Find Me In The Lies


elliot_icon.gif merlyn_icon.gif

Scene Title Find Me in the Lies
Synopsis Elliot and Merlyn collide while delivering pizza years after the damage he did.
Date April 20, 2021

"You're a life saver, Al," Sherry says, latched glass jar clutched tightly. "Quality inspection!" she adds, waving her hand in mock seriousness before popping the latch and breathing in the earthy, sharp scent of soft pepper, cinnamon, cardamom. It isn't the entire jar that Al bought at the market the day he ran into Brynn, but lying about that fact is nothing next to lying about his name for six years. "Brunch just hasn't been the same without it."

Elliot doesn't disagree. Long pepper is such a more nuanced spice, and one of his favorites to use where least expected. "I'll let you know if I come across any more," he says. "The greenhouse is getting some early tomatoes soon, which should make the Bloody Marys even happier."

"Nothing makes those bitches happy," Sherry replies with a laugh and a familiar touch of Elliot's arm. "I'll tell them you say hello."

"Christ," Elliot laughs in return, "maybe tell them I'm dead." Sherry cackles. Her polo shirt is too well pressed for having just come in from the run that formed the first lie of the morning. Warm light fills the room through the windows at the front of the townhouse. The children can't be heard playing, as she only ever sells Elliot drugs when they're away.

Red Hook
Sherry's Brownstone

April 20, 2021

The pepper jar is set on the full bar beside the breakfast nook rendered vestigial by existing in a full size dining room. Behind the bar she enters a code with a series of beeps as Elliot looks away out of respect for the security charade. "Let me know if you make any unique cocktail syrups, will you?" she asks, closing the safe with a loud clack. "I've been missing your craft." She means it too, and Elliot is happy to supplement a cash payment with spices and cordials.

"I'll drop something off soon," he promises.

"Oh, before I forget, grab a bottle of kombucha from the fridge, my SCOBE has been very busy lately." She places a yellow plastic pharmacy bottle in his hand, full of little white pills and free of the personal information of whoever sold their prescription to her. "I'm expecting someone, so scoot." Elliot will let himself out the back like normal.

Elliot tucks away the lorazepam with the finesse of someone well trained in obscuring illegally obtained medication. It's his only option; they don't make therapists for what's wrong with him.

They exchange short goodbyes as Elliot passes into the kitchen. A recycled, brown, glass beer bottle is gathered from the cavernous refrigerator before he sees himself out; or attempts to only to find the door obstructed by someone else attempting to enter.

Oh shit.

The petite blonde woman in the doorway clearly is expecting him just as much as he's expecting her. As she starts forward to move inside, she almost entirely crashes into him. One hand is placed on the doorframe for balance as she stops inches shy from her face planting into his chest. Her other hand raises to stop his forward motion from doing the same as she looks up towards him.

Oh shit.

The recognition sinks in quickly as Merlyn freezes in the doorway, the hand hovering near his chest dropping back down to her side. There is a second or two where she's still, almost as if unsure of how to approach moving. A moment later, the look on her face washes into something more stoic. It's practiced.

"What's a nice guy like you doing in a place like this?" There's the slightest hint of playful teasing tempered by something held tightly in reserve.

Elliot juggles his own reactions as well as Merlyn does, though he also gives serious consideration to dying on the spot. The jumble of emotions contain embarrassment at having been discovered, frustration at being unprepared and taking too long to reply, guilt for taking the actions that led him to this crux of discomfort. The sudden burst of conflicting feelings draws Wright's attention.

"Ohhhohoho fuck," she says helpfully.

"Oh, you know," Elliot answers with a nonchalance he's sure isn't making it to his facial expressions, "crime." Apologize. It's only then that the brain fog clears enough to remind him that he's playing goalie to the kitchen. He steps to the side to let her pass only to realize that there still isn't enough room between the wall and fridge for her to navigate around him at a distance less intimate than smashing face first into his chest. He steps back into the room instead.

"You?" he asks. "What brings you to soccer mom's misplaced pill emporium?" Say literally anything other than that. Preferably unsay that part too.

"How ahh… " Apologize. " How've you been?"

"Oh, you know, crime," Merlyn replies, echoing his previous comment with the slightest hint of an amused smile that quickly disappears once she's caught it. She hesitates in moving forward after him, the slightest shift of her weight indicating she's unsure if moving inside after him is the right thing to do. Three incredibly long seconds later, she steps inside of the kitchen towards where he retreats.

"I'm alive, not in jail, and I'm pretty sure there are very few people with blackmail material on me, so I'd say I'm doing good." She pauses awkwardly before she continues. "You?"

"Unretired," Elliot says, unable to make his mouth not engage in smalltalk. "Still local. Probably not indebted to a crime boss." She seems to have the upper hand in that arena.

The bottle of kombucha is shuffled awkwardly from one hand to the other as it begins to sweat condensation in a way that seems to be mocking him. Where can this conversation possibly go from here? Just apologize and then evaporate.

"Well," he says to fill the space where an apology should go, "it was good seeing you. See you around maybe." Jesus Christ.

The discomfort and tension seem to peak as Merlyn stares at him. She almost seems like she won’t move, staring blankly at him in a look of half astonishment. There’s even a second pause as if she expects, or perhaps hopes, that there’s more of a reaction than she received. When nothing further comes, she can’t even bother to mask the look of disgust mixed with frustration that she levels in his direction. She brushes past him to head into the house proper.

Fuck off,” she utters as she moves towards the dining room, all pretenses of civility regarding the situation crumpled and tossed aside.

I know you had to lie

You know I had to hide from your mistakes

We gotta leave it behind

Before the hand of time can have its way

God damn it, Elliot thinks, curling his hands into fists as she brushes past. His hands shake with the force of his self-loathing, only demonstrated because she can't see him. Has already dismissed him. Will, in all likelihood, never see him again. All the anger curls inward to coil around the embarrassment and guilt. Why did I let it get this bad?

We're not beyond hope

Don't turn us away

Treasure or torture

Whatever awaits

Staten Island

June 2, 2018
12:47 PM

It’s hard to distinguish the smell of the river from the smell of Staten Island. Neither have improved meaningfully in the last few years. That may be unfair. It’s improved as much as its been able to while recovering from societal collapse and at the mercy of varying degrees of criminality. If the crime could be meaningfully addressed, this place could really become something special. Crime like the kind that Elliot is here to commit today.

He has to do something with all this free time. Things at home have been… testy lately, so fresh air it is—Staten Island fresh, anyway. Having more hands-on time with the Tiny Baby Ames should keep Wright occupied enough to cut back on the drinking problem that she won’t admit she has.

Finances are still good, though supplemental income is never a bad idea. His toes never really came out of the waters of crime, so picking up an odd job here and there is easy enough. The job is simple too: pick up an item from a dead drop and deliver it to the client, pay upon receipt. There’s an antique lock box on the wall of an otherwise devastated former pawnshop, which should be just around this corner. Where somebody else is already investigating.

Ah, shit.

Eyes shaded by her hands, the petite blonde peers into the pawnshop's window in an attempt to get a good view of the interior. She doesn't look like much; a couple of inches above five feet and dressed in ripped jeans and an oversized peasant blouse that looks like she'd stolen it right from the 1970s. As he rounds the corner, she drops her hands from the dirty glass of the window and catches sight of him.

Ah, shit.

Merlyn's eyes scan him over briefly, an assessment of some type before she gives a bit of an upnod in his direction. He certainly doesn't appear to be someone who'd give her shit over a little illegal urban ruin exploration, and she shoves her hands into her pockets as she looks towards him. "Hey," she calls, her tone friendly enough for someone just having been caught poking her nose somewhere she didn't belong.

Elliot suppresses most of a smirk at Merlyn’s nonchalance. It’s a touch too warm for a light hoodie today, and as such he’s dressed in an off-black t-shirt to match his possibly once-black jeans. He pokes up the brim of his hat to look less clandestine in purpose, and leans against the wall at the end of the alley to avoid any mistaken idea that he might intend to box her in.

“Not a lot,” is his response. “You wouldn’t happen to be here to… pick up and then deliver a pizza, would you? It would be a little weird if pizza dispatch somehow sent two delivery people on the same… pizza errand.” He winces a bit, not sure why he seems to be bungling this cover story so badly.

"Huh," Merlyn replies, raising an eyebrow. "I wasn't aware that pizza was so popular these days." Her hands remain in her pocket, but her body language screams casual. If there hadn't been a civil war, she might have blended right into the area. Hidden in plain sight. As it stands, she doesn't appear to be particularly worried about said pizza or even Elliot's sudden arrival. Instead, she mirrors his casual leaning against the wall with her lips turned upward in a small smirk of amusement.

"Double booking on a delivery shift sounds like management is pretty poor. That or someone's got it out for both of us and we're expected to fight over the 'pizza' in some kind of duel instead of having a civil conversation. Either way it's a whole situation, isn't it?"

“Okay, first of all,” Elliot says, suddenly overly serious, “I can not believe that you would besmirch the good name of Richard Martin Daselles, who is a pillar of the community.” He shrugs in disbelief, moving on.

Secondly,” he says with a more amiable expression as the facade dissolves, “who the fuck in their right mind doesn’t like pizza? Them’s—as the kids say—fighting words. And honestly I’d hate to get the shit kicked out of me over a pizza miscommunication. If you are willing to keep things amicable I’d be willing to ignore all of the warning signs and talk this out like civilized people.” It’s impossible to hide that he scopes out the area, though his smile suggests he’s looking for any other pizza delivery persons who might further complicate the situation.

"Ricky? Oh, you've got to be kidding," Merlyn mutters, mostly to herself before she removes a hand from her pocket and instead rests it on her hip, much more of an amused look spreading across her face. "Merely a commentary on the Safe Zone's reliable favorites for delivery, no one would fight over pizza, it's a united front if I've ever heard of one."

Her own head takes a slight turn, mirroring his look to check for others venturing too close. They may not be a pizza delivery team, but they're both well aware now that this is a much less secret pizza than previously anticipated. "I'm a very amicable person," Merlyn states, her eyes returning to Elliot once she's satisfied he's the only pizza delivery competitor. "Not fond of coming to blows over pizza. We're all just doing our job anyways, right?"

She casually pushes off the wall, turning to face him more, though her stance still isn't threatening. Most of her doesn't seem to be, but the pizza delivery business has always been tricky.

A series of looks play out quickly across Elliot’s face. First amusement, then confusion, then concern. He opens his mouth to speak but doesn’t make a sound. He can’t put words in order. Now? he thinks. What—Now? When was the last time this happened? He’s made so much progress and suddenly a sentence won’t form. Progress probably isn’t the correct word. He’s changed, but she has no reason to know that.

”Hoo boy, buddy,” Wright says, lending him enough cognition to help him dig himself out of another verbal processing ditch. “Blonde, huh? You really do have a type.”

Like that he’s back in the moment, holding up his hands to show he isn’t armed, plasters a more appropriate smile over his face. “Sorry,” he says with a chuckle. He leans further back against the wall even though she’s turned away from her end of it. “Not actually offended for Ricky’s sake,” he says, crossing his arms. “Or interested in any sort of altercation. I am guessing this drop is new to you, and you’re not entirely sure how to access what we’re looking for. Do I imagine correctly?”

"I'm not new to pizza," Merlyn states in protest, stalking forward a few steps before she gestures towards the remnants of the pawnshop. "But… I will admit that I don't have as much information as I would like in regards to the toppings." The smile she cracks is a clear sign of just how much the double-talk is amusing her. "I don't think anyone should be offended for Ricky's sake and I'm not the kind to go for altercations of a fighting variety. So I'm fine with a truce until we can find some sort of way to settle this."

Now she nods in the direction of the place. "It looks structurally intact and doesn't seem like anyone's in there, so it should be safe, but I wouldn't mind having an extra pair of eyes. If there's more than one of us, as we've now discovered, I'm not entirely sure there aren't more. I also don't know if they're quite as…"

She pauses, the assessing look she gives a little more purposeful.

"… amicable."

A slight hitch of his eyebrow shows that Elliot is curious about what kind of altercations of the other-than-fighting variety she does go for. “Well then, amicabilibuddy,” he says with a lurch up from his slouch against the wall. “Allow me to regale you with the ins and outs of Staten Island pizza trends.”

His movement away from the wall and a leading glance points her attention to a rusty metal mailbox of some sort. Flecks of blue and yellow paint form islands amid the rust. Other than a slot at the top protected from the elements by a metal overhang, there seems to be no way to unlock or even open it. He casts a quick look about to reassure himself there’s nobody nosy.

“It deposits into a bin on the inside,” he explains. “Key to the shop is right past you.” There’s certainly no way that someone of his stature could try to fish the prize out through the deposit slot, so he meanders her way. He disturbs a brick in a pile of similar misplaced cuboids to reveal a brass key. He scoops it up and displays it with a graceful ta-da.

"Impressive," Merlyn offers, only looking slightly impressed.

She moves to the deposit box, craning her neck to take a look at the dropbox for a quick examination. "What a clever way to deliver pizza. Certainly not going to get into this without getting inside and I'm sure navigating the inside could be tricky trying to come in from the window, what with how this place seems damaged."

With a sweeping arm motion as if to offer a bow towards Elliot, she glances towards the door. "Very well, do the honors so we can see exactly how fresh this pizza is… and again, we'll have to decide of course if there's a way to bargain for a proper paycheck with no income tax." Casually, she leans against the drop box while she watches, expectantly, for her new accomplice to let them inside.

"I'm sure we can work something out," Elliot says. His impulse right now is to just let her have it, this stranger who is clearly his competition. His finances are still in good condition, he could take the hit. .Don't let her steamroll you just because she's attractive. This is more of a 'keep her on the line' situation.

Elliot feels like he must look paranoid as he looks around again, and Wright confirms it for him. He unlocks the door regardless, talking over his shoulder as he steps inside. "I feel bad for insinuating that you're new to the pizza delivery business considering that I only deliver pizza on the weekends," he says. "Where do you normally deliver pizza, if you don't mind me asking?"

The room is indeed filled with disconcerting wreckage, and he takes a moment to decide if it's worth crossing the room just to keep a conversation going. The ceiling has sagged in dramatically, spiking a funnel of the upper floor into the center of the room. They'll need to save around that to get to the deposit bin. "Oof, he says quietly. "Watch your step."

With the precious seconds where Elliot is unlocking the door, Merlyn reaches into the deposit box. While Elliot's hand would be too large to reach into the slot, hers is smaller and with a quiet motion she sticks her hand in as far as she can and carefully retrieves the envelope. She lifts the back of her long shirt, tucking the envelope into the waistband of her jeans and sliding the shirt back over it. With a shirt like that, there's nothing that would really scream that she's hiding anything.

The door opens and Merlyn steps closer to the door to peek into the room from behind Elliot. "You aren't kidding. This is a hazard. It doesn't look like anything should fall on us, though." Despite having acquired the drop, she's interested in seeing where the delivery goes. "Although maybe I shouldn't be worried about something falling from above." She leans in closer to get a different vantage, Elliot's taller frame making her need to peek around him to get a better look.

"I've got a lovely range of delivery skills," Merlyn comments in regards to his mention of pizza again. "Sometimes pizza, sometimes other culinary delights. Honestly? I've got no regular place because I'm pretty much everywhere. I go where the deliveries take me. Kinda what you do in my position." She glances at him. "You're just a weekender, though? Not a bad gig for a little extra cash."

Elliot has used this drop before, and the floor didn't feel like it was going to give out back then, but he tests it with a tap of his foot anyway. He gives his competitor a shrug, What's the worst that could happen?

"Lots of deliveries before the war," he says, "though they had the veneer of legitimacy. White collar deliveries mostly. I retired a few years ago," he explains, taking a few more cautious steps around a shattered display case long since robbed of pawned wares. "Temporarily. Needed some time off after the war. It feels weird that I’ve lived in the same building for three years; it’s a record by a long shot." Now doesn't feel like the time for a conversation about buying a townhouse with Wolfhound money and helping his partner and her wife raise their daughter.

“Do you have permanent housing, or are you waiting on the lottery?” he asks, flinching as the floor beneath his feet lets out a loud complaint. “Yeah this place is fucked.” He looks around for a safer path, considering hopping up onto the counter and shimmying along, though broken glass becomes a hazard.

"I kind of bounce from place to place. Crashing on couches is normal for me, but I've got friends who don't mind so much," Merlyn replies, looking around for the best course of movement. "I suppose I could be in the lottery but…" She shrugs. "I haven't been so great putting down roots after the system failed me. Haven't had much of a reason to put down roots anyway."

Following his gaze to the counter, she starts to scan the room for anything that might be useful to sweep or move the broken glass away. A part of her does feel guilty that there is the danger of being hurt when the prize is already captured, but she keeps a careful eye on Elliot just to make sure. Couldn't hurt to spend a little more time, right? "You said you did deliveries over here regularly? Was this place just as fucked before or did someone potentially make it worse."

The blonde scans the room once more. "It doesn't really look like anyone's been in here recently."

“Mostly water damage from the roof slowly taking over,” Elliot says with a nod toward the central slow-motion sink-hole that was the second floor. “Gonna have to tell Ricky to stop having pizza delivered here.”

His investigation of the counter is apparently satisfactory, because he levers himself up with his hands and carefully twists into a sitting position. “The system wasn’t really great to me either,” he admits, beginning the painstaking process of finding safe places to set his hands before shuffling to the side. “Too high maintenance for foster families, so it was the group home until I dropped out and headed here to help with aid work after the bomb. Only got into delivery because I wanted more than one pair of pants. Having a permanent home… presents its own challenges.”

He hisses as he sets down one hand, drawing it up for inspection. “Fucking thumb tack?” he complains, drawing it out without much fuss. “When did I last get a tetanus booster?”

"Bomb got the only family I had, wasn't exactly too happy with the group home either," Merlyn gives him a sympathetic smile. "I dropped that too… so I get it." Her gaze is momentarily torn away to check more of the places the roof had fallen. The hiss of pain attracts her attention and her head turns to look at him, an expression mixed with guilt and concern on her features.

"Hey, hey, wait a second," Merlyn says, unable to hide the concern in her voice as she bridges the gap between them to try and stop him from moving further.

She reaches behind her back, pulling the envelope from the waistband of her pants and holding it up with a sheepish look. "I got the pizza already." Her head tilts slightly in the direction of the door. "Small hands make it easy to get some things others can't." Merlyn looks between Elliot's face and his hand.

"Sorry, honestly, I didn't exactly want you to get yourself hurt going over there to find nothing. I was just trying to…" She trails off, unsure of exactly what she was trying to do, other than seeing how it played out, staying in the game for just a little longer. "Anyway, we can split it."

Elliot can’t help but look stunned. Wright cackles loudly and unashamedly, her amusement quickly influencing Elliot’s own. He doesn’t fight it, merely pinches the bridge of his nose and wheezes and shakes with a laughter that he does try to contain. Only partially successful, he has to wipe away budding tears.

“Oh man,” Wright says, “I wish she went through with it. That would have been the funniest thing that ever happened to you.” Regaining his composure, Elliot blinks out a yes—agree. He probably wouldn’t even have been mad about it.

“I appreciate both your candor and your dedication to the bit,” he says, then rids himself of a few more giggles. He leans to the side to look into the bin just for the hell of it. He turns his attention back to Merlyn, eyes flickering over her expressions and composure. His heart beats unevenly and in a way that confuses him.

Wright understands it, but merely hums with curiosity.

“In all fairness,” he says, shifting himself to the side toward safer footing—and Merlyn—with a more lopsided gait. “Ow, still have a tack wound. In all fairness you both got here before me and recovered the package so I don’t have much bargaining power.”

"I'm not a fan of people getting hurt in order for me have a little bit of amusement," Merlyn says, glancing down at the envelope before back up at him. "The world's shit, I don't need to somehow make it shittier by letting someone get hurt when they don't need to. Stealing your time isn't something I mind." She gestures around them. "It's likely one of us would end up hurt getting through this. I'd rather not have to dig you out of bits of ceiling–probably full of asbestos with my luck."

She suddenly grins. "I was going to just let you continue on to the drop and then let you think someone else had gotten here first. Would have been a riot to see, at least. I'm a little disappointed in myself for being soft about it. It's just tack." She rubs the back of her neck with her free hand. "At least it was a tack and not glass? Can't say I travel with a first aid kit in my pocket."

“I know plenty of first aid and battle medicine,” Elliot says, close enough to the truth and close enough to what he remembers as sturdy flooring to carefully hop down directly in front of her. “I promise I will be fine. And I find myself in possession of plenty of time that I’m willing to part with, so no theft necessary.”

It mildly annoys him that he’d rather not look anywhere other than at Merlyn, though such unpleasantries don’t make a dent in his amused smile. “We should probably get out of this building before we die though.”

"Great, so at least I only have to be guilty about one thing rather than two," Merlyn's smile is genuine, only pulling her gaze away to look towards the door. It's more of a double check to make sure no one else is after the same prize. "But yes, I'd rather not feel guilty over your death, we've only just met and I honestly don't hate you."

”Suspicious,” Wright says with narrowed eyes.

With a last scan to make sure nothing is immediately going to crash down on them, she turns slightly to move towards the door. "If I almost die, I guess you're a good person to have around. I'll be the hero and jump in to take the damage should this place decide to fall on our heads. Always wanted to be a big damn hero."

“Oh my god please do not,” Elliot says, shepherding Merlyn toward the door with a shooing motion of his hands. “I find myself not hating you either, despite the hoodwinking. Because of it? Foster kid solidarity, maybe. Anyway, let’s burn this popsicle stand.”

"Not big on the arson myself, but each to their own," Merlyn replies, moving through the door, tucking the envelope back under her shirt for security–she might have offered to split things, but she's still holding onto the prize. "Besides, I came clean and was honest. It's a win-win situation. I kind of just wanted to see how it played out." As she moves through the doorway, she turns to face him as she walks backwards the last couple of steps.

"Foster kid solidarity is a good way to put it. Gotta look out for each other. Nice when it really happens," she comments as she watches him.

Elliot makes certain his eyes are appropriately aligned before Merlyn finishes turning around. Once they are both on solid ground Elliot relaxes away some tension he hadn’t realized had been slowly seeping in. He scopes out the alley again before closing and locking the door and throwing the key in the garbage. “Not like burn burn,” he clarifies, “just no longer use burn.”

“I’ve been with my best friend since we were toddlers,” he confesses to show how seriously he takes the concept of foster kids sticking up for each other, while failing to accurately quantify his relationship with Wright, which she notices. “Minus a couple years of high school, though she did get adopted. Well, in my case, less than a couple of years of highschool followed by dropping out and delivering pizza. Otherwise we’ve always had each other’s backs.”

He worries he’s somehow made childhood trauma into a competition and winces. “I take it you’ve been running solo?”

"Good, because actual fire would probably be a bit messy and Ricky gets into his own messes often enough already," Merlyn brushes her hands off of any dust and debris from the pawnshop as she watches him. "You're lucky to have a friend like that. I mostly just fucked off as soon as I could, didn't have anyone to watch my back. Watched backs of some others, I've got some connections I work with from time to time, but it's mostly me."

A quick glance down the alley seems to double check they're not seen before she looks back at him. "Pizza's a good way to go. Mostly safe, usually you don't end up having a rival for deliveries, so long as you're careful and people don't cross wires and end up sending two people. I've usually got places to crash so I'm safe, but for the most part I'm the only one doing anything hands on. I'm glad you've got someone watching your back though… that's some priceless shit right there."

“I wouldn’t mind watching your back for the remainder of this delivery, if you’re up for company,” he says in a way that seems to include an interest in the time following the job as well. “I’m Al, by the way.”

“I feel like you didn’t need to use an alias here,” Wright natters, though she’s probably not wrong.

"Company's good, if you promise not to stab me in the back while you're watching it," Merlyn agrees, a wry smile included. "Lyn. It's a pleasure, Al." There's a long moment where she seems to be thinking, hesitating, before she ends up speaking again. "Lyn, short for Merlyn. Just don't laugh at it. You're welcome to spread the word about how amazing I am to any pizza parlors you run across, by the way. Gotta make a name for myself."

“Oh yeah,” Wright says, “super didn’t need an alias.”

God damn it, Elliot thinks without giving Wright the satisfaction of agreeing with her. “That sounds…” he ponders for a bit on his wording, “unlikely to be made up, which is embarrassing because mine was. I’m Elliot. Sorry.” Why am I so off my game today?

"I kinda like that better than Al, but I understand the need for being cautious. You're on pizza delivery, I'd do better with you knowing who I am than you getting my alias. Networking, right? Plus you get bonus points for being in the not-so-secret club of people with shitty childhoods," Merlyn inclines her head in his direction with a compassionate look. "I think the best people I've run into are ones who understand what it's like to have to figure out things on their own. Foster kids."

She gives him a once over. "Sorry if you're awkward, I know I'm terribly interesting and catch people off-guard. It's alright, I'm used to it." The half-smile, almost smirk she gives makes it incredibly hard to tell if she's joking or actually serious.

"Marry this woman," Wright demands.

"I do love networking. And yeah, I'm awkward as fuck," Elliot agrees without malice, suddenly wishing he was able to keep Wright from streaming his perspective. He settles for the next best thing and stops streaming hers. "You're not wrong there. And while I don't know you well, your self assessment seems correct." He smiles, trying and failing to look like he's smiling only because he's amused rather than that everything feels warm in his brain.

Standing in the alley isn't getting them any closer to her destination, so he pivots on his heels and heads for the street. He gives her space to walk beside him, very invested in the idea of her not having to worry about him stabbing her in the back. This in turn reminds him that he's going to murder someone tomorrow, but he doesn't focus on it in case doing so draws the minotaur's attention.

Eyes ever vigilant, he steps into the road. "So what do you do between pizza deliveries?" he asks. "My keen eye for behavior tells me you're probably big into fly fishing."

"Nah, it's underwater basketweaving. Very intense skill and incredibly useful for all walks of life." The grin on Merlyn's face broadens and she keeps pace at Elliot's side. "Pizza's a big part of my life, mostly for scraping by. Kind of a lot of making sure people who fall through the cracks don't fall farther." She shrugs. "I mean, if you're asking for hobbies it's mostly storytelling. I don't know that I'd manage writing, but I've got a lot of shit up in my head. People are a bit of a hobby."

Her eyes move from him to the road, a double check that they're headed in the right direction and that no one's looking out for them. "What else does your keen eye for behavior tell you, Elliot? Feel free to be as awkward about it as you like. It's kinda cute."

"That's awesome," Elliot exclaims with a look that says you're never going to believe this but, "I knew an underwater basket. Cool guy."

He wishes that he had a hoodie to stuff his hands in while walking, and has to settle for the pockets of his jeans to hide his finger tapping. "Let's see," he says, taking a long moment to take all of her in and run the numbers on her behavior thus far. Once he starts talking he keeps his eyes mostly on the road, looking down to get only to deliver the important parts.

"You do bad things for good reasons, which I respect. Which makes me believe that you're a good person by the only metric that matters," he says, managing to emphasize like he's counting off his fingers even though they're not involved in the conversation. "You give people your name to establish a reputation but being recognized probably makes you uncomfortable, so you don't stay in one place for too long. Staying moving lets you give other people's expectations a cool down period, keeping interactions on your own terms. Having had to be your own primary caretaker makes it difficult to rely on other people."

He clears his throat, feeling like he's overstepped and clarifying. "That is too say: you can take care of yourself, you're competent, and you help other people who need it because it's the right thing to do while still being able to avoid having people take advantage of you," he says, his expression hopeful he's not too far off the mark. "A certified badass, as it were."

“Fuck, you’re good at this shit,” Merlyn utters, looking over at him with a bit of surprise. “Are you secretly a therapist or something? As much as I hate to admit some of that, you’re right on the money. Even the badass part, but that I knew.” The grin she gives him is playful and she’s distracted just long enough to almost trip as she doesn’t watch where she’s going. She recovers quickly with an ‘I meant to do that’ look before she addresses him again.

“The world is shit, Elliot. I just wanna find some good in it somewhere.”

Elliot's posture snaps to attention when Merlyn trips, hand reaching out to steady but never connecting when she doesn't go all in. He relaxes and chuckles softly.

"Today is just full of coincidences," he says happily. "I too seek to leave the world better than I found it. Can't make change at the scale I'd like to, but I make it where I can." In the end he'll know he did what he could; every life saved an indulgence purchased to pay for all the future victims of his death.

"Not some sort of pizza delivery therapist, though," he says. "Just had to learn at an early age how other people behaved in order to appear less… awkward." Less neuroatypical. "Lot of bullies in the group home. Thankfully Wright was always willing to kick the shit out of them in retaliation, but…" There were years in high school when they weren't together. He wonders what would have happened if the Bomb hadn’t stop Eddie from pushing him off the roof.

“Wright is my aforementioned best friend,” he adds. “Well, she’s my non-romantic, non-sexual life partner.” It seems too specific but he feels the need to clarify.

"Group homes are always shit, I'm surprised half of us make it out of them alive," Merlyn's tone is sad as she glances over at him. "Sounds like the two of you make a good team. Her kicking the shit out of people, you being awkward but making it endearing." Her green eyes focus on his face–it's a playful tease, and she's trying to make sure that it's landing well. She seems ready for a quick recovery if there's a hint it's made things worse.

"Honestly, I've got someone I could consider a best friend–she's in the shitty childhood club too, but she's given me a place to crash sometimes and I'm pretty sure she wouldn't rat me out. Life partner sounds like a fucking dream, though. Someone you trust enough to have your back for life…" She inclines her head in his direction. "Non-romantic, non-sexual, huh?" She raises an eyebrow, the slight grin from before cropping up.

Merlyn’s tease seems to land very well. “Oh my god,” he says, glad she brought it up, “so non-romantic and non-sexual. Hopefully you find my insistence on this point on the endearing side of the endearing-slash-awkward scale. Honestly though, the more I keep talking the less certain I am that I ever should again.”

He looks into the street, slightly more active than earlier, though locals still have a worried look about them. Things are improving, but not fast. Not here. “You don’t happen to have a car, do you?” he asks. “I walked but not having to do that would be pretty cool too.” Especially since somebody is driving through in an SUV with tinted windows. Foot just a bit heavy on the gas and heading in the direction they’re leaving.

“Oh no, do keep talking. I’d like to see just how much you’ll trip over your own words. Like I said, endearing,” Merlyn replies, grin flashed in his direction. “No car. I’m not made of that kind of money.” Her eyes pick up the SUV and her grin fades a bit.

“… I’m kinda wishing I did have one right about now though.”

Elliot annoys himself with another grin. “Probably for the best,” he says, “I can’t drive.” He doesn’t alter his pace, they’ve put most of a block between themselves and the dead drop. Looking around casually for open doors, he begins to map the operation zone. Keep walking, look uninterested and uninteresting; find your exits. He touches the folding knife clipped in his pocket out of habit.

If the well-funded Person (or Persons) in a hurry does have their sights set on the envelope in Merlyn’s pants there are barriers to them getting it. The door won’t provide much of a challenge, but the room is on the verge of multi-level collapse. Assuming they survive an incursion, they then have to identify Elliot and Merlyn as carriers, and this is traditionally a one-carrier job.

“If anything gets weird keep walking and play oblivious,” he says, expression never changing from some amount of flustered glee. “Contact unlikely. We should cross to the right at this intersection.”

“Shit, I didn’t know you were a professional in the pizza big leagues.” Merlyn’s tone keeps up the amusement, even though she’s aware that something could very much be going sideways. At this point, she never quite looks directly over her shoulder. All of her observations of anything other than Elliot stay in her periphery, though she’s got no issue looking at him directly.

“I’m good at the dumb blonde bit, so I follow, used that more than once to get out of some shit,” she glances at him. “Don’t try to play the hero, though. We established that you’re the medic.”

“This is my non-pizza life, actually,” he says, slightly quieter. Conspiratorially for any lookers on. “I retired from infiltration and intelligence. Not a profession that goes for heroic martyrdom, don’t worry.” He comes to a stop at the intersection and takes his time hitting the walk signal. There’s no need to with so little traffic, but the power is functioning here today and he’s sure the infrastructure is lonely.

“Storyteller and actress,” he says, impressed. “Were you a theater kid?”

“You’re making me look way less interesting here,” Merlyn chuckles. “I’m no professional, didn’t have much of a chance to. Consider my theater training from the school of hard knocks; I just learned it to get by. It’s fun being able to roll with a scenario, though. I’m not good enough to do anything more than pizza delivery with it, though.”

She watches the walk signal absently. “Your war sounds very different from my war. Mine’s always just been doing the same thing, pizza delivery is always needed and sometimes it helps people.”

“I’m glad you didn’t have to fight my war,” Elliot says, seriously but kindly. “Making it through on your own skill was enough.” He doesn’t look away from her for a moment, and only does when the crosswalk starts beeping just before the street lights suddenly go out.

“I am calling the mayor about this.” He looks around for safety before beginning to cross, eyes mostly interested in the way they came.

“Hey, we all survive however we can,” Merlyn’s eyes go from him back to the darkened lights. “You know, I’m suddenly kind of glad for overbooked pizza runs. For multiple reasons.” Reasons on which she doesn’t elaborate. Instead she crosses with Elliot, keeping her gaze in front of them while he’s checking the rear.

“Write some angry letters, make some protest signs… public safety’s a serious thing.”

“Dear the Mayor,” Elliot begins dictating. “Recently there was a power failure while attempting to cross the street during routine… pizza delivery. Team pizza delivery, no less, possibly while under threat from suspicious SUV drivers. I could have died. See to this at once.” They make it to the other side of the street regardless.

“Also, I have to tell you,” he says, chopping at the air to demonstrate his seriousness, “I would straight up commit grand larceny for an actual pizza right now. I should have picked a less-delicious cagey codeword.”

“Want to come with?”

Merlyn, once on the other side of the street, turns to face him again. “God, I thought it was just me. All the pizza code has reminded me that I don’t entirely remember when I last ate. Not sure how long I could go on talking about pizza when I really mean floral arrangements.”

She nods in his direction. “I’ll come, but you’re paying,” she says with a grin.

One last tear

For the dreams we had

You can't leave me here

I can't take you back

“It would be my genuine pleasure,” he replies, only now beginning to truly comprehend the scope of his crush, grinning foolishly and flushed. “Let’s maybe cash that check first though.”

Faith turned fear

And now we're on the run

We're the orphaned ones

What do we become?

The Here and Now

“Lyn, wait,” he says, softly but urgently. His hands stop shaking, his selfish need to protect himself from feeling vulnerable drains away. All he’s left with is resolve and the knowledge that he can’t go to his death leaving her with the burden of his bad behavior.

“You’re really going to pull that shit now, Al?”

Merlyn, for her credit, does wait as requested, but she hasn’t deigned him worthy of her full attention. That or she just doesn’t want to risk being vulnerable enough to look at him. “I’m waiting. So what part of fuck off do you not get? Cause you don’t have an awful lot of options with those two words.”

In spite of herself, Merlyn turns just slightly so she can look at him.

He knows his time here is limited, that he only has one shot at putting words in the correct order here. He's thought about what to say so many times but all attempts were abandoned when he strayed too close to accepting his guilt. None of those sad fragments will help him now. The words come on a wave.

“I treated you fucking terribly,” he says, voice remaining low to not project this admission into the room where he just met his drug dealer. “You didn’t deserve any of my bullshit and I’m ashamed of my behavior. Every day. I mistook infatuation for love and when the first faded away I thought everything else went with it. I didn’t know how to deal with the fear of it so I did what I always did when people got close to me and sabotaged us to give myself a twisted justification for it to end.” She knows what he did, specifics don’t matter.

His hands tremble from the vulnerability, he never took the drugs he came here for. He realizes he’s still holding a bottle, now budding with condensation, and leans forward only far enough to place it on the kitchen island. “I’m sorry, I’ve been so sorry and afraid to have to tell you. To find you. I’m not looking for forgiveness, you don’t owe me that.”

Merlyn seems surprised the apology happened at all. It causes her to turn and face him a bit more, her tone lowered so as not to cause a scene. “I never took you as the kind of person to take the easy way out,” she admits. “So I’m kind of surprised that was the route you took back then. I get it, though. Protecting yourself emotionally and all that.”

She gets it, but she doesn’t look sympathetic. “Taught me some valuable lessons about trust and that people usually let you down at some point anyway. You’ve got some balls apologizing. Just being a dick is one thing, fucking it up because you don’t know how to deal and then managing to apologize afterwards? That takes a certain kind of balls.”

She pauses. “I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing honestly. Just a… thing I guess.”

"I was in a bad place," he says, "making animal decisions out of a fear of change. Trying to keep control of the way my life was before and refusing to accept that I wasn't the only person with a say in it. All of this while experiencing the emotions of another person as she spiraled into a dark hole of alcoholism. Never a break, always on. I don't blame her, neither of us chose to be linked to the other. But we were both our worst selves." He leans back against the wall, but looks away when music starts playing in the living area. God bless Sherry's discretion.

"I've been trying to be a better version of myself. To trust, and be able to be trusted. I wasn't back then," he admits, though he shouldn't be trusted now either. "We're learning control, being mindful of the fact that no matter what we'll always feel the other there. And admitting when we've made mistakes and taking actions to right those wrongs. I hurt you. I can't undo that hurt. The very least I can be do is apologize. If I can do more, I will.” Present tense, an offer to actively make amends.

“Feels like not that long ago and yet forever," she replies, eyes glancing towards the living room as well before back to him, the music seeming to ease a touch of tension. "We all go through shit, all our own demons and such, and I'm glad you're… finding something, whatever it is. I know you feel like apologizing is the right thing. If you're gonna apologize, then you need to know that I've got something I need to say too."

Merlyn takes a deep breath. "That fucking hurt Elliot."

Elliot has the good grace to look down. He knew it hurt, but that feels different from being told it did by the one wounded. He knew it hurt because he made it hurt on purpose. He nods faintly. “I understand,” he says just above a whisper.

“If you want to tell me about it I will listen. I can…” he cuts off and closes his eyes because he knows what he’d say is a lie, and he doesn’t want to lie to her right now. He never wants to lie, he only does when he has to now. When he’s compelled to do so by the Lock. But her reaction to what he can offer could be destructive to this conversation. Could send her into the living room, mere feet away and never to be seen again.

“I can’t honestly say ‘I can never know what it must have been like for you.’ Because, if you wanted me to?” he says, eyes reaching back up to meet hers, penitent. “I could. If you wanted me to I would.” Pure, raw emotion as she remembers it, as cutting and cruel to him as it was to her.

That's probably the last thing Merlyn was expecting to hear.

It hits like a bucket of cold water over her head, but it's not anger that's there. She almost flinches, but it's held in careful measure. The composure she keeps seems tenuous, but she keeps it, and she sucks in a quick breath. "Fuck. I wouldn't do that to you." It's a softer, shaky tone and it's clear she wants to look elsewhere but can't seem to. "It hurt and I'm mad but fuck if I want to put more pain on anyone else. The world's shitty enough as it is, I don't need you feeling shitty because of me. You already said you were sorry. So you feel bad in some measure, so that's more than enough of some kind of karma in the world I guess."

When she does break the gaze, she shuffles on her feet a bit, mostly because she doesn't know what to do with herself and he's gone and ruined her composure. "I'm mad, I'm hurt, but I'm not vindictive. I wouldn't do that to anyone, least of all you."

Elliot feels ashamed for his relief. He has to look away again, covering his eyes. Because he would take that pain even though he wouldn’t want to. But in doing so he’d also have to share how sorry he feels. How it always slowly eats away at him in the back of his mind and how he’s been too afraid to deal with it. How bringing it into the light now has made it claw at the inside of him.

But his guilt shouldn’t be her burden. He shouldn’t influence her into giving him forgiveness with the weight of his own emotions. He hates that he’s never considered the moral implications of this realization. He doesn’t collapse onto the floor and beat on himself because that’s not something he has to do anymore. He only thinks of it as a passing fancy, wasn’t that a weird thing to do? These days, all he has to do is cut tears from his eyes with his fingers before they can betray him.

“You’re more kind than I deserve,” he says, lowering his hands and storing them safely in the pockets of his hoodie. Even if that kindness isn’t a gift given to him, just a quality that makes her who she is. A better person than he is, but that was never truly in dispute in his mind.

"If there's anything I can count on in the world it's that most people are gonna let me down," Merlyn lets out a slow breath, one she didn't realize she was holding. "So I've just learned to rely on myself, hands down. I'd like to see some good in the world, I just don't think it's there. Or if it is, it's buried under a lot of shit and I'm not gonna see that kind of gleaming golden ticket." She shoves her hands into her pockets, clearing her throat a little. "There's no point in putting you through hell to make you understand or to be some vindictive bitch getting revenge for being hurt. It's not gonna do anyone any good. Certainly won't make either of us feel better."

There's the shuffling of her feet again and she looks down. "And don't call me kind, people'll start wanting favors and then step all over me because they think I won't fight back."

It’s frustratingly obvious to Elliot. “Merlyn,” he says with a huff, “you are the good in this world. By the only metrics that matter. Anybody who’s looking can see that.”

“I’m sorry I was another person who let you down,” he says, shaking his head. “That I tried to prove your fears to be true. That I did. I should have…” She didn’t have a Wright to be at her worst with, but she also never had one when they were at their best. He grew up and still lives with someone who has his back because nobody else would. Even if they live apart.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t brave enough to be the person that I promised you I was. That we didn’t find the good in the world.” He could apologize, agonize, forever. “If you want to never see me again, I don’t blame you. I’ll accept it. I’m sorry this all came out so badly.” Rambling again, but at least his words are in order. It hurts that never seeing him again will be so easy a wish to fulfill. A kind of escape from having to bear the weight of this perhaps, being locked away forever in an alternate timeline on a fool’s errand to save the world. ’Not a profession that goes for heroic martyrdom.’ Jesus Christ.

“I’m disappointed in you, I don’t hate you,” Merlyn points out. “Maybe you tried to mess things up because you were scared, but you didn’t wuss out of actually apologizing when you actually did have the chance. Could you have done it sooner? You sure as fuck could have. But you did actually stop and apologize when the chance stared you in the face.”

Similar to how she stares at him now.

“Besides, you were always cute when awkward. Honestly if you’d have just breezed through the apology like some kind of silver-tongued gentleman, I’d have been extremely skeptical. I’d also wonder what you’d even be getting out of it. But… I always felt you were the most you, the most real when you stumble over things like that. So no, I don’t hate you, I have no desire to tell you to fuck off now that you actually apologized.”

She pauses to collect her thoughts. “That original ‘fuck off’ was because I didn’t think I’d be getting the apology I hoped would be a thing. The world doesn’t often say it’s sorry for the shit it gives you, but I always foolishly hope.”

Elliot maintains a level stare before sighing out a bone-deep tension he’s been holding for years. His head rests back against the kitchen wall. He tries not to flash a smile, a smirk, a knowing or playful curiosity; none of which he feels he’s earned. He tries not to hope, because hoping has never gotten him anywhere. Because hope died in the Ark.

“In all fairness to you,” he says, unable to fully conceal a retrospective epiphany, “I probably would have taken the easy way out again if you hadn’t told me to fuck off. So thank you for that. For hearing me out. For this.”

“Well, we can’t all be perfect,” Merlyn cracks a tiny, amused smile. “I don’t expect anyone to be. So you at least deserve a little credit for trying. Maybe even for actually feeling guilty. Kind of like the idea of you not being a heartless asshole, you know? That or you’re one hell of an actor right now.”

She leans lightly on the kitchen island. “Wright doing okay? You seem like you’ve slightly got your shit together, so I’d imagine she’s a big part of that.”

He is one hell of an actor, and always acting; every second of every day with everyone he sees. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s here, he’s changed, he means it.

“She’s doing really well,” he says, feeling her satisfied agreement through the link. “She and the family got their own place through the lottery. Sober a couple years, all of us. Ames is in kindergarten. Winslow-Crawford.”

Merlyn closes her eyes for a moment. “I’m fucking glad something is at least going well for someone.” The momentary eye shut is followed by a deep breath before she looks at him again. “Maybe the world isn’t total shit to some of the people who deserve a break for once. I’m used to the undeserving being the only people doing more than treading water.”

Elliot looks grateful, if humble, though he doesn’t believe he deserves a break. Wright, Marthe, Ames; they deserve everything. Deserve to be free of the event horizon of the BLACK BLACK BLACK. Free of him.

Merlyn, this woman miraculously still speaking to him, deserves a break. Deserves solidarity, commitment, support where she requests it. But all of this is still happening in his drug dealer’s kitchen. Sherry is, God bless her, staying at the far side of her living room. Sitting on the window seat, drinking something from a collins glass.

“I’m grateful I got this opportunity to talk to you,” Elliot says. “But you came here expecting something in the ballpark of pizza delivery, so I should leave you to that.”

“But if you want to talk again, I’d be happy to. About anything,” he offers. Anything except the things the Lock protects.

“Seems like we have a knack for showing up when there’s pizza,” Merlyn agrees, then nods in his direction. “Honestly, the offer’s nice. A good step. Maybe I don’t trust you fully and I’m not sure when, or if, that’s a thing that can happen but talking doesn’t hurt. It would be nice to have another person to talk with that isn’t too judgy about… pizza.”

She actually manages a laugh before she glances back in Sherry’s general direction. “I’m glad we got to talk. It helped a bit. Hurt some, but still helped.”

Elliot smiles, he certainly doesn’t have the moral high ground for being judgmental about pizza from. “I’ll be going on extended assignment sometime in the next couple months,” he says. “For I honestly don’t know how long. Not to pressure you into talking to me sooner than you’re ready to, I should still be available to text if you decide to.”

He assumes the assignment length to be until the end of all life on Earth, but honestly something miraculous could happen. Hopefully she does. Hopefully she can be maneuvered into surviving the apocalypse should it come to call. He let her fend for herself when he told her he wouldn’t; he won’t if she lets him tell her again.

Merlyn raises an eyebrow. “Extended assignment, huh? Hope that doesn’t involve you getting into too much trouble.” Her lips press into a thin line as she thinks, but then she nods. “I know how trouble can be, not knowing exactly a timeline of how things’ll go. I wouldn’t mind talking soon, I’m just not making any promises. Not about anything.”

There’s the wall again; she’s not acting, she’s honest, but she’s got her shell back where it used to be. “You’re free to text too. Or call. Ball has always been in your court for that. Would be nice to catch up and see how else life has screwed us in the last couple of years.”

██████ ███ ██████ ██████ ███ ████ ██████, he thinks. ███ ███ ██ ████ ██ ████ ██ ████. █ ████ ███ ██████.

“I will,” he says, “and I understand. Take care of yourself.” Not a deflection, not an escape, an honest wishing well.

We were destined to fly

We were born to live our only lives

And if eternity dies

Tell your soul to find me in the lies

“I always do,” she replies, “but make sure you do the same.” She studies him for a brief moment more before she turns back to the living room. Pizza is waiting, after all.

We're not beyond hope

Don't turn us away

Treasure or torture

Whatever awaits

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