Scream My Name


elliot2_icon.gif ff_gracie2_icon.gif

Scene Title Scream My Name
Synopsis Meditations upon what, and she cannot stress this enough, the fuck.
Date July 8, 2021

There’s a ringing in her ears that’s from more than just the gunshot. It’s from more than just the fear that it might have been her that had been shot at first. Pain never blossomed, just a deep and existential dread as she turned around.

It’s as though the last and greatest of her secrets has fallen out of her pocket and now rolls along the floor between them and it’s just out of her grasp to drag back in toward her and keep hidden from sight. To explain away as something else. It was a marble, not a…

Well, whatever would serve as a great metaphor for a secret identity.

A Hostel
New Chicago

3:10 AM
July 8th

Gracie is reeling, trying unsuccessfully to will the horror off of her face. It’s taken root too deep beneath her skin to shake it off like that, though. It’s in her blood now. “So,” she breathes out, hands shaking and hazel eyes too wide, “what pronouns would you like me to be using while I’m screaming internally right now?”

She wouldn't be a Rue if she didn't use humor as a coping mechanism.

The eyes of the man with the loaded gun travel from Gracie's appropriately worried expression to the corpse of his father, still warm. He can't help but flicker between grief and absolute disinterest. Normally killing people doesn't bother him, especially in a matter this personal. Even if this man didn't kill his Bastian, he killed someone who could have helped shore up the Foundation.

He taps his loaded pistol against the leg of his pants thoughtfully as he takes a moment to assure himself he's out of grabbing range. Sitting, his eyes return to tonight's other target. “I see the pronoun discourse started a decade early here,” he says with a half grin that acknowledges the fact that it probably didn't.

The redhead’s shoulders grow tense as that gun moves, however small those movements are, but she keeps her eyes on Elliot’s face, watching it for tells, rather than focusing on just that one object. It's a lesson she learned the hard way some time ago, that people can lash out in many ways beyond the most obvious. Classic misdirection.

“I…” Gracie doesn't have a witty comeback. She doesn't even have a lame comeback. She doesn't have anything at all for this situation beyond the most primal plea:

“Please don't kill me.”

The man with the gun notices the state of Gracie's terror, letting it remain a moment longer before repositioning the pistol. “I'm great at shooting people in the back,” he admits. He unscrews the noise suppressor unhurriedly, drops it into the pocket of Elliot's fur-trimmed coat. “But my job is infiltration and intelligence. If I wanted you dead, I wouldn't have stopped shooting.”

“I let so many inconsistencies go unaddressed,” he admits, tucking the gun itself away into a holster. “Chalked it up to my own unfamiliarity with this place. Somebody even pointed out a couple of them to me, but I guess I wasn't ready to believe it yet. Misplaced affection for Rue, maybe.”

He's returning Gracie's attention to behavior, though he's doing so with a cognitive boost from a world away. “But then you had a surprisingly strong opinion on the word ‘girlboss,’” he says with a chuckle that does nothing to quell the danger saturating the room, “a word coined… five years ago?”

He looks down at the body, beginning to think of the disposal process. “After that,” he says, “it became a lot easier to see the other worrisome evidence.”

“I’ve known a lot of people who enjoy the satisfaction of watching a person's face when they shoot them,” Gracie counters, justifying her continued fear, although it doesn't need it.

And as he's watching her, he sees the way her jaw tightens when he points out her mistake. “It's a shitty word,” she offers up in her own defense. “I'm not a girlboss,” she insists, “I'm a boss, full stop.” Her voice is shaking like her hands, in spite of her fumbling attempts to hide behind her sass. She's far quieter as she corrects herself. “Well, I was.”

Letting out a slow breath, her shoulders lower some, but the tension doesn't really leave her. She doesn't ask what he thinks he knows. She can guess.

“I get no pleasure from killing people,” he assures her. He reaches down to grab his father's body by the collar with both hands and heaves, dragging him a step toward the bathroom. He's so much lighter than I imagined, he thinks.

“Do you need me to give you the full Columbo,” he asks Gracie, “or do you want to tell me what you're doing here?”

Gracie’s breath catches in her chest as Elliot lifts Gregory Tracy’s body with much more ease than she would have. (Rue would have an easier time of it than she.) She dithers on whether or not to step forward to assist. She signed on to help, but has she fulfilled that obligation now?

Her arms wrap around herself slowly, her hands molding around opposite elbows to show she’s not reaching for anything. Looking down just gives her a view of the blood on the floor and what of it is creating a trail as Elliot moves. She swallows hard.

Maybe he doesn’t want to kill her, he’s told her it would be traumatic for him to kill someone who looks exactly like his girlfriend. But if he’s doing this for the local Elliot… is there a trade at play? She knows she needs to choose her words carefully, to not give the wrong impression.

“I don’t know.” Her eyes lift, even though her chin doesn’t. “I really don’t. And I don’t just mean that on a… God, I don’t know.” She swallows uneasily. “I’m flattered you think I'm the kind of person who has any kind of plan, but I'm flying by the seat of my pants, and that’s the truth.”

Just not the whole of it. It's a dangerously open-ended question laid out before her, one that's surely designed to invite her to give more away than he already knows or even suspects.

“Skillfully evaded,” he says charitably as he gets the body back to the doorway of the bathroom. “The full Columbo then?”

“I'm here because I had a vision that told me where to be when you arrived. You plural. I didn't know you — singular — from Adam.” Gracie shudders briefly, the nervous energy forcing a way out of her, even if it doesn't really provide relief. “It’s why I was confused when I heard someone had been looking for me.”

She wears Rue's apprehensiveness differently. Rue can look hesitant and she’s prone to melancholy and self-doubt, but even in her moments of greatest uncertainty, she rarely looks this small. And his Rue doesn't even have the power to do the things Gracie says she can do.

They've adapted from differing circumstances. It shows the vast divergence in their experiences. Rue always had a hand held out when she was knocked down, even when she no longer needed it. Gracie on the other hand…

He can read that she's a woman who was made to stay down.

“My curiosity led me to connect with you.” Her shoulders hunch up with the shake of her head before dropping. “No ulterior motive there than to find out why someone from your group would want to seek me out.”

“I mean, we're both technically blonde,” the man dragging his father's dead body says evenly, “but, Adam is definitely way blonder than I am. I can see where the confusion comes from though.” He doesn't drag the corpse any further into the bathroom, eyes locked on Gracie's.

“So since it appears I need to be a bit more pedantic,” he continues, “what were the circumstances of your arrival in this timeline?” It's a huge gamble, but he's aligned enough disparate clues to try to rule out the most damning things first.

There’s a fractional widening of the ginger’s eyes when he picks a specific Adam, a so very brief stilling of breath before she comes back to that evenness she fakes. It’s cemented in place well enough that she doesn’t stutter again when he asks how she arrived in this timeline.

He knows. He knows. He knows. He knows. He knows. He knows.

The panic screams through her brain, an endless stream that tells her everything is over and either he kills her or something else does. And while she’s plastered over it well enough, breathed through — this is not the first dragon she’s faced down — she doesn’t do him the disservice of pretending to be confused and make him go through the whole routine.

The cracks in her composure finally form and her façade breaks. Gracie laughs, a helpless sound. “Do you know Bing Crosby played Columbo in this universe? Can you even imagine? I’d give money to watch that portrayal.” Gracie bites down on her lower lip for a moment, considering her words.

“Would you believe I swan dove off an overpass and into a giant fucking Christmas ornament?”

“Come on,” Gracie bids him. “I… think I have something for you, actually. Here.” She gestures toward the dresser which serves also as a mount for the recessed flat screen television.

It ’s been painted over, covering the surface that would have reflected the light with its gloss. Twilight sky fades into a gradient of brick red and sandstone beige, then finally to blue. A horizontal line of charcoal begins at the right and left edges of the set but crumbles a quarter way toward the middle, recognized as road due to the smears of gold meant to stand in for cautionary yellow, lanes demarcated. Beyond those crumbled edges are two crude pylons of creamy grey with a faint sheen — maybe from an eye shadow stick? He’s seen Rue with them. There are small gaps in the grey that don’t look accidental. Negative space?

But it’s what lies between the thick pair of Roman numerals that really draws the eye.

Matte black paint — real paint, so dark that the procurer likely had to assure whoever they traded with that they aren’t Stuart Semple — has been splashed in the center to create a lightless mass. Around it — or perhaps beneath it? — is a burst of light and color. A halo of gold, and yellow liquid liner. The dying gasp of orange eye shadow.

“Every time I look at this thing, I can hear Also Sprach Zarathustra.” Gracie stares at the piece critically, like maybe she sees something else every time she looks at it, and sips on her drink.

Elliot approaches the television warily. He looks over it with increasing focus, trying to divine meaning. “Huh,” he says. “I have no idea what this is supposed to be.” A half-truth, the obvious thematic stand-outs are an eclipse or the spacetime anomaly that powered the Looking Glass. Without context, it’s meaningless. But Gracie obviously assumes it should mean more to him than it does.

“I’m going to grab my flask now, if that’s okay with you.” Her voice is low. His Rue pitches that way when she’s sharing a moment with Elliot, sharing secrets. “If I’m about to die, I’d like to have a last drink.”

“I already told you I don't plan on killing you,” he says, a complicated series of emotions flickering over his face. “Getting rid of one body is going to be annoying enough. But drink if you need to steady your hands.” He stands upright just in case she tries something unexpected, ready to reach for the pistol he hopes he doesn't need to use again.

“And I'd be inclined to believe you if you provided the necessary context,” he continues. “This is a time for explicit truths, Rue. You can be candid with me, or you’ll likely end up having this intervention with the people who kept you in a boxcar. If I wanted that, I'd be having this conversation with Richard.”

“I didn't say it was you who was going to kill me,” she counters easily. Well, the correction is an easy thing, she is still incredibly uneasy overall. Her reach for the flask is slow and deliberate, speaking to far too many encounters where she likely had a weapon (or offensive ability) aimed her way.

He's seen his Rue do it plenty of times. Enough to know when she really is reaching for a weapon of her own. This isn't that.

Removing the lid of her flask, she takes a sip from it. Then a longer drink. It doesn't help steady her. Not yet, at any rate.

“I like when you call me Rue.” It's a big admission delivered in a very small voice, her eyes on the floor. “No one has for a long time.” She lets out another shaky breath. “All my friends are dead, I'm alone here, and I think I have a killswitch in my brain.”

Lifting her head again, he sees her very real fear. Maybe it's for the Boxcar Children, or maybe it's something far bigger than that.

A killswitch is a very bad sign; it implies the existence of oversight. He performs a quick inventory of the most mission-sensitive secret conversations that he's had. As far as he's aware, nobody has spied on any of them other than Squeaks.

The situation is even more delicate than he'd hoped. He certainly can't deliver any deeper into his admission that he isn't actually Elliot. He can't link her into the network to share memories directly, because she's a huge danger to the safety of everyone he protects as castellan of the Palace.

“People won't take this well if they find out,” he admits. Especially if her ‘biblical experience’ of being made into a mosaic is exactly what he fears it is.

Should he kill her? Rue wouldn't mind, he guesses, as this woman met somebody who introduced themself merely as ‘Seren’ but she knew to call them ‘Mx. Evans’ after the fact. If this is the Rue who pulled a gun on his friend, it would make it easier to live with.

“Birdcall,” someone else says, looking forward to her upcoming meeting with that same friend.

He looks to the side to blink an affirmative.

“Yeah,” Rue responds, “no shit.” She swallows uneasily and takes another drink. “I’m not here to hurt anybody. I just want to find my way home, same as the rest of you.” Maybe she should have led with that. She laughs ruefully, tongue toying with a canine in the way that always serves as a prelude to when his girlfriend says something like well, fuck. “I am alone here,” she restates.

Trails off. “Now more than ever, I suppose.” Since she’s all but certain he won’t allow her to continue on with them. “I… I don’t know if you need me, but you might need me.” It’s the only argument she can make for her inclusion, the plea not to be left here when she’s come so far and taken so much for it.

Please.” She’s edged into begging now. It sells her as more genuine, not that there’s any reason to doubt her desperation. “I’ve bled for you.” Not him specifically, but the convoy in general, at least in her mind. “I could have told Ren I’d brought her a fucking gift and spared myself the broken leg, the interrogation I had to hope I could talk my way through…” She’s shaking again, her eyes glassy with tears. “Please don’t tell them.” A look flashes in her eye. An idea. An olive branch.

“I can tell you who else in the convoy is hiding abilities.”

He nods in agreement; Rue isn't wrong, her ability is clearly indispensable. Having two of any one of the abilities they'll need in order to get home can only be a bonus, assuming they find somebody who can make portals or amplify other abilities.

“I'll keep this between us,” he offers her, “but going forward you work for me.” Not my team.

“And you tell me everyone's abilities. Unexpected interactions could be very dangerous for all of us. You will also never attempt to copy my ability or use someone else's on me without explicit consent.”

He's clearly very curious. “But please,” he says, “do tell.”

Rue stiffens, lips pressing together. This is a shift in attitude she didn’t expect, but she realizes she’s a potential enemy now, rather than an ally. It’s been that way since the boxcar, and she believes he played her like a fiddle. Her stomach turns over.

“Yes, sir.” That seems an easy phrase to roll off her tongue, and not necessarily due to her most recent line of work. “Robyn’s ability isn’t quite what she thinks it is.” She starts with the one she’s the most intimately familiar with. “She has more command over light than she thinks she does. There’s a lot of potential there, I can feel it. Destructive potential.”

Capping her flask, she slides it back into her pocket and makes a point of showing the front and back of both her hands after she withdraws again before resuming her posture of her arms wrapped around herself, hands still laid flat and plainly visible to him. “The holdout is Epstein. He has a self-healing factor, and I’m certain he knows it. I tried to lift it from him after Ren fucked me up.” Rue shakes her head. “No dice.”

Judging by her reaction, he worries he might have overdone it. Reminding her that lots of people will die if she copies his ability seems important, and she is a spy that he's uncovered. He'll let it play out for now, and correct as necessary later.

The information she gives out is interesting, but not earth shattering. Robyn having more punch than she believes could be a huge benefit if her conversation with Chel was any indication. Warping space with light might be their way home.

“Classic Epstein. Some people are private by nature,” he commiserates. “We could both sympathize with Tay on that one. Nobody wants to be a healing factor blood bank if word gets out.”

“Classic Epstein,” Rue agrees easily. It’s suddenly very obvious just how many times she’s cast aspersions on the entire clan when she probably shouldn’t have ever met a single one of them before Tay. “He's no Wolverine — he won't heal instantly,” she neatly footnotes another pop culture reference, “— and he can't heal others with it the way that Natalie Gray could. What Chess can do now…”

Trailing off, she turns her head to stare off into the room without focus. Eventually, they track to the bloody smear and the more substantial flecks on the floor. “Sorry your dad was a fuckface,” she remarks absently, the nerves making her just say the things that go through one’s head when they think they might die, in spite of all assurances. “I’d give just about anything to see my parents again.”

She shakes her head and her shoulders quake briefly from the effort it takes to hold in the new wave of tears. “Everyone I love and who loves me is dead or gone. You’re lucky you have her… The other Rue. She’s lucky to have you, too.” Such as either of them can have anybody at this point.

“Adoptive father,” he clarifies with a shrug, leaning down again to drag the body through the bathroom doorway. “Never knew my real parents. Assuming they aren't dead, they left me at an orphanage as a baby, so, fuck ‘em.”

He hauled the body up and tips it into the bathtub with a disquieting series of thumps. “My version of this asshole didn't murder any kids that I'm aware of, though I wouldn't put it past him during the time the government was doing that. He did kidnap my daughter though, so I'll likely kill him if the very invested team of manhunters from Scout and Wolfhound don't get to him first.” He doesn't know if it's true, finding himself pushing down a violent emotional reaction to this entire ordeal. He's glad the nine millimeter bullet appears to have ricocheted around inside the skull rather than dump the contents onto the living room floor.

“We don't have a way home,” he says from the bathroom. “But if you help me, and we find a way, I'll do what I can to get the inter-dimensional cannon pointed toward home for you too.” It would take her off the board without killing her, which he would consider a net win.

“Right. Sorry the only dad you had was a fuckface.” The corner of Rue’s mouth tugs into a nervous little smirk. “Everybody deserves better, right? Probably be a lot fewer shitbags in the world if they had better parents…” Her exhale is shaky. “Somehow you turned out okay.”

She says to the person who just used her as bait so they could kill their father. Even one from an alternate reality and apparently a childkiller. “Doing public service work and all.” Good riddance.

To the offer to get her home, she nods her head in a series of short, stilted movements. “Yeah,” she breathes out, “that’d be real good of you.” Then she sighs and sidesteps to get some kind of view of Elliot in the other room, even if she’s sure she isn’t going to like what’s going on in there if it’s more than pulling the shower curtain and leaving the body to be found later. “Who are you anyway? I mean, really. What’s your… deal? Not to be insensitive, but I don’t really have better words right now. I’m kind of freaking out a bit.”

A lot. She’s freaking out a lot, but keeping most of it buried beneath her skin.

“Who, me?” he asks with a smirk as he begins to methodically disconnect the shower curtain from the hangers. “I'm just a silly little guy.”

He chuckles, mostly to distract himself from the flickering image of Gregory's final moment of absolute confusion before a little hole appeared in his face. “Not what you were expecting when you sensed the mind, I take it?”

That's almost worse than anything Rue might have been expecting to hear. Her jaw sets and shifts to one side briefly, fueled only the faintest bit by annoyance and frustration. Uncertainty is the bigger emotion at play.

“No, not really.” She bites down on her lip briefly. “What do you think I’d see if I saw your Wright?” She pauses, head cocking to one side as she puzzles out how that works. “You? See, this is where my not understanding what’s going on here makes spaghetti of all the logic.”

“You'd see a muscular blonde woman the same height as you,” he guesses, freeing the rest of the curtain and laying it on the floor away from the thin trail of blood. “As for power, that's all me. You can't detect my ability in a co-host, as far as I'm aware. Though, that's still not what you're getting at I'm sure.”

A bucket and mop are rummaged from behind the bathroom door, the bucket filled with a semi-steady stream of water from the tub. “Tell you what,” he offers, looking back over his shoulder. “Answer for an answer.”

“Did you frame my girlfriend for the kidnapping of Richard Ray and pull a gun on my friend Seren?”

Rue reels back at the question — the accusation. “What the fuck?” Rather than answer, she curls her lip in something like disgust and deflects, the same as his girlfriend would. “Co-host, huh? That’s what you’re calling that?” Clumsier than his girlfriend would. She glances down the length of him and then back up, as though reassessing him. Maybe his ability.

After a prolonged moment, she lets out an audible breath. “I work for you, like you said, but I’ve got a long day ahead of me. I have to be up in like…” She glances toward the window like it might tell her the time of night. Maybe it does. He knows she’s roughed it for months at a stretch, he can tell she isn’t lying when she talks about it. “I don’t know. Three hours?”

She starts to back away, toward the door. “Said I’d help Tay get parts for one of the vehicles. So unless you need me for…” Rue flinches and looks away quickly, looking ill. The thought of whatever other help he might need doesn’t sit well in her stomach. “I’d like to go, please.”

He sighs, gesturing toward the door that she's closer to than he is. He's made no attempt to box her in, the conversation is too high-pressure to not give her an escape vent.

“We can talk later then,” he says. “Thank you for your help, and sorry for the theatrics.” He gestures at the mess. Doesn't think about the brittle wooden sound of Gregory's elbow hitting the floor as he collapsed.

“I would prefer it if you continued referring to me as Elliot,” he says. “I'm not really ready to trust the others with the truth.” One last olive branch: he trusted her with it.

“Alright,” she agrees readily, although not enthusiastically. She’s still cautious, like there’s eggshells scattered among the blood on the floor, both of which are to be avoided. She won’t be tracking anything outside of this space. She supposes it makes sense for him to continue to call her Gracie, and that aches after that taste of the familiar.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Elliot.”

He nods, though it's already fairly tomorrow. “Do you want to be called Gracie?” he asks. “I'm assuming you picked that up from the local. If you want to maintain your cover I have no problem using that name, but I prefer to call people what they want to be called. I have a troubled history with nicknames.” As she very recently witnessed.

The bucket is taken from the tub and the water turned off before much of it splashes on his father's dead body. He grimaces, and a wave of grief almost takes him out at the knees. He masters it by reminding himself that this isn't his dead father, it's the local Wright's.

Rue’s breath catches in her throat, her steps halting. She looks uncertain, conflicted. “When I came here, I felt like I deserved a separation from my old life,” she admits, wherein deserves is ascribed to a sort of punishment rather than a relief. “I didn’t want to step into hers. So, yeah, I lifted a very seldom-used nickname from the local Rue.” She has to swallow hard before she can let the fleeting smile appear on her face. “A stage name, if you will.” A shaky, breathy sound escapes her throat, her hazel eyes are glassy.

She watches him have his own struggle with grief and takes a tentative step forward. The side of her curled hand presses to her mouth as she makes that sound again, standing at the edge of those tears and trying not to give in. “Ffffuck,” she hisses, “I wish I could turn this off. God, I want to hug you right now.” Even though she’s scared of him, there’s still a kinship in their plight. “I’m sorry that I’m who I am.” She laughs bitterly into her palm. “Even if I’m not sure who that is anymore. I’ve spent so much time pretending to be her.”

There’s a heaviness to Rue’s sympathy when she meets Wright’s eyes. “Have you spent your time pretending to be him?”

He flinches at the thought of being hugged. As comforting as it might be to pretend this is the woman he loves, even if he could overcome the urge to confirm that she's safe, it's too dangerous. He knows he should put more thought into the mechanics of her ability, how telepathic networking would be useless to her and only cause anxiety for everyone she links when a lack of proximity to him breaks their connections. But there's worse things than the possibility of her copying the ability that he tells people is called telepathic networking; it's just not safe. It's not a lot of things.

So again he counts the steps between them; assures himself that he can pull his gun before she closes the distance. He's spent too long keeping people safe by lying to just waste all of his control for one moment of sympathy.

“For years,” he says.

“Me too,” she commiserates softly. “I’m sorry. I’m very, very sorry.” Her eyes cast downward. She understands the rules he’s laid out. Her body language doesn’t communicate an intent to step forward, and it doesn’t happen automatically in spite of that intent. “It… sucks so bad,” she breathes out on the verge of tears again.

Her eyes lift again. “November Eighth?” Rue takes the shot at the easy target. All the bad shit happened then. Happens then. Never seems to matter the year. Since the Bomb, they’ve all been bad anniversaries.

He considers the open question. There have been a lot of November Eighths, all of them a craps shoot as to quality. He finds it morbidly funny that the one that started the trend of misery saved Elliot’s life. That the boy wasn't pushed off a building because of it. Or maybe, uninterrupted, he'd have done what the local Elliot did. Would he have had the strength to throw another boy off of a roof to save himself?

There was also the one where Elliot escaped from the Arcology with Tala and Yancy in hand, only to watch them both be shredded by gunfire. He'd gone catatonic from the shock of it, only woken by determination to save his only friend as a soldier stalked her down a corridor. He remembers how calm the man was, step by step, leaning over her as he patiently reloaded his rifle. How her terror had given Elliot the spark he needed to unlock the Switchboard like the emergency door on an airplane. How in his haste he'd forgotten to lock it again, and Zero merely waited to make its presence known to her maliciously. How the only word it's said in a decade was its own name. How it had echoed through the Aquifer with such force that in the moment the castle had seemed to disappear. The memories are broken beyond recognition mostly, but clear fragments litter the ground of his mind like the Collins Glass.

All of those locks are gone since the Epiphany. Since they had to make new locks to accommodate new circumstances. Locks of forgetting and self control and parental affection and lying about who he is and what he can do and what he might have to do in the future. That last gone, replaced with nearly alien hope.

“Which one?” he asks, trying for a bit of specificity. “Some are more memorable than others. Last year's was actually pretty low-key.” Except for the part where his best friend's condition radically worsened. He needs to text Asi, see how she's holding up.

Rue shrugs her shoulders. “Take your pick, I guess.” She rubs the back of her hand under her nose briefly, sniffling just once. “But I’ll take that as a non-specific yes. It’s always November fucking Eighth. It’s when I lost my best friend. It’s when I lost my wife. It’s when I lost my freedom… Pick a year, something shitty happened.”

He gives a non-committal grunt of acknowledgement. The mop is lowered into the bucket, a ragged, ropey thing, and sloshed up and down a couple times. “You mean when your friend phased you out of existence to survive the blast in midtown and you spent a long time thinking you could see dead people?” he asks.

“Sorry about your wife,” he adds, embarrassed. “Rue thought she was cursed to get Liza killed because she'd seen it in the future, so she stayed away from her to keep her safe. Same thing played out after she got outed to Seren. It was difficult convincing her to try again, but it was important, for her and for me.” He wishes the local Seren would do, but the darker nature of Baird worries him. For now the plan remains to focus on developing the prospect back home. He lets some water drain from the mop, and splatters the blood with what remains.

“Yeah,” Rue says quietly, confirming his tallying of her significant life events, unsurprised at how much she matches up to his Rue. “Thank you.” The sympathies are appreciated, however much they might not feel fully leaned into. They don’t have to be. But while her brow slants with grief, the curve of her mouth speaks to guilt.

“Really?” Her voice sounds distant in her own ears. “She stayed away from Li because she felt she was protecting her?” Her gaze goes unfocused, but also narrows as though there’s something she can stare hard at in that middle distance. “I’d say it sounds selfless if I wasn’t so intimately familiar with my own self-loathing.”

“It can be two things,” he admits, scrubbing at the closest blood smear. It'll take a few bucket changes, but this isn't the first time he's gotten rid of a body. The duffel bag is convenient, it shouldn't be hard to fit a body in it. Gregory was frail enough to not need much rearranging.

She steps back, keeping distance from him out of respect rather than fear now. “I suppose you have me there,” she admits, and it sounds like she might even be moved enough to reconsider her stance.

With careful fingers, she swipes under and around her eyes to catch the moisture and the smeared make-up, drying and smudging it back into place as best she can. “You still good if I take off?” They waded into the shit here and Rue seems to feel some sense of responsibility to see him through it. “I’ve… I’ve seen people get rearranged before. It’s not my favorite thing, but I can…”

Rue still goes pale, in spite of her assurance. Behind her eyes, she goes somewhere very, very far away from here. Probably somewhere back in Pennsylvania, with Ren Nassar and her crew.

“Yeah,” he says, then, “yeah, I got this.” He stares at her for a moment without moving, then returns to the task at hand. He knows that look of repressing a horror. Of letting it bend against the mind and fall away.

He's never felt bad about killing somebody before, and he'd like to continue that trend. It occurs to him that the reason he does now isn't the fact that there's a man who looks like his father lying dead in a bathtub to his left. It hurts because it doesn't matter.

There was no annexation, no sector sacrificed to keep the minotaur locked up to be tomorrow's problem yet again. There's nothing he can tell it to let it know the man was sacrificed. It never met this man, it never will. Maybe it has its own fragments of Elliot's childhood memories, of being passed over for a more manageable Wright. Memories streamed and then remembered differently when it was just a boy with a body and a promise to be saved from the Ark.

There's just the ringing of the phone, distant, so much further away since the Garage passage was collapsed. Echoing across the Overlook and through Facilities and like static over the intercom in the Mall and distorted through the impossible hallways of the Apartment Complex until it's just like the ringing in his ears that tells him that Elliot has stopped moving for the night.

He wishes he could tell the minotaur how sorry he is. That it's come to this because he just didn't know. Didn't want to understand because he's been so afraid for so long.

“I'll see you tomorrow, Rue.”

“Yeah,” Rue agrees in a soft exhalation, her hand on the door and twisting the handle to let herself out. “Tomorrow.”

Once outside, she leans against the closed door at her back and takes a moment just to get her breath under control. She needs to look and behave the way the anyone who’s come to know her would expect her to. The hat is pulled off her head and stuffed into the pocket of her coat so she can take her curls down from where they're wound tight atop her head. She shakes them out, artful in the way she makes it disheveled, like she’s spent her evening with someone doing something far more pleasant (for at least one of them) than playing accessory to murder. Rue tips her head back, gaze lidded, and wills her nerves to calm like she would before a recital or a board meeting.

Gracie opens her eyes and comes back to center. When she pushes off the wall to begin making her way back to her bed for the night, her movements are easy, languid in the way someone tired from a late night would be, the tempo of her stroll adagio.

Even if her feet cannot carry her there fast enough.

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