Log:The Down Side of Me
The Scholar is sitting cross-legged on the parlor couch, a large, old, hardbound book in his lap. It appears to be an art book of some sort; the pages are thick and glossy, and full of large, ornate images, with descriptive text legends beneath them. The remains of a meal sit on a tray in front of him; a bowl of some sort of hot cereal, pastry crumbs, melon rinds. There's a large mug of tea as well, still steaming.
He's wearing an Oregon State University hooded sweatshirt in dark gray, the school logo on the front in white, denim jeans, and hard-soled slippers. All very Bastian-like clothing when he was lounging around his cabin, though not a particularly Bastian-like book.
The Soldier pads into parlor looking as if she has only just gotten out of bed with a look of confusion on her face that borders on irritation more than a plea for help. Her hair is mussed where it had been rubbed up on the sheets, and yet again she is barefoot in blue running shorts and a blank tank top. Perhaps that is how she is reset every day?
There's a sharp inhale when she spots The Scholar sitting placidly on the couch. "...It's you again." She looks around the room, wondering if anything has changed, before looking back to the man who looks so much like Bastian. He's even sporting an OSU sweatshirt, and her eyes linger on that for a long time. "You and I--did we... talk? Did we meet?" she finally asks with a furrow of her brows.
Unlike the previous time the Soldier emerged, the Scholar stays right where he is on the couch. He surveys her as she comes into the parlor, resting his hands on the open book. "Welcome back," he says, again with that same careful manner that's simultaneously Bastian Roen and someone else who's better with people. Or, a little better, anyways.
"We did," he confirms. "You woke up in here for the first time yesterday." His features crease in apology for that. "Sorry, it's almost never a good experience for anyone, and I'm still new to it myself." He pauses there, waiting to let her take things in again.
"So it wasn't a dream," The Soldier says after a long moment of silence. "But my room, I..." She looks down the hall and then back to The Scholar, as if that gesture could explain her thoughts: how some might have been unfortunate privy to the commotion from her room. The crashing of glass and toppling of furniture that would've dully sounded through the door before she sank into sullen, exhausted silence.
"But I woke up, and everything was..." She works her jaw in confusion and pent-up anger, and exhales.
The Scholar makes a low sound of sympathy, nods and looks down at his book. "Yes. Each time we fall asleep," his green and brown eyes return to her, "and we all do, everything goes back to how it was. If you break anything, it's fixed. If you made a mess, it's clean. If you..." Well, maybe he won't get into that. "If I leave the books in my room scattered all about, they're back on the shelves." He lets out a slow breath. "And, eventually, we'll all fall asleep and find ourselves in another life. Once we pass on, or that life ends, we'll be here," he gestures around them, "again."
He pauses there, runs a hand over the page of the large book in his lap. "I'm sorry," he says. There's a little more of Bastian in his bearing just then; one veteran to another. "It's a difficult thing we're being put through. And there doesn't seem to be a way out."
The Soldier watches The Scholar closely as he explains. Her hands hang loosely by her sides--but it's deceptively relaxed, for her shoulders are squared and her jaws are set tight.
She lets his last words linger for some time in the space between them. And finally she lets out a disbelieving huff of laughter. "Really? I can't--They take away even the satisfaction of... God, what a disaster." She eyes one of the tables in the room with the distinct look of someone evaluating whether they'd win should they take up a fight against it. She reluctantly reconsiders, and stiffly walks over to Bastian instead. Unless he puts up a fight for it, she'd slide the book out of his lap with a hand and peer at the open pages. "I didn't know you had an interest in this," she comments flatly. "At least, he didn't. But he hid a lot of things, too, so maybe he did."
Noting the way the tension still hasn't left her, the Scholar watches the Soldier with a guarded calm that's a mix of two people: Bastian Roen and someone else, someone used to revealing very little of their innner workings in the face of an uncertain and shifting situation. "Yes," he says in tacit agreement to her frustration at being powerless to enact change.
He offers over the book without hesitation; it's an art book of illuminated manuscripts, largely consisting of high resolution photos of whole pages. "No, I don't think Bastian or..." Maybe they shouldn't get into that. "I don't think he had a particular interest in textual illumination. Though maybe you you can argue his field notes were the same thing." He tilts his head, considering a page from the Book of Kells with a distracted look in his eyes. "He hid a number of things, it's true. It was how he learned to survive." He gives her an apologetic look. "He trusted you with more than most, for what it's worth."
Cassandra--no, The Soldier--continues to study the reproduced images. It's not clear if she holds the same appreciation for its contents as The Scholar does just from observing her. She certainly doesn't let on to looking impressed by an excerpt from what could be considered one of the finest works of European calligraphy, what with her furrowed brows and thinly set mouth. But when he looks back up to her with his sideways, conciliatory apology, she finally shifts her focus to the man in front of her, dropping the book back down to his possession.
The Soldier looks taken aback by this gesture. Then she bristles standing over him, now more Cassandra than The Soldier. If not for her hair and her clothes, The Soldier could be her. "Well, we needed you," she says in a low voice. "I tried to get them out." Of where? Lakeview? The tunnels? "But the Freak dropped half of them. Those kids still needed you and you just... After she died, it's like you just didn't give a flying--" Ah, Lakeview, then. The Soldier cuts off there, biting her tongue before she finishes saying something she'll regret later. Not one to go for relieved hugs of joy first, this one.
The Scholar swallows, pulling back a touch at the Soldier's reaction. He can't meet her eyes for a time, choosing instead to consider the book he's holding once more. "Yes, when he..." He stops, considers if it might be easier to simply address this as Bastian, rather than the oddly layered person he feels like in here. He takes a moment, wills Sebastian away (as much as he can). The changes are subtle, but they're obvious, maybe, to the Soldier in the way he looks at her again with no hesitation in meeting her eyes.
"I'm sorry," he says, and sighs. He shakes his head. "I saw Max die and I...something in me died too. You know how that is, I think. And it was just too much. After all those years--the war, HIV, my parents, just--I couldn't deal with it anymore. I didn't want to. And I forgot about the rest of you for a few minutes, and got myself killed. I regretted it the second I woke up here, when I realized I'd abandonned all of you." He looks down at the book again. "I'm sorry, Cassandra. Max gave her life to keep me alive and I just threw it away." He covers his face with one hand.
"Yeah, you fucking did," Cassandra snarls, her voice wavering. "You took the easy way out." (Easy is clearly on a sliding scale here. But taking her word as truth for a moment, could you blame him after everything he's been through? Apparently, she does.) "You were so heroic driving that stake into Nails, no one could point a finger at you for what you did. You're the veteran from Nam, the man who kept everything in line, everyone could come to you if they needed a shoulder or a solution--he lived and died for everyone, sure he did! But you left everyone behind, I had to pick up what you left behind, you--" Her eyes begin to turn pink and stiff as shutters, and she wipes fiercely at them because damn if she'll let Bastian see her cry. Slowly, it becomes clearer that the rage directed so pointedly at Bastian is not just for him to take. A few sharp collecting breaths. "We were killing them just as much as the monsters, Bastian." She uses his first name for the first time in a very long time.
The Scholar lowers his hand, shuts his eyes for a brief moment. "I did," he agrees. "I left it all to you." He's quiet a time, absorbing what she's saying as what she's owed. "And, I don't know that I'll ever be able to make that up to you."
He opens his eyes again, gives her a sad, sympathetic look. "We were," he agrees. "There wasn't any winning in that scenario, not really--we couldn't not ask them to help us, and we couldn't keep them alive. None of us were really prepared for what was going on. We were going to lose a lot of them, one way or another." Oh, it really had been the war, all over again. "I don't...there was nothing we could do about that. So don't blame yourself for it. We didn't choose to be in that situation. We did what we could with what we had. No one could ask more of us than that, so we shouldn't ask it of ourselves." He looks away. "I just wish I hadn't...I wish I'd been able to hold myself together, stick it out with all of you. Be there for you. I apologize, that I didn't. And I know that maybe isn't worth anything, now," he looks up around them at their well-appointed prison, "considering."
Cassandra slowly begins to fade into The Soldier as her anger dissipates. Her piece had been said, chest deeply rising and falling with the effort of expelling these pent-up emotions. She has nothing left to say. Perhaps she'd been waiting to meet some resistance--indignance, maybe--but Bastian, or The Scholar, whoever it is that is in front of her now, has more grace than she anticipated. She's left wondering if she did the right thing.
The Soldier shakes her head. "It's probably worth nothing, now that we're here and breathing," she agrees acidly. "It still goddamn hurts." With that she slowly sinks into the couch by The Scholar, all threat of physical violence that might have been implied prior leaving her body as she hunches over and props her forehead in her hands, looking down in between her feet. "You were tired. Of course you were. I was so angry just now. I wanted to hit you. I really did. But who'd be the sorry one after that?" She pauses. "I'm sorry. You did so much for us. We expected so much from you."
Something in the Soldier's shift in demeanor relieves the Scholar, and he in turn becomes more of that person who's not just Bastian Roen, but a composite of people. He looks back at her, exhausted emotionally behind those mismatched eyes. "No, I suppose it's not." He runs a hand though his unruly hair, makes a face.
"I'm not sure if I'd have let you," he admits. "Bastian would have, but he'd feel he had it coming." Yet he's not the only one lurking in the Scholar's behavior, and Sebastian's behaviors with Roen's reflexes could make for some...interesting results. He shakes his head, says, "He, I took it on willingly. That I wore myself down in the process is my own fault. I should have known better. You don't really need to apologize for that, at least not to me." Does he mean to Bastian, or this amalgamation he is here? Possibly both.
The Soldier shifts her head slightly, glancing to The Scholar when he notes that he might not have gone down so willingly, had she decided to engage. There's a small huff of a laugh there. Small, but genuine. "Now I'm curious to know how what would've happened," she says dryly.
You don't really need to apologize for that, at least not to me. Something in what he said causes her to stir, and she sits up, blinking away what remains of her near-teary outburst. She peers at the man, frowning. "I'm still her, you know. I mean--I still feel like her. I don't know who I am right now, so I need to be her. It's starting to become all muddy though, and I'm afraid. But you..." She struggles to find the right words. "He's not so much like that to you, is he? Bastian. Roen."
"I'm not," the Scholar says with a genuine laugh and shake of his head. It feels good to laugh, despite the nature of their conversation.
"Yes and no," he says. "In terms of what I feel, what I remember, Bastian Roen's memories are much shorter than the others I have. They're incredibly intense, though. Everything from the Lodge, I mean, not before that. The war, college...that's all an idea, a history. But if I let myself think like him, he's still there." He frowns, thinking over what he's just said, nods to confirm he thinks that's accurate. Another of those sympathetic looks. "Once you have more than one set of memories, once you've woken up here again, it changes how things feel. I was largely the person from my last life, my first time here. Most of us seem to be. How we handle the rest is where everyone seems to diverge." He ducks his head. "I feel what he felt, though, and who he felt it about. That's still there."
The Scholar's laugh does much to lift some of the grey mood that The Soldier had brought with her to the parlor. Not all the way--not judging by the way she seems hesitant to join whatever has amused him so--but enough where all the tension in the air (and in her muscles) has melted away. Left in its wake is a resigned, weary sort of Soldier, content to simply deal with the here and now because much more would be too much to carry.
"I suppose that's a small comfort." The Soldier smiles faintly when he tries to reassure her of Bastian's reality. She had listened quietly to The Scholar as he mulled the state of being, and there's a long pause as she tries to understand. It's difficult. "I don't want to wake up in another life," she admits quietly, clasping her hands together in between her knees. "Are they all so... fucking awful?"
As the Soldier's mood eases, so does the Scholar's. Not all the way to relaxed, but not as tense and pained, now that her frustrations have been aired. "Neither do I," he murmurs, and shuts the book. "Every time I feel the sleep coming over me, I can't help but shiver, wondering if this is the time I'll wake with a whole other self to contend with."
He gives the question of how bad their lives are some thought. "I suppose it depends on what we go through, individually," he says. "I don't know if I can say my previous life was worse than this one, or better--they both had their high and low points." Apologetically, he adds, "Easy, they're not," and bobs his eyebrows in a bit of morbid humor; it's a very Bastian-like expression.
The Soldier watches him waggle his brows with her eyes askance, and the gesture seems to call back something in her memory. She manages to break a wry smile, revealing teeth and all. Just for a second, but it's there. "No. Not easy. Horrifying, actually." She chews on her lower lip for a few moments. It's a hesitant sort of gesture that the Cassandra Bastian knew would hardly ever deign to use, not unless circumstances were astoundingly confounding. "I don't miss what happened. But my family... I'm alive here, but they wouldn't know, would they." She tries not to wallow in that for much longer than necessary. It's an unpleasant thought for anyone. It traps you. "Well." She sucks in a deep breath and puts a hand on The Scholar's back, between his shoulder blades. "We're alive. I guess we should be grateful that we aren't alone."
The Scholar trades the Soldier's wry smile for one of his own. Thinking of Max's death, and Colorado's at the hands of Barbas before that, and the dozens of other terrible things both Sebastian and Bastian witnessed, he echoes, "Horrifying." He takes in a breath, lets it out slowly. He shuts the art book and sets it down on the coffee table in front of him. "We don't all agree on the circumstances of those who aren't here with us. No one can really say for certain what happens to them, so everyone formulates their own ideas." His eyes narrow as he sorts through possibilties, then he shrugs and sets it aside. No need to woolgather on that particular topic right now.
He's relaxed under her hand, where Bastian might have tensed up. "Yes, and, I'm grateful for it. If we have to go through something like this, doing it together is preferable to not." He treads close to imagining waking up alone, casts the thought aside immediately for the nausea it conjures.
Her hand on his back is the first real tactile contact she's had with The Scholar since she awoke, because slapping away a helping hand and brusquely brushing aside a staying one cannot possibly count, surely. It's perhaps a testament to how the worst is over, for now.
The Soldier seems to notice the subtle shift he undergoes when they both consider the prospect of going through this purgatory alone, and she pats his back twice in a reassuring sort of way. "Sorry. For putting that thought in your head." She looks at him with an intake of breath and says, "Well, I should... I don't know. I think I need to sleep for a bit. You're a good person for weathering everything I put you through. Yesterday and now."
"It probably would have occurred to me sooner or later," the Scholar says, his tone dry. "Now it's out of the way." Another lift of his eyebrows, then he sobers. "Thank you, but, it's the least I could do," a small wince, "considering. If Bastian failed to be there for all of you at the end, maybe I can be here for you now, in this place." He nods his head at the long Hall of Rooms. "My door, it has a young man sitting in a chair, reading, in front of a great bookcase that's also a dam to a lake. If you need to talk, feel free to come find me."
The Soldier gives a dry, considering smile-not-a-smile at the lift of his brows. It's the kind of expression that is agreeable, but reluctantly so. "I guess it is."
She rises from her seat after that, but turns around when he speaks. She doesn't visibly react to his apologetic sort of reply, though her expression continues to be peaceable. But his offer garners a small nod. "I'll keep that in mind." She considers him a moment. Then she smiles briefly. "You know, I can't look at you once without being thrown," she says. "I keep hoping you're him. But--I'm glad you're here, too." She raises a hand to his shoulder, but it stops halfway as she reconsiders and pulls it back. Why now, and not less than a minute before? Who knows. She simply gives him another nod, and would begin to head for the hallway.
The Scholar watches the Soldier get up, remaining where he is on the couch. Probably he intends to continue reading the book. He seems to go through several possible responses and discard them before settling on one. "Thank you. Though I can't wish this," his eyes flit around the room, come back to the Soldier, "on anyone, it is good to see you." To know that she's not one of the people whose status is unknown and uncertain, he means.
He responds to her aborted touch with a smile, private smile of understanding, and nods as well. "Sleep well," he says, pulling the large book back into his lap.