More than a week has passed since the Athlete and the Vigilante awoke in The Facility, which the Athlete keeps likening to a hotel. The others don't seem as willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Time is measured in durations of unconsciousness. In resets where everything goes back to the way it was. There are no other clocks. Not really. There is no sun, no candles, no falling sand, and definitely nothing remotely mechanical that could drive it.
The Athlete ran into the Vigilante while eating breakfast; an Egg McMuffin, of all things. The replicators really do make just about anything. "Do you want to see my room?" he had asked, having brought it up several times but never pushing for it to be a thing. He quick prints a bottle of water to take back with him, hoping she will say yes.
The Vigilante has a smoothie. She ate something, too, but she definitely has a smoothie. It's a bright pinkish-purple. She looks about as scowly as ever, which is kind of offputting, but then... Mallory had that resting bitchface problem, too. She seems to consider his offer for a moment before nodding, sliding down off the table. For some reason, she sits ON tables and not in the chairs helpfully accompanying them for whatever reason. "Sure."
The Facility isn't big, there's no need to lead, so it's sort of a simultaneous trip that ends with them both at the door. "Can you open the door?" he asks, curious if someone who isn't him can. There's no visible lock on it at all. Should she try, the answer will inevitably turn out to be "no"... for some reason. A minor relief. Then, the Athlete will open the door and invite the Vigilante inside.
The Vigilante obligingly reaches out and jimmies the handle. She gives the door a good jimmying and push before retreating and shaking her head. "Nope." A slurp on her smoothie, and she steps inside, her gaze flicking around the room. "You weren't kidding about it being like a hotel," she tells him. Curious, she makes her way over to the desk to peer at the stationary. "No letterhead. Of course," she mutters.
There's no letterhead, but there are pieces of paper with writing in a very deliberate hand. There's no need to rush when meditating upon what happened and what you can remember. "No. That's weird, right? What would it have hurt to put a Hilton logo or something on it? I don't think anyone thinks Hilton is holding us captive," the Athlete says. He sits on the edge of his bed. He made it. Of course he makes his bed.
She is not at all surprised he makes his bed. Vigilante nods, resuming her tour of the room. She pokes her head into the bathroom, and then back out, and looks at the bed for but a moment. Then she's looking at the paintings. "It's a very nice hotel room, at least. These paintings seem... good? Just nicer than I expected, I guess?"
"I wonder if I drowned," he says quietly. "I don't remember it, but would I? I can't stop looking at the paintings and the way the light shines through the waves." Crack. The Athlete opens the waterbottle and takes a drink. There's nother on the night table, mostly empty. "Is it any thing like your room?"
The Vigilante shakes her head, then sucks on the smoothie's straw. It's a big smoothie, but she kind of works through them fast. "This is a lot nicer than mine. Mine's like... a shitty first apartment. But very clean. If you drowned, do you think this is some kind of weird afterlife or something?"
"It kind of is, for the Scholar and the Addict--uh, Briar--right?" The Athlete asks. He tilts his head at her description of her room. "I wonder why our rooms are different. I think I spent a lot of times in rooms like this as Warren. Away games and stuff like that. I could spend a long time here and never figure anything out."
The Vigilante leans against the wall next to a painting, careful not to bump it. "Maybe my room is the kind of place Mallory would have if she lived in a city," she says, her tone thoughtful. "I think this place is designed so we never figure anything out. That bothers me."
"We spent a lot of time figuring things out when we were in Oregon," The Athlete points out, aiming the mouth of his water bottle at her before capping it once again. "I still think it's sort of a reward. A chance to recharge ourselves..." Which means they are destined to go through all this shit once again. "Not to think with my stomach, but there's a shower I fit in and all the pizza rolls I can eat. I have read four books in a week. I don't even think Warren brought a book, that's why he had to go ask Mallory for one."
Oh, is that the only reason? That's a question Vigilante doesn't ask, though. It would be kind of a flirtatious one, and Vigilante has... not been flirtatious. At all. "Figuring things out in Oregon was part of a... setting. Like a game. A really awful game. I mean, even if this place is a reward, it's like when they give a rat a bit of cheese because it ran through a maze. The rat's still not free. The cheese tastes good, but it's still a lab rat."
"If that's a game, then this is the lobby. Or, to use your analogy, the cage. Maybe we are being tested somehow, but..." He falters, because he wanted to use a name and that's not really a thing. "Maybe that's what life is anyway? Just a test. A simulation. That's some deep metaphysical weirdness there, and I am not equipped to deal with it. Maybe after a few months in the library or something." The Athlete stands up and then leans on the edge of the desk. "Are you lonely here? I didn't think it was going to be possible to be lonely with so many people around."
The Vigilante frowns, her brow furrowing. She takes a deep, long suck on her straw, maybe to buy time. "...Maybe?" she finally says, reluctantly at that. "That feels... normal, to me. Like being lonely is something I've felt for a very, very long time. Like it's something deeper and longer than even Mallory. Why are you lonely? You're very... outgoing. And likeable." He is so damn likeable.
The Athlete colors a little and looks down in a way that makes the 'aw shucks' almost an audible sound. He's got a smile on his face, but it's aimed at his bare feet. "Well," he says, looking up, and sideways, at the Vigilante. "I'm not even sure I know myself. That is a special kind of alone. I almost feel like I know you better than I know me. I knew you were going to have a smoothie. I know what kind of face you will make if someone compliments you. I know that if someone gets hurt, you desperately want to hurt the person who did it."
"I like smoothies," Vigilante says, a little defensively. After a moment, her shoulders relax, and she tilts her head to regard him. "If it helps, I know you're kind. You're thoughtful, way more thoughtful than me, and curious. You take joy in life. Anything you can. You're relentlessly optimistic. You're just very... alive."
Well. It's hard to argue that. The Athlete smiles at the Vigilante and shrugs his shoulders. "Thanks," he says. "It's nice to hear that after I've been trapped in my head for a bit. I went for a run yesterday, in the anywhere room. Just ran and ran until I couldn't move any more--" Sounds exactly like him. "And then I fell asleep. I kind of felt like an animal out in the woods, you know? When I got up and left, there were still people talking in the hall. I don't even get how that happens, but it was pretty amazing. I think you could spend days in there and only a little bit of time would pass here. I bet that's why it always seems to be open."
"Another bit of cheese," Vigilante says, her nose wrinkling. "I use the gym. Or one like it. I make a kind of boxing place? Lots of bags and pads to kick and punch. I run sometimes, too, but I didn't think to make a forest." She digs her thumbnail thoughtfully into the thick styrofoam of her smoothie cup, scraping a line.
"Really? I made it because of Mallory. Zero fish people or giant beavers, though," the Athlete confirms. "A nice creek. Lots of berries. Actual trails because what would happen if I turned my ankle? How do you get back to the door? I have no idea." He shoves up from the desk and moves closer to the Vigilante. "What do you mean cheese? Like for us. As mice?"
"Rats. Lab rats," Mallory confirms. Her thumbnail stops probing the outside of the cup when he comes closer. "The anything rooms as a possible reward for running the maze. Mazes. I have no idea what the next story will be like."
"Mice are cuter," he suggests, offering her a small but encouraging smile. Ever the optimist. "But I guess rats are probably smarter. There's definitely some weird time stuff going on, though. I feel like I ran all day yesterday. I can tell in my tendons and my muscles. But it couldn't have taken more than fifteen minutes. So I didn't just go in and have a dream."
The Vigilante finishes her smoothie (at least, that's what it sounds like, given the ruckus) and toys with the straw. Her nails have black polish on them. "You'd think that would do weird things to our age," she says, frowning. "Then again, I look older than Mallory did. I think... ages change in the stories? Someone mentioned that."
The Athlete watches for a little bit. He's quiet. "I don't think these are really our bodies anyway. They are bodies. They might even be based on us, but people died. And now they're fine. And we do look a little different," he says. "Did Mallory paint her nails? I don't really remember." He reaches out and lightly touches his fingertip to hers, illustrating the point with a point.
The Vigilante is still for a moment before pulling her hand back, turning it, and loosely curling her fingers so she can look at her nails. "She didn't. Was a bit stupid to, tromping around in the woods all the time. Here? I chip it training, but doing it over gives me something to do, so..." she trails off.
"No, It's nice," the Athlete says with a smile. The temptation to go utterly to shit when trapped, even in luxury, is the first siren song of dipression. "I think it suits you. Just like that badass leather jacket." The athlete isn't wearing anything so bulky today; a tee and a thin pullover with a pair of jeans. Shoes are for athletics. He mostly goes barefoot. Big bare feet. Someone might have shot him in Oregon if he'd tried it there. "If you got to pick, where would you go next?"
The Vigilante is wearing the jacket now, of course. She really only takes it off when she's wearing exercise clothes. Presumably, she doesn't sleep in it, either. "Uhh. Thanks." He's still rather near. She folds her arms across her stomach, the empty smoothie cup tucked against her side. "Where would I go next, story-wise, or anywhere room?"
"I'm not sure the difference is going to be, except that you'll have all of us there story-wise. Let's go with that one," the Athlete says, apparently oblivious to the Vigilante's inability to take a compliment. If anything, he's smiling just a little bit. It's kind of how he expected her to react, and knowing that feels good. It's nice to know something.
"I don't know," is Vigilante's immediate reply. She frowns again. "Maybe... a detective story? Noir? Except the cast would be gigantic. I don't know how that would work."
"Are you going to be the detective or the femme fatale?" he asks. Things like lounge singer don't even enter his mind. "I'm pretty sure I'd end up with suspenders and a handkerchief so I could stick people up, if that were where we were going." English is an awful construct. 'Were where we were' Jesus.
The Vigilante eyes him, like he should know the answers to this. "Detective," she tells him. "Femme fatale's a lousy role. You'd be a police detective, maybe. I can't see you being the bad guy." But she might, one day. And she might be one, too. Maybe not even the same story.
The Athlete would have made a fantastic Trigger Twin. "Well, maybe. A cop, not the detective, though. That's probably someone grizzled and tough, like Bastian was. Femme fatale isn't bad, if you don't mind that you might lose in the end." The Athlete cocks his head at her, clearly imagining something but not telling her what it is.
"I don't like losing," Vigilante replies, frowning. And he's looking at her like that, and her eyes narrow. Against her better judgment, she demands, "What?"
"Nothing," the Athlete teases, playing it off. She could almost certainly get it out of him. He's playing with her, and she knows it.
The Vigilante continues to eye him grumpily. She seems reluctant to pursue this, but she's also curious. Especially when he teases her. "What?" she demands again, fixing him with a very stern look, like obeying her is something he should really do and he should know that. (It isn't.)
"I know you don't like losing," he redirects, pretending to answer her insistent what even though it very obviously isn't the what she wants him to answer. "I thought the danger might appeal to you." The athlete shifts his stance and lightly bumps his hip against hers. Before she can protest, he says. "I was just thinking about which role might suit you best in a noir."
The Vigilante makes an annoyed face at his redirection, which includes an eyeroll and is also familiar, though there doesn't seem to be real ire behind it. Just a very good approximation. And he is still very close, and getting closer. And her back is againt a wall. Something in her bristles at that, but she doesn't move. Yet. She's just very conscious of both their bodies. This is probably something she should know better than to pursue. "...What role is that?"
Now it's his turn to roll his eyes a little, a sigh escaping through the Athlete's nose as the tension in the situation bleeds out a little and he slips away from her once again. Prey escaping after flirting with danger, perhaps. "You're the detective," he tells her, as if it were totally obvious. "Someone comes to you to get answers. To get vengeance. I'm the cop that can give you a report, or maybe, just maybe, look the other way."
She answered right, then. Or wrong. Or... she's not sure. She steps away from the wall, walking her cup to the desk and dropping it into the trash can located predictably next to it. She's turned her back to him to do it. Another familiar thing: she turns away to hide her facial expression at times. When she doesn't want to be read. Of course, the fact she turned away at all is something that can be read. "Better than the femme fatale," she grumbles. "Probably a lot more comfortably dressed, too. Did they even have women detectives in noir?" She looks over his shoulder at him then.
"Maybe? I don't really know." They did, though they were often called reporters instead. Same story role, fewer guns. "You might look good in a button down shirt with a tie. Maybe a shoulder holster for a gun and a trenchcoat." If she's not looking at him, she can't see his appraising glance. "I'm lost on the pants, though. Slacks? A skirt? You would go with slacks and boots, I bet." Oh. She looked over her shoulder and caught him scrutinizing her. It's not entirely the worst, he's not just staring at her butt. Why isn't he?
She's got good legs, too, encased in black jeans. She catches him looking and blinks twice. Averting her gaze, she moves to the desk and, after a hesitation, sits down on it. Not the chair. Never the chair. "...Slacks and boots," she finally says. "You could work a tie, too. And, um, the suspenders."
The Athlete drifts closer, not quite pinning her to the desk, but closing the distance all the same. He nods when she confirms that he's right. He was pretty sure he was. "I could," he agrees, nodding. "I'd look good in a tie. But, I mean--" her shrugs a little. "There may not even be any one to look good for," he points out. "Ties are just as impractical as heels and skirts, right? Dangerous as heck in a fight of some sort." It's basically the law to wear a tie in a noir, Athlete.
"I'd rather a tie than heels and skirts," Vigilante says, though she sounds a little distracted. "Plus I don't think I've ever seen a noir where men don't wear ties, even if they're just loose. Not that I've seen many noir movies." Mallory used to talk to distract herself, too. "Why do you think you have a tuxedo?" she abruptly demands. They're talking about clothing! It's a normal question!
"Formal events," he says, rolling with the radical redirection of the conversation. "Sometimes there are award dinners, promotions, sponsorship meetings, things like that." He waves his hand. "Not here, I mean, but... I'm obviously the Athlete, right? That's the only reason I can think of, though a tux is a little formal even for that. Did I tell you I have boxers that just have a bunch of footballs all over t hem?"
"Yeah, but, can you see the lot of us holding an awards ceremony?" Vigilante prompts. Then there are boxers. "Uh, no, you never mentioned the boxers. I can't think of any time we discussed underwear, though, so I think the omission is fine. Nor will we discuss it in the future." It is super hard to come up with an excuse to leave a place when you have nothing but time. At least a way to do it casually. Vigilante is thinking about Mallory memories now and she would dearly like not to.
"Yep, footballs," the Athlete agrees. "All over my butt." He nods seriously, but his lips are pulling up at the corners as he fails to hide a mischevous smile. "Not a lot of ambiguity about who I am. Warren with a football butt." He turns then, and mounts the desk next to her, not sliding quite as far up onto it, but not just leaning on it either. "What's your wardrobe like? All leather and silk and denim?" Because that's all that is really on display.
He needs to stop talking about his butt. Thankfully, he does. Except the new topic isn't much better. "Denim and cotton and some wool," she tells him. "The jacket's an exception." She does not have a closet full of leather and silk garments and she is happy to ruin any idea that she does. Vigilante rests her hands on her knees, shooting him a sidelong look bordering on warning.
The Athlete looks innocent, whether in fact or through practice. "Natural fibers. Nice. I didn't take you for someone who would wear wool, but it's really good for outdoors stuff. I think almost everything in my closet, with the exception of the jeans and some of the underwear, is synthetic." He plucks at the thin pullover where it puckers in his elbows. He long ago pushed them up--the facility isn't cool enough for him to need to really lean into whatever a North Face is.
The Vigilante is determined to wear the jacket. Maybe she's just cold usually, or maybe she likes being sweaty. Hard to say. It's usually short sleeves under that thing, though. "It's kind of gimmicky," she tells him. "That much athletic wear. Like you need to be able to suddenly play basketball at a moment's notice. Just in case a game breaks out in the dining room or something."
"You don't know. Maybe I should just wear the Speedos, in case the hallway floods and we suddenly have to swim laps to get back to our room," he suggests. "Good thing I'm not the Mascot. I'd hate to have a closet of fifty animal suits and one tired baseball cap." He wears a wry grin and nudges her a little with his elbow. He's sure she can smile.
The Vigilante's eyes roll up toward the ceiling. She tips her head back, too, as if imploring the flat surface to give her some kind of strength. Speedos. Why? "Sounds hot. And itchy." A pause. Wait, she just left herself wide open there. Wide open. "I mean temperature-wise, hot," she says, shooting him a glare before he can say anything. Hopefully. He might just say something anyway.
The Athlete's mouth is already open to reply, but it just turns into the shittiest of shit eating grins and he breaks into a laugh. "This is so awkward. I've got all these left over feelings from when I was Warren and the same things I liked about you then I still like about you now," he says. "I knew what you meant, but I'm not the only one feeling this, right?"
"Nnnnnnnnnnnn," says Vigilante, confronted by earnestness and a direct question. Put on the spot. She bites her bottom lip, making a face. Mallory didn't like direct questions about feelings, either. "It. Is awkward," she allows. "I remember..." So many things. Play-kicking at the breakfast table, like very competitive footsie. Lazy Sunday mornings in bed, slow but steady. "It's really awkward," she finally says, hazarding a glance at him.
Putting a name on it does lessen the tension somewhat. The heat and memories are still there, of course, but it isn't just one of them that can feel it. It helps. A little. "It doesn't have to be awkward," the Athlete says. "You don't owe me anything because of our past. I don't owe you anything either. But, I do like being around you and I do sometimes look at your butt when I think you're not looking." He flashes her a smile. She had her awkward, potentially changing everything admission. There was his.
The Vigilante exhales. "Yeah, I thought you were," she tells him, with just a hint of a flush creeping onto her cheeks. She looks away from him, down at her dangling feet. "I still like spending time around you. And I still feel... close to you. Or like I know you? I'm still..." she trails off. "Uh."
The Athlete puts a hand on her shoulder, the arm crossing her back and the waves of dark hair that tumble down it. It's a light touch, but companionable. "I know what you mean. And it might change some day. I have no idea what the next story is going to bring or if we will remember any of this. I... kind of doubt it. At least not when we are there. You might be married to someone, or hate my face for some reason."
"Or be your sister," Vigilante says, her nose wrinkling. She doesn't seem sure what to do with the hand on her shoulder. Said shoulder tenses for a moment, then eases. It's so familiar. "I don't think we remember this when we're in there." Now she's looking down at her hands, picking at a speck of polish just beside the nail. "Just... after. Everything is super awkward."
Well now it's super awkward, but she's not wrong. "Well..." he shrugs. "I'm just going to focus on how I feel now. Because I've got absolutely no way to plan for a future and the past is a big snarl of everybody I know dying. Right now is good food and a comfortable bed and feeling kind of safe, if unable to figure out what is going on." The Athlete gives her a squeeze. It's kind of nice touching someone again.
"Relentless optimism," Vigilante says quietly, though she sounds slightly amused. She glances sidelong at him, thoughtfully. "...It's hard to find things to fill the time, isn't it?"
"Survival tactic," he assures the Vigilante with mock seriousness. "If you get bored or lonely, you can always come find me. I'm sure we can find something to do, even if it's just sparring." He bumps her foot with his leg.
So companionable. She's quiet for a few moments, like she's thinking. Then she stands up, slipping off the edge of the desk. "Right," she says. "Uh. Thanks... Warren." He did say he wouldn't mind being called that. She's starting to back up, toward the door.
The Athlete nods and pushes a little further back onto the desk, enough to swing one leg. "Any time," he offers with a smile. He meant it. "Thanks for, you know, hanging out." It was nice, having someone to talk to for a little while, and he seems a little more relaxed for it.
The Vigilante's head bobs in agreement. "Same," she tells him, and then she's turning around and heading out again. Hopefully he doesn't need to open the door to let her escape, too. That would be quite the design flaw.