The Optimist is sitting in the parlour, splayed over the couches. He is sweaty - his top is off and tied around his waist, and he has loose hypercolour raver pants on, the kind that glitter silver. The man is busy chugging water, heat radiating off him, and he wipes his mouth, making a boppybop kind of motion with his head. Part of the music is still with him - someone has been dancing hard. He has spiked his hair up and spray painted it different colours.
Briar comes in from the hall of rooms. Their hair is wrapped in a towel, and they're wearing a short robe. They sit on a chair and shake a bottle of nail varnish. "Hello, Arcade," they say, and they start painting their toenails. "You look like you've been having a good time." The color they're applying to their toenails is bubblegum pink. "Were you at a rave again?"
"Oh, hey, would you do mine?" says the Optimist, though he pauses "Hmm, I think I might need a shower first though - and yes! It feels a little weird going into it, right? I mean, I _know_ they aren't real people. But it smells real, feels real, the DJ is great, and there's nothing quite like dancing to make you feel better, don't you think?" He looks thoughtful now "Heck, even the drugs feel real - er, sorry about that. But I mean. It all feels like a thing until I come out here and then there's no chemical effect aside from having danced."
Briar says, "Sure, I'll do your nails sometime. I have other colors, too. Red, purple, I even have neon yellow, and green." They shrug a shoulder then and say, "You don't have to tiptoe about drugs around me. I have no biochemical attachment to them. I don't even really miss them when I'm away from them. Whatever the psychology of addiction is, pills isn't my thing, I guess."
A door right near the parlor opens. It's Thrill-Seekers door. She is dressed like she is going hiking. But she pauses at her door when one voice hits her. There's a little squeak from her as she slowly walks up to the couch. Her green eyes are just a bit shiny with maybe tears as she smiles at Briar. The odd thing is she doesn't really look like Jazz exactly. Slimmer and a touch shorter and her eyes are a brilliant jade green.
Cheer glances at the sprawled Arcade and smirks at his floppage. But her attention returns to The Addict. "Brae-r," She manages to catch herself from launching into a hug. Yet she's trembling like a chihuahua in the rain and her eyes are nearly as wide. "Hi," She squeaks out.
"Hmm. Then it's a bit like what Chance said. It's not a specific thing. It's more like being a group of reactions? I mean, that's my take on it. Dare thinks the combination of us is being used to save universes - or timelines. I think I know. I mean, if I _was_ going to work with erm, someone like me, I'd need someone like you to provide a certain level of drive? By itself, being positive doesn't achieve anything. There needs to be, well. Some impetus. You know. Direction for the energy? And maybe, like, complementary energies," muses the Optimist. He turns his head to blink at the Thrill-Seeker, and then he colours up a bit, and he stares at the ceiling. Still embarassed over Harkaway "Come in, like. I have, er. Okay, I have water - but I can make coffee?"
The Optimist adds to Briar "I'd like to have neon yellow nails."
Briar looks up and their eyes widen. They screw the cap on their varnish quickly and angle their foot so the varnish won't smear, then hold their arms out to Cheer for a hug. "You reckless, aggravating, heartbreaking excuse of a sister!" they say, but there are tears of joy in their eyes to see Thrill-Seeker again. "I love you so much," they say with a sniffle.
To Arc, they say, "We need each other. Even if we were just normal people, we'd still need each other. We're social animals." Sniffle.
The Thrill-Seeker needs no further excuse to dive in to that hug. "Oh my stars, honey, I'm so happy to see you," She says, her own tears freed to fall. "I suppose I wouldn't be me if I didn't do something foolish or risky in any of these shit-shows," She says with a little laugh. The hug is squishy and lasts a goodly ten seconds and some before she releases and moves to sit on the coffee table. "I love you too, sorry for being a bossy bit of 'tude," She is grinning though as she says it. Wiping at her tears she looks at Optimist and back. "I walk in on a sociology discussion?"
The Optimist admits "I need people. Like, for the first time in my li...life. I think. I think I kind of want to have like, close relationships and friends. Before...I mean, there _isn't_ a before, right? But part of me feels like 'before', I was resigned to not really being close to anyone. This is different? Being here? No one seems to think I'm wrong." He lifts his water, and he keeps drinking it, then says to the Thrill-Seeker "I heard you, er, died. I didn't." He pauses "Though I'm glad I didn't wake up as Harkaway, he would have been really upset over Angel. Umn, no. Just chatting, you know? I've been going to raves." He gestures at his clothes "Moving your body feels good, you know? Anyway, hello. I can't believe. I didn't know you were a friend in there?"
"You don't have to apologize for anything," Briar says as they hug Cheer tightly. "They had to sedate me at the end, you know that? To get me in the pod. I wanted to go after you." When they finally release Cheer from the hug, they wipe at their eyes with the heels of their hands. Sniffle. "Ugh, that was a fucking mess that was." They muster up a smile for Arcade. "Neon yellow," they say. "You'll look awesome." Then they say, "I like you because you're kind and fun to be around. And I actually liked Harkaway, but I was kind of a glutton for punishment. But he's not you, so whatever."
The Thrill-Seeker nods her head in understanding of the conversation. "Yeah, I don't like being alone. I've done it and it was..." She makes a face and shakes her head. Then asks, "You didn't wake up as Harkaway? How do you mean?" rThe last bit gets a blink at Arcade. Looking at him in minor puzzlement with one brow raised. "Eh? Can't believe what? That Jazz was trying to be Hark's friend?" Her shoulders shrug and she says, "I get the impression social cues were not really in his repertoire of 'required' skills for genius." She pauses as Briar speaks. Looking at them fondly. "Oh...no I didn't. I knew if I told you there'd be no chance of you going..." She reaches out to clap their knee gently. Green eyes return to Arcade and she says, "They're right. You're Arcade. And I'm really sorry about the other night. It's...fuzzy but pretty sure I threatened you with Eagon for some reason?" She cringes and looks sheepish. "I was -really- deep in my bender."
The Optimist nods. Neon yellow. He says "...what happened to Teller and Mina?" And he purses his lips "Yeah, I know. So was he. He was really weird. He wanted people to tell him what to do, because he'd never developed a proper internal...I don't know. He knew all of it, though, like, he was completely aware of the surgeries they'd done on him. But he didn't have the ability to communicate properly, he was designed wrong. So it wasn't like he could say 'Hey, Braden, I think you're hot, let's have meaningless sex'. He had to get people angry enough they wanted to do that to teach him a lesson. He kind of did that with everything. Except research. He was allowed to function in that realm, so he was kind of protective of that."
He says to the Thrill-Seeker "I mean, Harkaway got put in a pod, that's my last memory of being him. I woke up me, not him. No, I can't believe _I_ didn't realise - I mean, Hark didn't realise. You were a friend. I guess he didn't get friends." And then he says "Erf, yeah, it's okay. Honestly, you weren't the only one to have that reaction to me. I think it's probably hard for people to deal with Hark having been evil, and me as a person being cheerful?"
"Mira and Teller came back with Braden," Briar says. Now that the sniffling has passed, they resume varnishing their toenails bubblegum pink. With a small smile, they say, "Harkaway used to get Braden so off-balance. He admired him so much, and found him attractive, and maddening." They glance between Cheer and Arcade. "I miss so much of the violence that goes on around here, and I'm not sorry about that, I gotta admit."
The Thrill-Seeker nods her head and starts smiling again as Arcade seems to accept her apology. "Yeah, but it was still in poor taste and -I- like Arcade. So felt really bad about it when I woke up." As boots sometimes do one is already trying to come unlaced. So she busies herself tying it. "I'm glad. That's a relief really after...ugh," She just shudders and double knots her lacing.
"Uhm, can I help you do that?" asks the Optimist, pointing to the nailpolish. He makes a face, more thoughtful than anything else "I have his eye," he says after a moment "I tried plugging it into things in my room, but it's too advanced. I have a piece of technology from the far future. In my pocket." The whole idea is so weird, and it shows on his face. Then he grins "Oh, I'm sure it will be okay." A pause "I got to stop saying it." Then he says "Harkaway killed the other W-Y agent. And made it look like an accident. The most pointless thing ever, since no one woke up to find it out. And he had plans for killing Dr. Rozgold too. But not, uh, Braden or Jazz, Mira, or Teller. Or Angel. Wow, he liked Angel. I mean, he also was going to kill Director Samantha. He was going to wake up earlier than the rest and slaughter anyone he thought might be memetically infected. But then most of them got themselves killed."
Briar offers the nail varnish to Arcade. "Sure, if you want to," they say. Clucking their tongue, they say, "Goodness, Harkaway was a bad boy. I hope I never have a turn being too bad, but it's not really within our control is it? That's why I can overlook it. That, and Harkaway never did anything all that bad to me or mine. That I know of. God, Braden had no idea what was going on." They glance to Cheer. "Dare told me you had it pretty rough."
The Thrill-Seeker rubs at her face as Optimist starts talking about Harkaway's murder plans. As her hand falls away she stares down at her boot. Lips vaguely pursed. "Yeah...no control at all." she says quietly in agreement. But she does look up at Briar finally though. "Hmm? Oh..." That was very definitely a twitch under her eye. "Time dilation weirdness with the explosion or the Endolith did something. But my death? Exploding apart? It was like every thousandth of a second was an hour...or maybe a day. But..." Her eyes glaze over and she trails off.
"Thanks," says the man. Poor Briar, because he has clearly never done it before. He takes one of Briar's feet, and tries to work, his tongue sticking out of his mouth in concentration. Nailpolish smears a bit, and he looks up "No, it's not in our control, I guess. Oh, no, uh, he wanted to...well. Not be happy. I don't think he could be happy. But he wanted to get out of where he was, and live somewhere he didn't feel like a, umnnn. You know. Useful scientific tool." He shrugs, and then he says "That sounds like time dilation. Wow. That's super weird. I mean, and awful -" But some of Harkaway's scientific curiosity is there "...want me to do your nails too?"
Briar grins as Arcade pays such attention and smears the polish anyway. It'll come off. They're not stressed about it. "Man, time dilation's awful," they say. "Or maybe it's just adrenalin making time seem to slow down, because, I mean, the way time dilation works, time still seems normal to you. It just moves faster elsewhere."
The Thrill-Seeker shrugs and says, "Or that Thing. The entire time it was whispering in my head. Laughing? I think?" She gets to her feet with a strained smile. "I'd rather not think on it, honestly." As she straightens she adjusts her shirt and gives Optimist a faint smile. "I was on my way to jump off a cliff, actually. But thanks," She says as she turns to press a kiss to Briar's forehead. "I need to clear my head. And air in my ears and adrenaline are my cure."
The Optimist shoots Briar an awkward look "I always thought this was easy, girls just seem to sweep it on and it's all done," he says, and he looks back down to work on the Addict's nails. The wobbly paint comes out, and he sasy to the Thrill-Seeker "Oh, well, you really should try a rave. Though I've never actually jumped off a cli..." He pauses "Wait, do you mean without gear?"
"You're doing fine for a first-timer," Briar says. "You can practice whenever you want." With a small shudder, they say, "I know why Braden was the way he was, and the science, and all that, but holy fuck, that thing was evil. Fuck objectivity. It was evil, and I hope you guys blew it the fuck up." They give Cheer a kiss on the cheek. "Love you," they murmur.
The Thrill-Seeker eyes Arcade's attempt and the smile becomes more genuine. If only from amusement. "Nah. Hand eye coordination and those brushes are shitty," She quips as she pulls a scrunchy from her pocket and gathers up her hair. Arcade's question makes her give a bark of laughter. "I suppose that's a fair question given everything. "With. Though I may only double check my straps," She says as if it were dangerous. Well, it kind of was. "You too, Bri. If anyone's looking I'll be in the first room," She tells them. Wiggling her fingers she heads for the Anywhere Door.
"That's true," says the man. He puts down one foot, and then picks up the other, and he says "I know it must have been. Harkaway wasn't really good at telling 'evil'." He frowns, just a litlte, and then he says "Well, I had to ask. Hmm. I don't think I could quite do that. I mean, I'm sure it would _be_ okay in the end, but I don't want to let go of a perfectly good flat surface." He waves to her, dropping nail polish on Briar's leg.
Briar smiles warmly at Cheer as she goes, and then turns that amiable expression on Arcade. Their glance darts to the polish on their leg, and they say nothing. Hey, Arcade's doing his best. "That was the worst life by far, even worse than Prosperity, and I was scared shitless in Prosperity." After a pause, they add, "I'm glad you're here, Arcade."
"Yeah, but it means I can fly!" Cheer calls back over her shoulder. "Nothing, except a good fuck, can compare. Toodles!" And with that the door shuts behind her.
"I miss being a giant snake with eternal power," says Arcade, a tad dryly "So I'm really glad I can't actually go to Prosperity. For _me_ that was awful, and you know, it was the...frustration. Harkaway didn't want to feel like he couldn't do anything, but he was begining to wonder if...he couldn't actually get out." He eyes Briar's leg. Phew, they didn't see it. 'Subtlely', he wipes it away, and he looks up at the person and suddenly beams, warm, with white teeth "Oh, thanks," he says "That's lovely of you to say so!"
"It's true," Briar says. "I like your optimism. I know some people don't want to hear about the bright side, but sometimes I just need someone to tell me it's going to be okay. Besides, and I know you're not into sex so there's no pressure here, you're pretty good-looking. So it's nice to see you just on an aesthetically pleasing level."
"That's honestly the nicest thing anyone has _ever_ said to me," grins the Optimist "Though Dare has said he's my friend, and that's pretty nice." He does actually look pretty chuffed. He enjoys the ego-stroke in a way that is a bit less obvious than Harkaway - but he still enjoys it. Then he finishes, and he says "I do think we might all be heroes. I know you feel like. You are dangerous to people around you. But I don't know. You know, life isn't just made of candy, right? So maybe you've got a hard and noble job."
"I'd like to be your friend," Briar says. "We can paint each others' nails and talk about uplifting stuff. That sounds about perfect to me." They smile, watching Arcade fondly. "I have a drive. Sometimes it comes through in not-so-healthy ways. It might not make sense, but the drive that made Braden want to drink was the same drive that made him strive to be a xenobiologist. That need to find something, to be something. Same drive that turned him to religion."
"Oh, man, would you? I really get, I really do, that people here are frustrated, and we're maybe trapped and being tortured and things. But if I just focused on that all the time, I'd spiral down and just. I'd go mad. I need to feel like I can find some meaning, even if people find it silly." He looks so relieved, he does. And then he says "Yes. The thing about addiction is, that, uh. Well, I bet you know more than me. But it's often adapting to something else you can't shift or fix. And so in it's own way, I guess it's survival and moving forward, and drive." He sits up next to Briar. And he offers them his hand.
Briar clasps Arcade's hand. "I try to spend my time here relaxing," they say, "and being my best self so I can deal with the bad shit. Because there is bad shit, and there's going to be bad shit again, and I don't... I don't want to agonize. Sometimes I need to go to my room and have a good cry, but I'd rather talk philosophy and fancy tropical fish than think about every horrible thing."
"I haven't worked out what I should do here yet," says Arcade "I've been going to a lot of night clubs, which I know is a bit funny, but why not, eh? I like music, and dancing, and being close to people." He adds "I know that you and others here are really close. I know you've had lovers amongst them - I guess, uh, me too. Even if it was in the past in a story. So I'd been hoping to get to know you better?"
Briar takes the polish, puts the cap on it, and wraps their arms around them. It's time for a hug, apparently. "Let's hang out, then," they say. "We'll have coffee, and we'll go dancing, and we'll stay up all night talking. You don't have to do anything here. Unless you want to, I mean. Just take care of yourself, love yourself. Because I think you're great."
The Optimist looks flushed, and pleased. He leans into the hug, and after a long moment or two, he puts his head on Briar's shoulder. A bit cautiously - if they pull away, he stops without being too stressed about it. His eyes gentle, and his face relaxes, the muscles losing the little tightness they had. He breathes out, and then he says "So, um. Yes. Yes, that is what I would like. Hey. How do you think of yourself?"
Briar tilts their head so that it's easier for Arcade to rest his head on their shoulder. The gesture is welcome. "I look forward to it," they murmur. It takes a moment for her to disengage from the hug, and then it's to scoot onto a couch and tug Arcade to sit with them. "I have moments where I think I'm trash," they say, "and I'm not all that fond of myself. But I take time out to pamper myself, and I think about everything I'm doing right."
The Optimist releases, and then moves to sit next to Briar. He says "Awesome." Not hugely self-aware, but it is easy to get touch starved in weird conditions, and he looks very content "Okay, hmmm. Heh." He stretches out his brightly sneakered feet, and then he says "Is that because of the need to be with something external? I don't know, addictions...they're complex things. Yes, you should do that. I mean, I don't wanna be a lotus-eater, you know - paying no attention to anything. But we should take care of ourselves. Make nice meals. Have...you suggested a spa day. What happens in those?"
Briar sidles up to Arcade so they're shoulder to shoulder. "It's just the human condition, I think," they say. The tendency to focus on every shortcoming. I look back and think of everything I did wrong, and it weighs on me. But then I feel, like, if I get consumed by guilt and become a miserable sad sack, what happens? What does my life look like then? As for addictions, I think it has more to do with... I don't know. Medicating for a very subtle illness." They perk up at the mention of a spa day. "I mean, it can be whatever we want. Mud baths, massages, mani-pedis. We can just relax and be pampered."
"I'm not gonna lie, that idea is pretty exciting, I could really go for it," says the Optimist thoughtfully "You know, just get _thoroughly_ all cleaned up, and hair brushed back, and massaged. And everything done perfectly. Like, even henna for you." It will not show up much on his skin "And we could go to a steam room. And then maybe have one of those consultants who tells you how to dress really well-" He pauses, and he pats Briar's leg, suddenly "Yes, exactly. If we think of all of our awful, horrible things - things that aren't even our _fault_. Just...well. That feels like punishing myself for the colour of my eyes."
"I would love henna," Briar says, "on my hands and feet. Then I'll dress up nicely and just be pretty." They sigh softly. "I like feeling pretty." They rest shoulder to shoulder with Arcade. "I've been pretty lucky," they say, "I've never been anyone particularly bad. I don't have a lot to feel horrible about. But there's always what-ifs and if-onlies." They smile at Arcade softly. "That's a good way of looking at it."
"Harkaway did like Braden, er, kind of. I mean, as much as he could," says the Optimist, rolling his eyes "He wanted to still do things with him, but he knew Braden's family wouldn't let him, and he was impressed by Mira, so he wasn't going to try anything. She's probably one of the few women he ever considered sleeping with, I think. She'd have probably killed him." Then he says brightly "So what does feeling pretty mean to you? I mean, stop me if I'm asking personal questions. I'm just interested - others think of themselves as ciphers here. But you don't."
"Braden still wanted to do things with Harkaway," Briar admits, "but he was trying to put his marriage back together, so he was being good." They take Arcade's hand and hold it. They grin. "Mira's a force of nature." They glance down at their painted toenails. "I like my hair looking nice, and wearing makeup to make my eyes pop. I like nice fabrics and clothes that flatter my figure." They laugh a little as they add, "I like making Dare's jaw drop. The way he looks at me like I'm the most desireable person in the room."
"Sometimes I wonder about experimenting out here, but it feels sort of frustrating, you know?" says the man "Like I'd be making something up or something. I don't know. Man, maybe I'll change. Or someone else will - who knows, maybe Cheer will end up asexual, that'd be a hell of a thing for her. Ah, I see." He thinks, then he says "I like wearing really bright colours, and I like having glow in the dark patches on my clothing when I'm in a rave, so everyone can see me. I like being this force in the dance, and having others react to it." He grins "I see. Yes, Dare does love you very much. He tells me all the time."
Briar says, "Man, I can't imagine that. Cheer asexual. Maybe I will be sometime. That would take a lot of pressure off, I imagine." Looking Arcade over, they say, "Bright colors suit you. So does dancing. I should go watch you dance sometime, maybe even dance myself. I'm usually wearing such high heels." Then they grin and duck their head. "Dare's so sweet. He gives me way more credit than I deserve. I'm just here, you know?"
"Psh," says the man, amused, and then he leans in again, cheek to cheek, holding Briar's hands suddenly "Man, I don't think I've _ever_ been able to do this before," he says "The pressure is off for you to do anything, yeah. Mostly? There's a lot of 'Well, that's a total waste' said about you, like, I dunno. You're only valuable for the fun you can give someone. That always makes me feel pretty low. But on the other hand, there's other things that I just don't have to worry about." He adds "Do you like platforms?"
Briar relaxes against Arcade and says, "That's an awful thing to say about someone. Like the only value you have is if you're fuckable. I'd be like 'I wouldn't fuck you anyway, pal.'" They give Arc a kiss on the cheek perfectly chaste. "I don't want you to feel low. You're lovely. "I haven't spend much time in platforms, though I do have some in my closet."
"Hmm, I'll say that next time," says Arcade "I do swear a lot, I'm just not great with comebacks." He claps his hands together lightly, and the kiss is well received. Somehow, he is finding his pace, and his level of comfort with the others here "Well, we could get some huge chunky industrial platform boots, I used to dance in..." He remembers he did. But has no real recollection of what it was actually _like_ "So weird," he mutters quietly, and then he says "Okay, we're going to have a spa day, and go dancing - maybe dancing first, then do spa-relax time. Okay. Actually, I feel much better now. Thanks, Briar. I think I might go head for a nap."
"Oh, I'd totally wear some industrial platform boots," Briar says. "It'd be awesome." They hug Arcade again. "I'm glad you feel better, sweet pea. Maybe after your nap, I can do your nails. The best part about the neon yellow is I'll never run out. The bottle is full again every morning."
Instead of repeating all over again that everything is weird, Arcade just hugs Briar tightly. He is _strong_. And he nods and says "Sounds great. Let's dress up." He at least has no shame at all about peacocking around "Alright." And Briar gets a cautious kiss on the cheek as he then heads on back to his own room.