One Whole Capybara


chess6_icon.gif ff_gracie_icon.gif

Scene Title One Whole Capybara
Synopsis Just what is an even exchange for this kind of gift?
Date July 6, 2021

Ruins of Toledo

The verdict still hangs heavy, but at least no one’s going to leave her on the side of the road with people who want her dead. As the boxcar has emptied out, Gracie sits alone with her thoughts while the others confer outside, catching up their convoy cohort. She leans heavily against the wall, breathing raggedly now that it’s over and she doesn’t have to try so hard to hold it together.

There’s a lump in her throat she swallows that has just as much to do with emotion as it does with a feeling of sickness born from too much time spent in pain. Her face is wiped at with the folded over corner of the blanket spread out over her outstretched legs, pooling around her waist.

Metal creaks as Chess pulls herself up onto the boxcar. Silhouetted by the outside light for the moment, it’s hard to make out her face until she steps a little closer. She doesn’t approach quickly, giving Gracie time to see her and react to her – Chess knows what it’s like to feel helpless, imprisoned, and alone. At least when she was in questioning in Detroit and then Kansas City, she had the luxury of not sitting with a broken leg on a cold traincar.

Her pale eyes seek Gracie’s as she crouches down, a few feet away from her yet. Enough to put herself on Gracie’s level so the other woman doesn’t have to strain to see her face.

“Hey,” she says quietly. It’s neither warm nor cool – it just is. “I’m going to try to heal you, if you want me to. But, um. You’re the first one. Natalie Gray? She left me with her ability, which is fucking crazy, no disrespect to the dead. She seemed nice.”

Chess swallows, glancing over her shoulder at the door, then back to Gracie. “I get it if you don’t want me, though. I don’t think I can hurt you more, but hell if I know.” This is quite the sales pitch. “Or you can wait for one of the other two to do it.”

Gracie watches warily at first, uncertain of who the silhouette belongs to, so she takes the moments granted to her to take a steadying breath and sit up straighter, feeling slightly more presentable, even though just about everybody knows she’s a mess now. Anyone who was part of her questioning anyway.

Which, as it happens, includes the woman who’s come to join her. There’s a certain kind of relief to be found in that. Her teardrop-shaped mouth pulls into a half smile as she quips, “Hey, beautiful.” She nods along slowly as Chess explains what she can do now, and why. She doesn’t seem surprised.

“I… You have her eyes?” she laughs nervously at her explanation for how she figured on Natalie’s ability having come to Chess. “Sorry, I just… That was bad. I’m kind of a basketcase right now, but… yes.” Gracie confirms with another nod. “I don’t know if you know, but this is kind of the most fucking terrifying thing that could happen to a girl like me?” This time when she laughs, it sounds more like the prelude to more tears, and it shows in the way she presses her lips together and turns her face away quickly, blinking rapidly to stem the tide.

A noisy sniff later, she turns back with another smile, one that shows how badly she’s been affected by her situation. “First of all, I’ve played Yukon Trail. People die from broken legs. Second…” She gestures to the lump under the blanket that is her snapped leg. “I’m a dancer?” She takes in another shaky breath. “This is kind of my worst nightmare right now.”

The awkward quip earns an awkward huff of a laugh from Chess, who looks as nervous as Gracie does, despite the fact she has the higher ground, physically speaking, if she wanted to hurt Gracie.

“I wouldn’t let her near me to heal me, so she apparently thought I was strong enough to take on the job,” Chess murmurs, with a small shake of her head. She disagrees, it’s clear, but she isn’t here to complain about the new calling, welcome or not.

With implied permission, Chess rises and moves the last few feet to close the gap between them, then sits down on the cold metal floor of the boxcar. “Is that like Oregon Trail?” she asks, before holding out her hand for Gracie’s.

“I don’t really know what I’m doing, so we’ll see how this works together, yeah? You’re like… the biggest of guinea pigs. Like a whole capybara, or something,” she murmurs, then huffs another short laugh. “Sorry, I make super stupid jokes when I’m nervous.”

“It’s a hell of a burden.” There’s empathy in Gracie’s tone. Focusing on Chess makes her own fear easier to take. “I’m sorry it got placed on your shoulders.” She tips her head to one side briefly. “I’m assuming you didn’t actually want it.” A note of laughter carries on her exhale.

There’s no hesitation when Gracie reaches out to take the offered hand, even if she does make the movement a slow one. She knows people are wary of her, and she doesn’t want to do anything to spook the other woman. Her fingertips slide slowly and lightly over Chess’ palm. It might seem like something intimate, but then this is an intimate sort of process in a sense. She’s testing the proverbial waters, however, waiting to see if there’s an instantaneous sort of reaction or not.

When nothing happens to spook her, her hand fits around Chess’ in a gentle clasp of fingers. “I make stupid jokes all the time, so you’re in good company. Or not, depending on your opinion of me, I guess.” That brings her gaze down to where their hands are held, the weight of her situation remembered after the moment of levity. “But yeah,” she picks up the earlier thread. “Computer game I played as a kid. Start in Seattle and make your way up to Alaska.” She smiles wryly. “I almost never made it with my whole crew.” She looks to the world outside the boxcar. “Seeing the parallels here.”

Gracie grimaces. “Guess I’m actually shit at jokes right now. Sorry.” But she squeezes her fingers around that hand briefly. “I trust you, Chess.” Her eyes close for a moment as she inhales slowly, then exhales. “It’s gonna be okay.” Maybe that’s meant more to reassure herself, but she settles her blue eyes on the ones that are only recently similar in shade.

“Oh, so exactly like Oregon Trail. I know that one. My parents… well. The people who raised me,” there’s no love lost there on Chess’ part, “only let my brothers and me play educational video games during the week. I didn’t play them a lot, though.”

She doesn’t pull away from Gracie’s hand; her brows knit together as she focuses on how the contact feels. After a moment, a pale light can be seen where their hands touch, and a soft warmth begins to slowly creep upward, from their clasped palms to Gracie’s wrist.

“I’m really hoping we can at least avoid the dysentery,” Chess says, wrinkling her nose. “It already smells awful in most of the vehicles. I’m pretty sure something died in Scout’s engine at some point in the not-distant-enough past.”

After a moment, as that warmth seeps up Gracie’s arm, Chess adds, “I didn’t want this, no. It probably seems selfish.” She doesn’t try to justify herself or argue that it’s not, but simply shrugs.

“I drank bad water on my first trip out this way. Can confirm that dysentery would be among the worst ways to go.” Gracie pulls a face at the memory. Quieter, she adds, “It damn near did do me in.” That’s clearly a scare that stuck with her; her gaze is haunted. “I got lucky. That’s why I said I wouldn’t do this alone again.”

Closing her eyes, Gracie passes a smile to Chess as she focuses on the soothing warmth that’s slowly spreading through her. “It’s not selfish,” she reasons. “Wanting to have the power, but then using it to pick and choose with it would be selfish, I think.” She opens her eyes again. “Doesn’t seem your style.” The shoulder opposite the clasped hand comes up in a shrug. “I’d want it, but… Because I know who I’d want to use it on. That’s probably selfish, to have a specific someone in mind, instead of just a desire to help anyone and everyone.”

She leans forward a little to deliver the caveat. “Within reason. I can tell this isn’t just…” The redhead’s brow creases as she tries to find the word. The lightbulb comes on and she looks pleased, having managed it. “A bottomless well.” The warmth makes its way to her shoulder and she lids her eyes again to sort of bathe in the feeling of it. “I can tell it’s a part of you. Your soul or your essence for lack of a better word.”

Gracie smiles again, encouraging and finding Chess’ eyes. “You’re doing great.”

Chess listens, but mostly focuses on maintaining that connection, sensing how it feels to hold it, to let the healing happen. One corner of her mouth tips up into a wry smile of sorts. “I’m sure I’ll probably be glad I have it at some point before all is said and done. I would have been happy to a few times in the past.”

Miles’ last words echo in her mind, and she swallows down the old familiar grief that surges up in her with them.

From the shoulder, the warmth travels down Gracie’s core, down her hip, toward the broken leg. Finally it settles in around the snapped bone and swollen flesh – Chess can’t see it, but Gracie can feel the pain easing as broken bits of bone and marrow and soft tissue rejoin, knitting themselves back together seamlessly.

As Gracie is healed, Chess slumps, pale eyes closing in sudden fatigue and a wave of dizziness. “I don’t know if it’s that,” she says, voice tired. “I don’t feel like it’s mine. Just like… I’m its medium, I guess.”


Gracie gasps, her hand tensing in Chess’ when she starts to feel her leg healing up. It isn’t entirely dissimilar to how it felt when Ren mended her, but she was still delirious with pain and terror, and barely conscious then. This is certainly the more pleasant of the two, even with those variables aside.

When the exhaustion hits the conduit bearer, Gracie is there to steady her with a hand on her shoulder. “I’ve got you,” she assures Chess in a soft voice. “It worked,” she assures her, eyes getting glassy. Still, she’s afraid to test the limb just yet. She had been then, too.


The single syllable is softly uttered, as if Chess doesn’t quite have the breath in her lungs to put any air behind it. “I’m okay,” she offers a moment later. “Just wasn’t sure what to expect. Feel like I just ran up all the steps in my apartment building or something, only I’m not sweaty.”

The offhand comment brings with it an uninvited homesickness as she thinks of the people in that building, all the people she last saw in that building. Monica. Luther. Hull. Yi-Min and Asi.

“Fuck.” Is all she has to say to both the exhaustion and the homesickness. “I don’t imagine the grand jury or its bailiff told you how much time before we head out today?”

“No,” Gracie responds softly, rubbing her hand over Chess’ arm reassuringly, “but I can pretend to still be in dire straits for as long as you need to rest and recover.” Her brows slant with concern.

“I’m really grateful, you know.” Finally, the ginger looks away almost uncomfortably. “You could have said you didn’t feel up to it. You could have refused. The jury could have left me to deal with it… But you didn’t. Thank you.”

“Not sure how long that’ll take, but I'm happy not to move just yet. Not sure my legs will work if I try to stand right now. I feel like I might do a Bambi on ice impersonation and that’d be embarrassing,” Chess says lightly, leaning back against the metal wall of the box car.

She lifts a shoulder, clearly feeling a little awkward with the gratitude. “It’s nice to do something that’s not just destructive, I guess.”

Chess doesn’t apologize for that handful of pebbles hurled at Ren and the other attackers when Gracie was standing so close to them – but there’s something about the furrow of her brows and downcast gaze that says she might be a little sorry.

Slowly, Gracie disengages from the contact, but with one last squeeze. “Some people…” She trails off and starts to fuss with her hair, gathering it all to one side and pulling it in front of her shoulder before she splits it into three sections. “Are just gonna self-destruct sooner or later.” She starts to weave the strands together, clearly practiced at it, and doing so without a mirror.

“Ren was…” Her voice hitches briefly, but the sigh she lets out is resigned, rather than mournful. “She was going to head down that path eventually. I just wish she hadn’t taken everybody with her.” Slender shoulders come up in a shrug. “Thanks to you, she didn’t take me too.” She smiles ruefully, holding the wound-together ends of her hair in one fist and lifting the opposite wrist to her mouth so she can grab the bright orange hair elastic wrapped around it with her teeth and drag it up to her fingers. “Does that mean I owe you two life debts?” she wonders idly as she starts to tie off the braid.

The talk of self destruction prods Chess’ memory to her sisters… the ones lost or lost, and how close to their path her own might have been without a few differences.

“Lives out here are hard,” she says, her voice too tired to carry much emotion, but her expression is one of conflicted empathy. “I don’t know what I would do in the same situation. I don’t think I want to know.” God knows she has killed plenty of people, but usually those who were harming others first.

She shakes her head at the question. “You don’t owe me anything,” Chess says, pushing herself up with some effort to a standing position. “If you feel you do, pay it forward, yeah? Look out for someone else.”

It only takes two wraps of the elastic to hold the braid together at its end. Her hair is thick. She waits for Chess to stand on her own before she finally tests her leg, just shifting it left and right at first. Then she pulls the blanket away slowly, drags her skirt aside to look at it, reach out and gently press.

When there’s no pain, she breathes out heavily, unaware of just how tense she was until the moment she decided she didn’t need to be. Gracie starts to carefully undo the bindings of the splint that holds her leg straight. Her fingers are fumbling at first, but eventually work the knots free. Carefully, her knee is drawn up toward her chest, sandaled foot scraping over the metal floor. She leans into it next, testing the pressure before she plants a hand on the ground and the other on the wall, pushing herself up slowly.

If she hadn’t known the horror of what happened to her, she couldn’t tell it by the way she feels now. A fluttery, nervous smile is directed at Chess. “I promise. I’ll take what you’ve given me, and I’ll use it to help someone else.” Gracie glances toward the boxcar’s sliding door, though her eyes are unfocused as she scans the world beyond, indistinguishable and washed out by the angle of the early sunlight. “Are you staying in the Scout, or are you going to move to the bus or something?” She shrugs a shoulder, curious if the change in her is going to affect where the healer feels comfortable.

Beside her, Chess doesn’t look too ready to push off from her leaning spot against the wall to exit the boxcar. She seems still winded, without actually struggling for breath. There’s a curiosity in watching Gracie undo the splint and then stand, to see the first fruits of her labor as a healer.

The question draws her gaze back to Gracie’s face, and her brows knit together for a moment. The pale blue eyes flick to the open door of the boxcar, like the answer might lie just outside, but Chess shakes her head. It’s not meant as an answer, exactly.

“I hadn’t thought about it,” she murmurs. The thought of going back out on the road after what they all endured yesterday isn’t one she has truly thought about. They don’t have time to wait – and yet, does any of it matter, in light of what Glory had told them the night before? Her expression doesn’t say any of this of course, only a vague sort of discomfort – either with the idea of traveling at all or the idea of traveling in Scout, it’s hard to say.

“I don’t know. Probably. It’s where my other skills are best used, I guess.” Her lip twitches into a half not-quite-a-smile.

Gracie nods her head slowly. “You’ve got a hell of an ability,” she compliments easily. “Lot of skill there. I can’t shoot a bow like that.” She smiles sort of ruefully, a breath of laughter passing through her nose as her chin tips down toward her chest, eyes closing. “I always wanted to be special.” Her brows knit faintly, like she regrets ever feeling that way. “I was always so jealous and dreamed I could be, do something spectacular if I was just fortunate enough to have an ability.”

Sighing, she lifts her head again. “That was dumb.” She laughs at herself properly this time. “I don’t know how else to phrase it except that I think I’d feel obligated to use whatever power I had to help people. I mean, provided it was even remotely helpful. Knowing me, I’d get the ability to accurately predict what song would come next on my iPod Shuffle, and that’d be it.”

She’s filling silence, killing time, giving Chess a chance to recuperate further. In the meanwhile, she stretches, balancing her weight on the leg that was uninjured while bending the healed one at the knee, then swinging it out in front of her gently, then behind before tucking it back up again and repeating the process. No aches, no twinges, just the general stiffness she feels after a night of sleep in less than ideal conditions.

The bow part of the compliment is easier to reply to, maybe because it is something Chess learned and studied. But it’s still not one-hundred percent technique, at least not in the traditional sense.

“To be honest, it’s cheating a little, too,” she explains, glancing down at her hands, thumb resting against the tips of her middle and ring finger like she is holding the bow string. “I mean, I’d probably still be a decent shot without the ability but it wouldn’t go as fast or as far.”

Or blow things up.

Chess turns to look out the open door, the morning light cutting a stripe across her face and into the train car. “My ability has only really brought me one good thing, ever, and that’s gone,” she says quietly. “I mean, I do try to help people with it. I have, I guess. But it’s cost me a lot more than it’s ever given me. I wanted to shift that balance, but-”

Her lips press together and she looks up, as if she could use the gravity to keep the sudden tears in her eyes, but one on each side spills past the lashline.

It’s why she came here, to try to save the world. That would shift the balance, right? But it’s all pointless now.

She doesn’t say any of this, but shakes her head. “It doesn’t matter. We want what we can’t have, yeah? And you can do good without an ability.” She nods to Gracie as she flexes her leg. “Dancing, that makes people happy, and that’s an ability a lot of people lack.”

Gracie meets Chess’ gaze with a look of understanding. Whether she does understand the things Chess has left unsaid or not, she thinks she does. It’s easier too for her to breeze past commenting on it. It risks opening old wounds, prying into things that aren’t her business, but she can offer at least one assurance. “You’ve helped me.” She shrugs, smirking with self-deprecation. “I guess you can decide later which way that shifted those scales.”

She plants her feet on the ground again, looking faintly embarrassed. “Thank you. I guess I was trying to do some of that back at the Pelago. During the day, anyway. I used to try and teach kids to dance. You’d be surprised how many were into it.” There’s a fondness to her expression that comes to her then. “Even the boys. Gave a bunch of bored kids something to do. My little contribution to society.” She downplays it with her tone of voice, but she’s still agreeing that it counts for something. “Maybe I’ll do more of the same at Anchor. I wonder if people still ice skate.”

“It doesn’t surprise me. I would have liked that if I was a kid, especially if I didn’t have other things to do to keep me busy,” Chess says. “And my brothers were both one hundred percent better dancers than I was. I think they left that out of my formula.”

Chess lifts a hand to push a lock of blondish hair out of her face, tucking it behind an ear. “I’d guess yes, but Nova could tell you. People ice skated for centuries before the flood, though, so I imagine they still do. Maybe more for need than for fun. But hockey’s like soccer – it’s universal, yeah? If there’s a pond and there’s ice, I bet someone’s trying to put something in a net and calling it a sport.”

Her gaze slides to the open door again, then back to Gracie. “Did you get breakfast? Should we go see what constitutes a transcontinental breakfast around here?”

There’s a comfort to be taken in the things that are constants in the universe. Gracie smiles, chin dipping a little and her gaze shifting to somewhere far beyond where they stand now. After a moment, however, she comes back to herself. “Miraculously, I’m not terribly hungry at the moment. I’ll catch up to you, though? I’m… going to go find Richard. He looked like he needs to talk about… it.” She grimaces, not expecting that to be the most pleasant of conversations, but feeling it to be a necessary one.

While Chess knows what she means by that vague pronoun, she tips her head and looks confused. “Didn’t take him for an ice skater,” she quips, choosing to leave on a bad joke as is her way when she doesn’t know what else to say about a difficult topic.

She flashes a small smile and gives a two-fingered wave before hopping down from the train car in search of breakfast. Healing is hungry work, it turns out.

Gracie watches the new healer take her leave, following after her movements with only her eyes for a protracted moment, counting backwards from thirty. When her timer hits zero, she jumps down from the car and goes out in search of her friend, letting herself be guided by whatever passes for her intuition.

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