A Ghost is a Wish


chess3_icon.gif lynette4_icon.gif miles2_icon.gif

Scene Title A Ghost is a Wish
Synopsis A traveler from the Flooded universe meets someone who has been mourning his parallel self in this one.
Date April 5, 2019

The Benchmark

It’s been some time since Chess was a resident at Benchmark, and that much time to realize she left a book or two there that she had been reading. But it’s not a purely selfish return to the center that had sheltered her and been a refuge for so many months. She carries with her a cardboard caddy of coffees for the friends she has within.

When the Uber driver stops (she has finally stopped merely walking all over town, and keeps in shape instead at the Cresting Wave’s gym), she thanks him, punching the app with a positive rating. She steps out, careful not to spill as she closes the door behind her. The spring day is sunny but windy, blowing her honey-hued hair across her face, obscured in part by a pair of black sunglasses. When she reaches up to push her hair back, the coffee caddy wobbles precariously in her other hand.

Miles is, as per usual — lately, anyway — standing just inside the doorway. Sometimes he stands, sometimes he sits, but he’s always there. Well, not always, because obviously he has to sleep sometimes. But he’s there a lot, and he’s there now, which is the most important thing.

He’s watching the inside, not the outside, at the moment. Trouble could come from either direction, but for now he’s focusing on the trouble of the inward variety.

It’s a struggle, to balance the awkward cardboard tray of coffee — the type with the lumpy, rough cardboard with concave, vaguely cup-bottom-shaped indents that simply hug the cups rather than enclose the cups. It’s a poor design and more than a few gallons of coffee have been lost this way over the course of their invention. But Chess mostly manages, reaching for the door to the Benchmark with one hand as she balances the tray in the other.

Consequently, her eyes are cast downward, watching the coffee cups, as she releases the door to close behind her. With a small toss of her hair over her shoulder to get it out of her face without using her hands, she looks up, the lobby of the Benchmark grayed out thanks to the Ray Bans she still wears.

It’s not Miles’ job to stop people at the door, of course, and so he does not stop Chess at the door. He watches her briefly in the way that people might watch someone who’s passing them who they do not know — vaguely curious but not interested in any particular extra way.

He does give her maybe a little bit longer of a look than he might give some other people, since she’s cute.

However, after that he goes back to looking toward the door where the patients might come through, if they are outpatients or trying to make a break for it.

Rather than walking forward, Chess stops. Suddenly. One hand moves to shove her sunglasses back. Her eyes are wide as they stare at the man in front of her — oblivious to her, it seems.

Miles, her Miles, was only 21 when he died — barely more than a boy. He wasn’t identical to this man — but enough to make her stop cold in her tracks, for her heart to skip a beat and then pound twice as hard to make up for the lost rhythm. Close enough her stomach feels like it drops and her hands begin to shake. Close enough that the last moment she saw her Miles comes sharply into focus at the forefront of her mind, the feeling of his blood seeping into her almost a physical thing.

The rough cardboard tray wobbles, but her fingers curl around it, muscle memory kicking into gear to keep the haul from being dropped on the floor. His eyes are on the door — she needs to see his eyes to get rid of the ghost — it’s not the first time she’s seen someone who looked like him in the five years since he died.

“Miles.” The single word is rough but heavy. An incantation. A prayer.

Miles doesn’t immediately notice when this cute but unknown girl starts staring at him. Eventually, though, he can’t help but see her. After all…she’s staring at him. Staring. And staring.

His eyes move to hers, and in stark contrast, there’s no recognition there — no recognition, and on top of that, something like mild annoyance. His eyebrows raise very slightly, and he has the sort of look on his face that is usually accompanied with a waving of the hand to hurry up whatever it is that’s going to be said.

Apparently, what’s going to be said is his name. “Yep,” he says, and the mild annoyance becomes slightly more pronounced, “all day long.”

His eyes.

They are and are not the eyes she knows. The same color, the same shape. The same mannerisms.

But without the recognition, without the love they held for her, they are not his. Not her Miles.

And then he speaks.

Chess’ features crumple and she begins to tremble — the cardboard tray is already well on its ways from slipping out of her hands as it’s threatened to do since she got out of the car. But even if it wasn’t falling, she turns to the door, pushing out of it with the caddy full of coffee. The paper cups crunch between Chess and the door, spilling their contents on her jeans, the door, the ground. The scent of coffee rises in the air.

The woman stumbles outside, one coffee cup kicked out by a blind foot, and she puts several feet between herself and the building before she stops to breathe.

“What the hell?”

Miles’ eyes widen as she drops the coffee, and he watches her go back out through the door without moving, completely nonplussed. Then he remembers that he’s supposed to be doing a job. This isn’t the weirdest thing that he’s ever seen happen at Benchmark, is it? Maybe she’s withdrawing or something, he doesn’t know.

“Hey.” he says as he steps outside too, “sorry. Do you have group or something? I can clean up the coffee, it’s no big deal.” As though that’s why she’s rushed outside again.

She turns back when she hears his voice again. This time, his form is blurred by her tears and she can barely hear him over the pounding of her heart. She stares at him, his words not registering for a long moment, too long a moment, and she finally shakes her head.

“Your name is Miles?” she manages to say, her voice a hoarse whisper that sounds ragged, like she’s broken inside. “Miles Dylan?”

She saw him die. She saw him buried. It doesn’t make sense to her, but her mind tries to make sense out of it anyway. “How are you… how are you here?” With the last word, her voice cracks again, and she takes another step back, brows furrowing into something like distrust.

“Yeah.” Miles’ tone is a little bit nicer now. It’s probably he’s decided she’s a junkie or ex-junkie who’s kind of out of it. “That’s right. No relation to Bob, though. Unfortunately.”

It’s a joke, and he smiles, but when she asks how he’s here, that smile fades. Or, not just fades. It drops right off his face like a stone down a well. Or a penny off the Empire State Building. “What do you mean?” he asks, and when she takes a step back, he does, too. “I live here.” It’s a little bit defensive, though. Maybe more so than necessary, maybe not. “Look, do you have an appointment or not?”

“To Bob,” murmurs Chess under her breath at the same time that Miles says it. He’s made that joke before.

“No,” she whispers when he asks if she had an appointment. “Just coming by to see Lynette. Can you… can you tell her Chess stopped by and s-sorry about the mess.”

The tears are coming again, and she turns away, a shaking hand pulling her sunglasses back over her eyes. She doesn’t make it very far — there’s a derelict bus stop at the curb that she stumbles to, to sit down. One of her hands grips the edge of it like she might fall off. The other pulls out a cell phone, thumb swiping at the screen.

"She doesn't need an appointment," Lynette says as she steps out of the doors to join them. Her hand rests for a moment on Chess' back before she looks over at Miles, "She sometimes stays upstairs with us." You know, where he stays now. Her attention turns to Chess, then, looking between them for a moment. Puzzled, but she's not asking. Not yet. "Why don't you come upstairs? We can have some replacement coffee," she says, her smile tilting just a little as she tries to lift Chess' mood some.

"I see you've met Miles," she says, glancing to him before she looks back to Chess again, "he's usually quite nice."

Miles turns when Lynette comes out, and the look on his face can only be described as abjectly grateful. He lifts his hands, spreading them very wide as his eyes widen as well, shaking his head a little bit. It is painfully clear that he has no idea what just happened. “I’m going to…can I take my ten now?” he asks, still looking at Lynette even though he does seem to be acutely aware of Chess there still, crying. Please, Lynette. Give the man his ten.

Lynette’s voice draws Chess’ eyes, tearful as they are, to the Benchmark’s founder. Her hands slide over her own cheeks to rid them of the damned tears, and she looks a little embarrassed for the breakdown.

She glances back at her phone, frowning and holding it up a little higher in the air, as if to try to get a better signal. Her already clouded expression grows darker, brows furrowing as it’s clear extra bars aren’t eager to appear on her screen. “Fucking phones,” she mutters, before looking back to Lynette again.

“Yeah, okay. I can call for a car in there,” she says, her voice husky from the tears. “I’ve met Miles.” She glances his way, then back to Lynette. “He’s a dead ringer for someone I used to know.”

The attempt at humor is followed with a huff of a laugh that turns into a sob, and she looks away again, a new flood of tears springing to her eyes. She rises to her feet, moving toward the door and giving Miles a wide berth. She can see in his eyes what she must look like to him — it’s not who she is, and it’s not who she used to be to the Miles she knew, either. But then, it’s not every day Chess sees ghosts.

The joke, or the attempt at one, brings a look of sudden understanding to Lynette's face. She looks over to Miles, because now she understands perfectly well what happened here. "Of course you can take your break, Miles," she says, because as painful as it is for Chess, she knows how strange this particular moment is for Miles, too. "Would you mind," she says, taking a moment to glance around and make sure they're alone enough, "explaining to Chess where you're from? I can't. Legally." That word is said very dryly. "But if she knows, then I can take over." Loophole. "And you can take as much of a break as you need."

Miles lets out a little sigh of relief when he’s given an out — but it’s not really an out, is it? IS IT, LYNETTE?! Oh well. He looks from her, to Chess, back to her, and the ‘joke’ makes it clear. Shit. “Yeah,” he says, “okay.” He looks around, too, then back to Chess. “I’m not from here,” he says. But of course, that’s not really enough, is it? “I’m from, like…a parallel universe. Schrödinger’s Manhattan.” It’s not exact, but it sounds good. “I guess you knew another me. Sorry.”

“Not allowed?” echoes Chess, brows drawing together as she looks from Lynette to Miles then swiftly back to Lynette, before she start to cry again.

Before this imposter sees her cry again.

When he speaks, though, she drops her gaze to listen, rather than watching him until he says the words parallel universe. She looks up at him, then back to Lynette.

“Like robot Liz?” She shakes her head. “Never mind.”

There’s a shaky breath and she shoves her hands through her hair. “And you don’t know me.” The words are flat, disbelieving. That there was another her somewhere in the universe — another universe — that didn’t know Miles is not something she can wrap her head around.

Her puffy eyes return to him, studying him, looking for differences, similarities. She looks away again, trying to school her features into something other than shock or despar. “Go ahead on your break. It’s not your fault,” she murmurs, mostly to her feet.

"Thank you, Miles," Lynette says and she comes over to put her hand on Chess' shoulder. "Like I said, take all the time you need. I'll see Chess upstairs." That's his out, and a warning that he might need to be careful if he comes upstairs and still wants to avoid a repeat of this awkwardness.

Her attention turns to Chess and she starts to guide her toward the doors again. "Come on. I'll do my best to explain, if you like. Or we can just give you some time. Whatever you need." At least a glass of water. Probably some food too, knowing Lynette.

“I don’t. Sorry.” And with that, now Miles can bolt. He shoots another grateful look to Lynette, and then he’s off, turning away and taking a couple of quick steps before he breaks into a jog. Anywhere but here, apparently.

When he quite literally runs away from her, Chess’ expression hardens, eyes narrowing and brows drawing together. She waits until they’re inside before she seems to breathe, exhaling a shaky, shuddery sigh. “What the fuck,” she murmurs, before looking to Lynette.

“This is that Raytech business? Luther told me something but it didn’t make a lot of sense to me. And you’re sure he’s not a clone or something? Something Praxis sent me to fuck me up in the head? Because I feel pretty fucked up in the head just now.” The words come at once, fast and breathless, as Chess grasps at something to hold on to, to make sense.

“What do you mean you can’t say anything legally?” she asks, before Lynette can answer the rest of the whirlwind of queries. “You knew he was here?” She looks like she might cry again at that, pressing her lips together to keep them from trembling.

Lynette doesn't answer any of the questions until they reach the privacy of the elevator. Once the doors close, she turns back to Chess. "I hired him. I didn't know that you knew him, Chess. I'm so sorry." That particular explanation comes first, her regret obvious. But her expression turns more reassuring as she goes on. "He's not Praxis or a clone. Luther probably can't really explain, either. Raytech was working with SESA and we all signed a lot of paperwork not to talk about it to anyone who didn't already know about it. Except Miles slipped through the cracks."

The doors open on the top level and Lynette leads the way toward her apartment instead of the common room. "I know it sounds a little out there, but he wasn't lying. He came through from another timeline. Were you seeing the visions? Another life, another you? Or the whispers over the radio?"

“I believe him. You.”

The words are flat. The tears are gone. Chess’ voice is ragged.

“I… yeah. I guess. The whispers. I heard them a couple of times.” She shakes her head at the visions. “Maybe once. Nothing that made sense. I just thought it was lack of sleep. Stress. The fact I have people trying to kill me and exact replicas running around in the world.” There’s a wry flicker of a smile at that, but it slips away as quickly as it’s formed.

“He was…” Her shoulders shrug helplessly. There are no words to describe what he was to her — the Miles of this timeline. “He was everything.” It’s still not enough.

Lynette leads her to the couch, letting her have a seat while she grabs glasses from the kitchen. She isn't gone long and she doesn't come back with water, but with a bottle of vodka. She sets all of it on the coffee table and moves to sit herself. "The war?" she asks— how they met, how she lost him.

"Oddly enough, Mateo and I went through this, so I know how much it hurts to see him. Especially when he doesn't know you. I would have spared you that, if I could have." Lynette let's out a heavy sigh, her head shaking. "You're welcome to stay here as long as you need. I'll take you home, you don't have to call for a car."

Chess doesn’t reach for the vodka, but pulls the baseball out of her courier bag to roll in her hands, her version of a worry stone. It’s of course a weapon as well, but there’s no real enemy here. Except Death and Irony, and those are not so easily destroyed by a bomb.

Her brows furrow as she looks to Lynette at the mention of Mateo. She’s missed a lot, being in Yamagato, it seems. She sets the ball down on the coffee table and pulls from her bag of tricks not another baseball, but a small picture wallet, one cheerfully green and red and pink. The wallet’s seen better days, the photos within bent and warped.

Every photo inside depicts a younger, less cynical Miles — some have a younger, less jaded Chess as well. Pictures from school dances. His class portraits from a couple of years in high school, one depicting him in a purple graduation gown. His and her student IDs from the University of Colorado, freshmen together in the inauspicious year of 2011. His driver’s license and registration IDs from Colorado.

Pictures speak a thousand words, they say. There’s at least 15,000 words in that wallet.

“I don’t even know how to…” Chess begins, then shrugs. How to anything “You and Mateo…? Mateo’s not your Mateo?”

While she looks over those photos and IDs, Lynette stays quiet. Her hand rests on Chess' back, a moment of sympathy and solidarity. "I don't think there's a 'how to'. You just try to keep putting one foot in front of another. You keep going because he would have wanted you to, at least until you can go on your own."

The question gets a bittersweet smile. "I met Mateo Ruiz in 2011. A Mateo Ruiz. He died to protect me. And then, years later, I met him again. He didn't know me. He wasn't the same man. Obviously, I fell in love with him all over again. But I did my best to remember he was a different person. But I couldn't stay away all the same." She spreads her hands, helplessly. "And then, in this mess that brought Miles over… well, it's complicated. He's my Mateo, though. Always." She tips her head toward Chess, giving her an apologetic smile. "No promises, but in my experience… they're different people, but down at the core, they're the same. I'm just not sure if that's a comfort or a torture."

The wallet is shoved back into her bag and Chess stares down at the table in front of her. “And here I finally was over my last identity crisis,” she says with a chuckle, one hand reaching to rub her wrist, the ink from her tattoo a reminder of that time.

She is quiet for a long moment. “I don’t know how to even talk to him, if he’s not Miles.” She makes a face, correcting herself. “If he’s not my Miles. We… I mean, we were only together a few years, but the things we went through together… Hiding. War.” She makes a face. “High school.” There’s a tiny bit of humor there, a tiny bit of the wry wit Chess often has. “We understood each other without having to say anything.”

Her eyes go to the door, knowing somewhere beyond it, Miles is present. “Do I want to even know him, if he isn’t him?” she asks quietly.

"You're the only one who can answer that. And you don't have to have it figured out right now. When it's still a shock." Lynette's smile is apologetic, since she would love to be able to have all the answers for her. But then, she lets out a sigh and leans back against the couch. "High school. Sometimes I forget that you're still young." War has a way of changing that. And Chess hasn't had a lot of peace since then, either. "Do you want to stay for dinner? I can promise it'll be edible," she says with her own wryness. "You can meet some other people who came through from another time."

There’s an eye roll at the word young, because it was a lifetime ago as far as Chess is concerned. She sits for a moment, thinking over the offer, before she shakes her head.

“I think one’s more than enough, for right now,” she says quietly. “And it’s probably better for him if I’m not here.”

Her brows pull together for a moment, like she might cry again, but she lifts her chin and wills away the tears. “Thanks for explaining. And I’m sorry to hear about Mateo.” She’s still not clear on how the other Mateo, the one she knows (she thinks, anyway) died.

She takes a breath and turns to the door. “You don’t need to drive me. I need to walk a little anyway, clear my head. Then I’ll find a cab.”

Chess hesitates, hand on the door, before adding over her shoulder, “Tell, um, Miles I’m sorry I guess.”

When Chess opens the door, there’s no one there. No one at all.

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