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Scene Title Marrow
Synopsis Of course everybody is dealt a hand, but now and then he has a chance to draw another card, and it's the card he draws when the chance comes that can make all the difference. And what decides the card he draws? - What's Bred in the Bone, Robertson Davies
Date August 8, 2011

In dreams

During the midnight hour on the fringes of Midtown, metahumans no longer have a home court advantage. Robots see, hear and hunt better in the dark. They're faster and more agile. There are more of them. And they know the land.

So it's on the south side of noon that rubber-toothed treads plant and scuff across a ruptured barrier, white light saturated raw through sullen cloud cover. Flint is first across, stiff in one knee. And heavy. He lands with an iron hinge creak in a rise of unsettled concrete dust, foggy breath forced out against the stir at a huff. Slow to turn and help Bella across after him, boulders the size of sofas gawping barren under open sky. Hasn't said much.

Few buildings here manage to rise past their third story.

The daylight helps. Kind of. It fends biting October chill off the leather of his jacket.

It also allows Bella to see the color red.

Bella looks a right adventuresome old biddy, dressed for expedition in what appears to be a ranger hat and the uniform of a female military police - complete with a white 'MP' emblazoned on her upper arm. It's rugged, and its built thick with a vest to stand up to the cold. It even comes with a pair of hefty boots that gives her feet a heaviness of tread that isn't particularly kind on her ankles, certainly not at this leg in her life's journey. The weight of the gun, a plundered QSW-12, is countered by the flask of water on her other hip, but it's still taxing. So slow is okay.

And she takes as much help as Flint offers, standing on no principle. She clasps his hand when offered, leans her weight when he'll take it, and generally comports herself like someone used to being treated preferentially. Fucking Staten Islanders.

She also talks. Never exactly a laconic woman, her inclination to use some trusted others as sounding boards has not waned with age. Flint is trusted, particularly as a known quantity, and his taciturnity has always made him particularly subject to this. Such it is, even and especially now.

"I've secured some refrigerated vehicles," she explains, continuing as soon as she's found steady footing once more, "retrofitted ice cream trucks, put some armoring on them, some bulletproof glass, real tires. Their range is limited by the infrastructure, of course. I'm thinking teams with coolers for sweeps - I can afford to send unskilled people if they're just doing the hauling. Uh- one moment please."

She pauses, leaning on an great slab of rain-cleaned cement, a white leviathan flank mangled with twisted rebar harpoons, grabbing her flask and unscrewing the top to take a gulp. She lifts a hand to adjust the lay of her hat, squinting out into the blasted space. "I presume pickings won't be this slim inside the hotspots," has a hint of whinge to it.

This far out, even Flint's starting to break a sweat, ass-grey hair spined and collar damp under the abrasive buff of his pack. A branch cutter's long wooden arms jut upward from the pack's otherwise amorphous bulk, innocent only in the absence of context. The strap of his rifle is unremarkably utilitarian. The gun itself is old, with a wooden stock and iron sights.

While Bella talks, he looks outward, ability bleaching whatever color from his eyes that the sun's radiation doesn't. Slim pickings is right.

A hint of whinge evokes a hint of irritation in the sideways look he angles back at her all the same, humor blanched from the fuzzy lines around his mouth same as water's been scorched from the landscape. The way his eyes cut back around to the fore has little to say about affection.

He's tense. Unhappy to be here.

Not interested.

To that end, he keeps moving so that she will too if it's actually important that he hear about her ice cream trucks, pausing only when one boot toe sinks through the still-soft ash pit of a recent campfire.

Bella actually keeps her peace for a stretch of terrain, catching her breath perhaps. She doesn't seem to see the firepit, at least not until he toes it, as her inquiring glance first at the surroundings and then at him suggest. When she does notice the irregular patch of recent burn against all the bleached city bone, she reaches into her vest and pulls out, with a series of tugs, a high grade surgical mask that some wag or other saw fit to draw a round yellow smiley face upon.

She dons it, the archaic symbol of good cheer providing a stark contrast with the furrow of her brows as she crouches down and - reaching into the other side of her vest to pull out a steel comb - runs it through the ashes, lifting to sift out larger bits of pieces. Yellow and fireblackened shapes that Bella examines through the lesser lenses of her glasses like a latter day auger.

"Rat bones," she reports, in case he was wondering, "some scraps of can label, too, I think." She gives a soft oof as she gets back to her feet. They were eating pretty well then. All things considered." She sounds pleased about this, in a mild way. "Probably in good health. Young, too, maybe, to make it all the way out here." This sounds more like a hope than a conclusion or even a speculation.

"We made it all the way out here."

And they are old. Is the implication. Voice muffled quiet so that it doesn't carry, Flint sweeps a glance around the broken street in search of tracks, of which there are none. Breathes deep to test the wind for anything ripe. Raw sewage.


There's none of that either.

Officially unsettled, then, he tips a look down after what she's digging in and lets his pack drop away from his shoulders to his boot heels so that he can bolt a round up into the chamber of his rifle instead. The cartridge rolls in from the magazine with a well-oiled clack, metal phalanges resettled around the forestock once he's lifted his glare to scan empty windows across the street.

"Probably a human."

Two sentences in five minutes when he's said virtually nothing prior, and neither is particularly flattering in tone or voice.

Fortunately(?) further jabs are put on hold when an ominous pop pop from a second-story window spits ash out of the pit and ticks sparks through a nick in Flint's jacket. He raises his rifle in turn, as Deckards do.

"Yes, but we are exceptional," Bella replies, "very lively for our demographic. Very alive for our demographic as well." This is one of those 90% of impromptu statistics - demographic information is hard to collect in a lawless, postbellum wasteland, you see.

Still, as the ash puffs out a post-mortem puff of smoke, and sparks kick up from Flint but start no new fires, it seem as if - right or wrong - someone is out to correct their outlier status. Bella's instincts are rather different from Flint's but their not poor - she makes for cover immediately, only drawing her weapon from his holster when she's planted herself behind a seamy chunk of road that a detonation kicked up into a new slanted repose.

That an outing with Flint would include gunplay seems almost to be expected in hindsight; this is why Bella normally commutes in armored vehicles. Still she doesn't sound scared or even upset. Her voice carries the tension of adrenal release, yes, but she sounds almost bright, calling out from her haven. "Using firearms? Yes, I think we can safely say 'human' at this point."


A third shot ricochets off a light post and whistles on down the street to bury itself in an overturned mailbox.

"He's young," confirmed without much feeling, adrenaline-fueled or otherwise, Flint sinks himself down into a crouch and readjusts his aim. Quiet, for a conspicuous beat. He hasn't fired back yet.

"It isn't going to get any fresher."

Back and forth with her brim shaded gaze, Bella considers her range of safe movement. The broken road could protect her for about fifty feet- maybe sixty if she got on her belly and crawled but it really hasn't come to that yet.

"Ideal," she states with a grim enthusiasm, before peeking around at his crouch. "Are you- just hanging out there? Do you need covering fire? If you tell me which window and which floor, you know, I could…" Not that she particularly wants to. She is stating it as a materially available option, should the situation demand. Nothing to flick her safety off in anticipation of.

"Otherwise I'm going assume you are taking care of this."

The report of Deckard’s rifle has clout to it: the single shot he takes slaps at diaphragms and rings stuffily shrill in their ears. The spent cartridge he jacks out to bolt another one in may as well be made of cotton for all its tumble to shattered concrete is audible to either of them. Across the street, a handgun clatters down the wall from the relevant window.

"I wasn't sure you wanted me to kill him," spoken evenly by way of belated explanation sounds far away in her ears and in his. Like someone else is saying it.

If she never expressly said that she did, well.

She never expressly said that she didn't, either.

Bella does not cringe at the sound of the gunshot, though she does clap a hand over the near ear and shoots Flint a dirty look that she doesn't hold for long enough for him to catch. Just wonderful. She needs tinnitus like she needs a cranial blunt force trauma.

"Well, as he," she says, using her palm against the broken road to help her clamber to her feet, "shot at us first," holstering her weapon, she rounds the corner to join Flint,"I think my conscience will remain clear…

"Did you get him in the head? That would be optimal." Eyes scanning the now quiet facade.


He got him in the head.

Rifle slung down so that he can shrug his pack back up beneath it, Flint stands in place for longer than feels natural before leaning into an advance. Right boot over left, industrial grit crunching rough underfoot. There are two flights of stairs; one is clear. A fire exit stands open on the ground floor and he angles himself automatically for the alley that leads to it.

"Excellent. Thank you." Bella won't pretend she could make such a shot. Maybe, maybe if she were actually given a million years and as many bullets. But as this is not so-

She follows him, readjusting her hat with a slightly fussy motion that she would go through even if it were unnecessary. There's a slight pause before she enters the alley - she glances around behind her, checking the empty street around them, bearing no appreciable change for the brief spurt of conflict that has just transpired. Big devastation swallows little devastation.

Then she's into the alley with no further hesitation. She tips her hat off her head, letting it hang over her shoulders, suspended by the string that runs from ear to ear. Her hair is pulled up into a twist of fragile wire, silver and copper.

A slow filtered sigh fills the space where propriety dictates a you're welcome should go for him having just shot somebody in the face.

Beyond the open door it's dark, but only the kind of dark that seems so by afternoon contrast. Shafts of light filter through pits blasted through bricking and drywall; sinkholes in the ceiling spill in still more to see by once her eyes have had time to adjust. A toilet lies broken across a debris-caked desk. Old LAN cables and power cords stretch in place of cobwebs. There isn't much here for insects to eat, everything in shades of grey.

Fresh tracks mark the stairs as the same set their quarry used on his way up, Flint's left hand rasping shrill against the rail every second step.

Body's around the corner, just shy of the window where it should be. Displaced brain matter is still damp on the walls. There's a lot of blood.

The unknown subject isn't any older than twenty. Caucasian male lying still on his back, short black hair and green eyes in a hoodie sweater and jacket. Dirty. Parts of his head are missing.

The only smell is of tobacco smoke rising from a still-lit cigarette in a paper-clip holder at the window. After taking a long look, Flint shrugs out of his pack.

Bella knows better than to gripe 'must you?' as he makes that awful noise upon ascent. She thinks it, surely enough, but to vocalize would be to invite disregard at best. She leans quite heavily on the rail herself, and begs another pause for water, after which she presses a hand to her side and makes a pained face, but no complaint, suffering in silence before rounding the bend.

It's a far cry from Staten Island, all this. The ruins still possess a certain desolate romance in Bella's mind, which is not yet inured to aesthetics or flights of fancy. She imagines art photographs, capturing these instances of abandonment and dereliction. The spray of blood, floret red, stands out in stark contrast to the shades of grey, metaphorical for something or other.

She doesn't much care, really. She's not thinking in figurative terms. Rather she is picking her way around the corpse, moving around to one side of it and stooping down. She does not see a person. Whatever and whoever this man was is now decorating the walls and floors. What remains is meat.

Bella looks up at Flint as he makes to deploy the necessary tools. "A minimum of explanation would be appreciated."

Rifle propped out of the way and jacket sloughed off in a heap, Flint drags the pack open by its zippery maw and tosses the branch chopper closer to the corpse. A lunchbox follows with a heavier crash, his eyes on her when he sets to maneuvering himself into a pair of rubber gloves, latex traction on his false hand nearly enough of a problem that he eventually has to hold his muscle and bone model out for assistance.

At his other side, interlocking components are locked and armored around the stump of upper arm he has left, second-hand hack job showing in rough secondary welds closer to the shoulder. Its skeletal design amidst stips of makeshift muscle is not so unlike his naturally wiry composition that it inspires massive dissonance; plate metal and hide alike scarred from knuckle to sleeve.

Accelerated respiration might be attributed to the stairs. Diminished willpower to look away from the thing he's about to cut into is slightly more suspect.

She assists with his gloving with a steady eyed efficiency of someone who is doing a job. Bella's mind is on the work. She makes minute adjustments to the straps on her mask, seeming to trust her glasses as protection enough - the heart is no longer beating, so pulse splatter is not a problem. Rubber gloves drawn on, snap snap. The general concept is not new. You don't get to be a doctor without picking through a few cadavers. But the devil is in the details.

"Don't worry too much about the heart. Heart disease has drastically decreased as a cause of death. Kidneys, livers, marrow," Bella says, with medical methodicalness. She glances up at him, breaking briefly from the tone of dictation. "Really, the chances of a successful operation under these conditions is abysmal. But people will pay premium for a shred of hope."

"I've never done marrow."

Short of chewing it out of chicken bones. Which probably doesn't count.

He puts his mask on last, crumpled paper an afterthought on his way to snagging an unmarked bottle from the jumble of his pack. The chemical contents are overturned onto the blade of his knife, which he's unfolded at some point.

It's aged well, wooden grip worn smooth and guthook kept sharp as the blade in the rectangle of light branded in through the empty window. Familiar as the rest of him, by now.

A half-assed second rinse is deemed sufficient after he's used the aforementioned hook to cleave clean down through hoodie and underlying t-shirt, fiber evidence and blood skirted away from bloodless fishbelly.

Hunkered down into a cro-magnon crouch between splayed legs, at length, Deckard touches the tip of his knife down perpendicular to the base of the boy's sternum. Seconds pass. More seconds, unholy eyes fixed shrill on the slight sink of the point into soft skin. Thinking. Maybe.

Then he lifts it away again, knife retracted inward, close to his knee.

Not. Exactly progress.

"I understand that I am the pupil here," Bella says, affected formality bridging sarcasm and dryness, "but I don't think that taking our time is recommended at any step of the process."

Her eyes crinkle in mean spirited match with the luminous yellow circle of cheer on the front of her mask. "Or are you just having a senior moment?"

She doesn't need to see his teeth grit behind the mask to follow the sink of tension that shifts under its surface. The same undefined sentiment makes cables stand out across the back of his extant forearm — the one wielding the knife, old veins knotted thick over a twitch at his wrist.

Resisting the bit.

Oh, was that not funny? Bella could have sworn that was funny. Her hidden smile recedes, and her head tilts very slightly on her neck, adopting an attitude of curiosity.

"What's the trouble?" Concern underlines her question.

Breathing more controlled now that he's had time inside his own skull to settle, Flint shifts his weight from one side to the other. Inward, outward. There's a rickety, rawboned quality to him without the jacket to bulk him out, lengths and angles exaggerated and pronounced by age and robotic prosthetics. Less mass to his core.

The body is starting to cool. Has been since it hit the floor.

After too much time has passed, the only way he can think to ask what if I like it is: "What if I like it?" Quiet and private even for the confines of the setting. A serious question, according to the way he's looking at her. Too hard. Not quite miserable enough.

He is getting on in years to maintain serial killing as a hobby.

It this a serious question?

"If you're looking for moral compunctions, I may not be the woman to turn to. I haven't persisted by being picky about my company."

But it is a serious question. And she is being unserious, a dishonor that falls outside the realm of her casual verbal abuses. Bella tugs down her mask, peeling away the permanent gaiety in order that, now he is actually looking at her, he may see her. Her mouth is a composed line of consideration tempered with sympathy.

"So maybe you do like it," she concedes, because the question is not really 'do I like it' - if you ask the question, you already know the answer. Rather it's 'if I like it, what then?'.

And psychological implication used to accompany what has been a lifelong career of peddling chemicals to quiet inhabiting spirits. She dusts off the couch in the little studio office in her mind.

"If this is not something you can change about yourself - not something you are interested in changing or simply not something you're able to change - then I will be honest, Flint: at this point, I foresee no breakthroughs. And between you and me, redemption is a rim-high crock of shit."

To wit, he's getting on in years to find a new hobby. And whittling probably won't serve as a compelling substitute.

"If you really want, you can make rules to regulate the expression of your impulses and inclinations. You already did, I'm sure, when there was a law and order left to punish worse excesses. But there isn't even that any more, so it's simply on you to set those terms.

"Maybe you didn't suit the world before. Kindly the world has changed to suit you."

Nameless, brainless, pallid and cooling, the body fills the space between them with dead weight.

"If it really bothers you, know at least that, when you're working with me, I intend to do some bare minimum of good."

Flint listens.

Raptly attentive, blade turned down against the dusty calf of his jeans until she's finished and he gives himself still more time to think about what she's said. At length, his focus ticks away, crow's feet etched painfully tight around his eyes, the lock of his jaw obscured by the filter of his mask.

"Morality still exists."

He says so at a resolute distance once he's leaned to reset the point of his knife at the join of belly and sternum, speaking to himself as much as he is to her. A half-inch nick is all he needs; a flip of edge upward brings the guthook down to catch in the slit and he draws it swiftly, silkily downwards. Exposed viscera swells wetly up against the gap, stomach and liver and bunched intestine easily identifiable at the surface. There isn't much blood — just a slippery damp that makes easing his intact hand in to feel after the diaphragm's ceiling quick and slick.

"You don't believe in God."

"Since when?" Bella inquires, dry as dust and rostrum-rhetorical, "and which morality? I'd suggest you avoid strict Buddhism - they don't permit you to engage in anal or oral sex. Islam would have you quit drinking. Lutherans wouldn't let you dance. Calvinists wouldn't let you play cards."

They'd all probably would be more upset about shooting a man in the head to harvest his inner bits and pieces, to be fair. But she's making a point here.

"Jehovah's witnesses wouldn't let us transfuse any of this blood, if were were bothering to collect it. Christian Scientists wouldn't even let you take aspirin, even if it was only because your knees hurt from praying so much."

She's able to talk as she peers into the mess of guts and gore, fingers poised but not yet reaching for anything. The benefit of compartmentalization, of multi-tracking the mind. Left hand and right hand, working in mutually beneficial ignorance.

"And on that subject, perhaps I should qualify - I don't see fit to acknowledge a God as piss poor as the one we must have."

Then, to top it off, she glances back up at him.

"Oh- and I should further ask- which God?"

Into the corpse past his wrist, Deckard sighs to himself when she starts with the list, anticipating its length before she's made it past the second mark. An initial lift of steam from unsettled guts has since withered away, leaving behind no real stink to impede her observation.

Which is fortunate, because when he retracts his hand it's to wrap around her near wrist and drag it along down inside into pressing, sticky warmth whether she's prepared or not.

A methodical plunge of knife to cadaver thigh with his mechanical hand at the same time keeps the blade safely obscured for now.

"I dunno," he confesses with her hand gripped under his, guided down into alien heat, past the sloshy, rolling give of the stomach across the firmer plate of the liver. "Puncture the gut and you contaminate everything. Feel ahead of any cuts you make. The kidneys are down there," he tells her instead. "If I want anything out of the chest cavity I crack it open."

As soon as innards start really squelching, Bella has replaced her mask, words taking on the slight muffle of containment. "Put a gun to my head and force me to choose, I'd take Thomas Jefferson's God. The watchmaker. And things are just- winding down." And this, blessedly, seems to be the end of her discourse.

There are some thing Bella already knows, or can infer, even without being a surgeon, but she accepts each detail given with the same even attention. She has never performed any harvest, much less a speedy field collection. So there's only a sight twitch around her eyes as he takes her hand and invites her on a Journey Inside the Human Body. Everything is where it should be, yes yes- this is old territory, but familiar. Familiar enough to permit her one last sally, since the topic was opened. Not quite the end, then.

"Are you concerned that God is watching you now? That it doesn't approve?"

She glances over at the knife, resting secure in the thick thigh muscle.

"Two kidneys, unless someone's already gotten to him before- should you remove one, and I the other? Or are you going to give me two tries?"

"I don't know." There's shame in the furrow of Flint's brow when he tucks his chin down to spend a beat circling blackly inside his own head, glare turned pointedly away. Blocking her out.

"I dunno," again some seconds later sounds redundant but feels necessary.

He releases her hand to retrieve the knife and rolls John Doe over like a log in mud with his surrogate arm. The better to make a new incision bold around his right side from fore to aft. Not like scarring is going to be an issue.

Practice defines the right amount of pressure to split skin over fat; a softer series of shallower follow up cuts exposes muscle and a shiver prickles bristly hairs at the base of his neck. Flint's neck.

So that, "Yeah." is his answer to the non-yes-or-no question of who excavates what.

In answer to his discomfort, Bella offers this by way of solace:

"God's got sicker, sadder things to look at, trust me. Bigger and grander too. Supernovas and gang rapes. Don't worry so much- what you're feeling is just standard issue narcissism."

Because that makes it all better, apparently. Or should.

Her gloved fingers - one set bloodstained, another clean - splay fingers out, and she winces a little as she tries to flex the ache from them. His 'yeah', in its ambiguity, is assigned to her last option, so she extends her clean hand in anticipation of the knife's being proffered.

"Walk me through the first one, and I'll try for the second on my own."

The knife is big, for surgical work. As evidenced, Flint's technique is quick and rough as it is cleanly utilitarian: don't bust the gut and remember the way things feel about covers necessary direction, in his book.

He's slow to realize she wants it, too — raptor eyes zeroed down, glassily devoid of color until her hand enters his periphery and he registers her presence there. It helps when you can see what you're cutting towards.

At any rate, the kidney is down in there and he passes the knife over at a silent slant. Grip first, so that he can sink back onto his bony ass and sit in as much inscrutable silence trimming and squelching allows for.

No, not a scalpel by any means, and Bella takes the knife with a testing, adjusting grip that suggests this may take some getting used to. Her bloodied hand slips into the butcher's incision, eyes tipping to a nowhere point up in the air as she sees with her fingers. They dip back down to Flint momentarily, long enough for her to deliver the directive, "keep an eye on me."

"I think-" a pause, an unpleasant sound issuing from the corpse as she works her fingers up under something, "I think that's it-" She withdraws her hand slowly and then presses aside the side of the incision to give the blade proper access, keeping her own fingers well away from the long, sharp edge as she seeks to extract the first of the two kidneys this man's God gave him.

Deckard doesn't have to lean far to retrieve the soft lunchbox. He does so without losing the gloves first, smudging cooled blood across the cover on his way to working the zipper. There's a ziploc bag inside. He shakes it open one-handed. Holds it out.

Bella's face makes a series of expressions that lines emphasize where they are not hidden entirely by the mask. Quirk-lipped displays of finicky-task concentration - scroll back fifty two odd years, and the direct ancestors of these expressions could have been witnessed as little Isabella attempted to extract the hated Charlie Horse from her copy of Operation.

She's had a lot of time to improve since then, and shortly she has lifted the bloody ovoid of the kidney from its container, rescued from a fate of decay. Driving the knife into the other thigh, copying Flint's method, she uses both hands to slip the organ into the proffered bag.

The pleasure of success brings out her crowsfeet. "Waste not, want not."

The kidney's weight is passed over to rest in the upturned cage of Flint's clockwork claws while he waits, gloves peeled off one at a time. They stick feebly to a mass of unidentifiable garbage some feet away when he throws them, blood cracking sticky across the back of his arm ignored so that he can rest the narrow plank of his face down against the associate hand. Letting her do her thing.

She takes her time, and the time spent is time lost, but Bella has to learn the motions before she can trust herself to be quick with a blade and a belly ready to burst. Not, of course, that she intends to be doing a lot of this. Delegation is the first sight of civilization and someone has to stand up for civil society, don't they?

The second kidney free, she balances the piece of specialized meat on the flat of the knife. "I think I can convey this," she says, "though- you're sure you wouldn't be willing to lead a group demonstration?" even if never asked, a negative is assumed, "maybe you'd shine, given a little spotlight," is just a jibe, then. Darts and a cork board.

Unmoved to offer the bag any closer than it already lies, Flint sits, matte, dusty absence of luster on par with every other flake of garbage in this place. He looks ill-equipped to shine, literally or figuratively. It's like having a sullen or otherwise out of sorts dog out for walkies against its will: he glances to her sideways when he glances at all. Joyless.

Still, there's inherent irony to his heavily delayed, "You're a bad person." Acknowledgement, if not necessarily cheerful acceptance of the four fingers aimed back at him when he points the one. The reason she asked him along in the first place.

She inclines the blade, letting the kidney slide to join its brother. Bloody, slick, it looks like most leftovers and ziplock bags look: unappetizing. At least, Bella finds them so. There is a limit to her practical depravity.

And so:

"I'm not so bad. You've met worse."


Easy admission is borne of awareness that the existence of worse beings does not negate the badness of the one he's addressing.

The bag is sealed. The lunch box is zipped. Flint pushes to his feet, whirr and clickity-clck-snkt like a shitty CD player, grit skirting after him in avalanche skims of dust and debris.

Eyeing her more directly, now. Her turned back, specifically.

Precisely the kind of predatory tickle between her shoulder blades
his presence has been a deterrent to on previous excursions.

This is the thing of living one's life entirely behind walls. Danger is an abstraction, a scenario to be prepared for in its unlikely occurrence. As nothing more than a set of projected fearful scenes, it has no feeling independent of fear itself. To feel safe is to necessarily be vulnerable.

It's not likely she's often fired that piece at her hip for real. Bella writes prescriptions. Other people fill them out.

She glances over the body, lying face down and rapidly gaining pallor. More and more like a carcass.

"This'll do," she decides, nodding, no Plains Indian she, content to leave the rest of the kill to the air. Maybe rats will congregate here. Maybe crows will form a black-clad mourners chorus over the earthly remains.

"Let's go."

Re-packing everything they did and didn't use apparently falls on Flint's shoulders. But. After a moment of dragging thought has been spent on the subject of organization, he stoops to draw his knife from its shallow sink into thigh muscle and rights himself again without reaching for the rest of it.

He's still carrying the lunch box in his left hand because he's forgotten it's there. Otherwise, it's him and his knife and his eyes backlit to the window, standing too still, watching too close. Silence more static than simple reticence. Queer, while she does the hands-on-hips thing and surveys her job well done.

She removes the gloves with the gingerness of one who is not so familiar with blood as to have no reaction to it at all. Careful not to get any on her skin. It’s amazing what a hive of disease the human body is.

Bella carefully sets her hat back on her head, in anticipation of late afternoon sun outside. She dusts her hands, a dismissal of the task at hand, a marker of time. That's done. On to the next thing.

She turns, inclining her chin the necessary angle to get a direct line to his eyes. "Pensive?" she inquires.


Flint shakes his head slightly to that effect, the electric narrow of his eyes faltered long enough for tension to knot over itself eel-like through the blocks of his shoulders and up the back of his arm.

"I'll catch up," is not a strictly sensible thing to say, after a blank pause. Even given sufficient time, he'd be hard-pressed to imagine her picking her way importantly through Midtown's shadow on her own. With her hat.

No, it's possible but improbable, and that's bad drama. Bella tilts her head to the side, like she's worried there's something wrong with him. Something more wrong.

"That wouldn't be strictly sober. He might have been here alone but," her brows edge up, "that just proves the point." She gestures towards him with a wrist. Hurry up. "Those things have short viability periods. We need them on ice."

Deckard doesn't twitch as if he might comply. He slings the soft lunch box at her feet instead. Which — is probably not healthy for the contents. A lot of things that have happened in the last ten minutes are not healthy for the contents.

"There's ice in the bag," he says, with a breath that's more held than it is actually controlled.

"And it's melting," Bella says, making a half turn towards the exit, "let's stay ahead of the ball," a glance over the shoulder, "you can have a beer when we get back. I've got a nice little still, and those trucks up and running."

The transition from bad to worse is tangible in a bristle that bares Flint's teeth and spurs him into an abortive lunge, sweat prickling at his temples. Warning escalated to threat in a spasm of old muscle and long bone, self-control frayed thin over hot wire.

Still a bluff. Technically.

But a pretty convincing one.

She backpedals at once, nearly stumbling as she puts distance between them, arms angled back to feel for a wall lest she bump into it. No move for her weapon. Surprise in her eyes.

"Jesus Christ Flint, what the fuck?"

She's shocked. Shocked and disappointed. Shocked and disappointed and confused. And afraid.

"Get a grip- we don't have time for this horseshit."

Flint is surprised too. A shaky breath wavers with reeling upset and he has to try twice to raise his voice to a snarl that has some authority behind it. Enough to belt out a wild-eyed, "Wait outside."

His punctuation doesn't bear arguing with.

Pride lasts just up to the cusp of real danger. Then it's dropped like everything else when you're fleeing a burning building. Don't try and save this or that token. Doesn't mean a thing to the dead.

Bella is visibly shaken, one hand still feeling about behind her as she turns and edges towards the door. It takes time before she can bring herself to break line of sight, and then it's only moments before she's around the bend, taking the steps as quickly as her ankles will let her, heart shivering uncomfortably at the sound of her bootfalls echoing through the chamber of concrete.

A seething blast of brimstone breath against the cold follows her out. Past that, Flint's quick to swipe steel talons across a debris-cluttered desk on his way to dragging it over onto its side with a slow-tilting crash

that startles his eyes open and flares his nostrils wide into the humid dark of his bedroom.

‘Their.’ Bedroom.

Sweat soaked lukewarm through the coarse bristle of his hair is colder in the sheets clinging around his feet. Past his initial flinch, he's aware enough of her presence beside him to lie still, but not self-aware enough to avoid being too still, one uneven breath at a time stifled into silence.

They've done this before.

Tense is a tetchy matter when it comes to the ins and outs of temporal transposition. But within the clear and comprehensible chronology of the day to day that Bella, dull normal woman envious of a dull normal life, keeps up in her head, this first instant of consciousness, a simultaneous waking, has happened before.

That it has happened again is something that she, with her interest in dull normality, must take time to come to grips with. And even then, only after dealing with the content of the just-departed dream. Too close to what she saw before for coincidence, too coherent to be a true-dream appropriation of the reverse-prophetic, too grim in matter not to bear consideration - it's a wonder she's not more scared.

Which is not to say she isn't just a little scared anyways. Tensely still, breath kept shallow, though it's a clear sign she's no longer sleeping. Before she had to talk about it. Right now, maybe just maybe - and it is a last ditch explanation of the weakest sort - this very waking remains a dream.

As time rolls one a wakefulness persists, this hope presents itself as more and more vain.

He's awake. She's awake.

At some point, sooner rather than later, clinging sheets and the damp and the quiet become intolerable. Flint turns the bedding away from himself and rolls out away from her. Onto his feet. Into his jeans crumpled on the floor, abrasive rustling and his turned back etched with ink.

There's a shirt, somewhere — he trips his fingers through hers before snagging one of his own white out of a drawer on his way to the door.

It's her turn for inactivity. As the murk kicked up by dreaming settles into sediment, stratified for her consideration whether or not she wishes to consider it, Bella finds herself pinioned by thoughts, all permutations on a common theme, being a linkage between now, then and will be, all in light of the most recent revelation - one in the shape of knife.

Ever her own ally, the knife is remembered as most relevantly in his hand, point on point when its point was pointed towards her. And the barb pins her to the bed, still but roiling in her own mind, way beyond hope of slipping into denial or forgetfulness.

So he's gone maybe fifteen minutes, though they feel longer lying in a bed half colder for his absence, before Bella peeks over into the room and - assured in that he's truly left the space and not just the particular bit of furniture they were sharing - sits up, cradling head in hands as if that will help her with the distress within.

No such luck. Only five minutes of this, and she's up, getting dressed as quickly slow as restlessness can stir up reluctance. Should she wait, he'll come back, or not, sooner or later, and nothing would change in the meantime save for bad expectations getting worse. So she exits the room, she chasing him, though without his advantage of spectral forewarning.

Twenty minutes is a long time to acquire a lead.

Flint isn't in the house.

Outside it's humid and dark, half a moon enough to distinguish mud from dirt around the crooked drip of an old hand pump, where fresh raccoon tracks overlay the bear-toed tread of man.

Further out, there's the road and a path worn inwards, towards the beach. Isolated trees mull in what slow wind there is, branches blotted black against the sky.

A sickly glow at the horizon all around marks city life closer than it looks like it should be.

The best we can say about Bella's pursuit is that she expected him to seek open air; she dressed for the outdoors from the outset, picking her running shoes from her truncated collection of footwear.

At the door there is a moment's hesitation, but hardly sincere. She goes through the motions of doubt, tries to experience directly some suspicion or fear, some sort lingering on the order of the previous dream's anger. Reasons that violence is worse than some perceived abandonment.

But it's not, not in the stubbornly unreasonable economy of her mind. And so that is why, hesitation given its due, she was always going to give chase into the night.

Not, of course, that she'll be so stupid as to forget a flashlight.

Marsh grasses grow past the waterline in great, whispering swaths that even night-sighted humans are reluctant to cross barefoot; broken glass, burrs and slivers of sharp plastic are as much a part of the environment as sand settled into grey patches in the spaces in between.

Initially drawn to water, Flint's footprints double back near instantly upon contact, as if bitten. Some other buried memory called to fore.

The water is oil black, sullen peaks touched lighter by the moon.

He's a ways down the shore, dry sand making direction easier to discern than precise path. Seated well back from the water in a pair of scratched sunglasses fished out've the grass. Smoking.

Odds are he would've gone further if not for the rusted out old boat wreck that cuts his stretch of sand off from the rest of the narrow beach's wind.

Bella makes her way through the massed grasses, flinching as her bare arms feel the impact of insects whose nocturnal business is disturbed by her passing. Bloodsuckers mercifully ignore her. Blood thin, maybe cold, but for whatever reason she doesn't invite bites. She still feels itchy, all the same. Psychosomatics.

The flashlight - so useful when pointed at the ground, illuminating the perils trod upon - fans its beam out into nothingness as she steps onto the beach. The night that sits on the sea swallows the light with the same implacable less-than-notice that a whale would pay to a single krill. She dances it down to her feet, preserving her light, then sorties it out until it finds fresh tracks.

These tracks, material mark of his passing, give her momentary pause, this one more honest and more practical. When she finds him - a possibility left unconsidered if favor of fearing its negative - what precisely is she supposed to say? Words are her vanguard, and plunging in without a front line is as good as blindness.

But she's come this far, and recession would leave her with sickness and sleeplessness. She follows his approach to the water, then its retreat away from it, and keeps her shoes dry tracing his path until the familiar angles of his profile resolves into view.

Fearlessly she shines the light on him - smart money says he's out of the wavelength anyways.

Knees bent to counterbalance the forward lean and curve of his spine, Flint puffs on what looks like a stogie he found smashed into his pocket, the end sizzled orange after a look he veers sideways after her approach. His head doesn't turn. There's a ghost of blue movement behind tinted lenses and inevitably, no flinch or recoil when the flashlight glances harsh off the side of his face. Wet hair, hollow cheek and whatever few days worth of damp stubble is bristled there after the last time she told him to shave.

It occurs to him, belatedly, that she probably wouldn't have looked for him inside.

The light bobs down onto the ground, narrowing into a small circumference as her elbow slackens. There's maybe twenty, twenty-five feet left between them. Her feet don't budge forward further. Instead they turn in place, pointing towards the restless creep of the water up the shallow slope of sand.

Crouched, light held captive between her feet, she looks out across the same water.

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