The Eighteenth of January


chess3_icon.gif miles2_icon.gif

Scene Title The Eighteenth of January
Synopsis …is an important day in history, and the worst day in Chess', making it strange timing for a teleporter to visit her out of the blue.
Date January 18, 2020

California Safe Zone, Oakland Waterfront

On this day of all days, Chess Lang doesn’t want to be inside what to her has come to feel a little bit like a prison.

She can come and go, of course. She could leave, altogether, if she wanted to. Part of her wants to — a large part, in fact. But she came to Praxia with a purpose and that purpose has yet to be fulfilled. Still, today, surrounded by the hundreds of people in the Ziggurat, she wants to be alone with her grief.

It’s a little ironic that when she sits, windblown and alone, on an empty strip of grassy beach in Oakland, that the ugly gray concrete landscape of Praxia looms on the horizon.

Miles Dylan’s grave isn’t here to cry over. It’s 3000 miles east in Pennsylvania. This scrap of beach doesn’t resemble anything she associates with the boy who stood by her when no one else would, nor the man he grew into. The man who saved her life and sacrificed his own.

That doesn’t keep Chess from crying. The chilly January wind dries her tears as soon as they fall.

The thing about being a teleporter is that you can…well, teleport. Miles may or may not have tried to teleport into the facility, but if he did he soon discovered that this was a bad idea. Oh, sure, it didn’t kill him — or wouldn’t, rather, since we’re speaking hypothetically, of course — but it wouldn’t and also didn’t feel that amazing.

Not that he’d do that, though. This is all a thought exercise.

Eventually, though, he does decide to check on her. Probably the first time. He definitely didn’t try and fail before. However, when he materializes by her and she’s crying, it’s probably not what he expected or prepared himself for. “Uh.” He stops, looking around a little awkwardly, before he adds, “Sorry, I…okay, this was a really bad idea. Sorry.” Why he doesn’t just teleport away before she sees him is a mystery for the ages. He does, however, turn around to start walking back the other way.

The voice of someone else on this quiet stretch of beach isn’t what breaks through her thoughts and memories. Not when that same voice is on auto-repeat, looping through her mind over and over again. There are memories that are sharp, clear, like they’ve been preserved in HD, and others that didn’t seem as important that are wispier, frayed around the edges. Diluted. Dampened.

It’s some of those she’s trying to grasp at. The simpler moments. Quiet lunch conversations talking about favorite bands or movies. Quieter moments spent in silent camaraderie on porch swings. The moments that didn’t feel essential because they were the ordinary moments of living, rather than merely surviving.

She doesn’t look up when she hears his voice, but when she hears him begin to walk away.

Chess whips her head around to stare up at his retreating back and she huffs softly. It’s disbelief, not anger, though.

“No, wait,” she says, rising and brushing off the dead grass from her pants. “Stay.” That sounds bossy. She adds, “Please?”

Will he stop when he’s told to? He doesn’t do it immediately, but there’s really only one or two steps before she adds the ‘please’ at the end. So, it’s really unclear whether he was waiting for that, or whether he was going to have stopped anyway. Probably the latter.

Either way, though, he does stop, and when he does there’s only another second or two before he turns toward her again. He doesn’t look directly at her, as though still giving her some kind of privacy for continued tears. It’s likely from the angle that he has her in the periphery, though, and it makes for a bit of a strange expression, but maybe he’ll be forgiven.

It takes him longer to actually say anything else, though — but eventually he does. “I wanted to make sure you were okay,” he says, mostly in explanation and only a tiny bit defensively. “Are you okay?”

“It’s fine,” she says quickly, picking up on the defensive note in his voice. She studies the ground between them, the spotty yellow-green grass making the most of this untouched bit of shoreline. Her foot, clad in black Chucks, kicks at a rock for a moment before she answers his question.

“Yes and no,” is an ambiguous answer, accompanied by a small, weary sort of smile. “I’m okay here,” Chess adds, with a nod to the pyramid in the distance that’s been her home for the past so many months. “No one’s got me chained up in the basement for mad scientist experiments or anything.”

Which was probably obvious, given their location.

“I mean, obviously,” she adds, cheeks flushing a little.

Her brows draw together and she looks up at him. “It’s nice of you to check. Did… did Luther or Eve ask you to?” Her words are cautious, not accusative.

It’s hard to say whether the quick response makes Miles less defensive, but at least he doesn’t say anything horrible, so that’s an improvement on their last couple of meetings, surely. So far, so good.

“Well, that’s good. You never really want to be chained up in the basement for mad scientist experiments unless it’s for fun mad scientist experiments.” His tone is joking, but it falls a little flat, likely due to the fact that he still feels somewhat awkward about the whole thing. But he’s still here, so that’s something.

As for the last question, he shakes his head, reaching up to run a hand back through his hair. “No,” he says. “I actually haven’t seen either of them that recently. I’ve kind of been hermiting.” This draws a smile, though it’s more wry than happy. “So I haven’t really seen much of anyone except myself, as horrifying as that sounds.”

Chess huffs a short laugh. It’s not bitter, but still a little hollow sounding. “I get that. I’ve been doing a lot of that myself. As much as you can in a building like that,” she says, nodding to the pyramid across the way. “Lots of running on the treadmill not talking to people or curled up on the couch not talking to people or reading a book not talking to people… You get the idea.”

She smiles faintly, crouching down to pick up a stone, turning it in her hand for a moment, before she rises again. “It’s not that bad. I do actually speak to some people. Alix is with me, still, so.” She lifts her shoulders. “Other sisters.”

With a flick of her wrist, she sends the stone skipping across the water’s surface, watching it as it hops eight times before sinking.

Chess turns to face him. “You must think I’m always crying,” she says with a smirk. “I swear it’s not true. Just… you don’t know what today is, do you?”

Miles looks toward the pyramid in question, squinting at it as it sits there looming across the bay. Or as much as it can loom, seeing as it’s pretty far away. Somewhat, anyway. It’s a presence, just as much as size, with this one. “Sounds like a blast,” he says as he turns back to her. Pun intended? Probably not, but who knows.

“That’s good,” he continues, at the mention of Alix and her other sisters. Some of them, anyway. “It’s nice to at least have the option of talking to someone, even if you mostly choose not to.”

The hand that was in his hair comes down to his side and slides into his pocket, and he fidgets a little bit, shifting from foot to foot for a few seconds before he stills. “I’m going to assume you’re not looking for me to tell you it’s Saturday,” he quips, before his expression turns more curious. “I don’t really go around thinking about how much you cry or don’t, I don’t think it makes you less tough or anything.”

His words draw a small smile from Chess and she nods to each of the things he says, but remains quiet for a little too long after he stops speaking. It’s clear she’s deciding whether or not to explain the significance of the day. The longer she waits, it’s probably more and more obvious what day it is.

“It’s the anniversary of Raven Rock,” Chess finally says softly. “Basically the day we won the war, though it wasn’t official until the next day.” Tomorrow, back in New York, there might be some minor fireworks displays, a sort of smaller Fourth of July.

She slides her hands into her pockets, a smaller mirror image of his posture. “It’s been six years since he died,” she says softly, then exhales another soft breath, this time colored by some surprise, and then sorrow. “I just realized. I only knew him for four years. He’s been gone longer than the time I had with him.”

Her eyes return to the gray concrete of Praxia across the way. Tears well up in her eyes, but don’t fall. “It doesn’t feel like it’s gotten any smaller.” Her hand slides out of her pocket to touch her chest.


The confusion dissipates with the explanation, and with it comes a small wince at the timing that really could have been better, on his part. The shifting starts again, subtle but noticeable if one was paying attention. One foot, then the other, back on his heels and up a little bit on the balls of his feet, then repeat.

“That’s a weird feeling,” he offers after a moment, his voice quiet. “Once things were so big at the time are that far past.” His mouth twists at the end, and he looks away, too, fixing on the building across the water again, though without much intent to scrutinize it. It’s just the most obvious thing to look at right now that isn’t her.

“I always thought the people who said stuff like that gets better were a little suspect,” he continues after a brief pause. “Maybe it’s just me but I haven’t seen a whole lot get a whole lot better. I might not be doing it right, though.” He takes in a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “I’m sorry.”

Chess glances at him, then down at the ground again. “Yeah. It still feels that big, but the world keeps moving, you know? It doesn’t feel like it should. There’s a poem I read once that captures that idea exactly. By Auden. Like… I’m not a narcissist. I know the world doesn’t revolve around me, but it just seems impossible that things can continue normally.”

Her foot kicks at the rock again, sending it rolling a few inches.

“I never did,” she admits. “Not that there was a normal for me anyway. So I guess I’m not doing it right, either.” There’s a small smile at that — she knows there’s no ‘right’ path for a grieving heart, though there are certainly some wrong ones. And she’s been down some of those.

“I think after a while we learn to live with the grief and it becomes the new normal, and that feels like progress for some people.” Chess lifts her shoulders. “It doesn’t feel that way for me.”

“I don’t know if being sad makes you a narcissist.” Again, maybe it’s a gentle attempt at a joke, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. Of course, it’s not meant to draw laughs so much as lighten things even a tiny bit, so maybe it does better on that count. The tone shifts again back to more serious when he adds, “I know what you mean, though.”

He shrugs, the shifting coming to a stop as he settles, some of the awkwardness leaving him now. “I guess,” he agrees. “At least learning to live with it isn’t the worst thing, though. A little better than the alternative.”

Her lips curve into a small smile to acknowledge his words. “I feel I’ve been a little self absorbed, at least when it comes to you. Like how it all affects me, but not how it must be for you.” She reaches up to push a lock of blond hair behind her ear when the breeze blows it across her face.

“There’s someone I know from New York in there — a couple of people, actually,” Chess says, jutting her chin to the Ziggurat. “And she said something that I think is a part of it. That the fight’s never over and we’re always living in the aftermath of one crisis or the next.”

Her gaze flits back up to his, and she squints a little in the sunlight. “I was never into psychology, but I’m sure that doing that doesn’t really help a person progress emotionally. So I’m sort of stuck on January 18, 2014 perpetually.”

After a short, breathy laugh, she adds, “Worse than Groundhog’s Day.”

Miles does look back at her then, and his smile pulls up again just at the corners as he points out, reasonably, “Well, why wouldn’t you be? You don’t know me.” It’s not said bitterly. His tone isn’t even wry, just matter-of-fact. Why would someone do very much considering of the feelings of someone they don’t know?

He doesn’t look away when her eyes come up to his, and his expression right now is much more serene than the times she’s seen him before. More thoughtful, maybe, less closed off. Not that he offers any of those feelings right now, but still, it’s worth noting. “That does suck,” he agrees. “Not having time to rest. Maybe after this is all over you’ll get a little reprieve.” He doesn’t sound like he necessarily believes it, but stranger things have certainly happened. “Or maybe next year something amazing will happen and you’ll be able to reclaim the day a little bit.”

“I don’t know, empathy?” is her wry reply to his question, even if it was meant rhetorically. “From what it sounds like, where you lived was even rougher than here. But I mean, I generally try to care about what other people are going through. Even ones I don’t know.”

She takes a breath and smiles a little at his optimistic ‘maybes.’ Chess doesn’t believe them any more than he sounds like he does, but it’s nice of him to try. “Maybe.”

Another moment passes, and she passes it by fiddling with the zipper of her leather jacket. “I do care, you know,” she says, suddenly. “About how you’re doing. And it was nice of you to come check on me, even if I bet you wish you hadn’t. One day I’ll manage not to be a hot mess when you’re around.”

“Oh, well, sure, if you’re going to go there,” Miles says, and this does draw a huff of amusement from him. “All shared human experience and stuff. Yuck.” It’s light, and the smile settles more easily on his face, too, even though he looks away from her again and out at the water. It’s not a pointed look away, though, and his demeanor is still calm, even when she continues.

“I wouldn’t say I wish I hadn’t,” he replies, still in the same tone. “You’re a pretty cute crier. I’m really, really not, so you’d better hope you never see me in that state. Speaking of yuck.” He shudders exaggeratedly with a look of horror, though it doesn’t last long, shifting back into a smaller smile. After another pause, he adds more seriously, “Thanks. For caring. But I also wasn’t walking around being bitter at you because I thought you weren’t, for the record.” Though he still doesn’t offer how he’s doing. But it might not be purposeful, and instead he glances over at her again with that same energy — calm. Serene. A little softer than usual.


Her cheeks flush at the word and she glances down, a small smile pulling the corners of her mouth up, but a moment later it slips away, her brows knitting together thoughtfully.

She looks back up at him, and this time, the smile is a little broader, meant for him. “Well, thanks for not thinking I’m a bitter narcissist,” she says lightly, watching him for the span of a few heartbeats.

“You seem better, somehow. I don’t know. More relaxed. Things settling in or is it all that not talking to people? Or, you found a good dispensary.” Her grin suggests she doesn’t think this is actually the reason for it. “Any advice? I could use some more chill, living in the big Z.” Her head tips in the direction of the Ziggurat again.

“You’re welcome,” Miles replies magnanimously, nodding deeply toward her as he only barely manages to contain another laugh, this one a lot more genuinely amused.

As for being better, well. “Yeah, I guess,” he confirms. “No leads on the dispensary, sorry. But if I find one, I’ll let you know. I don’t mind sharing the wealth.” Again there’s that slightly more serious tone, the more thoughtful expression, as he says, “I don’t know. Like you said, things are a lot better here. I don’t really have a whole lot more direction, but it’s not quite the young adult dystopian fantasy that I came from. So things are looking up. Or at least straight ahead and not down into the Pit of Despair.” That could all read a little dark — shockingly — but his tone is actually not that. “Lynette’s been really great. I have a life, even though it doesn’t always feel like mine. I guess it all just took some getting used to. You know?”

Chess nods. “I hear ya, Peeta,” she quips, then nods to the Ziggurat again. “I’m still stuck in my scifi novel, I guess. Can’t really get away from that when you’re a genetically-engineered soldier clone, I guess.”

She gives him a wry smile. “I think I’m a little too short to be a stormtrooper,” she adds. Her brows knit together as she realizes she isn’t sure if this Miles knows all the Star Wars lore the other Miles did. She pushes away the thought and reaches over to pat his shoulder lightly.

“I’m glad it’s better. Let’s hope it stays that way,” she says quietly. The threats she’s here in Praxia to help stop might change that, if what Adam says is true, but she doesn’t voice that doubt aloud.

It seems that Miles does get the reference — either that or he knows when to laugh, because the comment draws an amused snort from him and he nods. “Well, you can still rescue me any time I need it,” he replies, looking over at her with a wider smile, partly in response to the comment and partly the pat on the shoulder. It’s mostly joking. Hopefully he won’t need rescuing any time soon.

“Yeah. Dare to dream.” It’s a nice thought. He’s quiet for a couple seconds, before he asks, “So, when do you think you’re coming back? Or are you a California girl now?” He says it lightly, couched in nonchalance, but maybe there’s a tiny bit of apprehension in the curiosity. But maybe not — after all, it isn’t as though they hung out before.

It takes a moment for her to get the joke — The other Miles was the Star Wars devotee while she was more a casual fan — but she smiles a little wryly. It’s an ironic quote, coming from him, on this day of all days.

Luckily there’s something else to reply to, even if Chess doesn’t have a good answer for it. “I don’t know,” she says quietly, crouching down to pick up another stone and sending it in a series of graceful hops over the water. “But if I can, I definitely want to return to New York.”

She sighs. “We’ll see if I can clear my name from Lanhua’s shit. I went from having no real family to the most dysfunctional family of all time. To think, once I wish I had a sister.” She huffs a short laugh, then adds, “I’m kidding. Kind of. Alix and Kimberly are okay. If you see Kimbo, tell her we miss her.”

Miles nods as his eyes move to follow the stone’s path across the surface of the water. It fixes on the place where the stone sinks, even after it’s disappeared from sight. “Okay,” he says at the answer, “that’s fair.”

He makes a face at the mention of the evil twin, though he does laugh, too. Wryly, but he does. “I wouldn’t know,” he concedes, “but I feel like they’re never all they’re cracked up to be. Siblings. At least you got a couple good ones in there. I’ll tell them. If I see them.” As he said, he doesn’t really see a whole lot of people generally, but maybe he will.

“If you do get back,” he continues, circling back around after a brief pause, “and you want to hang out or anything, let me know. I don’t really have a lot going on, so. It might be nice. If you want.” Apparently he has to give that clarification twice.

“Probably true,” Chess says with a smile regarding the nature of siblings. “There are some others but I don’t know them really yet.”

When he comes around to suggesting they hang out, she glances upward, one brow lifting in some surprise. She scuffs her shoe against the ground where the rock she’d kicked once was. She’s out of rocks to dislodge or pick up in this bit of beach.

“Sure,” she says, pulling out a cell phone. With a few swipes of her fingers on the glass, she opens it to a new contact and hands it to him. “I can’t just teleport to you, so.” She assumes he has a phone by now, but maybe not, she realizes, and quickly adds, “Or I can come by the Benchmark, if you’re still there.”

Miles keeps his eyes on the water as he waits for her answer — probably just because he likes looking at water, though. No other reason. It reminds him of home, okay? Not that anyone would imagine he actually wants to be reminded of home, but still.

He does, however, glance over toward her when she says yes, and it’s hard to tell but maybe there’s a little release of tension there, in something like relief. “Right,” he says with another little huff of amusement, “but I think it might be a little creepy if I show up here too much unannounced. And that’s if you’re even out here.” So perhaps he had tried before, and gotten an unpleasant technological rebuff. He takes the phone and starts to punch in a number, as he adds, “Yeah, I am, but I have a phone now. Figured I should join this century and experience the wonders of technology for myself.” He hands it back to her with a grin. “I guess I’ll see you if I see you, then.”

Chess takes the phone and slips it back into her pocket after a glance to look at the information he’s typed in.

“Yeah, the world’s shitty but we at least have tech,” she says wryly. “I’d have died of boredom a few months ago if I didn’t have Netflix.

She hesitates, then suddenly steps forward to give him a very quick but tight hug. “In case I don’t,” she says, “It won’t be because I didn’t want to.”

When she releases him, she offers a quick smile, before ducking her head and turning to take the path that will lead her toward the ferry. If it’s the last time she sees him, Chess doesn’t want to watch him disappear — even if it’s not the right Miles.

Miles probably had some retort ready for that — but it will have to be imagined, because before he can get it out she’s hugging him, and it surprises whatever it was right out of his head. The embrace is so quick he almost misses it, which would really be awkward, but at the last second he manages to realize what’s happening, and there’s just the slightest hesitation before he returns it. It feels unpracticed, the kind of hug that comes from someone who is not really used to hugging at all and maybe doesn’t generally prefer it, but it also doesn’t feel like he’s just humoring her. It feels real, made more evident by the return of the smile when she lets go.

He doesn’t try to keep her, but just watches her go for a few moments, before he shimmers out of existence.

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