Log:So That Was A Thing
For a time the Scholar just stays in his room, curled up in a ball in his bed (or as close to one as a man his size is capable of, which isn't terribly close, come to it). It takes some time before he realizes he should come out. Yet he can't help but need to know: what if Colorado died too? And Caleb? (Or Lyle...what to call him now...) They would be here, now.
And, of course, he knows Max is here. He recognizes her, in hindsight, though he barely spoke two words to Bella in Prosperity. Like him, she'd a highly visual Devil's Mark, as the townsfolk had been wont to call them. He'd always felt a kinship, even if it was surface level only, with the other people who were silently sneered at for looking remotely different.
He dresses in something Bastian would have worn, more out of unconscious habit than any meaningful decision; a black waffle Henley, denim jeans, and a pair of heavy-soled, indoor slippers. He peers out his room cautiously, like he might encounter someone in the Hall and need to withdraw, but it's quiet for the moment. So he approaches her door, pauses to touch the design, then knocks lightly.
She's only been there maybe twenty minutes longer than he has, but Creepshow likewise has stayed in bed, and unlike him she's small and can curl up quite a bit. And cry. That's basically all she's done - lay in the darkness and quietly let it all out. All the pain, all the frustration, all the sadness and torment. This has been the hardest return for her yet for a number of reasons.
"Go the fuck away!" she calls out, voice raw and broken, when she hears someone knocking. She doesn't know it's him, has no idea he died shortly after she did.
The Scholar isn't, in all honesty, surprised by that response. At least she said something; he'd have been more likely to lay there silently until whomever it was had left. "Max," he says, voice low, because it's the only name he can think to use in response to her voice. He's almost identical, at least in terms of age, here as he was at the Lodge, so he sounds about the same. The inflection is different; Bastian wouldn't have been this hesitant and careful. (He might have even opened the door and gone in, hearing her sound like that.)
"...Bastian?" comes her suddenly small, fragile voice. She sits up a bit in bed, which he can see triggers the lights as light spills out from under the door where darkness had been.
"...You--" She doesn't know what to say. "Come in," she finally allows.
He opens the door, still hesitant. He's heard rumors of what he'd find, and well, they weren't in the least bit exaggerated. Expression carefully neutral (a trick Sebastian knew so well, and Bastian leaned on to a lesser extent), he looks around at the room, taking in images, the floor, the furniture. Eventually he's able to accept it, in its way, as an extension of what Bastian and Max had once discussed: horror films, and her need to drive people out of complacency. Well, if any room could be said to be a horrorfilm, it was this one.
For his part, he's not appreciably different, except in one significant way: his hair. The reason Bastian kept his hair so short is readily apparent, because at almost chin length like it is now, it's a wild and unruly mass of white-flecked, black curls. No doubt Bastian had been entirely unwilling to take care of it out in the middle of Oregon. But the short, salt and pepper beard remains, as do his mismatched eyes and that big streak of white (far more obvious with this much hair).
Once he gets past the intial assault on sanity that is her room, he sees that Creepshow looks a little different. No long, vaguely wavy hair bleached out at the ends. No goth-punk makeup, although the makeup stopped when just surviving became more important. Her hair is straight and dark, a slight wedge that ends a few inches short of her shoulders, and a line of bangs stops just shy of her large, dark eyes. She looks a little older, too. Not a lot, maybe mid twenties. Her face is a bit thinner, features a little sharper. Stronger.
And yet there's the youthful innocence in those large, dark eyes, Max peering out at him from deep inside.
"I like your hair," she manages. She sits in bed, a gray tanktop and mens' boxers on.
The comment makes him self-conscious, and he runs a hand over his hair. "Ah...thank you. I...he, had it long when he was young, but after the war, he kept it short. Out of grief, I think. It was too hard to take care of himself in general, much less something like," he gestures at it, "this."
He steps in further, approaching the bed, taking her in. He's wary; this is only his second time through the cycle, his first set of 'extra' memories and thoughts. Sebastian, angry young man, and Bastian, withdrawn old man, are difficult to sort out. "We killed Nails. Everyone was angry, after losing you." A small, wry smile. "I don't think he stood a chance." He stops within reach of her, leans a little against the bed. "But, he...took me with him." He licks his lips, focuses on a spot on the floor. "I don't know what happened after that. I only just convinced myself to come out of my room now."
She reaches out a small hand for him, offering to pull him onto the bed with her. "I'm sorry," she says quietly. "...I think, given all the losses Bastian suffered, dying after killing that asshole was maybe better than going on living with even more ghosts. I could be wrong." She bites her lip and looks down, shrugging small shoulders.
"You're doing better than me, then. I've been here a bit longer and still haven't come out."
"No, I...I think you're right. I think he was exhausted with burying people. And after finally allowing some to get close again, just to have that cycle repeat..." He shakes his head. "I'm not sure how far he'd have made it, even if he did make it off the island." Another small smile, this one sad. "Long enough to plant your flowers, at least. Maybe not past that, unless Lyle and Ethan had dragged him."
He takes her hand, lets her pull him onto the bed. "Well, I was lucky. The first time, Colorado was there to show me. And this time, I knew you'd be here. I wanted to know how you were doing." He reaches out, traces the line of her very different hair, only just touching it. "I like your hair too," he says after a moment.
"Second spin, yeah?" says Creepy, quirking a 'brow. She snuggles against him, much like Max had, and sighs softly. Her speech is different, here. She doesn't use fuckin' as an adjective and adverb. "I wish I could tell you that it gets easier. Maybe it does for some. But not me. Each time has been harder. Max... I've had four lives now, four different sets of memories and experiences, and Max has felt the most like me of all of them. At first they felt like I'd skinned someone and worn them like a suit. They were not me. But then each one has been a little closer. This last one got in deep. I don't know how I'm going to deal with it, honestly. It's fucking me up."
The Scholar slips his arm around her, pulling her in close and resting his chin on her head as Bastian had. After a moment he realizes she doesn't have Max's back injuries, so he lets his arm rest along the line of her back, where Bastian had always needed to avoid placing it. He takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly. "I'm not sure it will ever be easy, even easier," he says after a time, his voice low and contemplative. "I worry that I'll do something horrible and awful to some of you, and what then? I come back here, do I just," a slight shrug, "carry the weight of a choice I didn't make?" A soft sigh for their impossible situation. "Or, Colorado and I--we were married before. What happens now?" His throat tightens a moment, and he clears it to force away thoughts of the worst kind. No, no. That's for later. Now he's here with her, which helps.
He strokes her hair. "I'm sorry that it's getting worse for you. That this one was especially hard."
She didn't realize how much she'd wanted to feel that, his hand on her back, until just then. Creepy's eyes tear up, but she holds it together. "We've had our share of outright bastards here," she tells him. "People who fucked over others. Hard. Most of us let it go in here, because we know we don't choose who we are in there. We aren't aware of the bigger picture on the inside. It's not fair to hold that shit against people. We all end up doing something we don't like, and we just live with it. You can't beat yourself up for that shit."
Oh yeah. Colorado. His husband and true love in Prosperity. There's a sudden awkwardness that hits her. She'd been the one to offer Colorado support last time when he woke up here without Sebastian and was terrified Sebastian wasn't one of 'them'. Now here she is, all snuggled up to Bastian. "If you'd rather we not... I dunno... do this," she says quietly, starting to slip from his embrace.
Panic hits the Scholar; both for the thought of Colorado and the unavoidable awkwardness, and from feeling her pull away. He tightens his hold, makes himself stop almost immediately. Two different people at war inside him over what, precisely to do.
"I--I think this is alright, at least," he says, not stopping her despite badly wanting to. "Until I can speak with him. He might not..." It's a struggle, to make himself say it. "He might not even want that. Anymore." He looks away a moment, struggles to get himself back under control. It takes some work, but he's successful. "I don't think he'd want me to," he swallows, "I don't think he'd expect us to not be close. Not after all that." He faces her again; his eyes are bright, his expression clouded. "I wish I knew why this was happening to us."
When he tries to hold onto her, Creepshow stops her retreat. She needed to know he still wants her there. She's still, quiet, letting him work through everything in his own time. When he speaks again, she nods, finally looking back up at him. "I know we only had, what, a week? And you and he had months. But I..." She stops, catches herself.
"Max was falling hard for him. I've only felt that way one other time - as Bella, with Nolan. Ethan. He and I have died side by side three times in a row. Now here I am. It's difficult for me, too."
He relaxes some when she doesn't keep pulling away, strokes her back again, as much for himself as her. "It was an intense week," he says, chasing it with a helpless laugh. "I think Bastian was as well," he admits. "He already had some experience, with relationships formed under similarly difficult circumstances. I suppose he was somewhat inclined to it as a result. And Max was...she found her way in at a time when he was convinced that might not be possible anymore." He lets that sit between them, this strange new development in the face of what's come before.
He frowns, murmurs, "Three times," under his breath. He starts to imagine that for himself and Colorado, has to stop a second later. "You're stronger than anyone realizes, to have gone through that and remain in one piece. I think I'd be hiding under my bed, to see that happen to Colorado more than one." It eases him some, to know he's not alone in this odd, confusing situation. "I suppose once they're back, we can...see how they feel." He tells himself he's not utterly terrified of how that's going to turn out, isn't surprised when it fails to take. Maybe after some gin.
"It's okay," she tells him quietly. "First love. True love. I know that I'm not him, never will be him." She does pull away now, to reach for a bottle of black rum on her night stand and hits it, then offers it over.
"Three, yeah. And I feel horrible for even thinking this, let alone saying it, but... I'm glad it was you that knocked on my door. I shouldn't say that. It's not going to make things easier on you."
He lets her go, reluctantly yet without clinging. He accepts the bottle and takes a drink, studies it. "I don't know how much I believe in 'first' and 'true', but..." He turns the bottle in his hands, regards her again. "When I was a young man, living in a family that made it clear we would be useful or we would be fed to a demon, raised to believe that this," he gestrues at his hair and eyes, "meant I was unclean and demonic, he called me brave and beautiful. I think I'd follow him to the end of the Earth for that alone, if nothing else." He takes another drink, offers the bottle back.
"It's alright--it doesn't have to be easy. That it isn't, means it was something important. I'd almost rather that, than...the alternatives," he says. He smiles at her, in bitter and mututal regret, ducks his head. "Because, when I was an older man, forced to fight in a war I wanted no part of and left broken and barely functional, torn apart by all the people I'd lost, you didn't look at him and see someone ugly or terrifying for being covered with scars."
"Max didn't," Creepshow agrees. "I didn't. I saw the strength, pain and humnanity under those scars, shaped by those scars." She lifts a hand to his face, eyes meeting his. "And you saw someone who desperately wanted someone to accept her, just hold her as she is and not let go." Her eyes go glassy, and her breath hitches.
She looks down, hand leaving his face and going to her own, covering it. "With Nolan, we were already together when that life really started. It was a part of who we already were. Those postcard memories of everything before the story starts that you know about but don't quite feel. But you... You found me, accepted me and cared about me in the story. And you knew exactly who and what I am, what all this is about." She gestures vaguely around the room with her other hand. "It was real, not something written into us. So everything you just said you feel for him, I feel that for you, and it's fucking killing me."
The Scholar shuts his eyes when she touches his face, sighing softly and listening. He trembles a little, almost looks scared. When her hand pulls away he opens his eyes again, winces as she covers her face. He reaches up to stroke Creepy's hair. "I'm sorry. I mean--not that...I don't want to hurt you. Either of you, because you've both meant so much to me, in your own ways. As you said, I wasn't, made, to be with either of you. It happened, on its own, in its own time. What I was, you both accepted, without prompting, without being forced to it. You had a choice, and you choice me."
He struggles a moment, trying to think of what to say, if anything. "I won't push you away. I don't want to be nothing to you, or you to me. But, I also understand if it's not..." He stops, his hand stilling on the back of her neck. "If he still wants to be with me, I understand if it's easier for you, if we don't...if we're not close." He clears his throat. "I'll respect that, if it's what you want."
"I don't have a dick," Creepy says through her hand. "I'm not wanting you all to myself. I'm not jealous of him, not like that, at least. I'm just afraid that what you feel isn't what I do. I've probably fucked a quarter of the people in this place in one life alone. I don't need or expect monogamy."
She lowers the hand and looks up at him. "I just don't want to be shut out."
The Scholar blinks several times at the first thing she says. Understanding settles in, and he breathes a sigh of relief. He drops his hand down her back. "I'm...honestly, I don't know what I feel. I mean--I..." He lets out a short, sharp breath. "I don't want to shut you out. Not at all. The part of me that was, and still is, Bastian, needs you very much. I don't know if it's a part of me Colorado will entirely understand the way you did." He raises his eyebrows at Max. "Just like the part of me that will always be Sebastian needs Colorado a great deal. I don't like to think about not meaning anything to either of you, or being without you." He swallows, because now that he's said it, it's hard not to think of. It takes him a moment, but he manages to will that possibility away. "I don't want to be without you," he repeats, since it feels like the most important point to make.
She nods and snuggles back into him again. That seems to be what she needed to hear.
"He had other partners this life," she notes. "It... might be something he's okay with. I eouldn't panic just yet."
The Scholar gathers her up gladly, stroking her hair and kissing the top of her head. "It might be," he says. He even manages to believe it, at least somewhat. He laughs, soft and quiet. "Sebastian had a tendency to panic at the drop of a hat. It's nice, knowing what it feels like to not be that way." Even if Bastian had learned how to do that they hardest possible way.
She nods her head against his chest. "I'll hold off on fucking you senseless until you work it out with him," says Creepshow. "Though it takes a great deal of effort. See the sacrifices I make for you?"
He laughs deep in his chest, squeezing Creepy for a moment. "I'm grateful for your sacrifice, and won't take it for granted," he assures her. A pause, then, "What do you want me to call you?" He tilts his head back, looks down at her. "Max? Something else?"
"So far, I've just gone by whatever people call me," she answers quietly. "Which changes a lot. Esme. Ramona. Bella or Lupe. Now Max." A shrug. "Max is okay. You?"
"Bastian," the Scholar says without hesitation. "I don't think I'll be letting go of that name. Not any time soon." He lets out a long, slow breath, the sorting of a lot of complex emotions having left him exhausted. He murmurs, "Max, then," and runs a hand down her back. "Did you know, it wasn't his first name. Just his calling name." He sounds amused. "He'd hate it if you knew his first name, though."
"Max hated Maxine," she notes. "So spill, or I'll tickle it out of you."
The Scholar wonders, for a moment, if he's ticklish. He's not sure he knows. He weighs the merits of finding out, decides to tell her anyways. "Einar," he says, pronouncing the name with a lilt. "His parents, they were from Norway and Denmark. They gave him an old Norse name. He hated it, so as soon as he could, he started using part of his middle name. Sebastian. But, just Bastian."
"Sebastian was your name last time, too," Creepy notes. "Some of us do that. No idea how. We had a girl, always named Addie. Colorado's been that three times in a row, now, since his first appearance. Me, I always get something new."
"Mmmm. Well, Sebastian's a nice enough name--except, St. Sebastian met a rather grisly end. Shot with arrows, then clubbed to death at the Emperor's command for converting members of the army. Some say he was the Emperor's lover, though the Church won't ever admit to that, of course." The Scholar is vaguely amused by the implications for him. He muses, "Hopefully if I wind up the lover of a powerful person in one of these stories I'll know enough to keep my counter-culture religion a little more under the radar." He thinks back to the Lodge. "How long will it be, in here, until they're with us?"
A smirk and a snort. "Let's hope," Creepshow says.
His question gets a blink and tilt of her head. "No idea. It varies. We cdan go look?"
"In a moment," the Scholar murmurs against her hair. "For now I want this. Sitting here with you, holding you, without all of that hanging over us." He smiles against her. "It's a nice change."
"It is," Creepshow admits, snuggling closer. "Nothing can happen to us here. Not until we get thrown in the next round."
The Scholar makes a low sound of agreement. "We'll just have to make the most of it, then." He sounds like he's drifting off; considering the stress their minds have both been under, perhaps that's not a surprise.