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Jeremy Paget, known at the Clave as Cobra, was finding Ruis Calvario's penthouse too loud and too bright. The music that pounded through the speakers of the sound system was both dark and frenzied, and while the lighting was its usual subdued, each spot of color flared in the young Racer's over-stimulated brain. The dancing, gyrating bodies around him were filling his already needing emotions with too much hunger and too much grief. He'd taken a double hit of the Haven drug emerald, what Clavists called a Sirius, named for the green light that was sometimes observed from Alpha Canis Majoris, as well as a play on the word 'serious,' since the emotional intensity the chemical bestowed was seriously heightened when the dosage was doubled. He'd taken it with full expectation of accompanying Kamikaze Upstairs, but his best friend and the love of his life had disappeared with the party's host, leaving Cobra hungry and aching.
He moved through the crowd, trying to find his way to the balcony and fresh air when he caught sight of Gypsy, twirling in time with the music. She was petite, Japanese, wearing the layered skirts and draped scarves that had given her her Clavist handle. Her dark eyes were closed, her hair and skirts flying around her, and Cobra grinned. He stepped up to her, catching her spinning form, pulling her into a dramatic dip and equally dramatic kiss.
She shrieked, her eyes snapping open, then let out a cry of exuberance and clung to him, pulling him down to the floor. The other dancers moved, laughing, away from them.
"Cobra, you're absolutely verdant!" Gypsy breathed, acknowledging the chemical he'd taken.
Cobra chuckled. "And you're flying in the stratosphere," he returned. Crystal, a much milder form of emerald, was Gypsy's first drug of choice, a sense-heightener without the driving need of its more potent cousin.
The girl's sultry mouth smiled invitingly. "That's because it's what I took," she confided. Stratosphere was the name given a double hit of crystal.
"Then we're a perfect match," the tall TerAfrican stated, and rose, pulling her up with him. "Let's find a semi-unoccupied couch."
She nodded her agreement, and molded herself to him as they moved away from the dance floor to the Pit, a sunken portion of the large living room lined with low futons and large cushions and pillows.
Daffy Gollub wasn't a Maker or a Racer, and since she found the extreme secrecy of the Clave little more than an adolescent game of "ooh-look-how-important-we-all-are," she didn't hesitate to use her real name, though she conceded that nearly everyone else would simply call her 'Groupie." She held a fancy cocktail in one hand, and a long-stemmed cigarette holder in the other, though its end wasn't fitted with tobacco, and weaved her way through the crowded penthouse with one destination in mind. She'd come prepared for her goal of the evening, dressing far more conservatively than she usually did for these parties; a sedate though form-fitting top and a pair of low-slung pants. David was going to be at the party, and she wanted to convince him that she wasn't the slut he usually thought of her as, especially at Cal's parties.
Their relationship was, she admitted, an odd one. David "Barak" Maxwell was a good Racer, not among the greats, but well-known, and Daffy had first met him outside the Clave - at Temple one Saturday, to be exact. He'd been visiting friends and just happened to pick the synagogue her father was a member of for his spiritual duties that week. Daffy, of course, had gravitated to the handsome teenager, for once her father not disapproving. Of course, if her daddy could see Barak now...
When they'd met again at the Clave, his pleasant interest had turned to a bizarre combination of disgust and excitement, for Daffy was far from the demure little Jewish daughter she pretended to be for the sake of her father on Saturdays. In fact, the first words the Clavist Barak had said to Groupie Daffy was "Well, this is a change for the sluttier." She'd laughed off the hurt feelings and gone at him full-bore with the force of her sarcastic, intelligent, aggressive personality - and he'd responded. They'd ended up stoned, in bed, and boinking like rabid bunnies. Barak had been breathlessly surprised and certainly seemed more than interested in a repeat performance.
Until the next time she saw him, when he'd reeked disapproval that was disingenuously close to what her father usually felt and lectured her on the kind of reputation she had, telling her pointedly that good men didn't get serious with that kind of woman. Daffy had insulted him in turn, then stomped off to get drunk, only to find him seeking her out before the night was over.
It was a play that had repeated endlessly over the months that followed, and Daffy had decided on a new tactic, one she had privately dubbed Operation See, David, I Can Be Respectable In Public And Still Be The Firebrand You Want In Bed.
So she approached him casually, smiling with the wattage somewhere between nova and milquetoast, and waited for his opening salvo.
Noel DelMonde, the Clavist's great Maker Cajun, was drunk and stoned and just coming up from the very pleasant numbness of a Black Hole, a double hit of sapphire. As the thoughts and emotions of the others in the large room began to drift into his empathic and telepathic awareness, he scowled. It would take, he knew, about half an hour for the discomfort to propel him out of his lethargy and up off the futon toward one of the enormous bowls filled with Haven chemicals for another hit of salvation, and in that time, he'd drink more bourbon and smoke another joint of Rigellian. Eventually he'd reach a point where the drink and smoke would overwhelm his motor skills, and he'd suffer until some good Samaritan came over to him with more of the chemical that made his life bearable. And that person, whoever he or she was, would be rewarded with the proof that there were some motor skills that didn't deteriorate under the influence.
He blinked away the deep blue cobwebs from his dark eyes, glancing with dulled non-curiosity at his surroundings. Cobra and Gypsy were a few feet away from him, entangled in each other's arms and half-discarded clothing, the mixture of emerald and crystal a sparkling green to his senses. There was one thought in particular that pounded in both their minds, apart from lust lust lust, need need need: Kamikaze. Cajun groaned. That they were with each other and not in the three-way they both desperately wanted meant only one thing, and it was the last thing he wanted his telepathic attention caught by. And that thought, of course, only primed it, and he held his breath until the burst of thick and obscene emotions - pain, fear, anger, need, hunger, terror, rage - ran through him and was swallowed by the vestiges of the sapphire.
He shuddered and forced himself to look away, only to be pulled in another direction by powerful emanations of anxiety and desperation and grief, followed closely by disdain and worry and self-loathing arousal.
Daf an' fucked-up Barak, he muttered to himself, and forced his vision rather than his empathy to focus on the couple standing at the edge of the Pit. The surprise of seeing the Groupie with nearly no skin showing registered only in the slight twitch of his eyebrow, immediately understanding what she was doing and why.
Ain't never gonna work, he told her silently. An' he no good fo' you anyhow.
He realized he must have accidentally sent the thought to her when her head turned, her green eyes blazing at him. He smiled and lifted a hand, waving lazily. She stuck out her tongue, and he saw the flash of fury on Barak's face. The argument that ensued was swift and heated and ended with Barak actually giving Daffy a shove in his direction. Her face looked stricken, but she quickly recovered, and strode toward him.
Please, fo' the love o' Mary, let her bring a li'l bitty bit o' sapphire wit' her, he begged.
"Go" Barak snapped as Daffy made a face at Cajun. "He's more your type anyway"
Daffy turned back to him with a look of shock. "What?" she asked. "I was only..."
"You were only being a slut, like you always are, despite this attempt at not dressing the part," the Racer spat.
"What the fuck," Daffy snarled, "have I ever done to make you think I'm interested in..."
"Maybe the fact that you fuck him," Barak returned with vicious emphasis, "every fucking chance you get."
"He's a Clavist, I'm a Groupie, that's what we do, remember?" she replied from between tightly clenched teeth.
"It's what you do."
Daffy snorted. "And you're Mr. Saving-Himself-for-Miss-Right."
"At least I'm somewhat discriminating," was mumbled from under his breath.
"Which is why you fuck me," she retorted, then realized too late that, to his mind, it only make his point regarding her behavior.
"Everyone's entitled to one mistake," Barak countered, then gave her a shove in Cajun's direction. "Go. Be a Groupie. Fuck anything that moves."
He spun on his heel, but Daffy didn't really notice. She was too busy blinking furious tears from her eyes, swallowing a sudden lump in her throat, and stalking off toward Noel DelMonde.
"Watch out fo' th' snake-charmer there," Cajun called, his voice thick, as Daffy moved down into the Pit, clearly not seeing Cobra and Gypsy writhing on the floor beneath her. The Groupie glanced down, snarled "Feh!" and kicked at Cobra's exposed backside before stepping over the couple. Cobra's muffled "thank you, may I have another?" was drowned out by Gypsy's giggles.
Daffy plopped down on the couch beside Cajun and yanked the bottle of bourbon from his hand, tossing her empty glass over her shoulder.
"Give me that," she snapped, and downed nearly all that was left.
"Barak bein' a charonge?" Del asked.
"Barak is being himself," Daffy replied. "And I'm damned meshugginah idiot."
"He no good for' you, you know that," was the quiet comment.
"Yeah. Too bad I'm in love with the schmuck," was the muttered response. Then she grimaced. "I never said that," she told the Maker.
He grinned. "Never heard it, Groupie," he promised. Then he winced.
As abruptly as she'd sat down, Daffy rose. "You need sapphire," she told him, and reached over to the bowl of chemicals, bringing two blue capsules back to him. She handed them to him, sat back down next to him, and he saw that she popped a third into her own mouth.
"We'll just ground down together, shall we?" she said with false cheerfulness.
"Honey, the pain still gonna be there when you come back up," he noted with a shake of his head.
"Bubee, every minute respite is a godsend," she returned, then added, "like you don't understand that."
"I do, cher," Cajun replied as he swallowed the capsules. "I surely do."
They sat next to one another in silence as the chemical took them both into its downward spiral. Her humiliated grief began to fade, then the pressure of the minds around him, then the sorrowful, determined passion of Cobra and Gypsy. The last thing to slowly leak out of his awareness was the bitter and nauseating storm that flowed from Ruis Calvario's private apartments.
After the heady climax had crashed around them both, Cobra and Gypsy pulled their clothing back into order and rose from the soft, thick carpeting of the Pit. The each grabbed a bottle of beer and Gypsy picked up a pipe of Rigellian as they made their way to the Racer's original destination, the balcony of the penthouse.
The air was warm, a light breeze cooling the sweat on their skin, the lights of Rio De Janeiro fading under the coming dawn.
"We didn't make it to a couch," Gypsy teased.
"At least we got out of everyone's way," Cobra replied jauntily.
"Almost," Gypsy giggled.
They shared knowing chuckles, then the TerAfrican leaned against the balcony railing, staring at the city below.
"Why's it got to hurt so bad?" he asked at length.
She put her head against his shoulder. "Because we both know it's worse for him than it is for us," was her soft reply.
"Why can't he see it?"
"The same reason we do."
Cobra swallowed. "I hate that," he muttered. "I hate that it's wasted on that sick-fuck..."
"We don't get to choose who we fall in love with, Cobra," she murmured.
"Kam's gonna come back downstairs," the Racer said, "and he's gonna be cold as ice and nasty as all hell and he's gonna get completely fucked..."
"And we'll be the first ones in line and you know it," Gypsy countered bitterly. "We take advantage of it too."
Cobra turned his head, glaring at her. "I try to help him," he said evenly. "I try to give him the release of all the pain that makes him so brittle he's likely to shatter."
She sighed. "I know. And sometimes I think you're the only thing that keeps him sane. But..." She paused. "You took the Sirius hoping he'd spend a little of that nastiness on you. I took the Stratosphere for the same reason."
"We can't stop it, we can't stop him, we can't stop Cal," Cobra returned. "Why shouldn't we do what we can to give him another outlet, another avenue?"
"I'm not condemning, Cobra," she demurred. "I'm just flying straight into hopelessness."
She glanced up at him, her dark eyes filled with tears. He gazed at her, his own tears coming, then took her in his arms, bending his head down to her hair, pressing her face to his chest.
They stayed like that until the sun rose over the Atlantic.
Love Is a Battlefield by Pat Benatar
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