Ex: Hey, remember that time I promised we’d be together till death do us part and all that jazz?
Ex: Jokes on you.
I hope you have a big enough carrier.
Very, very true.
Raf’s powers make for some good ole reality questioning. (Especially since he can see different possibilities of the future if he focuses enough.)
(Also 'cause I kinda wanted to give Mambo an early introduction like I did for Foxtrot, haha…)
It’s too late. You already broke me. (Well, that and I just finished up a sad part of the update as well, and I was feeling down so I wanted to write something… happy…? I mean, the plan failed, but still the intention was there.)
Soo this was kinda an ‘alternate history’ of what coulda happened had Raf gone to the party. (Or maybe it was what he saw happening that, at the end of the day, made him decide not to go? Who knows?
This is your fault
I close my eyes, and take a deep breath- but then pretty much immediately regret it. The air is thick and toxic with the smell of many different pseudo-flowery perfumes, and colognes of varying indescribable artificial flavors. The heaviness of it all chokes up my lungs, and I find myself squeezing the glass in my hand even more. I don’t drink from it, no, I don’t dare do that. It’s just… something cool to hold onto into this body-heat induced humidity. That, and it at least keeps the many servers dancing around in black and white uniforms from approaching me.
Even so, I’ve done my best to find what little breathing space I can in a room this crowded. Which, honestly, I really didn’t have a choice in. If you’re not willing to muscle your way through this crowd of gem-dipped dresses and crisply steamed bowties you end up shoved into the far corner either way. It’s… kind of funny, when I think about it, that such an elegant extravaganza could really be so… barbaric.
I find myself scanning the crowds, thick throngs of people that blur together into little more than a mass of swirling colors. I tell myself that’s for the better. I tell myself that I’m not disappointed. I tell myself that I’m still only here on business.
But… he was right, wasn’t he?
Closing my eyes, I let my head thump back against the soft, velvet curtains that hang uselessly, decoratively, around the wall.
Mambo pushed his glasses up with the back of a white-gloved knuckle. He quickly tears the plastic from his hands and tosses it into the trashcan beside his workstation- the clean silver steel painted a dark, bloody red where he was working. He’d said nothing for a long while, only stood from his stool and ambled across the floor to the sink. Wordlessly, the woman called Rhumba moved into his place with a rag at the ready, swiping up all that needed to be cleaned. Though her face wasn’t visible behind the gas mask, I heard tiny grunts of disgust. Nobody likes cleanup duty, but it’s become something of an initiation task within Mambo’s employees…
Is ‘employees’ even the right word?
”You’ve been awfully quiet,” Mambo didn’t respond verbally, he shrugged, letting the water run over his hands without moving the for a long while. Just staring at the space between finger and fingernail. “I was hoping you could tell me what you think…?”
Mambo sighed, quickly finishing washing his hands and shaking them out. “Rhumba.” One word, and the woman disappeared silently, dropping the rag and scurrying towards the door, I stopped her, gave her a quiet word of thanks… which, again, I couldn’t tell her reaction to under the mask. Mambo’s lip curled upward in disgust at the sight of the rag, his dark eyes squinted at the offending cloth, “She could have at least taken the disgusting thing with her…”
”She’s new, she’s learning.” I coaxed him away from the fixation, “Besides, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody meet your expectations. Not at first, at least.”
”Don’t be ridiculous.”
”If I’m wrong then I’d be happy to know who it is.” I grinned, though looking back I’m not sure if he could tell that I was smiling behind the mask, “Because they must be able to work miracles.”
Mambo huffed, but didn’t say much else. He glanced once at me, slicking back his dark hair with whatever water was left on his hands. “You can take the mask off, if you want. I don’t have any more appointments today.”
”Ah, right,” I couldn’t help but sigh once it comes off- as much as I’ve worked on making it breathable over the years, everything still seems much more stuffy underneath the full-face mask. I fiddled with it in my hands, “So…”
”Professional or friend?”
”… Do you mean your advice?” I questioned, Mambo nodded. Pausing, I couldn’t help but wonder just how the two differentiated. He’s never been one for mincing his words out of ‘friendship’ or anything of the sort. It’s… been one of the many reasons I’m able to speak openly with him, knowing that Mambo will offer what he believes to be the truest answer. “Both.”
Mambo nodded once more, but he didn’t reply immediately. Instead he took off his glasses, fetching a cloth from the pocket sewn into the inside of his long white coat, and cleaned the lenses first, rubbing them over in small, careful circles. ”Well,” He drawled, speaking with slow confidence, “As your friend, it pains me to tell you to go… yet I suppose I must.”
My eyebrows shot up, ”I… wasn’t expecting that.” I slumped against the side of the wall, running a hand through my hair- which caught at different intervals, having gotten messed up from being bunched underneath the mask all day. A weak laugh escaped my lips, “I was… sort of hoping you’d say the opposite.”
”You don’t want to go?”
”I-…” I let my hand fall to my side, “I don’t know…” I hate how quiet my voice sounds. The far wall is a dull, dark grey, turned bluish-white in the work room’s fluorescent lights. “I-It doesn’t matter what I want, anyways. That’s not… that’s not important…”
”And that’s where, as a friend, I disagree.” Mambo slipped his glasses back onto his slightly hooked nose, thin, sharp lips twisting into a frown. “And as a medical professional. Though I deal with the body and not the mind, I know that it can’t be healthy to-”
”It doesn’t matter.” I repeated, trying my best to sound forceful… but force had never been my speciality. It was one of the reasons why ‘Harbinger’ never spoke. “I’m sorry- I-…” I inhaled sharply, that slightly acidic smell of antiseptic filling my nose. Mambo said nothing, he folded his arms, but his face was as serene as ever. “I’m sorry…” The silver eye of the mask scrunched together in my mask- crushing and stretching, crushing and stretching.
”You have nothing to apologize for.”
”If only,” I attempted another smile, but Mambo didn’t return the gesture. “Well… what about as a professional? What do you think then?”
Again, it took Mambo quite a while to answer my question. He looked away first, unfolding his hands and sauntering over to the bloody table. He ran a hand along one of the few clean spots, lift it and rubbing invisible dust between the two fingers. Mambo then stared at a vial for a while, lips pursed and eyes squinted in a familiar thinking expression. Like before, the words came out with slow deliberation, but this time it seemed to originate not in confidence, but a kind of reluctance, “As a professional… I believe that it would not be in your best interests to attend Miss Waltz’s… soireé.” Mambo’s nose wrinkled once more, he picked up a vial, turned it around in his hands- the bright pink liquid sloshing around.
Mambo’s back was turned to me, and I couldn’t make out what he did- having only the slight clinking of glass and occasional tick of a burner coming on and clicking off to cue me into… whatever it was he was doing. When he turned around again, however, he held the same vial- the pink fluid now fizzing in rapid bubbles. Mambo turned it around in his hand once more, letting the bubbles catch the light. Strawberries filled the air, the sickly sweet smell covering the sharp antiseptic stench. Mambo then walked over to the sink, “Despite the fact that I’d already believed the rewards to not outweigh the inherent risk.” And promptly dumped the contents of the glass vial down the drain. “I believe that this added factor unbalances the scales even more. It’s become far too… personal… to have success be a viable outcome.” His eyebrows shoot up then, “Though I suppose you’d be the best advisor when it came to that, Harbinger. Tell me, how do you see this plan of yours going?”
There was a small crack in the tiled flooring, no bigger than a strand of hair, snaking through the white ceramic. “I’m not sure I trust my judgement on that…”
”Then don’t.” Mambo tilted his head ever so slightly, “Trust your powers, instead.”
”Yes. What do your powers tell you, Harbinger?” Mambo took a single step forward, “What do you see?”
The past has always been a… close acquaintance of mine. Though I’m not sure I’d call it a ‘friend’ anymore, it’s still familiar. So familiar, that it almost feels odd when I’m reminiscing about my own past. It seems much more… blurred. Duller. Like someone forgot to clean the lense of a camera and now everything is coated in a fine fuzz and made slightly duller in color…
When did I become more familiar to stranger’s pasts than I did mine own?
I shake my head, lifting it from against the curtains.
I open my eyes, and I see the party. The grand ballroom with it’s split level flooring and the wall made of glass. An endless sea of people milling about, twirling skirts catching on chandelier light and jewels competing against one another to shine the brightest- look the most expensive. False smiles behind false teeth, drunk breath and staggered steps loping from one socialite to the other. I stand among the throng, looking up at the split level with a kind of disastrous awe. Shoulders shove me from one side to the other, pushing me from person to person. Occasionally making quiet, awkward eye contact with each person- stuttering out what I can manage of a ‘hello’ before being pushed onto the next unwanted social situation. I never encounter anyone I know, all the faces seem strange and unfamiliar and, after a while, almost inhuman-
I encounter someone I know, but it is not… not them. I do not know whether to feel happy or sad about that, I do not know if I am relieved or disappointed. I cannot speak to them properly, because any conversation is clouded by these whirling, ambivalent emotions. I end up making up some excuse, I leave and-
I do not encounter anyone I know, and yet they let slip a familiar name. A name that makes me freeze, makes my bones seem to seize up and a breathless, “How do you know them?” wheeze out. My chest feels tight, like my heart is about to pop and-
I do not encounter anyone I know, but they introduce me to someone I do, another stranger-
Someone I know-
I meet their eyes, familiar and strange and-
I open my eyes with a gasp, shaking my head and silently cursing myself. There’s a pain in my heart, and part of me wants to go back. Part of me wants to close my eyes again, slip back into that… day-dream future.
It can’t be a possibility. Though part of me knows it is, the overwhelming other half refuses to acknowledge it.
Besides, I already know how it would end. Even without seeing it, I know…
The delicate clinking of glasses draws my attention away from my small corner of the world- a large group is approaching. All giggling in a high-pitched tone that seems to be vying against the pitch of the glasses clashing gently against one another. I move away, towards the velvet-lined staircase. Staring at my feet as they move, almost hypnotically, one in front of the other.
I stand at the top, my hands curled around the railing, scanning the crowd.
But the crowd is an ocean. And after a while all the waves start to blur into one, neon-colored tsunami. It makes any one face indistinguishable and though I’ve climbed to what feels the top of a grand king’s tower it helps none with fishing for that one familiar face. A haze at the edge of my vision shifts and-
But the crowd is sparse that night, sparser than Waltz would have wanted, but it makes it easier to look through the crowd. I see no one I recognize, everything still just an acrylic painting- realistic and dreamy, beautiful and untouchable. Unrecognizable-
I stand at the top, my hands curled around the railing, and I recognize someone. It is not someone who would recognize me. Not now, not after so long. She mills about the crowd, and though I spare a brief thought as to why she’s here it doesn’t stick for long. Anything is possible. Even-
I want air. It’s hard to breathe in this cluster, being choked now not only by perfume but the pressure of what seems to be a thousand bodies packed into a space that was only ever made to hold a hundred. The railings. Space. Air. I shove my way through the crowd until I stand at the top, my hands curl around the railing until my knuckles turn white. Leaning slightly over the side just to take a gasp of that precious commodity- personal space. My eyes lift, up and past the twinkling, sparse lights of the chandelier. Tiny crystals linked together in patterns so thing they look like a million strings draped over a golden, light-bearing skeleton. Through swirling fabrics catching on heeled slippers and oiled shoes. Along the walls with engravings reminiscent of an Queen’s tomb carved into the belly of the room. Over the rug with strands so fine that it takes on the look of a bloody red field, or a battle-stained river. Surging past the masses of bodies, drawn almost my a rope, until-
They stand there. Separated from the crowd and in much the same corner I stood in before. If I hadn’t moved, perhaps we would have collided- and that thought carries with it all the same emotions of encountering someone I wouldn’t know, but would mention someone I do. Regret and relief, a kind of elation and a deep, clawing sadness. A name rises and chokes in my throat, lingering on the back of my tongue. Sweet-sounding, even when I don’t say it the sound still echoes around my ears, until it becomes all I hear. No clinking glasses, no high-pitched voices, no false laughter. Just a name. Simple and yet… nothing could ever sound more complex. Not the most elegant song, not the strangest animal, nothing.
I should tear my eyes away. I should look away. I should but I can’t seem to. I can’t seem to close my eyes. I can’t seem to look away. I find myself caught on one person in a crowd of thousands. They are dressed elegantly- and in an instant I feel like I am no longer clustered by a thousand strangers, but among a few dozen friends. Standing at the end of an aisle and-
I stand at the top, my hands curling around the railing until my knuckles turn white.
What do you see?