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i am damaged, badly damaged

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i.

Raquella Joubert had seen him first. In an alleyway.

He was fresh-faced, hopeful (relatively speaking). He wasn't beaten down, broken enough to be like her but he didn't have any of the tell-tale embellishments of wealth either, and the disparity in Darkside made it hard to imagine many people in between. He looked out of place here, somehow ethereal as if he'd fallen from Grandeur and landed right in the middle of The Grand.

(He was an anachronism, she realised later, obviously a Lightsider though she hadn't known of one crossing over for years now.)

She watched him get plucked up out of the traffic by some man-- a strange, shady man, Raquella almost wanted to say, though who in Darkside wasn't?-- and be set down in an alleyway. The boy leant against a wall, hyperventilating as the man crowded round him so close that it even gave Raquella shivers.

Two words and she blanched, ("take it") she felt a soul-sickness leadenly bear down on her ("you should be grateful to be chosen") and she could barely ground herself in the present for long enough to stride over and confront the man (the year is 2006. i am by the grand. i am not the one in danger).

Though the man was a pickpocket and a mutant, she was simply glad that he had no iller intentions than that. The boy-- Jonathan-- was struggling to stand and looked almost disconnected from the world. Raquella composed herself, then told him to get his own shit together because she couldn't afford any more sympathy (empathy) right now and it was safer than baring her soul in the middle of The rush-hour Grand. He seemed to react sufficiently to her brutality, to her relief.

(He'd asked if she knew Carnegie; she'd replied that everybody knows Mr Carnegie. He'd asked the way, and she'd given him directions to Fitzwilliam Street. He'd stumbled off immediately. She'd (not) thought about him since.)

ii.

Not even two days had passed and Jonathan (Tobias?) was in Raquella's attention again. He was tailing Mr Carnegie around Vendetta Heights, looking lost and scared and even more out of place in the too-big shirt and dusty trousers than he had in the Lightside getup he was dumped here in. But she could smell the fresh blood on him, knew the scent well. If Vendetta noticed (and there was no doubt that he did), he paid the boy no mind. She followed suit; the stench would help him blend in, if nothing else, and Ripper knew that he could use any help he could get with that.

She didn't (acknowledge him), barely (remembered him), didn't (make eye contact with him). He was a guest, a stranger, nobody more interesting than a cobweb to Miss Joubert. Raquella sympathises with him. Miss Joubert doesn't, can't. Vendetta can likely smell her slightest betrayal tenfold as strongly as Jonathan's wound. Miss Joubert found herself slipping from pleasantries to the same snark that was unwelcome in the vampire's presence but'd had such an effect on the boy earlier. She caught herself, if just barely.

So she keeps her head down. She says nothing to Vendetta and later, when the small hours of the night drain away like her cheap booze down the pavement gutter, she wonders what might have become of Jonathan.

iii.

Raquella helps him salvage what he has left. He's stuttering, shaking, he can't breathe for the smoke and she's bad with this, with everything, but she rubs his back and tells him the time, the date, the carriages and busybodies she can see out the dusky windowpanes. She tells him about Carnegie's snores that barely penetrate the rusted door, grounds him in the little things that build up the scene. They're on the wereman's bathroom floor on Fitzwilliam street and he's alseep in the other room (Raquella is grateful for that much).

Jonathan is homesick (Raquella too, if to a lesser extent); Jonathan is literally sick, retching and convulsing over the toilet bowl.

He's breathing easier now, slumps back next to her and she pulls him close with an arm around his shoulders. He sighs, exhausted, and nods along as she fills the crisp night air with chatter. She doesn't know what she'd talking about, doubts he cares, but it feels good to do this with someone else for a change. The smoke embraces them both now, he lets the essence fill him and doesn't fight its touch as violently this time. Ringlets mimick her fingerprints, curl up from the corners of her lips.

Carnegie finds them in the morning, propped up against each other in their deepest slumber since he'd known them. He sighs at their youth spilling out from a wine bottle, clutched tight in too-small clammy fingers, like blood around a corpse. They both reflected, once the hangover kicked in, that perhaps cheap Hemp and alcohol wasn't their best decision.

(They both know they'll make the same mistake again a thousand times.)