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Creature Of Habit

She's stayed in worse places. Places that make a twin room in the Royal Viking Motel look like a veritable palace; that brothel in Jamestown where she'd arrived with one brocade bag containing all her worldly possessions, a small gold cross around her neck, and her tarnished reputation. She'd shared a squalid room with a French girl, Emile, and passed her purse to the madame. The tears at night only lasted a week. Some part of her hardened and she began to keep a little of the money aside, a tiny amount so as not to arouse suspicion.

Four hundred years ago, another life, but she remembers. A vague kaleidoscope of images at first, then sharpening into focus, like waking from the longest sleep.

Over a year, she saved enough to open her own place. A discreet little hovel on the waterfront. She took her best customers with her: entrepreneurs, officers, and plantation owners. Mild-mannered men who'd paid handsomely for their quick fumbles. They brought her gifts sometimes, the ones that fell in love with her -- or what they mistook for love -- flowers, trinkets and jewellery, the finest wines, dresses imported from Paris and Vienna, music boxes and porcelain dolls.

A woman of some substance, despite her profession. A lady, though her family were dead in the Old World and her inheritance had rotted away with them. Imprudent investments had been made and the creditors wouldn't be fobbed off any longer. She'd had barely enough for her passage to the Virginia colony.

But independence came at a price. When she became ill, even her most devoted admirers stayed away. She'd laid in her bed, in crumpled, sweat-soaked sheets, too weak to move, watching the bloody sun sink and rise daily, leaving untouched the food her maid brought to her.

Then he came, in the guise of a priest and delivered her from her stinking, mouldering humanity. She remembers clearly his song; his voice low and deep and as beautiful as his face was repulsive.

She misses him. Still.

Staring ahead at her reflection in the grubby mirror she reaches up and delicately brushes away the single tear gliding down her cheek. She examines the moisture on her fingertip and brings it to her lips, tasting the saltiness. So long since she's felt this sickness, this sorrow that infects her. Even on her deathbed she never shed a tear for herself. She was never this weak.

Her resolve hardens. She cannot spend another day in this dying body. The irregular beat of her heart is driving her to distraction, she can hear only the steady thump in her ears, feel it thudding and reverberating through her bones. Deafening. It makes her retch over the filthy toilet bowl. She hates the frequency with which this body expels its secretions and the constant battle with hygiene. Sweating and urinating and defecating, going through the same mundane, repugnant cycle every day and night. She wants none of it.

She doesn't want to be this fragile woman, this human who is not Darla, or even the whore whose birth name she cannot recall. She remembers the pleasure of taking a man to her bed just as clearly as she remembers the quickening that went through her when she took a victim and drained them. The little death and the literal one, yet life derived from both. Right now she would settle for either.

With shaky hands she picks up a tube of lipstick and applies a generous swath of burgundy to her pale, cracked lips. She looks like death and almost smiles but she can't stand the grinning, skeletal face that stares keenly back at her, teeth gleaming pure-white and eyes sunken. She carefully covers dark circles with concealer and powder, creating that impeccable mask, blending, smoothing the colours.

She's suitably grateful for these modern cosmetics. Nothing like the lead powders she used so long ago to whiten and poison her skin, the crushed pigments that stained her lips, the blood-letting into a pewter bowl. It was the fashion, and she always followed the fashions from Europe. She adored her luxuries, the room with a view, the pretty boys who fawned over her. When The Master turned her, she still craved the trappings of human wealth. Those stupid, pretty boys . . . In their masculine pride they thought they could warm her cold flesh. She believed Angelus could, believed in his coarse vitality, his greed, and lust for unlife.

But he was just another stupid, beautiful boy.

And now she's looking for a similar type to make her again. The fewer questions asked, the better. She'll just flatter them, make promises she doesn't intend to keep, expose her pale, tempting neck, and, well, the pain will be worth it. Nothing compared to the twinges that seize her diseased heart occasionally, that keep her up and restless in the washed out early hours when she should be asleep.

Patiently, she affixes simple gold hoop earrings to her lobes. She must always, always look her best. A dab of jasmine perfume to the pulse points at her wrists and behind her ears and the illusion of good health is complete. At least the cheap scent disguises the rank odour of death that seems to hang around her. In good lighting, she could easily pass as one of those lonely waifish girls that frequent the trendy clubs and bars of LA, with their hollow stares and expensive purses.

She stands and smoothes the front of her green silk dress. Looks at herself one last time in the mirror. A long way from powdered wigs and hooped skirts, when it took two maids to dress her. She never surfaced before evening, never saw the light of day. She smirks. Always a creature of habit.

She reaches for her purse, flicks off the light, and closes the door behind her.

Darla. Bitter. Jewelry.

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