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Eleanor doesn’t have a heart.
 
Literally.
 
At least she doesn’t have a real, beating heart. She could rip it out and it wouldn’t mean anything. She can’t die anymore, because she’s already been there, done that. She doesn’t need to breathe anymore, because not breathing can’t kill her.
 
She sinks under the clear, cool water in the bathtub, and holds her breath.
 
She presses her fingers to the pulse point on her neck, and feels an illusion thumping against her skin.
 
For once, she’s actually underwater when she feels like she’s underwater, trapped under crashing, crushing waves, drowning. Alone.
 
The bruises on her arms, the places where Vicky’s blunt, manicured nails scraped down her shoulder blades, the rope burn marks on her wrists, all wash away like makeup.
 
Eleanor takes a deep breath.
 
Water rushes down her throat and into her useless lungs, and she rises up coughing, her insides burning, her eyes running, water cascading from her nose and down her chin. Her dress sticks to her skin like wet tissue paper.
 
Why the fork did she get into the bathtub without taking off her clothes? She didn’t notice that she did that.
 
Her body gasps for air that it wants even though she’s been underwater without breathing for probably--what, an hour? The water was hot, really hot, when she got into the tub, and it's cold now, so. She knows it's been long enough to be unreasonable.
 
Someone knocks on the bathroom door and Eleanor’s mind flares with panic even though Vicky’s never even come into her house. Her and Chidi’s house. They don’t want Chidi to know, not yet. They don’t want to hurt him.
 
That’s the story.
 
The reality is that Eleanor doesn’t want Chidi or Tahani or Jason to know, but it’s because disgust settles hot in her stomach every time she thinks about what she’s done, what she’s doing, and she’d rather not have the others feel that same disgust or, worse, pity.
 
She hasn’t even told Chidi that she’s been telling Vicky he’s in love with her, that he thinks they’re really soulmates even though it went wrong, even though mistakes do happen sometimes, soulmates do get screwed up sometimes, especially since Eleanor’s such a wild card, right? The number one point-getter’s soulmate didn’t even really get into the Good Place at all. Surprise, surprise. Gotta keep it quiet, though.
 
Gotta keep it all quiet.
 
She’s kept things under wraps, hasn’t told the others about what Vicky’s doing to her. Michael’s the only one who knows, and he thinks she’s fine with all of this. The honeypot ploy, or whatever. That’s what it’s called, right? Eleanor doesn’t know. She was never into spy stories.
 
Someone knocks on the door, and Eleanor wants to say don’t forking come in, perv, but she just coughs instead, and Chidi opens the door a crack and looks in. It’s like his whole body is flinching.
 
When he sees Eleanor, he opens the door and steps in. She wonders if he would’ve done anything so bold before all the reboots. Something like that, just out of worry.
 
This is why Eleanor hates it when people care about her.
 
They worry.
 
It’s not that she feels bad about it. She just doesn’t like the questions.
 
She stares at him and he stares back, bug-eyed under his glasses.
 
She looks away, pushes her hair out of her face from where it’s pasted against her lips. “What?”
 
Her voice is harsh, but Chidi’s just frozen until he swallows and asks, “What’s wrong, Eleanor? You’ve been acting so strange.”
 
Eleanor scoffs. “Yeah, like you actually know me.”
 
Chidi doesn’t respond. He just says, “You can always talk to me.”
 
His voice is small, and Eleanor’s voice drips venom when she says, “Fork off.”
 
Chidi does.
 
Eleanor’s heart, which she doesn’t have, breaks a little more.
 
+
 
It starts like this:
 
Vicky tells Eleanor that she’s the second place point-getter in the neighborhood. She tells Eleanor they should talk.
 
She tells Eleanor, “You’re so pretty.”
 
Eleanor smirks and says, “So are you.”
 
(Eleanor thinks: shit.)
 
Vicky puts her hand on Eleanor’s thigh.
 
She leans forward and whispers, “I know you’re not actually the second place point-getter, Eleanor.”
 
Eleanor stares. It must read as panic, because Vicky smiles. It’s supposed to be a soft, reassuring smile, probably, but Eleanor knows what Vicky is, and she can see the poison lacing that sweetness. It’s now, looking at that smile, that Eleanor realizes something important: she’s actually kind of afraid. She’s not sure if she wants to do this. When Michael gave her a heads-up on Vicky’s plan, Eleanor thought she’d be fine, since, like Michael said, she could even get some kind of information from Vicky while she was distracted by intimacy, figure some stuff out, spy or whatever, but now that it’s happening, she feels cold. Vicky’s pretty. Eleanor should be up for this. She wants to be up for this.
 
At least, she really doesn’t want to be not up for this.
 
Because Eleanor knew something like this was going to happen. Vicky’s seduction.
 
She can’t say no.
 
There are a million and one nightmare scenarios that could spin out of a no, for all of them. They’re already on such thin ice after the thing with Shawn that Michael doesn’t want them to know about. That they’re not supposed to know even a little about, because they still think they’re in the Good Place.
 
Vicky’s voice is gentle when she says, “It’s okay, Eleanor. I won’t tell anyone, and I don’t know, I think maybe you are supposed to be here. You’re supposed to be with me.
 
Eleanor snaps back to reality, and pretends to start in surprise. She jumps out of her chair and stumbles backwards a little. She doesn’t actually mean to do that, her body just does it, and it works. She gets back on track, even manages to stutter out, “But Chidi, he thinks…he’s…what about…?”
 
Vicky lets out a dreamy little sigh as she stands up and walks closer, says, “You don’t want to hurt him. I knew you were better than you seemed. You have to be, if you’re my soulmate.”
 
Eleanor doesn’t act like she’s curious about how Vicky knows that if she doesn’t. She plays dumb, like she hasn’t even noticed that Vicky knows a lot more about this place than her for some weird reason, even if they’re supposed to be equal, or that’s what Vicky’s pretending.
 
Eleanor feels like she’s going to have to play dumb a lot.
 
“We can keep it a secret for now,” Vicky says. “I’ll figure it out.”
 
Vicky takes her hands, and Eleanor shudders in disgust. It’s fine, though, because it looks like Vicky thinks it’s attraction. She lets go of Eleanor’s hands and puts her hands on Eleanor’s hips instead, moves until they’re almost chest to chest. Eleanor stays still. She doesn’t push her away like she wants to. Doesn’t spit in Vicky’s face and say, “Nice try, bench.”
 
Eleanor pulls her closer, and kisses first.
 
+
 
Michael says it’s a pretty good deal, actually. Eleanor can distract Vicky, it’s brilliant! Vicky’s digging her own grave. She doesn’t think things through, running on attraction.
 
For some reason, it makes Eleanor feel gross, the revelation that Vicky is genuinely attracted to her.
 
She doesn’t say that. Instead she says, “Look, I’ll keep doing this if you promise you’re still trying to get us to the Good Place.”
 
Michael gives her a wolfish smile. “Of course. I’m getting closer every day.” His smile fades, and he looks a little troubled for a moment. “It has to happen soon. What with…never mind.”
 
Eleanor narrows her eyes at him. “What with what?”
 
“Nothing, nothing! Don’t worry about it. Just worry about keeping Vicky distracted. This whole thing…it’s really right up your alley, isn’t it?”
 
Oh, yeah. Carefree, morally bankrupt Eleanor Shellstrop, totally cool with forking a demon for the greater good and because, hey, she likes sex anyway, so it really is a good deal for her. She knows Vicky’s trying to torture her, so she can avoid it and just enjoy the sex. It’s good. They haven’t actually had sex yet, but they’ve done enough, and it was good. Like, objectively. It was definitely good. Eleanor really won the lottery here, or as much of a lottery as she can win in the Bad Place. Eleanor swallows hard and forces a laugh. “Girl, I was born for this.”
 
+
 
It sucks.
 
Eleanor would say it was sucking the life out of her, but…
 
It’s weird how many things she used to say on earth all the time don’t apply anymore. Eleanor always figured that, if the afterlife existed, she’d end up in Hell. Now she is in what’s sort of Hell, and it really feels like it, and when she was alive she thought she wouldn’t mind going to Hell because she didn’t believe in the afterlife anyway, but here she is and she minds.
 
She has three other people who sort of make it bearable, but only sort of, and less and less, because then there’s Vicky.
 
Vicky, outsourcing all the torturing of the others to her demon friends because she’s so wrapped up in Eleanor, in their storyline.
 
Eleanor’s genuinely jealous sometimes, in a horrible way, that the other demons still have basic ideas. That Vicky just had to get creative with her. Eleanor’s always been special.
 
She’s always stood out.
 
She’s always wanted to, sort of. She didn’t want people to talk to her or be around her, but she was cool with them noticing her.
 
Now she’d give anything for Vicky to not notice her, but then—who would she be noticing? Why does Eleanor care?
 
It’s been more than nine weeks. It’s enough time for Eleanor to care about people, and to be fair, they’re the only other humans in this joint. They’re literally supposed to be torturing each other, which is actively hilarious, but Eleanor guesses it’s working, because Tahani and Chidi and Jason don’t seem to know how to act around her, and all she can do is attack them every time they try to talk to her.
 
This is your fault, she wants to yell at Tahani when she asks Eleanor, darling, are you alright?
 
I lov—I care about you, you forced me to care about you, they forced us to care about each other, and now I’m stuck with forking Vicky. Literally! And the worst part is that it’s just meaningless sex and I used to have sex with people to get them to do stuff all the time, I didn’t even care. There’s no reason for me not to be into it except she’s literally a demon and she’s torturing me, she’s torturing all of us, and if I had a forking choice I wouldn’t give her the time of day, but I don’t. Because of you and Chidi and Jason and Michael! Because I’m keeping the attention off of you! Because it’s for the greater good! Before, there wasn’t a greater good! There was just me. There was just Eleanor Shellstrop, and she was cool.
 
Obviously, Eleanor says absolutely none of this, because she’s not a monologue kind of girl and because Tahani, with her big beautiful concerned doe eyes, with her beautiful everything, definitely doesn’t deserve that. It’s not really her fault. It’s—Michael’s, probably.
 
Or Vicky’s. Probably more Vicky’s than anyone’s.
 
Eleanor licks her lips, trying to get the bitter taste of Vicky off of her mouth, and for a moment she thinks, with a surge of longing, that Tahani must taste good.
 
Eleanor wonders if, over the past however-many years, she and Tahani were ever together, and she can’t imagine that she didn’t hit that at some point. She wishes she could remember. It would be a nice thing to replay in her head while she and Vicky do their thing.
 
Instead she’s got nothing but this reality, this reboot.
 
She wonders when it happened, when Tahani stopped sucking and started being her friend, when she stopped wanting to throw her under the bus.
 
When she started being someone she had to try to push away, because for a while there Eleanor actually asked Tahani out for coffee. Asked her to hang out after class. And Tahani did, especially after she and Jason broke up. (If it could be called a break-up at all. It was more like they forgot that they were supposed to be together.)
 
And she makes Eleanor laugh, and they can talk to each other, even confide in each other. They’ve had real conversations, and Eleanor’s had actual sleepovers with her (and yet they never actually slept together then, what a missed opportunity), and right now it all seems like something that didn’t even happen. Something that Eleanor’s mind is just telling her happened.
 
It’s like she can’t remember a time before she felt like this. Underwater.
 
It feels like everything going on in Eleanor’s existence is…just happening, and she doesn’t really feel anything. She just knows things. She just does things. She just reacts, but she doesn’t always know why.
 
Sometimes it’s like she gets rebooted every time she leaves Vicky’s house.
 
Like nothing ever really happened.
 
So she doesn’t even know whether to be surprised when, instead of hissing at Tahani like a cat and stalking away, she moves forward and takes the hand of the woman who ended up in the Bad Place and yet is still too good for her. She’s so much more gentle than she wants to be when she says, “Don’t worry about it.”
 
Tahani looks back at her in something like shock. Weird. Is Eleanor really that mean?
 
Wait, yeah, of course Eleanor’s really that mean. It’s just that in this one moment she can see herself and Tahani kissing. Tahani’s skin is smooth and warm, but not like Vicky’s is. Vicky burns like frostbite.
 
Eleanor desperately wants to know what being with Tahani would be like, and there’s something hopeless in the thought that she can’t. She can never do that. It would ruin everything, if Vicky found out.
 
They’re already having an affair, sort of. Technically.
 
Eleanor needs to be in love with Vicky right now. She can’t let herself fall for Tahani, or for Chidi—she’s already been and gone with Chidi anyway, right? She fell for a little bit, she thinks, but it was probably just confusion, it was probably just…
 
She doesn’t know. 
 
Eleanor hasn’t actually been in love before. (Not that she can remember.)
 
She’s pretty sure that being in love with two people would just get messy, so she can’t go there.
 
It’s weird, having to actively keep herself from falling in love with people. She never thought she’d fall in love at all, when she was alive.
 
She never did fall in love, when she was alive.
 
Maybe this is torture too, the caring part. The falling in love part. The love part in general.
 
Love feels a lot like torture to Eleanor, at least.
 
“I’ll see you in class tomorrow,” she says. But not after, because after I have to go look for Vicky. We’re going to be in forbidden love, having forbidden sex tomorrow. I’m gonna lie back and think of forking England. Or…well, maybe not England. You know what I mean, right?
 
Tahani smiles, and then she hesitates. Her grip on Eleanor’s hand tightens, and she takes a deep breath. “Eleanor, would you like to—”
 
Eleanor doesn’t want to know what she was going to say. She pulls away from Tahani and practically runs the other way.
 
She doesn’t even say goodbye.
 
It was easy, not being in love.
 
Not that she’s in love.
 
+
 
Out of all of them, Jason’s the easiest to be around. He’s just…
 
Not concerned, not really. He’s in his own little world, and he cares about everyone else’s, sure, and he’ll reach out, and he wants to help, but he doesn’t necessarily know or understand everything that’s going on, and it’s just a lot easier to be around someone who’ll take her at face value.
 
Jason’s funny and blunt and he has great stories and he laughs at Eleanor’s stories instead of looking horrified or looking like he feels bad that he’s amused. They’re equals in that way. They both suck.
 
Or they both sucked.
 
Eleanor likes to think that over the past few months (it’s been months, she can’t believe it, it’s like they just passed her by, but then, what’s time when you’re dead?) they’ve both gotten better. That over the past years they’ve gotten better, because she swears that she was a way worse person when she was alive than the bad person she is and was when she supposedly got here. Because apparently she actually got here like eight hundred reboots ago.
 
What a trip.
 
Anyway.
 
Eleanor hangs out in Jason’s budhole a lot, playing video games or watching movies or sports, and when she tells him about Vicky, she doesn’t expect it to get so quiet, and she doesn’t expect him to get so pale, and then not look at her at all. She didn’t think he, out of all people, would react like this. It just reminds her how forked up everything is, and it’s painful.
 
She and Jason sit next to each other in total silence, Eleanor studying the bitter downturn of his mouth. It’s weird. It’s wrong.
 
Everything is weird and wrong.
 
“This is worth it,” Eleanor says. Her voice sounds hollow in her head, or maybe her head is hollow, or maybe she’s just going crazy.
 
“Okay.”
 
“Don’t tell.”
 
Jason nods. “I know. These things are secret.”
 
Eleanor doesn’t ask how he knows, and she doesn’t ask why.
 
+
 
Vicky smiles at Eleanor.
 
Eleanor smiles back. She doesn’t know Vicky’s a demon, remember?
 
This is how it is, here.
 
This is what she wants.
 
She wonders if it would be easier if she really thought that that was true.
 
I want to go home, she thinks.
 
She doesn’t have one.
 
“I love you,” Vicky says, taking Eleanor’s hand. Her eyes are wide and guileless and she’s being so sweet that Eleanor wants to puke and if there’s one thing Vicky’s right about, it’s that she’s a damn good actress.
 
Eleanor’s not half bad either. She forces a smile. It’s good, because she’s supposed to do that.
 
Or is Vicky supposed to break her heart? Is she supposed to actually fall in love with her?
 
Eleanor’s lost track.
 
It’s hard not to lose track.
 
Vicky leans closer. Her lips brush Eleanor’s.
 
She tastes like dessert wine.
 
Eleanor always preferred hard liquor.
 
She kisses back and pretends Vicky’s someone else, anyone else. Tahani, maybe. Eleanor wishes she could get it on with Tahani.
 
She can’t, though.
 
Not with Tahani, not with Chidi...
 
She wouldn’t want to cheat on Vicky.
 
Eleanor abandons the fantasy of fantasizing about Tahani after just a few seconds, visceral disgust building in her chest because no, Tahani doesn’t deserve to be a fantasy. Not like this.
 
It doesn’t even work. Tahani doesn’t look anything like Vicky, and she sure doesn’t feel like her.
 
Vicky’s nails dig into Eleanor’s back.
 
(Sweet in the streets, demon in the sheets.)
 
Eleanor doesn’t even remember taking her shirt off, but she’s okay with forgetting.
 
She doesn’t care that she’s already forgotten enough.
 
At least this forgetting is her choice.
 
All of this is her choice.
 
Eleanor’s flat on her back now. Vicky’s straddling her waist.
 
Vicky’s pretty. When she was alive, Eleanor definitely would’ve been down to hit that. Maybe even here, if she didn’t know who Vicky really was, she would’ve been down.
 
She’s not now.
 
Vicky goes down on her anyway, and Eleanor pretends to orgasm.
 
She’s pretty good at it.
 
Eleanor always prided herself on not being fake.
 
Now she’s kinda into it.
 
+
 
She forgets, at some point, that there are actually people working on getting them to the Good Place. Well, there’s Michael. He’s working on it. And Tahani and Chidi and Jason—more Tahani and Chidi, Eleanor still isn’t sure if Jason always understands where they even are, but then, she’s been underestimating Jason for a while, apparently—are technically doing their best to keep their whole escape plan under the radar.
 
And Eleanor’s keeping Vicky occupied, and she likes to think that that’s why, just a couple of months after Eleanor starts keeping Vicky occupied, Michael gathers them together and, with a manic gleam in his eye, informs them that they’ve got a one way ticket to the Good Place.
 
Eleanor’s first instinct is to laugh, because—when? How? Why?
 
Is it possible that when she was out living her own story, everyone else was living theirs?
 
They take an airplane to the Good Place. Michael flies it, until at some point everyone realizes that it’s on autopilot now, and Michael’s gone.
 
He leaves a letter in an envelope, and no one can bring themselves to open it. Tahani tucks it carefully into her purse instead. Jason asks if Michael’s going on a different vacation, and Eleanor practically feels everyone deciding that that’s the story they’re sticking to: he’s on vacation. They say yes.
 
There are people from town council waiting for them when they get there.
 
There’s even a house waiting for them.
 
It’s a mansion, Tahani-style, but there’s a space for all of them.
 
Just one kitchen, though.
 
At night, Eleanor can’t sleep. It’s one of those things she doesn’t actually need to do, but she wishes she could.
 
Instead, she just drifts aimlessly through the first couple of days, lying on her bed or sitting at the kitchen table, staring at the four walls that keep her from her new world.
 
She doesn’t feel like going out.
 
This doesn’t feel like the Good Place yet, and she wants it to. Maybe going out would help, but none of them have, still getting used to the slow expansion of their returned memories. It’s weird.
 
Now Eleanor definitely knows she’s been in love with Chidi and Tahani.
 
Actually, now Eleanor definitely knows she’s in love with Chidi and Tahani, but—
 
Vicky’s gone.
 
Eleanor’s heard of Stockholm syndrome.
 
She never got it.
 
She still hates Vicky as much as she ever did. Maybe even more, now.
 
Because even now that she’s gone, her memory coats Eleanor’s skin like grease.
 
+
 
Jason comes downstairs on the third night. He sits with her at the kitchen table, watches her with big, curious eyes.
 
Eleanor sighs heavily. “What, dude?”
 
It’s weird, how much confiding she’s done in him without even really saying anything. It feels awkward, now. Things are supposed to be different here. There’s nothing to confide about. Eleanor can keep it inside forever, now. There’s no reason for the secret to tap at her teeth every time she smiles at Chidi and Tahani, even though it does more than ever, now. She doesn’t know why.
 
She doesn’t know why suddenly she’s feeling things again.
 
Mostly afraid.
 
Mostly all the fear she didn’t think she was feeling back there.
 
Jason says, “We’re in the real, actual Good Place.”
 
“Yeah, buddy.”
 
“Do you think Vicky got in trouble for that?”
 
Eleanor blinks. “Huh.”
 
That’s a nice thought.
 
“Probably,” she offers.
 
Jason nods. “And she’s still over there anyway, so she’s…not here. And she’s probably retired. I hope she’s retired.”
 
Eleanor’s a little surprised at the vicious edge to his voice at the end there. She likes it. “I hope so too.”
 
“You’ll never have to see her ever again,” Jason says. “So it’ll be okay.”
 
Eleanor takes in a sharp breath. “Who said it wasn’t?”
 
Jason frowns. “No one.”
 
“I love you, man,” Eleanor says very suddenly, because it feels like the right thing to say and because she might as well say it.
 
Jason smiles. “I love you too!”
 
Eleanor died alone. She’s not alone anymore.
 
It’s weird.
 
When Jason leaves to go to sleep or to do whatever Jason does if he’s decided not to sleep because he was never a fan either, Eleanor stays.
 
You’ll never have to see her ever again.
 
Eleanor’s not sure how much it matters. She still feels Vicky’s hot breath on her cold skin, and it still makes her want to throw up.
 
+
 
She can’t stop thinking about it.
 
About her.
 
This is supposed to be a new place, a new start, a good place, but Vicky follows Eleanor around like a ghost. Or a demon. Everyone has their demons, Eleanor’s is just very literal.
 
Eleanor, you suck.
 
The first time, Vicky had her fooled.
 
She seemed innately good. She really sold it.
 
Eleanor wonders if it would’ve been better, not knowing what Vicky was.
 
It was a mindfuck, sleeping with this sweet, pretty demon. The demon only ever came out when they were having sex. Just squeezing too hard, digging her nails in too deep, biting Eleanor’s neck rather than sucking.
 
Chidi and Tahani walk into the kitchen, talking in low voices, and they both pause when they see Eleanor at the table.
 
“I fucked Vicky,” Eleanor says, and then she doesn’t stop saying things, even though Chidi and Tahani’s faces are almost hilariously shocked, because Eleanor can’t keep this inside, she needs to let them know, and Jason would probably spill at some point anyway (never mind that he hasn’t said a single word about it for the past three months), so. “It was torture. I mean, literally. She pretended to be my soulmate. That she knew I wasn’t supposed to be there, but I was actually there because I was her soulmate. And it had to be secret because I didn’t want to hurt Chidi, because in this version of the universe you were actually in love with me. And I wasn’t supposed to be there anyway, and…it was kind of hard to actually do anything with her, y’know? Like, we didn’t have that much in common, right? So we just fucked a lot. I kept her occupied. I didn’t tell you guys ‘cause I didn’t want you to freak out, because it was fine. It was totally fine.”
 
At some point, Chidi and Tahani drifted over to sit on either side of her at the table, and they’re quiet.
 
It’s really, really quiet, and Eleanor is fucking sick of the silence, so she says, “Do you think it’s more like a TV show or a movie?”
 
Her throat is so numb it feels like someone else is talking. Or maybe she’s just numb? Whatever. It doesn’t matter.
 
This doesn’t matter anymore.
 
“…What?” Tahani asks delicately. Eleanor’s still not looking at her, just staring at the kitchen counter instead. It’s a solid counter. Only the best here.
 
Eleanor rolls her eyes. “I mean, the whole thing. The whole…Vicky thing. Is it more like a TV show or a movie?”
 
She waits expectantly, but Chidi and Tahani don’t say anything. Eleanor finally looks at them. They look ashen. Sad. Tahani’s eyes are glossy and fuck, Eleanor’s not here for that.
 
(At least they’re not disgusted. Or maybe they are and they’re just really good at not showing it.)
 
They keep not saying anything, but Eleanor stares, getting more and more annoyed. “Well?”
 
“…Eleanor, darling, why are you asking?”
 
Eleanor lets out a frustrated groan. “Because, Tahani,” she bites out, and her voice feels like it’s clawing its way up her throat through broken glass, “I wanted to know if I should be gunning for an Emmy or an Oscar.”
 
Tahani and Chidi look stricken. Eleanor doesn’t know why. It’s a perfectly reasonable question. Vicky thought she was such a good actress, but Eleanor blew her out of the fucking water. She knew she was an amazing liar, but, man, that was something else. Eleanor grins a little wildly. “What’s your problem? You really that shocked? I did it for you guys. I did it. I didn’t want to, and I did it. It was ethical, wasn’t it, Chidi? It was practically heroic!”
 
The last word bubbles out of her like blood and splats onto the table as she starts to laugh, hysterical giggling that turns into something choking and convulsive and Eleanor puts her elbows on the table and her head in her hands and fuck, she’s crying. The sobs tear out of her until she feels like she’s going to cave in on herself, and she’s shaking so fucking hard, and her entire body burns, her entire brain feels like it’s on fire, and it hurts. It really hurts.
 
She was ignoring how much it hurt. She thought she wasn’t, but clearly she must’ve been because right now it feels like it’s pouring in and out of her, all the pain she’d been pretending she wasn’t feeling, and she was cold. She’d been cold, and she’s not anymore. She’s burning and bitter and she’s sobbing into her hands, sobbing it all out, and it feels kind of--she’s not sure. Okay? Better. At least it feels like something that’s happening.
 
Eleanor’s pulled against someone’s soft, warm body, Tahani’s arms wrapping around her, and it feels good to be touched by Tahani. By someone else.
 
Eleanor doesn’t hug back—she’s still trying to cover her face, so the position’s really kind of uncomfortable—but she does lean in.
 
It’s enough to make the crying feel good, to make the choking turn into something smoother, something almost cleansing.
 
Something better.
 
This is better.
 
“It won’t be like this forever,” Chidi says. His voice is shaking.
 
Eleanor lets out a messy laugh. “Who cares? It’s like this now.”
 
“I know,” Chidi says. “I’m sorry. I know. But we’ll be here, Eleanor. We’ll be here with you.”
 
I love you guys.
 
Eleanor doesn’t say that. She remembers, now, that she has before. She’s told them all that she loves them over and over and over again, but she can’t really say anything right now.
 
She’s tired. She’s relieved, she thinks that maybe a part of it is relief, because—“At least it’s over.”
 
“Yes,” Tahani says, and she is absolutely crying but her voice is bright with desperate hope, grasping at the one positive thing Eleanor’s actually said. “It is. It is, and as time passes, it will be…less and less important.”
 
“I guess,” Eleanor says. “I guess.”
 
Her tears slow down until she’s just exhausted, which is just great, her body still betraying her. “I think I’m gonna go rest,” she mutters, and she stumbles when she gets up, but pushes away any helping hands. She’s not there yet.
 
She’s close to sleep when Chidi comes into her room.
 
“Eleanor?” he hisses in a loud whisper. “Are you awake?”
 
Eleanor sits up with a heavy sigh. “I wasn’t gonna be for long, dumbass. Why are you here?”
 
“I have something to say.”
 
“Ugh, fine.”
 
“I think…actually, I know, I know it was Hemingway who wrote that the world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
 
Eleanor stares at Chidi. “Did you seriously come into my room to quote a book at me?”
 
Chidi furrows his brow. “Yes. I felt like it was relevant. Just…think about it.”
 
Eleanor doesn’t want to. That’s why she grabbed onto the whole Chidi-quoting-literature-at-her-in-her-room angle and not the actual quote.
 
Chidi, of course, soldiers on. “I mean that you’ve been broken and rebuilt a million times, Eleanor. It’s not hard to tell. And it’s not hard to tell you’re strong, too. No one will ever break you for good.”
 
Eleanor can’t think of anything to say to that, so she and Chidi just kind of look at each other in awkward silence. Chidi starts to look more and more like a deer in headlights, right up until he clears his throat and changes the subject. “Ah, Tahani suggested that tomorrow we should go out and explore. There’s no reason to be cooped up in here, right? There’s a whole paradise outside.”
 
Eleanor nods automatically. Might as well.
 
She’s starting to have feelings again, and she’s finally let her friends know about the demon inside of her, so—maybe she should just try having feelings over good things, like being in the actual Good Place, because there’s literally nothing better than that. It’s what they’ve been trying to do this whole time, and Eleanor likes to think that she did help pull it off. That for the first time ever, she was the hero. She never actually wanted to be, but now she's glad she went for it.
 
Chidi gives her a quick, awkward smile, and, after some waffling, starts to head out of her room.
 
“Hey, Chidi,” Eleanor calls out before he leaves. Part of her doesn’t even want him to leave, but that part of her, the one that knows what it was like to rest her cheek on his bare chest, can wait for a little while, right along with the part that wants to kiss Tahani again. That wants to kiss him again. They've got all the time in the world to admit that they still remember each other's bodies with an aching intensity, but that time definitely isn't now.

Yeah, right now Eleanor would rather keep those feelings on the backburner until her skin isn't scraped raw by bad memories.

Chidi turns to her again. He’s not wearing his glasses, and his face looks smoother, less worried, without them on. He crosses his arms over his chest protectively and then nervously licks his lips. Eleanor's mouth goes dry, and after a moment of her staring at him like an idiot, he asks, “...Yes?”
 
Eleanor swallows. “Strong at the broken places, huh?”
 
Chidi smiles tentatively, and Eleanor's glad that she tried so hard to save him. He’s worth saving. They all are.

She doesn’t say anything close to that. Instead, she just blurts out, “Wasn’t Hemingway a huge asshole?”

Chidi’s smile grows, welcoming as sunshine. “Weren’t you?”
 
The first thing Eleanor feels in response to his comment (was it a burn? Eleanor’s so proud. It didn’t make perfect sense in context, but he’s learning) is giddy relief, because he can still joke with her and that’s not something either of them ever expected just a year ago, and after a beat she says, “Yeah, that’s fair.”
 
Chidi laughs, and then Eleanor does too.
 
It’s a nice moment, and Eleanor knows, with the kind of certainty she could never feel where they came from, that there’ll be more of those, scattered through the eternity that stretches out in front of them.
 
For the first time ever, Eleanor doesn’t dread what’s going to come next, because she’s free.
 
Her head is finally above water, and she’s free.