When she got word that Ian wanted to meet up, Daryn was surprised to hear from him. She wasn’t sure if he had information for her, or if it was just a cordial visit, so she agreed to meet at her apartment. She really had nowhere else to go any way. She knew that going to a Faction safehouse was out of the question. She hadn’t heard anything Faction related in over a month now, she was sure that they no longer wanted her in their ranks. And in a way, she was okay with that. But it did seriously limit where she could go to have truly private conversations, and it cut the number of people she could truly trust.
So her apartment would have to do. Little had changed since they last met. The damage to her apartment was eventually fixed, although the broken window remained boarded up. She hadn’t bothered to fill out a requisition form to have it repaired, she didn’t want anyone in her apartment that she didn’t know or trust. She rarely went out, and still wasn’t eating much. When she did venture out, she wasn’t always making wise choices. She found herself pushing the bounds of her abilities, using them against people, invading their bodies and minds, something she would have never even considered doing before. Something changed, and she was sure it wasn’t for the best.
It had been a while since anyone planned to come see her, and for some reason it made Daryn feel nervous. So she just sat and waited, listening more closely than usual to the nearest thoughts.
Ian had found something that he felt was important enough to share with Daryn. Maybe it would give her some piece of the closure she sought on the subject, maybe it would crack open something that had lain dormant for years. Whatever the outcome he would see it through in spite of the challenges. In all of the years he’d been serving he had given his life to save other people from harm and chaos while causing plenty of his own on behalf of a grateful nation. It only made sense to give back where he could and expect nothing in return, especially when the chaos could be minimized.
To Daryn’s apartment he would go. In his hands he carried a holder with two cups of hot black tea and a paper bag which carried a bit of chicken soup and bread from the Mess Hall kitchens. Maybe she wouldn’t eat Government provided food but he knew it was a little better in quality than what the residents were getting. Now and then he did his best to substitute here and there when out on deliveries.
Approaching the door he waited, knocking softly. Ian knew she probably heard him coming long before he was even there but he was a stickler for cordial politeness so a knock would suffice to alert her of his presence.
He hadn’t disclosed to JD where he was coming so as not to get his friend and fellow guard into any trouble that might come of whatever string of yarn he was presently unraveling. There had been a few hypotheticals thrown out about the situation - a few cautious what-ifs - but he didn’t come outright with anything. He felt a bit guilty about it, but if anything happened to his friend because of something he had been doing Ian knew he’d never forgive himself.
Daryn moved to the door, answering it shortly after the knock. She appreciated how formal he was, it felt respectful in a place where that was rare. Especially from those without abilities. She stepped aside to allow him in, watching warily for any signs of if it was good news or bad that he was here to deliver.
With a nod of thanks Ian slipped into the apartment. The items in his hands were lifted and lowered slightly in a gesture of I brought things. Simple things often were the best kind and he hoped she liked them regardless of whether or not she actually ate or drank anything.
“This is for you,” he admitted, finally. The things would be taken to the kitchen and set down carefully. There was a backpack slung over his shoulders that carried the real nature of his visit. But this needed to be done first.
A cup of tea would be taken from the holder and set closest to Daryn for if she wanted it. The other was taken for himself, and then he unpacked the soup and the bread, setting some out for the pair of them.
Ian wasn’t going to tell her to eat, she was a grown woman who knew herself. But it was there either way. The lid would come from the tea itself. He didn’t plan on lingering long figuring she wouldn’t want that.
Daryn followed him into the kitchen and sat at the table. She wasn’t sure if the presentation of the food was because it was bad news, or because he was just being polite. Still, she offered a nervous smile and nodded. “Thank you. You didn’t have to go to any trouble.”
She hesitated before taking the tea and having a cautious sip. She eyed the food but did not touch it. She wanted to get the business out of the way first, she could eat later. If she actually would, remained to be seen. “How have you been?”
Ian had proven himself as an ally, perhaps even a friend, if Daryn would allow herself to say she had real friends anymore. Regardless, he had done more than necessary to prove that she could trust him, and so she didn’t mind his company. She actually enjoyed it, but she also knew that she wasn’t the best person to spend time around these days.
“It’s never any trouble,” Ian assured her, shaking his head. A chair would be pulled out once the backpack had been removed. Slowly he sank down into the seat, easing down as if he had a bad leg - which he did - stretching his leg out to accommodate the prosthetic. The pack was removed from his shoulders, arms sliding from the straps, and he drew it around to the front. A moment to undo the ties and he slipped a folder out, sliding it across the table gently toward Daryn.
“So far that is all of the information that I could find,” he explained in a low tone, as if they might be suddenly overheard. Inside the file there was a single sheet of paper from a report that documented the confinement and study of a small child, a girl, around the same time that Daryn’s child might have gone missing.
“I don’t know if that will even help, but I’m going to keep looking.” His expression evened out, eyes dropped as he toyed with the straps of the pack waiting to see what, if anything at all, Daryn would make of the information in the folder.
So as not to push aside her question his head would lift, “I’ve been fine, but also been better. The guards have all been tense lately. It’s not good out there at all.”
When he pushed the folder toward her, she just stared at it for a moment, worried about what it contained. Taking a deep breath, she opened it and read over the paper inside carefully. She frowned slowly, unsure how to react. She believed that her child was still alive somewhere, but to think that she had been kept in confinement and studied… that was more difficult to process. Pushing her emotions aside to focus on the facts, as she did so many times when dealing with patients, she looked up to him. “What are they studying? Are there others?”
He knew he couldn’t lie to her so he didn’t disrespect her by offering answers she couldn’t readily gather on her own. “I don’t know. I found that hidden in a stack of other things that weren’t on the same subject.” It was as if someone were trying to conceal it and may have forgotten it existed.
The search was not easy. If there was one moment where he wished for powers to help this was that time. According to what he’d skimmed in the file it looked like an old project that some organization, possibly the Government, had hosted. Was it still around and operational? He had no way to read any minds and find out or make anyone tell him without blowing their cover.
Daryn just nodded numbly. She shifted her attention to the tea and took another slow sip. She didn’t know what else to say at the moment, her mind was reeling with the possibilities but it also felt like her heart stopped. She definitely wasn’t able to eat anything at the moment, but she was trying to keep herself together somehow. “I… I don’t know what to say. Or do. I don’t know how to feel. What do you think of this?”
His eyes would flicker down as the question was posed. Not with any deceit or negativity, but in a manner of thoughtfulness. He studied over the words he wanted desperate to offer something more than terrible news and speculation. When his eyes lifted again he met her gaze.
“I don’t like the idea that anyone would ever hurt a child. Gifted or not. Or take them from the people who love them. It’s not right. I want to help you find her.” The last part was said softly, but he meant it.
Daryn deserved at least for him to try. To try to find something, someone, who knew this child. She would’ve been grown by now he imagined, or at least older than that report. There were always clues, evidence.
She just nodded a little, staring down into the dark drink. “What if… what if she’s messed up? Or… or doesn’t want me because I didn’t try to find her sooner? What if she doesn’t want me at all? What if I’m a bad mother? I’m… not right anymore. There’s something wrong with me now. What if she’s worse off with me?” It all came out so quickly that Daryn wasn’t able to censor herself. Ashamed, she hid her face in her hands and shook her head. “Ignore all of that please.”
As she began to speak in a rapid fire way all he did was listen. Those were all loaded questions, ones he didn’t feel comfortable answering in much of any capacity only because he didn’t know Daryn all that well. But he doubted she was a bad person. He knew people who meant wrong, who were bad, evil. Daryn didn’t strike him as one he would place into that category.
Gently Ian reached out and took one of her hands. He held it as one friend might another who needs support lent. “You aren’t a bad person.” There would be no letting her believe that about herself. “I think all of those questions will be answered as we move down this road. I’ll be here to help you and support you, but I can’t answer those questions. I won’t answer some of them because they don’t make sense. I may not know a lot about you, ma’am, but I will honestly say I’d give my other leg in a bet that you aren’t a bad person.”
Shaking his head at Daryn, Ian let her go.
Looking up, Daryn listened to his words and tried to take them to heart. Sighing, she just nodded a little but she wasn’t sure she could believe his words. She had done things so outside of her nature, and while she knew she should be ashamed, she wasn’t. It felt good to have control over something, especially if she couldn’t have control over her own existence any more. But she couldn’t think about that right now, she had to focus on this news that seemed so overwhelming.
“What happens now?”
“You let me look for more. There has to be more information, something that will give you what you’re searching for.” He couldn’t produce a child of any type but it wasn’t unrealistic to think that the girl might be here, right under everyone’s noses.
“What can I do for you?” He set the girl aside for now and put his focus on Daryn. “Anything.”
Daryn sat back with a sigh, thinking about the question. “Help me find myself again? I don’t know how, I know I’ll never be who I was before I came here but… I’m lost. I need to find who I am again. I need to be better. For her. So I can be who and what she needs, so I can help find her.”
She knew it was a lot to ask of him. He barely knew her, but she needed a friend. Those she thought were friends had not been as reliable as she’d hoped. She didn’t know who she could count on, but so far she’d been able to count on Ian.
Nodding, Ian breathed. “I’ll do my best.” That meant coming by more so he could learn who she was. Sharing. “I could do with a bit of guidance, is all I ask.” He wanted to always be respectful of her but he was also a man who knew a life of structure.
“You can always reach me anytime,” he explained. The folder was pulled over. He wrote down a small series of numbers - the cell that would reach him that he knew wasn’t marked by the Government - and then the number of his room at the barracks. “You’re never a burden. I’m a simple person, but I run by a schedule. Days in the military. If I can’t be somewhere I’ll let you know. If I don’t answer within five minutes don’t try to reach me unless I can find you.”
“Guidance on?” She didn’t understand, but she also knew she had lost a lot of her more natural social skills lately. Taking a deep breath, she watched him and looked to his notes with a little nod. “Of course. I wouldn’t want to get you into any sort of trouble. I’ll… keep a distance and be discreet.” Like she should have done with the Faction, maybe then she’d still feel like she belonged there. She’d learned her lesson.
“You,” he explained, kindly. “I can’t help you be yourself if I don’t know who you are or what you like.” He would do his best if she refused to tell him who she used to be before whatever change she went through.
He appreciated her discretion. “Thank you, but I have a feeling that by the time this is over there will be more trouble than either of us know what to do with.” He was willing to take the risk.
Daryn nodded, it was an obvious circumstance and she missed it. Feeling foolish, she took another sip of tea. “Okay. Sorry about that. I’m… off.” Which was obvious, so she again felt silly for even saying it.
She frowned slowly, he was right but she didn’t want him to get caught up in it. “Hopefully you can avoid the worst of it. You can always just tell them the crazy telepath forced you into this mess. They’ll probably know which one.”
Ian offered a smile coupled with a shake of his head. “You’re fine to me, I’m here to help.” He had no desire to take advantage of her. But he had an idea that she knew already what his intentions were.
“Whatever happens I won’t tell them that you’re involved in this. I’ve been through a lot. I served in a war, ma’am, I can keep intel to myself. What I can ask from you is an assist. If you have my back I’ll have yours.” Any good solider worth his salt protected his six. His twelve.
Daryn straightened a little and pushed her hair back out of her face. “Of course. I’ve already sacrificed my well-being and safety for people I thought I could rely on. You’ve proven yourself more trustworthy than some of them. I have your back. Now please stop calling me ma’am, it makes me feel ancient.”
Ian couldn’t help the bit of a laugh that left him. A nod would come. “Daryn, then. You can call me Ian when we aren’t in public.” Image and all. To her he was a guard and to him she was a resident. But behind closed doors they could be who they were. People. Actual people.
“I took the job here because it was promising to a soldier wounded in Iraq.” He would motion to his leg. “I had no idea it would be like this. I don’t agree with a lot of what’s going on here. Myself and my partner have a smuggling trade. I smuggle in items, JD smuggles in mail. You can trust both of us.” He wouldn’t have brought his … friend into this if she couldn’t trust him.
“We are here to help.”
Daryn watched Ian as he made the confession and she felt compelled to give one of her own. “You’ve probably heard rumors about a group of residents, trying to protect each other. I used to be a part of them. I used to be their leader, that’s why they arrested me and kept me detained for so long. I didn’t give them the information they wanted. I’m not sure anymore if it was worth it.” If he could be honest, she needed to be too.
The Faction. He had heard rumors of the groups but he was never directly involved in the conversations. “They have these boards in one of the group rooms where they hand out assignments with information on the group,” Ian admitted. “They want us to find them. As if we can infiltrate a group like that. Most of the guards can’t tie their own shoes.”
But the Government gave them weapons which gave them power.
“Why aren’t you the leader anymore?” He asked, honestly. If the group had abandoned someone like her they were stupid.
She thought of the right response to give. Pushing her emotions aside, the answer was clear. “They don’t need me anymore. I know I’m compromised, I’m not safe, I’m not sane, I’m not trustworthy anymore. But at the core, they no longer need me. If they did, I’d still be a part of it. Maybe it’s better that I’m not. For them, and for me.”
Shaking her head, she stared down into the tea again. “These boards, are they just vague leads, or specifics?” Even though she wasn’t recognized among their ranks anymore, Daryn knew she would still protect those people. Even if they may no longer protect her.
He didn’t want the right response. He wanted the true response. But he wouldn’t know any different. “You could be above them. Haven’t you tried to fight back? If you’re passionate about changing the culture you have to set the example.” Nothing happened that was worth anything unless you fought for it.
“Vague. Nothing specific. Most of what the guards have are rumors cooked up.”
They didn’t have dirt on anyone specific that he knew of.
Daryn took a deep breath and shook her head. “I have enough to fight for without trying to fight against the people I used to trust. I have to pick my battles. I can fight for myself, and for my child. But I can’t fight for those who wouldn’t do the same for me.”
She looked to the food, still without much of an appetite. She pushed it toward him lighty, encouraging him to eat so it wouldn’t go to waste. “What do they plan to do about these rumors?”
A head would shake. He had gotten the food for the pair of them and he wouldn’t be selfish enough to consume her portion. It was scarce, nearly a commodity. “You have to fight for the things that are important to you. A war, for the people you know can’t fight for themselves. Why can’t you start your own movement?”
“As far as I know the Government isn’t invested in this group. They’re targeting individual residents. But then again I’m only briefed on what I’m allowed to know.”
Daryn considered the question and then just smirked. “It’s a little hard to start a movement when you’re so disconnected from the people around you.” She didn’t completely blame others for that, she had her own part in it too. But the last few months taught her a lot about relationships and she needed to reconsider who was worth including in her life and who could be cut out.
“Do you know the individuals? The innocent should be protected.”
“Is it, though?” People protested all the time for the things they believed in. It only took one person to change the minds of others, literally and figuratively. “You have the knowledge and the power that, if you don’t mind me saying, everyone else seems to bypass. What makes them better?”
He wasn’t condoning revolution but if the residents had better living situations, better wages, he couldn’t hold anyone back.
Shaking his head, Ian frowned. “I never look at the names.” He knew the faces. “But I can get you names.”
“They have faith in themselves.” The answer came before she had the chance to think about it. She frowned and shrugged, uncomfortable with herself. But that wasn’t exactly a new feeling these days. Cognitive dissonance seems to be the new normal for Daryn.
“Whatever you can share would be helpful. I don’t want anyone being harmed for doing nothing wrong.”
“And that faith makes them better suited?” It was a complex question with an even less simple answer. Ian knew it, and while he had no desire to challenge Daryn or the direction of her life it seemed to him that she was holding back. Who was he to try to guide her down any path? He was invested in whatever scheme the Government here had failed to mention when the job had been offered to him by proxy.
A nod would come. Ian would get the names of those individuals and hopefully the rest would be spared from whatever was next in the plan.
Daryn didn’t know how to answer that, so she just shrugged. “The Faction was created to support each other, to help each other. I was always part of it, part of something bigger. But after I was taken, that was the end of it. When I was released, only a few of them were there for me, the majority of them wouldn’t come near me. It’s a different group now, it’s not what we started, it’s not what it was meant to be. I never thought I would have to oppose them. I’m still struggling with losing them, losing so much, all because I wanted to protect them. I don’t know how to just pick up the fight again, without them.”
She wasn’t sure if it made sense, or if Ian would understand, but she tried to explain herself.
“I understand,” Ian replied. He nodded at her. “Sometimes you have to keep fighting even when everyone else has moved on. If you were with the Faction, why couldn’t you begin another group? There have to be more residents with the same mindset that you have? Ones who are willing to fight for the same things or for a similar goal. You don’t have to oppose the Faction but you certainly don’t have to abide by their rules if they won’t include you.”
Daryn nodded a little with a sigh. She knew that he was right, but she needed to find the strength within herself to get in gear and begin again. She rubbed at the back of her neck and looked to him. “You’re right. I just have to get my shit together. Which is easier said than done.”
Ian smiled at her. “You do the things that are important to you,” he breathed kindly. Ian would never scold her for taking her time but seconds, minutes were precious and any left alone faded into the past. “But don’t let me tell you what to do or what to fight for. You have to find that within yourself.”
“I have to fight for my daughter. She is what’s most important.” There was no question in her mind about that. But if she’d learned nothing during her captivity, was that the government was not easy to fight, especially alone, and if she wasn’t careful, she would only put the girl in more danger. Daryn would rather die than let that happen.
Sighing, she shook her head, trying not to let the possibilities overwhelm her. “What about you? What are you going to do to keep yourself safe?” She would look out for him, as promised, but there were limits to where she could go and what she could do without arousing suspicion from either side. It wasn’t just the government who looked down on the mutants, many of the residents didn’t trust the guards. And they certainly didn’t trust anyone who associated with them.
That was as good a reason as any - hope tended to be the best spark for igniting the inner fire. Having a purpose, a reason to fight and to live was plenty. Ian would nod again at Daryn. “Both of you are important because she needs you as much as you need her.”
“I’ll be fine. Operating covert is second nature to me,” he explained. He’d been running the smuggling ring for a couple of years now and so far they’d not been infiltrated. There was always rumor, speculation. “And I have backup if I need it.” He wasn’t sure she could do this alone but she had him and he was determined to see this through to the end.
She nodded a little. “I’ve been keeping track of the crime scenes, who thinks about them, who goes there, what they think about the whole thing. Something about it all is off. Like it’s a cover up or something. There’s something else going on and these poor people are just victims.” Daryn suffered unspeakable abuse by some of the guards when she was held captive, seeing those who hurt her dead would not upset her. But this was more than that, it was more dangerous than that.
Ian would need to revisit this conversation. While he could remember a lot he would need to take some notes on what she knew to better understand the depth of the connections and tie everything together. “Who do you feel is behind all of this?” Someone had to be ultimately responsible for the cover up, if there was one.
He knew both sides likely were the culprit, both playing off of each other, but if she had been studying the crumbs her insight was valuable. “If this continues tension is going to escalate until one side or the other breaks. The guards aren’t happy about this attack.” They all talked amongst themselves, growled about it, made idle threats to each other about residents.
“That could be exactly the point. Maybe it’s one side or the other, maybe it’s not guards or residents. Maybe it’s someone else, sitting back and watching and waiting for the aftermath. Someone just pulling the strings to make us all dance like puppets.” Daryn knew what it was like to be in power, some people used it responsibly but others reveled in the ability to manipulate. She could see how attractive that may be.
Nodding at Daryn, Ian considered her observation and found it valid. “Maybe we should keep our eyes open, then, for alternatives to the most obvious choices.” If it wasn’t the group, and it wasn’t the Government, who else could be behind it? The President? Aliens? No, that seemed too far-fetched to believe. But she wasn’t wrong, there was someone up to no good.
Ian knew she could read minds, she had the advantage on him in a number of ways. “We should meet up and exchange information in a place that’s safe. As frequently as he we can.” That meant skipping a shift or two but he could cover that easily enough.
She nodded with a sigh, it was a good idea. “I can’t say I have access to many secure places anymore. But we can plan to be in the same places at the same time, share information mentally, if meeting like this is not possible. There aren’t many telepaths on the island, the majority are not as strong as I am, so it is the safest way. If someone else is… listening… I would know.”
Nodding at her, Ian sighed. “Yes, we can do that.” He knew a few places. Mostly they were outside and off the grid but if she was willing they could talk privately there. He was confident in her abilities.
“I wish I had something to offer in return,” he murmured. Whatever the government had given would never be safe enough for her. He could offer to protect her and keep her safe but beyond that he was no good.
She reached out to place her hand on the folder and shook her head.” “You’ve already given me more than you realize. Friendship, if I’m not being too bold. And hope. Those things are very rare and valuable.”
Upon hearing the title Ian felt humbled. His cheeks flushed and he smiled a bit at the idea - while he didn’t have many he could call a friend he was glad to now induct Daryn into that exclusive group. “Friend,” he repeated, confirming what she had said.
“I’ll do my best to continue to live up to that,” he assured her. “For now it’s probably best that I get back out before they realize I’ve been gone for too long. I’ll reach out when I have more, and also to check on you.”
Daryn nodded in understanding, not wanting to keep him or risk getting him into trouble. She stood slowly to see him out. “Thank you, for everything.”