There’s a cup of tea by Beth’s bed, when she wakes up. It’s cold. Also: she hates tea, only drinks coffee.
It’s in a mug that says WORLD’S WORST SISTER, in all-caps. She thinks Sarah gave it to Helena, once, as a gag, but they all get the mug eventually. It’s always full of tea, every time.
“Bitch,” Beth mutters, and drinks it anyways.
Ever since Beth – came back – Alison’s been knitting her things. Doesn’t stop. All Beth’s missing is a pair of trousers and she’ll have an entire outfit. Scarf, hat, sweater. Socks. All in tasteful blues, greys, greens. Muted. Ghost-like, maybe.
Alison knit her a scarf. Before. It was red.
She doesn’t use red anymore.
“Hey,” Beth says, slinging herself onto the couch, mug precariously tilted to avoid spillage. “Slow down there for a second, Speedy Gonzalez. ‘t’s not a race.”
Alison, frantically knitting what could be – oh god, what could be trousers – looks up, frowns at Beth for a second. “I know!” she says, voice high-pitched in a way that says she doesn’t really know. “But the news says it’s going to get cold and – all of your clothes are gone, since your apartment–” her voice cracks and they both wince, minutely. “I don’t want you to catch a chill.”
Beth goes silent, hands cupped around her mug. It’s tea. Fuck Sarah Manning, and fuck her for making Beth care about tea. “I’m not going to leave again,” she says, words rough in her throat. “I promise, Alison. I’m not going anywhere.”
Alison’s hands clench a little, on the needles, and she doesn’t say anything. There was a time when Alison’s version of Beth was one she could trust. Beth doesn’t think it’s that time anymore. Beth doesn’t think she’s that Beth anymore. Maybe she never was.
But Alison puts down the half-finished knitted…thing with a sigh and folds her hands into her lap, so that’s something. “I just don’t want you to get sick,” she says, voice small like surrender.
Beth puts one hand over Alison’s, her own tea-warm and solid like a living thing. “I know,” she says. Their fingers lace together, warp and woof. She knows.
Beth has a knack of finding the places in the house – or apartment, or city block, or weird shady basement lab – where people won’t find her. It’s a talent, from Before. She’s never been the sort to break down in public. You lock it away, keep it tight down where no one will see.
By the third hiding place, she starts bumping into Helena.
From then on, Helena’s there every time. Beth’s pretty sure she picked the lock on the bathroom door, one time, just to let herself in and lean wordlessly against Beth’s shoulder. It’s grounding, maybe. Helena never says anything, never looks at Beth, just – leans. I understand, I was there, I regret it too. Helena was the only clone from Before that Beth never met, but she thinks of all of them Helena understands it best.
So she leans back, the press of her shoulder against Helena’s. A small and wordless kindness.
Cosima, on the other hand, does not believe in kindnesses that are small or wordless.
When she saw Beth again, after all those months, Cosima turned on her foot and walked away. Beth never figured out how to apologize to her right – because it’s Cosima, and she figured between her and Alison Cosima was never a risk. They didn’t like each other, that much. Cosima was smart and bright the way a spark is bright. She thought Cosima would be fine.
But sometimes they bumped into each other at the back door of Alison’s house, or at the “Clone Club” (and that was a shitty name when Katja brought it up as a joke) (fuck, Katja) (Katja–) (but Beth doesn’t think about Katja) meetings they all drag each other to from time to time. And when they did, Cosima looked at Beth like Beth betrayed her, a look that settled into the lines of Cosima’s face with a familiarity that made Beth’s heart ache.
She wanted to ask who hurt Cosima, to make her look at Beth like that.
But Beth thinks the answer is her. So she didn’t ask.
She was going to. But – suddenly, like a switch flipped, Cosima was fine. Brittle and bright and fine, Beth, it’s not like I’m gonna jump in front of a train or anything. A smile that’s sour and horribly insincere. Hurt in the lines of her shoulders, all those fragile bones. But she started talking. Kept talking. Cosima’s the one who tells her about Sarah, all the stories Sarah won’t tell her – she drank soap, Beth – and Cosima tells her about Katja and Jennifer (fuck) and Tony and Krystal and Rachel and the original and their creator and everything Beth has missed, everything Beth couldn’t face.
And then she keeps going. When Beth sits on a stool in the lab Cosima shares with Scott, Cosima spits facts at her like bright bullets, so fast it makes Beth dizzy. She talks about the sky, she talks about the shirt she’s wearing, she talks with a sort of raw desperation. Beth picks at the fraying thread of the sweater she’s wearing, the one that Alison knit her, and thinks about tying people down. She feels so very guilty.
So she says the same thing: “I’m not going to leave again.”
It’s two in the morning, and Cosima’s bent over a microscope. Beth is drinking shitty Lipton tea. Fuck Sarah Manning. Beth never wanted to drink tea from the breakroom outside and think: you know what, this is shitty tea. Fuck Sarah Manning for giving her good taste in tea.
Cosima goes stiff, whirls around in her stool like she was waiting for a fight. “Okay,” she says flatly. “Awesome. Thanks for the heads-up, Detective Childs.”
“You know I’m not–” Beth starts, but Cosima just makes a bitchy huffing noise and spins back around towards her microscope.
“Yeah, whatever,” she says, voice gone to splinters.
“Cosima,” Beth says pleadingly, but Cosima slams one hand on the table – blood samples hop into the air, like they’re frightened – and yells, “Stop.”
She stands up, stands there in the middle of the room. She looks three times her size, the way Alison so often looks three times smaller. The things that her – that their – that this body can do are amazing, maybe. Beth feels an ache in her throat to tell Cosima this, but another version of Cosima. The one they buried, months ago.
“You left!” Cosima screams. Her hands are sweeping in front of her, broad angry strokes. “You just left us, all of us, because – what? You couldn’t handle it? Because you didn’t – you didn’t trust us?” And Beth watches Cosima grapple for anger, watches it slip through her fingers. She’s trying, though, trying so hard. “Sarah’s the one who told me you shot someone, did you know that? Sarah told me you didn’t trust Paul. Sarah told me about the pills, Beth. When Delphine–” and she looks off to the side, bites her lip, shakes her head like the weight of her skull is too much for her neck to support. “Sarah stayed, Beth. Why didn’t you?”
She looks at Beth like she’s hoping, desperately, for an answer. Cosima was always like that, Beth remembers with an ache in all of her bones. Cosima always had such faith in Beth. Like a child, believing their mom and dad always knew the right thing to do.
Beth opens her mouth, feels answers rattling on the tip of her tongue in a way that is nothing like candies.Because I couldn’t. Because I was so tired. Because Sarah could do it, Sarah was good enough, and I wasn’t. I wasn’t what you needed. But fuck if those are the answers Cosima needs. Beth doesn’t have those answers. Sarah probably does, but Beth doesn’t.
So Beth does what she does best. She stands up, and she walks away.
“You aren’t mad I left,” Beth says, voice rusted. Her face is cradled in her hands, and all of her vision is dark. Like being asleep, or being dead. That is to say: comforting.
“No,” Helena says. “But I did not know you then.”
It’s four in the morning and Beth is sitting in Alison’s kitchen, hands clasped around a mug of hot milk and honey. Alison’s sitting across from her, braid unraveling over her shoulder. Her pajamas are ever-so-slightly too small for her; her wrists jut out at the end, so fragile it makes Beth want to cry. Like the bones of something that died too young.
“I’m sorry,” Beth says, helplessly. “I’m so – I’m so sorry, Alison. You know that, right?”
Alison, sitting across from her, looks down at the drink she’s holding. It smells like lemons, each breath sharp like a scalpel. Alison doesn’t drink anymore. Just something else for Beth to not know, another moment for her to blink at Alison and realize she’s looking for a wine glass. She takes a sip of her drink. Wishes for a beer. Wishes for a pill, but guiltily.
“I know,” Alison says, and her hand slides over Beth’s on the table. “You had to, didn’t you? You always had your reasons.”
There’s a moment there that Beth could take. Alison is straining towards her, belief heavy on her tongue. Milk and honey. And Beth could smile at her and say of course, Alison, everything I’ve done has been for a reason. Everything I’ve done has been for you.
“No, Alison,” she says. “I was just afraid.”
Beth gets back to the flat she’s crashing at around six in the morning, heavy with saltwater and old grief. She leans on the edge of the counter, next to the kettle she can hear beginning to whistle. She’s so tired. Every second she’s alive she’s so tired. But every second leads to another second, all of them a hoarded stockpile in the back of Beth’s brain. She can’t decide if all of this time is a weight on her back or if it’s so miraculous it makes her dizzy.
The kettle whistles, angrily. Beth starts pouring tea.
Behind her the door closes, and she can hear footsteps. She pours the second mug, and turns around.
“Hey,” she says to Sarah, holding out a mug. “There you are. Want some tea?”