"Scott, ya hafta eat somethin.'"
Scott had been coaxed into the diner with the promise of coffee, but hadn't touched whatever Rogue had ordered for him.
His head wasn't throbbing, simply because Jean was there, but he also knew it was time to take the pills for his wrist, and that they'd work better if he had more food in his system.
He was leaning into the back of the booth, and he wasn't crossing his arms because the stupid cast made it awkward, but he sure wished his 'fuck off' body language was stronger.
"You don't mean that, Scott. Eat some bacon, then you can take your pill," Jean chastised gently.
His withering glare was likewise either misinterpreted or unseen behind the stupid sunglasses.
"What doesn't he mean?" Rogue asked Jean pointedly, because Scott hadn't said anything since leaving the black site.
"He's upset because he can't properly convey 'fuck off' body language because of his cast," Jean said matter-of-factly, not even tripping over the swear.
Rogue grinned. "Aw, hell, Summers. Sure you can! Trust me. Ah'm a pro."
Scott sighed, leaning forward and resting his elbows on the table. When Jean poked a fork in his direction with bacon on it, he took it, eating the bacon begrudgingly.
"You have the—the—the w-w-withering g-glare," Scott mumbled.
Jean was ready, chasing the bacon with a glass of orange juice even as Scott sat up, leaning back to access his pocket; he had a mini pill case for when he forgot the bottle, and pushed the pain pill between his teeth, draining the orange juice to swallow it, and then stabbing half-heartedly at a rubbery bit of overcooked egg.
"Top three emotions?" Rogue asked softly, and Scott frowned, but played along.
It was something they did, back in the day, when a bunch of them were up with night-terrors. Their little Dysfunctional Teen Mutant Club.
"T-T-Tired. C-Confused. P-p-p-pissed off." The egg tasted better than it looked. He reached for the bottle of ketchup, proceeding to tap it out onto his hash browns.
"Ah'm pissed off, too. Then…anxious. And maybe a little Confused," Rogue said, nodding. A gloved hand snaked a triangle of Scott's toast, and he let it.
"Anxious, too," Jean ticked off her fingers, playing along. "Confused. Then…um…satisfied." She was the only one without food in front of her. She was the only person Scott knew who genuinely tended to adhere to set mealtimes, and was pretty good about limiting any kind of emotional snacking. She was a very active sort of person, and it wasn't a…diet thing. It was just a health thing.
But at her words, Scott and Rogue looked at her, eyebrows raised in question, and Jean…flushed.
"It's…dark. Sorry. But…I feel…um…satisfied. Vindicated. Be-because the world is safer, without Jack Winters in it." She busied herself taking a long draw of her water, but then coughing when it went down the wrong pipe.
"Shit, Jean," Rogue's face split into a grin, again, and Jean's face went, if possible, redder than her hair.
Jean hadn't regularly attended any "meetings" of the late-night club, (if, indeed, it had been any kind of official club; the only semi-regular attendees had been Scott and Rogue and Kurt. Jamie, when the New Recruits came. (Rogue said she always suspected Rahne listened in from where no one could see her.)) despite knowing she would be more than welcome. Scott knew that, in spite of her power, Jean was a very private person, and their impromptu sort of…unsanctioned group therapy? Hadn't always left the best taste in her mouth. (Jean was weird about those kinds of things. She hadn't grown up with the same issues that a lot of the students took with authority figures.)
"We all said 'confused,' rahght? Any thoughts on that?" Rogue prompted at length, when Jean's face had calmed a little.
"W-w-what the act-actual f-f-fuck is up with my head, that I'm –I'm—I'm s-s-stuttering?" Scott pushed out, scowling and flagging their server for a refill on his orange juice.
"That was actually mah point, too," Rogue nodded. "Jean?"
Jean looked thoughtful. "Some kind of regression is normal. It's a trauma response. Think of it as an extension of your basic 'fight, flight, or freeze.' Regressing is just a way of escaping your present anxieties. And you described losing time? That's dissociating, which is another 'flight' response. Your mind can't process the entirety of your emotional baggage connected with…all of this." Jean moved her hand in a circle, as if gesturing to Scott's invisible baggage on a platter.
Rogue scowled. "All rahght, Miss 'I may have swallowed a psych book.' But what can we do about it?"
Jean frowned, obviously a little put out by Rogue's barb, but choosing to ignore it. "I'm not a therapist. I'm going into medicine, not psychiatry." She looked at Scott. "I think it would help to talk about it. But I'm not a professional. I think you should ask the Professor."
Scott sighed. He was afraid she would say something like that. "W-w-what ab-bout you? C-c-c-confused?"
"Oh, it's just…it's about the case, actually," Jean said carefully. "I was just wondering how the…the killer…was able to subdue Jack. I just…got to thinking. He was…a very powerful Alpha-level mutant. And he'd stayed out of any legal trouble for…years."
"Yeah," Rogue said slowly. She ticked off powers on her fingers as she listed them. "You said…what? He did that thing with his skin…he could teleport? Rahght?"
"He was a telepath," Jean continued, nodding, "and…" she looked at Scott, as though for verification. "You said he…he could do other things?"
Scott shrugged. He was going under. He couldn't talk about this. He couldn't talk about this.
He'd been late. The bus had run late.
And Jack had thrown a chair at him.
The chair. It was broken, now. It had hit the wall next to Scott with enough force to put a hole in the drywall. The metal legs had disconnected and twisted; the screws still firmly attached to the plastic that had broken off jaggedly from the seat of the chair.
Scott had just looked at the broken chair.
It had hit the wall a foot from Scott's face.
Just a little to the left, and it would have caught Scott right in the head.
His legs had gone weak, then, and he'd shakily sunk to the floor.
"Wastin' time makin' nice—I told you not to talk to anyone! You can't con a con! You think you can just bail on me? I own you! Who else would take a freak like you?! Who found you when you were runnin' from the cops?! Who didn't send you back to the fuckin' system?! Me! You need a reminder?! You want I should kick yer face in?! Brand my name on yer fuckin' forehead?!"
Jack loomed over Scott, whose heart was rabbiting in his chest. He staggered back upright when Jack's hand fisted in his hair, flinching hard. "Don't," Scott had choked, and Jack pushed Scott's face against the wall.
"Don't what?" he growled. "I can do whatever the hell I want to you! I own you," he said again.
And then he'd proceeded to beat Scott until he was bloody and gasping on the floor.
And then he'd kept beating him.
"—an ahce-cube. Can you—Scott? Can you feel that? And the smell? That's ketchup, Scott. On accout'a how you drowned a perfectly good plate'a hash browns."
God, Scott, breathe. In and out. Okay? Okay?
"C'mon, Summers. Help me out. We did touch and smell. What's somethin' you see?"
Scott inhaled a shuddering breath, blinking slowly.
He'd lost time.
"Ah'll pick again. Ah see yer orange juice. The cup is blue, and you haven't had any, yet. That cute server just refilled it. Remember? D'ya see that, Scott?"
Panic attack protocol. Re-calibrating his senses.
Scott, breathe again, okay? In and out.
He did so, and the breath was much more filling. Still shaky, though.
"Hearing. Scott, what's somethin' you hear?"
Scott registered the small gloved hand in his, again. She was holding his hand. Rogue.
"You," he gasped, and Jean's relief was palpable, even as Rogue offered a lazy grin.
"Good," Rogue said. "How 'bout taste?"
"I'm gonna pay. Meet at the car?" Jean slid out from her booth seat, and only then did Scott realize that Rogue was next to him, on his side of the booth.
"Lost ya there, Summers. Shitty of us to trigger you that bad. Ah'm sorry," Rogue murmured. "Can you stand, yet?"
Scott shook his head jerkily. His heart was pounding too hard, and his hands were tingling all weird and he wasn't…there. Not all the way.
"How's your wrist?"
Scott shrugged. "S-s-same," he croaked.
He was exhausted.
Reliving trauma was really goddamn exhausting.
"Wanna talk about it?"
Scott grimaced. "I'd r-r-rather n-n-not."
"All rahght. That's fahne," Rogue murmured. "But if you do, Ah'm here. No questions asked."
Scott let out a dry, humor-less chuckle. "There's al-always qw-qw-questions. About—about J-J-J-Jack. M-m-mostly w-w-whys. And h-h-hows. S-so I'll t-tell you th-the answer: Y-y-you d-do what you h-have to."
And Rogue…just nodded. Didn't push. "Makes sense," she whispered. And squeezed his hand. Then, "Ah hope you know…it wasn't yer fault. None of it. Not…what he did back then? And not what was done to him."
Scott blinked, behind his sunglasses. "Y-you d-don't know th-that," he said in a low voice.
Rogue shifted in the booth, and she was still holding his hand in her gloved one, but her torso was completely facing him, now, and she was staring him down; her makeup was impeccable, and her purple sweater looked too hot, but she wasn't sweating.
"Ah know it just fahne, Scott. None of what he did is on you. His actions. His choices. Aren't on you. And whoever killed him? That's not on you, either. Fuck their investigation, and fuck their questioning. D'you understand me?"
Scott hesitated, but then straightened, and offered her an authoritative nod.
He couldn't stutter a nod.
"Good. You up to standin' yet?"
Rogue smiled in that real way—the soft way she did sometimes. It reached her eyes, without an undertone of sarcasm or fakeness.
"Well, all rahght then. Let's get to it."
The hunt for the mole was ongoing. Nothing was explicitly said, but it had become pretty clear whose alibis had been confirmed.
Who was innocent, and…who wasn't.
Meera, it was relatively clear, had been declared safe. She had been on some special assignment from Cooper all day.
Which was fine. Liz wasn't about to complain about it, since The Good Samaritan wasn't even technically a Blacklister. And she was trying not to take it personally.
But catching The Good Samaritan was important.
But…so was catching the mole. So was finding Reddington.
It was complicated.
And it wasn't fair to start trying to compare. It was all important. Regardless of how she currently felt about her job. Or her marriage.
She stood, when Cooper descended the stairs, looking her area down with intent.
Elizabeth finally felt like she was making headway in this case. And when she had the records up, side-by-side, it started to look so obvious. She had been right.
"Every one of The Good Samaritan's victims had a family member with identical injuries," she said confidently, indicating the x-rays and charts she'd pinned on the board. Cooper looked…tired. But he was paying strict attention. So she continued. "Fractured skulls, broken bones, torn retinas," she continued, pointing to each specific injury as she named it. "All of them either the victim's spouse or child. All of them classic signs of physical abuse."
"You think your serial killer only targets people who hurt others?" Cooper…looked at Ressler, then. Away from her.
"How else do you explain this?" Liz continued. It was all important. She could dissect it later. When she'd been cleared. Because she would be. Because she was innocent. And everything would…go back to relative normalcy, after, she hoped.
Or, you know. She could…move to Nebraska with Tom.
"Every one of these family members was at a different hospital, different insurance, different doctors," Ressler said, flipping through the files. Contributing, because Cooper was looking at him. "There's nothing that ties them together."
Liz didn't know if he was playing devil's advocate, or if, suddenly, she was being suspicioned of being the damn mole or what. But she was right. She knew it.
She scanned the files she'd pinned on the board, looking for the linking factor. There had to be one.
"Yes, there is," she said firmly, once she'd found it. "I'll pull up the information, here. Aram?"
Aram…was gone. He wasn't in. Liz…must have been more absorbed in her research than she'd thought.
"Um," she said, recovering quickly, pulling up the information herself. "Nurse…Karl Hoffman. He…was on call every time one of the family members was brought into the ER."
Cooper studied the driver's license—Virginia—and nodded.
"He's a locum tenens. He fills in for short-staffed hospitals, like a substitute teacher," Liz said, and it made so much sense. They were on the right track. They were going to catch him, this time.
She looked up at the x-rays. One collection was different from the others; three x-rays, side-by-side, instead of two. Jack Winters, Scott Summers from a few weeks ago, and Scott Summers from when he was thirteen.
"We're getting warrants for his home address and the last hospital he reported to," Ressler added.
"Good. Get moving," Cooper looked at Ressler, then back at Liz.
And then he was gone, and Ressler was looking at her.
"Let's get moving," Liz said, grabbing her coat.
"Where's Aram?" Ressler said absently, limping after her.
The church was spacious and clean. The folding chairs were simple, set in a circle, and the people sitting in them—mostly men. Some held pamphlets, some folded their arms.
All looked intently at the man speaking. His name was George Wilkinson.
"I never want to hurt her," he said. "I just…there's this anger that takes over. It's like I'm someone else, you know?"
Karl scoffed, inwardly.
"And we all know that powerless feeling, but it's our addiction to power and control that leads to domestic violence," replied a different man.
Karl raised a hand. "I'd like to share something. First time here. My name is Victor. I was a victim. My mother. She called it tough love. It was abuse. I refused to see her for nearly ten years, until I realized avoiding her and pretending those things never happened…"
It didn't help, was left unsaid. Some men nodded. Most sat stoically.
"Took a long time, but I figured out a way to reconcile with her," Karl went on. "It has been hard on both of us, but we've worked out a process. Call it…a home remedy…that has allowed us to move forward. And now…we're closer than we've ever been."
Finding Melissa Wilkinson's husband had been so ridiculously easy. Not at all like the work he'd put in to fulfill his calling with Jack Winters.
It was like obstacles had melted away.
It was getting easier.
Elsewhere, in an undisclosed location, Aram Mojtabai was seated—not very gracefully—at a small table, and a black bag was yanked from his head. Upon the table were a laptop, a piece of paper, and a handtowel. Sitting across from him was Raymond Reddington.
"Hello, Aram," Reddington said simply.
"What—what is this? Where am I?" Aram stammered, looking up at Reddington, and then over at Dembe, who had taken a post by the door.
"You're going to do something for me," Reddington intoned.
Weirdly, things have settled down a little. I moved! And then it was Christmas! And then I got a new job! Super fun!
But So time-consuming.
Have this! I'll write more of my things yet! I promise!