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Coincidence and Violence

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“You’re covered in blood,” Elizabeth said.

A dream: the kind you have when you’re awake. The kind that let you see what could nearly be and what is nearby. A tear.

Dead eyes, tired eyes, eyes that have seen too much and need to see more. “It’s not mine,” it’s a statement of fact, but an uncertain one. Elizabeth read somewhere that there are giant beasts living in the ocean, but she’s never seen them for herself and couldn’t tell you if the book was lying. This is like that.

She keeps walking, through the tear, to where she is needed next, and she’s crying for her father and looking out for her mother and living for all of her sisters and Elizabeth can see all of it as clearly as she can see the giant beasts at the bottom of the ocean. She’s read it somewhere, but she couldn’t tell you if it was real.

 

“You’re covered in blood,” Eleanor said.

She’s seeing through time and space and she knows this because she can dance that dance and she’s never met anyone else who could before.

Eyes that need a rest but know they will not get one for a long time and that know this rest will either be evenescant or eternal blink. “It’s not mine.” There’s an absolute certainty born of knowing everything that can be known about one particular spot in one particular reality at one particular time and it’s painful. Eleanor can feel her father’s consciousness humming in her chest, telling her to reach because he’s had and he’s lost and he doesn’t want that for his little girl.

She keeps walking with her shoulders set strong and stiff and her eyes filled with tears she won’t shed for a father she can’t decide if she can mourn and a mother she never understood and the loneliness of a lifetime and Eleanor could see it all just like she could see her mother in a wheelchair that she could no longer stand out of reading to the daughters she stole. It’s plain as day and she wishes it could be different.

 

“Mother, I’ve got to go,” Eleanor tells Sofia, “I’ve got to find her.”

Sofia scoffs, “You’ll never find her: you said yourself she’s in a different plane.”

“You said my father was dead.”

“Fine. Go. It’s not like I’ve ever been able to stop you from doing anything before, and now that your father broke my damn legs–”

“He saved your life,” Eleanor snaps viciously, “Those legs were a result of your own attempts to break the glass.” Then she regains her calm. “You’ll look after the girls won’t you? While I’m gone?”

There’s a deep sigh, “They’re in their teens now, darling, I don’t know what you think I could do to them now.”

“Mother.”

“Yes, yes, I’ll make sure they don’t do anything unseemly.”

“Eleanor are you leaving now ?” Sally cries petulantly: she’s in the middle of getting dressed for school, summer school. Her grades are not what they should be, but she’s thriving socially and that’s more than Eleanor could have ever hoped for.

“Yes, Sally, now do you want a hug before I go? I’m not sure how long I’ll be gone.” Sally leaves off with finishing her braid and darts out of the bathroom to wrap herself around Eleanor’s waist, and that sets off a chain reaction that drags Persephone, Alex, and Wanda to come rumbling down the stairs at breakneck pace to make sure they don’t miss their big sister as she tries to inch away to a distance safe for teleportation. “Okay, okay, girls , I’m going now,” she’s laughing, and she needed that, so she’s smiling and hugging them back before realizing that there’s a million things she almost forgot: “You know Mr. Reed’s number? By heart? And you’ll plug your ears if Grandma Sofie says anything weird? And you can wake yourselves up? Sally, you’ll get to the bus on time, right? Oh, don’t forget to eat properly while I’m gone!”

Then the girls are begging her to leave, and so she gives them each one last hug, and she steps into the dining room, and she teleports as far as she can in one burst.

She has a starting point, but she’s not sure if she wants to go there. It’s a lighthouse, and Eleanor is no longer fond of lighthouses, but if it’s for this then she’ll do it. She’d teleport to every lighthouse in the damned country if it came to that, but luckily she doesn’t need to. She knows exactly where this lighthouse is– it’s the one she’s least fond of. It’s the one where she lost her father and saved her mother, when neither of them deserved that. Her father’s consciousness insists, gently, that nothing is all bad, and not to let the past cloud the present– or, at least, he says something like that. It’s very hard to tell when it’s his neurons interacting with hers in a big jumble of general feelings.

Now that Eleanor is actually here though, actually at the lighthouse, with a small backpack holding her old suit, she realises that she’s actually ridiculously underprepared for all of this. She knows she last saw this girl– Elizabeth– in Rapture, and that’s about all she knows. She figures she’ll start kicking up old stones and maybe she’ll find someone down there who knows, or something. You know what– she realizes– Sander Cohen probably knows, that creep knew everything about the underwater metropolis (although, that tends to happen when you sleep with three-fourths of Rapture).

She enters the unfortunately familiar lighthouse, gets in the bathysphere that awaits, and changes into her big sister suit on the way down.

She had forgotten how wonderful Rapture had been, and how dilapidated. To her, growing up largely in the aftermath of the civil war, Rapture had been a wonderful, if stifling, place to grow up– as all children see their homes. It had been all she knew, and so it had been perfect. Now, five years since her feet last touched the leaking puddles and five years since she dodged schools of fish when she went for a stroll outside, Rapture is revealed for what it is: a lost civilization, a sunken ship to plunder. Although, Eleanor supposes that she is here for a more organic treasure.

There is no one there to stop her leaving the bathysphere when she gets to the docking station, and so she doesn’t waste time leaving it. Never trusted those things.

And that was where the plan ended. From here it was purely guesswork searching. Eleanor knew next to nothing about Elizabeth, and therefore had no way to even predict where she could have gone or intended to go. She just knew she was here, somewhere, as of yesterday.

 

She wanders, mainly. Once in a while, she’ll hear the whale-like, wailing moans of the big daddies, but so far no echo of the ghostly, ghastly laughter of a little sister. That’s as good as could be hoped for, she supposes.

There isn’t a single splicer around– or, at least, no living ones. From the looks of things, there had been some sort of battle between splicer factions, or something of the sort; or maybe a group of them thought they could take down a big daddy for his adam. All Eleanor knows is that there are a lot of dead splicers around, and that whatever had killed them isn’t around. That makes her nervous. She sticks to the shadows, muffling her footsteps as best as she can, trying to keep her teleportation to a minimum, because she doesn’t want to run out of EVE before she finds Elizabeth and teleports the both of them home, and that one jump will take quite a bit of EVE. Hepatitis and Tetanus were never really anything Eleanor wanted to obtain.

The hallways of Rapture feel nothing like what they’d been when she had lived in them. They’re dreary, and cold, and dark, and somewhat foreboding. Before, they had been canvases to paint on and windows to look out of and so insulated that you felt safe. Now, they’re smudged with blood and algae, clouded by age and dust and ice, and so isolating from her sisters, and even her mother. Eleanor isn’t used to being alone: first it had been Mother, and then Father, and then the reborn consciousnesses of hundreds. By now, many of those consciousnesses have passed on their memories and information and wisdom, and then passed away. Mostly, it’s just Eleanor and Delta, with other voices murmuring the occasional guidance.

And here was one of those voices now– a sharp, accented voice with many, many regrets. This way, it pulls her. Now turn. Turn again– no the other way, stupid girl. Now straight ahead and you should see it.

There was a corpse on a desk, impaled by the drill of a big daddy, and rotting away to the point where there was almost no smell anymore. Ah, yes, there it is– claims the other voice– so many regrets, so, so many. Eleanor lets the other voice linger a moment, lets it take advantage of her eyes to mourn the loss of itself.

Then there’s a noise behind her, the deranged scream of a starving splicer, it echoes down the hallway and is cut off with a dull crack. Eleanor knows that sound: that’s the sound of a split skull. Immediately on high alert, she readies her needle and unlocks the safety on her harpoon, creeping back into the hallway just in time to hear “So I went this way first, right?”

The voice sounds more sane than otherwise, but Eleanor knows the deception of plasmids just like she knows there are no more humans in Rapture– aside from Elizabeth, presumably. A muscular form rounds the corner, wearing a disgustingly dirty, tan sweater and holding a wrench in his left hand. Upon seeing her, he immediately backs up, raising the wrench over his head and making direct eye contact with her, as if wondering whether or not she’d attack. He looks, for lack of a subtler word, sane. No screaming attack, no obvious bodily mutations, and even a reasonable survival instinct. He’s not from around here, that’s for sure.

“Wait!” Eleanor cries on instinct. That had been her father, who had assessed the situation and didn’t want his little girl going it alone in the city of the lowest lows. From there, Eleanor scrambles to find some reasoning, and she eventually manages to spit out “You’re not a splicer.”

This new person with the wrench manages to say “They didn’t put a voice-box in you?”

Then they just stare for a good few minutes, until Eleanor realizes she’s had her helmet on this whole time, and she pulls it off cautiously to smile and say “Sorry, I’m Eleanor, I’m down here looking for someone.”

And the wrench person returns “Oh, yeah, hi. I’m Jack, and likewise.” Curiosity seems to get the better of him, however, and he asks “That suit… are you from here?”

“Yes, I was one of Sofia Lamb’s little sisters, and then I borrowed this suit to escape.”

“Oh, thank god,” Jack sighs, “I always worried I had missed a few.”

Several memories that aren’t hers click into place within Eleanor’s mind. “You’re that Jack? You saved Rapture from Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine!”

Jack seems uncomfortable with her recognition, and he switches his wrench to his right hand. “Well, not really, that was all the little ones’ doing. I just beat my dad to death with a golf club when he asked me to and then held off Fontaine for a minute.”

Eleanor has no clue how to respond to this at first.

Jack sighs heavily, “Dammit,” he mutters, “Sorry, I don’t do well with small talk. Wasn’t socialized much when I was young.”

That kickstarts Eleanor’s tongue again and she reaches out a needle-pointed hand, “Oh, no, don’t worry I understand. I killed my father as well, in a manner of speaking. He lives in my head now, with several others. Socialization was never my strong suit either.”

Then there’s more staring, but Eleanor squashes the silence with “Who are you looking for down here?”

“Brigid Tenenbaum,” Jack answers, sobering significantly. Delta provides Eleanor with a rough outline of Tenenbaum’s appearance– dark curls, blue eyes, squared shoulders– and she felt familiar, but Eleanor supposed that was to be expected, what with how famous the woman was.

“I’m looking for an Elizabeth, although I’m not sure where to start my search,” Eleanor admits, and Delta adds “Maybe we can help each other.” Delta likes Jack, feels a kinship to him that his consciousness can’t quite explain, and appreciates the fact that he looks battle-hardened, with callouses on his hands from holding a wrench and a silent step. He looks like a dad, Delta realizes, and that’s why he likes him. He can entrust his daughter to another father, and he trusts Eleanor to get away if the man loses his shit suddenly.

Jack nods, and he starts to lead the way, and he’s heading for Siren Alley.

Delta nudges, and Eleanor listens, “Jack,” she starts, slightly embarrassed, “this might not be the best direction.” He stops, turns toward her. “If you’re heading towards Siren Alley… my mother flooded it.”

Jack sighs, “This place somehow got even worse than last time I was here.” He’s half-joking.

“Where will we find Tenenbaum?” Eleanor inquires.

“Probably in the Olympus Heights sewers, like last time.”

“You have a history with her?” Eleanor pushes.

“She saved my life– a lot more than that.”

As she follows a few paces behind Jack, Eleanor ponders this: “more” than a life? What’s more than a life? Delta responds: a soul. She saved his soul the same way Eleanor had saved Delta’s soul. “You must love her a lot then,” Eleanor murmurs, and it carries loudly in the cavernous ballroom they’re passing through.

Jack lets out an unconscious half-grin, “I guess. I mean, she’s the closest I’ll ever have to a mom.” Yes, Delta likes this man. He’s just like Eleanor. 

Chapter Text

Nobody runs Rapture anymore. There’s no more little sisters to harvest, no more value in the leftover trinkets of the wealthy, no more treasure in the sunken ship. There’s no more food, no more repair crew, and eventually there won’t even be any more oxygen. The splicers are eating anything they can get their hands on, even each other. They’re splicing up to breathe underwater, even if they’re not entirely sure why themselves. There’s no one left who’s sane enough– no, there’s no one left who’s crazy enough to run Rapture. It’s a true democracy, a true communism, a true anarchy.

There’s pros and cons to this– even ignoring the uncomfortable and conflicting fact that the few splicers left are usually too busy going hannibal-cannibal to try and attack them. Pro: there’s no one to work against them, the way Fontaine and Ryan had worked against Jack or the way Lamb had worked against Delta. Con: there’s no sense of order in any way, shape, or form, so it’ a little bit like trying to fly a kite in a tornado.

Sometimes, the wind pulls you backwards.

Like how Eleanor is currently shoving an oxygen mask onto Jack’s face as the place she once lived with Aunt Gracie fills with water, not from an attacking force or an adversary, but from a simple pipes burst. They were going to be killed because Jack’s wrench was used more for cracking skulls than relieving pressure on pipes– or, Eleanor supposes, Jack will be killed because his wrench can’t fix a pipe.

Either way, and with oxygen or without, Jack will die from cold or pressure if he stays in this water for long. Now, Eleanor’s mother may have been a deranged sociopath, and her father may have been a groaning machination, but they did raise a daughter with morals and ethics, and so Eleanor secures the mask to Jack’s face and hoists him over her shoulder, teleporting them immediately to the first place that pops into her head. It had been reckless: she needed to save her energy for the trip home, but she couldn’t simply watch a man die either.

Now, she is back to the last place she could have wanted to go: that drilled-in, mostly-rotted corpse pinned to the desk with the nameplate “Yi Suchong” in gold embossed font sitting proud and blood speckled. So, you know, barely a step up from square one. Let’s call it square two. Yes, Eleanor has portalled them to square two. Wonderful .

There’s no time for that though, because Jack isn’t breathing. The mask fell off, and the pressure around his ribs had knocked the wind out of him and the water into him. Eleanor feels panic bubble in her chest– the most danger that’s come to anyone near her since she got topside was when Sally stayed out too late with her friends and Eleanor had been sure she’d been kidnapped.

Delta though, Delta has never had a friend who wasn’t in trouble. Delta knows how to deal with trouble, and he reminds Eleanor that the best thing for Jack is to get the water out of his lungs. She pounds on his chest once, twice, three times, four times, five, six, seven, eight nine tenelevenwelvethirteen pleasewakeup.

Thank the gods, Jack convulses and curls in on himself, coughing up a mouthful of water and gasping for air like he’s never felt it in his lungs before. He’s trying to cough out words, desperately, as if they’re a necessity (and these words must be if he’s prioritizing them over the oxygen he needs to get his brain functioning again). “Th-” gasp “Thank, th-thank” gasp “y-y-you.”

Helping this polite and somewhat strange man sit up, Eleanor says “There’s no need to thank me, just breathe.” He takes her advice with a slow nod, and she props him up on the edge of the desk. “I’ll be right back,” she says, “Just scouting ahead,” and then something maternal kicks in and she double-checks “Will you be alright on your own for a moment?” Jack nods vaguely, waves a hand at her, and reclaims his wrench from where it had been tucked, and thankfully not blown out of, his waistband.

Eleanor nods back, gives what she hopes is a reassuring smile, and slips through a hole in a wall– they had gone towards Pauper Drop last time, maybe this time they could go through Adonis Suites, it was certainly a more direct route, and might have fewer plumbing issues.

A whale moans in the distance, reminding Eleanor that she must be near a window. She wants to see some light, even if it’s just the dull green filtered through thousands of feet of seawater. Strange that after living only a few years on the surface, she already misses the light.

The hallway she’s been following spits her out next to a corpse leaning against the blanketing window that reaches from the edge of the floor to spill onto the ceiling, stretching over the whole room with its cool echoes of light. Schools of fish just barely pass close enough to see. A glass tunnel in the distance has been severed by the tail of a plane somehow.

The corpse looks familiar to Eleanor. Dark curls, blue eyes, bright red lips smudged with blood leaking from her forehead.

Oh shit. That– that’s Elizabeth. And she’s been dead at least a day. Eleanor sinks to her knees, removing her helmet, and a mellow sadness builds to dripping tears builds to sobs. She doesn’t know what else to do. Elizabeth’s body is stiff with rigor mortis and frigid temperature when Eleanor holds her, and her blood is tacky against Eleanor’s neck. Her hiccuping sobs echo all over, and a big daddy moans in sympathy somewhere far away. All this time, it had been for nothing. The girl she had seen in the awake-dreams was no longer in this reality. She had never known her past her face and her name and her aching grief rippling across time and space, but she had wanted to, and she would have loved to, would have loved her, but it was too late now. Elizabeth had been killed by the city that Eleanor had never been able to truly hate before.

A staggering run’s footsteps reach Eleanor’s ears, and she can’t even bring herself to stand up and face them, so it’s a good thing that they happen to be Jack’s, charging as fast as his recently-half-dead legs can carry him with that wrench raised over his head, ready for a fight. He skids to a stop, he opens his mouth like he’d like to say something, but keeps closing it. Eventually he settles for kneeling down next to her, putting a hand on her shoulder. When he looks at Elizabeth, his face contorts in confusion, but he says nothing about it. He knows nothing about any of this, what would he even say? So he lets Eleanor cry for a long while, holding the stiff corpse of a girl that he thinks looks very familiar, and he keeps his head on a swivel for something attracted by the noise.

Most everything down here is dead though, so nothing ever shows up.

Even when the crying is finished, Eleanor holds Elizabeth close to her like somehow her dead body might feel it. She’s still doing this when she says “Let’s go find Tenenbaum.”

“Eleanor…”

“My reason for being here is dead, and I won’t let your reason for being here die too. I’ll get you out of Rapture alive, I promise. Both of you will leave here alive.” There’s a hard determination steeling Eleanor’s voice.

She sets Elizabeth down carefully. She wipes her eyes. She says “Let’s go.” She doesn’t say that if her father hadn’t been with her, carefully guiding her through the grief the way he had learned to over years and years of loss, she would have just held onto Elizabeth until Rapture itself decayed into nothing. She walks towards towards Adonis Suites.

Jack follows, casting a mournful glance at Elizabeth and silently praying he wasn’t too late for Tenenbaum.

Chapter Text

They’ve been walking who knows how long. It feels longer than the last time Jack was here to Jack, and longer than the last time Eleanor was here to Eleanor. It’s actually only been a few hours, almost a day since their initial drop down to the depths, but grief and fear and the loneliness made more acute by the presence of another human being and the separation from family make it seem very, very, very long. Everyone wants to go home. What is even keeping them here? Elizabeth is dead; Tenenbaum could not have been very far behind– the woman has to be something like 60 at this point, and people age more like krokodil than wine in Rapture.

For Jack it’s the memory of a woman pointing a gun to his head and demanding he back away, pleading that he make a better choice. A mother, and he wanted to bring her home to the children she saved.

For Eleanor it’s the memory of Jack, pale and unbreathing, of her hands slamming into his rib cage with a desperation to reach the lungs underneath. A father, and she knew that without her he would not be able to return to the children he saved.

There must be a god, and he must not like them, because there comes another obstacle, less than ten feet from the entrance to Olympus Heights. Actually it is the entrance to Olympus Heights: the damn thing is broken, stuck shut and iced over.

¨I could Incinerate it?¨ Jack suggests.

¨If you wanna drown again, go ahead.¨ Eleanor parries; the ice has come from, and expanded, a crack in the metal connecting the ceiling of the two panels of glass tunnel. Jack shrugs noncommittally.

“Well,” he mumbles, “then where to next?”

Eleanor thinks on this. She knows Rapture better than anyone, she was raised here, and contains her own mental atlas as well as countless others from people who knew it differently than her– altogether they have, she has, the most complete map of Rapture that she can be certain exists. Certainly, if anyone can find an alternate route to a place as central as Olympus Heights, she can.

Market street comes to mind. It would take a helluva long time, a detour that would cost them hours if they were lucky, but if they pass through there, it's the next best entrance– and likely the last passable entrance they could try before Eleanor had to suck it up and use her teleportation to get them there, which would mean she would have to shoot up with some eve from a disgusting, 10 year old needle, and take a nap. That’s a last resort, hepatitis with a side of murder is not on Eleanor’s agenda today, no sir.

So, they backtrack, which takes at least an hour. They’ve been careless though; because the splicers were only trying to eat each other before, they thought they’d be safe enough. Guess what? Wrong. Jack and Eleanor almost get to the Shopping District, and here comes a horde of them, out for blood and flesh and probably even bone because they’ve probably spliced up enough to be able to digest that. How long can Eleanor do this? How long can Jack do this? It’s simple math: the sum of the remaining energy of one genetically modified twenty-year-old plus the remaining energy of one (questionably) thirty-year-old test-tube baby, minus however much it takes to knock off at least fifteen rabid drug addicts.

Well, when you do the math, and divide some in half, and add a pilfered knife to the duo, and carry the one stabbed to a spot that’s easier to defend– pretty much everyone loses.

Jack doesn’t have the luxury of kneeling over her, staunching the worst of the blood, figuring out where, exactly, the knife went in. What he can do is throw off his sweater, feel grateful that the undershirt is long-sleeved in this frigid hell, and scream at Eleanor to hold it on the wound. Admittedly, if only to himself, he’s terrified. He can’t let this girl die, not when she’s probably got a family to go home to, not when she’s just lost so much, not when she’s got those same haunting expressions that his girls at home get sometimes when they call him “Daddy” instead of “Da.”

He’s got to get Eleanor home– even if he knows next to nothing about her and the last time he trusted someone he knew next to nothing about in Rapture it got him a glassful of mind control and an extra helping of pain.

However, the splicers are not done yet, the bastards, and Eleanor is supposing that, stabbed as she is, she’ll be taking a nap one way or another. Might as well make sure it’s in a safe spot. Jack is a father, and the father within Eleanor is telling her that Jack will not leave her, even if it kills them both. Even if Eleanor’s fate is to die of tetanus a thousand leagues below the sea, she will not doom him to the same fate.

So, with the remaining energy summoned from every corner of her body, and with some encouragement from the spirit of her father, Eleanor grabs Jack’s ankle and teleports them into the closest section of the Olympus Heights sewers that she can reach.

Then she takes that nap, largely because she can’t do much else.

 

Jack is left mid-swing, and suddenly surrounded by nobody, in what is approximately the safest spot in that post-apocalypse city. He had forgotten that teleportation was in their bag of tricks, but after a split second of adjustment to the even colder (how does it get colder?) and actually slightly cleaner sewers, he’s back into panic mode.

Eleanor is no longer responsive, and the only indication that she’s even alive is the fluttering breath coming out of her throat when Jack takes her helmet off, and the white-knuckle grip she’s got on Jack’s sweater. The blood is spreading slowly over her bodysuit, and Jack’s knowledge of medicine is limited to cuts and bruises and mustering through and conscious people.

But you know who probably does know something about something in medicine? Renowned biological scientist Brigid Tenenbaum. And there must be a god, and he must be sorry about blocking the Olympus Heights entrance earlier, because they’re around fifteen feet from the door to her safehouse. That god is still an asshole though because Jack can hear little baby laughs coming from behind that door.

Tying his scarf too tight around her abdomen because he’s scared of not doing it tight enough, Jack picks Eleanor up like a baby and opens the door to the safehouse without knocking.

That was a bad plan. In seconds, there’s a teenage girl pointing a gun between his eyebrows. Oh, no wait, she’s definitely older than a teenager– something like Eleanor’s age, he supposes. Her face looks familiar too. Dark curls, blue eyes, less makeup than the last time he saw her, less blood too.

Oh, holy hell.

“You couldn’t be–” Jack starts, more than a little aghast.

But the girl with the dark circles under her eyes has softened her grip on the gun, marginally. “You speak! Probably not a splicer then, they don’t really talk anymore, do they? You can come on out, kids.”

“Elizabeth?” Jack breathes.

“Yes?– Oh my word set that person down, they’re bleeding! Titan, would you grab my first aid kit?”

A little boy with shock-blonde hair nods and sprints off towards Tenenbaum’s office, re-emerging with a wooden box that doesn’t look like any medicine kit Jack’s ever seen until Elizabeth opens it to reveal the standard stuff.

Eleanor is laid on the nearest of the bunk beds, and a kid brings one of the many floodlights a little closer so everyone can see what they’re working with. Her brow is pinched in pain, her breath is coming in shallow whimpers, Elizabeth takes no time to deal with that, she just unties Jack’s sweater, curses him briefly for tying it too tight, and hands it to him. She cuts away the whole midsection of Eleanor’s suit, wipes the skin down with a water-soaked rag, and then disinfects with some hundred-year-old scotch. Eleanor screams at the sting of it. One little girl, this one with narrow eyes and a blue dress, shushes her quietly, pets her hair. Jack can’t handle this. He can’t look away either.

“Most of the bleeding has stopped,” Elizabeth remarks absently.

One of the kids nods, though it doesn’t look like they get it, even as close as they’re standing, “Good,” they say.

“Not too deep,” the temporary surgeon continues, “I’ll stitch her up and wrap it. Booker got worse licks than this, and I patched him up fine, didn’t I?”

“Yeah,” one of the kids says, though they don’t really seem to know what she’s talking about either.

Out comes a curved needle– a pretty clean looking one, especially given the environment– and thread, and Elizabeth is stitching as fast as she can, and her hands are shaking, and the kids are dead quiet, and Jack is certain that his heartbeat must be distracting, as loud as it is. He can’t lose any more little girls. He wouldn’t be able to come home to Eileen and Genevieve and Athena and Primrose knowing that he had let this girl die protecting him. Jack tried to quiet his heart.

In minutes, Elizabeth was done and Eleanor was patched up and Jack was less close to a heart attack and the kids were back to playing quietly on the floor.

At the last second, Jack sprang up and stuttered “Um, thank you.”

Nodding nonchalantly, like they both hadn’t been in an absolute panic moments ago, Elizabeth asks “Who are you? Other than these kids, I haven’t met a sane person down here yet.”

“Oh, I’m Jack, that’s Eleanor. Actually I was wondering–”

Eleanor ?!” Elizabeth screeches, her hands fly to her face, and it’s that moment that she realizes they’re covered in blood from stitching up the girl she’s so flustered over, and then she really gets into the panicking.

“Eli?” A girl who can’t be older than three mumbles, rubbing her eyes tiredly, “Okie-dokie?”

That– the need to placate a child– seemed to snap Elizabeth out of it, remind her why that blood was on her hands. Jack could relate. He was sure Eleanor could too. Sometimes the only thing to make you hold your head high above the water is the fact that those kids are so darn short that you have to do that so they can find you, sometimes.

“Okie-dokie, Rosalyn,” she assures, “are you done with your nap? Do you need to potty?” Rosalyn shakes her head, but she lifts up her tiny arms in request, and Elizabeth obliges, bouncing her on her hip. “Now: Jack, you said? Let’s chat, I suddenly have several questions for you.”

“I’ve had several all along,” he responds.

“Really? Like what?”

“Well, I believe we found your corpse earlier.” He’s walking on eggshells, and trying not to stir up anything unpleasant with Eleanor’s– friend. He’s going to call this her friend for now.

Not missing a beat, and absolutely trampling those eggshells with her blood-spattered kitten heels, Elizabeth asks “The one in Market Street or the one near Artemis Suites?” There is absolutely no good way to respond to that, so Jack stays silent. His mouth isn’t shut, he keeps opening it and closing it like he’s going to say something, but he’s lost the physical capability to manifest the sounds. “I’ve been here a few times, using portals and such,” Elizabeth clarifies, paying more attention to the baby than the conversation. Just. What the fuck. How did Eleanor meet this girl? And, now that the question is arising, who is Eleanor? Jack doesn’t have a whole lot of room to talk as a 10 year old, mind-controlled, test tube baby bred for the purpose of aiding an anti-capitalist revolution against his biological father, but this is a whole other level of batshit crazy.

Eventually, Jack spits it out. “Artemis Suites.”

“That’s probably good, that one’s less mangled,” Elizabeth trails off, still bouncing Rosalyn. “God, Eleanor…” She comes back around though, “So, Jack, what are you doing in Rapture– and how did you come across Eleanor?”

Still feeling a little confused, Jack answers as honestly as he can– because this is Eleanor’s friend(?) after all. “I’m from here, in a way. Looking for my mom. Well, she’s kind of my mom– it’s a long story. I had just gotten down here when I ran across Eleanor, who was looking for you. We went with safety in numbers, and then she saved me from drowning, and then we found your corpse, and then we were attacked by a mob, and then Eleanor teleported us here.”

“Got it, okay,” Elizabeth parries, and she gestures for him to follow as Rosalyn begins to nod off against her shoulder. Rosalyn is placed in a wide bed next to a little boy, this one even younger. Who, in the name of any god that exists, is having babies in Rapture ?

“You seem to have your hands pretty full down here,” Jack murmurs, wondering idly (and unnecessarily, his children would say) how well Genevieve is running things (and, if she were here, Eileen would whine, “But Da, you left me in charge, didn’t you?” to which Athena would bark “ha,” and Primrose would fail to suppress a grin). He misses his girls.

“I suppose,” Elizabeth shrugs, tucking a threadbare blanket over both sleeping forms, “I’m still looking for one though, Sally.” A somber expression darkens fair features, “I came down here looking for her, can’t find her.” Jack gives a soft hand on a shoulder, but he doesn’t remember bringing a Sally topside, so that’s all he can do.

Nobody comes to Rapture without some kind of guilt, guilt heavy enough to sink them to the bottom of the ocean.

There’s something even more familiar about Elizabeth’s face though, something in the line of her shoulders and the sharpness in her eyes, that compels Jack to ask “Do you know a Tenenbaum– Brigid Tenenbaum?”

Mood recovered, Elizabeth barely stops herself from rolling her eyes, “Well I should hope I do, why?” Jack doesn’t have to answer: Elizabeth can read the hope in his features, can see the relieved drop in posture. That makes it a little hard to add, “Well, sort of.”

There’s a guarded suspense of belief, “What does that mean?”

Elizabeth wrings her hands a little bit, a nervous gesture she hadn’t had occasion for in a while. “Technically, I am Tenenbaum… in a way.”

Jack is getting more strained. “What does that mean?”

There’s no good way to explain it, so Elizabeth settles for a bad way: “She’s an iteration of me from a different timeline, like those corpses. This version of me isn’t really supposed to be in this reality; I actually broke some cosmic rules coming here, almost lost my powers for a while.”

Jack still doesn’t feel good about this though, not with the way Elizabeth can hardly meet his eyes. “Then where is this reality’s Tenenbaum– you?”

“Dead,” Elizabeth breathes, relieved to have finally said it because the part of her that was Tenenbaum can’t bear to make this boy (although his appearance clearly states he’s a full grown man) sad more than once. To try and alleviate the worst of the grief, the not knowing, she adds “It was age, an illness, and bone frailty. She went peacefully– well, not peacefully, she was grumbling the whole time about how much she still had to do, but she wasn’t in much pain and she was content with everything. She knew it was coming and she was ready to go.”

No tears come, just a heavy stillness in Jack’s chest.  That was his mother and he couldn’t cry more than a few tear because he hardly even knew her.

He hardly knew her and yet she meant so much to him. He hardly knew Eleanor, and she had saved his life– twice. He hardly knew Elizabeth and here she was, wrapping him in a hug and saying she was sorry for his loss. Who did he know? It felt like his first bathysphere to Rapture all over again: twisting in the wind like a kite in a tornado.

It seems Jack and Eleanor have switched places: Jack’s reason for being here is dead and Eleanor’s is in the Olympus Heights sewers collecting lost children.

“Why are you still here then?” Jack whispers around a lump in his throat, “Why not take a bathysphere and get these kids topside right now?”

Elizabeth releases Jack from her iron-gripped hug. “There’s no bathyspheres left,” she said, a bitter, hardened edge creeping into her voice made it sound like that wasn’t a coincidence: she’d been trapped. “Besides, I’m still looking for Sally.”

Who’s lookin’ f’r Sally?” Eleanor shouted from the bed. “Peter Stevenson, ‘sthat you?” She’s rolling over, trying to get out of bed, and her hysteric shouts fall to pained mumbles. “Tol’ya, she’s not interested .” Jack and Elizabeth– accompanied by the brood of children who aren’t sleeping– are at her side in an instant.

“Eleanor,” Jack ventures cautiously.

Elizabeth is not so cautious. “Who’s Sally? Please, Eleanor,” she begs.

Eleanor’s dove gray eyes peel open, “She’s–” but then she gets sidetracked. “Elizabeth. Elizabeth!” Grimace is knocked down by ebullient smile. “We saw your corpse!” Ebullient smile is stomped by grief. “You’re dead-- I’m dead.”

“Eleanor, you’re not dead,” Jack murmurs, trying to be comforting.

Unfortunately, this derails her further in her delerium, “Jack! You died too?” She begins to cry; heavy, dripping tears. “I’m sorry, Jack, I tried to save you, your daughters…”

Elizabeth is not having any of this: “Eleanor, you’re not dead, just panicking,” she deadpans, “Eleanor can you name five friends?” Blank eyes, unregistering (and Jack can’t really blame her, he can’t name five friends either). “How about five family members?”

“Mother, Persephone, Alex, Wanda, Sally.”

“Who’s Sally? Tell me about Sally.”

“Her grades aren’t good.”

“Not really what I meant, darling.”

“She has lots of friends.”

“What does she look like?”

“Blonde, she likes to wear braids, she wears glasses for reading but she doesn’t like to because a boy told her she looked like a nerd, her eyes are blue, her favorite food is jelly but she hates jello, she wants me to get her a cat, her friend Pat–”

“Okay, darling, I get the picture,” Elizabeth cuts in, and Eleanor abruptly silences herself and stares adoringly for a solid three minutes while Elizabeth talks, “you’ve just been living with the child I’ve been trapped down in this godforsaken city for the past two months looking for– totally understandable.”

“I’m sensing some tension,” Jack tries to butt in, fatherly instincts kicking in. He’s developed something like a sixth sense when it comes to women’s tempers ever since the girls all started hitting puberty, and that sixth sense is telling him that he is seconds from a blowup and subsequent burnout. “Elizabeth, do you think–”

“Nope. Bye.” And Elizabeth leaves right out the back door. Shiiittt.

Chapter Text

What Elizabeth doesn’t see because she’s going outside to blow off steam outside of the impressionable watch of children, and what Jack doesn’t see because Elizabeth’s exiting door-slam wakes up a baby he feels obligated to placate, is Eleanor rising wobblingly from the bed. One of the children, Bartholomew, asks her if she’s hurting anywhere, and points her in the right direction when asked where Elizabeth went.

Eleanor, though nobody sees her at the moment, is on a mission. It’s the same mission that brought her back to Rapture. See, she’s pretty certain she just found Elizabeth, but now she can’t see Elizabeth, and there’s not a whole lot of certainty in Eleanor’s adrenaline-soaked, shell-shocked mind that Elizabeth won’t disappear the moment she’s out of view. She’s got to find her before then.

So she wanders out the back door, and she wanders around the sewer, and she almost wanders out of the sewer into Olympus Heights proper, where the mutated psychopaths that used to be socialites and businessmen roam looking for a bite to eat. Luckily, before she can really expose herself, Elizabeth spots her as she’s on her way home.

“What are you doing out here!?” Elizabeth demands, “In your condition--...” she shoves down the rising frustration, knowing it’s rooted in concern and not true anger.

“I had to check,” is all she’ll get out of Eleanor– usually so articulate.

“Come on, Eleanor, let’s get back.”

“Darling.”

“Hm, yes?”

“I like it when you call me ‘darling.’”

Elizabeth laughs, and it’s real and genuine and it blows her frustration out of the water. “Okay, darling, but you must know you’re delirious.”

“Okay.”

They get back to the safehouse, and now it’s Jack’s turn to be upset. He’s been frantically pacing the length of the safehouse, trying to preoccupy himself with children, because Elizabeth’s gone, and Eleanor’s gone, and he can’t leave to search for the latter because he can’t leave these kids alone without the former serving for some kind of defense. He had a whole rant prepared in his head, but when he sees Elizabeth stumble in under the weight of a smiling Eleanor, he can’t really be anything but relieved. He’s known these girls for, what, a day and an hour, respectively? Somehow, the fact that this is the first time he’s seen either of them smile just evaporates the better part of his frustration.

Still, he looks Eleanor right in the eye when she gets close enough and asks pointedly, “Where did you go? Hm? I turn my back for one second and you’re gone– I nearly had a heart attack!”

Delta laughs, and it comes out of Eleanor’s mouth. They can’t help it, Jack’s just such a dad, and Eleanor’s never really experienced a dad in such a traditional sense (Delta was truly a father as best as he could be, and he could never be replaced, but he had been half machine and mute, which can make it hard to be a traditional father-figure).

“She needs to lay down,” Elizabeth tells Jack with an expression mixing exacerbation and fondness, “she’s delirious and very likely on her way to opening up the stitches I just put in.”

“Sorry, love,” Eleanor sings, and the endearment turns Elizabeth’s face a few shades of pink. Jack feels like he can laugh at that, and he takes his sweet time helping Eleanor lay down.

“Thanks, thanks thanks,” Eleanor’s saying, “I’m fine but I hurt really bad. Have the girls all gotten to school okay?”

“Yes, they’re fine,” Jack assures her. Elizabeth is peeling back the bandages, to check on the stitches, and her grimace details bad news. “What is it?”

“The cut’s gotten infected.”

“That fast?”

“In Rapture? You bet your ass.”

“Elizabeth! Language!”

There’s a frown, but it doesn’t last long when Elizabeth breaks out laughing, “That’s what you're worried about? Okay, dad , but seriously we can’t take care of an infection down here. We need to get topside, and the sooner the better.”

“Can’t you make portals? Just make one out of here,” Jack suggests, he’s keeping his voice low because a few kids have started playing with chalk nearby.

“Well, I could, if you want to end up in a parallel dimension that could be entirely different than the realities we know,” Elizabeth retorts, rolling her eyes. Jack doesn’t get it, he’d been assuming that Eleanor’s portals that he’d seen were of the same variety as the ones Elizabeth had mentioned. Elizabeth clarifies: “I can’t make portals through space and time, not like Eleanor can, I can only shift realities to one where we are where we want to be at that moment. She moves particles through space, and I move space around particles. Opposites, really.”

“Well, shit,” Jack mutters under his breath.

“Language,” Elizabeth breathes idly.

“Based on what you said just now,” Jack grumbles, “and what you said earlier about the bathyspheres, the only way we’re getting out of Rapture is if the stabbed girl portals us out.”

“And I’m not sure she even has the energy anymore,” Elizabeth adds.

“We’ll give her a nap, then we’ll ask her,” Jack suggests, giving the sleeping girl’s furrowed brow a glance, “it’s not like we have a schedule to keep.”

 

In fact, they obtain a schedule to keep, a very tight one, when the splicer’s they thought a great distance away start pouring into the sewer tunnels. They go from having days to having minutes– just like that. Neither Elizabeth nor Jack wake Eleanor up: she hears one child scream and she wakes up with a start thinking that it’s Persephone having another nightmare (they all have nightmares, Persephone’s just the only one who screams). It’s then that she sees her adult counterparts fighting off rabid hordes, trying to get them far enough away that they can regroup. Delta’s intuition tells Eleanor that Elizabeth’s tears should be able to send them to a dimension where they won’t be bothering anyone, but she needs time to open the tear, and, as stated previously, they now have a very tight schedule.

Eleanor can’t fight, she’s not dumb, she knows that, so she does what she can and rounds up all the children and she tells them all to hold hands and not let go, to stand right there and wait for her to come back with Elizabeth and Jack so they can all go home. One girl is confused because she thought this safehouse was their home, but Eleanor doesn’t have time to explain that to her.

She runs to where Elizabeth and Jack are holding off screaming splicers by physically holding a door that has left its hinges in its socket. “We’re going,” Eleanor shouts over the incoherent screams, and in her condition that would ordinarily be extremely painful, but she’s got some more of that good adrenaline as a wonderful numbing agent. “We’ve got to go now , can you block them for even thirty seconds?”

“Not without something else to hold this door here,” Jack returns, and it’s getting clear that he can’t do this forever.

Neither can Elizabeth, but she asks “Eleanor can you hold this door for just two seconds? That’s all I need.”

Eleanor can feel the blood stinging as it leaves her wound, but she nods and switches places, and Elizabeth closes her eyes and focuses and rips the space before them to create a portal unlike anything either of them have ever seen. Eleanor can feel her stitches tearing with the effort of just holding her ground, and she can tell Jack is doing most of the work. Jack’s feet are slipping in the algae of a puddle. Now or never, sink or swim.

“Let them through,” Elizabeth demands, and the door gives as Eleanor sinks to the floor and Jack pushes both of them out of the way of the mob, which runs straight to Elizabeth and therefore through the tear in front of her, totally unaware of any of their surroundings.

The tear closes as the last splicer enters, but that can’t be all of the rest of the denizens of Rapture: the schedule has loosened, not disappeared.

“We’ve still got to go, and we’ve got to go now,” Jack says, helping Eleanor stand because the pain is really hitting her hard now and she can’t even support her own weight.

“Eleanor, can you portal us out of here?” Elizabeth asks– no, she’s begging now. She’s terrified for the children and for her very new friends and for herself and she’s begging an injured girl to save them all.

“I told you,” Eleanor says between labored breaths, “call me ‘darling.’”

Jack chuckles at that, trying to remain an optimist even in this situation, and he tacitly enlists Elizabeth’s help in shuffling Eleanor over to where the children are huddled, crying and whispering.

“Okay, darling ,” Elizabeth murmurs into Eleanor’s ear, “can you make one more trip for me? Can you get us home?”

Eleanor isn’t sure if she has it in her, but she’s going to try her goddamn best. “Sure thing, love.” And she tries to hold onto as many things as she can and she tries to get them home– but she isn’t sure if they make it.

Chapter Text

Sofia Lamb was knitting– one of the few passions she has left in life now that she’s not running a city or raising a daughter or laboring through very literal custody battles or trying to brainwash the masses– and wishing that Wanda would turn down that god-awful music , but knowing that, were she to say such things aloud, Wanda would be very cross with her for using the Lord’s name in vain and would blare her gospel music all the louder to spite her. Actually, she was knitting a sweater, because it was starting to get colder outside at the end of summer, and she was sure they could use any extra money, and she was just realizing the sweater might be a bit too small for any of the girls, and she was about to start undoing the whole thing, and then a whole pile of children dropped into the living room in front of her, and she realized this sweater had to fit at least one of them and she continued knitting.

Sally had been home from her last day of summer school for about an hour, and she sprinted down the stairs at the telltale rattle of a teleportation to give Eleanor the good news, only to find a crowd of people all crowding around Eleanor, who had not gotten off of the floor. Immediately, she goes to grab the car keys from the entryway table.

“Hey!” She shouts over the hubbub of concern, everyone turns to face her. “Friends?” she asks, and she gets a nod from the man in the bloodstained sweater, and a gaping expression from the woman in the pencil skirt and ripped fishnets. “Help me get her to the car, there’s a hospital five miles that way, I’m pretty sure.” Then, noticing the children, she adds as an afterthought, “Persephone! Alex! Want another babysitting job?” Which gets a satisfactory rumble of footsteps down the stairs. Nobody has moved in front of her though, so she raises an eyebrow, “Are you Eleanor’s friends or aren’t you? Let’s get a move on.” Jack starts to move, picking Eleanor up like he did before and following Sally out to the car, a four door chevy strikingly similar to the one Jack has at home, though significantly more beat up. He sets her in the backseat, and then takes the keys from Sally, saying “You don’t look old enough to drive yet.”

“I most certainly am ,” Sally insists, flinging herself heatedly in the backseat with Eleanor, “I drive with my friends all the time.”

Elizabeth finally makes it into the passenger seat, and they take off at speeds much higher than the speed limit. Elizabeth, who has never been in a car this fast before (or any car made after 1912 for that matter), holds tightly to the seat underneath her, fastening her seatbelt just because it makes her feel like she won’t fly through the windshield.

“You drive like my friend Zingo,” Sally tells Jack with a laugh.

“Don’t let Eleanor hear you say that,” Elizabeth replies.

“Aren’t either of you worried!?” Jack cries incredulously.

“No,” they both say. Eleanor finishes with “I’ve seen her doors, and she doesn’t die here,” while Sally remembers “Eleanor’s been through much worse than this– whatever happened, she can take it.”

They get to the hospital in record time, and they hand Eleanor off to some doctors who are absolutely baffled by the speed of the spread of the infection. It’s only after they’re sitting in the waiting room that Jack realizes this is the same hospital he took Primrose to when she got sunstroke right after they got topside and settled. They can’t be more than twenty minutes, driving, from his house. Another Rapture native, so close, and they’d never met. Jack almost feels guilty. As for Elizabeth, who’s only ever known 1912 Columbia, post-apocalypse Rapture, and the dream of Paris, she’s just staring, slack-jawed at everything around her. Sally can’t believe that there was not just one but two sane people left in Rapture for her sister to bring back, and she can’t help feeling like they look familiar– both of them.

All of a sudden, everything seems impossible to everyone.

They don’t get to dwell on it long however, because as soon as they’re all figuring out that life can be much stranger than all of their already strange lives had previously been, a doctor strolls in. He smiles broadly and commends Elizabeth/Sally/Jack for getting their sister/friend/lover (though the silly man puts the order all wrong) to him so fast, says it likely saved her life; explains that she’ll make a full recovery because of the recently widely-available penicillin. All three of them want to groan, because penicillin was widely available in Rapture 15 years ago when it was created, and that had been the singular good thing about the city.

Regardless, Eleanor is doing well, going to be held overnight to watch for complications, will be released the next morning– and Jack and Elizabeth need a shower and a change of clothes before they’re allowed to even enter the room she’s in (“I understand there must have been some rumble or something,” the doctor says, looking self-satisfied with his vernacular, “but you really must clean up before I let you see her”).

Elizabeth grumbles, Sally giggles, Jack thanks the doctor profusely and drags both girls to the car to make a significantly slower (and probably safer) drive home. He expects Elizabeth to grill Sally for every detail of her life– I mean she spent 2 months of her life just searching the ruins of Atlantis for her– but no such interview is forthcoming. Instead, Elizabeth seems to be content with the fact that she’s alive and well. The only question she asks is “Do you remember a tall man with dark hair, probably needed a shave and a new wardrobe?” To which Sally responds “Maybe. Everything is a little hazy before my sisters and I went topside. Eleanor says the ADAM does that in the doses they gave it to us.” As opposed to disappointment, Elizabeth seems put at ease by this, and smiles reverently at the girl when she’s looking out the window.

Back at home, Persephone and Alex recruited Wanda to help rangle the tangle of children newly breathing fresh air. By the time the other adults get home, Sofia Lamb is in the middle of a story, her soothing and commanding voice being her strongest suit, and every once in a while the teenage girls will cut in with “Grandma Sofie you can’t say that,” or “Grandma stop it,” or “don’t be communist, Grandma,” and eventually Sofia Lamb tires of hearing herself referred to as a grandma so much that she does stop trying to subliminally suggest to the children that they reform the government, or to adopt her own political ideology, or to become her underlings in some other way. She just tells them a normal story about a girl who’s too good for the rest of the world, who tries too hard to save everyone, even the mother who didn’t deserve it.

“What are you three doing home from the hospital? Where’s my daughter-- ah, it’s Delta all over again!” Sofia moans at the end of her tale.

“Grandma Sofie--” Persephone starts.

However, she’s cut off when Sofia screeches “And Tenenbaum, you old bat, what are you doing topside?” She’s addressing Elizabeth, but doesn’t give her time to answer before adding, haughtily, “I'm afraid you’ve spliced too much, dear, you look younger than me, and we both know you’re older .”

“You’re being passive aggressive again, Grandma,” Alex grumbles, “Eleanor says that’s bad for your emotional health.” She can’t say that Sofia is wrong, because this girl does look a lot like a younger Tenenbaum, but her pseudo-grandmother is still being rude.

“Well forgive me for wanting to know who, exactly, your sister brought back before I give them permission to use our shower and borrow our clothes.” Sofia grimaces at the pair of adults, “So, who are you?”

“Not Tenenbaum,” Elizabeth snaps. She’s short on patience because the woman she loves is in the hospital and she’s not allowed to visit until she showers and this absolute hag is being intentionally obtuse to try and stop her. She stalks up the stairs to find the bathroom on her own.

Jack grins sheepishly, shrugging and not bothering to apologize, because this woman was being pretty rude for someone who knows exactly where they’ve come from, and the old lady takes this as a sign that her intentions were unwelcome and wheels herself over to the window to glare at the street. The other little sisters– no, Eleanor’s other younger sisters are more personable.

The one called Persephone, who is distinguishable by her cookie-brown hair that isn’t curly, but that is messy enough and short enough to be mistaken as such, smiles warmly. “Do you want to change out of that sweater?” she inquires, “Caked-on blood is super uncomfortable.”

Alex, who has eyes greener than grass or leaves or anything else, scoffs, “I don’t think we’re going to have anything he can change into, Seph.” Wanda, with very long, very dark hair nods contemplatively, but doesn’t look up from her reading to the herd of newly recovered children.

Distantly, Jack knows it should feel strange to have these young girls– no older than 17– so calm in such a situation like this, but he knows he was as calm, and so were his girls. When you come from Rapture, anything seems possible in the worst of ways.

Instead of anything else, Jack settles for a smile and a “Actually, if I could borrow your car I’ll just run back to my house and grab a shirt– and my girls.”

“There’s more of them!?” Sofia Lamb snaps, whipping her head around, and then she looks Jack up and down slowly and realizes “I know you , you’re Jack Ryan, you’re the one who stole the first set of Little Sisters, you’re the reason I had to create more!” She’s hissing through her teeth, and Jack frowns at her, hoping she’ll catch the hint that he doesn’t give a rat’s ass what she has to say.

The girls all ignore her too, save for Persephone’s tired “Grandma, hush,” and then she looks at Jack and says, “Oh, by all means– we’d love to meet some more mermaids.”

“Mermaids?”

“That’s what we call ourselves– the people from Rapture,” explains Sally with a grin.

This manages to quirk the corner of Jack’s mouth into an unintentional smile. Mermaid sounds so much nicer than anything else you could call people from Rapture. Eleanor had done a good job bringing up these girls, and he was sure that they would get along with his daughters just fine.

Jack went home, took a shower, rounded up his girls (all with overnight bags at Sally and Alex’s insistence that they stay so long), and went back to Eleanor’s house to find Elizabeth seething with rage and pointing a butter knife at an entirely unamused Sofia Lamb, while the younger girls had taken the new kids upstairs a moment ago to find a bath and some clothes.

“Ah, you, inconvenient defiler,” Sofia addressed Jack, “would you kindly restrain this girl?”

Bristling, Jack frowned at her. “That doesn’t work on me anymore, grandma, and I’m sure you did something to deserve whatever Elizabeth wants to do to you,” he growled. However, there was Athena right behind him with her wide, wide eyes, and he was reminded that all of his girls were watching his example, even as old as they were, and so he took a steadying breath and turned to Elizabeth to defuse things. “What’d she do?” His girls took this as their cue to slink upstairs and find the source of the splashing and high-pitched giggles.

Elizabeth lowers the knife, looks at him, and if looks could kill then Sofia had to have been an immortal to still be sitting, annoyed, in her wheelchair by the desk. “She said Eleanor should have died six years ago– said she was supposed to!–” Elizabeth spat, “and she said you–”

That’s where Jack’s fatherly instinct told him to step in and give her a hug. He ran his hands through her hair, only realizing as he did so that Elizabeth was actually taller than him in her heels. Unfortunately, this panicked her further, and a tear sparked to life right where Sofia was (and to everyone’s satisfaction, the old woman had the sense to look frightened about it). Jack didn’t realize that his hug had triggered that, so he shushed her and didn’t let go and eventually Elizabeth did relax and let the tear dissipate and she backed up after a second.

“Booker never,” she corrected, “my father was never big on affection.”

Jack laughed dryly, “Neither of mine were, but the girls are.”

“Oh my gosh the girls!” Elizabeth realized, and she rushed upstairs to meet them, leaving Sofia dumbstruck with a bruised ego.

They discover that the older girls have all meshed perfectly, with Eleanor’s being younger by just a year or two at most, and they have created an assembly line of child-cleaning and care that would make Andrew Ryan proud (partially because he loves assembly lines as much as the next hyper-capitalist, maybe a bit more, but mostly because the man couldn’t properly father, or even care for a child, if he tried). First, Alex helps them pick clothes from the limited supply that she and her sisters own of things that might fit them; then they are shimmied out of their disgusting old clothes by Primrose, who transfers them to Genevieve and Sally, tag-teaming hair and body wash in the showertub; Athena and Eileen both help the tots dry off; Wanda gets them changed into the clean clothes they picked with Alex; once all of that is done, they are sent into Persephone’s room, where a thick shag rug and an exorbitant amount of pillows accumulated from every room, as well as Persephone’s storytelling, awaits them. Despite the adult’s panic to ensure everyone is taken care of, the sentiment is all that really counted because there isn’t much of anything for them to do, aside from watch all the little eyes close, and wait for the girls to filter in once the last few are finished.

Everyone is exhausted, so the only thing keeping anyone awake is maturity and uncertainty. Eleanor’s girls are worried, so are Jack and Elizabeth. Jack’s girls are also worried– but less about Eleanor and more about the entire situation their father has essentially forgotten to explain; they helped the four random girls with the thirteen random children in the random house with the random pissy old lady and the even more random pissy young lady, but they. have. questions.

“Da, where are we?” Genevieve starts, while Persephone shuts the door to her bedroom (whispering to herself “thank god we got them all to fit in there, I thought we’d have to use two rooms,” and Wanda shoots back “don’t take the Lord’s name in vain,” which gets a snicker from Primrose).

“This is my recent friend Eleanor’s house,” Jack starts— and he would explain further, except Eileen cuts him off.

“Oh, she got topside? I thought she got left down there. Glad to hear she’s alive!”

“You knew her?” Jack asks.

“Well, vaguely,” Primrose qualifies, “everyone knew of her because her mom was so famous— was that Sofia Lamb downstairs?!”

“Uh, I guess so.”

“She’s a bitch,” Athena deadpans, and Jack shoots her a look about her language, but she shrugs him off and he can’t say he’s going to hold this one against her.

“Okay, okay,” Genevieve restarts, “Then who’s she?” gesturing to Elizabeth.

“Elizabeth Anna Comstock Dewitt,” Elizabeth introduces, and it's the most amicable she’s been since Jack met her four hours ago.

“She looks like Mama Tenenbaum— was Mama down there?” Athena asks, and there isn’t much hope in her eyes. All the other girls hold the same expression, a bright glow of hope they’ve smothered over the years. Jack shakes his head and they try not to look to upset, but Eileen and Primrose and Persephone are crying, so he offers his arms in a hug and they all bury themselves in there. Soon it’s all the girls in a group hug that’s almost too big to fit in the hallway. They knew it was a long shot, but the bandaid still hurts when it’s ripped off.

Elizabeth, who had been standing off to the side, feeling uncomfortable and guilty, clears her throat, “Who wants to go visit Eleanor?” All of Eleanor’s girls perk up some, releasing themselves from the hug, and Jack’s girls do as well, although more out of curiosity than affection. Jack has to admit he’s been worried, and now everyone is clean so they can actually go in the room.

There is an issue: Eleanor’s car fits seven. Seven is a lot, but not everyone. Besides, someone needs to watch the new little ones, and Sofia Lamb just isn’t the best option for that. Jack’s girls say they can stay home– they’ll meet Eleanor later. So, with that (accompanied by a warning from Alex not to let “Grandma Sofie” get too out of hand) an anxious Jack, a worried flock of girls, and an absolutely frantic Elizabeth pull out of the driveway and head to the hospital.

Chapter Text

It’s just after sunset when they walk (“no, Elizabeth, stop running, you’re making a scene”) to the reception desk and ask about their friend. They are given a room number and a gentle reminder of the essentially unenforceable end of visiting hours at 9:30 pm. Jack nods to save appearances, and they all shuffle up the two flights of stairs and around one corner to the seventh door on the right. Her name’s on the door– her full name: they had only told the doctor her first name, so they must have known her from a previous visit. Jack and Elizabeth aren’t sure if that is comforting or scary.

Inside the room, everyone is reminded of why the doctor had gotten the order of friend/sister/lover wrong: Elizabeth, even at 25, looks so young, so little, that it’s no wonder the doctor thought she had been closer to Sally’s 17 than Elizabeth’s 27 (as for why they thought Jack had been her lover, nobody could guess, he looked something like mid-twenties at the youngest, and mid-thirties at the oldest, and, as his girls reminded him last week when they were discussing fashion, “dressed more like a dad than a person”).

Elizabeth, suddenly filled with an immeasurably heavy and indescribably painful emotion, sunk to her knees next to the bed, holding Eleanor’s hand tightly. Jack got her a chair, and Sally helped her sit in it.

Seeing their older sister, essentially a mother figure, so vulnerable and pale and weak, rattled all four girls. Jack could see in their wide eyes and tightly drawn lips that they didn’t like it, so he asked if they’d like to go pick some flowers outside, while there was still sunlight left. Almost unanimously, almost instantly, they all agreed, and scattered out of the door like the first leaves falling just outside the thick window panes on the other side of the room.

When they were gone, Jack grabbed the other chair from against the wall and pulled it up next to Elizabeth. “So,” he said, trying to start with a smile, “how did you two meet?”

This draws a dry and humorless laugh from Elizabeth, and he can see her eyes roll back into her head in search of memories, even though they never really leave Eleanor.

“I was always alone when I was young, Father Comstock kept me locked up to take advantage of my powers: I can open tears in space-time. Well, when Eleanor was little she got kidnapped and sold to a company that juiced her full of ADAM, and then she could tear holes in space-time too. After that, it got kind of like two people using the same road, but we’d always be trying to get somewhere different. For me, Paris. For her, her father. Somehow we got to know each other in these little snapshots. I don’t know– she was there when I killed Daisy Fitzroy and I was there when she had to kill her father. We were there for each other whenever we needed: it, all we had to do was find that crossroad. But a few years ago, she stopped coming. I didn’t see her at all, except once by accident, and she was covered in blood, and I didn’t see her for so long . I– I thought she was dead. Jack, I thought she was dead, and I spiraled. First Booker, then Eleanor, I couldn’t take the loss. I went on a manhunt: every timeline, every reality, every door, killing every Comstock that ever was, would, or will exist. The last one was where I met Sally. I used her as bait to get to him– and it wasn’t until after– after the red haze lifted and I died that first time– that I realized how awful it had all been.”

Jack is listening intently– he’s good at listening– and he nods understandingly. Sure, maybe he hasn’t gone on a cross-dimensional search-and-destroy mission for the father who locked him up his whole life and unintentionally involved a little girl who had no part in it before dying, but he has gone on a cross-Rapture search-and-destroy mission for the pseudo-father who locked his mind up for his whole life while involving his pseudo-mother and a gaggle of girls who had no part in it and kind of being reborn– and aren’t the two essentially the same? Constants and variables, coincidence and violence, is all Jack can think of. He says none of this out loud, just asks “Did you grieve?” because he knows grieving for the lost and apologizing to the wronged is the emotionally healthy way of doing things (he read this in a book).

Scoffing, Elizabeth says “Grieving is for those who don’t have the ability to jump between timelines of reality.” She wipes her dripping eyes. “No, uh, I came back– to Rapture. This time for Sally, and I did– I did find her, but this psychopath had her: Atlas. He wanted something called the Ace in the Hole, and I got that for him, and then he killed me–”

“You and me both,” Jack cuts in. He can’t help it, he really hated Atlas– Fontaine. Whatever his name was, there was a bitter pit of regret that Jack could never quite tamp down. Forgive a man for not being perfect.

This is where Elizabeth smiles softly at him though, and when she does that she looks just like Tenenbaum, “That was you,” she tells him, “you’re the Ace in the Hole.” Her eyes grow tired, “I’m sorry, Jack. I’m so sorry that you had to do that, but someone had to be there to save the girls, and he was going to kill me and I knew it.” Being really honest, Jack has no idea what to say to that, so he says nothing, just shakes his head and tries to convey with his expression that he doesn’t blame her at all (because, logically speaking, her actions were correct, and everyone lived except her). “Well, I came back again, because even before I died I knew I didn’t want you trying to do everything yourself, but I got the timing wrong, and all the bathyspheres were dead, so I helped Tenenbaum accumulate the last saveable generation of Rapture, and then she died, and then months passed where I thought we were all just going to die down there, and then you and Eleanor show up in my hideout. You know the rest.”

A nod and then “So,” and Jack has to admit he’s not sure how to ask this, “are you and Eleanor… dating?”

“Oh, nothing that official,” Elizabeth chuckles, “but I love her, and if her ramblings from when she was only awake on pure adrenaline are anything to go by then I’d assume she feels the same.”

“You’re damn right I do,” Eleanor mumbles, but it’s slurred by being stuck halfway in a drug-induced sleep, and she immediately starts attempting (fruitlessly) to move around. Elizabeth shushes her softly, tells her to go back to sleep, tells her she’ll still be there when she wakes up, runs her thumb over her knuckles, and Eleanor is quickly back asleep.

It was a tiny bit (extremely) hilarious though, so Jack starts grinning, and then Elizabeth giggles, and then they’re both just laughing when the girls come back in with the flowers, asking what’s so funny. They say don’t worry about it. The girls give them raised eyebrows and put their flowers on the bedside table.

 

The next morning, Eleanor wakes up to find that Jack has taken the girls home– with lots of protest and complaint– but that he was unable to budge the girl who can tear holes in space-time, who now sleeps half-slumped onto the bed, wearing a sweater she borrowed from Eleanor’s dresser after her angry shower.

She’s mostly lucid now, and although that comes at the expense of being in pain, she’ll take it. “Elizabeth,” she sings, “Lizzy,” poking her in the side of the face, “Love.” The last one does the trick, and Elizabeth starts awake. “Love, how long have I been here?”

Rubbing her eyes, Elizabeth murmurs groggily “About a day. Girls are fine. Jack’s at home with everyone.”

“Who, praytell, is “everyone?””

“Your girls, his, and my lot– and your lovely mother.”

Eleanor cackles at that. Or, she tries, it doesn’t come out too pretty due to the fresh knife wound (Elizabeth still thinks it’s the most beautiful sound she’s heard in years). “Do I get to go home to “everyone” today?” she asks.

Nodding, Elizabeth tells her, “As long as the doctor gets to tell you his whole bit on how to take care of yourself with that thing.”

“You sound sarcastic, love.”

“I was born in 1893 and I could probably tell you better than him.”

“Well, he doesn’t have an infinite knowledge of the cosmos.”

It’s a fair point, and it has Elizabeth smiling. “I love you, darling.”

“I love you too, love. You should move in with me.” Eleanor’s voice has a childlike enthusiasm, a daring that proves she’s never been in a relationship (even though one of the voices in her head is telling her that “you never invite them to stay over before the third date”).

Elizabeth knows even less about relationships (and it isn’t like Booker was a great role model for that, not even in her imagination), so she nods. “I’d love to– and it isn’t like I have anywhere else to live anyway.” They’re laughing again even though that clearly wasn’t funny. “Wait, wait, wait,” she retracts, “where is everyone going to sleep ,” and then it gets funnier, and they’re laughing harder.

When they’ve calmed, Eleanor studies her hand thoughtfully where it’s entwined with Elizabeth’s. “Well, we can let the younger kids, the better adjusted ones and the ones who we can bear to part with, we can let them go to families who want kids. As for the rest? We can probably add something onto the house– build a quarters out back, I don’t know. We’ll all fit.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure we can try.”

Then the aforementioned doctor stumbled in, looking shocked to see Eleanor awake (he says she shouldn’t have woken up for another six hours, she tells him she has a high tolerance for many drugs, he frowns, misunderstanding her meaning) and shocked to see Elizabeth here (he asks if she stayed overnight, she tells him she just got here, he frowns, understanding her meaning), and he gives her a paper with instructions for care, and tells her she’s free to go.

Eleanor says she can teleport them home, but Elizabeth insists she not exert herself too much– “Jack’s a tough kid, he can handle picking us up.” In fact, it takes Jack half an hour to get there, and when they all three get home they understand it was because he was organizing the ranks of children, who are all helping make enough breakfast for a small army.

(Thank god, Eleanor thinks, because she was absolutely starving)

Over breakfast, all eight girls talk over each other, and eventually the plan they formulated in the wee hours of the previous night comes to light: Jack’s girls want to switch schools so they can all go to school together. They insist there’s no reason not to, and they pull the “it would help us have more people to relate to, you know, since we’re different ” card. So a combination of pleading and loose logic and eager smiles and guilt trips, and a comment from Grandma Sofie that it was “just a high school, get over it,” get the job done, and Jack caves, and he says he’ll think about it (read: yes).

They finish breakfast.

They do dishes.

They let their stab wounds heal into rough scars.

They switch schools and build additional rooms onto the back of the house.

They situate some babies with some parents.

They spend the rest of their lives spending too much time at each other’s houses and watching their children grow up into adults before their eyes.

The world valued children, but they valued childhood, so they let the Rapture fever-dream end and they gave their little ones the one thing that was stolen from them: a chance. A chance to learn, to find love, to live. And in the end what was their reward? They never said, but everyone knew: a family.