Surviving Sisterhood


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Scene Title Surviving Sisterhood
Synopsis One survivor checks in on another and try to look forward to an ordinary future after the losses they suffered in Detroit.
Date March 20, 2020


Sitting in the car, Chess stares up at the door to the Childs’ residence, willing herself the courage to get out and go up the steps to knock on the door. She hasn’t seen Jac since that day in Detroit three weeks before.

It feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago, all at once.

The display on her dash tells her she’s been sitting her for fifteen minutes. She could just drive away; she’s fairly certain no one saw her sitting outside in the new Mini Cooper. It would be easier, but it wouldn’t be right.

Niki would be strong enough to do it, she reminds herself.

With a sigh, Chess steps out of the car, letting it close with a dull thud, before striding toward the brownstone and up the steps. Her knock is less tentative than she feels, but not insistent.

Jac has been aware of the car since it stopped outside. From the safety and obscurity of an upstairs window she's watched, a pair of blue eyes and tousle of red hair set just far enough past the window frame to see the unfamiliar vehicle on the street. All kinds of thoughts race and compete for who's stopped — someone checking directions or a delivery for a neighbor are the most mundane, and agents from the government here to arrest her are the most frightening.

As the car door opens, the teen slips back so only half an eye peers past the casement. Dread creeps through her core like a cold draft in winter. But as Chess steps out and not the feared monster, most of those thoughts and worries pop like bubbles.

Why Chess could be here is a different flavor of concern. She turns from the window, her movement causing the sheer curtains to swish slightly.

A minute, or slightly longer, passes before the tumblers in the lock rattle and thunk into place. The door opens far enough for the teen’s shoulders to fit through. Jac first shoots a glance toward the car behind the woman on her stoop, then looks up at Chess, probably just as nervous.



Chess’ smile is small, the sort of sympathetic smile given to people in hospitals or at funerals, as if showing any teeth might be disrespectful or gauche.

“I, um.” She casts a glance over her shoulder, the late afternoon wind catching a lock of blond hair to throw against her face. Her hand pulls it out of the way as she turns back to look at the redhead. “I wanted to see how you were doing. Do you want to go for a walk, maybe, or a ride, get out of the house a bit?” She glances behind Jac. “I don’t know if you’re trying to lay low or whatever, but stretching your legs might be good.”

It might also be selfish. Chess has spent far too much of the past two years holed up and laying low.

“If it’s okay with Gillian, of course,” she adds.

“I…” Jac looks at the floor, the door swaying slightly from side to side. She's not technically hiding, since she doesn't exactly have anything to hide from. But she's barely been out of her room, let alone the house itself, since returning. She skirts a glance toward the entryway behind her, then raises a shoulder when she faces Chess again.

“Sure.” After all, Chess came all the way over. And the fresher air feels nice compared to the inside air of the house. “I just need my shoes and to leave a note.”

Which she does. The door is left open for Chess, while Jac takes a couple of minutes to get ready. A note it scribbled out and left on the kitchen table, shoes and a hoodie are located and put on. The teen even remembers her cell phone before joining the young woman outside. “I… there’s a… a small park a few blocks away,” she says as she locks the front door.

Chess watches the neighborhood outside while she waits, noting a little boy on a bike riding by, then a woman pushing a stroller. It’s all so normal compared to what they’ve been through. It feels foreign.

She smiles when Jac reappears and nods. “Lead the way,” she says, gesturing for the younger woman to take the proverbial lead — of course they’ll walk side by side rather than Chess literally following her. They’re not that abnormal.

It’s still a little chilly, despite the little buds on cherry trees heralding spring’s arrival, and Chess shoves her hands into the pockets of her leather jacket — a new one, since the last was damaged in Praxia.

“It’s good to see you. Things were so crazy, I wasn’t sure where they brought you,” she says, watching the sidewalk as they begin to walk. “Nobody hurt you, right?”

Hands are shoved deep into the kangaroo pocket of her hoodie, as Jac turns from the house to the sidewalk. She's quiet, unlike the first time she'd met Chess, and far less sure of herself. Her head shakes to answer, a sidelong look angles toward the woman.

“No one hurt me.” Not physically anyway. The teen taps a small stone on the sidewalk, sending it skittering across the concrete. “They took me to Kansas City, to a facility there. I didn't know where anyone else was.”

It's part question, followed by another look up at Chess. Where had she gone? “Things were crazy,” Jac admits. “No one would tell me anything.”

Chess nods, looking forward so she doesn’t plow into anyone walking their way, though there’s not too many people out on the sidewalks. The lady with her stroller is just barely visible a block and a half ahead.

“Me, too. We were probably near one another and didn’t even know,” she says, kicking the same rock as they come up to where it stopped, sending it another few yards ahead before it hit gets stalled by a crack in the sidewalk.

After a few more steps, she adds, “Alix is still there. Her situation’s a bit more complicated, I guess. I’m surprised I’m not.”

It’s not exactly a cheerful conversation.

“Are you doing okay? That was…” no word can quite encapsulate what they went through, and Chess shakes her head slightly at the few that come to mind, before finally settling on “a lot.”

“I guess.” Physically, the teen appears fine. Maybe she looks a little tired, perhaps from not always sleeping great or lacking in appetite for food. The physical toll of Detroit was kinder to her than anything else.

Jac’s shoulders raise, her hands push deeper into the pocket on her hoodie. “It… it was a lot.” There really isn't a better description for it. Her shoulders come down and her head follows. “I… um… they told me to stay out of trouble or I'd end up back there. And… and I can't… I lost my internship.” The small rock is kicked again, this time with little heart behind it. She lost almost everything that day in Detroit.

The mention of the internship draws one of Chess’ brows up, and she glances to Jac as they walk. “You left it when you went to California, though, yeah? I mean, most jobs wouldn’t give you a pass on that, even if you weren’t, you know. In Detroit.”

That probably isn’t going to make the teenager feel any better, she realizes.

“So, I mean, I wouldn’t take it personally,” she adds, a little more gently. “What matters if you made it out, yeah? And you’re not in jail now. Try to build on those things, and maybe not working for the government for a little bit is a good thing. I know I wish I had more time just being a teenager, instead of fighting in a war. You’re only a kid once.”

She huffs a small breathy laugh. “I sound ancient.”

“No.” Not officially. Jac looks up from the ground, angling her head to peer up at Chess. “I didn't know that's where I was going. All I did was ask someone about Umbra and Cindy. How was I supposed to know that he was going to take me to California.” Not that she hadn't been given the chance to decline the knowledge, but she was desperate for answers that every viable source she could reach didn't have.

But she concedes with a sigh. Chess isn't wrong. In spite of everything that happened she isn't in jail or dead, just plagued by all of the what ifs and the uncontested fact that she failed exponentially.

“I just don't…” know how to be a kid. It was a luxury Jac could never afford. “It's always been about survival. Even when I was little… there was always yelling and doctors and being locked up or…” The shrug that follows is awkward for what it implies.

There’s a frown at the revelation that Adam didn’t tell Jac she was being taken across the country — out of the country. “Yeah, we call that kidnapping, but we’ll just add that to the rest of the shit he shouldn’t have done,” Chess says wryly, managing to keep her anger at a low simmer. At least externally.

She reaches out to snap off a leaf from a nearby tree, something to pull slowly to pieces as she walks. “I get it. I’ve been in survival mode a long time, too,” she says softly. “Do you know, when I first got to the Safe Zone a couple years ago, even though I had the money from the pay out, I lived like I did in the war still? I had a few safe spots that I squatted in, but had a gym membership mostly so I could take a good hot shower from time to time.”

The safe spots weren’t truly safe, of course. She almost died in one, at the hands of Ivy.

“After that I was in hiding, at the Benchmark and then Yamagato. Then I went to Japan, and then Praxia. So,” Chess gestures around. “Being in civilization, having a car, a driver’s license, a regular job — it’s all super new to me. I don’t know how to do any of it either, to be honest.”

Her dark eyes slide to the corners to seek Jac’s blue ones. “But I’m going to try. I think I might like it. But I still will always sit where I can see the door, and I’m always going to have something in my pockets that I can throw. You know?”

“I didn't even know I was being taken to see Adam.” The further revelation of Jac’s unplanned walkabout is made on a wry mutter. “Zhao never said who or where, just that… that I'd never be able to come back.” At the time that sounded more like a prison sentence. Now she sees it more philosophically. It's only been a few weeks, but she knows returning to anything she had or was before is going to be a challenge.

The teen looks forward while Chess talks, listening and trying to imagine the woman living anywhere besides a house or apartment. It's something she never would have guessed

“I keep small stashes of food hidden in the house.” Color spots her cheeks when she admits to that, even though it's offered as a mark of understanding to Chess’ small habits for survival. “I learned to because Carolyn didn't want me and didn't care what happened. It helped when I lived underground. When you're in the streets, no home, food is everything.” Not that she's on the streets now, but some habits don't change.

A few steps pass, only the scuff of shoes filling the short interlude of silence. Jac looks up at Chess again. “I keep trying… hoping I'll wake up and… and it's like it was before Praxia ever happened. Just everything back to normal with boring school. I never wanted…” The girl looks aside, drawing in an uneven breath. Her voice is small and quiet when she finishes her thoughts. “I wanted to know where I came from. And then Adam… I never had a dad. I just wanted him to be proud.”

Chess nods, nodding in understanding to the the habits Jac confesses. “The bag I used to carry all the time,” she says, one hand coming up to touch the shoulder it always hung from. “It blew up in Praxia. But I literally carried that everywhere with me, after leaving Colorado. I never trusted that I’d be able to return to any place I tried to make a home.”

She huffs out a small, weary laugh. “I think I still don’t, but I’m trying to stop having that mindset, you know? Fake it til I make it.”

The topic of their father, of whether or not he deserves to be proud of Jac or any of them, is ignored. Instead she focuses on the other part of it, the wish that can’t be realized.

“Things won’t go back to what they were like before, but hopefully you’ll find a new normal, yeah?” Chess asks, glancing at Jac through the corner of her eyes again. “You have a great mom and a sister who love you, who are proud of you. I wish I’d had that when I was your age.” She holds up a hand. “Not that I’m saying I had it worse than you. I had a family I thought cared about me when I was younger, but that fell apart when I was a teenager. Kinda the reverse, I guess.”

Chess rolls her eyes at herself. “I’m really not good at being a big sister. I’m glad you have Lene to do a better job than me,” she says wryly. “I just mean I’m glad that you got a good family that loves you, if a little later than you should have.”

It's hard for Jac to say she understands, or that she agrees with Chess’ claim about Gillian and Lene. She isn't even proud of herself, so how can anyone be proud of her? One arm is raised, and the back of her wrist used to wipe at her eyes. It takes her two tries before she's confident enough to look up at Chess again.

“You did okay before,” she points out, drawing away from her miserable feelings. If Chess can try to make her feel better, she can return the effort. It feels better, anyway.

“You just need practice. Or… I don't really know.” Jac manages a fleeting grin before admitting, “It took me a long time to be comfortable with having a family and being with them without worrying. Being normal?” The whole thing they'd just talked about, developing what's normal now. “You know, we could… do this more. We’re… we're sisters, and…” A shrug lifts the teen’s shoulders, unsure of where her suggestion is headed.

The mention of family draws Chess’ dark eyes up and to the sky as they walk, finally making it to the little park. “Family is complicated in the best of cases. For us, complicated is the tip of the iceberg, yeah?” she says wryly. “My adopted family was anti-expressive. I haven’t seen them since leaving for college. I don’t even know if they’re alive, honestly.”

She looks like she might feel a little guilty about that ignorance for a moment. It doesn’t last.

“Then there’s the rest of it.” That, she doesn’t have to explain. Instead, Chess moves off the pathway to the empty swing set, dropping into one of the seats.

“We can,” is her answer to Jac’s suggestion. “I didn’t mean for this to be a one-time thing, unless you didn’t want me here.” Her tone is a little tentative, and she looks down at her feet in the sand, before pushing off to start the swing’s movement.

Complicated is what Jac understands best about familial relations. As she joins Chess on the swings, she nods thoughtfully. “I think complicated is too soft of a word for it.” Her feet drag slightly, recalling the night and day differences between her life with the Fords, the Gillian and Lene, then Adam. “Maybe arduous. Or tempestuous.”

Digging a foot into the ground, Jac gives herself a small push to set her swing into a slow back and forth motion. “Yes. I mean…” She looks up at Chess. “I want to. Really. If you don't mind hanging out with a kid sometimes. Not that I'll be a kid for too much longer.”

A huff of a laugh escapes Chess’ lips. “Still a little soft. You might have a career in public relations,” she teases, as she swings slowly, not so much interested in gaining height as finding an easy, lazy motion.

“I don’t know how many siblings we have that are our, um, contemporaries, besides the ones we’re aware of,” she muses. “We’re down to just the two in my set — I don’t know if you knew about Kimberly? She stayed with Eve and the others in Japan when Alix and I went to Praxia.”

Her brow knits and it’s clear she still regrets that choice. “Alix and I think Val are the only ones left of that group of eight. There was another group that all died when they were young in a crash or something.” Or so she thinks. “Niki has two sisters. I thought of looking them up, but that’s a weird conversation, yeah? No idea if they know anything about the rest of us.”

The accounting for living relatives done, Chess returns to Squeaks’ words. “I mean, I wasn’t planning on bringing you to strip joints and keg parties, so I think it’s fine,” she says lightly. “Maybe start smaller like a mani pedi or something.”

Questions linger in the teen’s mind about the list of relatives. Kimberly she's never even heard of and she shakes her head at the name. The others she was lucky enough to meet once or twice while in Praxia. Names and faces she would like to know better, somehow, but that's a topic she lets cool for now.

“I don't really like loud parties or things.” Jac leans into the swinging motion to keep it going. “But I've never had a mani pedi. I'm…” Her expression goes a little embarrassed, “not even really sure what that is. I've heard people talk about them though. Do you like exploring new places?” That's something she does know.

Chess glances down at her nails — the remnants of her last mani-pedi with Alix in Praxia were chipped away in her conversation with MF Harris and she hasn’t repainted them since.

“Manicure, pedicure. You know, they trim and file your nails, paint them pretty. I’m not much of a girly girl,” a big understatement, “but it’s nice to let someone else take care of you once in a while, I guess.”

She lifts a shoulder at the question. “I could, I guess. I mean, we traveled from Colorado to Pennsylvania during the war, so it was all new places, to me. Then I eventually made it to New York.” Her expression turns a little wry. “Not really for fun, but lots of exploring, I guess. Doing it for fun would be a change. I used to like it, I think.” It feels so long ago, for Chess — and hard to remember life before mere survival.

“What sort of places?” she asks.

“Raquelle probably knows about those.” There was once a conversation with Raquelle about janky feet, that the teen remembers happening. “I can take you to meet him.” Maybe they could try the mani pedi thing then.

As for exploring, “I could explore any sort of place.” Jac leans forward and then back, kicking her legs backward then forward at the same time. It gives her swing a little bit of a boost to its motion. “I used to explore the tunnels beneath the city. It's more fun with friends.” Not to mention safer. “Since… since the rats, I haven't been back there. But there's places I haven't been to yet. Like the beach.”

She swings back and forth for a bit, quiet except for the creak of the swing. “There's an old library in Park Slope I've always wanted to find. And the abandoned subways. I've seen a couple, but there's miles and miles of them.”

Chess bites her tongue to keep from saying to ‘be careful’ in Park Slope and abandoned subways; after all, Jac’s more powerful than most, less fragile than even she is. “I haven’t been to Park Slope since I met Alix,” she says. And Ivy — but she doesn’t mention that. Her brows draw together at the sudden pang of grief in her chest. She closes her eyes and tips her face skyward for a moment, taking a breath with the rise of the swing.

“Some of the subways are neat. The tile art… it’s like you see in the old movies about New York,” she says. “It makes me wish I’d seen it before the war, sometimes. Or before the 2000s, I guess.”

Pulling her feet back, she then extends them, a little higher, a little longer. “Maybe somewhere more cheerful would be in order — the beach is easy. We can definitely do the beach, when it’s a little warmer,” she suggests.

“When it's warmer,” Jac agrees easily enough. Maybe by then things will be settled, back to whatever normal is, without the crushing weight of her problems.

She leans way back, tucks her legs to keep them from dragging, the swing continuing to carry her. “I found a tank underground. Like an actual army tank, in the access tunnels. It was half crushed and buried.” But still a pretty amazing find, in her opinion. “I don't know how it got there, it was on a switch that was used to change subway trains.”

“Huh. Maybe they pissed off the wrong terrakinetic or something,” Chess suggests. The visual brings her back to her own time fighting army vehicles, and it isn’t the sort of thing she plans to share. They’ve had their own battle that went badly to recover from without recounting the war.

“The city — the whole country really — is full of forgotten thing,” she says thoughtfully. “When I was still roaming around, just a few weeks before coming to New York, I came across one of the old robots. I blew that shit up.” She laughs, glancing over at Jac. “It was super satisfying, not gonna lie.”

Her feet lower, finding the sand beneath to drag in to slow her swinging. “Probably need to find healthier ways of venting my anger, one of these days. What do you recommend?” she says wryly.

“Blowing up old robots sounds like a good way to me,” Jac admits quietly. She can't find anything obviously wrong with it. No one is getting hurt and the world could use less killer robots. “More cathartic than hiding in your room and hoping people forget how badly you messed up. Useful, too, keeping the technology from the bad guys.”

Chess stops swinging, turning to face Jac. “Whatever happened that day, it wasn’t your fault. I don’t know if you picked up on it yet, but Adam is the one to blame. You should never have had that responsibility laid on you — I don’t care if you wanted it — and his plan was fucked up.”

Her voice doesn’t raise, but there’s a vehemence in the words, much like her protests to Adam. “We weren’t allowed to know the plan, so we couldn’t tell him that going in, and it’s not your fault you trusted him. But any blame for what happened that day isn’t yours. It’s on the adults who should have known better. Including me, okay?” She looks away, her dark eyes narrowing with that inward-facing anger. “And I know you don’t want to be told you’re just a kid — no one does — but it’s true.”

A foot drags through the sand, and Jac looks up at Chess without facing her. Her brows furrow, worry coaxing her toward withdrawing. But for as much as she'd argue that it was her choice in everything she also wants to believe her half sister that she shouldn't have any blame for that day in Detroit. She teeters on an edge between the two understandings.

The teen’s head dips when Chess looks away. Jac searches the sand at her feet. Fingers follow the chain in her grasp, tracing one link and then a second. “Yeah,” she settles on, without commitment while glancing sidelong at Chess. She abandons her swing, chain rattling and creaking, but instead of walking away she takes the couple of steps to hug Chess.

When Jac gets up, Chess’ brows draw together — assuming she’d pissed off the teenager by telling her she’s a kid or by going too far in maligning their genetic father when Jac had believed in him far more than Chess ever had. She’s about to apologize when she finds herself in a hug.

After a brief second of surprise, she returns it. Her eyes well up with tears and she takes a deep breath that is released in shaky sigh.

“You’ll be okay. You’ve got people who love you, all right? The world doesn’t blame you for what happened and it doesn’t blame you for what didn’t happen, either.”

She leans back, her dark eyes seeking Jac’s blue. “And if there’s ever a next time, you’re getting a damn suit.”

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