Salt In The Wound


chess3_icon.gif luther_icon.gif

Scene Title Salt in the Wound
Synopsis Luther visits Chess. They talk about a new but familiar face that opens old wounds.
Date April 30, 2019

Cresting Wave Apartments, Chess' Apartment

Yamagato Park is nothing like the rest of the Safe Zone. Bright neon-colored, solar-powered lighting and a busy populace makes it more fitting of what New York City used to be like, though imagined as if one were to pull a sci-fi futuristic veneer over the whole borough. The Cresting Wave apartments are more like condominiums built within an exotic designed architecture befitting a sea floor rather than above land.

It’s nothing like what Luther typically knows and could conceive of. Maybe. He’s been to Chicago. But Chicago is nothing like this presently exquisite and luxurious surrounding.

“This is pretty fancy.” The man’s understatement of the year, muttered to himself as he makes his way through the halls, following energy-efficient, luminescent tracks that activate then dim once he’s passed. After he’s found the door he’s been looking for, he hesitates on knocking. He practically doesn’t even have to, as a pleasant recorded voice announces that there is someone at the door inside the apartment. Available video display screens pop up with a pinhole camera view of Luther’s face being recorded into a visitor’s log.

Still, the man eventually reaches up to rap his knuckles on the door, having not found the button to push for a doorbell. Because there isn’t one.

She’s alone, her sisters off doing whatever it is they do when they’ve given up on the terse and melancholy moods that have gotten worse in the past couple of weeks. Loud music can be heard, the walls thrumming with the bassline. The digitalized announcement of a visitor cuts through the music, so there’s no pretending that she didn’t hear. The music continues for a second or two after, before it stops abruptly mid-word.

It’s a few moments before the door swings open. With very little time for him to assess her state — whether she’s been crying, sleeping, eating, those details will have to wait — she launches herself at him, colliding with his broad chest and flinging her arms around his wide shoulders in a tight grip.

Luther’s ear bends to try and figure out what song it is that’s playing, but it cuts off before he figures out anything more than it is loud. But what awaits him as the door opens to the fancy apartment is not the young woman he’d come to see. Not the way he’d expected her to react. He catches her full on, half a pace back, large arms wrapping around her in a warm bear hug. A palm rubs at her back consolingly and reassuringly, giving her the chance to go through the moment at her own pace.

“I’m glad to see you too,” the man rumbles out eventually, scruffed chin and cheek nodding into the top of her head.

“I’m glad to see you, too,” she says, voice muffled by chest. “But I’m still mad at you.”

Because he almost did the thing that he’d never be forgiven for.

She pulls back and lets him step in before shutting the door. “Is it too early to drink?” The question is asked over her shoulder as she moves toward the kitchen, pulling out glasses and a bottle of sake. Apparently the question is a rhetorical one.

“Are you okay?” The clear alcohol is poured into two stemless wine glasses. They’ll have to do.

The rumble back from that voice-muffling chest sounds humored, but not too much. Luther’s well aware just how mad Chess is. It’s debatable if he’s even forgiven himself for putting her in that position. One last back rub and he lets go so she can step in and he follows after, always staying within visual range even as he examines the sweet digs. Wow-worthy. Yamagato certainly spared no expense… but at what cost.

“Yeah,” he answers to both the questions, although even if it is too early for drinking, he doesn’t stop her from pouring out. Indulging. “Holding up well enough. Still feeling New Mexico a bit in the bones, I think.” He steps over to the take one of the two stemless glasses.

“You? Liking this whole uninterrupted electricity and running water thing, I hope?” Not that the Benchmark safehouse didn’t have these either, but the alcohol was less available. Obviously. “Living with Alix and Kimberly’s easier when you all have some more space, yeah?”

Chess leans against the counter, taking a sip from the glass, one arm wrapping across her core so the opposite elbow can use it as a rest.

“I mean, given that I chose to live like a hobo for four years… not really.” The smile’s a bit wry; most people can’t quite comprehend why she preferred to squat in old buildings like the armory instead of trying to find a better option. “The shower is amazing, not gonna lie.”

After another sip of sake, she nods to him. “Are you under gag order too? Regarding this whole other dimension shit? And are you still working for Mad Scientists R Us?”

Slowly nodding, Luther gives his answer about the gag order with that small bit of silence. Though they’d already discussed it previously, those talks weren’t within Yamagato’s earshot that they knew of. Still, he leans on his elbows at the counter beside her, and looks down into his drink, a contemplative expression pulling over his features. “I’ve been giving it some thought,” he starts to admit, “Reasons to stay, reasons to go.”

He looks up from the sake, lifting the glass to his mouth for a quick gulp. “Thinking about it now, though. I’d like to be around you and the girls more. For you. Because like I said, all those years before… You matter.” His next swallow of the drink finishes the portion, and he sets the glass down carefully.

“And there’s a lot of other ways to help,” Luther adds in a surge of thought. “I’d been volunteering, you know, at the Hands of Mary. Ezra and Miriam and Leona, all the others, they’re good people. Maybe I’ll pick that up a little more. Got a couple caches stashed away, just like savings without a bank.” And without taxes, perhaps. It’s a grey area. “Just for a few months, until I figure out what to do. But I know I don’t gotta worry about you or how you’re going to find a hot shower.”

He wiggles his empty glass in her direction, an echo of her wry smile on his lips.

She reaches for the bottle to refill his drink, eyes down when he says she matters, that he wants to be around more for her. Verbally expression of their closeness, their family-like bond is never easy for her — perhaps because family has never been easy for her. Not her adopted family, and now not her family by blood. Instead, Chess shows it by those fierce hugs that come in a blue moon, by her nagging him to quit his job, by her threats that she’ll hate him if he dies.

“If you think that’ll make you happy. I can cover your ass if you need money, if the caches aren’t enough,” she offers. She has a savings account, quite a few dollars in it, because she’s never paid for rent in all these years.

“I saw Miles.” He probably knew that, courtesy of Lynette. “I saw him again the other night.”

He’s half into a sip when the mention of covering his ass makes Luther pause before a sputter. He swallows the rest of it, takes a couple breaths to make sure there’s nothing lingering in the airway, and finishes with a furrowed, yet somehow humored brow. “Think we’ll be okay,” he issues in verdict, sliding himself a step closer, close enough to bump shoulders.

Because she mentions Miles. He might have predicted it in the course of their conversation, but even so, the impact feels heavy as a mace’s blow. “Lynette told me,” he mentions on a low rumble, a slow one-time nod, another sip. “He’s one of them, though. One of the travelers.” Which is to say, Luther exercises caution in handling the notion of this Miles, a new Miles, and not the same Miles they once had known. In her case, had loved.

“Did you talk to him?” he asks after a beat, curiosity pressing and beating away better judgment to not pressure the younger woman. “Do I gotta talk to him?” That’s the Dad side coming up.

She rolls her eyes at that splutter, whether it’s from pride of her covering his financial costs or because she mentioned his metaphorical ass, she’s not sure. “Don’t be weird,” is all she tells him on that front.

The questions about Miles makes Chess lift her shoulder than shake her head, respectively. “The first time I couldn’t. I just sort of melted down. The other day… a little. I gave him his old ID.” Her lips press together and her gaze drifts to the window, as if she could look through it all the way to where she had seen her Miles, the Miles it had belonged to. As if he were anywhere to see.

“He’s fine. It’s not his fault,” she says. “And you, all those Mary women? Do I need to go talk to them?”

“You can, if you want,” Luther’s reply sounds unworried about the ladies who run the volunteering organization. He rolls around the remainder of his drink in hand, looking down into it instead of pressing a look to Chess. “I’m not trying to be weird, but I don’t want to be another weight on your shoulders either. This ‘new’ Miles, though…”

He pauses with a furrowed brow, taking another short drink. When Luther’s gaze slips back to Chess, it’s softened a touch when it falls over her. “Is he at least smart like the original?” He twitches up a corner of his lips. The expression spreads as the man reaches back to pick up the bottle, though he holds off on immediate refills, offering a top off out to Chess first. “Because, I can’t imagine you’d be passing anything out to the guy - especially ID - unless you think he was worth connecting to.”

She lifts her glass for the refill, watching the clear liquor pour into her glass. She huffs a small breathy laugh at his words, but her eyes remain downcast and sad.

When they finally lift, Chess shrugs. “He’s smart. He’s so very Miles at moments that…” she takes a breath, then lets it out in a shaky sigh. “It hurts.” She touches her chest with a closed fist.

Her eyes grow glassy with tears that she blinks away. “And then he’s not.”

One shoulder rises and falls. “It’s not his fault he’s not him. And he deserves to have a life here. I don’t expect connection. It’s probably better if there isn’t.”

Luther lifts his glass to sip a slip of the drink in it, setting the bottle down on to the counter once refills are done. Freed from one hold, he switches it over to reaching for Chess, a gesturing to draw her over in a side-long hug, his hand to lay resting on her shoulder that rose and then fell with her expression. So much for that not being a weight on her shoulders statement earlier. But, she knows she he means… to be a comforting weight rather than a burdensome one.

She has enough of those laying invisibly on her already.

“There’s a connection. Of a sort,” he observes into his glass, twisting it this way and that in his fingers as if the movement would suddenly turn the clear liquid into revealing some offer of wisdom in an opaque surface. “Whether it grows stronger or weaker? Guess that’s up to you two.” He looks over down at her, searching her downcast expression. “But, I mean, if you’re going to go handing him IDs and things from before, I trust deep down you’ll make sure he’s worth it. Worth the pain.” Luther’s tone turns back towards serious considerations of the alternate man, invisibly laying what evidence he has of said teleporter’s character before him.

Chess lifts her shoulders, moving away from the counter and to the living room to sink into one of the couches there, pulling her feet up on the cushions and resting the glass on one bent knee.

“I already gave him the ID, so it’s a moot point, if he’s worth it or not,” she says, tone angling for nonchalance but failing by a shade or two. “And it’s going to hurt whether he’s worth it or not. It hurts whether he’s here or not, but him being here, that’s a different sort of pain. I guess what they mean by salt in the wound,” she adds, leaning her head back against the back of the couch and closing her eyes, as if that might make it all go away.

“What would you do — not give it to him?” she asks. Luther has lost people, too, after all. “I guess I figure if it makes his life a little easier, at least there’s some good coming from it.” She sits up to take another sip of the sake, before adding, “if it was the only picture I had left, I wouldn’t have.”

The next drink he takes from his glass drains a good size portion of it, and Luther reaches his fingers for the bottle again. His fingers pause just before touching it, and he turns at her comment. Salt in the wound. The question curls his fingers in. He doesn’t answer for a long beat. “If it was the last picture I’d had, no,” he agrees with her and finishes his original task to pick up the mostly poured bottle.

Luther totes it and the glass over to the couch, seating himself on a cushion beside her. His gaze rests on the bottle, studying it instead of her pained expression. “But the fact you gave it to him,” he notes as he pours another bit out into his glass, “maybe means you’re willing to take a shot at connection.” Or, that she’s masochistic in much the same way he could be described.

The discussion brings up another thought. “He’s a teleporter and could go anywhere else in world at any time. He could be doing just about anything. Could have fucked off to Fiji and be drinking out of a coconut on the beach. But, he’s sticking it out here.” Luther scratches a finger along his jaw at that thought. “Wonder why.” He glances sidelong to Chess. Wonder why indeed.

Her eyes narrow and she shakes her head. “Don’t.” It’s more terse than Chess intends it to be, and she swallows and looks away.

“I don’t expect anything from him. I did it to be a decent human being, not trying to get him to owe me anything. He doesn’t,” she says, reaching to pick up the baseball that’s sitting on the coffee table, to roll in her hands like she does when she’s feeling antsy or guarded.

Which is to say, most of the time.

“He’s only here because he knows like… how many came from his world? Five? Ten? A handful of people in the entire world and they’re all here. It’s not for me. So just stop. I don’t want a replacement, and I don’t want…” she struggles for the right word, before landing on “hope.”

Chin lifting slightly in bare-throated retreat, Luther also looks away at her tense response. A sigh escapes through his nose, and his mouth pulls into a flatter line as he measures his response to hers. “There are more than we think there are. Whatever happened out there in Sunspot, threw ‘em all around. Some didn’t even…” He trails off to a stop as requested at first, but a singular grunt and frown slides into his expression at her final word stuck into the landing.

Luther sits up, turns to and looks at her profile again. “You’re right, Chess,” he rumbles softly, his low timbre attempting to soothe what he perceives as a still raw wound. “He doesn’t owe you. And you don’t owe him. But you do owe it to yourself to find a way that you can be happy.” He rolls his shoulders back, taking in a breath and letting go as he considers the how but comes up empty, or rather, “And I’ll do whatever I can to help you get there.”

She nods, resigned to the fact he’s going to worry and he’s going to advise. “Thanks,” she says, a little tersely, but it’s sincere. “Look, we’re going to have to put a moratorium on Miles talk. If anything new happens, I’ll let you know, yeah? But otherwise… he’s just some guy who happens to look like and have the same name and DNA as the Miles we knew. He’s not the Miles we knew, just like I am not Kimberly or any of my other clones… if there are any left.”

That one small ping Tamara spoke of resounds in her mind once in a while.

“So, you hungry? You wanna go get some sushi or ramen or noodles or all of the above?” she asks. At least it’ll get her out of the house. “I need to change, if so.” She glances down at her pajama bottoms and concert t-shirt and bare feet.

Setting his glass down on the table, Luther puts up both hands palms up to show that her request for a moratorium is taken seriously, and effective immediately. Topic is ziploc-sealed and tossed into the cooling drawer. Such is his reassuring, if wan, smile. It grows, though, with the mention of food. That’s always been a good topic change for the man.

“Always,” is his answer as he moves to stand from his seat. The glass that had been set down is retrieved along with the empty sake bottle, and a hand moves to collect her glass as well. “If you know a place that has all of those, I’m game to try ‘em all. Go on then, I’ll wait out here.”

Glasses lifted, he heads off to clean up the drinkware.

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