Meredith had been set up in her hospital room barely a day ago, and she was already about to go insane from the beeping. She held her hands over her ears, trying to muffle the incessant noise, but she couldn’t seem to block it out. She was already on edge without her notebook- and, since she didn’t have anything to write with, she couldn’t ask for headphones or ear plugs.
Part of her was shocked by the fact that she could be focused on something so mundane as an annoying sound right now. After everything that had happened, this was what she was thinking about? Maybe she just couldn’t process the rest of it yet.
Everything that had happened on the plane spun through her mind, too fast to land on any particular detail. What stood out most was that last moment – the last thing she remembered before passing out, when the doors opened up and she could feel the Lethe Worms being ripped out of her. It had seemed noble at the time, to try and go through it with them from inside the hivemind. Now, the memory of it just made her nauseous.
Meredith turned to glare at whatever machine kept beeping at her. Was this some kind of divine punishment for killing all those worms? It had seemed like the right thing to do. As much as Meredith had wanted to let them go peacefully, opening up the underworld was seriously dangerous. And… they had been okay with it. They weren’t afraid of death, not if it would take them home.
That didn’t mean it didn’t hurt, though.
Maybe it had been the wrong thing, after all. Maybe, as dangerous as it was, it was worth it to open up the barrier between worlds if it would spare all that pain. Maybe Meredith had lost any reliable sense of right and wrong. If she’d had it to begin with.
So, Lethe Worms: newest addition to the ever expanding list of beings she’d betrayed. Great. She was going to destroy this fucking machine next if it didn’t stop beeping at her.
Before she got the chance, someone knocked on the door to her room. Meredith jumped, then tried to look smooth as Samantha came into the room. She looked about as wrecked as Meredith felt. Meredith waved, offered a weak smile. A similar smile was offered back, as she carefully closed the door behind her.
A pen was produced from her pocket, gesturing to Meredith. “Swiped it from one of the other rooms. Don’t tell.” The attempt at humor seemed to be more for her own sake, as she pulled up a chair.
Meredith grabbed the pen and scooped up a medical paper that didn’t look too important. YOU’RE MY HERO, she wrote in big letters on the blank side of the document. Stupid nurses won’t give me paper. Can’t talk to them.
Sam gestured in response to Meredith, and then asked, “Do you know any sign language? It could come in handy.”
Meredith shook her head. Do you know it?
“A little. I picked up some ASL and Spanish while working with CBP-” Sam halted herself at the confused look she received. “Customs and Border Patrol. I picked them up while I worked customs in Miami and later when I was stationed in El Paso. I’ve been trying to keep up with them since I quit.” Her last statement seemed bitter. “I could show you a bit of ASL some time, perhaps?”
Meredith hesitated. She had never met anyone taken in by Border Patrol, but she’d heard enough horror stories. On the other hand… she was hardly in a position to judge. Still, she couldn’t help feeling suspicious. You quit? she asked in small, uncomfortable letters.
“Yeah, late in 2016. The culture it was developing was different. Not a good different either.” She shifted uncomfortably, taking a defensive posture. “Anyhow, I came to check on you, see how you were doing. I get the feeling our recent flight was more… emotionally straining than anything else.”
Meredith thought for a moment, then nodded. I’d like to learn ASL. & Yeah, it sucked. She looked up at Sam, then back down at the paper. Welcome to the Contingent?
Sam conversed in a hushed tone, not caring to tip off passing nurses that one of the patients riddled with holes was already walking around before she was released. “It was certainly quite the welcome. I wasn’t terribly in the spirit of the Luau when I came seeking answers about John, but… I can see why it was organized.”
Luau was alright. Meredith tried to write in fragments to conserve space. Don’t blame you. She hesitated before adding, Didn’t know John well. He was a good guy. Glad we got him home.
“Is this similar to what he would would deal with on a regular basis? Working with the Contingent? He spoke of it briefly, after they went public with the supernatural. I just… couldn’t believe it?” Sam pursed her lips, attempting to mask her distaste.
Meredith let out a long breath. She had been plenty willing to believe the Contingent’s story, and she couldn’t help but wonder why. But she looked at Sam again, saw the discomfort she was trying not to show. She deserved honesty. Haven’t been here long. But there’s lots of crazy shit. John’s shit was REALLY crazy. But sometimes it’s great. Meredith bit her lip and smiled, thinking of Jem. But the smile disappeared almost immediately. Lots of bad people, but some really good ones.
Sam smiled slightly at the mention of John’s situation being crazy. She felt that was an understatement, but that might be true for pretty much everyone working for the Contingent. She crossed her arms and leaned back into the chair, expelling a sigh. “Some really good people, but after that landing… I don’t particularly feel like one of them.” She looked over Meredith with a bit of intensity, trying to read her feelings on the situation. “Having those things in my mind? That was horrifying, but we just… Was that really okay?“
It was- Meredith stopped, scribbled out whatever she had been about to write. Her fingers clenched around the pen. I don’t know.
Another knock came at the door, then it opened and quickly closed. It wasn’t asking for permission, it was announcing a presence: Kenny, dragging his IV tree, cart, thing? His newer left arm had a tightly-held bundle in what looked like his pillowcase. Kenny saw Sam and Meredith, put his plastic finger up to his lips in a “shh”, then leaned his ear to the door. He was also holding his breath.
A second passed, then he exhaled and his expression brightened a bit. “Looks like I made it clean. And I didn’t come empty handed.” From the pillowcase came a bag of beef jerky, the smell of pepper filling the otherwise sterile recovery room. “The food here sucks.” He checked the sink next to the bathroom and found a few paper cups. “And something to wash it down, if you’re inclined” he said, producing a small bottle of golden-brown liquid.
The clattering of the IV cart faded away, and soon enough the room was filled with just the beeping. “Dammit, you’ve got one too. That thing’s been driving me nuts. So anyway ladies, how are we feeling?”
Meredith scooted up so Kenny could sit on the end of her bed. Shitty. Fuck that thing. How R U? She had to squeeze in the last two words as she ran out of space on her paper, then riffle around for another one with a blank side.
“Not much better, sad to say,” came after a swig of whatever was in that bottle. It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t cheap either, having to get it past security and all. “Bitter. Too warm.” Kenny wasn’t sure if he was talking about the rotgut or himself and stared out the window. “And I feel I’m the one who got off easy. Still, we made it out with all of ours.” Kenny looked over to Sam, then looked past her to the beeping machines. “Well, most of ours.”
Silence hung over the room, except for the constant beeping. All three Contingent agents eyed it with murderous intent.
Meredith pulled another piece of paper from the stack on her bedside table. The pilots, she wrote. The sheriff. The Lethe Worms. Three human casualties, plus… an entire species.
Samantha nodded. “Three is too much. Perhaps better than an entire city, but still.” She combed her fingers through her hair in a frustrated manner, punctuating it with a sigh. “I’m not sure it could have been different. Could it?” She eyed Kenny. Hopefully he brought a new perspective with all those snacks. She began pouring her own cup of the mystery liquor.
“I’m honestly not sure Sam. They seemed hellbent on getting home…enough that they were willing to sacrifice us, the plane, and who knows what else to get there.” Kenny also nervously ran his good hand through is hair and down to his neck, wincing when he got there. He hadn’t had a shave since…before leaving New York? And they weren’t letting him/us anywhere near a razor. Something seemed odd about that, but he came back to the topic at hand. “I keep telling myself they were willing to do us in, and that calms me a bit. But it doesn’t last.”
“I mean, we took them home, but clearly misunderstood that. Miles seemed to be doing a lot of the communication. I’m not sure if anyone else could have done it better? They were so alien and strange…” She paused briefly, trying to reign in her thoughts. “Admittedly, I almost regret trying to communicate with them even more.” Sam momentarily popped her eyes wide open, adding “And it seemed they were just as disgusted with us as we were with them.”
Sam looked to Meredith and Kenny with a questioning look. “Did either of you try communicating with them? Or, thinking at? Whatever it was?”
Meredith nodded, tears stinging her eyes. They said they didn’t mind dying, she wrote. But it still hurt. Wouldn’t have done it like that if I’d known. After a moment, she added, But they got home.
Kenny nodded his head, more like a twitch than a nod. “I sure didn’t. I clammed up inside and outside once I knew something was riding my mind. It’s not something I like happening, and I’d like to not repeat it.” He looked at Meredith’s scrap of paper and sighed, then finished his whiskey. “That they did, Meredith. As much as any of us will understand it, anyway.” He topped off the paper cup with more booze, then held it at eye level. “To home.”
Sam followed the gesture, tipping the cup back and finishing its contents. “To home. And difficult choices.”
Meredith filled a cup of her own and tapped it against Kenny’s in silent agreement.
A moment of silence after the toast was broken by another question. “In the future, when we’re out and about, doing whatever madness we get sent off to next, what should our decision process be? If the same thing happens again, do we repeat it? Follow orders, even if it kills another Sheriff? Another Pilot? Tears a family apart?” The remark was tainted with bitterness, but Sam asked in earnest.
“I know one thing, and that’s family comes first. I’ve already lost one family to things I don’t understand, and I’m not going to lose another. Orders be damned if it means one of us doesn’t make it.” Kenny’s eyes were hard, angry, but also wet on the verge of tears.
Kenny’s declaration struck a chord in Sam, resonating with her own struggle. Tears followed, with another prompt for a toast. “To family. And protecting what we have.” She looked to Kenny, and then to Meredith, commiserating with them. Kenny returned the gesture with conviction.
Meredith’s hand shook as she tapped both of their cups, then threw back her drink. She set down her cup and pulled her paper closer. Love you guys, she wrote, then hesitated for a moment. Family first. No more betrayals.
I have something important to tell you.