When Shall We Three Meet Again


asi_icon.gif chess3_icon.gif yi-min_icon.gif

Scene Title When Shall We Three Meet Again
Synopsis Before a trip to another world, Chess makes her goodbyes to two of her allies in this one — but not without sharing some information.
Date April 18, 2021

Chess' Apartment, The Clocktower Building, Red Hook

This isn’t a thing she does — have friends over for food and drink — but then most of what Chess does seems to be things she’s never done before. She stares at the array of easy finger foods set out on the coffee table — a charcuterie platter, fruit and veggie plates, even some sushi rolls she’d picked up at Yamagato Park — along with the requisite sake cups and bottle.

For some reason she feels a little nervous, even though Asi lived here for a few weeks. Maybe it has to do with the NDA she signed, the one that’s going to make her need to lie or evade her friends’ questions. It would be easier not to have them over, to send out a text that she’s out of town for a while, but they deserve more than that. And Chess needs more than that, to remind her why she’s going at all.

She steps closer to the mirror by the front door to examine her makeup, taking the moment to swipe a fingertip under each of her eyes. Just thinking about saying goodbye — for possibly forever — has made her tear up once or twice, and her dark mascara has seeped beneath her lash line.

“Already bawling like a baby,” she mutters to herself, then picks up her phone to check in with Basil via text, banished from the apartment as he is for the night.

No sooner has Chess reached to do so than a bustling raprapraprap sounds from the front door— Yi-Min with her trademark officious-sounding knock, though brief and one-handed, because she is carrying a hefty little tupperware container tucked beneath her other arm.

If Yi-Min had known the real extent of Chess's emotional state, she might have prepared a great deal more in the way of comfort food. Cífàntuán for her friend's next few mornings, perhaps. Even just a few simple pick-me-ups from some local Chinese bakery.

But, it is rather too late for any of that now. In the present moment, Yi-Min is already standing on Chess's doorstep with the two items she had brought: herself and a stack of freshly cooked scallion pancakes, filling the immediate hallway with just a whiff of the savory scent as she waits.

The list of places Asi feels comfortable enough in going and spending any extended period at lately are few, but Chess' is a place she always feels comfortable at. She's brought a bottle of soju, held by the neck with a fist made up of her left hand. Her mood is light— it's nice to be able to get together like this, even better that it's not in the open.

Should there be the regular rounds of cajoling for secrets saucy or otherwise sensitive, they'll have privacy at least.

"ただいま," she calls into the door to verify it's them rather than an unexpected guest— the same way she did every time she returned from elsewhere while living with Chess.

The door opens and Chess looks at the two women, first one and then the other. Her eyes widen before she says a word, just before they begin to tear up, and she turns away, waving both Yi-Min and Asi in.

“Shit,” she says with a soft laugh, reaching up to wipe her eyes. “Way too early for that. 请进,” she tells Yi-Min, then to Asi, “来て下さい,” making the most of her ongoing efforts to be trilingual. The Japanese is definitely a work in progress.

Chess closes the door softly behind her, gesturing into the apartment. “Thanks for coming. I figured I’d be a mess, so I didn’t want to brave the usual bar, though maybe crying might get us a table faster than some nights.” Her smile is a little wobbly, but present.

Yi-Min isn't fluent in Japanese, but the phrases exchanged are simple enough that she gets the gist. Regardless, she does not need an added injunction in any language to take up what is clearly an invitation into the apartment.

Beneath the lightly dramatic swirl of her black, pleated skirt as she steps past the threshold, there is a glimpse of something long and lean and bone-white — her high-tech exoskeletal leg.

More subtle, but no less dramatic in her way, is Yi-Min's reaction to Chess's visible emotional distress. Instantly, that causes her to shunt her tupperware full of food onto a nearby entryway table, reaching out instead for a spot on Chess's lower forearm in questioning concern. "Did something happen?" she inquires gently but very directly. "Did Basil…" A sting of accusation slides into those last two syllables, speculative though it is.

"He's going on a trip," Asi perhaps unexpectedly answers, the corners of her own eyes tight with vigilance for Chess' sake, though she can't bring herself to intervene quite the way that Yi-Min has, if only for the reason she doesn't want to crowd the young woman. She looks between the two before heading for the kitchen to place her gifted bottle beside the other that's already sitting out, taking in the spread that Chess has put together with some pause.

This wasn't like her.

The pause ends with turning back to Chess more directly, brows finding their way together to lend to a questioning look in her direction. "Chess?" Asi asks cautiously.

The question from Yi-Min draws a husky laugh from Chess, and she reaches up with her other hand to grip the other woman’s hand. She’s about to answer when Asi offers her intelligence on the matter. Her dark eyes meet Asi’s and she nods once to confirm that, yes, Basil is leaving.

She can’t quite bring herself to say she’s going, too. Not yet.

“He didn’t do anything,” Chess assures Yi-Min, and gestures to her to sit down. “Look at you, all high-tech and shit,” she says, appraising the other woman’s ability to stand, walk, move.

Asi’s prompting draws her eyes back to her, and she offers a tentative smile, then reaches up to wipe beneath her eyes, before dropping down to sit on ottomon facing the L-shaped sectional.

“I’m going away for a bit. I can’t really give the details, but I didn’t want you to think I was missing and worry,” Chess finally says.

When Asi says that, Yi-Min's gaze slides sidelong towards her with some surprise. "You know about this already?" she asks, her gaze moving from there straight back to Chess even as she clasps the younger woman's hand firmly in hers. There is no accusation in her tone, though. Instead, her eyes fill up with a measure of visibly speculative curiosity, and one of her brows quirks upwards just a little.

"This trip, then. So you are going away… with him?" Not hard to put the two and two of that tiny detail together, if that is indeed what is going on.

Asi can only shake her head to Yi-Min's question. Because while she knows about Basil's plans to travel somewhere mysterious and inaccessible … she'd not imagined that Chess would go, too. So surprise reflects in her own eyes, too.

This a moment where someone might utter a quiet swear, but she keeps her silence not out of poise but because she's rendered speechless.

It's broken with a shake of her head and to step closer to where Yi-Min and Chess now sit. "I can't believe that you're…" She dances back away from that expression of disbelief, away from laying the burden of it down with nothing else to move past it. "Why? You're leaving— all this behind?" Asi begins to frown. "For how long, Chess?"

Chess glances at Yi-Min and doesn’t answer, but the lack of denial or any assertion of there being a different trip likely answers the question for both of her guests.

She turns to Asi, looking up to where the woman still stands. “Because someone has to,” she says quietly and matter-of-factly.

Reaching for the sake bottle, she pours some in each of the three cups already set out. She gestures for them to join her, but doesn’t wait, reaching for the cup and taking a healthy swallow for liquid courage.

“I don’t know what you already know,” she says to Asi, then glances back to Yi-Min. “I’m not being forced to go. And my guess is I would have been asked regardless of…” she waves a hand, so she doesn’t violate her NDA technically speaking.

She takes another swallow, draining what’s left in the small sake cup. “I don’t know how long. It’s… complicated.”

"This must really be important to you, whatever it is," Yi-Min posits quietly with regard to the dangling question of why, still with that arch of curiosity to her brow. After the mention that Chess doesn't know how long she'll be gone, more pointed concern takes shape there, too.

Slowly, Yi-Min reaches out to reclaim the tupperware container she had brought with her, finally settling herself down in the seat she had been offered with the closed object still gripped fast in her hands. Once there, she can only shake her head, promptly picking up the pieces from where Chess had trailed off. “Are you allowed to say why you think you would have been asked? Given… what Basil does, I would have assumed that you were going because your boyfriend's agency apparently lacked the shame to keep things in house."

Chess's unwavering determination brings Asi to knit her brow, but she gravitates the rest of the way to sit on the couch, not immediately reaching for her drink. Her hands knit into a fold in the space between her knees, mind churning.

She doesn't have all the pieces, but there are enough to begin lobbing educated guesses. "You're off to save the world, aren't you?" She frowns after she ventures as much, concerned. Her frustration over that point is a better-concealed thing. Her own belief that Chess has done enough on that front takes a back seat to Chess' own decision. "To go to…"

Her frown deepens, her vocabulary not strong enough to feel confident in for this sort of situation.

With her guests both seated, Chess finally sits down. She smiles at Yi-Min’s comments about the DOE and OEI, and lifts a shoulder. It’s neither a confirmation nor a denial; they definitely aren’t keeping things in house. “Maybe I’m a secret agent now,” she says, a small curve lifting one corner of her mouth.

The sake cup is held in both hands, despite its small size, one hand overlapping the other, maybe to keep her from pouring another one so soon.

She looks up at Asi as the words trail off; Chess’ brows draw together and she looks out the window, to the water and the dark silhouette of the broken buildings of Manhattan in the distance.

“It’s important,” she confirms to Yi-Min. “And I’ve probably been asked because they know I won’t say no.” A small, breathy laugh parts her lips. “Someone has to go. It may as well be me. But while I’m gone, I have a favor to ask of you two, something I want to look into but…” Chess shrugs again.

Yi-Min waves off Chess's 'secret agent' jape with the flick of an impatient finger— assuming that's what it is, anyhow.

But whether it's spoken in seriousness or not, it is clear that wrangling any kind of further explanation out of Chess (whether on this or Asi’s question of saving the world) will be a whole endeavor and a half. Whereas here… what was this?

Letting her hands come to rest on the lid of her tupperware bin, Yi-Min stops just short of actually beginning to open it, glancing again back at Chess's face. "Well. We can leave this be for now." For now only. "What is this?"

It's hard not to have her own feelings about the matter, but seeing the thought that Chess has put into it brings Asi to put them aside as much as possible. The squint of her eyes in a small, mouthless smile for the secret agent joke still comes off nearly as a wince. She lets out a sigh and looks down before reaching for her poured cup.

Lifting it, she looks to Chess and holds it up in cheers. "To the stupid things love gets us into," she says, partly joking, partly not. "Come back safe from it, and we'll only glare at your boyfriend a little for getting you involved in his— their work in the first place." She tsks at herself.

Pronouns are a new thing for her. Maybe she'll get used to them eventually.

"What's the favor you want to ask?" Asi wonders. "Something needing investigated locally, or something bigger?"

Chess shakes her head at the mention of love, and her brow furrows as if she might cry, but she steels herself and manages not to start again. “It’s not for love,” she says in a voice quietly firm. “I would do this even if it wasn’t for him. Honestly. He asked me a hypothetical, the night we met, about what I would do if…”

She waves her hand. Too much information. “I said I would do what I could to help. And so now I am. I would go even if he wasn’t.”

With a fond smile for Asi as she corrects herself on the pronouns, she lifts her shoulder. “It’s both. With me, it’s him. Usually. With work, it’s them. Usually.”

Chess reaches for her sake bottle to fill her cup again. “According to Wu Shengjiao, there was a second director of the Flower Garden project that wasn’t with the Company, Praxis, or Pinehearst. He was brought in by Kaito, but disappeared when Adam took over.” She stares into the glass, like it might reveal the identity of the unknown man. “There were three more sets of pods, born in 1987, but they were, um.”

She takes a shaky breath. “They were created by grafting Adam’s cells in utero. None of them survived past the first year.”

Looking up, finally, Chess’ jaw is set, and her eyes hard, despite tears still clinging to her dark lashes. “I want to find out who it was.”

"Well, I suppose that is good to hear. Do not be like me," Yi-Min comments with extra-curt dryness on the subject of doing things for love, relaxing her stance just a little.

Only a little, but it's a start. Seeing Chess so unexpectedly teary-eyed is doing much more work in softening her expression.

As Chess describes her request, Yi-Min finally opens her tupperware, setting out her homemade scallion pancakes within easy reach and taking the first from the top of the stack for herself. "If only I hadn't destroyed my links to Praxis, to be able to chase any clues there," is her initial, wry-sounding lament just before she takes a bite. Destroyed was no doubt an understatement for what she had done.

It's obviously a throwaway statement. A much deeper contemplation blooms steady in her gaze. "When… did you talk to Wu Shengjiao?"

Asi tastes her sake while she listens, making note of Chess's suspected reasons for why she was chosen— and then more quietly to the thing that causes her heartache. She tips back the last of her small cup when she hears what happens to the clones, looking down at the ceramic as she rolls it between her fingers, watching the turn of the last little drop of sake at the bottom of it.

"None," she murmurs quietly. Maybe the drink wasn't for her, but for them. What else can one do when hearing of horrors that can't be unwrought?

Softly, to not override Yi-Min's question, she adds on, "Do you have anything else to go off of? Any clues Wu was able to give about the… direction the co-director might have come from?"

Chess shakes her head at Yi-Min’s question. “I didn’t. Gates told me all this. I’m going to ask to visit him, though.” Her expression hardens with resolve at that.

Turning then to Asi, she shakes her head. “Not a lot. He mentioned other people involved in the Flower Garden. Varlane, Yi-Min,” she glances at Yi-Min apologetically, “and some guy named Wilson Groveland whose trail goes cold around 2012. He might be the best clue. I’m not sure. I’m not… I don’t even know what I want out of knowing? Except to get this other director’s ass arrested, maybe, or destroy any files that might… I don’t know. Give people the blueprints to fucking up other people’s lives.”

Leaning back, she rubs her hands over her face; despite the extra attention to her hair, makeup and wardrobe tonight, Chess can’t hide the signs of lack of sleep and anxiety over the upcoming mission. Her weary eyes turn to Yi-Min. “You don’t know that name, do you? Sounds like a president, but that’s Grover Cleveland, I guess.” She smiles, but it slips away quickly, like she lacks the energy to hold it in place.

Judging from her lack of reaction across the board, Yi-Min is indeed familiar with all the names that Chess puts forward. However, there are rather fine notes of distaste from her when Chess mentions first Varlane, then Groveland.

"I… do, in fact, though I'm afraid I do not have much that is helpful. Groveland was around when I first started working at Praxis, something like ten years ago now. He was only kept on for a year— and then he was suddenly reassigned elsewhere. I never heard where. Or why."

Some unexplained emotion filters through Yi-Min's musing silence, but she only exhales shortly and silently through her nose. "As for me, I would say that destroying these files is as good a start as any." That much is easy to assert with a much higher degree of certitude.

Asi takes in a breath, sitting up a little straighter. "Groveland sounds like a person of interest to follow up on, then. I doubt that any of the information I was able to extract from Praxis on our way out the door is pertinent, but I'll go back through it, see if… perhaps there's not a lead there." Her brow knits as she looks off, peering off into the distance, out the window to the shape of the skyline that can be seen from here. "If you're able to get more information from— Gates?" A new name for her, one she shakes her head at. "Or from Wu himself, it could be valuable here."

With a hm, she turns to Yi-Min and offers her a small smile before inviting herself to one of the homemade treats. Thanks for these. "But now, now you're not dealing with this alone. Progress may come at what pace it may, but there's three heads on it where before there were only one. Mm?" Asi glances back to Chess encouragingly.

Chess’ brows rise when Yi-Min knows the name, and she watches her, then reaches over to touch her forearm lightly. “Sorry,” she says quietly, before looking over to Asi and nodding, a smile returning at the encouragement.

“It’s a start. But it can wait, too,” she says, glancing from one woman to the other. “Your issues take priority, one hundred percent. Just, you know. If you find yourself with some downtime, or if you fix whatever’s up with you before I get back…”

Her lashes lower as her inner voice whispers, or if I never get back.

Chess closes her eyes for a moment, then takes a breath, opens them again. “Anyway. I’ll let you know if I learn anything from him, if I get to talk to him.”

"No. I, too, wish to uncover everything that I did not see while I was there." Yi-Min says this firmly so as to settle any doubts of where her priorities should lie. "Asi is correct. Three heads are better than one, and three we shall have when you come back."

That part isn't a question. It's also followed by a very light tip of her head and a frank remark: "If you do not get back in some kind of timely fashion, I shall be forced to find your boyfriend somehow and have extremely stern words with him."

Knowing Yi-Min, she likely isn't joking. She does seem satisfied with the plan being created in the interim however, giving a slight nod of confirmation to Asi, and then to Chess. "Do let me know everything he says, will you? I would accompany you and talk to him myself. But."

Hers would probably not be the first face Wu would be wildly excited to see.

The light crunch of the snack is followed by Asi lifting her drink to try and insert an intent to argue while she's still chewing as much as to call for cheers. She finally clears her throat to interject stubbornly, "We'll work on what we can. You are important to us, too." There's no dissuading her from this stubborn point.

As for the interview, she nods her agreement. "Hopefully it goes well. There's no point left in him hiding anything, and one can hope he views things that happened to you and your sisters now differently than…"

She goes away for just a moment, somewhere deep into her memory. It doesn't deter her from carrying on more carefully, "In the Praxis leak Scylla carried out, the emails were from Wu's mailbox. Monroe had shoved him in a box, essentially, because he started answering too many of Lanhua's questions about what was happening to her because of Gemini— showed too much concern for her." Asi narrows her eyes, using her cup to accentuate her point as she stresses, "Use that knife. Guilt the son of a bitch, whatever it takes to get the answers you're owed."

She goes to drink from her cup, but it's empty save for the last drop. There goes her emphatic point-making device. Asi cracks a quiet laugh at her own expense, setting the cup aside.

"Is there anything we can get you leading up to this trip? Anything that'll keep you safer?" she asks without looking up, following the question with another nibble at the treat she's snagged.

Yi-Min’s threat for Castle draws a smirk from Chess, and she nods, not wanting to point out that if the group doesn’t make it back at all, Castle won’t be back, either. Her stomach knots at the thought of the dangers awaiting all of them, and she presses her lips together, turning to Asi as the other discusses what was found in the leak.

Her brows draw together at the mention of the Gemini process and what Lanhua had suffered. “Lanhua,” she repeats, quietly, “was supposed to be the control for our pod, but because of what Joy did for me, they made me the control instead. She should have had an easier life.”

There’s guilt in the darkness of her eyes, but she looks up and nods at Asi’s suggestion to manipulate Wu’s guilt for answers. Who better than the identical sister of a person he helped to ruin?

She shakes her head at what they can do for her. “Just…Look after yourselves. And Jac, Gillian, Kaylee… I wish I could do more for you all.”

"A good many things should have been," Yi-Min counters academically, though she looks hard into Chess's eyes as she says it. "And none of these are your fault. If blame there is to be, then assign it where it should properly lie: on those actually responsible for the experiment."

Obviously, that includes the likes of Yi-Min herself, though she doesn't feel the need to remind everyone of that aloud. Instead, she merely sips her sake.

Yi-Min's gaze does stray towards Asi with some distant-seeming aspect at the encouragement to use violence on Wu, but she makes no noise of disagreement. "Do not be concerned about us when you are gone. There are brilliant minds at work on our… dilemma, and I am sure that among all of those, something shall be figured out eventually. Instead: worry for yourself only."

Asi hmms thoughtfully at the suggestion from Chess they look out for themselves and the other Sundered, unwilling to brush it off. "Don't worry," she finally says. "We're doing everything we can. I think everyone else except me is doing a good job of looking after themselves. It's me that keeps pushing the limit, given what my job asks for." She cracks a hint of a smile but it fades quickly.

Another friend had told her she should use the stroke as a sign she needed to step back from Wolfhound, work in the civilian sector. Maybe he was right, but she felt wrong being away from a team she could trust. Without that work family attachment, she wasn't sure what she'd do.

"Yi-Min's right, though. You can't blame yourself for what other people did." Asi lifts her head to look to Chess meaningfully. "You're doing your very best with what you've been given, and that's all anyone can ask for. Anyone who isn't proud of you for your strength is a fool who doesn't appreciate the sacrifices you're making now."

The youngest among them looks from Yi-Min to Asi as they speak, and her eyes flood with tears again; she looks up to the ceiling as if that will keep them from falling, then swipes them away from the inner corner of her eyes to the outer in one motion. All of her makeup, minimal as it usually is, is gone or on her fingertips by now.

“A few years ago, I wouldn’t have thought it was much of a sacrifice,” Chess says softly.

She reaches for each of their hands, squeezing them. “I don’t need you to be proud, but…” The tears flood back to replace those she swiped away. “If we don’t come back, it’s nice to know some people will remember, and care.”

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