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Secrets and Favors

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1 Secrets and Favors on Wed Feb 03, 2016 11:46 pm

Morning comes far too soon, Jean and Ljuba still sound asleep as I begin the slow and painful process of extricating myself from the tangle of Ljuba's limbs. I don't want to be awake - frankly, I'm not entirely sure I was ever asleep to begin with. Every time Ljuba had moved, my eyes had shot open, body tense and ready for her to panic at my proximity. And when she wasn't moving, I was busy worrying about the phone call awaiting me when the sun had risen to an acceptable height in the sky.

Unfortunately, it's reached that point, and I can't risk staying in bed any longer lest I be forced to dress in front of Jean's prying eyes. As it stands, I'm already paranoid as I struggle to pull my long sleeved shirt on over my head without having to lift my arms too high. When I finally manage it, I push gingerly at the raised bruise across my ribs - fluid under the skin. Not good. But breathing isn't all that difficult, so if there's a bleed, it's a slow one and it's not in the chest cavity. It should stop on its own soon... I hope. 

Sighing, I pull on my pants with a little more ease, my feet still bare as I pull the phone out of my jacket pocket and head to the door past Ljuba's bed. I wince a little when I start dialing Richard's number, the phone no longer muted after my excursion the night before as the buttons let out loud dial tones as I press them. I hesitate at the door, the sound of Ljuba's breathing having shifted a bit at the noise. She's awake... I think? But she isn't saying anything... I don't know if I'm grateful for that or not, my hesitation at the door becoming awkward before I realize there's a voice on the phone.

Unable to stand there any longer with Richard's voice on the other end of the line, I slip out the door and bring the phone to my ear as I walk down the hall to get out of earshot of the room. The way he greets me, it's as though nothing has gone amiss between us and I haven't spent the past six years steadfastly refusing to call him. Answer, yes, but never have I initiated the contact. Not since Milly died.

"I need a favor," I say evenly, no indication in my voice that I've heard the obscene niceties he'd initiated the conversation with. "And it's a big one."

I'm going to pay dearly for this one, I already know.

***

Over an hour passes before I return to the room. Jean and Ljuba have long since gotten out of bed, Ljuba having wandered down the hall at one point to use the bathroom and to look for me. My impulse at the time had been to hide, to keep her from seeing me on the phone as I had done countless times over the years. Instead, I remained seated on the bottom steps at the end of the hall, only holding a hand up to keep her from speaking when she came over to see what I was doing. 

It felt weird, reaching out to squeeze her hand gently, silently communicating that I would make the same strides she had to be more open and trusting. Particularly with Richard's soft voice in my ear, the hesitation in it filling me with dread before he'd sung out a loud, "Hello, Ljjjuuuba," to let me know he was aware of her presence. Somehow I'd given her away - a shift in my breathing, perhaps - but I'd refused to relay the message. I could tell from Lju's stiffening posture that she'd heard it well enough on her own.

She'd gone back to the room shortly after that... and I'm still not sure on her demeanor now that I've returned to the room. Jean is hovering near a dingy mirror over the dresser as he tries to brush his teeth using a glass of water, his expression widening as he notices my return.

"Bloody hell," he breathes, gesturing toward my face. "You look like shit."

"Thanks," I say dryly as I go to sit in the chair near Ljuba. "I'd say you don't, but, well..."

"Yeah," he frowns, turning his attention back to the mirror as he tries to smooth his hair. "I'm a damn mess these past few days. Can't wait to find a proper inn so I can have a good wash."

"Mm," I nod, rolling my eyes at his willful ignorance of the weak insult I'd aimed at him.

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2 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 12:00 am

Perched on the edge of my bed, I'm repacking my bag to accommodate what's left of Maja's guitar into the most guarded pocket, a mess of clothes and toiletries - hair brush, rags, and a tin of lip stain left over from my life before - sitting on the bed beside me as I reorganize the bag's contents. 

"You really do look awful," I frown as I look up at Marnin, refolding the small handkerchief that contained Maja's necklace before tucking it into the bottom of the bag. "Do you need anything for it before we try to find a car?"

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3 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 12:14 am

"Nah, I had a little bit of a wash in the bathroom," I say, shaking my head before I stop abruptly to wince at the sensation it had caused in my swollen eye. Touching it gingerly, I offer an awkward smile to Ljuba before shrugging. "Maybe something cold once we're on our way out. Hell, just walking around outside might do me just fine. I figure we can catch a ride with one of the caravans passing through, so we'll need to get to one of the main roads. And maybe pick up something for the pain on the way."

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4 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 12:21 am

I nod as I begin tucking the items back into the bag, glancing over at Jean for a moment before turning back to Marnin.

"I'll follow you, I guess. I don't know how to do anything you just said."

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5 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 12:33 am

"It's easy," I smile as I get up to go gather my own thing, eager to be on the way. "You just smile pretty and try to look as unthreatening as possible. Unless they look threatening. Then you puff up a bit, and move along because we don't want to ride with smugglers or something."

"We could just pay for a ride," Jean suggests with a frown.

"With what?" I ask, shaking my head at him. "You do realize your wallet was in the car when it was stolen, don't you?"

"Wha-? No, it wasn't-," he starts, his hand going to his pant pocket before the color drains from his face. "Oh, no, no, no!

I sigh heavily as the tall man begins tearing through his things in search of the wallet. He won't find it. I distinctly remember finding it, smouldering and empty, at the camp last night.

"We'll have to use our wits and our skills to get by from here," I say lightly. "Which means we'll be scavenging along the way and looking for any place we can that even remotely looks as though it might have someone with a guitar Ljuba can play for a few extra notes."

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6 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 12:36 am

My eyes widen a bit as I zip up my bag, glancing at Marnin incredulously. 

"You want me to play for notes? Abroad? With a stranger's guitar?" I scoff slightly, shaking my head as I stand to finish getting ready. "People don't just hand off their instruments. They're goldmines in and of themselves."

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7 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 1:05 am

"Yeah," I frown thoughtfully as I pause to put on my socks and boots. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. Well, we'll have to make do."

I scowl when I notice that Jean is still frantically searching for his wallet, the expression faltering a bit when I really notice how frazzled he is. I'd sort of noticed it the night before, but had been too distracted to really question it. Now, though...

"You alright?" I ask hesitantly, the man snapping at me instantly.

"No, I'm not alright!" he says harshly, his hand running through his hair in much the same way he had done last night upon seeing his precious car gone up in flames. "Just forget it. Can we go? I'd like to get as far from this place as possible."

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8 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 1:16 am

I nearly freeze at Jean's sharp outburst, watching him skeptically as he gathers his things in a huff before heading for the door. I frown as I tug my bag onto my shoulder, tensing as Jean heads out ahead of Marnin. 

I head out towards the hall after them, sticking close to Marnin as Jean leads the way out to the road. 

"What's our first stop..?" I ask once we step out onto the quiet street, looking around at the otherwise empty road. "I don't even know which way would bring us towards the city."

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9 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 1:45 am

"That way," I say, pointing down the road before cocking my head back toward where Jean had gone. "Jean - Jean!

Frowning, I shake my head in annoyance before going around the building to find him digging through the Jeep we'd driven back in the night before.

"What are you doing??" I ask in exasperation.

"It has to be here," he says, his voice almost pleading for it to be true.

"It's not," I sigh. "Honestly, it's just a wallet-"

"It's more than just a wallet!" he snaps as he hops out of the Jeep to go around to check under the other seat. "It was a gift from my father, and what's more, it had all the photos I had left in it! I could have sworn I had it after they took the car!"

My brow pinches uncomfortably as I glance back toward Ljuba. This is not my area. Sighing, I turn to walk away, pausing next to Ljuba to whisper into her ear. Maybe she'll have better luck than I will.

"The wallet was burned with the car," I say quietly, cocking my head back toward him sadly. "It was definitely his wallet."

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10 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 1:51 am

Frowning sharply, I nod as Marnin continues walking past me, leaving me with the frantically-searching man.

"Jean?" I call softly, wincing at how awkward his name fumbles over my tongue. "Jean, he says its gone..."

I hesitate several feet from the jeep as he continues ripping through it. "Jean!?"

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11 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 1:55 am

*Jean*

Ljuba's shouting jars me, nearly knocking me off the Jeep as I lose my footing and catch myself on the icy pavement. Staring at her in shock, I have to look around for a second to make sure everything is alright before I frown at her.

"What?!" I demand. "Why are you shouting?? Gave me a bloody heart attack..."

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12 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 2:04 am

"Jean," I sigh, curling my arms across my front as I rub my hands over my arms for warmth. "I wasn't yelling, but you need to calm down. It's not here."

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13 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 2:12 am

I dislike the noise that comes out of me when she says it, my throat threatening to close off with the tears I've managed to keep at bay up to this point. It had felt insensitive, mourning my own shallow losses when Ljuba had lost the guitar that had been so precious to Maja. Realizing the wallet was gone had jarred me, though, and all I can do now is stare at the Jeep at a loss.

"But I swear, I just had it," I say weakly, certain that if I say it with enough conviction, it'll be true. But I really can't remember having it after stopping at the gas station... after tossing it on the driver seat to pump the gas, right before the men had come up, grinning and threatening, to shoving me into the pumps so they could climb into the car and tear off out of the gas station.

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14 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 2:14 am

"I'm really sorry," I inhale sharply, trying to still my jaw as it threatens to chatter in the cold air. "What all did you lose..?"

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15 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 2:17 am

"Everything," I laugh painfully, my arms fanning out to indicate my clothes and the small backpack over my shoulder. "I just grabbed my toiletries to wash up... everything else was in the car."

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16 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 5:04 pm

I tense slightly as I frown, a lump forming in my throat as I say what I know will sound hypocritical coming from me.

"But, they're just things. I mean, you could've been so seriously hurt, and you weren't. Do you now how lucky we were?"

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17 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 5:11 pm

"I know," I say, the words coming out near a whine as I let out a heavy sigh and look back at the Jeep at a loss. "Let's just go," I say defeatedly as I step away from the Jeep to put an arm around Ljuba in a half-hearted hug, my hand rubbing her arm before I let her go.

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18 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 5:32 pm

I lean against Jean as he hugs me, sighing as I look up at the emotional man. 

"Hold on," I say softly, tugging my bag onto my front so I can dig into the pocket tucked against my side. It takes a moment of maneuvering, but I'm able to pull out the small folded rag containing Maja's necklace. It'd been a gift from Jean when they hit their first anniversary (That they were still together for, anyway) and I'd never told him I'd gotten it. Maja had treasured it, and was wearing it the night she died. I only got it because the Guardsmen who were called to our apartment weren't crooked enough to pocket it. 

"You should have this." I say as I hand him the rag, swallowing thickly as I zip up the bag. "To help start your collection of things again."

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19 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 5:48 pm

"What is this?" I ask as I rub a hand across my cheek to wipe away the tears that had threatened to fall. Unfolding the rag, my hands start to shake almost instantly, a sharp breath hissing past my teeth as I see the delicate gold chain snaked around the jeweled locket. It still has her blood on it, dried and crusted an ugly brown between the links of chain and across the surface of the pendant.

I'm not sure if it's a laugh or a sob that comes out of me as I pick the locket up by the chain, my vision blurring immediately as I start crying uncontrollably. It's the locket I'd given her for our first anniversary. I'd looked everywhere for it after she'd died. I'm making that noise again when I throw my arms around Ljuba, hugging her tightly as I thank her over and over again, the words coming out blubbery and sniffled.

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20 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 5:51 pm

I'm startled by the second hug, my own arms snaking around him tensely before I grab his shoulders and step back away from him. He doesn't even look at me, his eyes going immediately back to the necklace as I offer a faint smile. It hurts to part with it, and at the moment, I'm wondering if it wasn't a mistake. 

"I'd have cleaned it," I offer lamely, "I just couldn't bear it."

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21 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 6:09 pm

"No, no," I shake my head as I try to dry my eyes on the sleeve of my jacket, the rough fabric hurting my frozen cheeks. "I understand completely. I'm just so glad you found it! I'd looked everywhere for it. Honestly, I was so afraid he'd taken it, it made me sick just thinking about it."

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22 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 6:13 pm

I can feel the familiar sting of emotion as I shake my head, a hand coming up to rest on my throat as I shrug.

"No, no. She was wearing it, and-" I exhale roughly, biting the inside of my cheek to try and stave off the tears. "I don't think he saw it for all the blood..."

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23 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 6:21 pm

A whole new wave of emotion hits me as I try to hide it in the sleeve of my coat, my throat closing up as I shake my head in a vain attempt to get the image out of my head. I'd only seen her after the fact, long after her body had gone cold and the blood had been cleaned up by the guards, but I'd seen the crime scene where her blood had soaked through everything it touched. I remember being shocked that the human body could hold so much blood, the image of it haunting my dreams for months to come. On bad nights, it still did...


"C'mon," I say weakly, the word coming out a croak as I reach over to rub Ljuba's arm anxiously. "We've got a mission to get on with, and it's not going to get done with us standing here in the cold."

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24 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 6:35 pm

"Then let's go," I nod, gesturing for him to head off in front of me before I look over towards Marnin. He's removed himself from the situation as far as he could without being out of site, lingering near the road as he seems to stare off in one direction. It's moments like this, when he's pointedly trying not to interfere, that I notice his handicap the most. Most people can distract themselves by inspecting cracks in the sidewalk, looking at melt patterns for snow, but not Marnin. His eyes just wander a bit recklessly in his field of view. 

And - like always - it's as though he's reading my mind. Hand in pocket, and out come a simple pair of sunglasses. 

"I think we're ready." I say thickly, sniffling a bit before I adjust the bag on my side and wrap my arms across my front.

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25 Re: Secrets and Favors on Thu Feb 04, 2016 6:41 pm

*Marnie*

"That's good," I say as I fall into step beside Ljuba, my arm going to hold the strap of her bag as though using her as a guide. Really, I'm just leery of the icy road, for both of our sakes, and without my cane to feel out the road in front of me, I'm less confidant of where I'm placing my feet.

"I'm glad you were able to make him feel better," I say quietly after a moment, a small frown coming to my lips. "But are you really okay with giving him Maja's locket..? You just lost her guitar, and you'd kept it in that drawer for so long..."

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