Stubborn Is


emily_icon.gif squeaks_icon.gif

Scene Title Stubborn Is
Synopsis As stubborn does.
Date February 23, 2019


Emily and Julie's apartment


Comes the sound of someone rapping, gently tapping on Emily and Julie’s apartment door.

Squeaks stands on the other side of the door, her hood freshly pushed back even though she still looks chilled from the walk over. It isn’t freezing the way it has been, but it’s still chilly enough and there’s a promise of a storm on the horizon.

Shifting the straps of her backpack on her shoulders, she twists half way around to look over her shoulder and eyeball the way she’d come. It’s late enough, she really should probably have gone straight home, but this stop is sort of on the way. It’ll probably be okay. And hopefully Emily is home.

Just in case, she tap-tap-taps her knuckles against the door again, with no more insistence than before. It’s only another easy reminder that she’s still there.

The first knock goes mostly unnoticed, Emily looking up from her screen but not rising. Was she only hearing things? She lifts a hand to her headphones, sliding the bulky contraption off her head and letting it rest on her neck. She's just about settling back in on the couch when the knock comes again and she sets aside her laptop carefully.

She comes to the door lightfooted, peering through the peephole with a frown before she turns the lock. This whole 'company dropping by unexpectedly' thing is becoming more frequent, and it's rarely just a social call. Which is nothing to say of what she needed to talk to Squeaks about.

Exhaling before tugging the door open, she pulls it back and peeks her head around the edge. "Come on in, it's freezing out there. You want anything?" The greeting is said without a smile, but she jerks her head in a beckoning gesture to usher the younger girl in.

“Hi,” Squeaks says for a greeting, and probably a first explanation for her being there, as she shuffles into the apartment. “Do you have hot chocolate?” Since it was offered, and it's cold. And maybe she's hoping this could be more social — even though there's some muck to talk about too.

Inside the apartment, she wanders to the couch. Her backpack is pulled from her shoulders and set on the floor, but she plops herself down on the couch. “I brought cookies. They're fresh from like the other day.”

Emily squints for a moment, peering back toward the kitchen while she locks the door again. Did they have any instant hot chocolate left? There might be a stray package around. "Maybe," she decides, and moves across the apartment to check. Today must be a lazy day, as she's not bothered changing out of her pajamas and into actual clothes. Long fabric pants swish around her ankles as she moves between cabinets, similarly long sleeves of an oversized shirt sliding down her forearm as she nudges around items inside.

A soft breath escapes her while she's searching, and she smiles briefly. Cookies. "That's a nice gesture, Squeaks. Thanks." Finding a single package left, next to a brand-new bag of coffee beans, she tears it open and dumps it into a mug.

The apartment is quiet today, plenty of sun streaming in from the balcony, but otherwise no lights are on. The coffee table bears folders and papers like Emily had been working at one point, but the screen of her laptop is paused on a game that takes up the entire screen. The only noise comes from Emily shifting in the kitchen, the quiet tones of metal on ceramic as she stirs the mixture before popping the mug into the microwave.

"So what's up?" she asks while she waits.

While the search for hot chocolate is on, Squeaks digs into her backpack to find the cookies she’d brought over. Some of them are a little mushed, she notices when the plastic bag is held up, but they should still taste good. She moves some of the papers to one side so the bag can have a place to sit also, that isn’t getting crumbs on school work or computers.

“I had problems with math,” she explains, looking up at the older girl. “And Lene’s schedule is real busy. So I stopped to come over here. Geneva’s reading that book since the ink-lady piece isn’t in it anymore.”

"Ahhhh," Emily intones while she stares at the microwave, a grin tugging at the corner of her mouth. "So you didn't miss me, you just needed my help." she teases lightly, shaking her head as she glances over to Squeaks, unmoving while she waits for the hot chocolate to finish warming. "We can do it, don't worry." Her amusement fades at the mention of Lene, her expression flickering with concern. "How is she lately? Do you know?"

The teasing goes right over the younger teen’s head, as it usually does. She leans way over to peek around the corner, trying to see what Emily is doing in the kitchen, besides making hot chocolate. “She’s busy a lot. Sometimes she helps me, when she has time. I think she’s at the radio station today.”

Emily taps her knuckles gently against the counter. All she can assume is that Berlin hasn't gone to see her, and she doesn't know what to do with that. So, she sets it aside as quickly as she can, looking back to Squeaks with a small smile. "I'll turn on the radio and listen for her here in a bit, then."

Geneva and the subject of the book catch her attention next, and she leans against the counter as she considers how to address it. "Gene said … you and she talked recently." is how she opens. Not quite ripping the band-aid off yet.

“Yes, because Joe said she got turned into a bird.” Squeaks braces her elbows on her knees and rests her chin in her hands. “And you said she was in a coma, so I wanted to know what happened. And also because I thought you might be in trouble because of her bird-coma.”

Tilting her head a little, she pushes her shoulders toward her ears. “Also we talked about the ink-lady some.”

Emily at first only shakes her head a little. Maybe at the worry she might be in trouble, or maybe because Geneva's state was described as a bird-coma. The microwave starts to chime, and she pulls it open before it can carry on to a second round of beeps, pulling out the steaming mug. She slips the spoon back in it before sliding the mug down the counter toward Squeaks, shouldering the microwave door shut once that's done.

"I'm not in trouble. I was just…" she explains, her words careful. Measured. "I was really frustrated that happened to her. And worried about her. I didn't know if she was going to make it or not, and I felt helpless, Squeaks." Swallowing away the knot that rises in her throat, she shakes her head. "I'm glad Gene's herself again."

The sound of the microwave chiming has Squeaks standing so she can wander into the kitchen. She’s never actually explored the apartment, not any more than what she could see from wherever she was sitting, so as she moves into the new room she lets her eyes wander all around.

“I think she is too.” She wraps her hands around the mug, to trap all its warmth with her fingers. With a puff of breath, she blows on the liquid to keep from burning her tongue, then takes a small, careful sip. She looks down at the soft brown liquid and swirls the mug a bit to mix it up more, speaking quietly as she does. “I’m sorry that I wasn’t here to help you when you needed friends.”

Emily frowns, quelling the urge to make a self-deprecating remark. It would be easier to just point out how she'd done everything she could to hide what was going on. But…

"You were, though," she says softly, leaning to the side to wrap an arm around Squeaks' shoulder. Her brow knits together as she keeps her side stuck to the smaller teen's. "You remember before New Year's? You were there then when I needed it, and you didn't even know."

“You could tell me.” Squeaks tilts her head to look up at Emily. “When you need help. Any time.” Her shoulders shrug a little, not to remove the arm that's wrapped around them but as filler. She figures it's already known that she'd help a friend however she can.

“There's a time I didn't ask for help. I went alone because I thought it was better since I didn't know exactly where I was going.” The younger girl looks down into her hot chocolate and gently swirls the mug. “The Underneath is dangerous, especially if you don't know where you are. But I thought me alone would be okay. Just one person and I could hide. But there was a bad man and I couldn't hide.”

"I know that, hon. I promise." Emily murmurs in response to the reminder about help. She would say more, but the anecdote Squeaks starts to provide makes her take pause.

She's heard only once, in passing, about the time Squeaks was grabbed. Never any specifics.

She rubs the younger girl's shoulder, the concerned slant to her expression only deepening. "You've never told me about that," Emily acknowledges, her tone careful.

For a long few seconds, Squeaks doesn't say anything. She stares at the mug, while cautiously revisiting things she'd prefer to leave in the dark corners of her memories. Eventually she does look up again, with her eyebrows bunched in concern.

“I don't like remembering it,” she explains carefully. Maybe remembering will make it happen again somehow. “But… but it's important. If I wasn't alone, I might not have been taken. Or someone would've known that I got taken. That's why it's important.”

Squeaks pauses again, to watch Emily and try to guess at her reply before she goes on.

A complicated knot of emotion settles in Emily's gut. There's no way Squeaks could be talking about Emily's encounter with Magnes, but she still was speaking directly to the fears that had flashed at the back of Emily's mind when she'd nearly been dragged off.

Being alone wasn't smart. But exposing anyone else to that, and creating a wider path back to her by involving more people… making an already messy situation worse…

"I hear you. It's … important." Emily breathes out slow, long. She doesn't release the side hug, squeezing in the hopes of showing she really does get it. It's definitely not the first time she's received the advice either.

The knot in her stomach sinks a little further as she thinks about that.

"I'll ask when I need help, okay?" She tries hard to sound sincere instead of non-committal as she lets her arm fall away. The corner of her mouth quirks as she turns to look at Squeaks. "And in fact, I do need your help with something."

“Not just when you need help.” Squeaks' tone makes her firm on that point. “When you go somewhere that could be dangerous, or anything that could turn dangerous. It's safer. What if something happened and no one was there?” Like when she got taken. “The man that stole me was going to sell me, or kill me if I didn't do what he wanted.”

She lets that sit for a second, then lets out a short sigh. “You don't want to see us,” she pauses to wave a hand toward the door, the way to go to find the siblings, “get hurt, but we would be hurt if something happened to you. Especially if just having a buddy with could change things.”

But then Squeaks follows her worries with a shrug, this one more resigned. “What do you need help with?”

With effort, Emily's tongue stays glued to the roof of her mouth instead of offering a sharp retort to Squeaks. She's coming from a good place. Don't snap. Don't snap again. Another measured exhale and a forced nod shows she at least hears the insistence.

After all, she's not wrong.

When Squeaks relents with a shrug, Emily lets out a short tone to signify the shift in topic. "Do you still have Eileen's journal?" she asks lightly.

That probably wasn’t the question she was expecting — especially since she still hasn’t figured out what Emily was looking for in it in the first place — and it puts a slight shadow of suspicion in Squeaks’ expression. “It’s hidden. Only I know where it is. I’m keeping it safe.”

"Gene said…" Emily says carefully, still concerned about snapping. She looks off to the front door and then back to the younger girl, an eyebrow arching knowingly. "… that she told you she's still alive."

She pauses for just a moment, holding her gaze.

"I know you and Lance are trying to help get her name cleared, but the journal isn't the way to do it. It's got private stuff." Her glance loudly says Squeaks knows just what she means. The adult business, and all. "So it should go back to Eileen, so she can decide what to do with it."

“She also said it's a secret because if the wrong people found out she could be in real trouble.” Squeaks’ own eyebrows lift to match the serious gaze that's set in her. “It's safe and hidden, and no one except you knows what I know, not even Lance. I want to give it back, but Geneva didn't know how to find her, since it's not an emergency.”

"Gene's right," Emily says, and it's a heavily admitted thing. There's a pause after that, distance in her eyes that takes a moment to pass.

She clears it finally with a short shake of her head. "I can get in touch with her," is said delicately. "And I'm going to see her again soon. I'd like to give it back to her then." Her brow creases as she asks carefully, "Would you give it to me so I can make sure it gets to her?"

“No.” It’s clear and absolute, and Squeaks turns to set her half-finished hot chocolate on the counter as she says it. “It’s safe where it’s at because no one knows where I hid it, but it doesn’t go anywhere with just one person. It’s too important.” That much she knows, just from what she’s been able to read. “I want to get it back to her too, but I can’t feel okay letting you take it alone. It’s too big.”

"I don't understand."

Emily sounds calm, but internally she's an expletive-laden mess. To borrow a Squeakism, she replies with, "It's a small journal." Delivered flat, it's not a joke. "I've held it in my hand before."

The complete deadpan tone draws Squeaks’ attention off the mug she’s abandoned and back to Emily. She stares blankly at the older teen, and one can almost see her trying to mentally map where the misunderstanding has come from. “Yes,” she says slowly, after several seconds have ticked by without finding any problems.

The silence is both a time to collect herself, and an additional test of patience. Emily only blinks slowly at Squeaks' reply, slowly moving to run her hand back through her hair. When, if, she breathes in the middle of that, her shoulders and chest don't move.

"It needs to get back to her before other people come looking for it, Squeaks." she says in the same straight-forward way as before, only a hint of strain in her words.

“I've been hiding it for a long time,” Squeaks explains as though it makes some kind of difference. She's responsible with it, the protector of the journal. “I'm not saying it can't get returned to her, just you aren't taking it by yourself. I'll go, I'll give it to you and hide close by so you're ‘alone’. Then you can give it yourself.” It's said simply, reasonably.

Emily reacts to the suggestion by looking off, eyes closed as she resists sighing at the insistence. She tries, hard, just as much to resist bringing a hand to her face. One hand lifts up from her side, fingers twitching before her eyes snap open.

She's argued with Squeaks before. It's never a particularly satisfying sport.

The hand in the air lays on Squeaks' shoulder for just a moment as she brushes past, heading back out into the living room space. Back turned, she allows herself to rub the side and bridge of her nose in a moment of exasperation before she returns to internally shouting at herself for calm. She breathes out carefully, her thoughts dulling to a roar as she manages that.

She wants to give the book back. She's keeping the secret. All she wants to do is come with you, Emily.

Except she'd literally just yelled at Geneva this was something she didn't want happening only hours ago.

"Is it not enough to just know where I'm going?" she voices into the air, sternly rather than in a way that sounds like it's bargaining. It really should be enough. She's not facing the open kitchen still.

Another time, something less important, Squeaks might decide to give in. As it is, she says nothing when Emily turns and walks out of the kitchen, and she doesn't immediately answer the question. It sounds like the questions grown-ups ask when they aren't expecting an answer. She takes some time to take another sip of her hot chocolate before returning to the living room herself. Cautiously.

“It's like when I went to the Underneath,” she says quietly. “I was trying to find more about the rats and William.” What she found is a nightmare that still haunts her sometimes. She scoots between the couch and coffee table to collect her backpack. “I shouldn't have gone alone.”

The quiet insistence instead of an outright no is both better and worse. With the last strains of patience, Emily turns on her heel toward the couch. "Squeaks, I'm going to meet her someplace basically public. It's not like that." Not like visiting the 'Underneath'. Not like a spur-of-the-moment trip into New Jersey Pine Barrens. Not a sunset trip to the unlit, fenced edge of the Safe Zone. Or …

She keeps her distance, trying not to crowd or be overly forceful. She's hyperaware of her own ability to drive others away at the moment and is desperately trying to avoid a repeat.

Emily takes in a steadying breath as she drops to a crouch by the coffee table, repeating much more softly, "It's not going to be like that."

“You can't promise that.” Squeaks lets her bag hang from her hand instead of pulling it up onto her shoulders. “You can't promise that it's safe just because it's public and anything could happen between wherever and wherever.” She tilts her head to look up at Emily, desperate to avoid fighting but also to help her friend understand.

"I can, though." Emily insists softly to the first retort, as soon as it's said. She's silent for a long moment after, when Squeaks continues on. After a healthy pause, she promises, "With this thing, I can."

She hesitates, measuring Squeaks' reaction. Her mouth sets, an unspoken thought just on the tip of her tongue.

Squeaks turns whatever other words she might have into a sigh and shakes her head slowly. She won't take the risk that it would make it wherever with only Emily by herself.

“I need to finish my math.” Squeaks looks out the window to get an idea of the time. “I think the bus comes soon. I can maybe get help there.” She isn't sure she'll find help at the library, but she's less sure about the help that was offered earlier.

Emily's hand tightens its cap over her knee and thensome, fingers trying to curl into a ball. Bargaining probably won't work, and two stubborn forces are on a collision course. Eyes shut, her voice drops. "Squeaks—"

She shakes her head quickly, focus down on the table when her eyes open again. "Fine." sounds like it might be a concession, with the defeated way it floats away from her.

That, or a dismissal.

Squeaks remains motionless, except for her head which turns so she can look at Emily. She watches the older girl, her eyebrows knitting with concern. She can’t just hand over the journal, not with how important it is. And she can’t let Emily go alone. If there’s people looking for it, it’s better to keep it hidden or go as a group. But how to explain that more plainly is something she doesn’t know.

Her eyes fall away and she sighs, still searching for something — anything — that could change things. She looks over the papers and open laptop and finds the bag of cookies still resting on the end of the table.

The backpack slips from her fingers and thuds against the floor. She was serious about the math, it sounds like. That sound is too heavy to be any of the other books she might carry around. Squeaks follows, coming to rest on her knees, and she scoots forward so she can open that bag and offer the older girl first pick. Like a peace offering. “We could find a way to work together,” she suggests, as she holds out the bag.

Emily sits for a moment before she reaches out tentatively for the bag, not immediately understanding the gesture. Squeaks is taking the cookies back and leaving, as far as she knows. Except, she's sitting now, too. Her brow starts to furrow as she takes the offering, elbow resting on the side of the coffee table before she sits the rest of the way down, legs crossing.

She lets out a particularly resigned sigh as she stares down the other girl, hesitant to make any firm commitments. "Yeah," carefully escapes her in reply.

Once Emily has taken a cookie, Squeaks helps herself to one. The rest are set on the coffee table again, turned so the older girl can grab another if she wants. She nibbles on her cookie, and for a long few seconds that’s all she does. Her mind isn’t so quiet though, thoughts about the journal and everything bounce around. Somehow there’s got to be a compromise.

After a minute or two, she looks up at Emily again, eyebrows raised a little. “How come you don’t want me to come with, even most of the way?” It’s asked simply, seeking understanding of her friend’s concern.

There's a line between answering truthfully and tactfully, here, and Emily has to be careful to find a balance.

"I don't want you to get close to that business, Squeaks." is about as blunt as she can be. "Not at all. Even on the fringe of it, you could get pulled in. This meeting I'm going to have with Eileen — it's not dangerous, but there's plenty other things surrounding her that are. You like helping people, like the ink lady for example. If you got remotely close, you're the kind of person who would try and help." Her hand turns over, palm up as she asks, "You know?"

Her shoulders slope before she shakes her head. "I don't want to risk that at all."

“Maybe.” The word isn’t slow in coming, Squeaks admits to wanting to help pretty easily, but it is a word that’s drawn out. She’s thinking on the new information, studying it like she would a whole new anything. “Okay, but you said it’s dangerous and not everyone gets helped. The ink-lady isn’t dangerous and that’s how come I’m helping her. Eugene is dangerous and I’d never ever in a million years help him.”

The younger teen scoots slightly closer, though still sits on her knees. “I can choose to not help, if I know things. To only help you get the journal safe to Eileen this time. To help after if you need it.” Not if she’s asked for it, but if she sees an actual need.

A bite is snapped off the cookie in her hand. Emily is trying to stick with being patient, working through this on Squeaks' level. Not doing something to run her off.

Trying and succeeding, though …

"Like what?" Emily asks with clear exasperation. "If you know what? There's no reason to go digging in it if the goal's to not get involved, Squeaks." Disapproval, now. "You already know the secret."

That's a dangerous tone. Squeaks doesn't actually move away to start, but the way she shifts just a little bit serves to distance herself. Her demeanor is full of caution, like a rabbit in an open field, and she watches Emily in that way most grown-ups are still measured, looking for the signs that anger is turning into worse things.

She tries to find an answer that would be acceptable, something she hasn't already said or tried to explain. But there isn't anything. She doesn't know the answers.

“The rest of the cookies are for you,” is what she says instead, in a small voice. “I'm sorry,” gets added a second later, as Squeaks shuffles backward enough to get her backpack. She stands and pulls a strap onto one shoulder, then slinks for the door.

Emily sees that shift instantly, wishes she could take it back. The look in her eyes shifts, the regret plain. Things don't work like that, though, and the words don't come flying back to her.

"Squeaks—" goes flying away from her instead. "I'm sorry." uttered in an apologetic rush. The urge to chase after the younger girl is strong, but she feels it could only stand to make it worse.

Her arm reaches out before she can reach the door, palm in up a beseeching manner. "Just—" Mind your tone. "Help me out. I want to get it back to her, you want to get it back to her. What is it you're asking after?" Emily's voice returns to measured patience, one she tries hard to hold onto more strongly now that she's wrangled it back. It's one she hopes can still be trusted.

Her name being called doesn't quite stall her retreat, but she looks back. Squeaks half turns when Emily apologizes, but that watchfulness remains. She looks at the outstretched hand, then at Emily, searching for the friend that ignored doubts and chased after the ink-lady with her. There's a tiny spark of hope that she'll find her in the frustration and secrets the older girl is harboring.

There's also a worry for her friend. And a subtle wariness toward the older girl. “Just to help give back the journal,” she answers carefully. “To take it back with you. I don't want you to take it alone. If something bad happened happened to you…” She's already explained that, she knows, but she keeps on anyway. “If you got grabbed, and you're alone. You could be dead or worse and no one would know and then someone else had the journal.”


It'd be too much to hope for anything different, now, wouldn't it? How Emily weighs the ask can be seen in the way she looks away and then back. There wasn't much at all that had changed in their back and forth, except Emily's unwillingness to drive Squeaks away.

"Okay. Okay, we'll figure that out, then." she concedes not unlike someone who's had their arm twisted. "We can—" Looking back at the table, at her own mess of coursework, she shakes her head. Wearily, she adds, "I can still help you with the math today if you want it. It's not like I'm doing fuck all right now anyway." A hand is thrown in gesture at the laptop and books indicatively.

“Okay,” Squeaks says too. It’s simply said, no gloating or excitement, just quiet agreement. She watches Emily, following the motion toward the table again with her eyes then back again. It still takes her a few seconds to accept the invitation and move again.

The strap to her backpack is shrugged off and she returns to the coffee table, to sit on the floor with her back to the couch. She doesn’t take out the work she’s brought right away, but sits for a few seconds before placing a finger on the older girl’s arm, her version of a hug or giving comfort or showing friendship.

Then she turns slightly to set out her work.

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