Essence excerpt 3 - Acer/Steven
A/N: This Acer scene (which won the poll an embarrassingly long time ago...I know v.v) takes place Alice’s third day in the oasis, the night after she overhears Mak and Ada confirm her fears of murdering the scientists.
She quietly listens until Acer finds her and unintentionally alerts the others to her presence; when Mak walks out, as much at a loss as her, Alice returns to her room as though nothing happened. When Cath, who sleeps in an elaborate, windowed alcove (“gazebo”) in her room, discovers her intentions to leave the oasis, he argues with her until she malfunctions and lets the green consume her. After waking nearly twenty-four hours later, she freaks out: she didn’t even fight what could have become another nightmarish coma.
When Alice goes to open the door, the story branches into different character scenes – this is Steven’s and Acer’s, since the plot does not branch into totally separate routes yet. :3
“The stars I just escaped” refers to the gazebo’s refractive crystal panels, which fill the structure with spiraling light, and Alice’s sense that she barely slept before waking up the following night. Later, in the kitchen, she hopes Grime “suffers;” all I’ll say is that Grime is responsible for Cath’s “limping.” C: If you get the pigeon reference, you get maximum cool kid status.
Also…for those who don’t know, a “lemon” is an erotic fanfiction…It’s a lewd joke. I know. I’m sorry. Mostly. #nofilter
It’s Acer, so #nofilter is redundant, honestly.
Dialogue key – A for Alice, Ac for Acer, Y for Yewande/the shadow, S for Steven
From deep within the dark, mucus smears my body. But as I huddle beneath the warm film, it congeals around me. I can’t breathe – can’t escape – writhing, my arms shatter through the carapace and –
…stop just short of ripping my quilt apart. Panting, I blink in my room’s red glow and fling the blanket across the floor. Til I’m sure I’m not dreaming, I want it nowhere near me. Til I’m sure I’ll stay awake, I lurch off the bed and raise my fists against the shadows.
I’d rather die in the wasteland a thousand times than relive my coma once. But last night…
When I finally drop my fists, I still curl from the shadows. They only grow darker as the sun grows colder, but I sit there shivering til the fiery room cools.
Blue tarnishes the daylight. Dusk freezes over. Bugs char on the skylight, blotting the moon.
As the earth shifts, I hug the alcove’s central pillar. The stars I just escaped swarm me, but the threshold’s glow is so foreboding that I can barely crawl from the gazebo to the door.
Without a moment’s rest, I’m back where I was – barred by a door I have no right to open. I feel like I should knock just to leave my own room.
Recalling Steven’s knock stops me from turning away. But when I wonder how much he heard – and what Acer may catch me doing this time – I can’t grab the knob.
Though they never squirmed like Mak and Ada, Steven and Acer know more about me than I do – like everyone else. But they never once cringed or questioned me.
I know I shouldn’t, but I open the door – mostly hoping I’ll evade the shadows Acer caught me fleeing. Rushing down the hall, I know it’s too late to hope that nothing’s changed between us.
Before I try the basement, the empty kitchen stings me: nothing has changed at all. They’re only being nice. How can I pretend they honestly care?
Each door grows harder to open than the last, but I persevere down the stairs. At the keys snapping, mouse clicking – the boyish cackling – every chip in me grinds with guilt. Fears of whose lives I’ll cut short, or whose carefree laughter I’ll interrupt, forbid another step –
Ac: “Oh…ohoho. Now we’re talkin’.”
-- and then fears of what I’m interrupting now.
Ac: “Really, senpai? Just be gentle. You’re my first, of course…”
Flushing, I dart for the stairs –
Ac: “…Dayum, that pigeon’s hotter than legal. Better put a ring on it.”
-- but botch my escape the instant Acer coos ‘pigeon.’ My foot skids dirty saucers and clangs them across the tile.
Ac: “H-h-holy f-ffffrriiick! Who’s there?!”
Scrabbling for the mouse, he knocks it across the desk, onto the floor, and falls from his chair before he finally flails up and mashes alt+F4.
Ac: “I mean – what’s up, unexpected visitor? Uh, ha. Hahaha.”
With a cheesy grin, he rests his arm on the desk. The moment I step around the corner, however, his façade goes up in freckly-cheeked flames.
Ac: “Uh – uh – oh, Alice, I…Fancy seeing you here. Ha. I – wasss…just playing a manly zombie shooter! Yup. But, uh…that was so stinkin’ easy that at the same time I was playing…uh, one of those hack-‘n-slashes where the ladies’ armor is totally impractical. ‘Cause I’m that awesome.”
As I stand and stare, Acer gulps and kicks me a chair.
Ac: “I…actually, I was totally just doing my job. Yeah.”
A: “Your job with ‘pigeons?’”
Before I can grab it, Acer snatches the chair back, his face and hair blending.
A: “Like…the ‘pigeons’ that always fly into the dome, right?”
Ac: “T-totally. Yes. I mean, pssshhh, what else would I be doing with pigeons? Here, s-sorry, have the chair, dunno what I was doin’. Whatcha been up to? I haven’t seen you all day, but I didn’t w-wanna…bug you in your room.”
A: “Oh…I’ve been sleeping. Y’know, I don’t have to hang here if you’re busy, so – ”
Ac: “Nooo, nooo, it’s totally cool!”
My nails puncture the chair, snagging a shield at his startling volume.
Ac: “I slept all day, too. I fell asleep late, so I guess it’s okay, but then I just didn’t wanna get up. Happens s-sometimes, y’know?”
Keeping pace with his twittering, he clicks and drags the cursor across the screen.
I sigh and roll my chair back, giving his feet room to tap – or for him to bolt whenever he wants. As far as he knows, he’s trapped with a murderer. But he’s still gonna try to shoot the breeze with me?
A: “So…what were you actually doing?”
Ac: “Pffff. You dare question my love for impractical armor?”
A: “Mmm…no. Y-you just seem like an RPG guy. More story than...”
Licking his studs, he smiles, though his knees keep quivering.
Ac: “Well, I won’t deny I love story and boobies. But only when I have free time. Which I have in butt-tons. B-but don’t listen to Invisibro; I do work.”
A: “Is it ‘cause it’s easy or doesn’t take long or…?”
Wheeling toward the monitors, Acer summons a horde of windows. Typing so fast the keyboard rattles, he toggles and shifts the cameras, queues screens of digits he whips through in seconds, and siphons whole websites in a few strokes.
Ac: “Double-monitors help. But…that’s it. Whoopee.”
Slumping, he sighs at the screen.
Ac: “Check the cameras. Secure the system. Reroute our IP. Send the crawlers out. I don’t do much. So that’s when the double-monitors really help.”
While the programs whirl on the first screen, he opens a game on the second.
A: “I…think you do a whole lot, actually. Seems like everyone’d be in trouble without you.”
My attempt to cure his frown drives it lower.
Ac: “Nah…I’d be in trouble without everyone else.”
The hard drive’s buzz lulls his trembling hands to rest. His cheeks, once flushed with fear, drain white.
I scratch my own sickly skin trying to form the words my mouth can’t. But as his empty eyes reflect the black screen, I wonder if I’m the only thing killing his mood.
When I rise to go, the monitor flashes green. A glowing phone shines light into Acer’s eyes again.
A cloak darkens the screen, a summons suiting the cryptic word more than Acer’s clicking.
Y: “Acer. Is Steven there? I’ve tried and tried, but I can’t get him.”
Ac: “O-oh. I dunno what he’s doing, then. Is e’erything…cool…or…? Uh, I can go look – ”
Y: “No, don’t. Matters here are – ”
The shadow’s voice, deep but lilting, fades over his shoulder. My head twinges when he huffs and hurls it back toward us.
Y: “ – complex right now. Just listen and tell the others. There are three members lurking around the oasis. I doubt they realize that, but watch out. They’re not all as bumbling as that big blonde cretin.”
A: “I’m…not so sure.”
Acer double-takes at me. My retort shocks me, too, but I stare down the shadow as he flicks his hood and shoots me an amber glare.
Y: “I understand their naïveté, but have you ever heard that children are to be ‘seen, not heard?’ Let’s hope one brat doesn’t spoil the bunch. Take care, Acer.”
Ac: “R-right. You, too.”
With a flash, the cloak snaps out, stabbing my temples once again.
Ac: “You…okay, Alice?”
A: “Y-yeah. What about you guys, though?”
Ac: “I…dunno yet. We gotta find Steven. C’mon.”
I nod, pressing my brow, and try to smother my strange disgust at the shadow. Up the stairs and down the hall, we dart in and out of rooms until bodiless whistling drones through a window.
Outside, a pair of boxers and glasses hunch over a wooden tub. Just as we stride up, Steven removes his singular article of clothing.
I choke and shield my eyes, but the glasses just laugh and toss the underwear in the water.
S: “Pffff. Piiink. Are you joking, or…hehe, you’re not serious, are you?”
A: “J…just because you’re invisible doesn’t mean I don’t have an imagination.”
S: “I see. Please, by all means, imagine away. How do I look, though? And if you’re imagining aprons, make sure they have cute little penguins on them, a’right?”
Before I give him any more ammo, I snatch up a scrub-brush and nudge him aside.
A: “Need help?”
S: “I prob’ly would if I saw the adventures your brain’s cookin’ up.”
Well, they’re certainly dirty and shameful. As in ‘I regularly imagine disemboweled corpses rising from the dead to torture me.’
S: “I don’t imagine you two’re itchin’ to scrub e’eryone’s dirty underwear, though. What’s up?”
The soap bubbles pop as Acer sighs, forming craters in the moon’s reflection.
A: “Yewande called me ‘cause you wouldn’t answer your phone. Those grunts are still out there, and now they’re close to us.”
S: “Really, now?”
I prepare for the glasses to boom with rage, but only the water darkens as he squirts more detergent. Steven hums and wrings a shirt behind his shoulders, as calm as every moment we’ve shared.
A: “Uh…you’re not worried?”
S: “Well…this little development certainly won’t help anything here.”
He whistles, pitch rising when the brush behind us rustles. Mak stumbles out, plucking leaves from his hair, and breezes by without a word. Same as me last night.
A: “Things…are still strained, huh?”
Steven snorts, pinning a row of socks to the line.
S: “If you count the strain on HRH’s ego – since everyone welcomes his silent treatment.”
Ac: “Mommy, don’t fight with Daddy.”
S: “Mate, we did not conceive you. And even if we had, I would not be Mommy. Now hurry up and hang my drawers.”
Ac: “You can’t tell your kid they’re adopted like that.”
S: “…Just be sure to tell Linus first, peabrain. That all you heard on the phone?”
Ac: “Yeah. Other than things are ‘complex’ there.”
A: “If it’s cool to ask…where is ‘there?’”
S: “Yewande’s our contact inside Malware. There’re more rats than you’d think, but quality over quantity. Most aren’t as careful, so most don’t last long…but I can trust someone as careful as me.”
A: “…I gotcha. So Ivan and the others really are close…”
When I speak, I wonder if I’ll dredge up a stare like the shadow’s –
S: “Closer than peas in a pod.”
-- but the glasses spurt back without a single glance.
Before, his invisibility made me sad. Now, as I search for gashes, scuffs, and gun wounds – anything to confirm my suspicions – it’s infuriating. But I can still sense his smile as he clips the last clothespin and herds us into the kitchen.
S: “Yo, yooo, Pink. Don’t look so down. When Mak gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
I barely spot the pitcher before he hands me an ice cold glass.
S: “No, seriously. Mak gave me lemons. He picked them today.”
Ac: “…You suck.”
S: “N’awww, don’t be sour. Just ‘cause they’re not the type’uh lemons you like to make juice fro – ”
Ac: “La! Lalalala. I don’t read those, la. I don’t have any, la. I don’t even know what you’re talking about, la, especially not ‘juice.’ I will even sing you a song, lalalala, about how much I don’t know about ‘juice.’ So why don’t you stop wasting your invisibreathhhh – ”
…Oh, singing. Yay.
Ac: “ – and tell us what the fri-i-i-ick you think we should do about the issuuuue.”
Despite attempting to ignore Acer’s jazzhands and tone deafness, Steven and I turn from the stove, awestruck at his effort to stay on topic.
S: “Bravo. As in ‘I’m clapping to be nice; please don’t think I want an encore.’ For now, though, I say we lay low like always. Keep an even closer eye on the cameras, at least for the next few days. They can only wander so long without food ‘r water.”
A: “…They’ll either retreat or collapse.”
As Cath limps in, I practically wallow in the thought of Grime suffering. But all my satisfaction withers when he snatches a plate from Steven and plods out without a single ‘thank you.’
We wouldn’t be here without these people. But these threats…
A: “…wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for me and Cath.”
The biggest one being the monster already within their walls.
S: “Oh, boo, Pink. S’not your fault they’re followin’ you.”
A: “I already stuck you guys with a thankless patient…and he only got hurt helping me. I don’t want to cause any more trouble for you guys.”
Before it’s even close, I push back the knife Steven slides me.
A: “I don’t want to hurt anyone else.”
While Acer’s puppy eyes goggle me, Steven turns the knife in his palms.
S: “Pink…I know troublemakers. An’ I’ve seen the type of people that hurt others.”
Reflecting the metal’s glare, his glasses nearly blind me.
S: “You don’t have the look.”
I don’t see them, but I feel them when they close on mine. Steven’s hands slip the knife into my palm, squeezing all my questions out before I stammer one. Squirming toward the counter, I grab an onion and hack my embarrassment away.
S: “Yep…one glance and you’re nothin’ but a veggie-slicer, Pink. That and a dirty-apron-pervert.”
A: “…Gee, thanks.”
It takes Acer a bit longer to recover –
Ac: “Th-thanks? Thanks for what? For gettin’ all handsy then calling you the pervert?”
-- but he definitely processes his emotions quicker than me. While I flip between bashful, fearful, and hopeful, a vengeful Acer flicks batter onto Steven, who wipes off the free-floating lumps with a sigh.
S: “Green isn’t a good color on you.”
Ac: “My hat is frickin’ gorgeous, thanks. But I also acknowledge your metaphor, and I say ‘BLAHAHAHA’ if you really think I’d be jealous of you.”
S: “Well, if jealousy’s not the problem, then what? I’d imagine handsy perverts are tame considering the lemons you’ve juiced.”
Ac: “I. Swear. To. God, you – hnnnnggg—”
Before Acer can pounce, I nudge his shoulder and smirk.
A: “…Lemons or no lemons, I’m glad to be with you guys. Thanks for being so nice to me.”
Ac: “Uh…w-well, yeah. You, too.”
S: “We missed ya today, Pink. You can always come see us.”
A: “…Thanks. I’ll try not to sleep so late again. It’s…really nice to not be alone anymore.”
I smile, but Acer’s eyes dim as if I flipped a switch. Before I can understand, and barely before he flattens into a lifeless screen, Steven jabs his side and shoots power back through him.
For the rest of the night, he jolts Acer when he blanks. Finally, after hours of cooking and gaming, he flops down, imprinting his cheeks with the keyboard. Right behind Steven, who dims the monitors, I tuck a cushion under Acer and reach the stairs when he squeaks my name.
Hoping he’ll fall back asleep, I tiptoe up without a word. He’ll finally relax when he knows I’m gone.
But the computer clicks on before the last stair creaks. His frown growing darker as the screen grows lighter, Acer spins in his chair and calls my name again. His silhouette quakes in the blinding halo.
I tell myself it’s just so bright it’s radiating, though, and leave my friend to himself in the dark.
Essence excerpt 2 - Steven
Hope you guys enjoy. c:
Story/characters (c) Shinkami/SheerGlade
And yes, I have confirmed that my affection for these two has grown. Steven, especially.
I'm curious about Yewande, I like the idea of them having an spy in Malware. XD I'm looking forward to see him in the complete story. ^^