The Story of Eight Whores and One Madam
Mike was the first, his sleek good looks making him one of the more wealthy men in Chicago by the time 2008 rolled around. But he had a problem with needy friends and could never seem to keep all the things he earned.
He had the type of body type that was more familiar in swimmers and soccer players than models, all his muscles useful, and when Claire asked him he said that once upon a time he'd hoped to be a professional.
"Sports player," she clarified.
"Or this," he admitted. His lips pulled upwards, and he had the deep lines of someone used to smiling all the time. She knew he was lying.
Later he would tell her that the only reason he'd tried to pick her up was because his friends had said he couldn't.
"They were right," she would say, only slightly critical.
The very first time they met, though, he said, "Hey there, gorgeous. Lonely?"
Claire looked him up and down and said, "How would you like to work for me?"
"I think that's what I'm trying to do, sweetheart." He'd leaned into her space, making her look upwards to get a good view of him.
Claire had made a bored noise and turned back to people watching. "If you don't move," she said. "I'm going to have to ask my friends to remove you. There's nothing as unattractive as clingy men."
Which is when her friends had thrown him out. She'd stepped over him in her high heels and said, "Let me know if you reconsider."
Carol went by Candy and had been screaming at her boyfriend at the blood bank and they were both giving Claire the type of headache that she hated to get. Gesturing to security, she said, "Get them out of here."
The boyfriend had been easy to get rid of, but Candy hadn't given blood yet, and with an eye roll, Claire let her back in.
"Do her quickly," she said. Her patience had the consistency of a very fine porcelain.
"I mean, it's like he doesn't even like me," Candy said, talking to the room at large. The nurse glanced at Claire, security ignored everyone, and Claire tried not to grind her teeth.
"I just like the regular sex, you know? It's the one thing I can count on here, and I'd dump him, but then where would I live?" She'd started crying, and the nurse put a stress ball into her hand.
"Squeeze this gently," the nurse said.
"Maybe I'm just not supposed to have relationships," Candy cried. "You know what I mean?"
"I really don't care what you mean," Claire said. "If all you want is sex and a place to live, there are more efficient ways to get it."
"Really?" Candy asked. "Like what?"
There were three of them, and one little girl in the middle of them. At first Claire thought she tiny, but it was just the perspective. Somehow she'd managed to find the three biggest men she could and it wasn't a hardship to imagine what she was doing in exchange for protection.
Claire made a face: one of them smelled like sewer.
The girl herself was mostly clean. Her hair could use a good shampooing and she had sunburn on her shoulders, but other than that, Claire could see the attraction.
Just as the girl moved towards a stall, one of the men reached out and caught her hand, like a leash. It was far too possessive for someone sharing a girl with two other guys and Claire knew exactly how the story would end.
Bypassing the bookstand, she walked straight up to four of them, her eyes only on the girl.
"There are better ways to get protection," she said.
From the smell alone, she could tell they were all human, and that somehow made the possessiveness worse. If they were wolves she could dismiss it as part of what it meant to turn into an animal.
"Oh, no, I'm fine," the girl said. She smiled a little, a hint of Americana and Claire knew she'd fit right in. Claire wanted her.
"Beth-" one of the guys said, in warning. He moved forward, crossing his arms and Claire noted the sweatstains on his t-shirt. There were no words to describe how offensive she found him.
"Listen to me. They're possessive and he smells like some sort of farm animal. I'm offering you protection and a salary to do what you're already doing. Don't be an idiot."
Seth was a kid when she found him suckling at a girl's neck, both of them making pornographic sounds that she just found irritating.
After he finished, she'd taken him back to the museum and let one of the older vamps sort him out. Someone had to explain that blood sucking didn't mean sex.
Years later when he'd developed into something less embarrassing for vampires everywhere, he'd knocked on her office door. Waving him in, she said, "Seth. How are you doing?"
"I'm great," he said. "I heard- I mean, George said- Are you starting a brothel?"
"Bordello," Claire corrected, folding her hands in front of her.
He'd grown into his limbs, tall and slender where poor nutrition had crossed genetics.
"Oh," he said. "I was wondering if I could work there."
The half light of her lamps cut across his cheeks and she wondered if he could even say the word sex.
"Seth, I already have the security lined up, I'm sorry."
"No," he shook his head, and she knew that there would be people out there who would love to have him. "As a... As a prostitute."
With what she felt was an noble amount of self-restraint, she didn't laugh, instead saying, "Seth, you'd have to have sex with people for currency."
"I know," he said, and she didn't need good lighting to see he was blushing.
"You'd have to have sex with people for money," she said.
"I know, ok!" the irritation seemed to explode out of him. "Do you want me to prove I can do it?"
After a moment, Claire said, "Well, yes."
Amy moved in with Mike like a pet puppy.
Claire was unimpressed. She crossed her arms and said, "No roommates. No free rides."
"Amy isn't a roommate," Mike said. He wrapped an arm around Amy's shoulders. "She's an investment."
"Is this investment going to turn tricks?" Claire asked.
She couldn't quite tell if Amy's hair was red or if it was a trick of the light that made her look that Irish. She definitely had the type of features Claire was looking for: pretty without being too pretty, confident without being dominating.
"I'll earn my way," Amy said, finally. Her voice was husky and if there had been telephone lines, Claire would have put her on a 1-900 number instead.
After a moment, she dropped Claire's eyes and the message was clear. Sassy, but not unmanageable.
"Vampire?" Claire asked.
Amy showed her teeth, canines too long for a human, and Claire nodded. "Fine. But there's a trial period for her."
Pearl said, "I really need to get a new job."
"Have you thought about prostitution?" Claire asked.
Tracy had lived at the Shelter from the beginning and Claire didn't understand why she would want to change her living situation so radically.
"Difficulties," Tracy said. She tugged at the hem of her shirt and Claire shook her head.
"No?" Tracy's voice rose. "You're looking for whores! I'm willing to spread my legs and take it!"
Putting down her pen, Claire raised an eyebrow, and glanced up and down critically.
"Whatever you're doing, take it somewhere else. I play people. People do not play me."
After a moment, Tracy left, slamming the door behind her.
Tatiana and Kira were sold to Claire at an exchange.
Their owner was a short, stubby man wearing an Armani suit. Claire appreciated the quality even as she wondered how he'd gotten into Chicago. Things like a slave trade weren't kept secrets long.
"How long have you been in town?" she asked, eyeing his merchandise.
"Not long," he said. He sounded American, which made her vaguely curious about his operation. "We just came into Chicago today. Happened on this market and decided to make a profit before settling down."
The merchandise was the two girls and a little boy, none of them tied up, which meant that he'd had them for long enough to put fear into them. They were all too thin: she could count the girl's ribs where their stomachs were revealed under their too short t-shirts.
"Is this all you have?" she asked.
The man grinned, one of his teeth had been knocked out and she could smell the rot. "I have more, but not here. I can get them if you're interested."
Making a sound he was welcome to take however he wanted, she reached into her handbag and pulled out a set of tools and two boxes of nails.
"This should cover all three," she said.
"Of course, of course, Miss Pullman," he said.
The tone was enough for her to know he had either been in town before or had asked around beforehand. He didn't flinch from her, though and she gestured towards the girls.
"Come on," she said.
After a few paces, she snapped her fingers and the little boy flinched. George broke off from an argument over the price of dog meat and said, "Yeah?"
"Follow him out of town, make sure he doesn't have any more like them. Then get me back what I paid and make sure he understands he isn't welcome back in Chicago."
She wouldn't call George sadistic, but he liked his job. She respected people who took pride in their work. With a grin, he said, "Yeah, can do, boss."
Glancing over at him, she caught his eyes. "He's not wearing a wristband, George."
George nodded and she turned to the three kids.
"Do you understand English?" she asked, enunciating clearly.
There were too many eyes and ears and Claire thought that only certain dirty laundry should be aired in public. Mostly the dirty laundry that would have positive consequences for her. This was that type of laundry.
The taller girl nodded. "Yes. We speak little English."
Russian, then. She'd suspected, but Claire hadn't spent a whole lot of time in Russia.
"I'm Claire," she said. "You're in Chicago. We're a free democratic city. I bought you, but you're free now. No one owns you. Do you understand?"
"Yes," the tall one said. She spoke briefly to the other two and then turned back to Claire. "Tatiana, Kira, Pierto."
"Good," Claire said. "I'm going to take you to the Shelter, and they're going to take care of you."
The reception of three ex-victims-of-human-traffiking was just as entertaining as Claire had suspected it would be. Accusations were thrown, tempers got heated, someone found new shirts for the girls, and Claire finally got to be able to say, "Well, if we had a sheriff, I wouldn't have had to deal with this myself."
Two weeks later, when she was holding up different fabrics for the drapes at the bordello, Tatiana and Kira had both been shown in, George looking slightly confused.
"I don't know what they want," he said, in explanation.
"Right. Tatinana, Kira. It's good to see you," she said.
"You need whores, yes?" Kira spoke first and Claire had been marginally surprised. She'd expected that only Tatiana spoke English.
"Yes," Claire said. "But I can't take you as whores because I don't want to support slavery."
The two girls had glanced at each other and Tatiana said something brief in Russian and then, in English, "But you pay us, yes?"
"Fair working wage," Claire agreed.
"They not pay us at the Shelter," Tatiana said.
"Well, that's because it's communism," Claire said. "On my side of the fence, I practice capitalism."
The seamstress came to the doorway of the sitting room and Claire held up the fabric she wanted the curtains made out of. The woman retrieved it and left, hurriedly.
"We prefer that," Tatiana said. "Money for work, yes?"
"Yes," Claire agreed. "You understand that you'll be having sex with people, right?"
There'd be complications, of course, arguments that she was exploiting them, that they didn't know what they were getting into. Valid points, but Claire was not known for her morals.
"Yes," Kira said.
"Nobody's forcing you to do this," Claire said. "If you need food or supplies, there are people who will loan it to you."
"We want to work," Kira said.
"Well, fine. Pick out a room," Claire gestured to the stairs. "We open next week."
She'd worry about the psychological problems, the clear Stockholm syndrome later.
Claire knew that killing her whores would be bad business, and that it'd be worse to dump them all out on the street. She wondered if she could get away with forced relocation. To somewhere that she didn't own.
"So then Beth said that Tati was stealing her clients and Kira punched Amy in the face," Seth finished.
"Right," Claire said. She took a deep breath and let it out. "And how did Mike dislocate his shoulder?"
Seth blushed and said, "Well that really was an accident."
Patiently, she waited, watching him.
"He said he'd done it before," Seth said, his whole face going red.
"All right," Claire said. "Beth, Tatiana, Kira and you are on tonight."
"But, today was my day off…" he trailed off as Claire stared him down.
"Go tell everyone," Claire said. "And take some fresh blood to Amy."
This was not what she'd signed up for. If only she really could just beat them. But, Claire found that brute force was not her specialty. Anyone could beat someone until they gave in, but it was so gauche. And in the long term it was incredibly ineffective.
"Claire?" Les stood in the doorway, shifting from foot to foot.
"Baby, now is not a good time," Claire said.
"Ummm, ok," Les said. "But. Marilyn is here?"
"Fine," Claire said, gesturing to let her in.
Marilyn wore her weight well, and had always reminded Claire of one of those servants that ran the household herself. Shrugging out of her coat, Marilyn glanced around the room in approval.
"It looks good," she said.
"Yes," Claire said, amused. Of course it did.
Marilyn had dressed up, Claire noted, a white button up tucked into her black skirt. Raising an eyebrow, Claire waited.
"I used to work at a girl's boarding school in New England," Marilyn said. "As house mother."
"Is this going somewhere?" Claire asked. She could already hear an argument upstairs and George was nowhere in sight, damn him.
"You need a madam," Marilyn said, frankly.
"...yes," Claire said, after a pause. She did. Until now, there hadn't seemed to be any valid candidates. "Are you offering?"
"I'd be good at it," Marilyn said. "I'd want a percentage."
"Five percent of gross," Claire offered.
Marilyn smiled, her fangs catching the light.
For a moment Claire savored the feeling that she was dealing with someone who knew what she was worth.
"Done," Claire said. "You can start right now."
Claire laughs a little when she finds out that Armand and one of the wolves are having sex. She doesn't really care enough to learn the other wolf's name but Claire imagines if the wolf becomes useful, she can easily find out.
It's not like members of the pack are incredibly secretive about their alliances.
She might tug a little harder on Armand's strings, though. Russ does not get jealous of Gwen. She could ask Gwen to walk through fire to prove her neutrality and he'd just raise an eyebrow, blow smoke in her face to prove how much she can't get to him.
Except she knows that he'd get jealous of Armand. She knows that the second he sees Armand leaning into her like he doesn't want to, but can't help himself, Russ will growl. Russ is territorial over his people like that.
A side benefit is watching Armand slowly lose it, the snap of his eyes, the brevity of their conversations, the way her skin feels with his eyes on it. He cares only about her body, she knows that. Most people only care about her body: it's something that she uses like a smoke screen. Ignore the woman behind the curtain, look at the legs.
So she presses his buttons, wears the smallest hint of perfume so that his nose doesn't get overrun, wears garter belts and silk underwear. Flirting just becomes the way that they communicate and with him she works at it, it's not the reflexive charm she turns on everyone.
They're getting one of the apartment buildings fully operational when she walks into a celebration at the Wasteland. It turns out that there will be puppies and that just makes her grin and bear it.
It's a good chance to talk to the Council, anyway. Everyone is there because it's the Wasteland and, really, where else is there to go? Briefly, she plies Bass with smiles and a neat verbal spar, and ends up with a more satisfactory answer on the issue of a garbage dump.
Holding her cup of blood, Clare makes her way over to the happy couple and says, "Congratulations."
Armand bristles and his bitch puts a hand on his arm, like she does it all the time. "Thanks, Claire," the bitch says.
Smiling pleasantly, Claire says, "You two will make the type of parents your puppy deserves."
Then she wanders away. Across the room, she watches Les charm people and hums a song she can't quite remember to herself.
She doesn't need to remind herself that she doesn't care because of all the things on her mind, Armand getting some female dog pregnant isn't even a blip on the radar. It just puts another button out there for her to press.
They spar, the city evolves, she gets briefly distracted by opening a brothel, they spar again.
Bass asks her once if she still isn't attracted to anyone. She shrugs. Not really.
Les sometimes sleeps in bed with her, during the winter when their bones are cold. Vampires always look worse in the winter, their bodies chilled already.
Chammy smiles and they sit around painting each other's toenails.
The bitch has twins, Claire is extremely bored by every other woman in the city being reduced to cooing at it.
Luckily, no one offers it to her to hold and somehow it keeps out of the way of her heels.
The first time Armand comes in smelling like baby spit and sour milk, Claire makes a face and bends down to pick up her coat, making sure he has a good look at her ass before she leaves. There're limits to the things she can stand and baby spit isn't even attractive when she closes her eyes and pretends.
It's two months later, she thinks, but she can't be sure because she cares even less about his baby than she does about things like the ups and downs of the musicians' non-relationship. She does care about blood drives and collecting rent from her tenants.
They're walking through a back alley somewhere and she looks at him out of the corner of her eye and says, "Well, I'm sure your bitch would have an issue with the way you're looking at my nipples."
He snaps and she'd underestimated how close she was to unraveling him but all of a sudden he's shoved her shoulders against the wall and is growling against her lips.
She grins and bites down on his lip, feeling the skin almost give way to her teeth. It's warm in her mouth and she bites harder to remind him who he's got his hands on, even as she lifts a leg to wrap around his waist, her heel hard on the back of his thigh.
His leg is still a little bad, but she's close enough to brace her other foot on a pile of bricks and he screws her against the wall, both of them only partially undressed. She claws her way down his back and finds the bruises he leaves distasteful.
When he leaves her, panting against the wall, she hasn't come, but she doesn't really think about it. It's been a long time since she even wanted anyone at all.
They don't do it often, at first. He can't look at her for a month, so she goes out of her way to make him uncomfortable, standing an inch too close when she reaches around him, wearing perfume on the inside of her arm.
She even reverts to wearing a slender silver chain around her wrist. It catches the light and makes everyone look at her when she gestures.
It isn't even that she wants him, although that's shocking enough that she debates quenching it through will power. Mostly, it's that she finds it fun, to play hunter with a wolf. It's almost as surprising to her that she finds this amusing enough to continue.
The first time he follows her out of the Wasteland, she ignores it, tracing a route to the newest building she's thinking about recovering. The walls are almost all sturdy and there's quite a bit of furniture left.
She hisses when he presses against her back, his hands cupping her breasts. His body is flush against her back and she wiggles her ass a little to see what he'll do.
"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were happy to see me," she says, her voice loud in the quiet.
"Shut up," he says, into her neck, sniffing her. "Shut the fuck up."
"Don't even try to boss me around, beta," she says. It's casual, the way she'd talk to an underling.
He growls into her neck and wraps an arm around her waist.
They have sex again, on some child's bed, baby blue comforter and burned stuffed animals on the walls.
She wraps her legs around his waist and holds his head so they're staring at each other when he comes inside her. He rolls off of her as soon as he's done.
Gritting her teeth, she finishes herself off with her fingers and a sharp exhale. He's watching her when she opens her eyes, his eyes golden, hungry and animal. After a second, she sits up and uses the child's sheet to clean between her legs, wiping it all off before sliding her underwear back on.
While she slides off the ripped pantyhose, and snaps her bra back together, she ignores him. He hands her her skirt and she thanks him with a nod, sliding into her skirt and shirt. By the time she's back into her heels, he's managed to get his pants on and is still pulling on his shirt when she walks out of the building.
They continue having sex because it's amusing to her. She likes the feel of skin against her cold flesh. She likes the way he watches her when no one else is looking. Claire likes secrets.
The idea of having sex with a wolf makes her nauseous, so she thinks about him as Armand instead, someone she's leading away from domesticity. It's less likely to make her sick if she thinks about him as Armand, Russ's second, Journey's lover, his children's father.
Then what they're doing is just the highest form of a comedy of manners.
They only slip up once. She goes to the Wasteland immediately after they had sex because she has to check on the shipment before heading home and she doesn't trust anyone else to do it.
Russ is at her throat, teeth bared and she blinks, thinking that this wasn't at all how it was supposed to go.
"... the fuck," Russ says. "You smell like Armand."
In the dim light, his teeth are very white.
Claire snorts. "I was zombie hunting and he saved my life."
Lies flow off her tongue like sugar candy.
Armand walks in, right then, and he smells like death, even with her weak nose, Claire knew the scent of a shamble. It was the only way for him to cover up what they did, and she wondered sometimes if he saw it as penance.
Kill a few dead before you can go home to the two kids and a free loving woman. Kill a few dead before you can look your alpha in the eye.
Russ and he have a silent conversation that she doesn't pay attention to, too busy counting stock.
After that, they are so careful that even she sometimes doesn't believe they're having sex.
Later, a few months later, Russ no longer looks at Claire funny and she thinks, amused, that the greatest con the devil every pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.
Claire does not want to be a part of Armand's life. She doesn't want to meet his kids. She doesn't want to publicly humiliate his lover. All these are too petty.
Claire's pretty sure all she wants is to own him, to slowly make whatever dirty feelings he has for her transform into love. She's almost certain all she wants is for him to look at her the way he looks at Russ: completely devoted.
It's not that much to ask for, she thinks.
Claire met Les because he was so out of place in the big bad world. She had no idea how he'd survived this long. For a vampire, he looked horribly innocent.
Wandering the streets, he looked like a puppy (but not the wolf kind) who just wanted a home, the type of utterly helpless phenomena that no one saw anymore. When he saw her, her high heels making an appropriately dramatic snap on the pavement, she thought his whole face lit up.
"Hey there, baby," she said, soft. "Where are you going?"
The words were like a hooker's but the stance was like a hunter's. She'd learned how to stand with her legs braced, her gaze steady as she looked for weakness.
"Oh, uh," he paused and looked around like he wasn't even sure, really, where he was. "I just got into town."
"Really?" She took a few steps closer and ran her fingers up his arm. "Poor baby, lost in the woods. You've come home, baby. You've come to somewhere where you're wanted. Somewhere we've been waiting for you."
He didn't even seem to notice her touch, so she made it more personal, cupped his cheek and looked directly into his eyes. "Come back home."
His smile was malleable-soft, a piece of clay for her to twist until it didn't just disarm victims but marks and even maybe wolves.
Everyone liked cute naieve boys and they'd forget the blood on his teeth, she thought. Already, in that moment, she knew that the kid would get away with murder under her hand. Or, rather, she'd ask him to murder and he'd get away with it, so sorry officer, not my fault, won't happen again.
Free without even a trial.
He followed her bread crumbs back towards her house, Hansel without a Gretel, looking sadly hopeful at the idea of a community for people like him.
Later, she'd toast at Gwen and say, "Darling. You see? We're not half as bad as you think we are. Just look at Les."
In the corner of the bar, wearing new clothes and grinning bright, he'd wave at them. Already, Claire could see the locusts swarming, human women who would be shocked to find him part demon, werewolves who would lower their guard slowly to his completely overwhelming innocence.
Even then, she didn't suspect.
Les spent his mornings in an old back room he'd developed into a workshop. Sometimes, she'd watch him work, relaxing in the doorway, her shoulder pressed against the jam, one foot slipped out of its shoe to scratch lazily at the back of her calf.
He was the only guy in the whole place who didn't look at her like he always wanted to shove her up against a wall and fuck her brains out. It was easy to rule in a velvet glove, when the rewards were always implied and when being put on a pedestal was just one more way into power.
One day, though, he looked up at her and his eyes stuttered. The soft, shapeless warmth she was used to seeing was suddenly something sharper, his mouth barely tightening, but enough for her to see what it was, what he was, that he didn't want to shove her into a wall, he wanted to lay her against soft sheets and press into her until she begged.
Then, the soft look was back and he smiled delightedly, but in that inane way she was used to, a blankness behind his eyes that she'd always attributed to the type of innocence that lasted only with extreme disconnect from reality. A type of insanity that he carried around and let him be stupidly ignorant of how the world really worked.
He didn't really realize that he was leading lambs to the slaughter when he got people to sign into the blood drives; that they were roping these people into a life of such high servitude that they would look at her, wearing their blood red bracelets and thank her for what she gave them.
She shrugged her shoulders, a little stutter, which was a tell. Like a poker player, she lived her life as a series of lies and fabrications, a series of half truths and seeing the truth of a straight flush in a mess of crappy cards. Everything was a lie, the pressure of what she wanted it to be covering over the truth like a well stitched sofa cover.
Sliding her heel back into her shoe, she nodded at Les, her face blank.
She had an empire to run.
Les tried to tug her onto the dance floor one night, when she was sitting alone at a table. Her loneliness was intentional, but also painful, the type of acute sting of cold winter rain against bare skin.
Frowning, she tugged her hand back and he looked so crestfallen, so hurt that she sighed and nodded, let herself be led out onto the floor.
Surprisingly, he was taller than her, by an inch, almost two. Their eyes met and he glided her back, managing one simple waltz step before he stepped on her toe and she winced, snapping the intensity of his gaze like a twig. It was awkward, but not enough to make her stop, because once she was out on the floor, she didn't want to run away like a scared little girl.
Gwen whistled at them and Claire rolled her eyes, letting Les pull her closer until her cheek was against his shoulder, their hands trapped between their bodies. His head bent against hers, warm and solid and masculine in the soft, subtle way of real people. She inhaled and felt his hand tighten on her lower back, like a soft reassurance.
Their bodies weren't warm anymore, not in the way that they'd used to be, blood hot and heated under their skin. Instead, their blood was sluggish and lacking, a case of perpetual anemia that made some days seem blurry and impossible.
On those days, her heart struggled, a weak bird inside her chest, fluttering helplessly. Her extremities were perpetually cold, pale yellow that before would have been because she forgot her leather gloves at home. Now they were part of her everyday living, something that she accepted even as she extended and cracked her fingers. They felt clumsy and delicate, breakable and slender.
Wrapped around Les's neck, her fingers warmed against his muscles, but she knew her fingers were probably leaching the carefully conserved heat out of his body. With her ear against his chest, she could hear his heart, beating frantically. Both of their hearts beat like desperate mice caught in rat traps.
Xavier came back from wherever he was and woke her with a hand in her hair, gentle at first and then he yanked back on her hair. "Claire," he hissed in her ear.
"Get off of me, asshole," Claire said, swiping back with her nails and drawing blood in three vicious streaks across his cheek.
A long time ago, when she'd first taken X into her bed, she'd told herself that she could never underestimate him, that that would be too dangerous. She was not the type of girl who risked things like that. So she wasn't even surprised when he pressed her down, using his weight and her fragility against her.
She turned her face away from him, cheek hot against her white pillowcase. In her head, she ran numbers.
One of his hands grabbed both of her wrists and the other yanked at her clothing, rucking up her nightshirt and tugging down her baby pink underwear. The lace scratched itchy at her skin when it touched her inner thigh.
With one hand, he yanked at his pants, and she closed her eyes, her teeth gritted tight.
He paused then, and she waited. It was impossible, she couldn't scream, that'd be ridiculous, the ultimate weakness that she couldn't have. If she was taken in her own fortress, then she was a used girl, no better than a street hooker, her bared skin no longer a risque hint, but a promise that they would feel they'd already paid for.
She couldn't scream, because then they would come in and realize that she was human, she was weak, she was less than what they thought she was.
His hands tightened on her wrists.
"Claire. You're not into this."
Angry, she looked at him, then, because there was a fine line between allowable and pushing it. If he wanted what he had paid for, then he could take it, but she wasn't a porn star about to spread her legs and moan like it was fun for her.
"Of course I'm not," she hissed. "I told you that you weren't... welcome in my bed anymore."
She'd never been more aware of how little weapon a voice was against a man. Even disdainful and angry, the threat of hatred clear in her cut words, roughened by distaste, she knew that it wouldn't stop anything.
"Get the fuck off me," she said again, pitching her voice low because that was the only way she could keep it steady.
He rolled off of her, pausing on his feet, buttoning and zipping and not looking at her as she pulled her panties up, her shirt down. Tightening her fingers on the satin, she didn't even care about wrinkles where her palms were damp against the pink.
"I wouldn't," he didn't look lost, or even that upset, Xavier never did. He was a shark in piranha waters.
"Get out," she ordered, hand still clutching at her shirt.
He was gone before she had time to say it again, leaving her door open, ambient light barely touching her room. She released her shirt and brought her knees to her chest, inhaling sharply twice to pull herself back together.
Even if he had, she wouldn't have cried, she knew that for a fact. She didn't know why the near miss made her feel like she'd jumped out a plane without a parachute.
Les came in when she was pulling the sheet over her legs. When he poked his head inside her room, he was carrying a piece of bread, one of the stale crusty kind that someone had picked up at an exchange.
"Baby," she smiled, gently, almost patronizingly because that was as close as she could pull herself to honesty. Her hands spread slender against the white sheet.
"You're awake," he smiled, teeth white and long in all the right places. "I was going to close your door."
"Thank you," she said. "How are you doing?"
He absently switched the bread in his hands to gesture, and walked further into the room, shutting the door behind him. She kept her breathing calm and managed to look bored. In real life, she would have been, the basic day to day moments of the Wasteland were only entertaining if they were different, if a pattern was off, a schedule out of whack.
He sat at the far end of her bed, one leg curled under him. Once he wound down, he looked around her room, tilting his head, eyes catching on the hanging paintings, the makeshift closet.
Slowly, "If it's ok, I think I'm going to stay in here tonight."
Casually, she brushed hair off of her neck to avoid her hand shaking.
"Don't you have your own bed?" she asked. "I remember distinctly finding you one."
"There's some random guy wandering around," Les said. "He didn't seem to like me very much."
His words say that she'll protect him, a big sister opening the covers for her brother. But she notices the hilt of a knife in his belt when he turns and stretches out on her couch.
"Sure," she said. "I'll check it out in the morning. You'll be safe here."
He was closer to the door and the window than she was, a careful angle on the couch that would make it easy for him to launch himself at whoever came through the door.
"Thanks, Claire," he said, and his smile said that he was relieved.
She stiffly turned on her side to sleep, her back to him. For a very long time, her eyes stayed open, even though she managed to even out her breathing.
Russ made her so angry, she wanted to vomit, to fight, to kill.
She pulled her lips into a grin and talked down to him, as though her was a spectacularly stupid secretary. "Russ," she said, sounding disappointed.
His eyes changed, just a flicker, but it made her heart jump. Some day, she imagined, she'd push him just an inch too far and he'd actually try to kill her. On her mantle, she hoped he wouldn't clash with the other two heads. The drive to redecorate was there, but not the energy.
She hated him, sometimes and when he left, flicking his cigarette at her, she growled.
Touching her neck, casually, Les said, "I... um. I don't think he likes you."
He said it like this was news.
Sighing, Claire pushed her hair back. "I don't think so either. Do you like me, baby?"
His smile was almost in his eyes.
"Of course I do."
He worked all the time and she came in one day, absently hopped up on his workbench, her legs swinging back and forth, heels kicked off.
She was reading a novel and he slid his hand up her calf, fingers cold. She didn't look up from her book to see what the expression was on his face when he toyed with her garters, a finger sliding between the silk and her skin, nail almost not quite scratching.
Slowly, she counted her breaths and looked bored when she peeked over the edge of her book. With his right hand, he was writing equations on the piece of scratch paper next to her. His left hand slipped higher, skin on the other side of silk.
Anticipation that made her stomach clench, and when he glanced at her, his eyes were almost all black, pupils fully dilated like it was night and she was prey.
"Les," she said, her voice heavy and full with something she thought she'd forgotten.
He smiled, quickly, a brief flash of it, delighted and innocent like when she'd found him batteries.
"I can probably get you more power for the lights," he said, and he removed his hand suddenly, leaving her cold and damp between her legs. Quickly, she crossed them, then her arms, shivering almost like she was cold in her own house.
"How?" she said, business firm. She cleared her throat harshly and looked at the diagrams.
It was between them, now, a tension like a rope drawn tight.
The last time she'd wanted someone, really wanted them and not just had them because she could, it was a long time before, it was ages ago, it was years ago, it was when she wasn't Claire, she was just another face on another elevator. It was the way that she made him want her.
It had been such a long time since someone had played a real game of flirtation with her, that she almost forgot the rules.
Bicycles were a lot like making someone want you.
Claire wore soft perfume and didn't touch Les anymore, but stood close enough that it would have been a couple inches for him to reach over and run a finger over her skin. Almost casually, she began bringing home meals, silly men who didn't wear wristbands and she used Les's workroom to drink their blood, sticky and alive.
She wasn't clean about it, leaving drops of red like Pollack on the pavement.
In return, Les didn't look at her like he wanted her, he looked at her with soft eyes and harmless smiles. He crept into her room at night and slept on the other side of her bed, because he was too worried to sleep in his own.
"I'm afraid," he said.
"Don't be," she said, turning over.
They were Shakespearean in their acting, pure and full of innuendoes, and, worse, layered meanings that were trouble to step in, ankle deep in what they weren't saying to each other.
He said that he needed help, she gave him a girl vampire, someone who used to go to college. She said she needed results and he gave her hot water, promising that showers could be longer.
She said, "I prefer baths."
"I know," he said. His eyes said that he'd seen her and she felt goosebumps rise on her skin.
In the kitchen, where the countertops expansive silver, he came up behind her and put both hands on her hips.
"Hey, baby," she said, but her voice hitched, just this side of making it casual.
Reaching back, she patted his hand.
"What are you making?" he asked, his chin resting on her shoulder and she bit her lip to keep from leaning back.
"Sandwich," she said. "You want one?"
"No," he said. His hand moved casually and stroked down her leg, then up under her skirt and she clenched the knife in her hand, knuckles white when he fingered her, casually.
He had to have done this before and she spread her legs a little, her heels high and her balance almost all on the balls of her feet. Where his chin ground down, bony against her shoulder, he didn't kiss her, he didn't breathe against her skin, sensitized to him.
Instead, he slipped a finger up around her underwear and she dropped the knife, a harsh metal sound and braced herself against the counter with her palms open.
When she came, she ground the moan to death in her throat and sounded harshly like she was choking.
He left her there, palms slick against the reflective metal and she finished making her sandwich, eventually.
Claire wakes up on the way back to the museum, her car familiar and Les hands over three bags of blood and she doesn't ask, just rips into them and drinks and drinks and drinks. She's curled in on herself when they pull up in front of the museum and Les kills the engine.
For about half an hour they sit there and finally Claire gets sick of her people staring and gets out, uncurling herself from the seat and opening the door and stalking back home.
She walks straight to her room, past the worried glances and the first person who touches her nearly gets their wrist broken. No one tries touching her after that.
Once there, she bolts her room, slides a chair up under the doorknob and closes the windows, draws the shades. She's in darkness.
Her bed is huge, and she drags herself to the center, pulls a blanket over her head and curls tightly, but she smells sweat and desperation on her skin.
Those are the smells of prey.
She strips off her clothes and draws a bath.
Her room has been fortified and well supplied. She could stay here for a few weeks and never want for anything. She drinks blood and sleeps for days.
Les comes by and knocks on her door every day. Once at breakfast he brings her food and says, "Claire?" She can smell it.
She's in her closet trying to find some business clothes, something that would cover bruises. Most of her clothes are on the floor, tossed in a glittering, silken pile, and she says, "No."
Refusing breakfast, refusing that she's letting this of all things...
It's just been a while since the desperation of the zombies, since the desperation of the fires.
White, pinstriped with silk, and she can work that.
Her feet feel familiar in heels and she walks halfway to the door before heading back towards the bed and burying back in under the comforter.
"Tomorrow," she says.
"Ok," Les says, through the door. She hadn't been talking to him.
Things have gone to hell in her absence.
She spends a day untangling the mess that became of the supply distribution. Three days to work out the blood drive. Her lips twist. "Are you fucking kidding me?"
And they scurry just as much as they had before, but she thinks this is because they want to be afraid of her. They want her to be omniscient and powerful again. It makes it an easy role to fall back into.
That night, Chammy sprints in, back from wherever she goes and nearly pushes Claire into her room and Claire turns to hiss, "Don't you dare touch me," but Chammy's got her arms around her and she's clinging.
She falls asleep, eventually, with Chammy curled around her, Sally sleeping at the foot of the bed.
The next day, she convinces Chammy to stay in with her and she locks her door again and doesn't say a whole lot.
She's over drinking, making up for the feeling of hunger. Still, it makes her senses sharper, her eyes quicker.
"I should be seen somewhere," she says.
Les looks up and says something about Gwen and Russ and Claire could really care less, but it makes sense. Be seen where it counts.
The Wasteland, she guesses. Might as well.