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I Saved the World and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

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"Old times, eh?" Rabbit said, not turning away from the keyboard in front of him. Of the two dozen screens in the room, at least ten were flashing bright red letters, but at least six weren't, so Chloe figured they weren't dealing with the end of the world as they knew it again.

Yet, she thought, before Rabbit turned around to look at her and she lost the ability to think for a moment in favor of wanting to either hit someone or run away very fast and very far. (Neither action would be at all productive, alas, and besides, she had a job to do.)

Still: "What are you wearing?"

"Too much?" Rabbit smirked.

Chloe scowled. She supposed she'd have to let that one go, more or less: as they said, you ask a stupid question, you can expect a stupid answer, and besides, Rabbit was nothing if not predictable.

"Don't worry, they're not selling them at Wal-Mart or anything," Rabbit said. "For now, anyway. Who knows, I might start a trend."

"Unlikely." She'd dyed and re-dyed her hair four times already during the past three months. Wigs worked better, but they were uncomfortable and itched, and Chloe felt that saving the world should at least come with the perk of not needing to spend the rest of your life with an itchy scalp.

Also, it might be nice not to have her face plastered all over some stupid t-shirt.

"Eh." Rabbit shrugged and went back to typing. "Stranger things have happened. Face it, Chloe, you're famous. Which is typical, really. I mean, I was there, too, but does anyone mention that?"

"Pretty sure it's one of the reasons you're not in jail right now." Chloe grabbed a chair.

"Nah. That's just because you like me, and you're a bully," Rabbit said. "Speaking of which, I'm expecting company."

"You are?" The code felt strange, almost amateur-ish, someone's first attempt to write a virus, except that it worked, and way better than it had any right to. "Who? Frank?" That really would make all of this feel like old times, Chloe supposed, although she'd kind of prefer not to have to go another ten rounds of 'you picked your career over me'. (She had, she did, she would. It didn't mean that she didn't care, simply that she knew her own priorities, and if Frank wasn't able to handle that, then good luck and goodbye and good riddance.)

"The scrabble savant? What would be the point of that?" Rabbit paused. "I guess he could make the coffee or something, and sure, he's not totally useless or stupid or anything, but no. Your mom."

And here she'd thought the t-shirt was bad.

"Why?"

Rabbit shrugged. "Know that saying about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer? Total BS. I mean, it all worked out more or less all right last time, but I thought it might be nice not to have to deal with the whole thing where Gustov kidnaps your mom to get to you again. You're welcome. Feel free to express your gratitude physically."

Chloe didn't even bother rolling her eyes. "This isn't Gustov."

" 'course it's Gustov," Rabbit said. "Who else would it be?"

 

Who else, indeed? The resemblance was superficial at best, but it didn't keep Chloe from recognizing the enemy. Yelena. The real one. The one who'd died, supposedly, years ago.

In another life, Chloe could almost imagine a happy family reunion having taken place. Gustov, reunited with his long-lost daughter, turning over a new leaf. Going white hat, the way Chloe had years ago, when she'd realized being able to do terrible things meant also being able to stop other people from doing terrible things.

She'd taken that from him. Her version of Yelena had been accepting, uncritical. Soft. Chloe had created her Yelena to be everything her mother hadn't been to her - and, perhaps, everything she herself hadn't been to her mother.

The goal had been to capture a criminal, not to reform him. Chloe'd needed Gustov to love her Yelena, to find her agreeable and loveable, someone he would trust. She'd done her job, and done it efficiently.

She had nothing to be ashamed of, to feel guilty about.

"Chloe? You found something? Only you've been staring at security footage a long time, so maybe you should take a break now, have some coffee or, I don't know, dinner? Breakfast? Lunch?"

"Coffee," Chloe said, reaching out blindly, her hand finding the cup. (Predictable and reliable.)

Rabbit whistled. "Who's that?"

Me. Once upon a time. "Yelena Dobreff."

 

"Chloe," someone said, and Chloe almost snapped, 'that's not my name' before she remembered who she was, what she was doing. What was at stake.

"Mom." Rabbit had had a point. Of course, Rabbit also insisted on complaining about not being put back into jail with regular intervals, so his judgment was hardly infallible.

Her mother hesitated. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine." It was an automatic response. She'd used it all through her childhood, rarely truthful, until it lost all meaning. (Then again, it was the adult, mature response, wasn't it? And why shouldn't she be fine, anyway? Yelena wasn't much of a hacker, and she'd already beaten Gustov once.)

"I used to - I thought, when you joined the FBI, that I would finally be able to stop being afraid for you. I felt relieved, knowing that my daughter's freedom would never again depend on my skills as a lawyer."

"You're an awesome lawyer," Chloe said. You told me to turn myself in even when you thought I'd be doing twenty-five years.

Her mother smiled a wry smile. "There were times when I wished I'd been a better mother."

"Or had a better daughter?" Half-joke, half-not-joke.

"Never," her mother said, in her best lawyer-voice. "Well, perhaps once or twice. I'm not perfect, Chloe."

"Hey, who is?" Chloe swallowed. She almost expected Rabbit to walk in on them, bearing fresh coffee and pastries, to declare that he, for one, had quite comfortably reached the pinnacle of perfection, thank you very much. "I just - it feels like this whole thing is my fault. If I hadn't pretended to be Yelena, to try and get Gustov the quick and easy way, none of this would have happened."

"None of this? Perhaps. Nothing at all bad? Unlikely. Besides," her mother added, "this isn't so bad. I enjoy a chance to spend some more time with you, regardless of the circumstances. At least nobody's holding a gun to my head this time around."

"Yeah." Chloe willed the memory to go away. She'd known what she'd be walking into, the choices she might need to make. The sacrifices. She'd known that when Gustov had offered to trade her life for her mother's, he'd been lying. After all, in a way, Chloe had killed his daughter in front of his eyes. She hadn't given Gustov a chance to choose, therefore, neither would he.

"Chloe." Her mother's arms were warm around her. "Everything will be all right. Trust me. Trust yourself."

"And if you can't manage either of those, trust Rabbit, eh?" Rabbit said, bearing a tray of cups and some muffins. "Looks like I got back just in time for my own hug. How about it, Chloe? We can keep it nice and friendly. I mean, with your mom right there and all."

"Sorry." Chloe snagged the cup with her name on it. "World's not going to save itself."

"Rain-check, eh?" Rabbit grinned. "Works for me. All right then, let's go and save the world. Again."