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revealed in the thaw

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The car is already warm, offering a gentler kind of reassurance. Elliot can't stop shivering. Can barely feel his fingers and toes in a tangible sense, much less appreciate the effects of the heating system; he's no stranger to frostbite. This is nothing like the gasoline-induced fire he and Mr. Robot had started in the back of that Dark Army van; a roaring, violent thing, too dangerous to stand beside.

So Elliot had walked away, perhaps half-a-mile from the van, to see how far he would get before someone else finished the job. This is how Darlene had found him; through her phone, stumbling forward. It wasn't her car, or any car he recognized, but he wasn't going to ask after what had happened.

He's lucky in the sense he wasn't shot. Maybe they're both lucky. For now he lets his head rest against the seat, uneasy.

Darlene keeps her hands tight upon the steering wheel, an act of unspoken tension that reminds Elliot of their mother. She has already set the rules: No talking. It's an unexpected reaction from her of all people, and not exactly comforting. But it isn't threatening; like the quieter moments where Mr. Robot doen't resurface out of spite, instead offering an uncanny kindness and desperation that rings too close towards paternal; like sitting beside Olivia Cortez and not having to explain himself or ask for answers in return.

He hasn't thought about his mom since she died. Or maybe the thought of her has been itching to take up some room while he's repeatedly denied himself. But here, now, he has nowhere else to go.

Tyrell's face pops into his head, now, unbidden; the color red blooming outward from his stomach, staining his dress shirt in the headlights. Tyrell, drawing himself upright, staggering down the road with all the purpose of a wounded animal. Elliot watches until he melts into the inky dark, until Mr. Robot takes his shoulder, says, come on, kiddo.

In the present, the sky has cleared up from halcyon into a sharper shade of blue. The radio's off, and the tension ebbs in silence.

Every now and then Darlene will steal a glance at him in the rear-view mirror. Elliot notices because there is nothing else to diverge his thoughts. In any other situation it would feel invasive. But it's enough to avoid eye-contact with her for a while.


Later, they make preparations. Darlene's in the bathroom, busy donning her disguise.

Elliot's in charge of procuring her ID. That's not too difficult; they've got a printer set up already.

His fingers won't obey him, though. Everything feels sluggish despite how clear-minded he is right now.

Moreso than pain, the skin itches terribly.

Frustrated, he decides he definitely needs his hands intact.

Standing up is enough to rekindle the raw feeling in his soles. He hears himself groan aloud at the effort, limping over to the sink.

He runs warm water, careful not to be rash even though he'd rather feel something other than nothing. Barely registers the change in temperature. The skin of his hands is already pink.

He doesn't understand why he was thinking about his mother, because she's dead and he won't have to worry about her anymore.

Like Tyrell.

Everyone he wants to protect just winds up dead; everyone else is slowly dying. Darlene could be—will be—next, a thought that is easy to entertain, impossible to replace; when he tries, her face just becomes Angela's.

Sensation returns to his fingers, pricking; he tears his hands away, lets the water run. On the floor, alone, he curls up, making himself smaller.

How do you push someone away if they refuse to leave? How else do you protect them?

The sink runs, and Elliot tries, for once, to let go. He still isn't used to being sober. Without any substance to deaden the feeling it's jagged, prevalent, not quite grief, closer to terror.

He's finally alone.

Then the bathroom door opens.

Elliot gets up like nothing ever happened. He doesn't look at Darlene. She doesn't ask.