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Scene Title Reflection
Synopsis Jac comes to terms with her new houseguest.
Date August 8, 2020

There’s someone new living in the house.

Jac hasn’t officially been told yet, but she can tell. She hasn’t gone out of her way to uncover the difference yet. It’s only been a couple of days, and she’s been spending most of her time at the library or working in a lab with a doctor who’s got very angry eyebrows. But. Something is definitely changed in the house, in the way the air feels, as of a couple of days ago.

Elmhurst - Gillian Childs’ Residence

August 8, 2020

9:17 am

This morning the teenager isn’t expected anywhere. She has plans later in the day, but for the next few hours she has some freedom. And, what she believes, is the run of the house. Gillian should be at work already. She never knows what Lene’s schedule is. And the houseguest… Who knows.

Maybe she’s imagining that there’s someone new.

That thought passes through the girl’s head as she sits down to a simple breakfast of toast and jam. There’s probably something in a tupperware in the fridge meant to be her breakfast instead. She’ll look later, when it’s time for second breakfast. Clad in a hoodie and jogger pants, she is the picture of a comfortable Saturday morning. And it’s only Tuesday.

The houseguest is a phantom, one that haunts Eve Mas’ old room upstairs. Usually. Though Jac has barely seen him since he’d come to live at the Childs’ residence. Between what she’s been told are physical therapy sessions and his own erratic sleep schedule, it’s like he’s hardly been around. But on this morning, a Tuesday that could be a Saturday, old ghosts come out to haunt.

The sound of crutches coming downstairs used to mean Lene was up and around, but the tables have turned on that. For all that this house was designed to accommodate single-floor living for someone with the need of mobility aids, the houseguest is a stubborn son of a bitch who insists on going up and down stairs, even when he would be better served not. The crash that Jac hears from the stairs along with a softly shouted, “I’m alright!” is proof-positive of this bullheaded behavior.

Nothing much has changed about Jac’s reaction to the crash and thud of falling since it was Lene who'd stump around the house on crutches. She still drops from her seat, with a mouthful of toast and jam, and hurries in the direction of noise. The only difference between when it was her elder sister and now, with this stranger living in the house, is her approach once she's in sight of the stairs.

Normally, Jac would put herself beside Lene and be a presence — or a distraction — and help when it was wanted. This time the teen looks on from the foot of the stairs, half obscured by the newel post and balusters.

“You don't look alright.”

“Do too,” comes from the bearded man sitting halfway up the stairs with a sheepish expression spread across a crooked mouth. “I just missed the last step, only thing damaged is my pride, and that wasn’t really getting much use these days anyway.” Collecting his crutches, Peter returns to his stubborn ways and carefully goes about continuing down the staircase as best as he can.

“It’s nice to see you up and around, Jac.” Peter says as a distraction on his way down the stairs. “You’ve been in your room a lot since… everything. M’sorry I didn’t make more of an effort to introduce myself properly, it’s been awkward. All of this. But, I guess no time like the present, right?”

Jac picks a shoulder up and sets a hard stare on the post, an awkward sort of dismissal of her self imposed exclusion and the lack of actual introductions. “You don't have to apologize,” she says. It isn't like she has any real right to expect the houseguest in convalescence to march in and explain himself to her. And it's better for everyone if she keeps to herself.

She places a hand on the post and lifts her head to look up at Peter. Teeth pinch the inside of her cheek as she watches him continue down the stairs. She should offer help. “Do you want breakfast?” she offers instead. “I was having toast and jam, there's more if you're hungry. There's other things too, if you don't want toast.”

Peter smiles, a little reluctantly, and motions to the kitchen with his chin. “I could eat,” he admits, following along behind Jac. “I… I’ve been really worried about you and Gillian, after everything that happened.” It’s a difficult topic, not just about Praxis and Adam, but about everything that’s come since. “I was… I wish there was something I could’ve done to protect you both. From… Adam, from the abduction. Everything.”

Ambling along behind her, Peter pauses when they enter the kitchen, leaning against the doorway for extra support. “I’m glad you two have each other, I always knew she’d make a good mom,” he says and a guilty aversion of his eyes.

Jac makes a show of shrugging, trying to appear like she hasn't been hurt or isn't worried by those things. It's a blatant lie to anyone who can see at least as well as a naked mole rat. “You weren't even in Praxia,” she points out, with a glance over her shoulder. “And I'm not even sure how you got to Detroit.” Not to mention the mystery of Peter appearing in the middle of the fight looking like Lene. She drags a chair out from the breakfast bar so Peter can sit down.

“She's a really good mom.” The best mom. Her tone carries a faint strain in it, the hurt she refuses to acknowledge finding other ways of slipping out. Gillian deserves better than the constant trouble Jac knows she causes. “I think there's some egg and sausage thing,” the girl continues with a quick shake of her head, stepping from the chair to open the fridge. And divert from that subject.

Angling his head to the side, Peter looks up at Jac thoughtfully. He follows the invitation to sit, then looks up at her. After a moment he looks to the table and admits, “I was.” Realizing that isn’t exactly clear, Peter shakes his head and looks back to Jac. “In Praxia, I mean. I… don’t mean to freak you out, but we actually talked, too.”

Peter lifts a hand and the walls of Gillian’s house fall away and crash down on the ground, revealing rolling fields and meadows as if the house had just landed in Oz and the roof was hovering weightlessly overhead. The imagery shimmers and dissipates, returning to its normal appearance. “I have a few tricks up my sleeve.”

Impossible. Jac casts a brief, but clearly dubious look over her shoulder. She'd remember talking to Peter — mostly because her interactions with anyone were pretty limited. She pulls a ceramic dish from the fridge and gets it as far as to rest on the stove so the oven can be heated before the house just bursts apart.

Wide eyed, and thankfully no longer carrying a casserole dish, the teen stares in amazement and uncertainty. “How… where did…”

Jac looks at Peter when the illusion disappears. Whatever doubt she had about meeting and talking to him before is reconsidered. She's got no way to know who he might have been in Praxia, but she remembers now: the stranger from Detroit who had appeared out of nowhere in Lene’s armor.

“Okay, that's primal.”

“You were being harassed by a doctor.” Peter explains, head tilted to the side. “Morrison?” He leans away from the doorway and ambles inside on his crutches. “I was a bit prettier,” he admits with a teasing smile, “blonder.

Arriving at the island in the middle of the kitchen, Peter leans his hip up against it. “Now, are you as good at cooking as you are saving the world?” He asks her with no sense of sarcasm, just a genuine — if lopsided — smile. “I’m not even going to offer to make breakfast; I burn toast and fail at microwaving things.”

“He's a parasite.” Jac dismisses the encounter with Stephan by returning to preparing breakfast. She probably could have taken the man, had it come to that, but she's still grateful for the interference that day. There's still the question of what Morrison had wanted to tell her, and why, but the less interaction with him the better. “Thank you again for stepping in.”

She reaches across the stove to set the oven to preheating, but her hand hesitates at the knob for an instant. The question stings, even if she doesn't glean any sarcasm from Peter’s words. It takes her a second to stamp down on the ache all the same. Jac flips the knob over, turns to look up at the stranger.

“It's better than anything I can do, Gillian made it.”

Peter shrugs, looking at the stove for a moment too long to really be looking at it. It feels like he’s a million miles away. “Has… Gillian ever told you anything about me?” He asks, after a moment, only pulling his eyes away from the stove afterward.

“I know the media has a lot to say about me,” Peter admits with a grimace. “I know the… world has a lot to say. But it’s not— I don’t want that to be your impression of who I am. Some… some wild idealist freedom fighter or terrorist. If we’re going to live together, that’s not who I am. Not who I want to be.”

Peter looks down at the kitchen island, folding his arms on it. “I imagine nobody wants to be what everyone thinks they are.”

“No.” Her answer has the same tone as not really and more likely because it's been a sensitive subject. One of a small few that Jac won't even pry into to satiate her curiosity. She's never even asked Jolene about Peter. The dish is slid into the oven, even though it's still warming up. It'll be okay. Probably.

“Most what I've heard is…” River Styx and the redacted bits and pieces picked up from what pre-war articles might have survived. She shrugs instead of saying as much. She hasn't formed an opinion anyway, and wouldn't just on the words of others. Jac crosses to the kitchen island where she takes up a post opposite Peter. Her arms rest on the edge of it, eyes lifted up on him.

“So who are you? Who do you want to be?”

Peter sighs, breathlessly, and shakes his head. The sound turns into a laugh toward the end, if a somewhat tired one. “Do all kids ask the big philosophical questions these days?” He asks with a genuine smile, moving to sit on one of the stools at the kitchen island, crutches leaned up against the countertop beside him.

“Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know if I ever knew the answer to that.” Peter says with a hint of helpless exasperation in his voice. “I don’t think we really get to choose who we are. We try to be someone, or an ideal of someone, but it isn’t until we understand the impact of the choices we make that we really discover who we became.”

Grimacing, Peter scrubs one hand at the back of his neck. “Sorry that was… needlessly deep.”

“I like philosophical questions. You learn more than, ‘Oh hi, how was your day?’” Jac pitches her voice in mimicry of someone stereotypical, the Everyman sort of persona. Case and point is when Peter admits to his answer being needlessly deep. The apology makes her grin faintly.

But reflection on his response, letting the weight of that philosophical answer settle, sobers her humor. There's truth behind those words. She can hear it, even if she can't fully put words to her understanding.

“I don't know who I am either.” Jac raises a shoulder, shrugging as she admits to a shared characteristic. “I've tried figuring it out, but…” She shrugs again, helplessly without an answer.

“So stop.” Peter says with a shrug. “Stop worrying about the person you might be, and start taking actions that the person you want to be would do. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll live with regrets, but you’ll never feel like you weren’t being true to yourself.”

Sitting forward, Peter folds his hands and looks up at Jac. “You have a lot of potential for someone so young. You’ve been through so much more than anyone your age should. Whether your powers come back or not, you’re a person with goals and dreams. Find a way to start living them. Don’t let the past hold you back or…”

Peter trails off, looking down at his hands. “Or one day you’ll find it’s your last. You’ll look death in the eye and have nothing but regrets.” He blinks a look back up to Jac. “Don’t let it end like that.”

Jac sighs. Everyone makes it sound so simple, that it's just that easy to not hold onto the past or to get right into being who she wants again. The problem with the past is too many people hold it as the word of law: you made errors, therefore you cannot ever be trusted with things again. And it doesn't matter the reasons for the mistakes, only that they were made. It's a frustrating conundrum.

Equally frustrating is being reminded of her age. Like that suddenly has as much weight in restricting her movements as her mistakes. It seems to, anyway, in the eyes of practically every adult she knows.

“I try.” She has, but the rut is deep and climbing out feels impossible. “I was an intern for SESA. I was so proud I got chosen for it.” Jac looks at the countertop. “I wanted it more than… books, or… I don't know. I just wanted it. I like investigating. I liked what I had, what I was learning to do, and… I was hoping I'd be going back. Even if it meant starting the program over.”

Jac folds her arms on the counter, and nearly lowers her head onto them. “But I can't go back there. I blew my chance.” It's hard to decide if the heartache of losing something she'd wanted desperately is holding onto the past. “I'm thankful Richard’s letting me be at Raytech, but it's… not the same. I'm not allowed to participate, or… do anything. Except watch or schoolwork. I don't think they trust me either.”

Now she does settle her chin on her arms, and puts her eyes on a point between herself and Peter. “I don't know how to change it.”

“Do you want the answer you’ll like or the truth?” Peter asks with a laugh, though it’s clearly rhetorical. “Really, it’s about the world. It’s about your age. Sure. If you were my age and did the things you did, you’d probably be behind bars or worse right now. You being as young as you are hasn’t… limited your chances, it’s given you the opportunity to have a second chance.”

Peter motions with his hands down to the countertop as he talks. “What you did — irrelevant of whether it was right or wrong — pissed people off. People with power and authority. But when they looked at you, they saw a kid who made a mistake. Rather than lock you up forever, they chose to let you try again. Most people don’t get that chance, and by the time you’re old enough to appreciate how lucky you are… it’ll be too late to appreciate it.”

“What I’m saying is, as bad as things seem right now? They could — and in a lot of cases would — have been way worse.” Peter offers a tired smile to Jac, then folds his hands again.

“If you’re not satisfied with Raytech, do something else.” Peter offers with a shrug. “You want to investigate, to study? Take some college courses on criminal justice, look up what licenses you need to become a private investigator. Make that your goal. SESA is just one option. You could do this on your own, or with like-minded friends. Gillian probably knows people who know exactly what you need to do.” Peter laughs and motions to himself. “And that isn’t me.”

A kid who made a mistake. It's an optimistic way of looking at what happened. And obviously they didn't lock her up over it because then this would be an even stranger conversation to be having at the kitchen table in the Childs house. But Jac doesn't feel very optimistic about her situation. Maybe it's too soon, or maybe she's looking in the wrong places.

It's something to think about in any case, but it brings storm clouds as Peter continues. She doesn't answer, except to study the stranger sitting across from her. A piece of her realizes he's trying to be helpful, even though the frustration and hurt runs deep. She knows there isn’t a lot stopping her from finding her own way; she'd done it for years once she was free of the Fords. It's how she'd eventually gotten to Praxia, too.

“Maybe you're right,” Jac admits, looking down at the marbled top between them. Maybe starting out on her own is the best option, since the pieces from before are too small to pick up. It's something to think about and to remember at least.

“What else should I know about you?” Jac looks up, deciding it's better to change the subject than keep dwelling. Too much time has been spent on her problems, and Peter had said to stop living in the past, too. “What are your intentions toward my mom?”

Buhhhh,” Peter drones, exhaling a sigh and nearly knocking over his crutches when he reaches for them. Clearing his throat, he looks down at the floor, bursts with laughter, and then slouches forward over the island and rakes both hands through his hair.

“Do you always come this hard at people?” Peter asks, laughing as he does. “Your mom and I have a… I don’t even know if I can call it a history. Jac. We were close, I think. A lifetime ago. I loved — love — her, but she was a different person. Your mom didn’t have the life with me that I had with her. But I have all these other… I don’t know, experiences jumbled up in here?” He waves a hand at the side of his head. “She offered to be here for me when she had no reason to. That means something.”

Folding his hands in front of himself again, Peter looks a little lost. “I just want to be the father to Lene I never got to be. Whatever else happens… heck, I’d have to be Eve Mas to see it coming.”

“Yes,” Jac answers, completely honest and unapologetic. She doesn't often hold back when she has questions. Her quiet tone carries a weight of expecting Peter to get used to it eventually. And as he explains himself, the teen cradles her chin in her hands to listen.

“I think she loves you too.” The teen knows Gillian doesn't let just anyone stay at the house, and that she let a stranger move in says something pretty remarkable. “Even if you two aren't the same as before. It's like… that doesn't matter.”

“And that's good.” Jac straightens and steps back from the counter. “Important. For you and Mom. And Lene too.” With a look over to the oven, she turns away to fetch out a pair of plates and forks before taking the dish out of the oven.

Peter looks down at the countertop, drumming his fingers on it for a moment. “I’m gonna go wash up,” he says rather abruptly, grabbing his crutches before leaning away and moving a few steps back. “While we eat you can tell me about what you want to do for school. Maybe I can figure out some way to help, uh, without getting directly involved and making things worse.”

Smiling awkwardly, Peter looks down at the floor, then back up to Jac. “I’ll be right back.”

With plates and forks in hand, Jac turns to watch as Peter excuses himself from the island. Her forehead creases slightly, vague confusion flirting over her expression, but she shrugs and says, “Sure, if you want.”

The dishes are set on the kitchen island as Peter leaves, along with the casserole dish from the oven. Jac turns the oven off, then returns to her place. On a stool this time, the teen folds her arms together and lowers her chin to them, leaving breakfast to keep warm while waiting.

Peter slowly leaves the kitchen, ambling down the hall on his crutches with the tri-beat rhythm of step-step-clack. Once inside, Peter shuts the bathroom door and awkwardly moves over to the sink, resting his crutches against the wall. For a moment the room spins and Peter feels light-headed. He sweeps one hand over his brow, swallowing dryly, then looks at his crutches, then over to the patterned shower curtain.

With a shaky hand, Peter turns the faucet on and splashes his face with a little water. But when he looks up into the mirror, it isn’t his own reflection he sees staring back at him.


“Hey there, chap.” The Entity says from within the infinitely black bounds of a lightless void on the other side of the mirror. “I was hoping…” he says, lifting one hand to press flat against the mirror, gold eyes locked on Peter’s far darker ones.

“…we could chat.”

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