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i see what you believe in

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Sarah changes out of her uniform as soon as she gets home – the itch of the cheap polyester lingers, sending her rubbing at her neck as she pulls on her shirt and leather jacket. Her shoulders settle minutely as the jacket falls over them; still feels right, feels like armor.

She looks at herself in the mirror.

Shit, Manning, she thinks, you look tired. She does. Not anything specific – just cheap fluorescent lighting settling under her skin, making her feel sallow and unclean. No visible under-eye bags or anything. The nightmares aren’t that bad. She’s just – tired. She’s always tired, now, to work and from work, every day she wakes up and pounds her alarm and goes.

They did it. They won. She shouldn’t be this tired.

Sarah’s hand goes for her eyeliner and then she stops. There’s an itch along her spine, singing armor, singing trying too hard. She puts it on anyways. Grabs her wallet, grabs her phone – she only has one phone now – and leaves her small, shitty little apartment. Like every time she leaves, she wonders for a second if she should lock the door. Maybe she shouldn’t. Maybe that’ll actually mean something.

But of course she does – she thinks about Kira’s drawings in the back room, the small space in this apartment that belongs to her daughter. So she locks the door.

Kira is spending the night at S’, so there is no one to see Sarah go. Her phone is silent. The hallways are empty. She takes the shitty broken elevator down to the first floor, and heads to a bus station; she has just enough change in her pockets to cover the bus, and she makes it just in time as it pulls away.

Sarah spends the whole bus ride with her earbuds in. She doesn’t take the train anymore; every time she sees someone looking at her through the bus window she jumps.

(Bad choice of words.)

There isn’t a bus stop near the prison, so she has to walk. The sky is overcast, the heat oppressive. It feels like the clouds are leaning in close to watch her and Sarah wants to snap I know – doesn’t know what would follow it, though. I know what I’m doing. I know, this is a terrible idea. She knows all sorts of things. She goes in anyways.

“Sarah Manning,” she says to the bored-looking woman at the front desk. “I’m – I’m on her list.”

She doesn’t actually know if she’s on the list; she’s only guessing. If it were the other way around, she knows one name that would never make it on hers. But: she’s let in, in to the visitor’s room where other bored-looking women sit across tables from husbands and brothers and sons. She is the center of a room full of spotlights, the second she walks in, and she can see their eyes lingering on her face. She wants to pull her hood up. She doesn’t.

Rachel is already sitting at one of the tables – like she woke up this morning and knew that Sarah would be here, and somehow Sarah is already late. She’s wearing a jumpsuit. Besides that she looks exactly the same, in a way that makes Sarah want to be sick.

She sits down.

“Hello, Sarah,” Rachel says, like she’s going to offer Sarah tea, like she’s going to push a contract across the table. “This is a surprise.”

“Wanted to make sure you were still here,” Sarah says, folding her arms across her chest. Rachel’s gaze goes to them, and then Sarah’s eyes, and Sarah knows she’s seeing the eyeliner and making judgments about it. She knows.

“Who’d you have to fuck to get lipstick,” she says, just for the minute flinch of Rachel’s face at the word fuck. Rachel frowns at her, like an embarrassed teacher, like most of the foster parents Sarah has had. Sweetheart, you should know better.

“Is that why you’re here?” Rachel asks, politely interested. “To see who’s been in my bed?”

“I told you,” Sarah says gruffly. “I wanted to make sure you weren’t thinking of escaping. You know I’d put you right back in here. Somehow.”

“I know you would,” Rachel says softly. Sympathetically. She’s pulling something out of Sarah’s words that Sarah didn’t put in there, taking something Sarah isn’t giving her. She just looks at Sarah for a moment with something almost sad and Sarah feels increasingly frantic until Rachel sighs, blinks, breaks her gaze away.

“How are you,” she says. “Out there in the world.”

“I’m bloody fantastic,” Sarah says. “It’s great, not gettin’ stabbed.”

Rachel actually smiles, like that’s an inside joke between the two of them. It makes her look young. It’s awful.

“I’m sure it is,” she says warmly. Her head tilts. “How’s Kira.”

“You don’t get to ask that.”

“Cosima?”

“You don’t get to talk about her.”

“The others?”

“Shut up.”

Rachel’s staring at her openly, now; her smile is still there, plastic and stamped onto her face, but her eyes are naked pits of hunger. “How’s the weather,” she says, words equally pleasant and bitter. “Is it raining?”

“No,” Sarah says. “It’s not raining.” She looks down at her hands on the table. The tabletop is carved with all sorts of desperate graffiti, and none of it is Rachel’s. Rachel will leave no mark here.

“How’s – prison,” she says uncomfortably. She doesn’t look up. She doesn’t realize she’s waiting for Rachel to say something mild about prison food or uniforms until she is met with a horrible, hollow silence. She looks up.

Rachel is just looking at her. She looks tired. Not in the same way Sarah looks tired. Just – tired.

“Why are you here, Sarah,” she says, sounding utterly exhausted. “I assumed you’d come to gloat, but you won’t even give me that. What are you looking for.”

Sarah’s knee is hopping under the table and she wants, desperately, to ask Rachel: do you remember sticking a knife in my leg. She doesn’t know why she wants to ask it only she does, she knows – it’s Rachel’s face looming over her, eyes glittering like mad stars, grin so wide it looked like it hurt her. It’s looking at a version of your own face and thinking monster. She doesn’t know how to put that into words, and – more than that – words that Rachel would understand, and – more than that – words that Rachel wouldn’t understand too much at all.

“You don’t even know,” Rachel says softly, “do you.”

“You had to know it was gonna end like this,” Sarah tells her. The words sound pleading.

Rachel’s eyes close and a smile stretches over her face, nostalgic and nauseous. “I had to know,” she breathes. Lets out a small exhalation of a laugh. “I knew that I was chosen, and that the world was handed to me on a silver platter. I knew that you had ruined my life, and I had a chance to set it right. I knew that I was made for it, made to set things right.” Her eyes snap open and they’re glassy. Sarah’s stomach rolls over and over. Rachel looks at her, still smiling, three seconds from tears.

“And now,” she says, like it’s all a big joke, “I sleep in a bunk.”

“You could never have won,” Sarah says.

“It doesn’t matter what I could have done,” Rachel says. “What matters is that you stopped me. And I didn’t. And here we are.” She looks away again, studies the walls like they’re windows to the world outside where it is not raining.

“The last time we sat across a table from each other,” she says thoughtfully, “I was the DYAD’s favorite daughter, and you were Sarah Manning.”

“Hate to break it to you, but I still am,” Sarah says, suddenly uncomfortable, overcompensating. “They checked my ID on the way in here, y’know.”

“But you aren’t,” Rachel says. “Are you. You’re a checkout clerk, or an office worker. An employee. You won, Sarah, and this is your prize. Normalcy.”

“If I’d won,” she says softly, “at least it would have meant something.”

“This means something,” Sarah says, but it sounds like she’s trying to convince someone. Rachel. Herself.

“All we ever wanted was the chance to live our lives,” she says hollowly.

“And now you have it,” Rachel says. “Everything you wanted. How does it taste?”

Great, Sarah wants to say. Like freedom. I pick my daughter up from school and I don’t have to look over my shoulder. Alison’s kids are back from Florida, and Cosima has Delphine, and Helena and her daughters live in a cabin by the coast. We all got what we deserved, Rachel, every single one of us. It feels great. But it would be lying. God help her, it would be lying.

She opens her mouth to say – something – some desperate inhalation, some rush of breath, but then a man in a uniform is standing at the front of the room and saying visiting hours are over and they are, they’re over, Sarah feels it in her gut: she is never coming back.

“Sarah,” Rachel says, and Sarah looks at her, and sees a fear in Rachel’s face that she can feel reflected in her own. “If I escaped. You’d stop me.”

“Yeah,” Sarah says, and it sounds like a promise.

“Good,” Rachel says softly. The word is almost lost in the commotion of chair legs screeching on the floor and people exchanging final, frantic goodbyes. Sarah stands up. There is no goodbye on her tongue; her mouth is empty, hollow. She doesn’t stop looking at Rachel anyways – just in case she’ll find something, some final conclusion, some happily ever after.

Rachel doesn’t stop looking at her either. She doesn’t stand up, doesn’t head back to her cell. She just sits there, neatly folded, precise origami, and watches Sarah walk out the door and back to the outside world.