Liebs ruins the dramatic poof! of teleporter smoke by doubling over and retching once she finds solid footing.
Liebs braces her hands on her thighs, heaving uselessly and spitting bitter mouthfuls onto the cobblestones. She feels the gaze of the Cake Joker burning the back of her neck; it's unclear whether he's sympathetic or gloating, or both.
Liebs shrinks under the curious glances of the Jokers around her. She's avoided being here, both for the obvious reason -- she already feels wordless curls of want behind her sternum -- and for the fact that she doesn't belong anymore.
Liebs thinks that's almost as painful as the withdrawal.
Liebs grits her teeth against the waves of nausea and straightens. Her body trembles from craving and weakness and hope, her hands balling into fists beside her. She takes a few steps toward the gates and potential salvation and stills.
Liebs thinks fuck it and pivots on her heel to pay the Cake Joker one last visit. He raises an eyebrow. "I'd rather not have half-digested--" he begins, but sighs and slides a plate to her anyway.
Liebs chews in silence, eyes downcast, for a few minutes. "This is going to work," she mumbles. The Joker adjusts the band of his hat. "And if it doesn't?"
Liebs's eyes snap up to meet his, black save a sliver of brown iris. He clears his throat but does not break her gaze. "Well. I wish you the best of luck." Liebs scrapes up a few stray crumbs and frosting. "It's. It's all I've got."
Liebs wordlessly slides the empty plate and fork back to him and thumbs a smear of chocolate away from the corner of her mouth. She coughs once, a terrible rattling thing, and steps back. She snuffs. "Fuckin' ironic, though, right."
Drily, "Close enough, I suppose." Liebs shrugs a shoulder and shivers. The whole thing is probably supposed to feel more monumental, but she's really just so tired that she'd rather it be over with.
Liebs can't help but smile, just a little bit, despite the shivering. She leaves AceHigh in search of a laboratory and her Improbability. The Cake Joker watches her go.
Her voice is hoarse from screaming.
"Fuck you, fuck you, give it back you fucking--" Her breath leaves her lungs, hair fluttering behind her, her whole body rocked in the shockwave of another arc of Improbability. She levels her gun, pressing the butt against her shoulder, and grins behind the scope, a flash of yellowed teeth.
"You know," she rasps, "I should be thanking you for this. I've been asking for this. It's like, God--" She sucks in a breath through clenched teeth, lets it out on a harsh chuckle. "--so. Thank you."
Her eyes flash once; she centers the Drive in her crosshairs and fires abnormally true. It judders with the impact, a thin crack opening along its chassis to permit the passage of a stream of black smoke.
Liebs rushes forward to press her lips to it.
The smoke covers her face in soot and ash and she can feel her mouth blistering, but it is glorious and fills her lungs with manic warmth. She is the thirsty man plunged into a tank of water, and she takes great heaving gulps of it, oblivious to the possibility of drowning. She smacks the heel of her hand against the hot metal and pulls away.
Her eyes glow and pulse. Her hair lifts away from her shoulders, splaying in an invisible wind. For the first time in weeks, she draws herself up to her full height.
"Thank you," she repeats, and lets her gun clatter away across the tile. She lifts her arms, squeezes her eyes shut, and yanks. The arcs of Improbability dance away from the Drive to crackle around her hands; they leave darkened marks everywhere they zap at her, but Liebs clutches tight. She rears back and throws them back as hard as she can, right at the machine's heart.
There is a sickening, wet schlorp. And then, quite suddenly, there is nothing at all.
The first thing Liebs notices when she wakes is that there's another IV bag hung up next to the usual cocktail of painkillers, electrolytes, and parenteral nutrition. It glows a gentle green. She frowns.
The Watcher, fingers steepled under her chin, follows her gaze. "We had to," she murmurs after a few moments of silence. "You were fighting so hard, we could barely get antecubital access."
A combination of shame, intimidation and morphine leaves Liebs unable to respond. The Watcher presses a cold finger to her lips anyway.
"You know you can't be shown like this." Her voice paradoxically embodies both disapproval and sympathy. "You've got two options, as I see it." She taps two fingers against Liebs's lower lip. "One: we keep you here and put you under sedation until we've weaned you off. Two: you figure out some way to get over this on your own, and quickly, so we can get you back on the air." She feels the chapped mouth under her hand twist and proffers her a sympathetic glance. "Yes, I'm afraid," she says in response to Liebs's unasked question. "Perhaps it thought it was making some kind of a sick joke."
"Buprenorphine," Liebs croaks, eyes flitting up to the green drip. The words feel like sand in her mouth. The Watcher smiles and replaces her hand in her lap.
"Something like that," she agrees. "You -- aren't the first to have come in like this. We needed a solution. As it were."
Liebs nods; the movement re-awakens starbursts of pain behind her eyes. The Watcher stands, brushing off her lap, and cups her hand tightly around the curve of Liebs's shoulder.
"Think about it. It's entirely up to you. I just want to make sure you're back in fighting shape in no time. All right?"
"All right," Liebs parrots, flat, hoarse. Her eyes follow the Watcher out of her room; her ears listen for the distant clicking of her boot-heels to fade.
Some hours later, the painkillers nearly worn off, Liebs calmly slips out of bed. She takes a moment to listen to the chirp of crickets snaking in through the half-cracked window. Then she grits her teeth and yanks out her IVs, one at a time. The green tubing attached to her right arm snakes feebly around her knuckles in what passes for a plea; she loops her fingers around it and tugs, hard, until the cannula tears free of her elbow to skitter under the chair. A hematoma blossoms, purple and angry, just under the surface of the skin, the mingled red-green of blood and drug dribbling down the length of her forearm.
Liebs picks up the glass vase with the artificial flowers on her bedside table (the same one as the last thirty times, says a niggling voice in her subconscious) and turns it this way and that to watch the moonlight glint off its surface. She holds it out at arms' length, her face impassive, and lets go. The ringing crash barely registers as a muffled thump to her hearing.
She begins to systematically destroy everything: the pillow, torn into small triangles of foam; the sheets, ripped into ribbons; the IV stand, tipped over; the drawers of her bedside table removed and stomped into splinters. She pauses to breathe, sways on her feet.
Strong hands catch her before she crumples entirely, lift her gently back into bed. Her last few fading images are of her wrists and ankles being secured into four-point restraints.
She awakens, naked, back pressed against NewHome's outer wall. Her clothes, her old clothes, are folded neatly in a pile next to her.
Liebs rises, dresses, and begins again.