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Puzzle Pieces, That Don't Fit Together

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"Fate is just an opportunity that'll pass by, like ships in the night without a lighthouse, unless you reach out and strike the match yourself. Seize the flame."


 

Alicia’s not a mourning person. 

She takes pride in her independence, in her agency. She chooses when someone is allowed to hurt her; “I will break my own heart before you can touch it.” Or, choose to tattoo another’s on her wrist, someone else’s love in every prick of the needle. In every clench of her jaw. The pain’s her own to bear.

That said, even a self-inflicted wound needs to heal. It’s pretty tough to mend something you can’t stop ripping open.


“Alicia. Give me the radio.” Strand’s cornered her this time, Madison and Nick flanking on either side. The lower deck’s hallway feels suffocating, and between the closed quarters and inevitable tilting of the Abigail, Alicia has only one thing grounding her.

And Strand wants it.

“I haven’t even had a chance to respond yet,” She protests, taking a step back and clutching tighter at the radio. “Geez, dude, make up your mind. Do you want me to help or not?”

Strand peers at her though the lilt in his sunglasses. “I’m not sure what you’ve been doing all night, but it is most definitely not ‘helping’.”

“Come on, Alicia, just give him the radio.” Nick steps around Strand to lean against the wall, head lolling slightly. Alicia tenses, but then he smirks at her, eyelids fluttering in what could be a wink. Alicia relaxes just slightly. Nick’s ticks are as familiar to her as to him; he’s on her side.

“We’ll find something else for you to do. Right, mom?” Nick glances at Madison. “Shower duty? Those towels are getting awfully smelly.”

“Don’t start, Nick.” Madison says with the barest hint of exasperation. “Alicia, just give him the goddamn radio.”

“Mom, no! Look, I promise I won’t say anything.” Alicia tries. “I’ll just listen. I promise.”

“Ooh, she promised.” Nick says with exaggerated surprise. His eyes are hollow, humorless. “Unlike me, she keeps her promises, Strand.”

Now Strand doesn’t hesitate, as a rule, but he does contemplate. Nick’s defense obviously has that effect, and Alycia feels a surge of gratitude for her brother.

Strand chews his bottom lip, and Madison looks between them. It’s 10 o’clock at night, and more than just the daily fatigue’s taking its ponderous toll.

Strand breathes in through his nose and smiles a very thin smile. He folds his hands behind his back, cocks his head to the side. “And what insurance are you going to give me, Ms. Clark? I can’t exactly take you at your word.”

Alicia blinks. “What?”

“Give him a guarantee, Alicia.” Nick suggests. “A...what do you call it, mom, in grown-up world?”

“Collateral.” Madison says through her teeth. “Strand, you bring Nick and I down here, ask once, and change your mind in the same breath. What’s the deal?”

Strand steps forward, but this time Alicia holds her ground. Her knuckles turn white around the radio, chatter buzzing mutedly like summer crickets through a bedroom window. “Give me, as your brother so aptly put it,” and the slight glint of pride sparking in Nick’s eyes does not escape her, as Strand stops barely inches from her. “A guarantee. I can’t have you compromising our position.”

Alicia’s mind races; he smells of pine and rust, with a tinge of smoked leather. It’s a stark contrast to the almost sterile odor hanging over the rest of the boat. But what would a man with every trace of the old world want? Material-wise, nothing, but that’s all she has. Symbols matter to Strand, enigmas, games...her lip curls with disgust.

Fine. She’ll play.

“I’ll give you my phone.”

Nick and Madison’s jaws both drop at the same time. Strand’s smile widens. “Oh? A teenage girl’s most prized possession?”

Alicia maintains eye contact with him as she fumbles through her pockets; her hand clenches around her phone; a beat as Nick laughs and Madison splutters, and she hands it over. Strand handles it with an off-putting sort of delicacy, like one would examine a deformed newborn. Curious. Disgusted. He slides the treasure into his back pocket.

"There. You have your ‘collateral’.” Alicia practically snarls. “Now I’ll keep this,” She waves the radio in his face, “And you keep your secrecy.”

“I keep my privacy, and yours.” Strand replies easily, tapping at the phone. “Don’t worry, I have no interest in your-”

“Shenanigans.” Nick offers. Strand looks at him, and laughs. “Yes.” His throat rumbles as he turns back to Alicia. “Shenanigans.”

Madison throws her hands into the air. “I’m going to go check on Travis. Alicia, please,” She looks at her daughter and her voice softens, but the warmth does not reach her eyes. “Get some sleep. Nick, come with me.” Nick shrugs, and follows his mother back down the hallway.

Alicia watches them leave. The radio feels ever heavier in her arms, and she wonders when it became so much easier to be alone.


Voices don’t fill cramped spaces.

Laying comfortably atop a stack of crates, Alicia listens to the girl she’s dubbed ‘Rambo’ drone on and on about the past hour or so’s adventures; nothing too exciting. There was a fun story about her managing to dispatch a couple of walkers,(one pretty spectacularly with a crate attached to a rope and pully system; Rambo giddily compares it to smashing watermelons with a hammer, something Alicia can imagine all too vividly), and a close encounter with some expired milk, followed by a drowning experience here and there, but...Alicia finds it easier to drift off to stories such as these, like listening to Morgan Freeman recite his weekly shopping list.

Good old pleasant white noise, passing time as easily as napping, and with fewer face marks.

Well. If white noise were very husky, and very Australian, and made Alicia a bit lightheaded when saying words like ‘fuck’. Truly, Morgan Freeman had no such effect.

Alicia briefly wonders if Mr. Freeman's still alive. It follows that she thinks of God, and wonders if He managed to survive the end of the world.


 

The boat doesn’t want to use her, it seems.

Alycia scrolls through various channels, cries for help blending with screams tied together with some pleasant what-she-thinks is Coltrane, but it’s muddy and a performance she doesn’t recognize.

Nick’s off smoking with Strand, Madison only pops by to demand Alicia sleep (or, occasionally, eat) or work, and Travis might as well be a broken lamp. A lamp Chris particularly hates, and occasionally punches, but a lamp nonetheless.

Alicia finds the person who listens best is someone she doesn’t even talk to.

There will be breaks, when Rambo disappears for an hour, maybe two, but she reappears with a vengeance, loud and breathless; Alicia sometimes is forced to dial the volume down for the sole purpose of saving her own ears.

Rambo doesn’t ask her any questions, she only makes statements; Alicia’s only made the mistake of opening the channel once, and she fumbled to close it, but the damage was done. Rambo knows for certain someone’s listening. But Alicia honors her word, and does just that: listen.

“Any-way,” Not-Rambo continues loudly; it’s dusk, and the fading sunlight illuminates every dust particle in the storage room; Alicia has to crank her neck to avoid being blinded, but the result is a permanent scowl pulling at the corners of her face. She eventually just drapes a hand over her eyes and lets the light just burn her arm.

“So I thought for sure it’d be a one and done, but nah, this fucker just would not. Stay. Down. God, it’s like maths for walkers. Takes some real hammering down. Now, I never actually went to maths, mind you, but I’ve heard stories of people who have. You probably did.”

Alicia hums in agreement. Her hand twitches around the receiver idly, as it always does during those weird moments, where Rambo assumes things that really, could apply to anyone, but certainly apply to Alicia. Like when you’re given a one size fits all glove, or hat, but while anyone could wear it, it’s unquestionably yours.

Alicia frowns at the thought of being so ordinary, at being interchangeable, and the urge to retort that she’s not just some...some random, sets off her trigger finger. With effort, she ignores it.

“But oh! I almost forgot, I think I’ve come up with a name for you.” Rambo enthuses. Alicia’s breath hitches in her throat. A name. Maybe like Clark. Or Jack.

“Now it’s very likely you’re a corpse. Maybe your hand got stuck around the receiver and you’re just stubborn like that. But I think you’re very much alive, and very much listening to every word I’ve said this past..uh, day.”

Alicia rolls her eyes; by this point it’s practically a defense mechanism. Her breaths are shallow, controlled, and she feels suddenly very vulnerable, listening to this voice try to solve her, like some puzzle; name her like some stray dog.

“At first I thought, maybe this is like one of those password protected journals,” And Alicia has to cover her mouth to stifle her laughter, even if Rambo can't hear her.“You know, when girls would write dirty words like ‘butt’ and ‘boy’ in the same sentence. Or in my case, girl. Heh.”

Slowly, Alicia’s hand returns to her side. She lifts her left, runs a finger down the ceiling just barely inches from her nose and drawing the smallest line between specks of dust. Girls, huh.

Maybe a name like Alexandria.

Or Alicia.

“-And I didn’t personally have a journal, being a right bludger. But friends did. And it was a fun combo, that, invisible ink and all. Anyways, I considered naming you just, like, diary or somethin’. But then I figured, why stop there? Why not pay some respects to Anne Frank, call you kitty.”

A filthy thought crosses Alicia’s mind, tinging her cheeks with warmth, and she wrinkles her nose.

“But that’s kind of fucking rude. Disrespectful. Even I know that.”

“Damn right it’s disrespectful,” Alicia responds aloud. Safely. Rambo can’t hear her; as proof, she blazes right on through with- “So I thought a bit more, and came to a nice bit of a conclusion.”

“And what’s that?” Alicia whispers to the ceiling.

“I’m going to call you...ha, it’s a funny sort of name. Kind of regal. Bougie.”

Alicia frowns impatiently. It’s a random title from a random voice, (‘Rambo’, hello?) Why the pomp and circumstance?

(She ignores the tune suddenly strumming in her mind, a song of high school and of graduation. Of a future she fucking deserved.)

But Rambo’s voice, husky and beautiful, filters through the speakers, and Alicia’s frown deepens, her lips parting just slightly, as Rambo says,

“I think you’re most definitely an Abigail.”

Chapter Text

There’s no way it’s a coincidence.

Rambo just called her Abigail, and Alicia’s frozen, because there’s no fucking way it’s a coincidence.

“What do you think?” Rambo says, pleased.

Alicia turns her head, sunlight carving stars on her eyelids, and stares at the radio. A pause, a breath, and Alicia can hear the grin in her voice;

“I think it’s a pretty seaworthy name.”

Alicia’s blood runs ice cold, curses laden on her tongue, and in one swift motion, she slams her head into the ceiling, twists around, and falls a good foot off of the boxes straight down to the ground.

She runs, stumbling over every mistake she’s ever made, every regret she’s ever had, and she runs out of the room, a cheerful,static-ridden “See you soon, babe” following every step.


 

Strand is frightening, when he so wishes to be.

“I swear, I didn’t even say anything!” Alicia pleads, to him, to the boat, to herself. “I have no idea how she would know the name of the ship.”

“That is weird.” Nick comments from his chair. He kicks off, swiveling comically fast. “But have you considered that maybe you did in fact, talk to her?”

“Fuck you, Nick, I never said anything.”

“Watch your mouth.” Madison warns lowly, pacing by the bar. “Alicia, how the hell would this...what did you say her name was?”

Alicia shrugs defensively. “I never asked. I told you, I didn’t talk to her.”

“That doesn’t make sense.” Travis says.

“No shit.” She fires at him.

Watch it.” Madison repeats. She stops pacing, and looks at her. “I believe you, honey, but you can’t expect us to understand unless you tell the whole truth.”

“Oh, that’s rich. Since when does anyone on this ship tell the truth?” Chris says bitterly, arms folded, standing at the top of the stairs. Alicia can’t tell if she’s annoyed with him, too, or if that’s pity stilling her tongue.

“Could they have been following us since we first left LA?” Ofelia asks, glancing at Alicia with something resembling sympathy. Alicia wishes she wouldn’t. 

“We would have seen them before now.” Madison shakes her head. “At least. I think so. Strand?”

Alicia feels shame, for the first time in years, as she is forced to stare into Strand’s eyes and see only herself reflected back.

“I didn’t fucking say anything.” She says through gritted teeth.

“Now that’s unlikely.” Strand breathes. “Was the channel clear?”

“What?”

“Was,” Strand steps forward, invading her space for the second time today. Alicia cranes her neck to maintain eye contact. “The channel. Clear.”

Alicia blinks rapidly. “Yeah, I-I could hear her pretty clearly.”

“Then whoever the hell she is, and more importantly whoever the hell she’s with ,” Strand barely opens his mouth as he speaks. “They’re too close to us. And we need to move.”

Alicia clenches her fist, nails biting into her palm. “If they’re nearby, then why haven’t you seen them on the radar, or whatever?”

Strand laughs humorlessly. “The radar or whatever? Don’t talk about things you don’t understand.”

As he walks towards the bridge, beckoning at Nick to follow, a tendril of rage strikes through Alicia’s shame.

“What?” She snaps, at Ofelia. “What do you want?”

Ofelia just looks at her, with such sad eyes.

Alicia trembles a little. “I didn’t say anything! God, I’m not crazy !”

“Nobody’s saying you are,” Madison leans against the doorway, pinching the bridge of her nose. “But you should’ve told us the moment someone started talking directly at you. Especially if there wasn’t any static.”

“Like you care about anything I have to say.” Alicia snarls. She hears Chris laugh from the top of the stairs. She has to bite her tongue to keep from yelling at him, too.

“Alicia.” Madison starts, pushing off from the doorframe, but Alicia’s had it with this, this fake attention, this fake sympathy Ofelia’s still pushing at her with those dark, solemn eyes, and Nick’s not here, Strand thinks she’s an idiot, Chris is an idiot,

Alicia turns and runs. They want to treat her like a child, for once, she’s going to act like one.


 

She wanders through the hallway for a good minute before she finds herself outside the storage room once again.

She hesitates, biting her lip; as if someone’s going to pop out of the nearest box and scold her. 

Yeah, the time for that’s well past.

Still, she pauses. Madison’s probably going be down here any minute, or worse, Ofelia. Or the worst , Travis.

She glances over her shoulder, at the empty corridor, and enters the storage room.

“Tell me something.” She says, picking up the radio, knuckles popping with the strain of her grip round the receiver.

“Oh, you’re back.” Rambo sounds surprised. “And ooh, you are a girl. Young, too. Go me.”

“You don’t know a fucking thing about me.” Alicia breathes into the mic. “But you did know the name of this ship.”

“Actually, that was a lucky guess.”

What?

“Kidding. We’ve been following you since you passed the reef. That yacht’s a real beauty, I’ll say.”

Alicia’s jaw clenches so tightly, she feels her molars slide against each other. “We? Who the hell is we?”

“You’ve got quite a mouth on you, you know that?” Rambo muses. “Why didn’t you use it earlier?”

“What?” Alicia practically whispers. She stares out the port window, straight into the sun. The ship rocks against the waves, and Alicia wishes fleetingly, that they would sink. All of them. Fuck them all.

“Were you content to just sit there ‘n let me ramble on like an ass?” Rambo says, softer. Alicia blinks the burn of her tears away. I can’t even be mad at her; I can’t be mad at myself. It’s not my fault.

Alicia raises the receiver to her lips, pausing; she breathes, and says, “I swore I wouldn’t talk to you. I just liked the music.”

“Did you?” Rambo sounds pleased. “It must’ve come through pretty clear.” As unreal as this all feels, Alicia enjoys the way her ‘r’’s open, the ah sound almost softening the blows. Yeah. It came through pretty fucking clear.

“What’s your name?” Alicia asks, suddenly, hollowly. Rambo doesn’t answer at first, and Alicia drops the receiver into her lap. She hears what sounds like rustling in the hallway, and lifts her leg to kick the door shut. She opens the channel again:

“C’mon. You fucking owe me a name.”

There’s a quip of static, as the receiver picks up, and dies. Up, and dies. Another minute of silence, and-

“Eliza.” Rambo says finally. Alicia mouths it. Eliza.

“Eliza what?” Alicia continues, louder. If Madison’s looking for her, if any of them are looking for her, whatever. Let them find her. These assholes, with this ‘Eliza,’ are going to find them anyway.

“Eliza Lex. And it’s Eliza with a ‘y’, by the way.”

“‘Y’?”

“I dunno, I like it that way.”

Alicia rolls her eyes despite herself. “No, I wasn’t-whatever. Look, what are you? Escaped criminals? Pirates”

“You could say that. I mean. You’ll see for yourself in a minute.” Elyza’s voice softens again. “Sorry about that.”

“Are you going to kill us?” Alicia demands. “Steal our stuff?”

“Uh.” Elyza sounds taken aback. “Maybe? Depends on you, really.”

“The fuck’s wrong with you?!” Alicia snarls, as if this isn’t a probably well armed contemporary pirate on the other line, as if this is just some high school friend she’s exchanging empty insults  with.“It’s the end of the world, the goddamn apocalypse, there’re are those monster things out there; we don’t need humans fighting humans!”

“Uh.” Elyza says again. Alicia’s hand trembles around the receiver.

“Fucking lowlives.” She says, with finality, as if saying it aloud will convince them to drop their weapons, renounce their ways, and go drop off the edge of the world for a bit.

“Like you’ve got room to talk, babe .” Elyza responds sharply. “We are what we are. You’re on a yacht, for God’s sake, while the world’s still out there burning. I don’t even know why I’m still talking to you, we’re about on your ass anyway.”

“You owe me. I listened to you talk because-”

“I don’t owe you shit. I played my records, talked, to whoever would listen, because it’s fun . You picked up once, remember, and I knew it had to be coming from that yacht we’d been tracking for hours.” Static bleeds into Elyza’s tone. Alicia leans her head against the wall, and closes her eyes. Before she can respond, there’s shouting on the other line, and she hears muffled noises in the hallway. Alicia fumbles for the receiver, shoving it against her lips,

“Look, please, just...go somewhere else. My family’s on this boat. I’ve already lost my dad, my boyfriend, I can’t lose them too.” She tries, pouring the last bit of hope she’s managed to hold since they left LA into her plea. “I can’t.”

Elyza says something, but not to her. It’s muffled and distant, and Alicia’s heart pounds in her ears.

“Alicia!”  There’s her mom. “Alicia, we need to move, now!”

She clutches tighter at the radio, speaking faster, “Elyza, please, don’t do this, there’s got to be some way we can talk-”

Elyza’s voice is hard as she says, “Sorry, babe. You can’t stop this. Like I said…” Her voice crackles through the speaker, harshly, “I’ll see you soon.”

There’s a beat, and so quietly, Alicia feels it might have been her looking for patterns in the clouds of static as one searches for shapes in the sky,  Elyza whispers,

Alicia .”

Chapter Text

Madison bursts through the storage room door just as Elyza fades away; Alicia barely manages not to jump.

“There you are,” Madison says with relief, hands on her hips. “Come on, Strand says there’s a boat practically on our tail; we need to go prepare.”

“Prepare what?” Alicia asks, staring at the opposite wall.

“I don’t know, some kind of defense, a deterrance against whoever these guys are.”

“They’re pirates.”

“Excuse me?”

Alicia turns, cranking her neck to the side.“The people following us. They’re criminals.”

Madison’s eyes widen, and narrow. “And how do you know that?”

“I talked with one of them.”

Madison steps forward. “You what-

“It wasn’t my fault they found us.” Alicia interrupts, and she swings her legs around to hop off of the crate. For the first time since she received it, the radio is silent. She glances at it, expression unreadable, and back at Madison.

“They’ve been following us since we left. Ofelia was right.”

Guilt sparks through Alicia’s numbness; Ofelia. Oops.

“They?” Madison asks again; she massages her temples, closes her eyes. “Okay. Okay. But who did you talk to? I thought you said you didn’t tell them anything?”

“I didn’t!” Alicia snaps, too loudly. “But after she told me the name of the ship , I knew we were screwed anyway. So...I,” Alicia frowns “I..”

Madison looks at her expectantly. Alicia shrugs, helplessly.

“I don’t know.” She says, sounding weak even to her own ears. “I thought maybe, I could convince her to not to attack.”

Madison laughs humorlessly. “Well. Did it work?

Alicia makes a face. “What do you think?”

“I think you need to come upstairs, and help us move some stores around.”


The lower deck’s abandoned. Alicia and Madison move too quickly for walking, but too lumbering for running; Alicia catches Chris’s head poking out of his room as they reach the upper hallway.

He immediately retreats, slamming the door shut, and Alicia slows; Madison doesn’t notice until she’s already halfway up the stairs.

“Hey, come on, Daniel needs us now .” Madison says impatiently, motioning with her arm. Alicia glances over her shoulder.

“Someone else needs me more,” She mutters, stopping completely outside Chris’s room.

“What?”

“Nothing. Go on without me, I’ll be up in a sec,” She calls, louder.

“Alicia, we don’t have time for this.”

Mom .”

Madison grips the railing; clearly agitated.  “You know what? Fine. Ten minutes. If you’re not up by then, though, I’m coming down. And it won’t be pretty.”

“Deal.” Alicia flashes an insincere smile, and turns to knock on Chris’s door.

“Hey, I know you’re in there.” She presses her mouth against the crack of the door, lips cool against steel. “Open up.”

The door doesn’t respond, and neither does Chris. Alicia rests her forehead against the smooth surface, biting her tongue to keep from raising her voice. Easy. He’s not a puzzle to solve, a code to crack; he’s a ticking bomb not yet armed, and if she handles this right, he won’t ever be.

“Chris. Please. I just want to talk.”

Another beat, and Alicia is one clenched fist away from punching the door before she’s forced step back to keep from losing her balance. Dark, angry eyes and a scowl greet her.

“What?” Chris snaps. He shifts back and forth on his feet, arm at its length on the doorframe.

Alicia is suddenly struck with deja vu; she runs her hands through her hair with agitation. She really does need to apologize to Ofelia.

“Took long enough. Has Strand filled you in yet?” She asks breezily, folding her arms. Chris lowers his arm, and shrugs.

“Depends on what you mean by ‘filling me in’. All he said is someone’s following us, but he doesn’t know who. Either military or…”

“Or?” Alicia presses. Chris shrugs again.

“He didn’t finish.”

Alicia grinds her teeth together. Of course he didn’t. “Well, they’re pirates.”

Chris’s dull eyes spark with interest. He looks around her, behind his own shoulder, and leans in closer. “Pirates? Like, Jack Sparrow?”

Alicia snorts; she wishes. Johnny Depp would be a welcome addition to this mess. “More like Edward Teach.”

Chris stares blankly at her. 

"Blackbeard, Chris." 

Chris blinks. “Oh.” He grins. “ Oh . That’s wicked.”

“What? No, it’s not ‘wicked’, it’s awful.” Alicia says incredulously. “They’re going to steal our stuff .” Her voice quickens. “Chris, they might kill us.”

“So?” Chris blows a strand of hair out of his eyes. His grin is wide, but more for baring his teeth than smiling. “I say let them try.”

Alicia stares at him. “Chris.”

He meets her eyes, levelly, and Alicia sees only herself reflected back. “Alicia.”

“Look.” Alicia says, anger seething into her tone. “Look, I know you might not care about what’s left of your family,” Chris’s eyes widen; still she continues, “But I care about what might happen to mine. And you know what, like it or not, you’re a part of that.”

Alicia steps closer, breath catching in her throat; Chris stills. His eyes are so very wide, and so very empty. A single, black hair strand falls between the ridge of his nose and the curve of his brow, and Alicia feels a desperate urge to tuck it behind his ear.

“Please.” She whispers earnestly, searching him. “We have to try and fix this.”

Chris stares at her. His mouth opens, shuts, and he asks, softly “You really think I’m family?”

“I don’t think . I know.” Alicia tells him. “It’s a personal philosophy of mine.”

The corner of Chris’s mouth turns up, in a smile. It’s small, and it’s reserved, but it’s the first one she’s seen in a very long time.

He glances back into his room, and back at her. His smile widens.

“Then I guess we’d better make like family and fix our shit.”


Turns out there isn’t much shit to fix.

“It’s too late, Strand says they’re ‘already on us’.” Nick says, leaning against the bar and raising his fingers in quotes. He runs his hands through his hair. “All thing’s considered, dude’s pretty chill about this.”

Alicia considers ‘chill’ and ‘Strand’ not to belong anywhere near each other. Ice cold, maybe.

“What do you mean ‘it’s too late’? We’re just giving up?” Chris asks with disbelief. Nick pauses, eyes flicking over to Alicia.

“Um. Yeah. Guess we are.” He answers, slowly. “Hey, Alicia, mom just went back downstairs; she might want us to help her pack.”

“Pack? Pack what?” Alicia raises her eyebrows. Nick blinks at her, and he tilts his head ever so slightly forward. Towards Chris. Alicia stares at him, she brushes a strand of hair out of her eyes for confirmation. He nods.

Alicia’s lip curls. “Chris, why don’t you go look for Travis?” She says without tearing her gaze from Nick.

“What?”

“We need to stick together; just because Strand’s throwing it in doesn’t mean the rest of us have to. Right, Nick?”

Nick nods firmly. “Abso-fucking-lutely.”

“Right.” Alicia repeats, turning to Chris with a small smile. He opens his mouth, looking in between them, and shuts it. He flips his hood over the back of his head and shoves his hands into his pockets, walking off with a muttered “Whatever you say.”

Alicia watches him go for a split second, and then immediately turns upon Nick. “What? What is it?”

Nick eyes Chris’s back. “He looks awfully...cheery.”

“What?” Alicia whispers, fiercely. “Nick, Chris is about as cheery as someone who’s just oh I don’t know, lost their mom . Because their dad shot her.”

Nick winces. “Ah. You make a good point. But y’know, funny thing about that; Travis doesn’t seem too shaken up about having killed his wife.”

“We’ll have plenty of time to worry about Travis’s coping mechanisms later.” Alicia grabs at her brother’s jacket sleeve and pulls, dragging him to the nearest staircase. “For now, you were right, we gotta find mom.”

“‘You were right ’ ah, to hear those words again.” Nick says wistfully. Alicia shushes him, peeking her head around the corner of the tunnel leading downstairs. The only noise she can ascertain is a slight humming noise, but the engine’s almost as natural a sound as the lapping of waves at the hull. She holds her breath, and listens.

“Why are we sneaking?” Nick hisses. Alicia whips her head around to glare at him.

“Because I don’t trust anyone on this boat besides you. And mom.” She mulls that over. “And maybe Ofelia. In fact, yeah, I think she’s more reliable than you.”

“Ouch. That wounds me, but ‘tis a familiar stab.” Nick sighs.

“Good thing you heal quick, then.” And, after glancing behind them, Alicia heaves Nick down the stairs with her.

They tread lightly down the hallway, steps muted by carpet like the dampener of a piano. Alicia has to admit she doesn’t quite know why her suspicions have suddenly flared...or maybe she does.

Maybe it’s the whole, yeah, an assumedly harmless and charming radio personality turned out to be a pirate that’d been tracking her family since they departed from a burning Los Angeles with their tails between their legs.

From now on, Alicia resolved not to trust any broadcaster, no matter how silky smooth their voice may be. That means you, Ryan Seacrest, she thinks bitterly. But it’s a sacrifice she’s willing to make.

Guess that’s a thought about sacrifice in the apocalypse; it’s true that loss is everywhere, in everything, so you might as well let yourself choose when .

Even when it’s freeing that weight in your heart, that ponderous stone, known as trust.

Alicia halts briefly, and tightens her grip on Nick’s jacket; the polyester is almost rubbery against her fingertips. Flashes of discarded bottles, of vomit staining into her shirt, hands curled within greasy locks held over a toilet bowl. I promise. I’m done. No more.

Alicia bites her tongue. Yeah. Distrust is something old-world Alicia should’ve managed to cling to.

She breathes in through her nostrils, breathes the past out through her mouth, and moves. Nick is silent beside her, except for the occasional sniffle, and they find themselves outside Madison’s room within seconds.

The door is ajar, and the sound of fabric hitting the wall comes from within. Packing noises.

Alicia pauses beside the door, and stands on her toes to look around Nick. Their eyes lock. He nods, and steps around her to enter the room. Alicia follows.

“Mom, where-” Nick begins, and halts immediately. Alicia runs into him almost comically, cursing as her nose flattens against his skull.

“Nick!” She hisses. He doesn’t move, except for a single arm raised parallel to the ground. He’s blocking her.

Alicia’s frowns, and moves to shove him aside, but he steps back, and his arm curls around Alicia’s stomach.

“Hey there.” Nick says, casually, but Alicia can feel his hand shaking against her ribcage. “Strand.”

Alicia freezes. Strand? What’s he doing in mom’s room?

“Nicholas.” Strand says amicably, something close to surprise tinging his voice. “And...is that Alicia, hiding behind you?”

Alicia swallows her protest at the word ‘hide’, managing to respond, “How’d you guess.”

“I’m very good at guessing.” Strand chuckles. “It’s an important skill to have, when you gamble as often as I do.”

“Really? Gotta say, you didn’t strike me much as the gambling type.” Nick says, and Alicia feels him pushing her back with an almost indiscernably small step.

“Well, to be fair...and I am. Fair, that is.” Strand says. He moves into Alicia’s eyesight; crimson fabric pooling from between his fingers. It’s a stark contrast against the monochrome of his suit, the beige of the sheets, like sepia in a noir film.

Alicia’s eyes widen, and she squints. A dress?

“Right now,” Strand continues, “Everything’s a gamble, a guess; life’s the wager, up in the air, and the world’s been turned on its axis.” He shifts his weight from foot to foot, raising the dress into the air to peer at it, light reflecting alongside the glimmering sheet like water off a poncho.

Alicia feels a spike of revulsion tremor through her stomach, and she allows Nick to push her ever further back; out of the corner of her eye, she sees the doorframe inches away.

“So, in this new, upside down world, I allow the seven of you...mm, poetic, isn’t it?” Strand grins at the nightgown, because of course, that’s what it is. He tosses it back onto the bed, and stuffs his hands into his pockets. “Seven. One for each of the oceans of the world.”

“Yeah, real Hemingway. Are you the old man?” Alicia retorts, and Nick’s hand clenches around her shirt. She pushes back, but not enough to move them forward.

“Perhaps. You must be the arctic ocean.” Strand laughs. “But North, or South? Your mother’s surely coveted the other.”

“Hey dude.” Nick cuts him off, and Alicia hears him swallow audibly. “Speakin of, uh, mom, you wouldn’t happen to know where she is? It’s just a bit creepy, you standing around her stuff like that.”

“Madison is fine. She’s upstairs arguing with Daniel about something or other.” Strand waves a dismissive hand. “I’m just doing my rounds before…”

His voice trails off, and he tilts his head to the side, as if contemplating the bed before him.

“Before the pirates find us.” Alicia finishes for him. Strand pauses, and turns around to face them. His expression, while no longer hidden by sunglasses, is no less enigmatic without them.

“Pirates? You must mean the ship following us. Rest assured, Alicia, they’ll be on us in less than an hour.”

“You’re awfully calm about that.” Nick says, cautiously. He eases his back against Alicia.

“And where are you going?” Strand asks suddenly, loudly, and Nick freezes. “Do you suddenly not trust me, Nicholas?”

“Quit calling him that,” Alicia snarls. Nick glances back at her with surprise. She moves past him, ignoring his protests.

“We have to do something.” She tells Strand, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

“And what, exactly, would that be?”

“I don’t know! Something! Get on a life raft, or...arm ourselves. You’ve got guns, right?”

Strand looks at her, and bursts out laughing. “Guns? On a yacht ? I know living in the US might have accustomed you to pistols pouring out of your cheerios every morning, but I have class, girl. Daniel, on the other hand...”

“Alicia,” Nick whispers urgently, stepping beside her. “We should go find mom.”

Alicia hesitates, biting her lip. She turns back to Strand. “So you’re just going to walk around the boat until they get us?”

Strand doesn’t answer immediately. It’s Nick’s turn to manhandle Alicia; he grabs the back of her shirt and pulls, just hard enough to make her stagger. “Alicia, come on , we’ll see him later. Mom’s probably losing her mind.”

Alicia stiffens. “Fine. But you should come upstairs; if we’re going to plan something, it should be as a group.”

Strand’s smile widens. “And what makes you think I don’t already have a plan?”

Alicia stares at him dumbly.

“Let’s go , Alicia.” Nick says forcefully, and tugs her out of the room. Alicia follows, mind racing to comprehend the odd glint in Strand’s eyes.

“Nick, something’s wrong.” She says, automatically, as he pulls her down the hallway and towards that familiar staircase.

“Yeah.” Nick agrees. Alicia looks at her brother as he leads, profile darkened by the dimness of the lights.

The strangest bitterness, a heavy sort of despair that seizes your heart when you offhandedly glance into the mirror, the reflection peppered with smudges and filth, and you lock eyes with yourself.

And suddenly the world shifts and you’re no longer there, really, sort of detached from the pull of gravity, but that image in the mirror stares at you still.  

Alicia feels this all at once, and her throat closes with the overwhelming weight pounding in her chest.

Everything’s wrong.” She says, in disbelief.

Nick doesn’t respond to that, and walks faster.