Share The Load


ff_asi_icon.gif elliot2_icon.gif

Scene Title Share The Load
Synopsis Elliot finds Asi alive and whole on the other side of the downed overpass. They reform a link to share their experiences from either side of the convoy attack and speak on their observations and feelings about what happened once their memories are composited together.
Date July 5, 2021

Broadway Street
Ruins of Toledo
8:30 pm

There has been so much going on. So very very much.

The sun is getting lower in the sky and they've not made plans yet to move on. Extricating their way out of the rubble and getting back on the road is a thought eventually on everyone's mind, but not one engaged in figuring out just yet. With the loss of two vehicles, the remaining rides just got tighter, too, so there's other logistics needing figured out as well, it's just…

Asi can't bring herself to think about any of that right now. She's never been good at being part of a group in the sense of being its leader. She's learned to follow and be strong in that capacity, but she runs into this when left to her own devices for too long.

This… freeze. This lockup. This wallowing, as she will later disdainfully refer to it.

She's harder on herself than she should be. This is honestly too much for any one mind to deal with and not experience some shock, some dissociation.

Sitting with her knees tented and her hands sandwiched between thigh and abdomen, Asi's eyes are focused on the far distance without much purpose to her gaze— but she gains focus sharply when noticing movement around the side of the overpass. It's not another unfamiliar shape emerging from shadows that needs violent attention drawn to it, rather a form that's nearing familiar, given she's spent some time seeing it and experiencing being it now.

"I don't know exactly when the connection broke," isn't an explicit apology for having put him through what she unintentionally did. "But I'm glad it did before things got worse."

Asi's gaze shifts off of him, and she notes in more quiet tones, "—Then better."

"Then… bad all over again," comes even more quietly than that.

Elliot's immediate response is to sit on the ground beside Asi, giving no indication of whether this is a diversion or his destination. He sighs, looking down to her hands, a smaller miracle than those he'd just witnessed, but miraculous nonetheless. He had no idea that anybody in the convoy had the ability to heal. Richard had never told him that he could, even after all their talks of Elliot's deepest secrets. Well, deep secrets, anyway.

He sighs, leaning back. "I'm glad you're okay," he says quietly. "Breaking links without warning isn't fun, but isn't irregular. We were all caught off guard, unfortunately. I'm surprised Chess's link held as long as it did, she got shot twice. The first one hurt badly, I decided against watching the sequel. Yours was… a novel experience. I was so worried." The last admission seems to come out unintended. He's only really getting to process the emotions she would otherwise have felt if the link hadn't broken.

The last admission starts to bring her back from the distant place she was drifting off to, a startled chuckle leaving her. "Me too, but not just then. I thought…" Asi has to swallow hard, looking down at her hands. She turns them up, eyes down into her palms. "If I didn't get Stef out of that bus, everyone would die. I didn't expect for me to have…" Her fingers close into palms. "So quickly."

"I thought I was going to turn into dust right then and there. When I fell out of the Network, I thought that was the surest sign I was already dead and just didn't know it. But Else pulled me off in time, and then Stef had enough juice, apparently, to horror-movie her way out of there to feed on the raiders instead…" She shakes her head and immediately asides to her own story quietly, "She'd– she's been living this ever since the Sentinel attack. I knew the warnings from some, I just– I didn't realize…"

Her eyes move off to try and find Stef in the other movements around their impromptu camp, but she gives up on it shortly. Her hands come unsandwiched to place on the ground and allow her to scoot the inches closer to Elliot to sit shoulder to shoulder. He said he was worried. Maybe he'll allow it.

Asi's chin comes forward to rest on her knees, arms looping under her legs this time as they clasp together again. "Glad you all made it out safe. Them splitting us… it was a near thing. Seems we did better off than you, except for…" She trails off morosely to think about Natalie's death again.

As Asi encroaches into Elliot's space, there's a brief war in his mind. He wants to assure himself that she's safe, knowing intellectually that she must be. He's known her for weeks now, when has she ever done anything to make him think she isn't? There's also an excited anticipation, after the stress of the event, the closeness would be a relief. He shuffles in place to make room for her as though they're about to share a narrow couch, hiding the conflicting thoughts and discomfort.

Then they're shoulder to shoulder and he's okay. He sighs, losing much of his tension. He wants to get close to this Asi the way he did the one he knows back home, and not entirely because of her possible Relevance, her usefulness to him. In a testament to divergent circumstances, that has been significantly more complicated with this version of her. His attempts at conversation to this point have flat odds of amusing or upsetting her. He wonders if the challenge is what makes her seem more intriguing.

"If you want to remember what happened on my side," he says in only partial jest, "we could link again." He laughs, sharing fresh trauma doesn't sound appetizing to anybody. He doesn't offer his hand, assuming the answer is no.

Asi lets out a broken laugh in return before counteroffering, "Only if it'd help to share the load." She's completely deadpan in that offer, seemingly serious. "Otherwise… it's not like it's gonna make me feel better some of us got hit worse than others. We're…"

Her look solemns, and her shoulder leans into his. She acknowledges, "We're all in this together." Then, looking up at the stars beginning to enter the sky, she notes with a bitter edge, "And we've only just started this trip."

It's then, the beat that comes after, that Asi realizes what she's done. The closeness. It's just a twinge of her posture, but she pulls away. She sits up properly and brings up the heel of one hand to wipe at her face and begin to close herself back off again.

"So–" she asks after clearing her throat, steeling her tone so it's more like normal. She turns her head to look at Elliot directly. "What did we miss over there?" The hand that scrubbed her face comes back to her abdomen.

Then the other reaches over, forearm set on her knee, in offering. "If you don't want to talk about it, you don't have to."

Elliot isn't upset when Asi pulls away, because what she's offering is more valuable to him. He smiles, reaching out his hand not to take hers to be taken as always. "We've found it helpful in the past," he says. "Wright and I, when we've been separated in a crisis. Sometimes it helps to composite our memories to wipe out the stress of worrying if the other is okay, even if we know after the fact that obviously we were."

He shrugs, admitting, "Not that those occasions are frequent, considering, but having the whole picture relieves some of the stress."

Her brow creases, not entirely getting it, but neither having the inhibition to question it. Something framed as stress relief wouldn't go amiss right now.

So Asi tells Elliot, "Sure." and goes the last bit between them to take his hand. "… Can it work again with just the one? Or–"

"Yeah," Elliot says as his hand is taken. He doesn't immediately recede into the focus that setting the link requires. "I think it's a proprioceptive limitation. Like I need to be able to tell exactly where you are in space while I'm concentrating to line it up right for some reason."

His eyes sag closed and he gives Asi's hands a light squeeze before loosening his grip to allow her to pull away as needed. "Still messing with the formula," he says slowly as his mind quests out for hers. "But you know the basics. Memory and sense and emotion. Squeeze my hand when it's okay for me to remember with you."

It takes Asi a moment to reorient herself, to remember the steps they've gone through several times now. Skill, memory, sensation are foci she brings to mind one at a time, her hand letting go of Elliot's once she finds their minds and beings bound together once more. They've found what works well for setting up these arrangements, and she's glad to not need to rock the boat with digging up undesired sets of memories.

She doesn't drop her hand, though, unsure that's the end of it. And she's right that it's not. Her own ability requires touch for most of its facets, and she closes her eyes as she squeezes his hand, thinking back.

"It started with the explosion, ahead of us. We hit the brakes in time for glass to blow out when our passengers were fired on." This is the part that was on his periphery originally. "Stef was injured. I had to access the Index to assess Stef's wound when I saw it. Nate was screaming." This is the part he knows. "Then after I tried to help and the Network fell apart…"

The sensation of being healed after she came to check on Natalie and Silas was not unlike the sensation of being injured in the first place. It's so strange a thing she hardly remembers it, save for the tingling of warmth. Then she's just whole again, looking down at her hands, suitably panicked about letting the injured healer off the bus. She follows out and after, in time to see the action cleaned up for the most part– Marlowe's sparks of her substance-redefining chasing down the raiders that attempted to flee so the ground itself could become like quicksand and entomb them.

Her eyelids flutter after that, remembering looking around to take stock– Ace with a stolen shotgun and caked in gore up to his forearm, Jonathan bewildered but fine, Marlowe with her sci-fi weaponry going to dispatch the raiders that were still alive, Monica with her axes, Eve and Stef circling each other, Else still on the bus with Nate and Ryans' boy. Once she's verified everyone's safety in their own ways, she lets go of the thread of narrative, no longer actively recalling.

Elliot spends time looking up her memories with his own. She feels his presence in her mind as she recalls, and he pulls her attention to his own memories where they fit alongside her own.

The beginning is chaos. He flickered through all of the hosts in the moments after the explosion and the crash. He felt Chess get shot, but pain doesn't register physically with the memory, it's just the idea of pain. He remembers Robyn in the darkness summoning light. He remembers looking back to ensure that Squeaks was safe and seeing Gracie's knowing, but terrified realization of what was underway. That memory is tangled with his own automatic analysis of her behavior and comparison to that of a woman who looks just like her but is remembered separately. His surprise at her behavior isn't because he thinks they've been betrayed, but because Gracie knew raiders to begin with.

"What comes next is unpleasant," he warns as the memories surface. The shootout, the death, and the sudden horror and radiating pain that he can't escape. It too is only remembered pain, cringed against reflexively but painless in the moment.

Gracie again stuns with an epithet of romantic familiarity, but her pursuer, their attacker, is merciless. Ren is a wretched thing and Elliot can't suppress the hatred he feels on recollection; his loathing that somebody could cause pain so indiscriminately and vengefully. She'd thought Gracie brought the convoy to ambush their group, which surprised Elliot at the time. But that beast of a person wasn't ready for them. For all the lengths she went to to trap them, the combined ability of the convoy's passengers quickly outstripped her despite an initial assault that nearly claimed half the team.

Then Elliot remembers a miracle that for some reason frustrates him deeply and personally. Richard brings Nathalie, a woman who was breathing out her last breath as her blood coated Elliot's hands, back from the dead. Lights, shadows, Richard hovering in the air, and the brief sight of an unfamiliar man dressed for the trenches of the Great War.

All of it so bright and fast and painful and loud, but eventually they're here, safe, holding hands on the broken ground of the highway. Her memories intersperse with his own as his mind makes its own copies of her memories. He knows how she was there the whole time, endangered but never dead, and it fills a pit that until now held an aching worry. He doesn't have to remember the fear of her death anymore, because he remembers her never dying. The relief is palpable, he rests his head backward.

Asi's eyes flicker with seagreen light that overcomes the brown as she goes through the notion of trying to organize all the additional, incoming data of what happened elsewhere. Then they flicker with the shock of what they see, one thing after the next after…

Her fingers slip from Elliot's eventually, thumb rubbing to underside of fingers into palm as she rests her forearm on her knee and stares vacantly out into the distance for even more reasons than before. There's more purpose to it now than the listlessness of before.

She lays aside the what even the fuck in favor of something that may impact them in the present, or at least the near future. Her brow furrows as she asks without turning her head again, "She knew?"

"She knew them," Elliot says quietly, "or at the very least she knew the one she called Ren. They clearly were on very bad terms, and I'm certain she didn't know this was going to happen." He lines up memories of her reaction again, of his front row seat to Ren's vindictive fury as Gracie attempted to calm her down to stop the violence. Ren turned her malevolence on a woman who professed to love her, accusing her of betrayal.

"I'll admit it would have been nice to know we were heading into vengeful, psychopathic, torture-girlfriend territory," he says with a shrug that isn't backed up by a true feeling of nonchalance. "Ex-girlfriend, anyway. I'll spare you the memory of her death, that one's pretty gnarly. Already trying to shove it down the forgetting hole." There's plenty of room in the BLACK BLACK BLACK.

"Oh, you didn't tell me one of those came with this arrangement," Asi remarks in the most deadpan of sarcasms on the edge of a genuine, if small laugh. "I'd have signed on to this whole thing much sooner had I known."

They're just words, ultimately, to buy her time to decide how she feels about any of this. A beat later, her lips pull back over her teeth in a brief grimace, and she sets her elbows on her knees to hide her head against her biceps, hands scrubbing back through her hair. "The warning," she summarizes while sitting that way, "Would have been appreciated. None of us have made this trip– warnings from anyone who has been out here remotely in the waste seems like a no-brainer, but maybe that's just me. I did as much for those I traveled with back to Japan." Bitterness rides the edge of her teeth on that, and she runs her tongue over it to try and mellow it before she lifts her head.

"… Seems like she suffered plenty from that mistake, anyway," comes the grudging follow-up for that thought. "しょうがない." What can you do.

Her eyes dart to the side for a moment in thought, like she's seeking something. Notes that other sources of Japanese aren't available in the Index at present, ones that don't taste of what Elliot's picked up through osmosis. Perhaps eager enough for a distraction from the present, she wonders aloud, "What happened to the other oni?"

Elliot doesn't begrudge Asi her frustration. He sits in silence with her for a while, thinking about the ache where home Asi used to live in his mind. The ache is fading, and will remain for a couple weeks before it's gone entirely. "She's planning an operation to get what she needs to stay alive," he says. "I should text her to check in. Should I tell her you send your regards?"

"Absolutely not," she breathes out, a frazzled edge to that. She shakes her head once. "Just wasn't sure if she went and got herself killed or something." The mere thought of contact with her other self is enough to rock her to her feet like to put distance between herself and it. "Sounds like it's not out of the question still, but if I were you, I'd not tell her about…"

Normally a gesture to their entire surrounding would suffice. Instead, Asi crouches to pick up the pole of a shovel. It indicates all this in its own way.

"I should… try to make what's most of the light left, anyway," she mutters. Her shovel arm is shaken indicatively before she turns her head in the distant direction of the work she'd started before running out of adrenaline. "I'll try not to put either of us through dying again."

“Hey,” Elliot says quietly, kindly, not rising to his feet. He gives Asi the space to move but tries to keep her anchored in the conversation for another minute. “I only asked because you brought her up. If you don’t want to talk about her? I’ll leave her out of conversations from now on. I’m not going to try to Parent Trap the two of you or anything, you’re both adults with your own shit going on.”

“I’m glad you’re safe,” he reiterates, letting that be the absolute last of the talk about her other self if she needs it to be. “I don’t think either of us was prepared for Stef to give you the ‘drank from the wrong Holy Grail’ treatment. I didn’t even know that was something she could do, and Richard…” He shakes his head angrily. “Linking to her could have killed people in the network. He knew this and he didn’t tell me.” Not that Elliot had offered her the chance, they’re still strangers. But he could have, and people could be dead because of it.

Elliot's reassurance brings Asi's attention back around with a heavy sigh. "I only asked because she'd been in the background before, but she's gone now. Didn't expect her to want to let that go, given it's not like she can get back in touch. Unless Wright can do that?" But there she goes again, going down that crossed path she doesn't want to have, and her shoulders tense and her stomach drops in a way he can feel before she shakes her head to try and physically toss the topic aside with that motion before they can talk about it further.

She lets out the breath that had stilled in her a moment later to console him, "People don't exactly go talking to others about what makes them Special. Not unless you're close. Sometimes not even then. I didn't even fucking know that Eve could…" And that's a bitter thought, bringing with it a bitter edge of a laugh. "Nobody owes anybody anything, with regards to their secrets."

Thinking on what he's said a moment longer, though, brings Asi to look down to Elliot with a furrowed brow. "… How are you sure she'd have killed through the network, though? What happened there was physical."

“Wright can’t,” Elliot says, though it’s not like she hasn’t tried. “And Asi didn’t want to, but those are the limits of what I can do. I’ll always be grateful for her friendship that I got to bring here with me.”

Elliot understands at an intellectual level that he doesn’t have a lot of room to be angry about somebody keeping secrets that could get people killed. Maybe it burns more because Richard is literally the only person alive who knows other than Wright.

It’s strange to not have the lock there anymore. He’s able to discuss it now, but the dangers are still real. Asi would break the link immediately and probably try to have him staked to the ground and left behind if she knew how he’d lied to her about the network and how it functions.

“I recently learned that ten years ago, an attempt was made to link our world’s version of the person with that ability,” Elliot explains. “I have no memory of the event, it was back in the mad science days. But apparently it killed other members of the network. Possibly a child. It would have had to have been a potent detrimental ability interaction. But I know now, so the solution is easy. Don’t link Stef.” Or Chess. Or Richard? Nathalie? There’s an emotional undercurrent that appears in the network like tinnitus when he mentions the child, but he takes a deep breath to center himself and it fades much the same.

A child. "She nearly killed her own child without meaning to. That thing in her, it…" Asi narrows her eyes. "It does whatever it needs to to survive." She shakes her head ever so slightly, ever so gently. "Perhaps that played a part in it. As sad as that is to consider."

Children didn't deserve how cruel this world was. Or that one, from the sounds of it.

"I should go for now," she repeats. "But if you need anything, it's not like I'll be far." Just a ping away again, now that their bond is re-established.

“Yeah,” Elliot says. “I’m going to have to close your link in a bit for some kind of meeting, but I’ll ping you once I open it back up.” He stands, no sense hanging around here now that the work is done. He regards her shovel and its meaning, and nods grimly in parting.

Asi nods and echoes back, "Yeah, sure," with a voice that's already fading in focus. She blinks and tightens her grip around the shovel, shifting her grip around it. "Thanks for checking in. Pulled me out of… whatever the hell I was in."

It might come for her again later in the evening, but that's for then. For now, traces of light still linger in the sky.

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