Chapter Thirteen: Broken
Freckles and Meryl stare at each other, lost for words. Two days have passed, but they still haven't spoken—until now.
He looks as if he hasn't slept since the night she left; deep circles encompass his eyes, aging him. Justine rests in his left hand, pensive. There's blood stains on his pants, matching the dried garnet shade under his nails. It's obvious to Freckles he isn't taking care of himself between Rages. He leans against his cell doorway, lost.
"I've only come to get my stuff," she says, glancing between his cell and hers. He isn't supposed to be here, she thinks, knowing this time of day is when he likes to haggle in the Bazaar.
"Frecks…" Meryl rubs his eyes, irritated. It's obvious he's fighting the urge to spill his guts on the floor to her. But he isn't one for emotions, so he'll shove them down until they rot in his stomach again.
"What are you doing here?" she whispers.
"Y'don't need to get yer stuff. Just…stay."
"You don't get to 'Frecks' me." She shakes her head furiously, black tresses spilling into her eye-line as her arms fold over her chest, defensive. Her heart aches as his head dips low, eyes falling to the floor—in shame or anger, she has yet to determine. The elevator door dings, and two men step off the lift, bruised but in fresh clothing. Freckles moves to one side of the hall, and Meryl to the other, so they may pass. When the men turn down the hall out of sight, Meryl's eyes meet with Freckles’s once again.
"I get it," he mutters. Justine sways at his side.
"Fae…I shoudn'ta said what I said."
"You think this is about Fae?"
"Ain't it?" his voice is gruff as he lifts his head.
"God, Meryl. You're so thick!" She feels it - the robust swell of tears pushing against her eyelids. "This isn't about Fae! It's about us!" Overcome with anger, she rushes at him and shoves her tiny hands against his chest, pushing him against the bars with as much force as her body can muster. Meryl doesn't fight it. He simply stands and allows her to vent her frustrations, stoic. She slams her palms against his sternum over and over again. "I want us to be a family, but you just keep trying to make this into something it isn't!" Her voice grows even louder. "You're my best friend! You're my partner! You aren't supposed to want to…to want to..." She swallows hard. "I'm moving to another floor. Irish already found me something."
"Last I knew, you weren't talkin' to Irish."
"I'm not," she answers, watching her hand rub absently over his sternum. When they were on the run, she would curl up against his chest at night and listen to his heartbeat. She's half tempted to do it now, out of habit, but catches herself. "Peter secured everything." She knows the moment the words tumble out of her mouth that she's made things worse.
Meryl's hand tenses around the hilt of Justine, and he gives a dissatisfied snort. "Petie Pie, eh? That where you been the last two nights?" There's a suggestiveness in his tone that makes Freckles’s eyes flicker in anger up to his face. She immediately removes her hands from him.
"I can have other friends. And, for your information, I wasn't with anyone. Not that it matters."
Meryl snorts again, this time swinging Justine upward. Freckles flinches but isn't sure why; Meryl has always been someone she could trust. The bat rests on his shoulder, and he gives her an incredulous stare. "I ain't gon' hurt you. Jesus Christ."
"You shouldn't swear," she mutters offhand.
Giving a thick, bitter smirk, Meryl shrugs. "Yeah? Who's gonna stop me? Last I heard, this was a free country. Heh…you know, before it all went to shit. Even more of a reason to swear, in my book."
Defeated, angry, and distraught, Freckles turns away from him and shuffles into her cell. She doesn't own much; a couple of books, some poorly written poetry, and a bandana are all that she really has to her name. She gathers them up, feeling Meryl's eyes on her as she moves from space to space.
When she starts to the doorway, Meryl quickly steps forwards and blocks her way out. "Don't go," he begs.
"I need time," she tells him. "Give me time."
"I didn't mean to scare ya off," he admits, tilting his head to the side and leaning forward to better meet her at eye level. "Shit, Frecks. Yer my family. I know I said we shouldn't be, but I...I ain't got no one left if yer gone."
"I know…but…things are different now."
Meryl nods. "Yeah, they are."
"And I need to figure out what that means to me."
He blinks, standing in silence, taking in her words with careful measure. Then, he gives a gentle nod and backs away, freeing up the doorway. Freckles immediately dashes through on her way to the elevators, but he grabs her by the wrist at the last moment and holds her back. It isn't forceful; it's careful and measured. A silent plea to hear him out. He mutters as his thumb rubs against her palm, "I know you felt something in that kiss, Frecks. I know you liked it. Now, I get you might feel confused. I've been around the block a few more times, so it ain't new to me the way it is to you. But I know it ain't just me that felt it. And Hell, it wasn't at the best moment, I'll give you that. But that don't take away from what we felt. I'll give you all the time you need to figure this shit out. I just want you to know…when yer ready to admit yer feelin's, I'll be here. Petie-Pie or no Petie-Pie."
Freckles gives a nod, lost for words, and he releases her wrist. Her footsteps echo down the hall as she approaches the elevators. The wait for one to return is excruciating, but she doesn't turn her back. Her stomach flips in knots, fearing she's made a mistake in leaving Meryl this way. No. This needs to be done. I need some space. As she steps onto the elevators, she realizes the implications of her actions weigh her down like a thousand Dandies. She'd take a hundred trips to Namaste if it meant the shaking in her arms would go away. Namaste is a cakewalk compared to walking away from the only real family she has left.
In a moment of relapse, Freckles turns around just as the elevator doors begin to shut. Meryl stands with his arm braced against her cell, staring at her like he's had his insides ripped out of his stomach and displayed to him. Perhaps he has. Perhaps this is what that feels like. Nothing has ever felt so painful, and she doesn't know if it ever will again.