Briar comes to take Chance out on a date, and they're dressed awfully casually. Jeans, a tank top, with their hair drawn back in a short braid. They've also got a wicker picnic basket, a thick blanket, and towels. "I don't have any family I'm really attached to," they say, "or I'd bring you to meet them. Instead, I'm going to take you somewhere Danny really liked. I'm not promising I won't skinny-dip, so you know."
Chance seems totally gung-ho for this picnic idea. "Mmm. Danny land. Danny was hot. I mean, Derek wouldn't have even but--" Just at the door, he pauses. "I need a notepad or...fuck it. I'll use my journal." Since written words have started to remain and after a talk with Dare, Chance began to keep a journal again. He dashes off to his room and returns with it and a few pens in hand. "Shitty memory in Danny-land. The...flaw thing has always come back, so far. So. Fingers crossed it'll be a good day? Yeah? I'm feeling pretty fucking positive about it regardless. It got worse when he was stressed and this is low stress. It's nice. Lead on, darling." He's dressed in a plain t-shirt and jeans. Super simple. Derek would wither.
"Full disclosure," Briar says as they head for the Anywhere Room, "Danny kind of got off on Derek hitting him. I don't know what that's about, but he absolutely would've, given the chance." They shake their head. Danny was an interesting boy. "We'll keep it nice and low stress. There won't even be mosquitos." Since the Anywhere Room can be anything they want.
The door opens into an outdoorsy landscape of mountain forest with a walking path. There's a picnic table, much carved and drawn upon, and not far away are a set of steaming pools with a rocky bed. Across a valley, a huge waterfall empties into a pool far below. Animal trails lead down that way, though Briar is making a beeline to the picnic table to divest themselves of the basket and blankets. "If you need help remembering you're my baby, I'll remind you over and over."
Behind Briar is Derek in the flesh. All six feet, six inches of chiseled greek god. The tight body was something he brought back from Beaver Lake but the height is stark enough that Chance comments. "Oh, I forgot he was so tall and awkward." A few things are different from the boy at Beaver Lake. His strawberry blond hair isn't flat ironed and styled near to death. It has those natural curls and waves of The Confidant. As he takes in the scenery, he grins. "Derek loved the outdoors. This is beautiful, darling." He stands there for a few moments longer before heading to the picnic table. He lays the journal out, open to a blank page and leaves the pen within reach. He reaches up to touch adjust the blue jeweled necklace Chance wears and his hands brush the scars along his neck. The ones he hid so desperately. "Wow. I didn't think I'd come back here. It's not filled with many good memories. I am glad though that we are making a new one. For us." He smiles with those model perfect teeth. "So where is this?"
"This is Cougar Hot Springs," Briar says. "But there are springs like this all the way up and down the Cascades. Perfect temperature for soaking." After they've put everything down, then sidle up to Chance to slip their arms around him. All six-six of him. "We'll make awesome memories here," they murmur, and they lay a light kiss on those scars. "Danny used to come here with his friends and get stoned, of course. Hey, look." They point to some graffiti carved into the picnic table: D.N. 88. "That was me."
Chance traces the carving with his finger, looking a bit wistful before kissing the top of Briar's head. "Thirty years makes one hell of a difference doesn't it? I hoped you liked 2018. Brunch was fun, right?" They let Helena pick the place and she picked a place that had a weekly Drag brunch. Drag queens alongside your eggs benedict. It was something to behold. "Helena was fucking with me a little, so she thought. Her Chance would /never/. But, her Chance is gone." His voice cracks a little but he shakes it off. "Anyway, you see why I like the name. I loved it there. It was home. Home." He sighs. "That's what's missing. Home or the sense of it. No. No, no. It's the security. Yeah." He pauses a beat. "Fuck. I forgot where we are. Doesn't matter. I'm with you."
"Cougar Hot Springs," Briar says again with unerring ease and patience. "It's okay to forget. I don't think anyone has ever seen a cougar up here." For the moment, they just want to hold Chance in their arms and rest their head against his chest. The sound of his heartbeat is comfort. "Brunch was amazing. Helena's great, and she loves you." They gaze up at him. "I don't think I've ever really felt at home anywhere. Even though Danny came from a pretty nice family, he was always the black sheep. Martin only had his father. The closest I've ever felt to having family was you." They draw away and ask, "Do you want to eat first or soak first?"
Chance holds Briar with one arm and jots down the name with his other. Left hand. He's always left handed. Hell, everything about The Confidant falls to the left. "Helena and Will are the only Doorless that stuck with me like they did. Maybe because it was my first Encounter and I simply identify with it. I even kept the name. I know now that I am not Chance Reed. I'm...whoever, yeah? A blend of all of them past and probably future. I know I can't stay with Helena. I mean, I could but it's not real. It's close enough to feel good for a little while. When I need it, you know? But, after each encounter, I find myself pulling closer and closer to...the others. The ones with the doors. They are all my family." Beat. "But you and Senni? You two are home." His eyes well up a little and he looks away, shaking his head. "Let's soak before I upset myself."
"Don't upset yourself," Briar advises, and they take off their tank top, then kick off their sandals and start to shimmy out of their jeans. "You are adored, and you keep us together. I intend to take care of you so you never need to feel you have nowhere to go when you need to take a break." Maybe it's shades of Danny showing, but they have no body modesty whatsoever, and the moment they're naked, they pad down to one of the springs, the hottest one, and ease into it. "I care a lot about Senni, but I haven't been very good to her in these lifetimes."
"Well, try and make it up to her in-between, yeah? It's all we can do, really. Apologize and come together again until...we go back in." He finally stands and begins to strip down. Derek probably had any modesty he once possessed worked out of him as a model. And that model body is on point. The Confidant is a little less comfortable once he's down to nothing. He rushes to the spring and gets in. Too fast from the hissing sound of pain he makes until he's used to the heat. "Dare said something similar. About tending to the strongest pillar or something? I do not feel strong. I only try. Try hard to be steady and welcoming. To be there, when needed."
"Yeah, I'll try to get some time with her," Briar says. "Maybe take her somewhere nice. Danny loved her so much, but he wasn't monogamous. He tried to be, for her, but he kept backsliding." They find a rocky outcropping under the water and sit down, the water coming up to their shoulders. Holding out an arm to Chance, they say, "You're stronger than you know. No one's on top of things all the time, and you've gone through this how many times? Five? And you're still going. Dare's pretty smart most of the time."
"Dare is really fucking smart. He knew I needed someone to bear /my/ burdens. So he came to me and basically tricked me." Chance laughs and shakes his head. "Five times. I carry the weight of five lifetimes. With that special feature if being broken. And I-I can't find time to process that part. I didn't want to, I think. I didn't want to mull over how much being blind or crippled or crazy affected me. I don't want to know what's next either. But, Dare pulled it out of me. He listened while I just talked about my five Gos." He shakes his head again. "I feel a lot better now about it. And I fear the unknown a little bit less. And after that, I felt like...fuck it. Give me five more. And I will withstand them all and do what I was meant to do. Be the rock. The pillar. The port in the storm." He shrugs and leans against Briar.
Briar sidles closer so they're up against Chance, and one hand rests lightly on his thigh, casually intimate. "He's been a little standoffish with me, and if we're in a public space, Cheer is usually glued to his side." Their expression wilts a little, but only a little. "I worry sometimes, about lovers losing interest, but it's not that, I don't think. I hope not. It's just different than it was. But he's very supportive of us. He genuinely cares about people more than himself. Sometimes... I don't know, I worry. Everything changes, and I never know what I'll come back to. But right now? With you? I'm happy." They smiles softly. "And I'm just going to enjoy the moment."
"Exactly!" Chance exhales. "Yeah. That is why I say it every time we come back. Love today. Love one another today. I lost Addie. My big sister in Prosperity. I never got to apologize and that's when I knew. When we go back there. That's reality. It's as close as we'll get and encounters change us. I was straight after the first. Then I wasn't after the second. By the third, and when I started writing on the walls...we don't have anything. We own nothing but ourselves and one another. And we need to love as deeply as we can right now. In ten minutes, we could fall asleep. And wake up and you--you could be a nurse who wipes my ass and steals my pills and...spends their nights with, uh...Colorado, uh, raising five foster kids. I-I don't know." He's laughing as he talks. "It could all change. And on top of that? You could wake up. And my door will have a new symbol. And no one writes on it. And some tall, brute of a woman steps out and I'm gone." He pauses and swallows. "So. We love today. The next hour isn't promised."
Briar's breath catches, and their hand on Chance's thigh squeezes just a little, possessive in the face of this idea of a brutish woman who isn't him. They swallow hard, fear sharp and poignant in their eyes. But then they manage a smile, and they say, "I would only steal the pills you didn't need, sweetheart." They kiss Chance on the cheek. "Martin learned that lesson, to live in the moment. I took it to heart every since. Especially since our endings tend to be so terrible." They relax, taking a deep breath, and they look around at the natural beauty of the place. "We should spend all of our free time in love. No matter what happens in our next lives, I will love you. Because who you are now, that's the guy I'm crazy about."
Chance laughs briefly. "Don't be afraid, Briar. No matter what happens I will love you too and if I don't come back for...whatever reason. Know that you were loved. Deeply and truly with...fullness. So yeah. Let's keep on loving. You and me and Senni. As soon as I nut up knock on that door. She's always a little skittish after an encounter. I'm glad to give her space but after this one being so rough between us. I need some peace of mind. Whatever happens. Whatever she decides. It'll be fine." He sighs. "I forgot your name." He snorts. "Don't tell me. Let's just...be. Whoever you are." He laughs and shrugs before leaning on Briar. "Also...know this. When I wake up here, I always think about my friends and lovers first and I never want to break a connection once formed. The ones we form in the Encounters are forged in fire. They have unlimited potential to be strong as iron. So, we sleep. We die...or not. And then, I will be waiting for you. Senni always needs to be retrieved." He kisses Briar in their hair. "Thorn! No. Rose? No. Fuck it. It'll come to me."
"I'll always have this," Briar says. "That you love me, here and now, with the time we have." They rest their head on Chance's shoulder. "You can call me whatever you want." After a comfortable moment, they say, "Maybe you and Senni and I can spend some time together, just figuring each other out. I want to show her that I'm not like Danny. There's a lot of Danny in me, but the stupid way he was with women, I know better. It kind of helps, having been one. I want her to know I care about her, and that if anything were to happen to you, or, you know, whatever, that I would take care of her." They sniffle a little, then wipe their eyes with the heels of their hands. "I get so emotional when I think about you guys." They laugh a little, but they're a bit abashed. The waterworks don't come easily, but apparently today is an exception.
The Confidant shifts a bit when he hears Briar sniffle. "Oh. Oh, no. Stop that. It's fine. Just fine. I'm sure that you'll come up when Senni and I speak. I'll pass on the message...Briar! Yes!" He grins. "I'm not worried. I mean...there isn't really such thing as preparing for the worse, you know? You think you can but when it happens...so, do what you must but it'll be hard no matter what." He presses a kiss to their forehead. "Hey, I've...wanted to visit Prosperity. Like a big, stupid do-over with Senni. And I remember how beautiful the stars are out there. We could camp out or...whatever. The three of us. It's beautiful and quiet there when hell doesn't spit shit out so...It's where we all met too. Appropriate, no?"
Briar says, "It's okay. I'm okay. I just..." They look up at Chance and smile a little. "I feel a lot of things for you both. It's overwhelming sometimes. I don't think Senni knows this, but Martin named his daughter after her. Even back then, I thought the world of her." They wrap their arms around Chance. "I think camping out there would be great. It was my first life, and it's where I fell for you."
The Confidant blushes and averts his eyes. "Really? Jody DeWitt of all people? He was a sad mess of a man who spent a year at the bottom of a laudanum bottle. Well, years but...before he had a career and then a family and then nothing. Until Senni. Crush on Jonah aside, he couldn't wait to really fall in love with her. And then she was gone. He was a shell of a man until he died. Yet. Martin." He finally looks at Briar. "Martin was holding a candle the whole time. Surprise. Yeah, Prosperity was where it all changed for us. We should go back. I'm don't even are about my leg there. I...want to remember the good."
"Martin wasn't exactly Prince Charming," Briar says wryly. "He understood Jody's addiction, though, and he saw that Jody cared about these people and what was happening to them. He saw that Jody treated him like he belonged, at a time when he really needed to know that he did. That night they talked about living every moment in the moment was life-altering. It changed Martin. It changed me." The take Chance's hand in theirs. "Senni was sweet to Martin. She danced with him, and he thought she was the kindest woman he'd ever met. Aside from Fleur, his wife, she was his ideal woman. Maybe it's because I was so new, but he loved everyone so much. It set the tone for who I became outside of Prosperity."
The Confidant kisses Briar's hand and they talk. "We had a nice setup there for a while. Our life there. Friends, family, lovers. Sacrifices for one another. Love that comes from a deep place. Not the love of your brother in a trench in war. The love of blood." He sighs. "I am glad that I helped you then. I just did what comes natural to me but it doesn't mean I didn't mean it. All I want at the end of the day is for everyone to be at peace in one way or another. Unburdened. I never thought that conversation would lead here though. Or it would lead anywhere."
"That conversation is why I'm okay," Briar says. "Despite that, according to my door, I'm a junkie. Despite having every reason to hit rock bottom and medicate the pain away. It changed who I am. For the better." They trace their fingertip along Chance's cheek. "Never think you're not enough, or that you don't do enough. People are listening, and what you say matters. Why do you think we want to take care of you in turn? You've given me so much."
The Confidant shakes his head. "We have the potential to be more than our doors." He looks up at the sky and takes a deep breath. "You changed me too." He admits. "Holden...the love Dia gave him was like a dream come true. Fairy tale shit. Complete. Unconditional. She took care of him. She loved his Children. She was faithful and she'd fight to her dying breath and..." His breath catches. "You have no idea what that meant to him. How much confidence it gave him. How brave it made him. How steady he became." His turn to wipes a few tears away. "I know now. While people will always look to lean on me...I am that much stronger with someone to reenforce me. To hold me up before I fall. No one person can bear it all, you know? Dia displayed to him what that concept even looked like. And we both know now. And when I woke up without you, I-I wanted to go back. First time ever. Not anymore because I have you here. In the inbetween."
"I still have that love for you," Briar says. They wipe away a few tears with the pad of their thumb. "When I woke up, I just lay there wanting you and feeling so much loss, thinking 'what if he doesn't love me like that' or 'what if it's just awkward for him' when for me it was a dream come true. There's a lot about Dia I'm going to have to work through, but I think the best part of her is the best part of me, and it's that she loved like her life depended on it. Holden's life was her life, his wins her wins and his losses her losses. It was such an act of bravery, to go all in on someone like that without any hesitation. I knew when I woke up I would just die inside if I had to stifle that."
The Confidant sits up a little straighter, shoulders back. The same way Holden held himself. Proud. "You never have to stifle it with me, love. I woke up knowing that I had to see you and touch you and I prayed to whoever listens that you would have me. I hadn't felt that way since Senni, then Misty. It was a little different because they had died but my chest ached for her. Then it did for you...and her. One behind the other. I don't know what I would have done if you'd rejected me. Wither?" He laughs softly. "Hide? Maybe just mourn. But it worked out, yeah? You and Senni's names are written across my heart now." He giggles. "Imagine...what if Senni has me? What if I'm...or we...as three? Fuck. I'd be the luckiest man here."
The Addict kisses Chance. Sometimes the overwhelming emotions come out in tears, sometimes with sudden, heartfelt kisses. It's all Briar has to say for a moment, those sweet and fervent kisses. "I loved her when she was Misty. So much. If she'd have me... I mean, maybe, yeah?" They bite their lip, then say, "Maybe we should just work on one milestone at a time, figuring ourselves out. I'm just saying that I'm open to the idea."