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Elixir of life
Oh she was hungover the next day. 

When she - ahem, they - woke the next day, Danika was slow to rouse. By the break of 10:30, she finally rolled out of bed, found the shower and tried to freeze herself awake with cold water. It went about as expected, and she quickly steamed up the bathroom mirror moments later. A towel wrapped snug in her armpits, she quickly realized the greatest flaw in her plan for the otherwise awkward morning of waking up with someone after doing the dirty all night the last night. 

She was out of coffee.

Hangovers were fairly easy to cure these days. A couple of pain killers, good dose of caffeine, Vitamin C, and a liter of intravenous saline was the magic elixir resurrecting all kinds of drunks the next day. In fact, there were salons for just such infusions. Such little shops were usually tucked alongside pedicure stations or a blow-out bar. She was definitely not so snobby as to be embarrassed walking into such a shop. In fact, there was one in the so-called Enlightenment district nearby. It wasn't a long walk from her place. 

A few swipes of a hairbrush through damp hair, smears of simple makeup on puffy cheeks, and a grumbling stomach that made her think she had to eat a bagel or she was going to die in the next ten minutes, and she went to find Marcus. Jeans, boots and a short jacket completed the thrown-together look, and she was utterly grateful for the comfort-clothes after the binding attire of the ball.

"There's a bagel cart three blocks over that I highly recommend." She smiled, invitation implied. 

@"Marcus DuBois"
Marcus had drifted off rather quickly. He hadn't realized how tired he was- physically and mentally. Her laying next to him, quiet breath lulling him peacefully to sleep, the silky warmth of her skin a blanket against him, cradling him. In the dim recesses of his mind, a vague memory stirred. Something....familiar. Odd he thought to Malik as sleep overtook him. Ma never did that to us or to Andre. Both of them were too tired to chase down the memory further, though.

He woke to a cold empty bed, the sounds of a shower coming from the bathroom. He looked at the clock, puzzled. He never slept late. Well, yesterday seemed to have lasted months. Meetings, the ball, the creature. Danika. Them. Malik was silent. He expected more at the very least.

He rose and dressed. just the tuxedo pants and dress shirt, not buttoned to the top. He went to find his shoes- they were in the living room of the flat- and in that time she had gone from the shower to the bedroom, the flash of her in a towel was all he saw. Despite himself, he grinned. Little late for modesty after last night. The puddled dress still lay on the floor, proof. He picked it up and laid it out gently on the couch. He didn't think it- along with all the jewels- was hers. He'd cover it there was any damage. He had been a bit...exuberant.

Bathroom vacant, he performed the morning ablutions by rote. Wasn't his place so there wasn't a lot he could do.  And his mind churned. What do you think this is? Malik had asked. At the time he didn't care. A hint of worry was worming its way up from the depths, though, now. Malik shuntef it aside as trivial. Just an outlet. Emotion was not something to be eschewed. Passion was a path to truth.

But it could not govern. Especially impulse. Never impulsw It could not- would not- derail his plans.

So what is this, Marcus? Malik asked with mockery. Just a night. A one night stand. With someone he worked with. More particularly, oversaw. Not that he worried about sexual harassment suits. This was Ascendancy's Moscow. As long as no one was abusing their power, it was accepted. But...he wanted more than just his position. Another's hung, the goal, for him to gaze at hungrily. He couldn't lose sight.

Weakness washed over him. He was hungry. He hadn't eaten much yesterday. And using the Force took a lot out of him. Still, he wouldn't leave without a few words.

When she surfaced she was dressed simply. It was a good look on her. He did not assume intimacy with her, though. It had been what it was. But neither would he be cold. It was just...the unknown bothered him. It had never been like this, not with any of the others. It hadn't taken much to extricate himself. Then again, they didn't have the...innocence Danny had. It made him uneasy in a way he was completely uncomfortable with. It made Malik angry. 

He stood, gave her a warm smile while trying to find the right role to play. "Hey," he said softly. "Yeah, bagels sound good. Especially with eggs and bacon in between." He grinned and winked. "I'm a mite hungry, you know."
A slender palm shaded her eyes from a bleating sun. The Russians called this time of year a sultry spring, but she nestled in the downy line of bright fur anyway. Sunglasses blackened the portals to her soul like onyx curtains, and it was with a supple leather palm that she accepted a tiny cup of espresso and paid the fee with another. Her stomach rumbled as the warmth passed her lips and associated calories summed in her mind like second-nature. She left the cart-man a generous tip, but hardly from the kindness of her heart. There was someone in the building across the street that she greatly desired to know in whose company he would be departing this morning. The bagel man who worked the cart came to an arrangement with Spectra about a month ago. Her daily updates were less than fruitful, but it was only a matter of time.

“How was the ball last night, madam?” The bagel man asked. Spectra paused from sipping the steamy espresso to glare at him, but the flatness of her ire did not penetrate those dark lenses. He cleared his throat, realizing the faux pas and changed the subject. Spectra let him rattle on as she tuned him out. The ball.. one that she was neither invited to attend or able to afford for herself. The tickets sold almost instantly and the secondary resell fees rocketed far beyond her bank account. The Kremlin was a sacred veil she was not able to pierce yet. For her sordid past, she was unwelcome among their self-righteous hypocritical aristocracy.

Such was why she was interested in learning the dirty secrets of the man who lived in the building across the street. The kremlin would not be forbidden to her forever…
She laughed despite the throbbing in her head. The apartment was locked up behind them in short order and the street promptly presented. In daylight drenched in midmorning auras, the atmosphere was naturally opposite as it was the previous evening. Cars meandered, but this part of the inner city was crowded and ancient, built centuries before cars were invented. Traffic wasn't speedy along these narrow passageways. Like them, the majority of people were on foot. Danika didn't mind the stroll most days, except today when her stomach rumbled on regular intervals. 

It was a few blocks to the cart that she imagined. It was a little out of the way but worth the detour for her mornings to the Kremlin. When they finally turned the corner, she broke into a wide grin that hastened her approach. A few people were about consuming their own bagels or coffee, so Danika promptly got in line and tugged Marcus along. It was going to be worth it.
The narrow streets had an air about them, the contrast with inner city Chicago quite clear. The Robert Taylor Homes projects weren't known for their outdoor cafe's and little nook shops, pastry carts and the smell of coffee wafting from opened doors, the gentle hum of quiet streets and vibrant peaceful life.

All a lie, he knew of course. Or rather, Moscow- indeed the empire- had its own corruption. Poverty still existed- would always exist- as did street kids and the homeless. No city would ever not have those things. At least not completely. He had ideas, though, for one day. Ascendancy controlled the corruption, allowed it to exist as an outlet valve- a bleeder to siphon off some of the pressures that built in dense populations.

People needed their back doors, their ways to skirt governmental and social conventions and laws, to get what they needed, wanted, or desired.

Marcus knew how important it was. He was feeling a niggling pressure of his own beginning to build. Malik stalked like a caged tiger. At the ball he was Malik. Oriena's hate filled eyes filled him with such pleasure, almost as much as had killing those things....but it was not the same. He felt it growing and his position denied him his release. He had a hard time putting a finger on what it was, exactly, that bothered him. As if he had bitten down on a hook, the string the thinnest of silks leading off somewhere else.

He had cut all those strings years ago. Are you sure? asked Malik. His brother Andre was still out there. The discomfort was there, in the back of his mind. Malik was fanning it, to grow a spark into a flame.

He was a Sith.

Take what you want... And make someone else pay for it.

Darth Malgus had learned the truth of allowing entanglements. His lover and wife, Eleena, lying in the hospital bed, injured by Jedi trying to bring him down. She was his weakness, a liability. What was it he had said? "That I love you is what is wrong Eleena!" His last words to her before plunging his lightsaber into her heart.

The scene had been seared into him, his reaction visceral, jaw dropping open in awe at the sacrifice. Pride and determination; Anger and sorrow. To be steel enough to do what must be done.

His strange reaction to Danika was troubling. Malik surged and ebbed. He suspected if Andre was here, he'd feel the same.

Remember what you want, Malik whispered. He clung to that and some of what was bothering him dissipated. Enough. The disquiet was still there, but felt a bit more manageable. He'd have to figure out how to play this out. And to keep his guard up without causing difficulty at the Consulate.

All the while, he made small chit chat with her as they walked to the shop.

His stomach rumbled at the sight- more the smells- of the cart. Once they came up in the line, Danika ordered, as did he. Coffee black, Arabian Mocha Java- a strong nose-curling sense enhancing drink- and bacon, egg and cheese bagel. A few tables sat nearby and he led her to them, pulling the chair and then seating himself.

He imagined he looked a bit odd- tuxedo shirt and pants, black and white shoes polished to a bright shine didn't exactly fit the rest of the patrons- but it didn't matter. He sipped his coffee and used his knife and fork to dig in.

The black liquid spilling down his throat invigorated him and he chewed his food with relish, luxuriating in the flavors on his tongue. In between bites, he commented "I didn't realize how hungry I was. Excellent suggestion." Another sip. He found himself drifting back into their more professional relationship. "So tell me how your research is going?"

She did live for her work, he knew.
Spectra’s impatience grew to the point that she promised herself an abrupt departure if the Consul did not reveal himself by the time she finished her drink. Standing in the cold like a beggar dying for the glimpse of the celebrity turned a sour taste on her tongue despite the pelt of fur nestled at her neck. The cold seeped into her skin like blood oozing from soggy bandages. For all the glamour of Moscow’s pinnacle of celebrity heights, the winter was severe enough to almost drive her away.

In the end, it wasn’t the baritone of a rumbling voice that turned her attention. It was a warmth on the wind, like sunlight pulling the frigid petals of a flower toward its rays. When Spectra pivoted, it was on the toe of a wicked heel, her gaze fell first upon the homely shoulders of a sisterly channeler. The presence was always surprising when it came, but not necessarily unwelcome. She started to nod, assuming the sad, plain girl would find her equally as arousing.

Instead, the sisterly prick of a smile shared seized itself frozen. The back of the head bobbed familiarly. The broadness of his shoulders was unmatched. All doubt fled her mind upon recognition of the finery of his clothing.

She glanced at the bagel-peddler, but the old hack was too obvious to realize. Spectra knew him, though. He was sharing a table with the channeler that first drew her gaze. The familiarity between them rose her brows. A freshly washed head of hair and plain clothes on the woman, the tousled clothes on him. Blades edged across Spectra’s soul. The poor man had to stoop so low. So sad for him.

Luckily, Spectra was there to save him. She sauntered near, the slip of her leg peaking from the hem of furs that lain across her shoulders like a cloak. The sunglasses remained, but on Spectra, may have been a diadem for all the way they decorated her sculptural face. It was a toothy, wide smile that parted her mouth first. Finally followed by a sultry, single word: “Marcus?”
Danika’s stomach rumbled painfully. There was a strange sense of hunger that churned with repulsion as soon as her bagel was served. The steam wafted her nostrils and her mouth literally salivated with the smearing of cream cheese (with jalapeno and red pepper), but somehow, the hangover made her hesitate. It was only a moment before she sank into the first bite, but the warmth and creaminess soothed her stomach and she was greedily devouring the breakfast by the time they sat.

Coffee warmed her palms. The air wasn’t frigid this spring morning, but chilly enough to enjoy the sensation as it passed her lips. Great chews occupied her teeth while Marcus inquired about her work. The question stirred memories from the night before that she’d rather forget. She’d been drunk enough to know she was a fool in front of him, but not so drunk as to forget the creature’s appearance at the end. “That thing that we saw was some sort of phenomena I’ve never encountered before. I’d love to study it, but I have no idea where to begin. That it was able to shift its phase of state must make indentations upon the subatomic tapestry of the universe that I could study…” Her own train of thought diverged into the gears of her mind when she suddenly sat up a little straighter.

Having come from the ball last night, Danika was uniquely exposed to incredibly beautiful people. She felt quite plain in comparison to the woman that approached, but her brows lifted high when it was Marcus who was addressed.
Marcus was glad Danika took the bait, felt the tension disolve. So much easier this way. Her work was her life. He hoped she didn't think this was more than what it was.

He was willing to admit a feeling of claustrophobia still lingered. A touch anyway. Foolish, he knew, to strike up a bond with a coworker. More than that. One who answered to him.

But the ball had been about experience. Unfettered. Free. Malik surged and slinked, trying to userp control, but Marcus was fairly at ease as they sat and ate. Enough, anyway. He definitely wasn't going to be a dismissive dick to her. For many reasons.

But he was glad she'd shifted her focus to the creature from last night. He very nearly smiled at her dedication. Or maybe predictability. Still radiant, of course, even in simple shirt and jeans and freshly brushed hair. None of her beauty was artifice or on the surface. A living animated princess, if he had to be pressed. But a scientist first. Marcus liked that.

A voice cut in and he turned his head. For a single infinitesimal moment time stopped. Malik reared to full power, enveloping him, and the universe changed in the twinkle of an eye.

Dark shadows seemed to coalesce around his vision, to beat in time with his heartbeat. Spectra. His smile- feral canines flashing, eyes dark- came unbidden.

Death and heartbreak in living form. God, Malik had missed her. Beauty wreathed in darkness and rage that promised all and delivered nothing. Danger. It had always been a siren to him.

He stood, taking her fur lined hand with a gentle touch and a kiss. "Ah. Mi amore. It is good to see you again." Green eyes of emerald fire burned and he felt the kindrid flames flickering.

Malik's eyes flashed to Danika and a smile formed on the inside. This could be fun. "Please join us," he said, pulling an empty chair for her. Their last encounter had not been forgotten.

He sat, his hand purposefully lingering near Danika's, flashing the seated woman one of Marcus' most sincere smiles. "This is my friend Dr. Danika Zayed. A recent- and brilliant- addition to my research team at the Consulate." His smile widened as a memory from last night came to him. "And a good dancer too,", he said before winking at her, smile set to show easy humor. Danika would remember the flying shoe.

As to Spectra....Malik had enjoyed her company greatly, feeling a point counterpoint reflection to the rages and hungers that boiled beneath her surface. It was not often he saw that in someone else.

And now she was here. And he, for one, was glad of it. His smile was open, displaying a hint of friendly tease."And this, Danika, is Spectra Lin. Queen of all Media. And Destroyer of hearts." Malik looked at her, smile remaining purposefully innocent. Perhaps too flowery, he knew. But Spectra loved attention.

Spectra knew this was just a game. And Danika simply a bystander, someone to shine on. Malik seethed with possibilities.

"How have you been?" He looked around, searching. "Are you doing a shoot here?"
Spectra coddled the fur at her neck lovingly as she pondered the invitation. Fake apologies about intrusion might have once perched on her lips like a parrot on its stand, cocky and bold, but Spectra was far outgrown from the servant girl of her youth. She dipped a nod and accepted the seat like it was her throne. Instead, it was the Consul's turn to speak niceties and dribble flattery. Spectra felt the tug alone, for when Marcus curled a finger, she would followed him into the darkness. 

"I am not working at the moment, dear one. I am happily sipping this aromatic and shopping all morning." She turned toward Danika, "You must need to do the same thing, don't you dear?" Her gaze slipped up and down the doctor's simple garments. 

"The consulate must be growing if you are expanding research. Such pursuits are beyond my simple mind. I was never fond of school," the lie flowed easily. She was never offered the opportunity to attend school, fond or otherwise. After being sold off from Cuba, young Lola scrambled to soak any and all she could. 

She dipped a shoulder at the affluent doctor. "When a young girl is more concerned with food and safety, poetry and arithmetic are trivial." 
Spectra was a creature Danika barely knew existed, and here she was sharing breakfast with the woman. No, not a woman, a leopard, prowling and languid, or maybe a goddess in the guise of a mortal. She was absolutely gorgeous, and whatever sensuality Dani wore was now denuded of all power. Marcus clearly knew her well. They spoke as old friends. Something spiked in her gut that frankly Dani found a little unsettling. Maybe the hangover was spiking a fresh wave of nausea. What was Spectra saying? She wanted to go shopping.

“I’m more of an online shopper, really.” She was quite serious, but something about Spectra’s seriousness about the task struck her humorous. She laughed. Did Marcus call her, Mi Amore? She flicked him an teasingly accusatory glance. How cheesy could he be? Just when she was about to jibe him on it, the atmosphere was punctured by Spectra’s final statement. For all the misfiring neurons in her brain, that connection was not overlooked.

Danika leaned back in her seat, pensively watching the supermodel and Marcus. It was clear whose affinities were more aligned. She felt like quite the odd-man out.  

About that time, a ding buzzed her wallet. Her appointment with the fluid clinic was ready. A shrug and she packed away the rest of her bagel in a napkin. "Looks like my name has been called." She stood.

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