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For the Joy of It Ch. 3, Bumps in the night (and more tea)
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Cuckoo
Posted: 20 October 2019 - 11:27 PM                                    
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Chapter warnings: violence, creepy basements, and unhygenic tea brewing


Ch. 3: Straight Black

Elizabeth turned the short straw over and over in her fingers, glowering at nothing while her coworkers laughed and discussed their weekend plans as they packed up to go home. She’d had weekend plans. Sorta. Her plans didn’t involve other people, but a nice long soak in her bathtub with a stack of library books for company rated very highly on her to-do list.

Maybe, if she worked very quickly, she’d have time before bed.

With a groan, she dropped her head on her folded arms.

Who was she kidding? By the time she reached her apartment, she’d be lucky to peel off her work clothes and struggle into her pajamas before falling into a coma.

Week’s end cleaning sucked the life, soul, and energy out of each week’s sacrifice. She drew the short straw. That meant sweeping, mopping, dusting, and generally tidying the public spaces. Worse, it meant spot cleaning the Dungeon – referred to in more professional circles as ‘the basement.’

Elizabeth hated the basement. Maybe she read too many Gothic novels, but she couldn’t help getting the creeps whenever she went down alone. It was too quiet. Her steps always sounded too loud. Her own breathing disturbed her down there. And, while she never noticed her own heartbeat in the safety of the well-lit first floor, in the basement it kept time to every twitch and jump and stumble.

And she’d be stuck down there all alone, in an empty store, well after closing time.

What fun.

“Working late?”

She looked up and offered her favorite patron a weak smile. “Yeah.” She held up the cause of her misery. “I drew the short straw. Weekly cleaning duties are all mine.”

“Congratulations.”

“Ugh.” Her head fell back on her arms and she waved less than half-heartedly. “Have a good night.”

“Oh, I’m sure I will.”

His footsteps tracked towards the door, but he paused before pushing it open.

“Best of luck,” he said.

Then he was gone.

It didn’t take more than five minutes for the rest of the staff to clear out. With their last customer gone, the light fading, and the weekend ahead none of them saw a reason to wait around until the clock actually struck the closing hour. Elizabeth, likewise, saw no point keeping the store open another seven minutes by herself, so she flipped the door sign to Closed and broke out the duster.

Last week’s “volunteer” had slacked. They had slacked hard. Dust had collected thick enough that it turned sticky and worked its way into all the narrow, hard to reach crevices. The floor was no better. In fact, the floor was probably worse. It had been a rainy week, and muddy prints littered the aisles. What should’ve taken no more than forty-five minutes kept Elizabeth busy for twice that long. The blue twilight had long since faded to a wall of black pushing against the shop windows, and she had yet to even start on the Dungeon.

She decided to get some water heating for a cup of tea. She deserved a break, after all, and since she wouldn’t be enjoying a drink at home that evening, it made sense to enjoy one during her rest.

However, while the water was boiling, she wandered to the basement door, drawn by unfinished work and an urge similar to the human pull towards car crashes and train wrecks. She could put off the inevitable, but the basement would be waiting, chewing on her nerves as she tried to calm herself with her cup of tea.

She came to the unhappy realization that the longer she waited, the worse it would be.

The knob turned easily, and the door swung open with an ominous creak. Since the architect in all their wisdom put the light switch at the bottom of the stairs, her trip down would have to be taken in the dark. It must made everything worse. Fear of the unknown and all that.

She planned to start walking downstairs several times, but somehow her feet never actually moved. It was a standoff. A vicious cycle of procrastination. And she just knew if she didn’t get moving right now, her coworkers would arrive in the morning to find her still standing there, staring into the shadows.

“You’re an adult,” she muttered. “You can go into the spooky basement. You WILL go into the spooky basement.”

She nodded, trying to force the words to be true.

A deep breath.

Two more.

Another.

She couldn’t believe herself.

The dark abyss at her feet mocked her. If this went on, they’d be standing in a deadlock till doomsday.

“Oh, for pity’s sake, woman, just go down the stupid stairs.”

She galloped down them blindly, heart in her mouth. It wasn’t her best plan. The burst of activity sent her pulse thumping, and her adrenaline went into overdrive from the minute she opened the downstairs door. With so much activity on the inside, finding anything on the outside got complicated. She groped at the wall, looking for the switch as she panted, and she wished, not for the first time, that the owners would invest in a flashlight.
Finally, her palm grazed the switch, and she grasped it with a sigh of relief.

It was short-lived.

Before she could turn on the lights, a hand clamped over her lower face and yanked her backwards, hard. She stumbled into something that felt vaguely man-shaped and grabbed fruitlessly at the hand over her face. Already, her lungs felt tight, and she couldn’t pull in air through either her mouth or her nose. For a moment, she lost herself to fruitless panic – until she remembered that her elbows might be useful in this situation.

She slammed her right arm back, catching the man under the ribs. His breath went in a woof and his hand relaxed just the slightest bit. Without consciously deciding to call for help, Elizabeth screamed. Her assailant caught his breath quickly and hurled her through the dark, into the stairs. She hit headfirst. The pain disoriented her, and she rubbed her hands along the steps, trying to determine up from down. Before she could even climb to her feet, a hand twined through her hair and hauled her back into the gloom.

Spots danced across her vision. Her scalp burned. She wanted to scream again, but startled and badly off balance, all she could do was yelp and thrash as the light at the top of the stairs grew farther and farther away.

The man grabbed her neck with his free hand. He hoisted her up, pressing her back to the wall, and squeezed. She tried to scratch her way to freedom. The man wore long sleeves, and he didn’t seem worried about the little cuts and scrapes she managed to etch in his hand. In fact, he let go of her hair to bring his full force to bear against her throat.
The faint illumination from the open door glinted off his eyes, and Elizabeth thought she saw white teeth shining in a crescent shaped smile. But maybe that was just the lights popping behind her eyes. Funny. They never mentioned that in books. Just the black bars, which, now that she thought about it, were creeping into her peripherals.

Soon, she’d pass out.

Then she would die.

She’d always known the basement was a dangerous place.

No more tea. No more books. No more interesting discussions with handsome British men.

She didn’t want to die.

On some level, she realized her stumbling thoughts were a bad sign, but she couldn’t focus on the concept, let alone do anything about it. As her brain stuttered through random ideas, her terror joined the hands around her neck, choking her.

She was losing the struggle. The man gave her a violent shake, like a dog with a rat, and her hands slipped bonelessly off his wrists. Her sight tunneled to a pinprick of darkness just a shade brighter than the rest, and she realized she’d die face to face with her killer, but she’d never see his face. If the Victorian myth of the eyes preserving their final vision had been true, even that wouldn’t bring her justice.

Alone. In the dark. Dead at a stranger’s hands.

How lonely.

She was so close to losing consciousness, she began to wonder if she already had. Her eyes slipped closed.

A muted bang, a flash bright enough to pierce her eyelids, and the sensation of falling all jerked her awake.

Far too dizzy and confused to catch herself, she landed heavily on her side. A gasp brought air to her starved lungs, and that precious breath set off a horrible coughing fit. She cradled her throat and curled up on the filthy floor, hacking and wheezing without a care for anything other than her shuddering diaphragm.

A hand settled on her shoulder.

She very suddenly remembered she wasn’t safe to just lie there and recover. Whatever made him drop her, her attacker was still right beside her.

Elizabeth threw herself back, yelping as she made contact with the wall, and the hand disappeared as suddenly as it appeared.

“Calm down, calm down.”

She knew that voice.

“I’ll get the light.”

Despite the warning, she didn’t shade her eyes before the naked fluorescent lighting buzzed awake, and she blinked desperately for a moment, blinded all over again until the illumination resolved into the horrible old basement she knew and loathed.

A stranger was sprawled in front of her, eyes open, a hole in his temple. Blood oozed out in a small pool under his cheek, and Elizabeth was willing to bet there was a matching hole on that side of his head, too. Her eyes wandered to his hands. They’d been twined around her throat. She could still feel them; she imagined she would for a while. He tried to kill her.

But she was still alive. Still breathing.

Taking a deep, raspy breath, she pushed herself up to her elbows. A palm appeared before her, and this time she didn’t flinch away. She looked up to find her favorite patron hovering, his face wearing a sterner expression than usual, but still familiar. A camera dangled over his shoulder, and the hand he hadn’t offered clutched a long pistol with a silencer screwed over the barrel.

As he pulled her to her feet, Elizabeth’s oxygen-starved mind connected the broken pieces of the surrounding scene. The holes in the stranger’s head were the same hole, a gunshot wound. That was the bang. Her English friend had the only gun in the room, so he must have fired the fatal shot. The camera would explain the flash.

None of that explained the why of it all, but at that precise moment, she found she didn’t care.

She threw her arms around the man, shivering as a wave of belated horror rippled down her spine. The man stiffened for a moment, but he relaxed again quickly, setting the hand without the gun at the center of her back.

“Thank you.” Elizabeth had her face buried against his jacket, and even she could hear how terrible her voice sounded.

“As welcome as you are, I’m afraid I didn’t kill him for you, my darling.”

With her eyes squeezed shut, she shook her head, still clinging to the man. “I don’t care why you killed him. I’m just grateful you did.”

She let go, and the man let her take a half step back, but he watched her very carefully. Elizabeth held her throat, grimacing as she continued. “You saved my life.”

The man openly studied her for a moment, sporting the smallest of frowns as his eyebrows slowly knitted together. With a flourish, he produced a handkerchief which he proceeded to press carefully against Elizabeth’s cheeks. It came away damp with tears she hadn’t even noticed shedding. After tucking away the cloth, he holstered his gun, and both hands came up to tilt her face to the light. His frown deepened.

“You should have this looked at.”

“What?”

A smile flickered across his face. “Your head wound.”

Bewildered, she lifted her hand to the spot he’d been staring at, just below her hairline. Her fingers met something sticky. And painful. She flinched. “Yeah.”

Her fingers came back into her field of view smeared with blood. Was it really so bad? Her knees trembled.

“I think I need some tea.”

She trudged to the stairs, vaguely aware the man was following just behind, and moved upstairs in a daze. The water she’d put on earlier was bubbling away, and she turned off the heat with a mindless smack.

Two mugs. Two tea bags. Hot water sloshing into ceramic, swirling and turning brown as sepia clouds puffed free of the bags. A moment of silence to let the amber brew darken, and then a splash of milk that curled in misshapen galaxies. She brought the cups to a table in the corner she’d cleared for cleaning earlier that evening and sat down heavily. The man sat down across from her, still watching every so intently. Had he always watched like that, and she’d failed to notice? She wasn’t sure how to feel about that. She wasn’t sure of anything, actually.

She clutched the mug, staring blankly through the steam as the heat seeped into her palms. It didn’t stop the burn in her throat or the waking prickle on her scalp, but the warmth soothed her. She lifted the mug to her lips for a careful sip, croaking as the hot tea awakened new pains in her throat.

The man lifted his own mug for a drink. Elizabeth had left a smear of blood on the handle, but it didn’t seem to faze him in the least. She wondered just how used he was to shooting people, to literally having blood on his hands.

“I think you’re in shock.”

Elizabeth went to wave off the suggestion, but her hand trembled uncontrollably when she let go of the mug. She stared at it in fascination.

“Huh.” Gingerly, she rested her hand back on the table, palm down, fingers splayed. “Probably.”

He hummed, continuing to drink the tea she’d made for him. After she nearly died. After he shot someone.

“I must admit,” the man looked down, crossing his legs, “this is the first time someone’s made me a cup of tea after watching me execute a man.”

Elizabeth scoffed, amused, confused, and a bit desperate on all fronts. “Guess I’m special.”

The man laughed, surprisingly loud in the empty bookshop. He smiled across at Elizabeth, who was too tired to do anything but faintly echo the expression.

“That you are, my darling.” He threw back the rest of his tea and stood, fingertips lingering on the table. His nails tapped a short rhythm as he considered something, and then he turned and walked to the door.

Elizabeth’s confusion grew, creeping towards panic as her rescuer just walked away.

“Will you be back?”

“That depends.” He looked at her over his shoulder, assessing her with an arcane twinkle in his eye. “Can you keep a secret?”



(A/N)
So, Murdoc is no hero, but I think on some level he'd kind of like to be, at least to the right person. He enjoys being the villain, of course, but he seeks attention in some interesting ways throughout the series, so a girl throwing herself into his arms and making him tea after he performs a hit might just strike him as the perfect opportunity to try that hero role. He isn't a hero, and Elizabeth already suspects that on some level, but we believe what we want to, don't we?

Thoughts?



 
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uniquelyjas
Posted: 26 October 2019 - 04:58 PM                                    
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Oh wow! Super chapter Cuckoo!! I don't know how I missed it when you first posted it so sorry for the late review. As I read this, on Saturday night, with wind and rain crashing against my bedroom window right before Halloween it made the chapter that much more "exciting". I totally feel for Elizabeth stuck with the cleaning:( Like her, I'd much rather be home alone with a good book! I think your writing here is great. Very descriptive. And I love how you took your time and really played out the attack/choking scene. I can TOTALLY see Murdoc sitting back with a cup of tea after just killing someone!! The only thing that kept niggling at me was why nobody (well, Elizabeth in particular) didn't mention calling the cops. I guess we could chalk it up to shock?

As for your note: I think Murdoc definitely wants positive attention from someone special (ie. Penny in Cleo Rocks). However, like a spoil, obstinate child, he doesn't know how to go about getting it other than doing things that garner him negative attention (like negative attention is better than no attention at all). In my own Mac fan fic writing, I've dabbled a bit with the idea of Mac and Murdoc being like two sides of the same coin. The same yet different due to how they chose to use their skills.

I know you are busy with this story and I look forward to another chapter, but if you get a chance you can check out my Mac writing posted on here. It's "Continuum" and the sequel is "The Journey Continues." No pressure, just an invitation:)



Jody~

"I've found from past experiences that the tighter your plan, the more likely you are to run into something unpredictable" ~ MacGyver (The Heist)

 
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Cuckoo
Posted: 26 October 2019 - 08:30 PM                                    
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QUOTE (uniquelyjas @ 26 October 2019 - 04:58 PM)
Oh wow! Super chapter Cuckoo!! I don't know how I missed it when you first posted it so sorry for the late review. As I read this, on Saturday night, with wind and rain crashing against my bedroom window right before Halloween it made the chapter that much more "exciting". I totally feel for Elizabeth stuck with the cleaning:( Like her, I'd much rather be home alone with a good book! I think your writing here is great. Very descriptive. And I love how you took your time and really played out the attack/choking scene. I can TOTALLY see Murdoc sitting back with a cup of tea after just killing someone!! The only thing that kept niggling at me was why nobody (well, Elizabeth in particular) didn't mention calling the cops. I guess we could chalk it up to shock?

As for your note: I think Murdoc definitely wants positive attention from someone special (ie. Penny in Cleo Rocks). However, like a spoil, obstinate child, he doesn't know how to go about getting it other than doing things that garner him negative attention (like negative attention is better than no attention at all). In my own Mac fan fic writing, I've dabbled a bit with the idea of Mac and Murdoc being like two sides of the same coin. The same yet different due to how they chose to use their skills.

I know you are busy with this story and I look forward to another chapter, but if you get a chance you can check out my Mac writing posted on here. It's "Continuum" and the sequel is "The Journey Continues." No pressure, just an invitation:)

First off, so glad you enjoyed! She is 110% in shock, but the cops will come into the picture in the next chapter. She isn't going to just leave a body in the basement (she WAS supposed to be cleaning, after all).

That is a great description of Murdoc's need for attention! And I agree that he balances out MacGyver. They both invent traps, they both have their fingers in a lot of pies. Both kinda independent.

I'd love to read your stuff! I will start perusing this evening, in fact.



 
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Dragondog
Posted: 27 October 2019 - 09:35 AM                                    
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Didn't Murdoc say to Penny in Cleo Rocks something like, "If we had met in another lilfetime, things might've been different"? Poor Murdoc thinks he's too far gone to change things, even though a part of him wants to sad.gif



"If at first you don't succeed, get a bigger hammer" - Hank The Cowdog

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Cuckoo
Posted: 27 October 2019 - 01:26 PM                                    
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QUOTE (Dragondog @ 27 October 2019 - 09:35 AM)
Didn't Murdoc say to Penny in Cleo Rocks something like, "If we had met in another lilfetime, things might've been different"? Poor Murdoc thinks he's too far gone to change things, even though a part of him wants to sad.gif

I agree.

Murdoc also kind of played himself in Cleo Rocks. He fell too deep into his role - it really was one of his better performances, and everything he let himself express as Jacques was a little too honest, someone he really could have been in another lifetime. So getting turned down to abruptly by Penny (in all fairness, can't blame the girl) hurt him on multiple levels. Seeing as how he tried (and failed) to retire in the next episode, I'd say it did shake him on a pretty deep level.



 
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