The pills came first.
Beth found a niche in high school (not her niche, but a niche) by joining cross country running. She was never interested in the right things or the right people, and never in the right way. But she liked to run. Maybe it was that bullshit about endorphins, but that would mean that she didn't have enough to begin with. Defective. It's a possibility. She ran and ran until she sprained her ankle or fell and cut her knees and elbows or tripped on a fallen log and broke her arm. She hurt herself, and when she couldn't run because she was hurt, she found new and different ways to do it. Endorphins. The problem was, that Beth just couldn't run enough.
So prescriptions written up in her name for yellow ovals and pinkish triangles. Antidepressants. Then mood stabilizers after Beth stayed awake for three days, bit her nails to the quick, tore out her eyebrows. Side effects, and prescriptions for those. Counteract the headaches and shakes and dry mouth. "Just a little something to help you out, Elizabeth," her mother said, and smiled, and to someone who noticed less, her smile may have seemed genuine.
Years later, when Katja Obinger popped up on Beth's Skype screen, she just laughed.
She'd known her whole life that she wasn't real.
For a detective, Beth's been awfully blind. Maybe because she wanted to believe it so badly, believe the lie that her life is something beautiful, her relationship something wonderful, her brain functioning. Katja opens her eyes to a mirror world, where everything is held together with betrayal and lies, and the world swallows Beth whole. She goes down easy, now that she knows. Maybe she knew it all along.
Beth's psychiatrist warns her not to mix medication with alcohol, an afterthought. She doesn't blink an eye when Beth asks for more anti-anxiety, something to help her sleep, something to really knock her out. She doesn't ask many questions, not that Beth could tell her, not that she'd be believed.
It's bad enough home alone, worse when Paul's in for the night. Beth can feel it running in her pulse, the knowledge. She would swear that Paul could see it on her face, see Katja and Alison and Cosima and someone… something… killing them. She'd swear that he can see it, and that he doesn't care. So she drinks from his beer bottle; a fuzzy feeling around the edges. The next day, Beth buys a case of wine and the fuzz turns into dreams turns into fog turns into overturned glasses on the coffee table turns into more names with the same face turns into women with her face touching her hand turns into Paul cupping her face. "I love you, Beth," he says, all sincerity. "Where are you? Have you been taking your medication?"
She's so far away, it's tempting to just keep drifting, but Paul's fingers press into her neck and Beth swims for the surface. "I'm where I've always been. I'm right here."
"You're not," he says. He loses his grip and her head flops back, dropping back down to the pillows. "Beth, you're miles away. Where are you?"
"I'm everywhere. But you know all about that."
Alison bristles with defensiveness, prickling up after the initial relief of vodka down her throat, and washing pills down with it.
"Hope you aren't planning on driving home, Ms. Hendrix." Beth taps against the lip of her coffee cup, nervous energy. Her own pills are at home. She has a whole cabinet of options.
"Oh, please." The look Alison shoots her is withering. Or it would be, if Alison's eyes weren't starting to glaze over. "I'm not even human," she says, probably hoping Beth doesn't pick up on the way her voice catches. "I'm coping."
Beth smiles, some echo of an expression that used to mean something. Her mouth feels tight. "Join the club," she says. She can hardly breathe, if she thinks about it. Weighted down by the should's and should not's. It's physical. She can't outrun this. She's trying to stand up under it, to face this, whatever this is, head on. She tells herself the pills make her stronger, but they're making her unsteady. "Just keep playing along."
"Are you kidding? You're so…" Alison makes a gesture with her hand, waving it in front of her face, between them. "You're practically a professional. You have everything together."
Beth would laugh, but she doesn't want to scare Alison. Her clone. Her… friend? "I envy your optimism and confidence, Alison."
"Are you suggesting that you don't have everything under control?" Alison draws back, alarmed. Her fingers dance around the mouth of her purse, instinctively looking for more little helpers.
"You don't have to worry," Beth finds herself saying. "I'll take care of everything."
She almost believes it. In fact, Beth feels puffed up with something resembling a positive feeling during the whole drive home. Until she walks through the door and sees Paul waiting for her, not watching television, not drinking, just waiting. Watching.
Every good feeling leaves her in a rush, so fast she gets dizzy with it. She makes it to the bathroom, slow, pukes up coffee and bile. Wipes her mouth, and swallows down the taste with a handful of pills.
Maggie Chen, she thinks, for the first time in hours. Her heart slams in her chest.
"Babe?" Paul's voice, on the other side of the bathroom door. She'll have to face him. "You okay? I missed you today."
"Am I holding it right?"
Beth laughs, actually laughs, actually means it. It's strange. She knows how Alison's body works, because it is her body. She's standing close, but moves closer. "You want to hold it like this," Beth says, moving Alison's fingers with her own, curving the way she wants Alison to curve. "Move your arms up a bit, and try to relax them." She squeezes Alison's arm, pats her shoulder just once when Alison has it right, or right enough.
Alison huffs, but any rancor is gone out of it. She's smiling. "Please tell me I have it now." She shifts her shoulders, loosening up before stiffening again, approximating the pose that Beth put her into.
"Go ahead and shoot," Beth says, "Both eyes open, aiming for the target." She's a little further back, watching Alison carefully. She's sober -- you don't mix deadly weapons and pills, not even when your body feels like it's breaking up, splitting down seams. From the look in Alison's eyes, she is too. It's strange, like meeting again for the first time. But the guns help. The ability to kill is a kind of remedy.
Alison exhales long, steadies herself, and before the inhale, squeezes the trigger. The shot pops off and both of them cringe a little, Alison from the recoil. "Christmas tree," Alison mumbles, dropping out of formation in disappointment. "I'm going to die." The shot lands approximately nowhere near the target, making a small whuff as it embeds into a hay bale.
"You'll get it, Ali." Beth's hand is at Alison's elbow, squeezing. "Here, you're good at mimicking, right? Try to match my stance. Stand behind me, even. See what I'm seeing."
She can feel Alison's eyes on her, manages not to shake. Shoot the target, Childs. The world outside doesn't matter, not in this moment. Shoot the target. Don't think about the people coming after you, the people you might need to shoot. Beth squares off, eyes down the sight.
"You're so strong, Beth. This is like… second nature to you. I'm impressed." Alison blinks. "Of course, you've had training, but… you know what you're doing. That's…" she clears her throat. "Comforting."
Beth almost believes it. Almost wishes it were true.