"I've made an interesting discovery," says Creepshow as she leads the way through an anywhere door. They emerge in daylight, a desert hill somewhere overlooking a valley, a sprawling city off in the distance and a highway not too far off below. There are cars driving on it, and the haze of smog hangs over the city.
"It looks like our benevolent overlords have upgraded our amenities. I went to get some seeds, opening the door with the basic thought of wanting to be somewhere I could find cosmos atrosanguineus. I came out in a fucking plant nursery with employees and shit. I almost lost my shit."
The Scholar nods at Creepshow as she opens the door, expecting her discovery to be...anything but this. He stares around them, noting first not even the cars (or the suggestion of people driving them) but the sounds. There's birds and insects, something that had been lacking in his last trip into one of these rooms, and it had set him entirely on edge.
"Upgraded," he says, echoing the word. He stares at the highway, watching the cars, then the city. It makes him nervous, really. It almost feels like being back in one of their lives. Which could be the idea; an unpleasent thought.
The item she'd been after draws him out of these less-than-happy ponderings. "You went and got some of the seeds?" he asks, smiling down at her.
"I wonder why they did it," muses Creepshow, standing beside him and looking out at the view. In the way-off distance is a hint of the ocean. "Was it because they knew we were unhappy with it? Or because this makes it even more painful to leave? I... kinda stayed a while, wandered. It was a nursery back home in Guadalajara. The whole damn city was there. My fucking mother was there. Max's mother. She acted like I was home visiting for a weekend. I stayed."
She looks over and up at him. "For the whole weekend. I slept in my bed, woke up in the morning. Like everything was fucking normal. I thought I was losing my mind. But when I went back to the nursery, the door out was still there. When I came out, the people who had been eating in the dining room were just finishing up their meal. Not even thirty minutes had passed, but I'd been 'home' for a fucking weekend."
She nods and sighs, looking down as she pulls out a handful of seeds from her pocket. "They aren't exactly extinct in the wild, you know. There's still a lot in Mexico."
The Scholar swallows at her description. Possibilities leap into his mind; he doesn't like any of them. What does it mean, that he can open a door and go back to the Oregon or Nevada he knew? The definitions of reality blurred when you could, in effect, will people into existing this way. If he opened a door to Prosperity, would Olivia be there, and Rhiannon and Artemis? Could he go to Texas and speak with Jack Jones?
He turns his attention back to the seeds. He can think about it later. Maybe experiment with it. Or maybe not. (Probably not, he's too terrified.) "I read that they found that out the other day. I was looking them up based on..." His voice dies. Based on the last things they'd said to each other. He clears his throat. "A botanist from Mexico began researching, and found wild specimens that had been overlooked." He takes in the hill around them more properly now. "Is this where you wanted to plant them?"
Based on... "Yeah," says Creepshow, nodding solemnly, gaze still down on the seeds in her hand. "I mean, yeah, they still exist And I thought here was as good as anywhere. It's not like this place is real, so I guess it doesn't matter, but a little hill overlooking LA was what we'd discussed. So here we are."
"Here we are." He reaches down to stroke her hair. "Thank you, this is wonderful." His voice is warm, and he smiles again despite the other unnerving discovery she's made. "I wish they'd been able to plant them together. He wanted to do that." He ducks his head. "He wanted it pretty badly, actually." He seems like he might say more, then doesn't. He rests his hand in the small of her back.
Silence for a time, neither his stroking her hair nor her back getting her to look up. "Part of me is angry," Creepshow says at last, soft. "That I died protecting you, and you fucking went and got killed a few minutes later, anyway." Her diction in this form or persona is better than Max's was, like her actually pronouncing the 'g' in 'fucking'. She sounds a bit older.
"But then I remember everyone you'd already lost, and I added my name to that list."
The Scholar sighs, soft and full of regret. "I think it's fair to be angry at him--me, for that." Something makes him almost laugh, and he rubs at his eyes with his free hand. "You gave up your life so that maybe I'd make it out and I utterly failed to respect that. The only thing I was thinking was..." Had he (Bastian, really) been thinking? He has to go over it a few times in his mind. "For once, I'd be able to strike back at what had actually taken someone from me. Make it pay." A useless gesture, ultimately, not just because of their circumstances. Nails had been a dead man trapped as a ghost. All Bastian had done was set him free.
"Though, even if he had survived that...I don't know how long he'd have made it after." But they've had that conversation before. "I think if someone thought to put it that way he'd have found it in him to do right by your sacrifice."
"I get it," Creepshow says. "Really, I do. I... I never survive these things. Haven't survived a single one yet. Maybe I'm not supposed to. Dying kind of seems to be my thing - I've died more times than anyone else here. I'm not sure what I'd do if I actually lived. Am I capable of a happy ever after?" There's a half-laugh, half-sob at that, and she wipes at her face with her free hand.
"We knew each other less than two weeks. I won't pretend my death was insurmountable for you, but I know you'd lost a lot of people. Maybe one more was too much, even if it was some dumb kid you barely knew."
"I don't think happily ever after is real," the Scholar says, gently, and steps a little closer to her, properly putting his arm around her. "Or, it wasn't for me, last time around. We managed, but it wasn't...what we would have wanted, or imagined. Any of us." So much loss at the hands of the demons, on all sides. "I don't think death is the only thing there is for you. At least, I hope not. You're entirely capable of making the most of surviving, whatever that might be."
For the rest, he can't deny her logic, doesn't try to. Save for one bit. "Hardly dumb," he says. "She, and you, are wise in a number of ways. That's what a life like yours does to a person. He and I value that a great deal."
Creepshow turns and leans into him, crying silently in his arms. "I don't think so," she says after a time. "It feels like a part of my DNA. I don't change age much from one life to the next. I don't think I'm supposed to grow old, or even capable of it. Like I'm perpetually this twenty-something freak that's meant burn strange and twisted, then flicker out."
More silence follows.
Then: "I know it's stupid to say, especially now, and I'll hate myself for it later, but... She loved him. Maybe I do, too."
The Scholar wraps his arms around Creepshow, rests his head on hers. Reluctantly, he allows, "Maybe." He's quiet a time, the kind that suggests he's thinking over what he wants to say. "Or maybe the circumstances haven't been right for you to keep burning. Maybe you're still looking for that, whatever it is. I'm sorry it's this hard on you, though."
He kisses the top of her head. "It's not stupid. Risky or iffy, perhaps. Like you said, we barely knew each other. But...I hope you don't. Hate yourself for it later, I mean." He smiles, sad for what didn't get to happen. Would any of it have worked, long term? Hard to say. And yet. "He adored her. He didn't have any idea how to say those kinds of things anymore, but...he wanted to try."
"She knew," says Creepshow. "I knew. I could tell. You were different with me than you were with anyone else, though you covered it up in public well enough. No one ever treated me like you did, either, none of the guys I'd dated or been with. It's why I fell so hard so fast. You understood me, and when you didn't, you still accepted me. I was allowed to just be me."
She turns and looks up at him at last, going up on tiptoes to kiss him.
"Let's plant these. Then I'll show you another island I died on. I sacrificed myself to lift a curse on an ancient, forgotten tribe. Then we can go to space and you can meet sexbot me."
Plans. She has them.
The Scholar returns the kiss, sweet and light. "He was with people before, who were like that for him. That's how he knew to be that way." He stroke's Creepshow's face. "And you did that for him too, so...I think it's safe to say the feeling was mutual."
He raises his eyebrows. "Sexbot?" Colorado had given the Scholar only the most perfunctory of descriptions from that time, as he hated to think of 'Bates' at all. He'd definitely not mention sex robots. "Dying to lift a curse, well, that sounds familiar." He does, however, sound like he wants to see said island. He nods. "Yes. Who knows, perhaps we'll come back and they'll be growing."
"They got nuked," Creepshow says of the lost tribe with a frown. "I tend to die for nothing at the end of things. I try, but it doesn't matter. Esme and Max died trying to save people, and those people died anyway. Bella and Ramona made a bit more of an impact, maybe. Ramona died dozens of times, though. It's what she was made for."
She tugs gently at his hand and leads him off to plant the seeds. "But yeah. Maybe these can live and grow. It would be a nice change of pace."
A grimace for Ramona's unfortunate state of affairs, and that he winds up with the island that got nuked under the category of 'deaths that didn't matter'. Well, he only has himself to blame for the later. He assures her, "It mattered to me."
She leads and he follows, saying, "That would be a very nice change of pace," and decides, like Bastian, to hope for it this time.