A Woman

A songfic based on She's Always A Woman, by Billie Joel, for the Fanfiction Royale competition


3. Chapter Two || Porcelain Dolls ||


"She can lead you to love
She can take you or leave you
She can ask for the truth
But she'll never believe."



"Do you even like me?" Irene asks, running her fingers through the mahogany curls, scraping her long nails against the nape of his neck.

The boy smiles, as if she herself were a joke he scarcely found amusing, leaning further back into her lap. He almost looks pretty like this- all spread out into the earth, almost as if he'd like to sink into it, as if, over time, he could dissolve into it. She can understand that feeling, after all- the desperation to disappear, to scrub away the scars as if they were nothing more than dirt. 

She knows about the cigarettes the boy's father used to put out on his back, the vile lash of the belt against his pale skin. She also knows about the boy's theft of his father's revolver and the way he pressed it against the man's head. Irene smiles. James Moriarty's father is afraid of his son now, rather than the other way around. It's almost amusing.

She knows what James is going to say before he even throws out a word. "No," he murmurs, not even bothering to open his eyes. "I scarcely tolerate you at all. You're simply less boring than anyone else around here." 

She prefers him with his eyes closed: they're usually so cold, as deep and dark as the North Atlantic Ocean, and they never fail to make her shiver, almost as if he is a scavenger bird- hungry and cruel and calculating- and she's a dying animal, her leg caught in a trap. They're like onyx- the stones her grandmother adorns her with whenever she's dragged to parties and expected to flirt and smile and prance up and down like a bird on display- all show and no trouble.

"Just as you don't like me," he continued. "The only reason you spend time with me is because it means that Jonathon Edwards is then too afraid to come near you."

She spits out a laugh- it's a cold morning, dew lacing the grass like a wedding veil, daises springing from the dirt, alive with the compost of dead animals and plants long since rotten and sunk into their graves. "Am I really that obvious?" she purrs, her voice treading on bitter but laced with honey.

She knows she's not. She's manipulative and clever and cold, wrapped in a fur coat of kindness and caring, just like she's been taught to be. She's sixteen, but she can play people like she can play the flute- fingers flying over the frets and eliciting such sweet, beautiful music that she's almost tempted to cry.

James opens his eyes, the corner of his mouth curling into a lazy smirk. His smile is cruel, the kind of expression she'd expect from a spider, when it's about to pounce upon its prey. His smiles are so blood-thirsty, but his eyes are so empty, so dead. "Don't be stupid. I don't like stupid. Jonathon Edwards is stupid, Mrs Munson is stupid. My mother-"

"Your mother loves the English teacher," Irene purrs. "And the butcher, and the gardener and the policeman. Anybody who isn't your father." She leans down, her lips brushing his ear, the coal strands chopping and scruffy. "If it makes you feel any better, she rather likes me, too."

She knows that she's treading on this ice here- balancing on an equilibrium of threat and malevolence, a tightrope over vast chasm of death and danger, standing on a frozen lake with cracks like spider webs beneath her feet. She can almost feel the temperature drop, carving goose-bumps into her bare arms.

"But don't worry," she smiles as James sits up and moves away, his expression as smooth and cold as marble. His school shirt is slightly crumpled but, white and clean, embellished with a bloody-red school tie. "It's just chemistry, after all, just boring human emotion, and what would you know about that?"

"Emotion is simply another weakness," James growls, low and contained, like an attack dog packed into a cage. "Another thing that makes people so boring." 

Irene can't help but smile. "So you don't love Mummy?" she smirks. "Don't you care about your brother or your old dead dog or even the little boy who solved your old puzzle?"

James' mother's name is blackened with soot and ash, stained by her history and actions, whilst his brother is barely present- whether due to his fear of his younger brother or bound by his obsession with war, Irene doesn't know, nor does she care to.

And James killed his dog a week ago: fed it a cupful of the hydrochloric acid he stole from his chemistry lesson. He made her watch, made her hold its head still as he forced the chemical down its throat. She sat, terror and disgust turning her blood to acid inside her veins as it coughed up blood and vomit on her pretty white dress.

James had smiled- a sight almost as stomach-turning as the sight before her. It hadn't even been the fact that such a sadistic grin had been present that made her run from the room, it wasn't the way his hands shook and the expression didn't shiver as James skimmed his fingers slowly through the pool of blood collecting at his feet that made her throw up on the grass outside, the blood seeping like callous fingers through her skirt. It was his eyes- how utterly empty they were, so devoid of any emotion- no pleasure, no pain, no anger or hatred.

They were dead. 

And now Irene's noticed it, she can't unsee it. Even now, imprisoned in the pristine stain-glass window of springtime, James' eyes are a graveyard- empty and black, with tortured souls twisting around the pupil in shredded fragments, with the unfathomable pits of Hell lurking predatorily beneath the surface.

It's true, when James observed that she didn't care for him- she didn't, not really. He terrified her, and in all truth, she can't wait for her grandmother to finish her business in this small Irish town, to escape this place as soon as she can. As much as she hated- no, loathed- the old witch, she certainly felt safer around the woman who would slap her for her impoliteness than the boy who carried out his first murder when he was eleven. At least she knew where she stood with her grandmother- she was the perfect porcelain doll, only brought out for special occasions, perfect and so, so fragile.

With Jim, she never knew whether he would kill he would have her torn apart on a whim.        

"Or do you even know the difference?" she continues, and he almost frowns, eyes narrowing.

"The differences between who and what and where?" he asks, Irish voice staining the air like blood soaking through clothing, a rose blooming in the midst of a snowstorm. "Be specific, Irene, I hate generics."

"Between love and possession." she whispers. Jim doesn't reply, tipping his face towards the sky, black eyes closed, cruel smile curling over his face. Irene has to admit that he's beautiful- just as a marble statue is beautiful, just as war is beautiful. 

She wonders what it would look like. If he would still look as beautiful with his skin peeled off, if all that was left was wiry muscle and fragile bone. Would she still fear him the way that she does?

She probably would.

"As if you know." The sound is a hiss- soft and silken, like air from a balloon.  "People are boring. Ordinary. Why should I care for things so boring?"

Irene is a spider; the kind that lured people into her web slowly, silken strands wrapping around her victims slowly, so slowly, until they look around and realise that they are hanging from a noose. She peels back their skin, uncovers the hidden desires and buried secrets that lie buried in the very pit of a person's soul. She coats herself in them, forms a second skin, an armour to hide herself from dangerous eyes and steel words. The secrets are her weapons, her defence, her blackmail.

Jim, however, digs deeper. He hollows out bodies and rips apart bone and sinew, sees the dirt and the darkness that fills people up.

She shouldn't have came here, despite what her grandmother said. Despite the empty promises of more money and more pretty dresses. She should be so used to deception that she shouldn't need to drown in it herself.

This is when she decides, finally, that she's not going to be her grandmother's porcelain doll for much longer.


  "And she'll take what you give her as long as it's free

Yeah, she steals like a thief,

but she's always a women for me."    

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