27 Candles


chess4_icon.gif luther_icon.gif

Scene Title 27 Candles
Synopsis 27 feels like an unlucky number to a certain clone, who spends a birthday lunch catching Luther up on certain aspects of her life.
Date December 13, 2020

Red Hook

This particular street in Red Hook has become quite trendy, with little boutiques and bistros that have blossomed in the last couple of years. There are plenty of choices for a Sunday brunch, so when neither Chess nor Luther could decide where to meet, they decided to just meet at the corner and see what sounded good.

It’s a warm day for December — any snow from past flurries has long since melted, and it’s not even warm enough to even need a coat. Still, Chess has donned the familiar armor of a leather jacket, and the breeze brings with it a frosty quality, as if to remind everyone this is not spring, much as it may feel like it.

Chess waits at the agreed-upon spot, beneath a bank with an old-fashioned clock jutting out of the side of the building. She leans against the wall, hands in her pockets, knee bent so the flat sole of her boot can align with the brick building behind her. Her mind is on her sisters who share her birthday, both alive and dead Twenty-seven of them.

Last year, she celebrated it in Praxia with five of them.

This year, three of those five are dead.

Further up the street, Luther's tall figure strides closer in the small group of pedestrian traffic headed in the same direction. He's easily spotted. Not because of the olive green jacket and dark shirt, blue jeans, earthy brown boots, but due to the somewhat absurdly large green gift bag lightly swinging along in time as he walks. The bulge in the bag is clearly indicative of whatever has been stuffed into it not meant to be so.

"Am I late?" he asks upon approaching within earshot. Luther checks a glance up to the double-sided clock above them.

She straightens, dropping her foot to firm ground, and smiles as he approaches, “Still my birthday for another 11 hours and 54 minutes, so nah,” she says, standing on tiptoes to hug him and press a quick kiss against his cheek.

“You didn’t have to get me anything,” she adds, a dubious look to the large green parcel, but she gestures to the street of food options before them. “I’m game for anything except pizza, so you choose.” Businesses advertising dim sum, shawarma, Korean barbecue, burgers and shakes, crepes, and Cuban food are all visible just from where they stand.

While he looks, she adds, “I’m going to head over to see Alix after, if you want to come. It’s her birthday, too.” It may be easy to forget that the sisters are actually fraternal twins in a way and were born on the same day 27 years ago.

"Of course I do," Luther answers to the subject of going to visit Alix, adding with a nod back in the direction he came, "Her gift's still in the car."

His hug is a short, tight squeeze and release before he exchanges possession of it to Chess. The roundness of the not-quite tissue paper, more along the lines of white and tan butcher paper for wrapping meats with (but it's not meat, of course), still keeps the parcel's contents mostly concealed. It's no bowling ball.

He turns to consider the spread of food options available and makes a thoughtful face. "You're going to make me choose? Alright… Crepes. Maybe they'll have one of those, y'know, lotta layers cake. With all the thin frostings in the middle of them. I saw it on TV." He's determined, it would seem, to make this celebratory even if he sounds slightly awkward to suggest it.

Chess hefts the bag to test its weight — it’s definitely light — but she doesn’t open it just yet. Her brow lifts at the mention of lotta layers and she grins. “You watch baking shows,” she says in an amused, yet accusatory voice, pointing the finger of her free-hand at him.

“That’s adorable. All right, crepes it is. Who doesn’t love pancakes with other food in them, after all?” she says, reaching to hook her arm in his and heading in that direction. “We can see Eve too, hopefully. She’s embarrassing poor Alix. I cannot even imagine.”

Only she can.

The little crepe place is of course decorated with a French theme, but it’s cute and quaint enough, and the waitress directs the two to take a seat by the window.

Once situated, Chess puts the bag on the table and peers into it, before reaching in to retrieve the angry-looking black-and-tan Shiba Inu half-plush, half-pillow. She laughs aloud and hugs it to her. “Did you get Alix a cream one?” she guesses, before adding, “Thank you! I love it,” and reaching across the way to squeeze his hand in thanks.

Shrugging exaggeratedly, Luther hardly looks offended by the light accusation. "Sure do," he admits at the ready, a hand scrubbing the underside of his chin, "you learn a lot of things in them. Still can't really remember converting Celsius to Farenheit, though." And that's where he leaves it and gladly takes her arm onto his to enter the creperie.

Once seated by the window, Luther looks on with anticipation as presents are explored. Seeing Chess genuinely laugh and hug the stuffed Shiba to her is all he could ask for in reaction. Himself grinning with the bit of crow's feet at the edges of his eyes, he takes a moment to compose himself enough to answer her question and squeeze his fingers around hers. "I did, how'd you guess?" he says with a nod to confirm Alix's unseen gift. "Don't know if it's going to be considered contraband when we get there, though. And Kim - I sent her a grey one." The last sister, Chess' identical twin, had been given some space to work on processing the crazy times they'd all experienced.

Really it was all they could do, keep as many of their loved ones out of prison and visit those still in them.

Luther's eyes dip down to the menu placed before him, but his focus doesn't narrow on the images of fresh sliced strawberries and decadent chocolate drizzle, or savory mushrooms paired with leafy greens and garlic accompaniements to the thin crepes. "I'm glad you like it," he says quietly. "Before we get any further though, happy birthday, Chess. You do deserve to have one." Grey eyes flick back up in seeking out hers, his expression bearing a gentler push of the sentiment.

“They will probably x-ray it. It should be safe,” she says softly, regarding Alix’s present. At his last words, though, her gaze drops and then she looks away, out the window. Chess has never said she didn’t deserve a happy birthday, but he knows she thought Miles made the wrong choice to save her so many years ago. She hasn’t had a happy birthday since.

“Thank you,” she says, not arguing with the sentiment. “It’s already better than last year’s, anyway.” She tries to smile, but the words feel traitorous to the fallen sisters and she sighs, looking down at the menu, something to focus on.

“Twenty-seven feels like I should have my shit together, more than I do. Maybe once 2020 is in the rearview mirror, though. Two more weeks of not being a functioning adult, and then I swear I’ll start.” Her teeth flash at last in an actual grin, but then she adds more seriously, “I’ve been trying. To be an actual person living in civilization again. Or, you know. For the first time ever. Aside from Deveaux, even.”

She looks up from the menu. “It’s been interesting.”

Gentleness gives way to a short, rough grunt of dissatisfaction as Luther thinks back to events of last year. "'S not your fault. Some choices weren't the best, but." He doesn't finish the thought, given that they both know and have reviewed the events plenty of times both waking and unconscious.

Luther nods to her feelings about being twenty-seven anyway, the faint groan that escapes him accompanying a shake of his head in disbelief. When she looks up from the menu, she finds him mirroring her previous grin, but wryly. "That's the spirit. Or maybe I should say, different spirit. Somethin' I'll work towards, too. We'll all have something to keep us in line."

He lowers his menu, having decided on something on it, but then thinks to flip it over and there's a whole other side to give a once-over and distract from darker thoughts. Or at least, he tries to.

"I got married."

The quiet interrupts with a stray thought from Luther's mental calculations. While he's skimming over a double cafe mocha, the words come from him before he really stops them. "1996, October. She wasn't going to wait for the quarter to finish." On that thought, he glances up again to Chess. “Not that things now are anywhere close to what it was like then.” His throat clears quietly.

Having made her selections, Chess closes the menu and sets it aside. Her brow tics up when he says he got married, not realizing he’s thinking back to where he was when he was her age. Right before she can ask, though, he elaborates and she reaches over to squeeze his arm.

Her smile tips up. “For a second I thought it was someone at that community thing you go to sometimes and that she made you get married at the courthouse without telling any of us. I was beginning to plot a murder,” she says wryly, maybe to keep them from delving too deeply into the past losses, his or hers.

“God, marriage at 27. I can’t even imagine it. I still feel like I’m 16 sometimes. And also like I’m 80 years old,” she muses, looking out the window. She’s about to speak again when the server comes by, so Chess orders quickly — mushroom and gruyere with greens. Once the server has taken both their orders and turned away, Chess has found a packet of sugar to fiddle with a little nervously.

“Speaking of relationships,” is an awkward segue, “I’m actually seeing somebody.”

"You said you were going to be a functioning adult," Luther notes, a faint, fatherly frown twisting his expression. Not only on the dark humor of plotting a murder - he realizes belatedly, internal and worrying, that he feels a protective surge churn up from within - but also in surprise to a confession of relationships.

Their order might take a bit longer, given Luther's multi-crepe request, but that gives them time. He'll need it.

Brows lifted, he leans in closer and looks on to the nervous young woman more directly. "Oh. What are they like?"

“What, functioning adults can’t plot murders? It’s hardly something a kid should be doing,” Chess quips.

But the question of what Castle is like is a hard one to answer, and she looks away again, shaking her head slightly as a small smile pulls the corners of her mouth upward. It’s a look that he’s not seen in years — one that shows she’s utterly smitten, and probably a little embarrassed about it.

“Amazing,” Chess says softly, before adding, “Complicated… A little weird.” She huffs a small breathy laugh at that, before her gaze returns to his. No doubt Luther can see fear and pain in her dark eyes, along with that doe-eyed something for the mystery person she’s talking about.

“I thought he’d just be a one night stand,” Chess murmurs. “I tried to break things off after a few days, but…” She shrugs, reaching for the glass of water the server had dropped off when he took their order. She takes a deep breath, then says quickly, “It’s the agent that arrested Eve,” before taking a swallow of water.

Recognizing the look she's got in her eyes, Luther tilts his head one way then another at the adjectives attributed to this new beau. The smile pulling at the edge of her mouth returning appears to be a reassurance to the man. He settles back further into his chair, easing from some subconscious, curious pressure on the path to discover more of the one who's caught his war-daughter's eye, mind… heart.

"The agent who—"

Luther cuts off as he recalls Agent Castle. "Huh." Running a hand down along his chin, he looks conflicted more than anything as the events of that traumatic day had been reversed by the agent's supernatural power, but the memories of the attack - of Chess' paled expression as he held her - haven't faded by much.

"He saved your life." The words come out quietly, as delicate as the thin pancakes being cooked over round griddle a few feet away. The subject requires it. Studying Chess across the table again, Luther also reaches for his water, but doesn't quite make to drink from it. The glass is turned around in his fingers.

"But yeah, he arrested Eve. I heard he's out here investigatin' about the crash up north." The one that's not known to too many outside of their small social circles that's had worse ripple effects than merely surviving an accident. "Shit's always complicated," he observes evenly, brow furrowing for a few beats. But when he looks back up from the water, a thin, wry smile curls at his mouth corners. "Hey, at least you didn't tell him about the whole being accessory to kidnapping a man from another country and holding him hostage, right? Or maybe you did and he’s not scared off so easy." And finally, a sip. The accompanying calculating, thoughtful expression obscured by the glass lingers after he sets it back down.

Functioning adults, all of them.

“He did,” Chess murmurs, musing silently for a moment on the irony that she’s falling for a person for saving her life when it’s the one thing she could never forgive Miles for. But his next words draw a huff of a laugh from her, and she shakes her head.

“I didn’t have anything to do with that!” she says with a laugh, tossing the sugar packet at him. “And that’s hardly the worst of my transgressions. But he knows the other shit. Adam. Detroit. At least most of it.”

There are things they’ve never talked about — the betrayal from Val, Vi, and Lanhua. The deaths of Vi and Ivy. Things far too heavy for a fledgling relationship she’s barely admitted is one.

“In his defense, he didn’t think it’d be more than a catch and release, like they had done with me,” she adds, feeling the need to defend Castle even though Luther doesn’t seem as fazed as she expected. “Anyway. Yeah. I really don’t know how to do this, but it’s part of my whole ‘rejoin society, be a real person’ campaign so we’ll see how it goes. I’m sure I’ll fuck it up.”

Perhaps Castle could be forgiven for just doing his job when it came to arresting Eve, it's true. Luther can empathize and understand that much, nodding slowly. The thrown sugar packet plops harmlessly against his shirt, eliciting a soft snort of amusement as he reaches down to retrieve it. "Alright, you didn't have anything to do with Tae, that's true. And I'll argue that in court 'til my face is blue."

As she goes on defending, Luther turns around the small white packet in his fingers, looking at it absently until Chess remarks on her rejoining society. He stops and flicks the sugar back in her direction, not aimed right for her but it lands atop the broad plushy body of the Shiba plush's head and comically contrasts the surly with sweet.

"You won't fuck it up. Because you're you," Luther assures firmly with the steady faith of a fatherly feeling. "And if the past few years have taught us anything at all, it's maybe that this society ain't the best, but it's what we got to work with. And that we belong in it. You belong in it." His gaze lands back on Chess, on the young woman whose background has since been revealed to have such strange complications and yet, to him, has only moved the gauge further into wholehearted acceptance of her.

But after another beat, Luther frowns mildly again as he considers, "You're sure he's not just trying to get dirt to use against Eve? Against Alix? Against you?" A little sprinkle of the borderline conspiracy theory paranoia falls on his conversational tone.

Chess’ eyes widen and her usual soft huff of a laugh evolves into an actually audible ha. “I’m sorry, but have you met me? What don’t I fuck up?” she says, shaking her head in amused disbelief. “I almost did, fuck it up. I walked away and ignored his messages for three weeks. But I couldn’t stop thinking about him. That’s never happened to me before.”

Her cheeks color at that admission, and she picks up the sugar packet to toy with again, worrying at its paper edges with her fingertips. Luther’s concerns about Castle using her are met with a scowl, and Chess shakes her head firmly. It’s Luther’s job to worry, self appointed as that job is, but it doesn’t make her like it any better.

“I don’t think so. And he’s told me something he probably shouldn’t have. If there’s a breach of trust, it’s between him and his agency, not him and me.” That might not be the best defense as to Castle’s general trustworthiness, but it’s an honest one. “I don’t think they care about Alix or me — we’re not their concern. It’s… more to do with who — what — we didn’t catch.”

The Entity.

Chess looks up from the packet to Luther, her dark eyes solemn. She presses her lips together, then looks away, her gaze alighting on something outside the window. “I’m terrified of losing him like Miles, and a dozen times a day I think I should just end it so that I don’t have to go through it again. And the fact I feel like this already is…” She heaves a sigh, “…fucking stupid.”

The server arrives with their food, and Chess murmurs, “Oh, thank God,” under her breath.

"Hey, I meant it," insists Luther at her disbelieving laugh. "You're not a fuck up. And when - if - it does happen, you're a fuckin' human being and that you got a soul inside that says you make it right however you can. That's how it goes." The mild pushback is their typical back and forth, so at least he's not truly annoyed at the self-deprecating tones Chess tends to take. Forgive a father for being a hype man.

Shoulders roll back and he makes himself relax from the press as she goes on and looks at him with those eyes. He sighs, a low grunt loosed from the chest as they share the moment of remembering loves lost. Rubbing at his chin again, he waits for the server to finish dropping off their meal and return to work stations. The break is indeed a welcome one.

"It's your birthday and you can cry if you want to," Luther rumbles as fingers slip a fork closer to hand. "But I'm happy that you're happy with him, and do what you can to protect that happiness. It's… it's not stupid to have fear, or to have feelings." He's looking down at his chocolate sauce swizzled crepe dusted with powdered sugar and a side of berries as he says it, but his gaze lifts to Chess after the last. "Our world's crazy enough as it is. Taking on what you did,… no one's going to blame you." Well, he isn't. And so concludes that she shouldn't either. Again, ever the hype man.

“I don’t want to cry,” Chess protests, but laughs, reaching up to wipe her eyes where the tears have welled up. “So much has changed since last year at this time.”

Her own hand finds a fork and she cuts into the crepe, so he knows not to wait on her to eat his own lunch dessert. “People should blame us for how we did it,” she says, though it’s with a tired sort of resignation rather than vehement anger. “I didn’t know, and I wouldn’t have helped if I’d known what was going to happen, what he was planning.” The he is no longer Basil, but Adam, but their conversations always shift and move around and it’s not hard for them to figure out what tangent the other has gone on after so many years.

“Anyway, let’s not go over that shit again,” she says wryly, poking at her crepe but not quite bringing any of it to her mouth. “Raven Rock’s putting up a memorial, on the anniversary this year.” She manages to spear a little of the crepe with her fork at last, before looking up at him. “I was going to go anyway since it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been able to.”

That’s sugarcoating a bit, given she was in Praxia one year and in hiding the year before.

“Do you want to go?”

On the one hand, Luther can well and fully continue stubbornly simmering any time, any place Adam Monroe is concerned. But as Chess says, it's a dead (or at least extremely comatose) horse to beat on that he needs little incentive to ignore. His fork jabs a strawberry slice. That's the end of it. For now.

"Putting that memorial up finally, huh? I got mixed feelings," admits Luther as he pops the poked berry down. "Mainly, who're they going to get to protect it from vandals." But it didn't answer her question about him going or not, and he looks down briefly to his dish to contemplate before he nods. "Yeah. I want to go. We should, since… yeah." The events of the past years have been a strange series of setbacks in that regard.

"Did you want to go, carpool?" Hesitation enters his voice at that suggestion like he's full-on aware of the state they both could be in. Also, possibly, awkwardly imposing himself into space she may want on her own. He covers with the question with a shovel of crepe into craw.

Chess lifts her shoulders at the mention of vandals. The top of the mountain isn’t where her heart was broken. How they maintain a cold piece of rock carved with the names of the lost isn’t something she’ll spend her nights fretting over.

She has plenty of other things to fret over.

“Baz — Castle — wants to go, so either way. There’s room.” She finally manages to take a couple of bites of her meal, lest Luther worry she’ll waste away. “I haven’t told him about it, really. He knows I was there, but not the rest of it.”

Not about Miles, but certainly he knows she lost something important that day. And if he’s read any of Agent Harris’ notes, he may know more than she thinks he does.

Suddenly she huffs a laugh and drops her fork, reaching up to scrub her hand over her face.

“Jesus. That’s like a month away. We probably won’t even be a thing anymore. You see how insane I am right now? Insane.” She lets her face fall into her hands, shoulders rising with a couple of hitches of laughter. “Fucking dumb.”

"'Baz' wants to go huh?" That little bit seals it for Luther. He's going, but as Chess goes on with her face in her hands, the man blows out a long sigh and sets his fork down. A hand reaches for one of hers to pull it away. "I don't see insane. I see in love. Which is alright, Chess. It's okay to feel that."

He gives his head a small knowing shake, returning to the meal. "Hell, I'll drive separate and give you two a nice long trip together, figure out how long you can stand each other, trapped in an enclosed space. Road trips are real good for that." So it is decided. Or rather, expected.

When he pulls her hand away, Chess looks up, eyes widening at the phrase he uses. In love. She shakes her head, reaches for her water and takes a sip, then shakes her head again.

“I’ve only known him a month and a half, and for half of it we weren’t talking,” she says, her cheeks flushed as she reaches for a fork and stabs a mushroom. “He’s just… “ She sighs, trying to find the words to explain him. “Too fucking charming or something, and I shouldn’t have gone home with him, but then I just couldn’t manage to give him the whole ‘I don’t date’ spiel and now… I don’t know.”

Her gaze flits to the window, then back to Luther. “Now it would hurt both of us if I ended it, I guess. I could deal with it, but the thought of hurting him…” she trails off again, brows drawing together as if the thought physically pains her. “It’s fine. I’ll fuck it up at some point and be back to normal. Whatever that is.”

"Still sounds like a rough deal to just break it off," Luther agrees after a chew, giving both of them enough bites in silence to contemplate their subject. The faint frown lingering at the corners of his mouth doesn't entirely disappear even as he lodges protest again in the form of a grunted "No. You won't." to her self-deprecating tone. "Fine, fine. You like him. A lot. He's charming, got that bit of… glow." Well, whatever the nature of Castle's power actually is, Luther is willing to accept it. "Fair? Go along with it, as long as it feels right."

He cuts off a new piece of crepe and pokes it onto his fork. "But let's face it… Normal's not the look for folks like us. But doesn't mean we can't try to blend in a bit." The man shrugs, popping the piece in. Brows lift, daring her to disagree.

At the word “glow,” Chess huffs a short laugh. “Yeah, that’d be the rosehip oil handmade soap, I think,” she says, rolling her eyes as if annoyed by the man in question’s penchant for bath products when she’d be fine with a bottle of combination shampoo-conditioner-shower-gel. Despite the eye rolling, she can’t help the fond smile that creeps into the corners of her mouth.

She does have to admit, her hair looks a lot better when she shampoos at Basil’s boat.

“I meant normal for me, which is being alone forever with a one-night stand every few months to remind myself why I don’t date,” Chess adds to Luther. “The last one was actually a decent guy, even if I did buy refrain from him, and the one before that was that nutcase on Staten Island, and now I realize that you can probably count how many times prior to Basil I’ve had any and that is super embarrassing.”

The last words come in a tumble as she laughs into her glass, but then she grows more serious.

“I’d say that probably is why I fell so quick, but it’s not. He’s just… I don’t know. A beautiful person. And for some reason he thinks I’m worthy of him. It’s like a gift I didn’t know I needed, somehow.” Her eyes well up with tears and she looks down for a moment, then back up at him. “I’ve turned sappy in my old age. All right. We should go see Alix.”

"XXX details are wholly unnecessary," Luther says quickly after he gulps down the bite of crepe he had been chewing on. The hard swallow and grimace isn't for the embarrassment, but for the mention of Refrain. All it amounts to is a look that he holds back on, because nevertheless he wants to sound supportive of her. To a point. "You'll get more sappy as the days go on, it's true. And I'm happy, as long as you're happy."

The implication being if she's ever unhappy, he'll be right there too, to deal with the reasons for said unhappiness.

He nods to the note about Alix, casting a glance at his watch. "Alright. Before we go, let's pick somethin' that'll be just obnoxious to x-ray." With a mischievous twist of his smile, he lifts his hand to flag down the server.

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