Something putrid had been hovering in the air ever since Aria had left the house. It was so faint that she couldn’t tell whether it was just a strong feeling or a weak scent, perhaps energy or maybe something even stranger. Whatever it was, it put her on edge, made her wary. Of course, that relentless broad called fate would have had it no other way on a night that had already seemed harrowing enough.
She had been standing there outside of Cookie’s door with her hand raised, prepped to knock for what seemed like forever. Everytime she retracted her fist, and jettisoned it forward, it would always freeze just an inch away from the white-painted wood. In her opposite hand dangled a quickly thawing six pack of beer that now leaked cold water onto her skin. The sensation only worked to heighten her restlessness.
Leaning her head against the doorframe, she sighed loudly, and reached into her pocket for the pack of cigarettes that was not there. She growled to herself. How in the world had she allowed Sonata, of all beings, to convince her not to bring them? Fumbling around for her wallet with her one, free, shaking hand, she pulled the thing out, unzipped the pocket that held the single cigarette, and popped the thing between her lips. Envisioning the sweet relief that would course through her in only a few moments, she flubbed about for her lighter.
“Come on you little piece of—”
She found it. Flicking the spark wheel once, then twice, she finally got a solid light on the third try. The flame made her deep purple eyes glimmer as she brought it close, near enough to barely lick the edge of the stick.
“Ey!” came a deep voice from somewhere to her left. Her head snapped around, unlit cigarette still clenched between her lips. Across the yard, and behind a fence, Aria was barely able to make out the outline of a stocky, bathrobe-clad man, wielding what appeared to be a baseball bat. Snorting in both relief and disbelief, she quickly put the lighter away, and pulled the cigarette from her mouth.
“Yea?” she almost laughed, finding the spectacle before her ridiculous.
“Why are ya snoopin’ around people’s doors at night, huh? You got business around here or not?” he exclaimed, making sure to give the rose-ish girl a good view of the bat. Aria eyed him for a moment, sniffing the air in his direction, trying to get a good handle on the scent of his energy. It seemed obvious, however, that this would turn out not to be the strange presence she had been sensing from earlier. She promptly rolled her eyes.
“Idunno, old man. Is that any of your business?”
“It is when it’s right next door to me!” he yelled, now incensed.
“Hey, you know what else is right next door to you?” she laughed, then reaching under her chin with the flat of the back of her hand. Sliding it out in the direction of the robed man, she made an obscene gesture.
“That’s it,” the man grumbled. “I’m calling the cops.”
“Yea, tough guy? Can’t handle your problems by yourself?” the former siren yelled just as she heard the sound of the door in front of her unlock. Before she could prepare herself—or rather, shut her mouth—the thing swung open. Cookie’s toffee eyes peered out, darting about to find the source of the commotion; they landed squarely upon her.
“Aria!” she exclaimed, her lips curling into a grin. Spotting her next door neighbor waving his bat about angrily, yelling and cursing about the police, her joy quickly seemed to dissipate. Eyes darting between the man and Aria, whose simpering smile now leaked pure guilt, Cookie seemed to immediately catch on to what had happened.
“Oh, boy,” she muttered. “Sorry, Mister Marsh! Aria’s with me!”
“You tell your delinquent friends to keep their muzzles on when they’re yappin at honest, hard workin’ people, Cookie!”
“Sorry! It won’t happen again!” the white haired girl called rolling her eyes as she tugged Aria into her house by the arm.
Slamming the door shut, she turned to stand before the embarrassed siren, a stone cold expression upon her face. Crossing her arms she waited in silence. Aria could feel the tremble already working its way up from her feet. Her entire face began to burn up, and she couldn’t even bring herself to look at anything other than Cookie’s purple socks.
“Aria Blaze, can't you leave the house without getting into a fight?” she asked calmly, her voice leaking aggravation.
Aria just stood there for a moment, happy to just allow her brain to go numb. By some miracle, something inside of her decided to persevere.
This is a good thing, she repeated to herself as if it were a mantra. Shaking her head clear, she then took a deep breath, and forced herself to look Cookie in the eyes.
“Cookie? I… I’m so, so sss…sooorr—”
“Oh, relax! I’m just messin with ya!” the other woman guffawed, leaning forward to playfully swat at the wreck of a siren standing before her. “Marsh is a retired cop. He’s always paranoid like that.”
The curly-haired woman glanced down at the case of bottles hanging from Aria’s fingers, and quickly moved to snatch it from her.
“What’s this? Seven dollar convenience store beer! Aria, you truly are a woman after my own heart.”
Cookie nudged her playfully with her elbow before walking around her toward the living room, leaving Aria stunned, confused, and slightly pleased with herself. She didn’t move again until she heard her name being called from her rear. Spinning around, she quickly walked toward the voice whilst pulling off her jacket. Remembering the cigarette still in her hand, she decided it was too late to smoke it anyway, and tucked it back into its designated pocket within her wallet.
Nearing the corner that turned into the living room proper, a strange scent wafted into Aria’s nose, and stayed there—or was it a strange energy? It wasn’t the one that had been nagging her from before. It was too strong, too familiar, one that she knew she had smelled often, but in the setting of Cookie’s home, she could not quite place it. A strange jingling sound, like someone rattling keys, suddenly caught her ears as she reached the turn in the hallway. It seemed to be coming closer.
It dawned on her just as soon as the low growling began, and as she turned into the living room, a large mound of white fuzz and drool leapt directly onto her. Yelling fearfully as the dog continued to growl, she very nearly tumbled onto the ground before managing to scramble away.
“Get it off!” she cried, flailing her arms about as the creature approached, sniffing, then panting, and then growling. It seemed as if the pooch were confused as to what to make of the frantic girl before him.
“Aria?” Cookie cried as she popped her head back into the hallway. Seeing her friend in distress, she quickly approached to intervene. “Pud, ya big dummy! Get off of her!”
Turning around another bend, a sense of panic enveloped Aria as she bumped into a corner. Finding no escape from the approaching deadly mass of fuzz, her sirenesque instincts kicked in. She hunched forward, arching her back. Opening her eyes wide, she bared her teeth, and let out a low, threatening, almost too authentic growl. The fuzzy white creature before her seemed to understand this familiar language, and immediately hushed its noise. Laying docile upon the ground, it whimpered, and wagged its tail, as if to apologize.
She wasn’t taking any chances. The startled siren maintained her stance, hissing and taking a step forward to spur the vanquished creature back. This was how Cookie found her after popping her head around the corner.
“Puddin!” Cookie yelled, not yet having noticed Aria’s strange behaviour. At the sound of her voice, Aria and the dog broke their intense glares into each others eyes, and turned toward the curly-haired woman. The poor dog, relieved to see its friend come to save it, bounded up, and circled round to Cookie’s rear, licking her hand. Aria, her breath still belabored, moved to stand up straight, and fix any possibly misplaced hair or clothing. Fortunately, Cookie was too busy patting the dog’s head to notice any of this. Afterward, she glanced up toward her friend.
“I’m sorry, Aria! I completely forgot to tell you I have a dog! I… I didn’t think it would be a problem. I figured you of all people weren’t scared of anything.”
Aria looked at her incredulously whilst still attempting to fan the fluster from her cheeks.
“I wasn’t scared,” she blurted. “I was just… caught off guard.”
Cookie passed a sly grin her way.
“Riiight. Well, in case you were wondering, this is Puddin, Pud for short. I’ve had him forever. Can’t believe I’ve never even mentioned him. I guess it’s cause he’s always attached to my hip when I'm home. It’s like he’s just another part of my body at this point. You wanna pet him? He’s real friendly once he gets to know you.”
Cookie stepped toward Aria, ushering Puddin forward by the back of the collar—an act which was clearly met with much resistance by the fearful dog.
“No, that’s okay! I can see him just fine from here. He’s a real cute… creature!” Aria stammered whilst waving from her corner. Eyeing her strangely, Cookie shrugged, and then looked down toward her dog. Patting him on the back, she bid him to go away.
“Go on, Pud. Get outta here. This is supposed to be a relaxing night for Aria, and you’ve already given her about three heart attacks. Mission accomplished.”
The dour girl took a moment to lean over, close her eyes, and take one more relieved breath after she saw the giant fuzzball actually leave.
“Are you alright?” Cookie asked. Aria began to nod until, to her shock, she felt a warm hand gently rest upon her back. Jolting away from the touch, she glared at Cookie wide-eyed. The other woman immediately seemed regretful, almost frightened of what Aria might do. She raised her hands and shook them apologetically.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I… I forgot. I promise I won’t do it again,” Cookie blurted. The two stood there looking at each other as Aria watched the other woman slowly curl into herself. Her cheeks turned red, and her gaze fell to the floor in embarrassment. Knocking her palm against her forehead, Cookie then gave her a determined look.
“C… can we just… do all of this over again?” she asked, almost pleading. It took a while, but gradually, a relieved smile crept over Aria’s face. The former siren stood up straight, and nodded.
Cookie busied herself switching on her T.V. and then, somewhat ironically, turning down the volume. Finally, she had a chance to comfortably get a look at Aria. As soon as she gazed at the somewhat nervous-looking woman, her smile seemed to falter ever so slightly. Aria, who had been busying herself with the task of trying to figure out where to stow her jacket, soon gave up, opting to drape it over the back of the living room couch. Looking up, she was met with the other woman’s odd glare.
“What?” she asked, her eyes darting about anxiously.
“Nothing! It’s just that…” Cookie began. “Ya look, really nice. Love the hair.”
She said this with a pleased nod, as if she had been the one who had put all the work into Aria’s appearance that evening. The otherwise dour siren had to bite down upon the edge of her tongue to keep her face from curling up into that same, stupid smile.
“Urrryeathanks,” she muttered, beginning to pace around the couch like a content cat. When the curly-haired woman turned the corner to head off somewhere, Aria exhaled. Finally, she was free to take in everything she could about Cookie’s living room. It seemed the perfect opportunity to figure out what each and every object she spied said about her.
There was a rack of guitars leaning up by the room’s entrance, sitting beneath photos of what Aria could only assume were Cookie’s former bandmates. One of them, a strikingly good-looking, redhead of a man, had his arm wrapped around her in a way that made it seem that they had been a little more than simply bandmates. At once, the dour girl crossed her arms, and smirked. Peering closer, she studied the guy, trying to figure out what in the seas could have possibly been so special about him that Cookie would…
Spinning about, her eyes then caught sight of the obvious spot in the back of the room where all of Cookie’s culinary photos and awards were hung. Warily walking past Puddin who was now sitting quietly behind the couch, she stuck her tongue out at him in warning, and then turned to stare at the wall.
Certifications, reviews, and accolades littered the surface by the rear window, amongst various photos of Cookie basking in all of her comestible glory. Prodigy, indeed. Looking at all of this now, that seemed to be a bit of an understatement. However, what was most shocking about all of these items were the dates on them. If Aria were to calculate correctly, the oldest of her awards was only from five years ago, meaning all of the adventures, all of the stories of music and the road that the former siren enjoyed so much had taken place in a relatively short and recent period of time. To Aria, Cookie just as well could have opened her music shop yesterday. She turned toward the door where the woman had disappeared, calling over the sound of a sink tap running somewhere in the other room.
“When you said you were exceptional at cooking, I didn’t know that you meant you were born some kind of stove goddess. Geez!”
She heard Cookie laugh from the other room.
“I know my way around a kitchen!” she replied.
Growing more curious, Aria made her way through the far door toward what she assumed was the kitchen, and turned into the room to find Cookie washing her hands, and other various utensils in the sink. Glancing around at the counter, it seemed obvious that she was about to do some serious cooking. Aria gulped, suddenly feeling a twinge of guilt.
“Cookie, you really don’t have to go through all this trouble. I will eat stale fast food burgers covered in dirt. I’m serious. I’ve actually done that... like... today.”
The white-haired woman looked back over her shoulder to give Aria the most mischievous of grins.
“Oh, it’s not going to be any trouble at all!” she murmured, turning around with a freshly cleaned spoon and pot in her hands. Sauntering up toward Aria, her smile seemed to grow ever more devious with every step until she stood right before the now anxious siren.
“Uhh… I-It’s not?” Aria croaked, quite confused.
“Nope!” Cookie snorted, tossing the pot and spoon into the sullen woman's arms. “Because we’re gonna make it together!”
“Oh okay,” Aria nearly laughed despite not knowing precisely what emotion she was feeling in response to this news. “And what, exactly, are we making?”
For a moment she felt worried thinking Cookie might name something spectacular, impossibly difficult, something that would surely result in Aria burning her house down to the ground.
“Lasagna, of course!” Cookie chuckled, motioning to another far counter where a pile of very obvious lasagna ingredients were stacked in the corner.
“Oh,” Aria murmured, surprised to find that she now felt slightly disappointed. Honestly, she couldn’t name exactly what it was that she had been expecting, but lasagna wasn’t it. Not that she didn’t like the dish. She had actually made it in a myriad of ways over the past century or so. It was just that the meal was relatively simple to her considering she was old enough to have made it from scratch hundreds if not thousands of times. She glanced up toward Cookie, passing her a false grin.
“Oh?” Cookie mimicked her, narrowing her eyes.
“I… I just figured someone like you wouldn’t be able to even tolerate something so… so…” Aria stammered.
“Quaint? Rustic? Simple?” Cookie chuckled, finishing up at the sink. “Sugar, I toured in a band, and lived out of a giant truck for five years. I’m not some snooty, highbrow, wine spitter or somethin. Well, I can be, but that’s not really me. That’s why I left all that behind.”
Eyeing Aria with interest again, her sly grin returned.
“But if you’re saying that it isn’t that big of a deal, then I suppose you wouldn’t mind making it yourself! It would give me a chance to get dessert done at the same time. I mean, unless you don’t think you can do it, or...”
Aria cocked an eyebrow at these words. Her very aura suddenly seemed to ignite.
“Is that a challenge?”
“Oh, no, no, no, Doll! I would never,” Cookie lied, not even trying to hold back her grin anymore. Before she could get another word out, Aria had traversed the distance between them both, forgetting her nervousness, and apparently the dictates of personal space. She’d never noticed it before, probably because she had never dared to get so close, but interestingly enough, it turned out that she was a slight bit taller than the object of her affection. It made her feel that much more confident. Smirking, she placed one hand upon her hip, and held out the other in the direction of the fridge which Cookie was leaning up against.
“Hand me one of those beers, short stuff,” she murmured, never breaking her gaze. Cookie, not being one to rattle so easily rolled her eyes, turned, popped open the fridge to retrieve a cold bottle, and tossed it into Aria’s waiting hand. Using the top of the container, the siren pointed it right up against the other woman’s chest.
“You wanted some fun facts about me, Cookie? Here’s a fun fact for you. I used to work in a scullery. I can guarantee that I’ve made pasta more times than you have in your entire life. I’ll make you that lasagna. A good one, at that. You just make sure that cake or pie or whatever it is you’re dreaming up is done when I am.”
Leaning to one side with the bottle, and bringing her boot up, Aria hooked the container’s cap onto one of its metal buckles, and quickly popped the thing open.
“I wouldn’t want it to get cold,” she finished. Taking a swig, she then walked away toward the back counter. Cookie watched her go, giving her a smirk of her own. Crossing her arms, she smiled and turned back around to the fridge to pull out the ingredients for dessert.
“Those are some big words!” she chuckled.
“Made for big people,” Aria taunted her as she began to chop tomatoes. Cookie snorted.
“You’ve got like an inch and a half on me. What, now you’re gonna make that a thing?”
“Oh, no, no, no! I would never!” Aria joked.
Screw that. There was no chance in the multiverse that she was ever going to call anyone "Doll".
Aria did the best she could to hold Cookie’s gaze with a straight face as she watched her chew. She would rather die than admit that she was nervous, but just at that moment, she felt a bead of sweat working its way down the back of her neck. That eerie aura from before still thinly permeated the air. Along with Pud, who sat on the floor by Cookie’s feet, whining for all the delicious smelling food that he couldn’t have, they both worked to irritate her. A few moments later, Aria became tired with all of the annoying noise, and sighed.
“Well?” she urged, leaning in closer upon the kitchen counter where Cookie was hunched over, munching. The curly haired woman sat up straight, casually finished her mouthful, swallowed, and cocked an eyebrow at Aria.
“I can’t tell whether or not I like it,” she murmured. “I’m gonna need two more pieces, just to make sure.”
A relieved smile spread across Aria’s face, and she finally took a seat upon the stool that lingered behind her.
“Told you it would be good,” she laughed, polishing off her bottle of beer, and placing it down upon the countertop. “Now what about that cake, or whatever? Why don’t you break that out, and let me splash my judgement all over it?”
“Tell you what. Let’s carry all this stuff to the couch, and then you can have at it, you spiteful, little gremlin, you.”
“You should see what I’m like if I eat after midnight,” Aria snorted, grabbing the lasagna pan. Turning, she headed in the direction of the living room.
“Bring the beer!”
By the time she plopped down upon the comfortable couch, Aria was already chewing on a gobful of her lasagna, utterly shocked at how good it tasted. Maybe it was because Cookie, being a former chef, chose to use better ingredients, but she just couldn’t stop eating it.
By the seas, Aria. You are a frikkin’ lasagna savant.
She was still chewing when Cookie joined her, carrying the beer in one hand, and what seemed to be a large pan containing a giant cookie in the other. Her interest piqued, Aria placed her plate down upon the coffee table in front of her, and leaned forward to get a better look.
“Wrrsrt?” she mumbled through her mouthful whilst grabbing a fresh beer from the pack, and wrenching it open against her boot again. Cookie smiled, and jumped onto the seat next to her.
“Blackberry clafoutis,” she said, picking up her own plate of lasagna, and taking a bite.
“Blackberry what?” Aria asked, snorting at Cookie’s pronunciation.
“Cla-foo-tee. It’s French!”
Aria threw her head back, and let loose her all too familiar cackle. She was familiar with the dessert, of course, but not the way Cookie had vocalized it.
“I bet it is!” she guffawed as she watched Cookie breaking a piece off of it with a fork, and holding it up for her to take.
“Shut up, and just try it, okay?” Cookie muttered, her cheeks going red. Still smiling, Aria placed her beer down, plucked the fork from her fingers, and popped the pastry into her mouth, preparing to be utterly unsurprised.
She should have known better. Just the fact that the thing contained blackberries was enough to send her hurtling backward into nostalgic bliss. Breaking away from memories that were sure to turn sour if she followed their course for too long, she chewed, savoring the creamy texture, and the comforting sweetness. This was definitely way better than the stuff they were calling clafoutis a century and a half ago.
“Aw man,” she groaned, reaching out to pull the pan away from Cookie’s grasp. Immediately, she dug in again with her fork, shoving a bigger piece into her mouth. The other woman laughed.
“I take it that means you like it! Some critic you turned out to be!”
“I need to… reassess the… crumb consistency and the... something,” Aria muttered through a mouthful of the dessert, passing the other woman as serious a look as she could manage.
“Well, at least leave some for me!” Cookie said reaching out for the pan. Aria pulled away, playfully.
“I didn’t see your name written on it,” the former siren scoffed. “I advise you to take your grievances up with management.”
Cookie smirked, then allowing her expression to melt into a full blown smile. Laughing to herself she watched Aria huddle into the corner of the opposite side of the couch with her coveted clafoutis as she stuffed piece after piece into her maw. The rose-colored girl even edged away when Pud sauntered up toward her, begging for some of the treat. Eager to be rid of him, she plucked a single blackberry from the pan, and tossed it over her shoulder, hoping that would keep him far, far away.
She knew she shouldn’t have been shocked that actually spending time with Cookie would feel effortless. That’s the way it had always been between them. Now sitting there, feet kicked up on the coffee table, stomach filled to the brim with tons of great food and cheap booze, Aria couldn’t help but wonder why she had ever felt nervous in the first place.
“Hey, Aria,” Cookie said after a while of staring at the T.V. in silence. “Can we, maybe, talk for a second?”
Now, she remembered—the incident at Bubbles. The air had immediately seemed to change somehow. Inhaling an all too familiar scent, Aria turned to find that plumes of negative energy had slowly begun to seep from Cookie’s skin. The energy was particularly pungent, rich with the distinct aroma of uncertainty and doubt. Warding off her now useless urge to feed, she roughly rubbed the scent out of her nose with her palm, and then sat up.
“Y… yea. Sure. What about?”
As if she didn’t know.
“About last week. About that whole thing,” Cookie stammered, moving to switch off the television. Aria couldn’t bring herself to respond. Her fingers clasped together tightly as she waited for her next words.
“I just wanted to apologize,” Cookie continued. “I shouldn't have pushed you over the edge like that."
"Don't worry about it," Aria said, hoping that this might be the end of the matter, but knowing that it wouldn't. She glanced down toward her boots. Cookie raised her hand in protest.
"No, don't say that, Aria. I do have to worry about it, cause... weeell... I care about you..."
Aria's head shot upward to stare straight ahead at nothing. Everything inside of her seemed to explode into color.
"... and all of these mysteries and secrets on top of how upset you were just made me think that maybe you weren't alright. The way you acted made it seem like you haven't been for a while. Idunno. I don't know much of anything about you, Sugar, but you should know that you can tell me if you ever want to. I understand if you can't, though."
She couldn't look at her. She swore if she did she might actually explode. Keeping her gaze fixed upon the blank screen of the T.V., Aria took a deep breath, and held it as she seemed to be deciding on exactly what to say. Finally, after what seemed to be forever, she exhaled.
"There was somepo—... someone a long, long time ago," she breathed. Nodding to herself, she attempted to fight off every last screaming voice in her head that insisted that speaking about this was a bad idea. "Someone I couldn't get away from. They..."
She couldn't mention it, choosing instead to look down at her boots for a moment.
"...And it was a mess. That's why I have this."
In one awkward motion, Aria lifted her arm, revealing the deep purple bruise beneath it. With much hesitation she then reached down toward the bottom of her tank top, and pulled the side of it up to reveal her lower ribs. There, only slightly visible, was yet another deep scar.
“And this,” she finished.
She heard Cookie inhale sharply. Unable to look at her, the former siren turned away, opting to face the doorway out of sheer embarrassment. A palpable silence ensued for what seemed to be an eternity. She heard the other woman take a deep breath.
“W… what is that… on your ribs?” Cookie asked. It took a moment for Aria to be able to bring herself to respond.
“It was the stupidest decision I’ve ever made… or the best. I’m still not sure,” she murmured ominously.
For a second, she thought she might vomit at how painful the sporadic silences seemed. A wave of relief washed over her when she heard Cookie take another deep breath.
"You know, living on the road, you see and experience a lot of wild shit."
There was a distinct sound of Cookie rising from her seat, and then the shuffling of clothing.
"I don't know if this even means anything to show you this. I don't know if I could even comprehend what you've been through, but just know, Aria, that you don’t have to feel alone."
All of the sounds stopped for long enough for Aria to wonder why. Turning her head ever so slightly to peer over her shoulder, she caught a glimpse of Cookie standing with the side of her shirt hoisted up to reveal her left hip. The former siren's eyes went wide as she caught sight of a long, deep, ghastly, running gash that traveled from the woman's side all the way up to where her rib cage began. A myriad of emotions struck her, the most prominent being that of astonishment at this revelation, and rage at whoever had committed such a heinous act against such a seemingly undeserving person.
Aria instinctively sprung to her feet. Not knowing what else to do with herself, her hands clenched and released in and out of fists, over and over. If only she still had her powers. If only. She would charm Cookie silly just for the chance of coaxing a name out of her—one wretched name. Then she would hunt them, and feed on them to the point of insanity before kicking their head in with the steel toe of her favourite boots.
"Wh... who..." she stuttered, too angry and confused to properly form words. Her gaze shot upward, and caught Cookie right in the eyes. Those eyes met hers with a look of understanding. The saddest smile flickered across her face before she huffed.
"I can't tell you," Cookie said, almost amused by the irony of her being the one to say these words. "And it doesn't even matter anymore because it's over, at least to me."
Meanwhile, Aria had frozen to the spot where she stood. She had goofed up. She had forgotten that she wasn't supposed to look at her. She knew that she wouldn't be able to think clearly if she did.
Aria wasn't a known crier, and she would battle anyone who claimed differently, but at that particular moment, she felt like a shaken can of soda on the brink of eruption. A million different thoughts zipped through her mind for a million different reasons.
Spirits, she's so utterly unhateable. How could anyone do that to her? Why would they want to? How... I can kill 'em. Mortals do that all the time. I can still find ways. Stars, I wish I could... I wish there was a way to just... just go back and...
Aria's shoulders slumped in defeat, knowing that Cookie was right. There was nothing to do at this point. What was done was done, and now it was over. Still, the former siren couldn't help but wonder how she could be so okay about it all. How could she keep smiling, and joking, and laughing when the world—in any part of the multiverse—seemed to be such an ugly place to those who least deserved it? Didn't she just want to burn it all down, and laugh at its ashes? That’s how Aria felt. Why not her?
It was then that the former siren spotted Cookie’s outstretched hand beckoning toward her. Unsure, she hesitated for a moment before willing her feet to move forward. A rose-ish row of fingers stretched out toward a caramel-set, and upon their meeting, intertwined with them. For the grand show of mettle and ferocity that Aria always displayed to the world, in that moment, she found that she had none left to even properly curl her fingers. It was the hazel-eyed woman who squeezed her hand reassuringly.
Suddenly, for the first time in such a long, long while, everything was beautiful in Aria’s world. She couldn’t remember a single thing that was wrong, or that worked to irritate her. Everything felt realer than it had for decades. Dropping her guard, she lost herself in the sensation of their hands touching. Looking up a moment later, she swore she caught a flicker of something in those hazel eyes. What was it? Most of her sensibilities were too erratic at the moment, but glancing around the white-haired woman, Aria could at least see that there wasn’t a trace of murky green to be found. Everything seemed crystal clear; thus, the siren supposed that what the flicker in those eyes meant was crystal clear as well. Finally, returning the sure grip upon her hand, Aria yanked Cookie toward her.
The way their lips met—It was perfect, just as she had imagined it might be. It was like a shock to her system, a more invigorating elixir than the most dense puff of emerald-hued energy. She found herself snatching her closer, leaning in further, pushing against a figure that didn’t seem to be wrestling or pushing back until they fell against the couch. Both surprised, their lips shifted apart just long enough for Cookie to gasp.
“A-Aria?” she murmured, her voice trembling. Before she could continue, Aria advanced again, almost certain that if she separated herself from her warmth for too long, she might actually die.
By the seas, the way she feels is so… And the way she smells is better than… Spirits, don’t let it end…
A hand was placed on the siren’s chest, and she moaned at the sensation, a shiver rolling up her spine. Leaning in further, she was startled when the hand didn’t budge, but instead kept her at a distance. It then began to gently push her away. At the threat of having the air slowly pressed out of her lungs, Aria pulled away for a moment, dizzy with joy. Wrapping her fingers around the wrist that held steadfast against her, she allowed her eyes to open.
“Yes?” she panted, moving her love drunk gaze up toward Cookie’s eyes.
Immediately, the smile fell off of her face when she noticed the woman's expression of guilt and hesitation. Looking around in her daze, suddenly, the siren became aware of the murky green that had erupted from somewhere to surround them both. Dread slowly began to seep into her very bones as the hazel-eyed woman began to shake her head.
Bounding upward and away from Cookie to sit on her knees, Aria pushed the loosened strands of hair away from her face. Her purple eyes went wide with confusion as she studied the woman’s horribly embarrassed expression.
“Aria, I’m sorry,” Cookie whispered, immediately sitting up to reach out toward her, to find some possible way to comfort her from the fallout she knew was coming.
Aria jerked her arm beyond Cookie’s reach. Her brow knit as shame took the place of confusion, and anger the place of shame. Searching desperately within those hazel eyes for a sign that she had not made a mistake, Aria eventually willed herself to speak.
“You… you’re not…” the former siren stuttered.
Cookie just stared at her, not knowing what to say, her own mouth gawking open and shut.
“B-but I thought that y-you…”
Aria's palm collided so hard against her own creased brow that, at once, it set her entire world right side up again. Cold reality descended upon her, as familiar and despised as ever. That rank smell of green haze filled her nostrils, and electrified her mind into alertness. The gloom that, a few moments prior, had seemed to let up for the first time in ages, now crowded around her more densely than before. She should have suffocated, and yet her once fevered breath now slowed down to a steady and eerie calm. Her eyes shot open, pupils sharp, and trained upon a singular point, straight ahead.
Seeing clearly the change within the woman before her, Cookie made a last ditch effort to reach her through the growing storm clouds in her mind.
“Aria, please calm down. It’s alright. I think maybe we’re both getting ahead of ourselves. Let's just relax and talk ab—"
"Do you have a phone?" the dour girl interrupted in a frightening monotone, her clenched hand dragging down the center of her face. The sound of her voice made Cookie's words catch in her throat.
"Aria, please. I—"
"Do you or don't you?"
Her eyes bore into Cookie's in a way the curly-haired woman had never seen before. It was terrifying, cold, disconnected. Still, for the sake of what their relationship meant to her, she persevered.
"Just listen to me for a min—"
Aria bounded from the couch, snatching up her jacket with one hand, and marching straight away toward the front door. Cookie, taking a split second to compose herself, followed her. By the time she turned the corner, the former siren had already put on the jacket, and was turning the doorknob.
"Aria Blaze, you hold it right there!" Cookie exclaimed in her typical, authoritative fashion from where she stood on the opposite end of the hallway. Aria's head snapped around to glare at her, and when she did, the other woman’s blood ran cold. Her knees felt as if they might buckle and collapse. The look the former siren gave her was something horrid, something lacking all feeling. It wasn't an expression that people gave to each other. It was a look passed between two beings of unequal and incomparable rank. It made Cookie feel small and afraid. Unable to make anymore words come out of her mouth, she just watched, wide eyed, as Aria turned again, and quickly disappeared out of the door.
Aria cursed Adagio's hesitation to sell some of her useless old jewelry in order to buy them phones during her entire walk to the gas station—seven blocks away. Sure, nothing had been stopping her from selling a few of her own items, perhaps a valuable, old instrument, or one of the precious vinyls from her collection, but that wasn't the point. Adagio hoarded way more stuff than she did, most of it things that no longer served any purpose. Besides, wasn't she supposed to be the leader or whatever? This was supposed to be her responsibility. They could have been living like kings if it weren't for that damn, big-hipped, harpy, and her inability to part with a bunch of shiny rocks, and even if that was such a damn problem, why didn't she just go digging through some of Sonata's old crap? Surely, someone on this wretched planet would have paid top dollar for a vintage yo-yo, or rocking horse, or ball of lint or whatever it was the spacey ditz found entertaining.
The dour girl fumed as she continued to think up more outlets for her fury. On the way to the gas station, she managed to wrench her hair loose from its ponytail, and wipe all of Sonata's gunk from her face until she felt something of her old self again. When she had made herself so angry she could barely see straight, her mind simply set itself ablaze, erratic, full of explosive sound effects rather than images and words. That strange, ominous presence or scent, whichever it might have been, seemed to have grown stronger since the beginning of the night, and now worked to provoke her even more. When she walked into the fluorescent lighting of the gas station, she very nearly gave the kid at the register a heart attack when she approached her, and pounded upon the countertop.
"Where's your phone?" she growled. As the poor girl scrambled beneath the counter, Aria fished around in her pockets for something until she found what it was she had been looking for. Pulling out a crumpled and torn strip of paper with a phone number scrawled upon it, Aria straightened the thing out just as the cashier attendant plopped the phone down upon the slab. Snatching the receiver up whilst, for once, thanking her lucky stars that she had been paranoid enough to pick the slip up off of the workbench earlier that day, Aria then dialed the number, and waited impatiently. After a few rings, someone picked up on the other line.
"What?" came a familiar voice with a country twang.
"Wheeler?" Aria grumbled.
"Knew it!" Wheeler exclaimed. "What can I do ya for, sweet cheeks?"
There was a pause as Aria closed her eyes, and took a deep breath, contemplating the scientific plausibility of reaching through a phone in order to strangle someone.
"You know what? Nevermind," she murmured quietly, moving to hang up.
"No, wait! I'm sorry!" she heard Wheeler yell through the receiver. "Idunno what I did, but still, sorry! Whaddya need?"
She rubbed her temples a bit.
"That ticket to the Sunburns still up for grabs?" she asked, doing her best to keep her composure with the man on the other line.
"You bet your sweet, little caboose it is. You in?"
"I'm in. Pick me up by the Grub n' Go... Fuck, that's a stupid name... Anyway, pick me up there."
"On mah way, honey. You sit tight."
"Hold on a second," Aria cut in. Quickly looking up to the cashier, she peered at her sharply. "You got Bronco cigs?"
The skinny, young girl shook her head frantically. Aria rolled her eyes, and then put her ear back onto the receiver.
"Wheeler, find me a pack of broncos, will ya?"
"You got it. Later."
Slamming the phone down upon the hook, Aria turned, and marched out of the store without another word. Walking out near the road, and leaning up against a streetlight, a thought suddenly struck her. Pulling her wallet out of her pocket, she unzipped the compartment that held the single cigarette. Quickly snatching it up, and popping it between her lips, she then grabbed her lighter, and lit its edge. Inhaling deeply, her eyes closed in relief. Feeling an artificial sense of calm beginning to course through her veins, Aria then gazed lazily ahead, as unamused and emotionless as ever. Every deceptive incident that had taken place since Cookie had handed her that stupid tupperware box zipped through her mind.
She exhaled a plume of smoke, not blinking when the breeze blew it and that strange, nagging aura right back into her face.
Rager it is, then.