CONTENT: Angst, allusions to trauma and some more angst
In the wake of devastating news and absent friends, Zenith and Pox find a moment of peace. It's not perfect, but it's something.
(Part of the Lost In Transit continuity, taking place between Long-Distance Charges chapters 1 and 2. Not required reading for LIT, and holds up outside of the context of LIT if you ignore a couple of short references.)
The walk back to the hotel is spent in near silence. Even as you climb into the elevator, fly past all of the other arrondissements to your floor, neither of you says a word. Pox clings to your arm, though, her head against your shoulder. It says all that needs to be said.
"What are we gonna tell Tech?"
She poses the question as you're entering the hotel lobby. Dak–you can only assume, having seen neither head nor tail of him, and knowing who he is as a person–is still out at the bar.
"I... I don't know. I don't think I want to tell him anything." Easier said than done. "I don't want to have this conversation yet."
Pox doesn't question it. What she does question–what you both do–is the empty hotel room you arrive back to.
"What the fuck?" Pox stares alongside you at the room; The Nutting Professor is still playing on the TV, for some goddamn reason, and Tech's robes are laid out on the bed, but the man himself is nowhere to be seen. She opens the bathroom door, and–"What the fuck?"
"'WENT WITH GUY, BRB.'" You poke your head into the door to see what in God's name she's talking about, and, yep, there it is: "WENT WITH GUY, BRB," smeared across the mirror in soap.
"What the fuck?" Your immediate instinct is to fire off a message asking where he is. He's probably not dead. Probably. If he was in trouble, he'd let you know. You think. You hope.
"He's... fine, probably. Look, I'll ask him." You send the message, just for peace of mind. Pox's danger sense would flare up if he was in harm's way, too, right? Yeah. You don’t know the radius on that thing, but probably. So he's good. It’s hard to think about this with the sound of nasty sex going on in the background. "Okay, Jesus, I need to turn off that fucking porno before I lose my mind."
Switching the channel to something mundane and boring-but-at-least-not-sexually-graphic takes all of about three seconds, at which point you've already claimed a bed and thrown yourself down on it. Pox sheds her coat, crawls up beside you and half-drapes herself across your body, her head tucked into the crook of your neck. A couple of weeks ago, this would have felt weird. Tonight, you couldn’t be more glad for the comfort it offers. You let your head fall against hers. She nuzzles into you gently.
"It's gonna be okay, you know," she says, after a little while, so matter-of-factly you feel like you almost have to believe her.
"Yeah." You press your face into her hair slightly, eyes drifting shut for a moment. A nauseous feeling has settled itself in the pit of your stomach and hasn't left since you walked into that godforsaken shop.
"...When you called Aubrey.”
"Did she know anything?"
"...Yeah. She said she knew about this. Kind of. That they do this sort of stuff. But I don’t think–I don’t think she really knows a whole lot about it.” Makes sense. You get the feeling the corporation plucking toddlers from the clutches of their parents to subject them to a life of warfare isn’t exactly going to be showing those kids the full terms and conditions of their captivity. Or potential ‘decommissioning.’ “She didn’t. Y’know. Get her fucking memory erased.”
Pox shifts slightly, adjusting her position in a way that makes her hair tickle your neck. "Did she say anything else?"
"...She said it'll be okay." Conveniently ignoring that you left out that you–no, you don't even want to think about it. But you told her everything else. "She said I've been through worse. And, like, I guess I have, but I don't know how useful that is when I can't remember most of it to put it in context." You take in a slow, measured breath and exhale. "She told me I have to let you guys look after me."
You can't stop thinking about that. You think back to your conversations out on the balcony, too, barely a day ago. It wasn’t just a request, was it? It was a warning. Don’t make the same mistakes I did.
"Mm. Yeah. She’s right. You should." She’s smiling, you think; you can hear the shape of her mouth around the words as she pulls idly at one of the tags on your jacket. "We're going to get this fixed. And then you can do whatever you want about… finding these Legacy of Adam people."
Mm. The delicate matter of what you want to do about the organisation responsible for the way your life played out. After all this, you're still wanting for answers; that much you know, and you're still going to get them. After that... somewhere, under the nausea, under the fear, under the uncertainty and regret and apprehension, anger is already flaring to life. They took everything you could have had in life. Promises be damned; you have your own reasons for wanting to burn them to the ground.
But right now, you have more difficult issues to grapple with: not what they did, but what you did. Ten rounds out in battlefields you barely remember. All those visions and dreams of dead bodies that now feel so, so much more real. You think of what Aubrey said about bombs and fire and killing; about it all being twisted into some kind of sick game. The cold, hard truth has been thrust in your face, and there's no way you can turn a blind eye to it anymore. No more pretending. No more burying. No more mental gymnastics in search of an explanation to extricate yourself from deeds you’ve quietly suspected for a long time that you might have participated in.
You have to face this head-on. Stare it down. You can't change it. Your only choice is in how you respond to it.
"You're brilliant, you know," Pox continues, quietly, after a moment, drawing you out of your own head. "Whatever they say about you. They don't really know you."
"I feel like I don't even know me right now."
"I know you." She turns her head up to you, silver eyes wide in the low light. "I know you're not weak. And Dak knows you, and Tech knows you, and they don't think you're weak. Not how these–this–some big creepy fucking corporation thinks you are. Whatever they think is bullshit, okay? They don't care about you. They think you're weak because they didn't want you to care about things. But you do. That's what makes you better than them.”
All you can do is... stare, wordless. You manage a nod. Even if you had the energy, you wouldn't argue with her. There's no point. She's an immovable object when she's made up her mind about something.
Besides: you know, somewhere, deep down, that there's truth in what she says.
"I–yeah. Yeah. I know. It's just–this is–" You keep stumbling and tripping in the process of trying to form a coherent sentence, but Pox understands without having to hear it aloud.
"Yeah. Tomorrow." You heave a deep sigh and let your eyes slip shut for a moment as she settles back against your chest. How you're supposed to sleep tonight, you have no idea. At times like this, it'd be handy if you could switch your brain off as easily as you can your cybernetics. Emotional burnout has never hit so hard so fast. For now, you need to do what you've become so good at doing over the years: compartmentalise. Box this up and set it aside. There’ll be time to address it all. The time is not now, but it’ll come. When you've slept. When this death race is over. When you've left Fyre Tower in the rear-view mirror and you can all look towards the future with clear heads and fresh eyes.
"Did Tech answer yet?"
You glance down at Pox with your left eye. Your AR feed is clear.
"No. You'd get the creeps if something was up, though, right?"
"Not if he's miles away!"
"I mean, he said he'd be back! He'll be fine. I... I think I trust him. Anyway, you saw how he was earlier. I don't think we should go looking for him. I think he wants to be left alone right now."
Pox is silent. She lays her head back down on your shoulder, fingers fiddling with your shirt this time.
"I just want everyone to be happy," she says, eventually, just above a whisper. "With Tech, earlier, and Dak–and now you, and–everything keeps getting fucked up, and I don't know what to do."
Your immediate response is to slip an arm around her shoulders and pull her closer into your side. You forget how tiny she really is without that coat on and a thousand mystery objects padding it out. She turns her face into your neck and you rest your head atop hers, chin sinking into stark white curls.
"You're doing fine, Pox." You feel her hand under your jacket, sliding all the way around you. "You're here. You're doing everything you can. That's more than enough." You pause, and then, because you realise you never said it earlier: “Thank you.”
She doesn't answer, or move, or respond in any way that you can tell. You keep hold of her anyway. God, you hope Dak doesn't come barging in, drunk off his ass right now. You kind of hope Tech doesn't, either, sober or not, though either way (and no matter his substance of choice) he'd be more manageable than Dak.
You find yourself curling a lock of Pox’s hair around your fingers as you lay there with her, tuning out the late-night reruns of shitty trid shows in the background. With that gone and your own woes packed away for the time being, you're left with a completely clear head for the first time in... well, probably the last two weeks. It's refreshing. You bask in the tranquillity of it for a little while. God only knows when you'll get another opportunity to do so.
Seeing perhaps your only window of opportunity in which to fall asleep, your brain seizes the chance and before you know it, you’re dozing off. You're vaguely aware, at some point, of switching off the TV. With the room now silent, and Pox a comforting dead weight on your side, drifting back off right where you lie comes easy.
Maybe when you wake up, everything will make more sense. Maybe the world will have fixed itself: Tech will be back, unharmed, happy. So will Dak. Your little visit to Sons of Adam will have been one big mix-up and you won’t be hurtling towards an uncertain death at a hundred miles per hour. Pox won’t need to feel guilty and helpless about problems far beyond her control.
Maybe none of it will be fixed at all.
You’ll just have to hold on tight,