Chapter Nine: Home Sweet Home


After asking around the Bazaar, Freckles learns Meryl is to be found in his bunker. According to Diggle, The Dandies have taken half of his credits, and The Council has assigned him with janitorial duties until further notice, as per suggested by Irish. Really, Freckles thinks Meryl got off easy. Because of his preacher status, Irish has a bit more pull than the other five members of The Council. If he wanted, he could ban Meryl from all the floors. But he has too much of a heart for that.

Manuel steps out of the elevator with Freckles and Peter, on their way to the bunkers. Floors fifteen through nineteen are designed with individual cell-block style rooms down long corridors in mock prison fashion. Each cell is lined with one moldy bed, vanity, toilet, and personal items. Floor seventeen is where they head now; seven is Meryl's clichè lucky number, so it's no surprise to Freckles when she found out that, upon arrival to The Spa,  he had done a lot of bartering to get them a room on the floor of his choice. Freckles's bunker is directly across from Meryl's, separated only by the hallway. People don't room together, as a rule, to prevent accidental killings. But Meryl has always been protective, and he likes to be able to watch out for her. Still, there are nights when she sacrifices her comfort for the sake of privacy, tying her white fitted sheet along the barred door to act as a barrier. Ever since their kiss, she hasn't taken it down.

Diggs tells the truth; they do, indeed, find Meryl tucked away in his bunker, lying face up on his bed as he tosses a baseball up into the air and catches it. At the sound of footsteps approaching, he stops, catches the ball inches from his nose, and sits upright, swinging his feet over the edge of his bed. He wears a grin when he spots Freckles, but it's quickly fades at the sight of Peter and Manuel.

"What happened?" he asks immediately, jumping off the bed.

"Someone grew some cojones," Manuel replies, "and it wasn't the newbie."

Meryl grows concerned. "Freckles?"

"I just need some credits," she tells him, feeling like a child begging for an advance on her allowance.

His eyes narrow as they fall on Peter. "Let me take a shot in the dark. Fer this sack of grade-A shit?" So much for first impressions.

"I'm a person," Peter says, offering out his hand despite the irritation shrouding his eyes.

Meryl looks the thinner man over with mock interest. "Don't look that way to me."

"Peter." He's stubborn, hand still outstretched between them. "You must be the infamous Meryl. She," he gestures to Freckles, "talks highly of you."

"I have a name, you know," Freckles mutters.

"And I've told you, I'm not calling you 'Freckles.'"

"You got a problem with her name, Pete?" Meryl asks challengingly.

"It's Peter. And, if we're being frank, I don't think a description of someone's facial features can sum someone up as an individual."

"Yeah, I ain't payin' for this shithole."

"No, you aren't," Freckles says, folding her arms over her chest. She knows this act of defiance will only upset her beefy counterpart, but she's tired of wasting time. "Because I already have. The credits are for someone else."

Meryl raises both his eyebrows. "Who?"

"Doesn't matter," Manuel shrugs, stepping up between them. He holds his machete close to Freckles’s chin, but not close enough to be a true threat. It's obvious he still respects his familiarity with Meryl. "The bitch is dead, anyway. But Frecks hired me to get them all to the elevators. I did my job. I need my pay. She says you're good for it."

"Hmph. Damn right I am."

Manuel flashes his yellowing teeth, grinning as he leads Meryl towards the hallway. Meryl stops just short of it, eyeing Peter up and down with a predatory glare. "I taught her all the defense she needs to take down a worthless little turd like you. Try anythin', and I'll wear yer kneecaps as a sleep mask." His eyes flicker over to Freckles, and he smirks. "Be right back, darlin'."

Left alone together once again, Peter eyes the doorway with interest. "Well...he's charming."

"He's good people."

"Your definition of 'good' isn't the one from the dictionary, I'm quite sure." He swallows, peeling his eyes away from the metal bars to look at her. "Thank you for helping me out of Namaste and for buying my way. I'll pay you back. Every credit."

"Don't want it. Besides, you're going to need them to survive. Especially if you're Hell bent on not killing." She sighs, anger building within her. Freckles tries to hold it back, but she's exhausted and finally home, where it's safe. Her frustrations erupt like scorching lava. "What were you thinking? You say you wanted my help, but all you did was ignore me the entire time! And then - oh, and then you decide to threaten a member of The Hands? You're a special kind of stupid. That girl was going to - and then you…Da ben dan!"

Instead of fear, or even defensiveness, Peter chooses to wear an amused smile, despite her reprimands. It only feeds into her anger. "What does that mean?" he asks, his smile lazily settling into a smirk, becoming more profound with her growing frustration.

"Loosely translated? Big dummy!" As the words fall from her mouth, she realizes how silly it sounds. This world is full of wonderful cursing, and she's using childish name calling. Her anger douses, and she runs her fingers through her damp hair. A smile cracks the foundation of her cross face, a laugh escaping between her teeth. She tries desperately to keep them from coming, but more laughs follow. Might as well let it happen; she's sure she's going into exhausted shock anyway. Her diaphragm tightens as she laughs deeper, the unfamiliar feeling making her stagger forward. She reaches out for balance, bracing a hand on Peter's shoulder. "Da… ben dan…" she sniggers between laughs as tears drip down her cheek.

"Er…" Peter pats her awkwardly on the head. "Yeah…so funny…"

She peels herself off of him, wiping away stray tears. Realizing the tears aren't from her laughter, but rather coming down from her Rage, she takes a seat on the edge of Meryl's bed, head swimming.

A familiar set of clunky footsteps can be heard, followed by, "Alright there, Frecks?"

Her sleepy eyes drift up to Meryl in the doorway, and she offers out the bat, still clutched tight in her hand. "Justine's fine. Peter helped keep her safe."

Meryl looks to Peter like he's found a rat in the toilet. "Don't 'spect a thank you or nothin'. Standin' yer ground to a member of The Hands...You retarded or somethin'?"

Freckles knows she should scold him, but she leans back on the mattress. Her head hits the pillows, and it's so inviting…

"I never meant for her to pay for me," Peter snaps. "He was going to kill a girl. Kill her or worse."

"That don't mean you gotta involve Freckles in yer stupidity, puttin' her in danger. - That girl was dead no matter what you did."

"At least she died with some dignity!"

Meryl pauses. "You know what I enjoy most 'bout dipshits like you? You'll be dead soon enough. Get out. Take yer martyr mumbo jumbo with you. The next time I see you talkin' it up with Frecks, you and me are gonna have some real words. Catch my meanin'?"

Exhaustion is a blanket over Freckles's eyes. She knows she should point out it was her idea to pay for the girl. She made the choice to hire Manuel. But two full Rages with no sleep makes her less inclined to speak up and more inclined to snuggle deeper into Meryl’s pillow.

"You talk like you're her father," Peter says. She can imagine the smirk on his face. "Guess that makes sense. You're old enough to be."

"Out!" Meryl snarls.

Peter storms out of the bunker, slamming the sliding bar door in the process. It vibrates the metal walls, prickling Freckles' ears so that her eyes pry back open. There's a sadness in her at the absence of Peter, but she's too tired to care. She closes her eyes and rolls over towards the wall, wrapping Justine between her legs like a wooden body pillow. Then, there's warmth. A blanket? The scratchy wool tickles under her chin, and the bed creaks as Meryl slides in next to her, wrapping a firm arm around her torso.

"Get some shut-eye."

She yawns. Yeah, shut-eye sounds damn good right about now. A thought flutters across her mind: this is the first time, in a long time, the projector in her mind doesn't flicker with images of death. There's only darkness behind her eyelids. Only the soothing sounds of Meryl breathing in and out. She lets the sleep consume her, the corners of her lips turning upward.