a small brandy from his pocket bottle. The Black Rose's itinerary of magic seems solid:
1. Opening act – Lulu and Heimerdinger are French chefs, serving ratatouille (real). LeBlanc is a demanding food critic. Involves one or two audience members.
2. 2nd act – Swain and LeBlanc have a tango ("Roxanne"), involving the dizzying heights of the ceiling.
3. 30 Minute Intermission
4. 3rd act – Twisted Fate and Renton try to outfox one another in games involving cards, chess, etc. leading to heated duel of words and tricks.
5. Finale – A ballad involving all cast members, leaving everyone with the promise of finding magic in their own lives (metaphorically speaking).
Swain calls everyone over for a group huddle.
"Remember what we need to do.." he goes, once he's sure David has gone away. "While our show is on, the auction will be occuring during the intermissions and afterward. I just found out David will be giving away his staff the first thing."
He nods at Heimerdinger. "Heimer's come up with a duplicate, based off observations. It'll look like the real thing, more or less, just that it will feel a bit off to a familiar hand. We'll be swapping the staffs, so no one will be alerted. By the time they find out, we'll already be stepping foot in Italy."
Renton gulps at the mention of Italy. It's only been around three days since dropping through the rabbit hole to this alternate reality, and he's just getting used to the idea of grandeur – the feeling that you could do anything you wished for, the stuff you'd see in TV, movies and comics, and now being in another country?
He'd never even contemplated that possibility, except as a young child when his father was still alive, promising him someday he'd get to see those beautiful gardens his father's seen in Belgium, where the white water lilies seem to sift on the ponds.
And now, it's as much in his reach as Evaine's billowing cape before him.
She smells like.. a bizarre mixture of oranges and plums that hit the nose in such a manner as to bring your senses to an allured stillness..
"Renton..? Renton!" Swain is calling out his name. "Can I trust you with the actual swapping of the staff? Nobody knows your face yet, and your innoceous looks can prove disarming."
Renton feels like being the lead role of a spy movie, so of course he says "Yes!"
"This is what you'll be doing before the 3rd act.."
Being canned is an uncomfortable fit. Singed, in a waiter's outfit, is lugging a cart of canned fruit – along with Zac (in a can).
They are part of backstage catering, and will be checking in on the Black Rose, hoping to glean any info out of their doings. In short, they're just like villains-for-hire in a Saturday morning cartoon.
So far, what they've found out is that there's an auction they're really concentrating on, and a staff of Ra they want to acquire.
"A staff of Ra?"
Yes. Those artefacts which are fabled to ascend anyone to a higher plane of existence. Viktor has searched through his data files and discovered the thread which the Black Rose has been chasing after. A fascinating thread – that would seek to quench that underlying question about magic. He isn't sure what they've already acquired, so he is hoping to forge a temporary alliance with them, despite their long-standing rivalry.
It is a bit of a long-shot, but Swain is enough of a reasonable man to be swayed. A long time ago, Viktor pulled Swain out of a messy situation from the Russian Mafia..
Now Singed puts the cans under the catering table, where Zac is to listen in, and heads on back so he could refill the drinks.
While this is going on, Rumble and Veigar are putting on the finishing touches for the stage lighting.
"Spotlight check!" the head electrician goes, and up in the control booth, the coordinators test each of the spotlights, one-by-one, making sure everything is in working order.
Rumble has set his Tristy mecha on standby, by the ceiling, when everyone else has left the stage. He's dressed it up in a Super Galaxy outfit. Having seen the Black Rose's perfomance itinerary, the idea is to interrupt their finale – giving the audience a real shocker, like something out of wrestling when another wrestler comes by unexpectedly for a showdown. It might seem rude initially, but whatever makes the crowd cheer, so Team ROCHAT can have some publicity, as well as getting the Black Rose's attention to their joint-venture proposal.
He's also reprogrammed the routines in the control room, so the lights will dim and re-focus accordingly when they crash the party. "It's a change of plan sirs," he told the control guys, showing them a written letter with Swain's signature (faked). "They're orders directly from the Black Rose," and with the time pressure, coupled with his convincing tone of authority, the control guys don't bother checking the purpose of these routine changes. An extra dim here, some spotlight focuses there – these seemingly innoceous changes – and the show goes on like normal afterward.
Veigar wipes his forehead. Mon dieu! Thank god it's over, everything is set to rock.
"They have Kool-Aid in this place, non?" he says to Rumble, when the rest of the technician team are busy congratulating themselves.
"There's 20-year old Merlot and Sherry," Rumble goes, having glanced at their fine wine collection. "I'm pretty sure they have your favourite somewhere."
Alone in her makeup room, LeBlanc is playing around with the blushes and lipstick, experimenting with her new look she'll be presenting outwardly. It's like with Madonna, who's able to reinvent her image with every one of her new albums, which is something LeBlanc's always admired.
Currently, she dabs a bit of lipstick just in the middle of her lips, and pulls back her hair in a fanciful bun. When she spent time imitating a geisha, she found it suiting to be poised like a mime. Ready to suggest people through her hands and gestures, not with her words.
The door creaks open.
"Evaine?" Renton goes. He sees her wiping away her makeup, and catches a momentary glimpse of what she was going for in the brightly lit mirror. She is immensely talented, and his already pounding heart is erupting now, like a volcano.
He inches himself inside the same room as her, and the scent of vanilla caresses his nose. Bursting out of him, those moments which have been underlying himself the whole time.
The way she's kissed him, sliding her lips back like how the ocean waves retreat, before diving deeper in his mouth for more.
Losing all sense of himself under her embrace..
It touches the innermost recesses of his mind, that he's yet to feel comfortable revealing.
"Why do you love me?" he says. "It was so sudden, and.. and.." Nothing can express the confusion he's having over this. "I don't understand. Do you know me from somewhere, like distant cousins?"
"Non." She exits her chair. "Renton.. you don't know what I've been through. Seeing you brings back so many memories. I'm not related to you or anything. I just.. used to have a son, and his father.. that's such a long time ago."
This revelation isn't really that stunning for him.
"I'd have thought you were together with Twisted Fate or Swain," Renton goes. "You're so beautiful, why aren't you in love with-"
"I was. But it grew exhausting on them after a while, and so we had to break it off, keep professional. Ever since, I've hidden my feelings from everyone, though they know about it.. how I had my heart torn to shreds, and left with nothing but despair."
"What happened..?" Renton approaches Evaine's still figure.
"My lover was killed! And they took my son – he was all I had left in my world. My SON, Renton!" Her arms are clasped over her chest, like trying to stifle a bleeding wound. "It's not the Black Rose. Someone else. Katarina.. Cassiopeia.. Riven! Oh god, I can still remember all their names..!"
And she slams the table with her fists, the items on the table clattering. It takes a second for her to recollect herself.
"My son's name was Booker, Renton," she goes, her eyes partly caught up in her memory. "I was going to look after him, hold him tightly in my arms, grow older with him. I don't even know if he's even alive! The last 23 years, I sought to find those bitches who took him – hoping that the next city we'd venture into, I'd find them, and my son with them. Or the next city after that. But they're all gone now, and.. I'm sorry.."
She is weeping, and Renton is agape trying to comprehend what she's saying. He just knows her feeling of loss, thinking of his long-gone father, and that he feels this pull towards her.
"Hey, there's no need to be sorry." He tugs at her shoulder. "When I was around 10, I lost my dad in a truck crash, and it's never been the same for me since. I miss him every day that's passed – it's just something that happens, and I live the best I can for his memory. I try to, at least."
It makes Evaine smile. "He must be so, so very proud of you.."
"I can't imagine how it's like to lose your child like that. But if Booker were here, knowing you still care about him after so long, he'd be so happy." Renton flashes her a reassuring grin. "You never stopped believing in him."
A lipstick falls to the floor.
He finds himself suddenly cradled in her embrace. Passionately warm and soothing and intoxicating. His cheeks pressed by her neck, while his breathing is slightly constrained within her arms – every inhalation makes his chest press back against her soft breasts.
It's like before, where he is shuddering at experiencing the entirety of her being up-close. Her fingers running along the back of his neck, curling up at the soft parts she finds.
"Does this.. feel good?"
They look like lovers caught in a still frame of an intimate waltz.
"You're so beautiful.." Renton goes.
"What are you talking about?"
She leans in to kiss him – holding still in his mouth, before slowly drawing back. And then another, this time with a trail of saliva linking their lips which makes her smile.
The excitement proves too much for Renton, and his breath noticably trembling, he tries to lunge towards her life-giving mouth, but she draws away from his unrestrained eagerness.
"Slowly.." she instructs him, a finger on his cheek – not wanting to break the feeling of delicacy – and when he kisses her again, he remembers to relax, and let his mind be saturated with those sensations her soul delights in showing him.
Tomorrow evening's show has almost a hundred thousand showing up. The parking lots have been congested with varieties of car colours – when a spot is filled, the ground underneath it is set aglow, which is a nice touch for the event. There's also small business owners inviting other cars into their backlots (with cheap Christmas lights to replicate an MGM Grand spot), and a huge lineup of viewers, reporters, stretching down the sidewalks as far as the hotels some of them are staying at.
Police and security dot the vicinity with their presence, from the parked cruisers that help redirect traffic, to the guards who do random patdowns to check for weapons and laser pointers.
Even refreshment tables are there since the entire line has been growing for hours long.
In the actual hotel/exhibition centre, David Bateson is chewing on a Snickers bar – his reflection silhouettes his walking cane behind the glass. It's like a piece of him is going away with it. And a weight off his mind. Then the custodians tow his cane away, along with the numerous treasures he's found throughout his travels.
And Renton, he is also chewing a Snickers bar. While his stage outfit is ready in the dressing room, he's wearing normal clothes.
"Just talk with David Bateson and lead him into letting you have your hands on the cane. The loading area has a few blindspots in their surveillence, and I'll show up moments later to congratulate Bateson and his crew in their efforts – that's when you make the switch. Hide the real staff in a blindspot, and we'll retrieve it later."
Everyone is already murmuring in the stagearea, and Renton can feel the hefty weight of the retractable cane in his pockets, as he wanders into the loading bay, where David is overseeing the process of every item, film memorablia, jade doll being fitted into its display case.
How am I supposed to get his cane? It's not they'll be willing to undo the boxing just for me..
Doubt gives Renton pause over Swain's idea. A part of him wants to turn back and ask Swain if maybe he should rethink it. He continues forth anyway, and with a slight change of perspective, sees the glass case beside David in which the cane rests.
"Young lad-!" David goes, spotting Renton. "I know you're not one of the faces I usually see here! It's not an appropriate place for you to be – were you looking for the washroom?"
The loud whirs of the drills intermittently erupt through the room.
"Yeah.." Renton scratches the back of his neck. "I was. I got a little lost – I'm in a hurry for the show. Can you show me?"
Bateson checks his watch. More than enough time. So he leads Renton back to the halls..
"Around your age Renton," he says, with a slight lisp in his step, "I didn't really dream big, truth be told. I was what you'd call lazy and modest. I thought the best I could aspire to was being a content pencil-pusher in the offices."
"I don't know yet what I want to aspire to," Renton goes, feeling a tinge of embarassment go through him as they pass by a WC sign that has the gendered stick people pointing in the right direction.
"There's no need to hurry yourself. A lot of the historical greats didn't know what they really wanted to pursue until they were well into their middle ages.. you, my lad, it seems like you've got a lot of spirit showing through you."
"That's really encouraging."
The men's washroom, you turn right at a juncture between the men's and women's. Some music from the first act plays very distantly, as the frightened yelps from Heimerdinger suggest that LeBlanc is slapping his ass over the poorly-made Antoinette cake.
"There we are," Bateson says.
Renton is at an impasse – Bateson is just going to turn back around, and he'll be left in awkwardness if Bateson sees him stumbling by again. Why did he even run along with 'going to the washroom'? That was foolish-
"Oh, now that I think of it," David Bateson goes, "I could use the little men's room too."
So after Renton takes a whiz, he mentions to David about his 'famous' cane that he used to be walking around with. "What happened to your cane?"
"I'm giving it away for the auction tonight."
Renton notices his frown in the washroom mirror.
"You're going to miss your cane, aren't you?" Renton goes.
"We've been through so much together." David pats his face after he's given it a splash. "It even saved my friend's life."
"Really? That must be one cool cane..! If I could have had the chance to touch it beforehand.."
A beat. David eyeballs Renton, and then the idea hits him – the last thing he does with his cane should be something happy, and what better moment for finality, than to let this boy take a look with his own eyes?
"Tell you what Renton," he goes, "You can run your fingers along all its intricate lines if you like. The auction isn't for another half-hour anyways."
"Oh – you're so gracious!" Yeesss!
Coming back to the loading room, David is opening the cane's display case. The workers ask him what he's doing, and he's explaining that he's giving his cane a last, sentimental hurrah. After the case's security alarm has been deactivated, he unlatches the cover, and lets his fingers carry it over to Renton.
It's really thrilling to hold a piece of history in your own hands. By touching it, it's like you become a part of its history. No longer is it just a vague idea you'd find off a library book, with the old picture to prove its existence outside of words.
The light faintly sheens over the staff of Ra's surface as Renton turns it over, revealing the numerous micro-scratches it's accumulated. Somehow it feels lighter than the fake staff Renton's been carrying, and then the thought hits him – wouldn't Bateson know right away that it's fake from the switch? If he gets his hands on the fake..
Where is Swain? He's supposed to show up any second.
"I like it very much," Renton goes, hoping that light talk will let him hold the staff longer. "What did it look like when you first picked it up?"
David snatches the cane from him. "There were bronze gildings over it. 1952. The excavation site of Hamunaptra, where we were looking for the Egyptian tomes buried by Nasus's tomb. Mon dieu, it was so hot. It was a souvenir from what we found, and I kept it – helped me trek back through the desert."
"Ooh. You were an archaeologist?" Renton's hands are just eager to get the staff back.
"Yeah. From China to Greece and the Mayan ruins. Now I'm selling off the last of what I have. It'll be lonely with just my memories, but my work will go on better appreciated once I stop clinging to the past, so to speak." Bateson runs his hands down its whole length, and Renton could swear that there was a weird glow from the staff, before his focus snaps back to his mission.
"Hey, I'm not done looking at it."
The magic show is being broadcast on TVs, and Renton hears the applause over the first act's ending. Swain's going to be in the second act..! It's going to be starting very soon, and he hasn't even come yet.
"I have to put my cane back now, young lad," Bateson goes.
A deluge of confusion. What is Renton to do now? His head is swirling, wanting to snag the staff away and run, or just plain head off and report back to the dressing room.
Then after he hears: "Ladies and gentlemen, we apologise. One of our principle cast members is currently unavailable. But we promise, the show will go on! He should be around shortly." And the groans and uneased murmurs of the audience.
"Umm, excuse me," Renton pips. "I need to be somewhere." And he is striding off – his hesitation dispelled with the fact that Swain is missing from the whole picture. Everything is starting to go wrong..
"What's that all about?" David asks to himself. "Funny lad."
Whenever Ekaterina gets a request for a photoshoot, the first thing she considers is if she finds it anything potentially interesting. She's at the point in her hobby-turned-career where people offer her at least four photoshoot requests per day, and she can pick amidst several of them. Before, when she was just starting out, she had to actively hunt down people who needed a photographer, and they were too cheap to pay for a real one (which can cost thousands of dollars).
Photoshoots aren't always the glamorous prospect many people make them out to be. To make the actual shooting happen, there is a lot of logistical planning involved – discussing with the clients how they want their photos to be done first, then the location scouting, obtaining shooting permissions (if necessary), lighting and outfits, and booking the date.
One of the most exciting shoots she's had was around Milan, where she had to recreate a Renaissance painting, the pagans making a tribute to the goddess Ceres. It was painstaking. She truly felt the aura of the ancients in her mind, as she shot purely under the moonlight – having to use f1.6 Zeiss lenses (the smaller the aperture value, the more light the camera lens can absorb, at a cost of shallow depth-of-field) and an exposure time of 1 second.
With wedding shoots, which take place in some rented-out venue – it saves her some work – usually, the couple just wants to be shot in their happiest moments, when they kiss, when they dance to the music, and when they share the creme cake together.
In the Queen's Center mall, this couple (their names Jeanne and D.J.) are having a Noir cabaret-themed event, along the lines of Broadway meets electro-swing.
They're having it in an Applebee's.
Ekaterina checks her phone's notifications; "Where are you?" her crew is saying. "They're going to kiss in like 20 minutes!" and that was 23 minutes ago. What's a few more minutes? The priest takes like forever to get through their rites and vows.
She is running down the mall, where the fountains spill glistening patterns under the daylight. She must look like hell is breaking loose, while her hands assemble her camera kit together on the way.
The Applebee's has a special sign by its entrance. It's being rented for the sakes of Jeanne and D.J.'s wedding, where anyone is free to come and witness the event.
It's claustrophobic squeezing by the stacked stools, and even more claustrophobic when she could see behind a second set of doors, the whole stage set-up with Jeanne and D.J. under the spotlight, wearing Steampunk-themed outwear, about to pledge 'I do' to "In sickness and in health, will you care for D.J. to the best of your ability?"
She is interrupted by bouncers, who are suspicious of her gear.
"We'll need you to leave your bag aside." They point at the pile of purses and backpacks gathered by the janitor's closet. "Can't have people pullin' stuff-"
The bouncers do this with uninvited guests, and she has no time for their hassle, as she just hears the priest say "You may now kiss the bride."
"I'm Ekaterina! I'm their photographer!" She flashes her ID and wiggles out of their grasp, rushing down to the aisle, where she rapidly focuses her camera on their kissing faces and snaps a clear photo.
"Kat!" It's her partner-in-crime, Marvin, in a hushed whisper under the shadows. "Dude, where've you been?"
"I guess I got caught up in traffic," she goes.
The tables have been setup for free dinners, with incandescent orbs placed in their midst for illumination. LEDs hung from the ceiling glow and dim like ice stalactites, and a wift of glowing smoke emenates from the floor – this is what Ekaterina has asked for, two weeks before, when she visited the venue in its unmodified form, and allowed her mind to conjure up and suggest associaions, looking around.
Many of the uninvited guests are brought to awe at the atmosphere, with some regulars remarking that it's wonderfully unrecognisable from what they've grown so used to.
And for her, that is one of the greatest complements. To reinvent the familiar with a fresh magic of her own, and have others recognise it.
The actual shooting, it is a mixture of improv and direction. For the most part, she just captures the best parts of the scene as they unfold with the natural liveliness that just is, with the cheers, and the people dancing to the music, the young kids in the corner playing Pokemon on their DS.
When the people have settled down to dinner, she quickly has the couple huddle together for her camera – Marvin managing the lights, while April fixes any blemishes on their cheeks, and Viktor unleashing the trained doves to the background (who will be lit faintly by their outlines).
You can barely hear her camera shutter.
Afterwards, she shows them the unpolished result on her camera's display, and it amazes her how they're gleeing already.
"Ooh, we look so dashing!" D.J. goes, pointing out when he has Jeanne in a tango dip.
"That one there is pure genius!" Jeanne says. "You're incredible Miss Belinskaya! Absolutely incredible."
Kat is a nickname that's evolved from when Marvin stumbled across calling her Kit-Kat, like the candy bar, and it just stuck. So she's gone with having her close friends calling her Kat ever since, or Kitty if in a very playful mood, although her clients just address her formally. A wall of professionalism which helps reinforce a healthy distance – so she doesn't lose her sense of boundaries when working. It's gotten her into trouble earlier on when she acted too casually.. pried into her client's private matters, joked around too much, and left them with a great offence.
Not all her clients are like this, but there's the one type who pays very high and won't stand to be made a fool out of. Or pompous clients who just can't take a joke.
She finds it awkward though to work in a stictly formal atmosphere, and that's where her comrades-in-arms come in, to help liven the working mood. It's like trying to sleep in your own bed, and you've got a suit on – you need your soft pajamas.
"Thank you," Ekaterina tells them; her sweet lingering scent wades up everyone's noses. "I'll have them edited and published, soon as possible." She reassures the couple with a smile. "Stay tuned."
The evening is spent outside in the mall's courtyard, where the water fountains spill shapes and dazzling patterns. Ekaterina has taken a few more shots of the couple against the backdrop of the city, and now, she is wistfully gazing away at the streets which are just beginning to blossom in their luminescent livelihood.
New York. The place she's come to call her home. A metropolitan centre of organized chaos, where there's always something interesting to pique the eye on every corner. It's like a piecemeal anthive, the way most everything seems to blend with to one another, from the homeless tramps to the apartments and graffiti, and all the neon signs shouting to be heard above the rabble.
It's always busy and moving; the people clamber to reach the next place from where they're at – whether it's another street or another rung of the social caste.
The only downside (besides the occasionally musty subways) is finding a quiet place to reflect, and recover one's sense of peace. Besides Central Park or the greenhouse gardens, there aren't many natural calm areas.. along the lines of talking a walk through a quiet suburban neighbourhood, or lying down upon a hill in a secluded region.
Luckily, she has the privilege of travelling wherever she needs to be, with being connected to the International Photographer's Guild (IPG) – which offers monthly air miles that can be saved up, so she can travel back home to Moscow to be with her family on their beautiful estate, or Japan if she is in the Oriental mood. Or the majority of Europe for sightseeing and inspiration.
"Kat..?" Marvin's voice interrupts her reverie.
She's leaning over the balustrade, holding her sleek e-cigarette to her mouth.. savouring the sweetly-flavoured smoke as it cascades out her lips.
"Yes yes yes?" she mumbles.
"You've been out of sorts," Marvin says, joining her in her 'chillout corner.' "It's the third time recently you've been late for a shooting, and I know you don't think anyone would notice, but I catch that occasional gaze of your eyes - it's like a part of you ain't really here."
She sighs out wispy smoke – a fulfilled exhaustion running through her body. "It's been a busy couple of weeks.. I should really take the time off.."
"Even at your busiest, you're always very focused. I didn't see that today. We're just lucky everything turned out the way it did. Hell, I had a good time."
Ekaterina passes Marvin her e-cig, an indirect kiss for him to take. "I dunno. I've been feeling a little dissatisfied. It's always other people's stuff we're working on – and I just want to take the chance to do something that's just.. personal to my heart. You know what I mean?"
He huffs and puffs. "Yeah. I get you."
"It's like I've been going all over other places for so long, and I've all but forgotten what it is to just relax and have fun at my own place."
The smoke which comes out of Marvin's mouth, it is deep and voluptuous. It reminds her of Barry White's voice, when he hits those deep notes.
"What do you got in mind Kitty?" he asks.
She turns her head to the mysteries beneath the streets, hiding the uncertainty of her expression. "I dunno yet."
But that's a white lie.
At her apartment, she relaxes. She greets her pet kitty Monsieur Kibbles – "Awww, miss me already?" and tucks away her equipment in her room.
It's a fairly large suite for just one person, which she's lovingly decorated every inch with a personal touch. The view outside is good; she can catch glimpse of the sunrise as it happens, and has a mounted camera set to take images of it every morning.
It's the place where she's free to be herself, without anyone around (except her cat). She microwaves herself a TV dinner – and settles for a while to finish watching LeBlanc, the captivating mini-series about a stage magician and her romance with a young boy.
Finally, after glancing at her schedule and confirming that she has nothing major going on for the rest of the week, she turns to the erotic images that's been at the back of her mind.
The male virility. Those things seductive of a man, which captivates her so, and all this being vitally linked to the essence of his heart. His desire, his way of showing passion. His naked soul. And her wanting to capture it all in her photos, that beautiful thing she feels about it – that not many other erotic images seem to respect.
She is too embarassed about her display of sexuality, even to her working comrades. That's why she chose not to mention it to Marvin, or anyone else.
It'll be just herself and another man – her willing subject, on this intimate photoshoot.
She could post about it on FB and her blog, ask for someone who lives in the city who'd want to participate for her (thousands will, many of her male fans).
Her arousal washes over her like a drug though; it's impossible to concentrate like this..
Thus, sitting down in her bedroom, lit mainly by the computer monitors, she just concentrates on the purest sensation her fingers give, and indulges herself to relieve that swelling bliss of her loins. The very air seems to heat around her in the minutes which pass.
10 – preparations, pt. 2
There are more ways to kiss someone than by mouth.
By hands, for example. Your hands are clutching his, your fingers intertwined as you feel every tension translate through his joints. Or your fingers would be running over his body, touching his skin and adoring the way he just feels under your presses, his underlying muscle and body fat and skeletal construction.
Or by body, when you're laying atop of him, sliding yourself up and down to the drive of your senses' pleasure, his chest pressing against your breasts,tum-tum-tum you'd feel your heart pumping, and you feel satisfied that you aren't just sandwiching [crushing] him against the flat floor in full embrace. You'd swallow all his shudders, cradle him tightly to you, and take an occasional break from his mouth as it suits you.
"Uahh.. hh..!" you hear him go in-between. "You're going.. too fast.. I.."
It's been a while since you've really made love with someone, so.. it is only natural you are hungrily into the act, like someone who hasn't tasted sweet Belgian chocolate in a very long time.
It is Renton's first time, doing this. When she'd guided him, gently coaxing him into her, he did not immediately recognise the sensation, a soft feeling, vaguely pressing upon him, making him stiffen especially – and even thought that he was still outside of her somewhat, until they'd begun moving.
At first, he does not feel the urging pleasure he'd usually get by himself, at his own hands. It aches for him though, and then it hits him that he should not be so hasty to rush to the end.. it's already nice, caressing her whole body.
She'd felt his ankle bracelet brush by over her leg, several times (she'd have to do something about it).
It is a claustrophobic embrace throughout, so close to each other; a beautiful contact with another person. Nobody's ever told him about this, his whole life. If he'd get light-headed from a wonderful romantic moment in a show, you could multiply the feeling ten-fold and you'd not be close to this.. expression of love.
It is so suffocating. Like most of the air he inhales is shared with her also – in the moments when her mouth is locked onto his, he'd feel her moaning from her very core, and he remembers to breathe in fresh air through his nose, as to not be overwhelmed by the suffocation.
He is feeling like in a daze.
Then the urge comes, arriving, welling up in him, like wanting to pee. A sense of inevitability. When her lips pull away from him again, he tells her, "Please.. Evaine, slow down.." I don't want this to end, ever..
But she doesn't..
He opens his eyes and sees her – as if she's gazing off somewhere past him he can't see. Now she is in a frenzy, and she is rapidly, desperately rocking back and forth by his pelvis, a tear escaping from her eyes.
"Slow down-!" Renton wants to say, but his voice is muffled in her mouth, drowned out amidst her intensifying utterances as she clutches him all the harder over his shoulders, on his cheeks. Stop.. stop.. I can't.. it's.. I'm..
His dam bursts, and all the pleasure that's mounted in him is letting out, in her, in her- he sees lights dazzling before his eyes, and a surge of adrenaline spilling out- he convulses, losing control of his limbs-
But she still continues on, far past when he is done letting it all out – and then she clenches, and yelps out, a very beautiful agony reverberating, and kisses him as the very room seems to dizzy, so disorienting, like free-falling from the roller-coaster she hasn't rode in forever, and she holds onto him in every way she can, like when she was young and she held onto Philippe with her eyes closed, afraid of the acceleration and the rush of velocity, and the turns and twists of the tracks.
She holds onto him, even after her shuddering has subsided, and when she pulls her lips away from his, she realises she is crying.
The salty tears drip onto Renton's nose.
"I.. I.." Evaine goes, her voice hoarse, unsure of what to say. She notices how Renton is shuddering like her, his head in an apparent Cloud Nine. "Are you alright, Renton? Did I hurt you?"
It takes him a moment to get his mental awareness fully back into the room with her.
".. I'm so happy.." he tells her, smiling, as his chest seems to expand relievingly, a warmth of pure, blissful euphoria spreading from his heart all over to his arms and legs.
"I'm glad.." She blows her strands of hair aside, and fondles Renton by his face, as she senses their mutual wetness dripping out of her.
Together, they linger like this, feeling so warm and sweaty and spent.
"Evaine.." Renton goes, gazing at her. "You're so beautiful.."
And so they take a shower together, the water steaming, spilling over their contours, washing away the detruitus of last night and this morning, and that silky scent of pheromones. It's pleasantly comforting, the water.
After, when they've dried themselves with the towels, Renton sees her pick out her wardrobe – an elegantly casual dress of a fur jacket over dark shirt, where you could see the white fur on the inside, and she swiftly applies miniscule dots to her cheeks, and dyes her right hair white. It would suit her nicely for the bustling streets – her own brand of Las Vegas savoir faire.
She is a bit unrecognisable compared with without makeup on.
Then she scavanges through her bags, looking for something – the birth control pills. But nothing; it's been a while since she last did it with anyone, and she'd tossed out the pills earlier for expiring.
"Merde.." she goes. "We'll have to make a trip to the pharmacies. Hold on Renton, I'll get you your outwear.."
While LeBlanc fetches his clothes from the dry cleaning, Renton checks the Weather Channel for today's climate – it'll be purely sunny for the whole day, with some minor showers over the week. And do they have 'Francois Deux-Deux' the cartoon on somewhere? He flips through the channels..
She bursts in the room, his clothes all wrapped up in plastic sheets. It smells lemony fresh when Renton pulls out his jacket and pants, and LeBlanc gets him his socks which were drying overnight.
So he is all fully ready to go.
When they head downstairs, LeBlanc shows him to the hotel's dining lounge – a large chamber of red chairs and fountains and overhanging chandeliers, where they sit down and she gets a coffee with the eggs, sausage and toast with a yogurt. (The yogurt is there as a 'digestif' – to help ease the digestion.)
I guess I'll have the same, Renton thinks. Well, except the yogurt; he's never had a taste for that thing, and adds on some hashbrowns to his plate, with a cup of milk.
At the table, Renton's groin aches.
"Oohhh.." he goes, drawing a curious look from her. "It's numb.."
"It was your first time with a woman, oui?" LeBlanc goes.
He nods. She's the one who he's lost his virginity with, mere minutes ago, and she is innocently grinning, a light scoff out her mouth.
"Physiologically speaking," LeBlanc explains, her voice lowered so others don't easily overhear, "your body recognises naturally when it is truly going to fertilise someone. So- I think you touch yourself, oui?"
"Mhm." Renton blushes.
"So it's just your hands, alone. But it's like eating potato chips and calling that a satisfying, wholesome meal. You miss out on all the other things, the bodily embrace, the scent, the warmth and my quivering. Let alone the fact of my presence with you. As you have more encounters, you get used to it. Your loins aching after a session, because it's poured much of itself out. I'll show you more.. later on, if you want."
She bites on her buttered toast. "It will be our secret, Renton.. you and me. Please don't tell anyone else about it – not Swain or Lulu, or anyone."
Her eyes invade him; she's entrusting him with her naked heart.
"I won't, ever," Renton says. For how can he betray her – when he's said she's beautiful back in the washroom, he doesn't mean her outward appearance, but how she's made him feel in that moment, and that wonderful, enlivening person he'd sensed existing at her very core.
It would be a strange kind of relationship – a far deeper connection than marriage, he feels, or even parenting. Maybe it is like both.
Maybe it is more than either.
The taxicab carries them to a shopping mall, where there are outlets for clothes, shoes, jewelry, electronics, and the like. Actually, it's more than that – it is quite lavishly decorous, with balloons floating under the ceiling lights, and the animated display maps, where you can tap on the screen, and it will show you the path to get there from here.
It is around 7:10 am.
"We should do it fast," LeBlanc goes. "They'll be up around 8:20. I'll sort out your clothes first, and then my contraception.."
She strides, swift steps, Renton having to almost jog to keep up with her. He's much energised – look around! He's never been in a mall this large before, and he's breathtaken by the rich sights, the diversity of outlets.. if he weren't so occupied right now, he'd easily spend a whole day exploring the mall for himself.
LeBlanc finds one of those maps, and she's looking for a boutique shoppe, one for males. Alors – there's one called 'Unicorn,' and it's just short walking distance.
So she leads him to that store.
She gets the occasional glance from guys, and a few women too.
"Hey, why are we up this early anyway?" Renton goes.
"We'll be very pre-occupied for the whole day," LeBlanc goes. "Morning to night. This is the only free time to get you your things. A luggage bag even, and personal belongings-"
Suddenly, Renton's ankle bracelet is buzzing – to Renton's shock, the bracelet's light is glowing a menacing yellow, shining through his pants, and he's hopping on one leg, pulling his other pant leg up, as if to confirm that this is really happening.
Oh non, what a nightmare!
"Why's it buzzing like that?!" Renton yelps, as LeBlanc tries to tug away the offending ankle bracelet – the scene drawing attention of passers-by.
Then LeBlanc decides- she hauls Renton over to the privacy of an alley, and tells him to hold still as she clasps her hand on the bracelet, frying its electronics with a small jolt of her energies.
It's a dead bracelet now, and Renton sighs with relief.
"I don't get it.." Renton goes. "I thought I'm far out of range for this thing to work – I mean, it's Las Vegas, right? Not Vancouver."
"I'm not an expert on these bracelets," LeBlanc goes. "I think.. it might have been a radio wave or something that made it throw a fit. From an electronics store. I should get this off of you when I can. But at least, it won't be bugging you again." She smiles.
They step back into the public area, and a few bystanders are awaiting them.
"Hey, are you folks alright?" a bald fat guy goes. "Sounded like an emegency."
"Oh.." LeBlanc thinks of an answer. "That was his insulin bracelet – my young friend here needed a sudden injection.."
Renton nods in agreement.
"Hm," a lady goes. "Well, take care, you too."
And they wander off.
"Apparently," LeBlanc goes, "they don't know about the house arrest bracelets. It's lucky for us. I think you should roll down your pant leg, in case someone does recognise it."
After Renton does just that, they finally enter the Unicorn boutique (based from Belgium) where she heads to the l'hommes section, and-
"What's your size Renton?" LeBlanc asks him, before she puts her fingers by his collar and checks the tag – L, for large. "And your pants.."
"I dunno my pants.." Renton goes.
"Sit down for a second."
So Renton sits on his bum on the bench, and LeBlanc loosens his belt, and checks the inside back of his pants. Hm.
"Alright," she goes, resetting his belt. "I'll get you a new wardrobe set – the one you're wearing now, your sports jacket, I'd call it 'civilian.' When you show up on stage, you must fit in with the atmosphere – a stage attire."
Without hesitation, LeBlanc is picking out a stage attire for Renton; the white dress shirt/skirt (shirk?) and black pants she gets him resemble pajamas, or a karate robe.
"Try putting it on yourself," she goes, "and let me see the result."
In the dressing room, Renton gets everything but his underwear and socks off, and to his amazement, he finds the wardrobe easy to put on, with the shirk sliding over his head and the pants only needing a string to tighten it by his waist.
It's a loose yet comfortable fit, and he sees himself in the mirror – he almost looks like an elfin jester; just needs the cap with bells on it.
He comes out of the room; it takes LeBlanc a second to gander at him, before she bursts out giggling, her hand to her mouth.
"Awww.. it's cute," she goes. "I like it. What do you think of it Renton?"
"I.. it fits me nice."
"I think you could be my partner during my show routine. I just need to get you a cap to complete the picture.. maybe Lulu has a Santa hat handy." LeBlanc glances at his feet. "Hm."
She winds up buying the outfit, along with a pair of soft, fuzzy slippers – a suitcase too, and a bottle of perfume (Van Cleef & Arpels) that will fit him when audience members get up-close. A total of $475 spent, not including the taxi journey.
Kiss of Death
In a blue night, I visit his room through his windows. He is sleeping soundly on his bed, his body a comfortable contour under his sheets.
I linger over him, adoring the way he looks in the darkness. A part of me wishes to join him beside in his comfort, and silently, I'd hear him breathe, in and out, the only noise besides the ventilation, and the hum of his alarm clock.
But that is not what I am here for.
His face is turned sideways, resting on his pillow, and I head over and kneel down by his bed, and there, by his closed eyes,
I feel his breath on my face. And then I lean in, and quickly wrap my mouth over his in a tight kiss.
His reaction is immediate; his eyes jolt open in rudeness, and he begins to squirm -- for my lips have been coated with a deep black poison that carries with it a taste of blackberry and the most extreme pain.
So with my hands, I cradle his face securely - while he struggles to pull away from my lips, his muffled screams adding to my delight.
I'm kissing him, not because I know him, or someone has sent me on their behalf to kill, but because it is simply wonderful. Like a music all on its own. Each and every homme is different and unique in the kissing; some of them would breakdance in their beds, some of them would moan and cry, while others would gag and even try to vomit. But all the same, I savour them with the utmost joy.
In his case, he is thrashing on his bed like he's being possessed -- the mattress squeaking and his bedframe rattling; he'll wake up everyone else with that noise, so I climb onto his bed, on top of him, and I hold my own body, my breasts against him to muffle his erratic frenzy.
He tries to paw my face away with his hands, and he does succeed; a brief lapse of my kissing, and saliva spills from his mouth, mine and his - he frothes and gurgles, and coughs out, and I recognise the inhalation before the scream --
I won't let him scream. So I interrupt his gasp with another kiss, and I promise never to let him go until the end.
I hold onto his hands, my fingers clutching in-between his in a deadlock (like lovers), and he is utterly helpless in my embrace, as his moans eventually diminish, and his squirms reduce to petite quivers, and finally, nothing.
And even though he is lifeless now, I linger over his lips for another minute, the fine texture of them bristling with tender lines. The rush of the experience has surged warmth all over my body, and I feel my heart palpatating - I brush aside my hair from my sweat-stained face, and at last, I pull away from him.
His eyes are frozen wide open, the shock of the seconds ago etched onto their expression, a few tears still wanting to escape, and it is a haunting beauty to see.
I leave his room as silently as I've entered it. I don't dwell on how terrible his family's cries will be in the following morning - only on how my next partner might be like.
9 – preparations, pt. 1
LeBlanc can still feel the taste of him in her mouth when she wakes up. She brushes her hair aside, and licks her lips – Renton is still sleeping, his eyes closed in peaceful sleep, his arms clutching her softly.
The last day had been quite an ordeal for her, and he looked so scared, so relieved at the sight of her in ROCHAT headquarters when he was running away from them.
And then she remembers feeling so worried, so frightened for him too. It was a subconscious feeling, noticable now in her retrospection, and her focus is on his sleeping face, and.. she makes a vow to herself to always be by his side. To protect him. To nurture him.
To never allow anyone to take his existance away, as much as she can muster.
I'm so sorry.. Booker..
Perhaps Renton could be her second chance at love – it was dirty, what she'd done with him. Washed him, and touched him all over in the process. By normal standards of decency, this is far from appropriate, but when has she ever tasted normality? Not in a very, very long time.
And 'selfish' is how she'd describe her own feelings about him. She knows she is goading him into closer and closer intimacy, taking the opportunity of his pain, his crying over her – so she could nurse away that emotional wound and get closer, pulling him deeper into the void in her heart.
She wonders about those very feelings aroused inside her. Is it so bad? Must it be so bad? The feeling of taking advantage of this boy come to mind.
But.. I'm not doing this to hurt him, or act like he is some object to project my own feelings onto. I know.. he hasn't fared too well. He has no one else to turn to.. his own mama, from the impressions of it, she isn't really helping him at home, let alone loving him the way he needs.
I'm the only person he has at this point.
Swain.. Lulu.. and the others, it's not the same with them. I know how nice they can be, but in likely reality, they could all decide to just drop him as a hinderance if he doesn't perform well; I don't imagine Swain is willing to spread himself thin, giving Renton true membership in the Black Rose.
So I'll look after you Renton..
It just seems like the last 23 years, she's spent sleeping in a coma, a leaf floating adrift in the breeze, and now she is waking up, finding again the real reason for her existence, laying dormant inside her all this time in her deep memories.
On the stage, her part has always left audience members with melancholy – it is her interpretation of her past, which hardly anyone really knows about. She's done the same act mostly, just with a thousand different variations of the theme of memories, of sadness, of the early 1990s.. and it seems the reason for it is just becoming very clear to her now, with Renton.
The greatest thing in her existence is just to find love – to love, and be loved in return. The most important thing her heart always searches for. It is the source of life, of all meaning. Without that.. everything else does not really matter. You would suffocate otherwise, asphyxiate on your own air, and all the moments feel grey.
It is a sad truth in life that in all the world's population, not everyone has had a good chance at love. If Time were governed by destiny, by fate – then Fate is a merciless element who is too willing to leave petite children starving, to allow people to die broken-hearted, old and young.
No one should have to be destined to suffer cruelly in life, without love.
So LeBlanc would believe that it is just merest chance. Perhaps you are born in unfortunate circumstances, but there should be no reason why you should not be allowed to find your way to genuine happiness and fulfillment. No reason why one wallowing in the ultimate despairs can not ever feel the ultimate joys.
You think of all the amazing chances, how even Life is allowed to flourish on this planet Earth. It just happens to be the right circumstances; the planet is not too close nor too far from the sun, and it has nourishing water in abundance. And from this, you have protozoa evolving into multi-cellular organisms; the flies, the lizards, the bears and dolphins, and the apes evolving into intelligent humanity. [If we condense all that's happened up to now into one 24-hour day, starting at midnight, life itself does not appear until a little before noon, and all of human history occurs on the last half-second before midnight strikes again.]
And one day, from all that has transpired, humanity can one day find their way outside the Earth's boundaries, and share the Gospel of Life with all the other planets in the Universe.
And likewise, that bird brought Renton into her arms.
I'll hold you, and cherish you as much as my heart can bear.
You and me together we'll be..
Forever you'll see,
We two can be good company
You and me
Yes, together we two
Together, that's you
Forever with me
We'll always be good company
You and me
Yes, together we'll be..
"Bonjours," LeBlanc greets him awake – patting his dried, folded clothes onto the bed. She sees him stir, and his eyes are open, and he groans, groggy at the end of his hyposleep session.
"Hey.." he goes, smiling, a bit of excitement about the things in store for this day. He notices how it's relatively early in the morning; he's still willing to rouse though, and he shifts out of the comfy blankets, only noticing how he has utterly no clothes on too late, when she can see him- "Waaaah!"
"Hehe," she giggles, as he is scrambling for his sports jersey outwear. "Non.. don't put it on yet; we have to get rinsed fresh for the day first."
"But.. I just took a bath yesterday," Renton goes, instinctively covering himself up with the sheets. "I always take showers before I sleep." When he wakes up for school usually, he doesn't have that much time besides a quick breakfast eating and dressing before the bus comes.
"Mmhm. Now you will get used to the idea of good hygiene." LeBlanc pulls away his sheets and hands him a bath towel to wrap around his waist. "You shower in the mornings – to wipe off all the sweat and grime that accumulates over the hours you sleep, and also, it's a good day freshener, the water."
Inside the washroom, they do the routine of teeth-brushing and face-washing, and LeBlanc allows Renton the privacy of relieving himself by the toilet-
Alone, he wonders about the last night with her; was it a dream? After washing his hands by the basin, he puts his fingers to his mouth, touching his lips..
the sensation of her mouth, her tongue sliding over his,
non, he couldn't have just dreamed it, could he? It's too vivid in his memories – that moment having a 'too good to be true' feeling tied down to it; but then again, he's always expecting to wake up back at home, and here he is with her, in Las Vegas!
What does it all mean?
Renton gets out of the washroom, and waits while she does her business- it's a faint morning for Las Vegas, and the bright lights are still blooming, where the morning sun has barely popped out of the horizons.
It's only 6:20 in the morning.
He hears her flush the toilet, and the sink's tap running. What is he doing up so early in the day? He's had a long time for resting, so he is oddly quite awake at this point.
"Renton- come in," he hears her say, and he heads for the washroom door- opens it.
And before him, she is laid wholly bare before his eyes – a total and utter shock for him, and his first reaction is to recoil.
But her pose is very cool, and she has her hand out – her finger asking him, "Come hither."
Is she wanting to do it with him?
Renton sees the thinly, almost bony frame of her body; her breasts are quite supple – they're what his eyes are drawn to, and it is a bit different than what he'd first pictured them in his dream. Her areolae are a little dark, and 'full.'
He's trying to maintain his composure in her presence, his heart thumping.
"You remember," LeBlanc goes, "last night.. I kissed, and I held you in the bath?" Her chest visibly heaves with her breathing. "That was just a mere taste. This is me, Renton.. this is how I really look like, under the polite clothing. Look at me. My eyes." Her eyes are intent on him, studying every ounce of his feelings, prodding him. "Not my body. My eyes."
She takes a step forward, and he is backing up against the wall, still intimidated by her sight.
"I want you to know.." she goes, "this is how I look. So you won't be overwhelmed by the time we get to truly touch."
She is a mere arm's length away from him.
"Why.. why are you like this?" Renton goes, panting nervously. He's unable to find better words to ask her about her kind of attraction towards him, this sudden revelation. "I don't understand.." If it were the thing of looking at a static image of her body, a photo or in a magazine, it would be a different story – but here, it's uncomfortable in a way he can't explain. "You're.. naked.."
"Yes," she goes, and reaching for his arm, she puts his hand over her ribcage, a bit over her breast, and he feels underneath the steady thumps of her heart beating. "For so long, I've touched and been touched by other people, men and women. And all they know of me is how good my body feels. But I've never felt anything much for them, outside of the immediate pleasure.
"And it gets so lonely for me, in a way you might never understand.
"I've always.. I've wanted always for someone who I can love, and who can love me back sincerely – not for how pretty I look, but because how lonely it is.. it's almost unbearable, how I have so many feelings accumulating inside of me, but I have no one to let it out to. And the last time I felt for someone.. I lost him."
"Don't you have.. Swain?" Renton goes. "Or Twisted Fate?"
"Them?" LeBlanc looks aside, her eyes reflecting with a bit of resentment. "I tried it with them, and.. they don't have the right kind of heart for me. And I look at my audience, and all those people who I make eager about me.. they don't really care about the real me. They just want the beautiful image I've projected outward, and they'll gladly feel the same about me if I had the inner person of a bum.
"But you Renton.. I know you are different from the rest of them. I know – I see it in your eyes, you're sensitive, and you won't feel afraid or repulsed to know my love.. I look in your eyes, and I also see him. The person who loved me, who I loved. You're.. so similar with him."
"Who is him?" Renton goes, his anxiety seeping away with her words.
"I loved him," LeBlanc goes. "His name is Philippe – and I had a child with him, and I call my child 'Booker.' We were.. I was only 14 then, and he was 15. It was so wonderful.. all the time I enjoyed together with him. If only.. those absolute bums didn't come.. and steal the both of them away from me.. I.. I-"
And LeBlanc is really crying; it's the first time she's ever let herself go with someone, and her tears escape her eyes, and her hands are just there- clinging onto Renton's arm.
"I'm.. I'm sorry," Renton utters; this is a completely different person than the one he's managed to see – the sad, tempramental girl who's been hiding all along under the composed exterior. Don't cry..
He just wants to do something – if it could mean the same of what she helped do with him last night. To make her feel better.
So he leans in, and kisses away the tears dripping down her cheeks.
"I love you," he tells her, almost in a whisper. "Evaine, I don't want to see you sad anymore.."
It's like a sudden dose of torrential feeling, bursting through the very fibres of her being, and her eyes seem to glimmer with a new light, of a pure desire.
"I know.." And she advances herself onto him, tenderly, against the porcelain wall, and finding no other way of letting it out, she just kisses him, endlessly all over, suddenly clutching him in a tight, trembling, irrational embrace – clinging to him like all life itself.
They slide down the wall, eventually winding upon the cold, bare ground, their bodies in absolute heat.
8 – frosted cake
Renton feels the blankets, tucked over to his head. It's very comfortably silky on his contours. He hears the whir of traffic outside, and the bustling noise of the populace, the banjo music muffled. He's always been hearing it faintly through his sleep, but only now does he become acutely aware of the noise.
So he shifts himself in the sheets, almost expecting his mum to bust into his room again, burst the door open, "Wake up!" when he prefers another half-hour of nappy time.
This bed is different. It's more gentler and softer than his own bed.
He really opens his eyes, and to his partial surprise, he doesn't recognise the sparsely elegant hotel room he's woken up in. All the lights have been dimmed – in the corner by the closet is an open luggage bag, and he sees the ornate makeup bag on the table, along with a white paper carton.
Feeling groggy, he gets himself out of bed, noticing he's dressed in the same clothes he wore that night at his home city, except for his socks, and shuffles over to the haze of light streaming in through the window curtains.
His heart beating, Renton pulls aside the curtains.
He doesn't recognise the numerous colourful lights over the horizon, or all the skylights which seem to fight against the darkness of the dusk. And the airships up low in the sky.
Then he realises – he's in Las Vegas!
It's the city he's never thought of ever visiting; of course, he's seen the city as viewed through the TV and movies; the original CSI show, Scorsese's 'Casino' (1995), but this is.. with his own eyes, the sight of the city is overwhelming, and almost makes him want to faint..
Just how high up on the hotel is he? He glances below, and far down, he sees the fountains spew out alight water jets, and a sense of vertigo washes over him – he is backing away from the window, afraid that he could just drop down by accident (even though there's a window).
He thinks of the luggage again; who's in here with him? He turns up the lights, and the anodyne lamps shine and he sees the beige carpet and walls clearly, with the beds and couches and counters complenting the layout. On the walls are portraits of dancers, in inky sketches, and Renton heads to the open luggage, his hands sifting through the contents, the box of chocolate and sweet perfumes (it smells just like her)-
He's with LeBlanc!
And just inconveinently, the door opens, and she's striding in.. with a red bathrobe that isn't wrapped too well, so he sees glimpes of her bare midsection.
"Oh, Renton.." LeBlanc goes, "you're awake."
"Yeah.." He gulps on the inside, suddenly nervous, seeing her exposed like this. But he can't help staring as she gets an outfit from her wardrobe, and heads inside the washroom to change.
Then a question hits him — "Hey, how long have I been out?"
"Did you just wake up?" she asks him.
"Then I'd say about the whole 10 hours," she goes. "You've slept through dinner and much of our enjoyment time here."
".. damnit!" he exclaims, angry about the missed time he could have spent having fun. "What did you guys do?"
"Oh, we went to Casinos, I watched Twisted Fate and Lulu try their hands at poker.. they scored three times their original bets overall, and I myself did a game of baccarat – no such luck for me, unfortunately."
And Renton imagines the rich atmosphere inside the Casino, with the chattering people yelling whenever they'd score a big win, and the ringing of the slot machines, and with an air of desperate excitement around it.. the guards would be there, patrolling, always waiting to catch someone even thinking of cheating, or someone who's gotten so absorbed in their gambling they need a time-out.
It's such a vice, like cigarettes, but in this city of vices, where you can practically drown in electric dreams, it seems even your wildest dreams might come true.
"With their winnings," LeBlanc continues, "we treated outselves out to some nice buffet, where I saved some food back for you to eat, and we saw a marathon of Alain Delon's crime capers in a vintage movie theatre."
"You should have woken me up-!" Renton goes. "I.. I can't believe I missed-"
"Non," LeBlanc goes. "Actually, I'm very glad you managed to catch up on your sleep. It is something you should not take for granted, a good rest; I rarely get the chance to have that, and all I can do is micro-nap or meditate, whilst putting additional caffeine into my system."
She comes out of the washroom, now in her pajamas.
"You were.." Renton goes.
"I was bathing on the first floor, in the pools." She's hung over lingerie over the shower railings for drying, having been washed in the sink. "Lulu.. I think she's a bit tired now of riding the carousels. I'm not sure about Heimerdinger and the others currently."
Renton starts to feel weak and peckish; he thinks of the white carton on the counter, and wonders how-
"There's a microwave, right beside the freezer," LeBlanc points out, remembering Renton's hunger. "You can warm it up; I'd say about two minutes will do fine."
The food, a pack of spiced noodles and onions, broccoli, peppers and marinated chicken – it comes out sizzling from the microwave after those two minutes.
"Aahh-!" Renton yelps, touching the paper carton inside.
"I must have been too generous with the time," LeBlanc goes, giggling to herself. "Sorries. Just wait a while until it cools down.. there's forks under the microwave counter, I recall."
So Renton gets out a nice fork with napkin, and lays them by the microwave. While it's cooling down, LeBlanc turns on the TV, and the news is eagerly reporting about the Black Rose's upcoming show in two days. She does some stretches, and yawns, leaning back onto the comfy couch – realising how spent she's been recently. You never get any room just to breathe, and it's nice just to be able to do nothing, except your pleasure's whimsy.
"This is Melissa Redgrave, reporting live from FOX News 28!" the reporter goes, standing in front of the blocky MGM Grand Resort. "We're at the MGM Casino & Hotel, and two nights from now, we'll be witness to an extraordinary showing from the grandmasters of illusion and magical delight – the Societe de Black Rose!"
There are a bunch of eager fans by the camera, all doing wild antics to garner attention; waving, jumping, one of them doing an improvised scatting session.
"And as you can see," the reporter goes, "we have plenty of fans who are just as eager as anyone else about their presence here in Las Vegas- excuse me, sir, what's your name?"
LeBlanc's hand is idly reaching underneath her shirt, giving her own belly a gentle massage.
"LeRoy!" the guy goes – he was the one scatting. "And I'mma tell you folks on your couches something real! I send y'all good will, love and peace through all your television sets, just as LeBlanc sends me her good love and peace on the stage! Wooo!"
LeBlanc giggles; it's encouraging to know how mesmerised you can make people.
"And what about you ma'am?" the reporter goes, pointing her mic at an old lady who's doing jumping jacks.
"Oh, me?" the old lady goes. "I was doing some jumping jacks.."
"Do you have anything to say about the Black Rose?"
"Oh.. erm, I thought this was some exercise group or somethin'.. but I wish them all the best in dazzlin' and razzlin' everyone's eyes. I need to get home to feed my puppy."
Renton is snacking on his food by the table – he's delecting with the rich, salty flavour, with the somewhat oily noodles sliding down his tongue as he chews. Mmmph. It's so good. And so filling that by the time he's done, he is bloated (in a good way). *Brrrp!*
"And you, little lady?" the reporter goes, notioning at a petite girl with a pink headband.
"What's your favourite a-minal?" the girl goes, grinning. "A bear?" She giggles. Then someone (heavily tattooed) in a trenchcoat takes her hand and leads her off.
"Oh." The reporter regains her composure. "Well, for the record, I like tigers. Rawr! But anyways, this is Melissa Redgrave, and we're all excited about the Black Rose! I wonder what they have planned up their sleeves. Now back to you, Goodman."
LeBlanc switches the TV channel to something with a flashy cartoon on it; and Renton recognises it as Claymore the Third, where all the 47 Claymores protecting the land are up against a fog of deceit and treachary from their own organisation. His eyes are eagerly peeled to the screen, and he utters, "Hey, can you turn that up?"
"What's this?" LeBlanc asks.
Renton explains the gist of the show to her, and how it's one of the top 10 watched shows across the world – everyone is hyping up for the season finale, and he doesn't want to miss a thing.
"Oh. That sounds cool," she goes, her eyes staring in a sort of disbelief at the flashy action – she recalls back around the late 90s, when little kids have been hospitalised from an episode of Pokemon, and she wonders if standards have changed somehow over the times.
And all the while, Renton is energised by the thought of her seeing something he really likes. He wonders if she'll ever realise he sees her like Clare on that show.
It turns to a commercial break, and they're advertising a new 'Clap On—Clap off!' for modern homes.
Then he remembers.
"Hey.." he goes, approaching LeBlanc on the sofa. "I dreamt something.." He sits on a spot beside her, and now she is glancing at him attentively.
A beat. Renton's trying to recall the images. "You and I were in a field together, and.." He hesitates.
"A field?" LeBlanc blinks. "And what happened?"
She notices him gulping, like he's suddenly stumbled onto a psychological speed bump. His eyes quiver.
"Erm.." he begins, tugging at his collar. "You.. and I.. we-"
She thinks it is a bit of a steamy dream he's had about her – it can get awkward, trying to get it out of your mouth. So she comforts him. She rests her hand on his shoulder. "If you don't feel like telling me Renton.. you don't have to. It's alright."
For some reason, it makes him so – frustrated and a little sad, a combination of the two. She'll never know how it had felt for him, the experience of his dream with her.
And now he remembers the haunting sadness, feeling it vividly, welling up in his chest, and it is like he could choke from the feeling, and his awareness grows faint-
once, he's read through a beauty magazine in a lounge somewhere, and he remembers a whole page devoted to an ad, just a black-and-white image of a woman, with the tulips grown over from the hanging branches, and he couldn't help staring at it – peeking every once in a while to gaze upon its evocative beauty-
"Renton?" he hears her.
He barely stirs out of his induced stupour – he is beginning to tear up. (He's so close to telling her how beautiful he finds her, but surely, there are 10,000 other people who must have already expressed the same thing in the past, and how in the hell can he make his own feelings matter if he's just a mere drop in that big ocean? Alors, such a loss for words..)
"Renton, are you alright?" In his eyes, LeBlanc recognises the same tinge that was barely detectable before, but it is much more overt now. A teardrop falls down his cheek, and another one.. She raises a finger to brush away the wetness.
"I.." he begins. ("I" what? "I"-dea? Eye got your tongue? Hehehehe.) Non.. I don't have any right to just tell her I love her. Is this even love? I don't know. It's just a selfish feeling maybe. I'll just ruin myself in front of her..
non, I can't..
"Help me.." he whimpers, sobbing, reaching for his chest, where his heart is beating, no, crumbling under the emotions. "It hurts.."
There is a bit of detachment in her, seeing him like this. It reminds her too much of herself, when she is faced with unbearable pain – and seeing that in him here, it is like glancing through a mirror, and it makes her feel self-consciously shy.. how someone else can feel the same things as her.
A pang echoes in her own heart, and she finds her own arms wrapping around him, pulling him close against her, and feeling him letting go onto her shoulder.
And he's so warm, and just to hold him, there is a pleasure in doing so.
She suspects that his hurting has something to do with her – he started crying when.. he wasn't able to get his dream out to her. It must be important to him.
Her hands reach underneath his shirt, and she just pets him, her hands rubbing down his bare back.
Wordlessly, she continues doing this, to soothe him.
"LeBlanc.." he says, starting to float on a cloud. "I.. it feels so good.."
"Yes it does."
To touch another human being in kindness, it is innately good. It's the first way a newborn knows he won't have to be alone in the dark, facing the nothingness of the night.
"LeBlanc.." he whispers, "do you like me..?"
"Do you.. love me..?"
She looks at him, his eyes noticably red, open, and pure. If she'd told him that for even one second, from the moment she's met him that she didn't love him – it would be an absolute lie. How she would have never thought that bird.. out of purest chance, would have brought someone like him into her arms.
She can still sense the pizza flavours clinging onto him, along with his body odour, and the leftovers he's eaten from his mouth.
Then she pulls him up by the hand. "Come."
She leads him over to the washroom, where she flicks the flourescent light on; the sink is her focus, and she opens up another toothbrush parsel.
Renton is passive to her actions, a recipiant. He isn't sure what is really going on, only that it is benevolent. Before he knows it, she puts the toothbrush in his mouth, with the pink bubblegum syrup (as provided by the hotel), and lathers his teeth and gums with the crisp flavour, and rinses his mouth with the water.
In her hands, he is like a pretty doll, who she's making up for bed.
And after she's scrubbed his face, and run a disposible shaving razor over his growing whiskers – she does not hesitate in telling him, "Get undressed."
".. right now?" Renton asks.
"Oui." She heads to the bathtub, where she plugs in the drain and starts filling it with water – not too hot that it is so unbearably scathing, but also she needs it to be suitably warming, so when he gets out, he's left with a blushing feeling.
This is so resembling of his dream.. is this alright? It isn't as if she's just pervertedly wanting to see him bare and naked.
Besides, he wonders if it would lead to more of him floating in clouds.
So he peels off the sports sweater and shirt he's had on for a while, and lays it on a stool, and then his pants, and socks, and finally underwear. He can really feel the cool, air-conditioned room, and the tub is already filled close to its brim, steaming, and LeBlanc has added a few drops of bubble bath to it so it's lathered.
She holds him steady as he steps inside, quickly getting used to its heat, and when he's all in, she dips his head in the water, wetting his hair, dripping, and lathers the vanilla shampoo-
It had been quite silent between them, a bit uncomfortably so for her, and all she's heard out of him is the occasional moan or whimper when she's bumped the toothbrush on a particularly sore spot with his gums.
"I miss doing this.." she confesses to him.
"When I was younger," she tells him, "before I joined the Black Rose, I had clients who I made love to. I was a courtesan."
"A courtesan.." Renton digests the word.
"In plainer terms, a prostitute," she explains, reaching for the body wash. "I'd wash them myself before I did my business with them, because some of them could be quite dirty, without knowing it. Cleaning them was a way of me getting to know them, and also.. it just feels nice doing so."
Suddenly, Renton is having funny feelings stirring inside, and she is going over his neck, his shoulders and arms, and his chest..
What is he supposed to say to her? He's been taught all through his life about the hazards and dangers of grown-ups taking advantage of younger people, with the PSAs and the Sex Ed. classes. It is supposedly traumatising, even for life – but.. (yes, in cases where the grown-up is just a mean bum on the inside, like a priest with very repressed desires)
Here, he actually doesn't mind her doing this. Her hands go over him gently, and she's rinsing around his belly button, where under that, she detachedly goes over his genitals (he ticklishly squirms) and then around his inner thighs, and his knees.. and his legs and his ten little piggies who have been weathering inside the shoes, and need a good scrubbing.
"I know it is not appropriate to be touching you," LeBlanc goes, her arms sopping wet too. "Like this. But you looked so hurt to me, so I wish to comfort you. I'm too.. am alone."
And once that is done, he's rinsed as throughly as she can give him, she tells him to undo the drain, and grabs a towel for him to dry himself off.
"My clothes..!" Renton goes, but LeBlanc shakes her head as she gathers them into a pile outside. "What will I wear.."
"The first thing I'll do for you is obtain you a good wardrobe," she tells him. "These clothes.. I don't like the idea of you sleeping in them, not after you've been wearing them for so long. I'll send them downstairs to the laundry to be washed."
So she leads him to the bed where he was sleeping, and tucks him under the sheets, taking his covering towel back to the washrooms.
The lights are dimmed, and the TV is still on, where Clare is in a rocky situation – she's pinned down to the wall by the Maestermind, and he is making a big revelation towards her- gasp! He is her father, and she's always been his experiment from day one! Dun dun dun!
Renton scoffs – it's a cheesy twist of events, but it still works wonders when he really can't wait for the last two episodes of the show to air the following weeks.
He finds it very airy, sleeping under the sheets in his bare skin. He was never allowed to do that at home, even if it got so sweltering hot during the summers; his mum would gasp like he just did when she'd pull away his sheets the following morning, "Wake up! It's late!" and act like she's stumbled across him caught in the act.
As if his mum has never seen him naked before.. but that was when he's very young, and he.. he really sort of misses the genuine tenderness that was there, with his parents, that he didn't realise had existed until he's older and had the chance to look back.
LeBlanc is quick in asking an attendant on the first floor to get Renton's clothes washed and ready the first thing next morning. It's around 11:22 PM, and the bustling of the decorous lobby, where there are usually lots of people who scuttle from the casinos to rides to the drink bars.. it's quieter now, and you get the sense of some people wanting to be in their beds by this point. Unless you're expecting to win $50,000 dollars from a slot machine (and rightly so; people have heard rumours that the Casino has rigged one of many slot machines to give out that sum in cash, once every month).
When she's back up on the 12th floor, and she makes her way into her room again, the TV is blaring what looks like a Hindi melodrama – lots of reaction shots, the family members so surprised and shocked.. because Aamir Khan has revealed that he's pregnant, and he'll be the third man in India to have carried a baby to term.
She's feeling quite.. "Yawwwwnn.." Tired. So she scuttles for the remote – it's by Renton's bed, and he seems a bit bored of the TV, so she shuts the telly off.
And it is just her and him now, against the nightly backdrop of a still-thriving Vegas.
She lingers over him, a barely lit silhouette, listening to the sound of him breathing, and then she pulls herself under the same sheets as him.
"LeBlanc.." he goes. "I don't feel tired.."
"Oui.. but I am. It just takes me a while to fall asleep.. can you tell me about anything, Renton? Such as your dream? I want to hear.."
"I was.. we were playing at the local mall, where the arcade machines are. And I was showing you how to play this game.. BioMenace.."
"Oh? What's BioMenace about?"
"It's where you are a CSIS agent, Snake Logan, and the whole world has become infested by mutant monsters because of a 10th grade biology experiment gone wrong. So you are just fighting wave after waves of monsters, hoping to survive to the next level. And.."
"You shoot them? The powerups? The high scores?" (She knows the gist of arcade games – having played several herself earlier on. The mechanics of the gameplay are designed to be addictive, to allow the player to [begrudgingly] accept failure by pumping in a few more coins. And a few more after that.)
"Yeah. And I showed you how to play the game.. you eventually get a high score."
"I wanted you to type in your real name.. but you typed in mine instead, because- I think because you said it was me who goaded you into the game, into winning."
"And.. I'm in a nice room, and there's a washroom.."
"Oh, did it look like this room?"
"No, it's different. But I went into the tub, and I was playing with a rubber duckie.. and.."
"Heheh." Renton clears his throat. "And suddenly, it was like the I was chasing the rubber duckie down a water slide.. if I didn't, then the other people in line behind me, they'd call me a coward. So.. that's the end of my dream."
"But I don't think.." LeBlanc goes. "There is something else, that you couldn't tell me.. and you cried because of it."
Renton is more comfortable now, being able to tell her without inhibitive worry. "We were naked, on the stage.. dancing, holding each other against the cold."
Then he feels her shuffle her hand up, finding his face, his cheeks, just brushing his shin with her fingers.
"I.." Renton goes, finding the words to express that one desire – the way she had painted her lips alluringly black. "Can I.. kiss.. you?"
She answers him by pulling his head towards hers, and she finds his mouth alongside hers, and she pecks him gently at first. "Absolutely."
And in the enveloped darkness, he tastes her – the fine, delicate texture of her lips, nibbling on his, rubbing, and then she fully presses her mouth over his, and there, they each savour their shared breaths, and she lets out a throaty moan that is caught onto him,
it is the carnal desire that only ascends, more and more,
and she prods him with her tongue, two tongues who are set on attempting to taste one another, a petite dance, as he tries pushing back against her protrusion.
She feels him wheeze for air, and she pulls back away from him – mutual saliva drips down between their gap, just to let him recover.
And then another round of kissing, and this time, Renton is more assertive in this playful pas-de-deux, his hand running over her face, through her hair to the nape of her neck, and she shudders a bit, being touched there-
By accident, her teeth clench down on his tongue's tip, and he yelps in pain, retreating.
"Oh.. I'm sorry," she tells him.
"Aauouh," he goes, panting.
"Here.. I can help. Just stick your tongue out, and I'll make it feel better.."
So he does, stretching his tongue as far out as he can go – further than usual, when he'd blow raspberries at people.
She wraps her lips around his tip, the region where he'd taste sweetness from the sugary things, and merely sucks onto it, a popsicle. All her saliva leaks out from her lips, and he tastes it like it is his own, except it has a foreign composure that makes his mouth more wet in turn.
It does feel better, and he is aching for more, from her.
But she withdraws from him, her head resting on the pillow.
"I want.." he goes, and she nudges him by his chin.
"I'm tired. But tomorrow.. I promise, I'll show you the reason why a body is the best thing you can ever have.. bonne nuite, Renton."
"Bonne nuite.. LeBlanc."
But before he can ask her about it, her name, he hears her snoring, her awareness out of here – and so, all he can do is hold her by himself, like a pillow for his own body.
She's so warm..
And pretty soon, he too slides out of waking alertness.
In the swirling madness of a human heart, desire fluctuates.
Sitting in the gloomy conference room, you and him wait for the instructor to come back. The tingling is surging in your heart. Temptation strikes, as you glance at him in a manner so coy, that you hope he wouldn't notice.
You glance at his pretty face, his soft brown eyes, his curly hair -- those lips, that might be a little rough and chapped.
Suddenly, your heart noticably beats faster. You've always wanted to get in physically with someone, to know how it is, that love you've always seen in other people - that love you envy; to be able to hold them, cup their cheeks in your hand, and press your lips onto theirs.
But sadly, you can't, for decency's sake.
Whenever they catch you glancing at them that way, you always have to put a nice smile over it, take a shy step back, hide your blush, and turn around. You always have to close your eyes, so they don't see the twinkle that is there. (Otherwise..)
You can't deny it however. Before Humanity was civilised, it was like an animal -- an animal with primal desires. Hunger, fatigue.. lust..
and right now, that lust which lay dormantly in your heart is taking a peek outside, at that boy. Is it so bad that you have to hold it back? Is it really evil? A cardinal sin? No, you suspect that because it's so powerful, that if you ever unleash it, you can never turn back..
(it will suffuse you full of feeling and liveliness)
(it's so pure, too pure)
(almost, you want to cry)
If you could, what sort of goodness can you indulge yourself with this boy?
You start to whisper to him, gently, with a lump in your throat, if you could come sit by him. He nods. And so you shuffle over to the other side of the table, where he's at. Here, you can almost sense his warmth - he has on a light t-shirt, and you see the little red blushes on his arm, a scrape on his elbow that's just healing.
Your eyes catch.
You find yourself inching closer to him, as if the magnetic force of your heart is pulling you towards his. And he seems to be doing the same too, until you catch yourself almost touching him.
You see the nervousness in his eyes, his mouth almost ajar for lack of words, and then you imagine that he must be feeling more or less the same about you.
And then you ask if you could kiss him. Even though you've hardly known each other otherwise -- but hey, a kiss could be a nice way for a first impression.
And for a tense moment, you await his answer, and he tells you, yes.
So you indulge yourself in what he tastes like; you enter his mouth, and you find his warm breath alluring, as you start dancing your tongue onto his, tasting him, his wet saliva, sending sparks into your brain, oh God it's wonderful,
(a kiss so tender)
and you push yourself into him, holding his shoulder-- no, his neck, and with your other hand, you hold him against you, and your breasts cushion you like a soft pillow, and your heart surges with electricity, and you shut your eyes entirely, moaning with him, wanting more and more and more--
Then you hear the door open. "What the hell are you two doing!?" your instructor pips.
Pulling back from the boy is almost painful. His salty taste lingers on your tongue after you depart, and your mutual saliva settles down your lips. You pant, breathing heavily yet pleasurably, and then you flutter with embarassment - your instructor had to witness such an intimate moment, ooh la la.
All you can muster to your instructor is "Sorries," as you settle back to your seat, wiping away the wetness with your sleeve. For the rest of the lesson, you shamefully hold back glances at that boy you just devoured, wondering if you might have gone a little too far..
Still, it felt quite good, non?
And you're already looking forward to another encounter..