Been A Fool/Been Blind


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Scene Title Been a Fool/Been Blind
Synopsis After WSZR is brought back online, Ygraine ventures out to seek her daughter from another life.
Date February 1, 2018

WSZR Building

A crumbling old mill building perched on the banks of the Newton Creek in Elmhurst looks like nothing remarkable from the outside. Its looming brick walls, tall and grimy windows, and industrial aesthetic blends in with a dozen other buildings in the area that were once part of turn of the century textile industry. But getting close to the second floor doors, on an old metal staircase, one can tell what’s different about this building. Thrumming through the doors, a percussive beat is not that of machinery, but a steady rhythm of a different kind not often heard within the Safe Zone: music.

Music is a universal language. Even if the words to a song are unintelligible, there is a commonality shared in the reception to rhythm that transcends the boundaries of language and culture. Songs can evoke powerful memories, affect moods, and influence people in ways both obvious and subconscious. It is, perhaps, why the return of radio broadcasts to the New York Safe Zone is such a monumental event. With much of the northeast of the United States in disarray or ruin, no active broadcast towers reached the slouching remains of New York City. Not until WSZR Radio went on the air.

Inside, the mill space is cavernous and largely empty. Its old wooden floors are dusty and flecked with bits of broken brick and plaster. Wooden beams support twenty foot high ceilings, and the only furniture is a comically small folding table surrounded by three metal chairs set in the center of an otherwise vacant mill building. But music fills that void, the rich textures of vinyl echoing in the high ceilings and reverberating off of the tall, curtainless windows. A single door on the opposite side of the mill space indicates where the music is coming from, propped open by a brick with a paper plate taped to the door that says On Air in black marker.

“I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but you don’t much look old enough t’be her mother.” Martin Pines is WSZR’s ostensible owner. A rail-thin slip of a man with long gray hair tied back into a ponytail and gentle features hidden behind a lifetime of creases and wrinkles. He speaks with a gentle, welcoming voice, and was more than excited to bring in a visitor from the street under fantastical pretenses.

The target of his supposition is Ygraine FitzRoy, who now strides through the otherwise vacant space of the WSZR building at Martin’s side. “But Leenie’s here, absolutely. I’m not sure I understand how you all are related, but I’ve no doubt she’d be thrilled t’see somebody special to her… she’s in a right good mood today.” Martin’s escort isn’t a swift one, though, he has the pace of a man his age and the patience of one too.

“We’re not related by blood, no,” Ygraine agrees - her smile as warm as her tone. She keeps pace with her host, endeavouring to suppress the edgy watchfulness that would be her standard response to exploring an unfamiliar building.

“We helped each other, in another life.” Her explanation is true both literally and as a euphemistic reference to the time before the War. “I’ve been… busy, out there.” She nods towards the exit and the world beyond. “But hearing her voice on the radio, and on my birthday… it seemed rather too unsubtle a hint from fate for me to pass up.”

Martin turns to look at Ygraine like she’d fired a gun. “It’s your birthday?” A toothy smile creeps up across his face, and he motions toward the folding table in the middle of the spacious room, upon which sets a homemade sheet cake with plain white frosting. A few square slices have been cut out of it, a stack of paper plates and a plastic knife arrayed around the serving tray. “Well, I hope you are having a downright fantastic birthday. Now, God’s-honest and strange truth, today’s my ninety-second birthday. Leenie even baked me a cake.”

Looking briefly down at his feet, then up at Ygraine he offers. “If you want t’help yourself to a slice you’re more than welcome. I’ll go knock on the booth and get Leenie out here for ya.” There’s a look askance to the door, then back to Ygraine. “Sorry I… put the cart before the horse on that after you knocked on the door,” he offers over his shoulder as he walks toward the studio. “Name’s Martin Pines!”

Laughing in surprise, Ygraine grins broadly at the old man. “Really? Hah. Congratulations! I’m a little over a third of your age, at thirty five.”

Moving over to the table, she cheerfully has a good look at the cake, but doesn’t help herself to a slice just yet - even with the invitation, her indoctrination in suitable table-manners ensures that she waits for both the presumed chef and her host to be present.

And having both hands free should make hugging rather easier to manage, too, or so she hopes.

Pines shuffles over to the studio door, rapping on it with such a gentle touch as to be unheard back where Ygraine is. He ducks inside, just a little, and then steps back from the door almost as quickly. The music doesn’t stop playing, but when the door opens the Cat Power song crooning through the warehouse grows just a little louder.

Standing in the doorway of the studio, Jolene rests her weight down on a pair of crutches under each arm. Her expression shifts from one of mild confusion to utter delight as she lopes her way out from the doorway with a three-legged gait. The crutches clank noisily on the floor as she moves, briskly slipping past Martin and making her way across the hardwood floor over to Ygraine. “Oh my gosh!” She’s red-faced, teary-eyed, and a touch overwhelmed. She’s thinner than the last time Ygraine saw her, the unbuttoned flannel shirt she wears hangs off her more like a jacket now. Dark circles hang under her eyes, hair slightly disheveled. “Ygraine!” And yet, in spite of all that, Jolene Chevalier is the picture of boundless enthusiasm.

Ygraine laughs, shaking her head in an effort to hold back her own urge to tears. She’s clad in black and the darkest of blues, a hood flipped down over her back to reveal black-dyed hair. But her smile is bright and unashamedly fond, and after a moment of looking at the younger woman she strides forward, arms out to draw her into a hug, trusting herself to have no difficulty in taking both their weight.

“Happy unbirthday, love. I could hardly believe it, when I heard your voice on the radio, today of all days.” Even without Lene’s terrible few years, it would certainly have come as a most welcome surprise. With them… Ygraine is having more than a little difficulty in holding back her own urge to cry.

Wrinkling her nose, Lene slips one arm out of her crutch enough to wrap it gently — almost imperceptibly — around Ygraine’s waist. “Unbirthday, god, you’re so weird.” Her words trail off into a bubble of laughter, and as she takes her crutch again, Lene shuffles a bit back and looks over at Pines. “Did you know she was coming over?” It’s teasingly accusatory.

Pines raises both hands and offers a broad smile. “My hand t’God, I didn’t know a thing. But I can see where you get your manners now.” Lene offers an askance look to Pines, then back to Ygraine with one brow raised.

“Did you tell him you’re— ” Lene’s expression shifts further into a smile, face flushed just a bit more pink than earlier. “You,” she ambles around Ygraine toward the table, “stuff your face with cake, and tell me all about what you’re doing. Because it’s somebody’s birthday other than Martin,” green eyes level on Ygraine, “and he’s had his cake.”

“How about we all have some cake?” Ygraine laughs fondly, looking to and fro between Pines and Lene. “No, I didn’t tell him much more than my name. But it’s just possible that he’s interpreted something from how I dress, or from your having multiple mothers, or even that he knows something about me already.”

Cracking a grin at both Pines and Lene, she moves to take a seat - though she waits until Pines has sat down before doing so herself. “As for ‘happy unbirthday’? I think it was a Disney song once upon a time? The phrase stuck with me as a better response than ‘thank you’ to someone wishing me a happy birthday. Try to share whatever joy there is in the day, rather than keep it to myself, you know?”

“I don't know much of anything,” Pines politely lies from a distance. “Now I might well remember a lot, though, and I do recall you saying something about a fondness for a certain British woman named Ygraine, so…” Smiling with amusement, Pines shuffles back over to the group with his hands in his pockets.

Martin,” Lene chides gently, using a knuckle to wipe a tear from one eye as she looks over to Ygraine. “Don't let him lie to you, he's got perfect memory, says so on his registration card.” She fires a green-eyed look over at Martin who just shrugs a helpless who me?

“Now, I've had about as much of that cake as I can without making myself sick,” Martin deflects. “But you two take all the time you need. I'll go take myself a seat and keep the old turntable company while you do.” As he passes by, Pines lays a genthe hand on Lene’s shoulder, then slips away to the broadcasting booth.

In Pines’ absence, Lene shifts her weight forward onto her crutches and looks down at the cake, then slowly up to Ygraine with a happy, though weary, smile. “It's… been a while, hasn't it?” Lene notes with briefly downcast eyes. “I'm… sorry I haven't been around much. I'm— things are getting better.” Thanks to the radio station is implied.

“I’ve been travelling a lot. For years,” Ygraine says gently, returning her attention to Lene after smiling and raising a hand in farewell to Pines. “If you’d camped out in the right part of Minnesota, you’d have seen a fair amount of me, intermittently. Albany during the Trials, maybe. But mostly I’ve been chasing clues and gathering stories. Zig-zagging across North America to find survivors willing to talk to me, and every now and then to reconnect friends and family.”

She spreads her hands, then leans closer again, reaching out to lightly touch Lene’s shoulder. “I’ve not done nearly as much as I could have, to track down the people close to me. It… seemed indulgent, in part. Self-serving. But I admit there was also a lot of cowardice there. I’ve been scared of finding out just what I failed to be there to help with. Or, alternatively, how irrelevant my absence was. But you…?”

The older woman smiles fondly. “Lene, you’ve been a blessing for me since first I dreamed of you. You have nothing to apologise for.” Her gaze flickers to the table, then back to Lene as her lips twitch impishly. “Especially not when you provide cake.”

Managing something of a bittersweet smile, Lene looks away abe straightens on her crutches. “I don't much feel like a blessing,” she admits with a surprising amount of openness. “Maybe a hurricane? Come in out of the blue and topple all your things over?” She smiles awkwardly, then looks over to the studio booth.

Quiet for a moment, she turns back to Ygraine with a lighter expression. “Haven't done much with myself until this,” she nods to the brick-walled booth. “But… it means so much to me that you'd come up here to see me. I um, I don't see a lot of people other than — than mom and Martin. People stopped coming by, I… moved out on my own. It's— ” Lene shakes her head and dismisses the thought with a challenged smile.

“Are you working?” Lene tries to slide the conversation away from more difficult topics, but her life has become a minefield of them.

“I haven’t wanted to intrude,” Ygraine says quietly. “I know from personal experience how… unwelcome well-wishers can be, when I’m feeling fragile. But I have worried that I should have sought you out more. I’m… well. I’m a coward, all too often. Helping strangers is so much easier than plunging into meeting people I know.”

She looks guiltily apologetic, offering a self-conscious little shrug.

“Which… yes. I’m working. Liberty’s still going, and still has things to do. We’re still gathering survivors’ accounts, trying to bring people back together, trace the missing… and help out locally, too. My crazy tech interests have a lot to do with surviving away from civilised amenities… so I had a fair idea of a range of things to buy for people living somewhere like the Safe Zone. We’ve been handing out quite a lot, and selling some things at cost to those who can afford them. There’ll be a fair number of people out there listening to you on wind-up radios we shipped in. Not that I had any idea this was going to happen.”

She gestures towards the door through which Pines disappeared, smiling again. “It really was a delight to hear you on my own wind-up radio, and today of all days. How could I not come, and see if you were able to take a visitor?”

As she listens, Lene finally settles down into a chair at the folding table, resting her crutches beside her. “It… it really sounds like you're doing a lot to help folks.” Her eyes focus distantly on a dark spot of discoloration on the floor. “I'm glad there's people out there who’ll be able to listen, though. Martin and I didn't really think about that part when we started this.”

Lene looks over her shoulder to the radio room, then back again. “I think he maybe spent his entire savings on this place. Yamagato was going to bulldoze it and he just… swept in and took it from the city. He's got encyclopedic knowledge of city planning uh, things?” Wrinkling her nose Lene clarifies. “He has Cat’s ability; you know, the memory.”

But as she says that, something else occurs to her. “I don't know how realistic this is, but— I've heard from a lot of folks that the government hasn't even started cataloging the dead in the Manhattan Exclusion Zone. It's— it's basically a tomb. I don't know figures but, on the order of thousands of human remains.” Her eyes flick back up to Ygraine. “There's a lot of people who wonder if their loved ones are in there.”

“I wish that our efforts felt like they were more than just drops in the ocean,” Ygraine sighs. Then cocks her head and thoughtfully studies Lene. “That… yeah. Christ. We’ve been able to piece together quite a lot. Get the same event described by ten different people, and you can sometimes figure out precisely what happened to someone even if no witness actually saw the whole thing or really knew what they were watching… but identifying bodies, I admit I’d been too cowardly to think about trying.”

A hand is waved around the building. “This? Martin using his ability and his savings to make this, that can reach out to so many? It feels so wonderfully real. And I’m really impressed. And delighted you’re part of it. But… cataloguing the dead. I wonder if there’s even a legal way to try it. But you’re right. Entirely. It’s the sort of thing we should at the very least find out about.”

Cutting a thin slice of cake for herself, Lene looks up to Ygraine with furrowed brows. “Yeah, it's probably why the government hasn't even started yet. I know some folks go in with permission, there's been a couple of reporters. The Siren had some photographs from inside back in… October, November?” She squints. “November, yeah. It was an anniversary thing. It— it was pretty hard to look at.”

Using a plastic fork, Lene quietly picks at the frosting of her slice. “Every bit counts, though. There's something you used to say t’me,” another her, in another time. “The single raindrop doesn't believe it's responsible for the flood.” Looking up to Ygraine, Lene smiles at that. “You had a sweet, philosophical edge back then.” As though the future were the past.

“I…” Ygraine’s gaze flicks away, before she forces it back to Lene. Her expression apologetically sad, she shrugs awkwardly. “I think that I had a firmer foundation, then,” her tone quiet, and seemingly wholly accepting of the future-as-past paradigm. “I…” Leaning over, she lightly touches fingers to Lene’s arm. “I truly do owe you a great deal. Whatever sweet philosophy I might still have, it’ll in large part be thanks to you. Now, I do try to do the right thing. I try to keep believing that I can make a difference. But without the dreams and then the reality of you… I’d quite possibly have been wholly lost seven years ago. You helped me to find a way to have some faith in myself, when I thought I’d lost any way to find it again.”

Chuckling self-consciously, the Briton shrugs again. “Sorry. Not quite the sort of pressure even a pretend mother is supposed to put on her sort-of daughter. But single raindrop and flood, hmm? I don’t recognise that one, I admit. I wonder if I came up with it myself, or ‘borrowed’ it from someone. Either way… I’ll try to bear it in mind. I think it’s quite a while since I let myself have much faith in the chances of causing any floods: I’ve just been trying to cheer myself with whatever little splashes I can generate. But for you? I can try to find sweetness. And a belief in something bigger than droplets and ripples.”

Her own fork waves, as she offers Lene a gently wry smile. “So. Talking to authorities about corpses, it is.”

Taking another small bite of cake, Jolene raises her brows and blinks a look up from the plate to Ygraine. “We’ve done weirder things, for worse reasons,” she admits with a hesitant smile. “I… wish I’d been there for you, more, during everything. Our lives aren’t uncomplicated things, but… it doesn’t mean we still can’t try to have some sort’ve normalcy in them.”

Listening to the music in the broadcasting studio change reminds Lene of something. “Do you talk to Robyn anymore? I… she came by with a bunch of records, some of her old music. She seemed… she seemed really lonely.” Her brows knit together, worry, and something else. When she looks up to Ygraine, there’s a hopefulness that replaces the concern.

“You saved me,” Ygraine says - voice quiet, but firmly intent as she focuses directly upon her younger companion. “Not on your own. And perhaps it could have happened without you. But I have my doubts about that. Dreaming of you gave me a reason to hope, when I thought that there was nothing in the world that I had ever tried - that I could ever try - that had or would turn out well. Then meeting you in person, and discovering that you were everything I could have hoped for….”

Shaking her head, she tries to reach over the table to touch Jolene’s arm. “Even if you had done nothing else, had nothing in your own life to deal with, no reasons to think you had anything else on your plate… what you did for me back in 2011 would still carry immense weight with me. Where I am concerned, you have nothing to apologise for. I would love to have you in my life more. And I am truly sorry that I wasn’t there for you. But whatever you would like from me now, I can at least try to provide.

“Including never gushing crazily at you like that ever again, quite possibly. Sorry. Just… I adore you, would love to spend more time with you, and will help you any way I can. Okay?”

Clearing her throat, the Briton sits back, lips twisting as she pokes her cake with her fork. “Robyn….” She stops, cocking her head and arching a brow at Lene. “I can say a lot on that, but… could you answer me a question first? There was worry, when you asked about her. But also something else that I didn’t catch. Before you looked hopeful. Do you know what that was? What you were thinking or feeling, after you said she seemed lonely? If you’d rather not answer, I understand. I know that I’m prying. But… I’d like to try to answer whatever it was that was on your mind.”

Lene’s reaction to everything is both complex and inscrutable, as is the brief — but noticeable — silence between the end of Ygraine’s sentence and when she finally responds. “Robyn looked lonely,” Lene admits, her eyes down to the cake on her plate, then back up again. “You know, just… I don’t think she talks to people a lot. But,” briefly, she looks back to the studio, then to Ygraine. “When she handed over the records, when I told her I’d play them… she looked really happy. I think she misses it. Music, I mean. Normalcy?”

Scratching at the tip of her nose, Lene contemplates something in momentary silence. “I don’t think she has many friends with her new job, being all… professional and governmenty.” Her green eyes wander the room. “I get her, though. What she’s going through… not feelin’ special anymore.” Lene swallows audibly, then smiles faintly. “Other than the way you make me feel, obviously.” That is to say, special. “I’d be stupid not to have you in my life more… when I’m feeling up to having anyone in my life, at least. It’s— sometimes it’s hard.”

“I know,” Ygraine says softly. “Honestly, I do. A lot… when I tell people that I was locked up in an asylum, a lot of people assume that it was a terrible thing: a governmental kidnapping I should never have gone through. It was actually what I needed. Being somewhere safe, that I could hide from the world - while getting help to figure things out, at least a bit. One of the things I learned there was the vital importance, for me, of having somewhere I could retreat to. To get away from everything out there” - one hand waves vaguely towards the front of the building. “Somewhere that I could feel safe. Feel that I was myself - just myself - rather than having to put on masks and live up to expectations and meet other people’s requirements.”

Reaching over again, she attempts to touch fingertips to Lene’s arm. “I never… if I ever put that sort of pressure on you, then I apologise. But I absolutely ‘get’ needing to ration dealing with people. Even ones who care about you and have the best of intentions. If I can help by telling you that you really are ‘special’ to me, then I’ll gladly do so. I’ll be in your life as much as we can both cope with it. You are one of the very few people who can make me feel safe. But if you need time alone, I’ll understand. I promise.”

Leaning back, she ventures a ruefully sad little smile. “As for, well…. I should warn you that this might turn into one of my long rambles. That it almost certainly will, in fact. Hit me with something if you want me to shut up, okay?

“Robyn - the version of Robyn I thought I knew - was someone with whom I felt safe. I don’t think that she ever realised how rare and astonishingly precious that feeling was to me. I’m scared all the time. But her, I… I thought i could trust her implicitly and absolutely. With her, the fear went away. And she promised that I’d be the first to know if she ever had any doubts about trusting me in turn. Unfortunately, it turned out that she’d slept around behind my back while also keeping a ‘secret girlfriend’ throughout our relationship - starting just after our first date. Said ‘secret girlfriend’ turned up in the one place I felt safe, when I was at my most vulnerable, to tell me that I was bad for Quinn and should stop trapping her in a relationship that made her extremely unhappy. Later, and with her standing there as an audience, Quinn showed up and confirmed that she was leaving me for her.”

“I’ve rather had to conclude that what Elaine told me about my being bad for Quinn, trapping her in a relationship she didn’t want and that made her deeply unhappy, was true. My Robyn was… a fantasy, at least here in this world. Here, Quinn broke every single promise she’d made to me, deceived me throughout our relationship, and walked away from me at the lowest point in my life that far. In your future, it seems that I managed to help Quinn to become the Robyn I and her mother saw in her. Here… she chose to be Quinn the rockstar, with the rockstar lifestyle and the rockstar’s disregard for everyone else.”

“It was after that, that you came into my life. In dreams, then in person. You confirmed that in some version of reality, I could actually get something important right. That I could be part of something bigger and better than me. And that you had, after being at least partly raised by me, turned out to be someone whom it was an absolute honour and delight to have in my life. You gave me back a foundation stone on which I could rest some notion of who I was. And how the world might possibly work. I was… in a bad way, before that. You gave me enough of a foundation that I could start risking putting trust in other people. Real trust. Not just ‘they gave me somewhere to hide from the Feds’, but… the people in the safehouse became my family. And that was possible for me, because you showed me it was. Just by being there, and being yourself.

“So… I find it hard to believe that there’s much sign of ‘my’ Robyn again. Quinn’s choices and actions did a very good job indeed of persuading me that she was nothing but a fond delusion I and her mother shared. But ‘hard to believe’ isn’t the same as ‘impossible’. And it’s you telling me. So… I’ll try to bear it in mind if we meet. I’d honestly expect her to avoid me like the plague. But if we do meet, then… at the least I can try not to surrender to the urge to run for the hills.

“Which is a kind of crap and very long-winded birthday present. But… for you? I’ll swallow the terror and try to give her a chance to show whether Robyn really is in there. Even now, I miss my imaginary best friend. So if you think she’s actually out there and is hurting… yeah. I can try to keep an open mind. I promise.”

It’s hard to tell if Jolene was listening or frozen like a deer in headlights during that entire discussion. She had sat through it all with her with chin on palm of her hand, eyebrows going this way and that at the various personal revelations. Sometimes looking briefly away with furrowed brows and other times leaning in and looking a little shocked, though it’s hard to quantify it all. Ultimately, Lene scrubs one hand at her cheek and exhales a slow, long sigh and a small but awkward laugh.

“This might seem like a crazy thought,” Lene starts, brows furrowed and one corner of her mouth crooked into an awkward smirk. “But maybe — all of that you’d just told me,” she makes a little box-like gesture with her hands, as best as she can. “That might all be stuff you should’ve unpacked in front of Robyn.” One brow now rises higher than the other, and Jolene manages a more sympathetic smile, if not still somewhat surprised.

“Because… I mean, have you talked about any of that with her?” Jolene carefully asks. “Because — whether or not it’s pleasant, it uh… it might be that you need to?”

“The last time I laid eyes on her was in 2013,” Ygraine says softly. “I tracked her down to tell her that Charlotte - her mother, and my friend - had been killed while accompanying a charity’s aid convoy over the border from Canada. I offered to take her to see the memorial stone. Charlotte’s colleagues had got her body back to Toronto, and I was thankfully able to attend the funeral myself, but no one had a way to get hold of Quinn….”

Sighing, Ygraine closes her eyes for a moment… then opens them to focus a little blearily upon Lene, and offer a sad smile as she raises a hand in apology.

“Sorry. Truly. You are the last person in the world I want to upset. Especially when I came here to bounce at you about what a gift hearing your voice on the airwaves has been. Just… I’ve been trying to reach out to Quinn for six years. It seems painfully clear that she wants nothing to do with me. Even Charlotte didn’t count as a reason to speak to me more than that one time I cornered her. If she saw me now, well: frankly, I’d expect her to run a mile rather than talk to me. But for you? If I ever see her, I’ll hold down my own terror and stick around. I promise.”

“I'm not upset,” Lene clarifies in a small voice, “I'm just… I guess partly confused, and the other part’s just sad.” She sets her fork down, pushing her plate aside with one hand. “Half of you sounds like you don't ever want to see her again, and you're not like… in the wrong for that? But the other part of you isn't able to let go. There's all this guilt tangled up with resentment.”

Lene looks down at the table, to the hand she hasn't been using and that has hardly moved all this time. Her expression is sympathetic more so than anything else. “Sometimes… seeking out the person you want to talk to the most, only winds up hurting more than if you'd never talked to them at all.” Green eyes raise to Ygraine. “Don't make that choice for my sake. Make it for yours.”

Ygraine leans forward, offering her hand across the table once more. “Oh, I am so sorry,” she says quietly, expression deeply concerned. “For me, well. Years back I realised that while it was easy to conclude that Quinn was a world-class bitch for deceiving me from start to end, for breaking every single promise she ever made to me, and for the gaslighting that followed… I had to accept that having an obsessive madwoman trying to turn her into someone else must have been absolutely, endlessly, appalling for her. It’s quite literally the plot of some very grim fiction. In this case, a crazy woman had latched onto her, then spent a year trying to turn a party-girl musician into her own personal fantasy of a sweet little do-gooder - I even used a name for her that no one else in the city did, to be really unsubtle about it. Maybe she was just trying to get out however she possibly could, and it finally escalated to the point it did because she couldn’t think of another way to break free. A drastic response to an intolerable situation….

“So, yeah. I fully expect her to want to have absolutely nothing to do with the woman who tried to rewrite her personality. She scares the crap out of me for what she did to me; I scare the crap out of me for what I’ve realised I did to her. In your world, I apparently found a way to help her. Here, I fucked up terribly. It must have been torture for her, all too literally. So, the prospect of trying to stick around in her presence… doubly terrifying.

“But you… you’ve clearly found more than a little conversational bravery of your own, though I am truly sorry you’ve ever been in such need of it. And that you’ve had me go off on one with you just now. But I can certainly listen, if you want to tell me about it. Or I could sing Happy Birthday and For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow, if you’d rather be embarrassed than have me pry into the painful bits of your life. I promise that I came here to try to make you smile, not to draft you as my life coach and mental health counsellor.”

With a visible reluctance, Lene takes Ygraine’s offered hand. The context for the reluctance isn’t clear, but it’s there. Though everything about her seems reluctant at times. “I was never big on birthday songs, or… honestly, big on birthdays much. Celebrating them never felt like much of a celebration, you know, back home.” Her hand squeezes Ygraine’s just a little bit. It seems the most she can muster.

“I think the only difference between here and there, for you both?” Lene raises her brows, then gently releases Ygraine’s hand and cradles her other — unsteadied and trembling — hand. “I think it’s where I’m from, you two didn’t have time to worry about what the other person could be, you had to make do with the you that you had, because there wasn’t any other choice. Here,” her shoulders rise, “it’s like everyone got greedier. Because it was safe.” Green eyes meet Ygraine’s, and Lene’s expression sinks some. “I think you’re too worried about the past to think about the future. That’s the same mistake we made.” Lene looks away, down to the tabletop.

“We didn’t change anything,” Lene asserts, “we just ran away spectacularly.”

“I stand by the claim that you saved me.” But for Lene’s closing bombshell, Ygraine would certainly have been answering the earlier comments. Instead, her never-and-forever daughter’s distress sends her in search of a way to change Lene’s mind.

“That there was a version of me somewhere out there that could have that amount of love and trust invested in her… that gave me something to cling to. And then to build upon. However much of an irrelevant joke or a petty annoyance my little band of misfits might be seen as in most quarters, every bit of good we do is possible because I was given a reason to think that I could do something to help someone. That I could actually get it right.

“Liberty was originally my idea, shaped and brought into the light with Adelaide’s invaluable assistance. That happened before I knew you existed. But everything we’ve done since early 2011… that wouldn’t have been possible without what you did for me. You weren’t alone in giving me back some faith or a little bit of foundation to build upon; but you were absolutely vital. And now? From time to time, I get to reunite a family. I get to give people living in a ruin a way to make light. I get to hand out things that might stop kids from dying by drinking tainted water. Without you… I wouldn’t have enough idealism to pursue anything so crazy as I am doing now.”

“So you changed me, Lene. And because you did, you’ve let me change things for other people as well. But… what I can I do for you? You said earlier that I make you feel special. I’m glad. Truly. But can I also be a friend, and take on a part of whatever burdens you’re under? Please?”

Making something of an awkward face, Lene threads a lock of hair behind one ear. “You’re giving me too much credit, but… I appreciate how much you appreciate me. That was always something I admired about you, how much you were able to love.” Reaching for one of her crutches, Lene eases herself up out of her chair and ambles around to Ygraine’s side. She loops an arm around the older woman’s shoulders, leaning her weight against the crutch.

“Maybe when I’m ready, I can… share some stuff with you.” Lene admits in a small, hushed voice. “But right now, I just… I don’t know, I’m trying to figure out who I am now.” Her smile is a gentle, though awkward one. “I don’t think I’m ready to be really… open? Not to other people. Not without… “ she looks down to the ground, smiling faintly.

“Soon.” Is Lene’s way to push the idea further out. Her green eyes come back to focus on Ygraine. “For now, I guess… just let me find my way. And when I’m ready to accept a hand, it’ll be yours.”

Ygraine leans into the contact - not enough to put weight on Lene, but clearly relishing the gesture and the closeness. She nods gently, tilting her head back to smile up her companion, her own expression fondly sympathetic.

“If there’s anything I can do… well. Even without knowing why, I’m likely to be willing to help. If you need something, or want a message delivered, or anything else in my power: feel free to ask. I’d like an explanation some time for whatever I do. But it can wait till you’re ready. Just know that I trust you and will help if you want it. Finding your way is for you to manage, I know. But I can maybe fetch you an umbrella for the trip, or something.”

Bringing her hand up, she lightly curls fingers around Lene’s arm - quite deliberately aiming for the sleeve, to avoid uninvited skin-to-skin contact. “I’ll wait for you. However long you need,” she murmurs.

Bobbing her head into a subtle nod, Lene reaches up to rest a hand on the one Ygraine placed at her arm. She smiles, wearily, and nods once more with renewed conviction. But there’s no words to come, no yet. Ygraine’s offer is one of genuine care, not only of someone who was ostensibly Jolene’s mother in another lifetime, but someone who needs that connection to feel tethered to a world that is moving on all around her.

In that regard, there is a shared thread between them. One realized in Lene’s simple, but succinct response.

“All anyone really needs is time.”

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