Cut The Strings, She Says


elisabeth_icon.gif richard_icon.gif

Scene Title Cut the Strings, She Says
Synopsis If only it were that easy. Departure day is entirely too close.
Date April 18, 2021

RayTech Corporate Housing, Cardinal/Harrison Apartment

Before Aurora, Elisabeth Harrison spent all her time working — cop, teacher, cop again, freedom fighter. But the years away changed her priorities, something he's seen time and again in the two years she's been home. Though she still stresses and obsesses just like he does, their children have changed both of them. Whatever goes on out there in the world, she fights to not bring her work home with her, not just for the children's sake but for her own too.

And now, this part of the night, when the children are asleep and the city has gone quiet — something that never would have happened in the old days — is fiercely protected. Whatever time they get, it won't be enough. But by God, they're going to savor every moment of it. Though Elisabeth works odd hours at times, today she managed to make it home in time to make dinner.

While he got Aurora down for the night, his wife took care of the mundane evening chores. Dinner is cleared away, dishes are done. It's the time of night when parents can (mostly) leave the mantle of 'parent' behind and just be.

As has become habit for her recently, in the time it took him to settle Aura, Elisabeth set out drinks. Sometimes it's wine, sometimes it's iced coffees, sometimes beers. This time, a couple of cold beers sit on the coffee table where they're in easy reach of the couch. She is just lowering herself into the cushions and pulling her legs up when he comes back in, getting comfortable. Putting her elbow up on the back of the couch and pushing her blonde hair back to hold it while she props her head on that hand, she asks with a small smile, "How many stories did she talk you into tonight?"

“Three,” Richard replies with a chuckle, closing the door behind him, “She asked how many stories I told the twins, and I told her one each, and she demanded I beat that. I swore her to secrecy.”

The idea of spare time isn’t something that he experiences much of late; he’s either working or he’s spending time with the kids, although his idea of work is sometimes a bit unusual. Of course, most people don’t have ‘save the world’ as a work responsibility.

He drops down onto the couch with a relieved sigh to finally be off his feet, tie hanging loose around his neck already, suit jacket open. After a moment’s leaning back, he leans forward to reach for a beer, “I’m going to run out of stories at this rate, though.”

He is so whipped — their daughter has him wrapped around her little finger. It makes Elisabeth's heart ache with emotion, amusement chief among those. "There are such things as books, you know," his wife teases with a small smile. Her blue eyes study him with a gentle expression. She's curled up facing him with one hand tucked in her lap, the other reaching out to brush her fingertips into his hair as he settles back with his beer. She has been a bit quiet tonight, but not enough so as to alarm anyone. Just seems like it was a long day for both of them. Returning her hand to propping up her head again, she lets out a slow breath and closes her eyes for a moment, allowing herself to fully relax. "Do anything fun today?"

Fun is almost always a misnomer when it comes to what they do during the day, but the definition is so damn subjective!

“A bunch of meetings, signing off on some budget proposals, I spent some time up in the rooftop gardens with Aurora like you suggested,” Richard says quietly, closing his eyes and leaning a bit into the touch of her fingers through his hair, “Did some drawing with the twins, Lili’s getting pretty good at it, Ricky… well, he’s enthusiastic.”

A quiet chuckle, and as she draws her hand back he brings the beer up for a swig, “You?”

While he talks, her head tips thoughtfully. And then she nods slightly, as if confirming something to herself. Then she opens her eyes and offers him a rueful smile. "Oh… not too much. It's been a long couple of weeks with everything going on since the night on the bridge." She pauses and grumbles about it. "You know, that night… I came face to face with Irons while a fucking teleporter stole everyone else," something that she's not even sure made the news, "and gave myself a monster headache."

Elisabeth leans forward to grab her own beer, still curled up close enough to be comfortably ensconced at his side. "I'm gonna have to see if R&D can modify my helmet for me. I need a closed caption option in my HUD." Her voice couldn't be more casual as she takes a swallow of her beer.

“Speaking of, if we survive all of this, we need to get R&D working on some solution for teleportation…” Richard lowers the beer, then tilts his head to look at her curiously, “Why closed captions?”

He reaches an arm out, draping it over the back of the couch and mostly around her shoulders, a welcoming gesture with her by his side.

She shifts position to slide under the arm he lays over the couch, settling into her spot in the curve of his body. "Yeah, this teleportation snatching of people is getting real fucking old," she agrees with a hint of a bite to her tone. "And frankly, I can't even imagine who would be teleporting their asses in to grab Humanis First assholes. Irons sure as hell wasn't going to tell. Not even entirely sure he knew who it was, but someone else is dealing with that part." Those interrogations will happen at the prison.

"It didn't seem to me to be the same teleporter that tried for Jac and Abby," she observes thoughtfully, gesturing in a wave with the hand holding her beer. "I didn't get a good look, though." She's still puzzling — If it were the same people, the 'why' isn't obvious to her.

Leaning her head back onto his upper arm, Elisabeth turns her face to meet his query with a rueful smile as she answers. "As to the HUD… Because apparently without my ability, I need hearing aids," is the easy reply. "Dealing with the bus, I had to strain it a bit… I shut down to ease the headache. I thought when it happened in the underwater bunker that it was something to do with how we were negated or just being enclosed underwater like we were." But it's not. Go figure. "I've been testing it out down in the acoustics lab."

He knows her so well now, she can't hide from him that she's not as blasé as she sounds. But Elisabeth isn't panicking about the fact that she's to some degree deaf either.

“Maybe someone more professional wanted their own revenge? I don’t know either,” Richard gives his head a little shake, the arm that isn’t around her lifting to brush his fingers back through her hair gently, beer set down between his knees, “Let’s just hope it’s something as simple as that, and doesn’t bite us in the ass later.”

What’re the chances of that?

Her words then have his brow furrowing a little, “Well… shit. Have you always, and just never realized, or… was there some kind of damage…?”

"Because Murphy isn't our middle name around here?" Elisabeth quips with a wry smile at him. She tips her head into his fingers, enjoying the brush of his hand through her hair. She holds her beer on her thigh as she answers the question.

"I'm about 98 percent sure it happened in 2012. When we were escaping the first world," the Virus timeline, "they were lobbing I don't even know what. I think one of them was a shoulder-mount rocket launcher or something. It detonated right next to me. Next thing I knew, Kain was hauling me up and telling me I didn't get to die that day." It perhaps explains the origins of her gut-deep trust in the man. "It's not the only time we evacuated under fire, but it's the only one I can remember that was that close."

And that one was really close, though she's never given all the details. He already knows too many of the horrors that existed there.

There's a long moment before she shakes her thoughts from there and simply shrugs. "But it's mostly a non-issue while my ability is working. Now that I know, though, getting captioning in there seems prudent for the just in case." She smiles slightly. "It's not something I want you worrying about while you're gone, though. You have enough on your plate with where you're going and what's going to be going on when you get there." She's been doing her level best not to have Screaming Mimis over this whole shenanigan. It's not like it would do any good.

"Are you… comfortable with the team that's going to have your back there?" she finally asks quietly. It's a question that she's been chewing on for a while.

“Christ,” Richard breathes out, fingers continuing to gently, steadily stroke over her hair. Not that he hasn’t had similarly close calls. They all have. It’s part of the job.

“You should get a medical check-up,” he suggests, “It may still be reversible— I mean, I know it’s not an issue when your power is active, but… we can’t rely on our powers all the time. How many times have we been negated, or power-switched, or…?”

A shake of his head, “Just— don’t take it for granted.”

He looks away then at the question, reaching for his beer. “It… isn’t the team I would’ve picked,” he admits quietly, “But I know Robyn’ll have my back, if she even goes. Chess will. And if all goes well, Wright will supply a much-needed line of communication back to this timeline, so… it’s not a bad team.”

Tipping her face to him, Elisabeth smiles softly. "I will," she promises about the check-up. "It's not total, as far as I can tell… but it's pretty significant. I can't believe I didn't pick up on it for so long." That's the part she finds rather incredible — getting hurt is just part of this business.

When he looks away, though, that gets her full attention. She is worried, and it's hard to keep it from him. So Liz doesn't try — instead, she tells him the things that occur to her so she knows he's got a contingency for it.

"Robyn's considering not going?" Elisabeth shouldn't be surprised by that. There is a lot going on there, not the least of which being that she's a guardian now. "If Tracy and Hutchins able to communicate back across the void… it would go a long way to making me a little less freaked out," she admits to him quietly. She won't ask him not to go. She can't. But it's not like he doesn't know she's utterly devastated by this. She will hold it together for their kids and for herself until there is no more hope. "If Robyn doesn't go, it's just you, Chess, and Wright Tracy?"

Richard grimaces, closing his eyes.

“…and Eve.”

And in those two words, he answers why Robyn’s considering not going.

There is a long moment of silence. Elisabeth might be holding her breath. "I see," is what she finally replies in a carefully neutral voice. As she searches her way through her thoughts on that information, she is careful about how much of a reaction she allows herself.

"I'm… somewhat alarmed by that choice," she finally acknowledges slowly. "One would think that they have all been at least aware of the challenges that Eve has faced over the years, but especially recently." Because last she knew, Eve had gold fucking eyes. "Eve in their world… the Pinehearst world… was a lot more stable. Is this… Is there a particular reason?"

There may be a whole lot of words rolling around in her head, but she's sort of circling the issue and her own thoughts, her emotions volatile about this thought.

“The last two times that we’ve trusted Eve, she’s gotten people killed by… taking risks that there was no reason to take,” Richard says with a slight grimace, “Gates seems to think that she’s going to be important to the mission, but I can’t help but wonder if this is his way of getting rid of someone who seems to be immortal now.”

He takes a long swallow of his beer, lowering it a bit and admitting quietly, “And that’s not the only person involved that I’m not happy with.”

“Kravid. Cassandra’s Kravid.”

Wait… what? Elisabeth physically jerks at that information. She actually bobbles the beer bottle in her hand, nearly dropping it on the carpet before catching it by the neck. "Are you fucking kidding me? How the hell did she…. " That doesn't even make any sense!

"Jesus Christ, Richard." Her dismay is evident in her expression, but at least she's not buzzing.

“Apparently Wolfhound picked her up…” Richard closes his eyes, giving his head a slight shake, “She has— experience getting a Looking Glass up and going, but Christ I’m not happy with it.”

He opens his eyes again, glancing over, “They need mom to be involved in it. If she so much as twitches wrong, I hope she shoots the bitch.”

"She will," Elisabeth says very quietly. "Your mother and I … got the measure of one another early on." Both women would do a lot of things to protect the man sitting here. "Have you told Michelle where you're going yet?"

Reaching out, she strokes her fingertips along the side of his face and, since the room is dark except for candles, she slides his glasses off so she can see the haunting black pools of his eyes. "She's going to shit bricks." And rightfully so. "Do you… do you think your conduits will be under control there? We aren't even sure who might have that version of each of them…"

“I… well, Eileen didn’t seem to have too much of a problem when she came over,” Richard says, turning towards her as she slides off his glasses, his lips pursing in a frown and brow furrowing. He hadn’t even thought about that before. “She still had it under full control— even kept the old man on his leash— so I don’t have any reason to think I won’t.”

His nose wrinkles a little, then, “Gonna talk to Mom about that soon. She won’t like it, not— one bit.”

Elisabeth sets the glasses on the coffee table, relaxing once more into the curve of his arm. "Lover? I don't like it one bit either," she admits softly.

Regarding his ability, though… "You really never talk about what's happening with it. Or about what's changed with your shadows." Does he think she doesn't see how he reacts? She does. She just doesn't push him. "I worry that something is going to go to hell over there and … it'll be too much for you. Too like the Virus world, if it gets out of control. Eileen… as far as I know, only had the dark conduit." There are a few images in her life that will forever haunt her. The two worst ones happen to involve her husband, and the one that comes a very close second is the death of Bright Gabriel.

Dragging her free hand through her hair, she confesses, "I wish I could go with you."

“You already had to live through this, Liz,” Richard leans down to press a kiss against her brow, eyes closing as he murmurs, “It’s my turn. And someone needs to stay with the kids.”

He’s silent for a long moment before speaking, his words careful - not to avoid saying something, but to try and explain something that defies his ability to articulate well. “It’s… I only have one. There’s only one, they’re not *separate* anymore. Since Nat, they’ve been— something new. Or maybe old. I don’t know.”

“I’m learning to control it. To use it. And the memories, the echoes, I’m learning how they work too. They stir in response to— different things. Rouen to science, Peter to empathy. I can wake up Abby by praying. The old man— he’s usually around for crises, and anything involving his old life…”

Trailing off, he pauses, before asking, “Did you ever meet Yvette Volken?”

"Already living through it means I have the experience to call on," she points out in a quiet tone. "But I know. We can't both go." It's not like Apollo or even Mount Natazhat — where they didn't really have anyone but themselves and their team to think about. And right now, he is the one with the better grasp of what might be needed on the far side in terms of understanding the tech they're searching for.

With her forehead resting to his lips, she listens to his explanation of his ability as it currently exists. But the name he brings up startles her. Stiffening a little, Elisabeth shakes her head very slightly. "I don't… think so. In Russia, while Abigail and I were being held hostage during Apollo," she says slowly, "she came to the cell. To get some revenge on Abby. But I didn't come face to face with her — I was out cold at the time." There's a pause. "Why?" There's wariness in the question. That's a name that harkens way back.

“I had a meeting with her recently,” Richard answers, lips brushing to her brow lightly, “Talking about the old man reminded me. She’s… well. She wasn’t what I expected of her. She took Kazimir’s change of heart to… well, heart herself.”

“She took over Weiss years ago. Stopped the Brits from interfering in the civil war via chemical warfare. She’s been going after Mazdak, after the Entity… had a lot of intel for me,” he muses, “Heh. Funniest part? It was Wendy Hunter’s brother that suggested she meet with me.”

There is dead silence from his wife as she attempts to parse what he's saying. And throws names from the past at her, names she barely or doesn't remember. It's been a long decade for her. Elisabeth decides that trying to remember who Wendy Hunter is right now is somewhat secondary to Yvette fucking Volken running Weiss-Renautas.

"Wait… Richard…" Dragging her hand down her face, she says quietly, "When I was digging around for who might have the tech to pull it off, Weiss-Renautas is on my short list of companies that might have been able to do to Kaylee, Jac, Gilly, and the others what's been done to them. Are you sure that Yvette Volken is on the same side here?"

She pauses. "What kind of intel?" There is a lot of wariness in her voice right now.

“You were close,” Richard leans back a bit, rolling his head on his neck with a grimace - one hand lifting up to rub at the side of his neck. He never used to get stiff this easily. He must be getting old. “Half-right, really.”

“It’s— she is on the same side as us, Liz, I trust that. She’s fighting the same fight we are. I know who was behind what happened to Kaylee and the others, I know who Hayate Kawahara is working for, I know— everything leads back to the same place, Liz. The same people who killed me.”

He pulls back away from her, drawing in a breath and looking away, across the room at nothing in particular. Drawing away from that moment of gentle intimacy to focus on the Work.

“And I finally know why this all feels so familiar.”

The words killed me make her close her blue eyes, a brief twist of pain in her expression as she buries her face into the soft spot where his chest and arm meet. If she could, she would remove those words from the damn language — it's ridiculous how many times they and those they know have said them. That Mazdek is somehow tied to what happened to their friends and family? Somehow… she can't even find surprise.

When she lifts her face, she looks at him with a clear gaze, her emotional baggage packed away. "Okay. I'll bite, love." Elisabeth tips her head and studies him, a rueful half-smile quirking one side of her lips upward. "Why does it feel familiar?"

Richard doesn’t look back at her, silent for a moment before he answers quietly.

“They have Edward. He’s alive.”

Elisabeth chokes on the sip of beer she was in the process of taking when he says that, managing to not spray it but having to cough quite vigorously as she fumbles putting the bottle on the table.

Her voice is little more than a horrified wheeze as she gasps out, "What??"

“Yeah.” Richard says it softly, looking back to her as she coughs on the beer, “That’s… what I said. I mean, he’s only technically alive, if you count being in an ACTS unit hooked up to a SEER - I presume, anyway. He’s…”

He offers her a slight, humorless smile, “Remember when I said this all felt like a pattern, like someone was planning it?”

"Fuck me to tears." Elisabeth's retort, despite the wheezing, is as succinct and disgruntled as he's ever heard his wife. "Which fucking Edward?! This timeline, the first Bright, the second Bright, the one Michelle knew from Flood who everyone thinks is dead, or yet another one I can't even imagine, like the Pinehearst Bright that the new crop of timeline hoppers came from??"

Her response borders on the edge of anger and disbelief, and she doesn't seem sure either emotion is at all useful. So she starts at the basics! Which Edward Fucking Ray are they dealing with?

“Ours. Kaylee and Val and Warren’s father, he…” Richard brings a hand up to pinch between his eyes, grimacing, “This— this is why I didn’t bring it up, I mean…”

He trails off, then sighs, “Ezekiel had him in the Ark, kept comatose mostly, he wasn’t in good shape after the rooftop. Kaylee got a chance to say goodbye when she was there, but— when she walked out, some mercenaries walked in and hauled the damn unit out of there.”

Dragging her hand through her hair, she moves to sit forward and rest her elbows on her knees. Elisabeth's brain is whirling a million miles a minute and she seems to be thinking. "So Simon … has him now?" Because he said Simon is still alive. "And he's still comatose, but they've actually managed to use the tech to communicate with him." Clarifying her understanding of what he's telling her.

The words are slow and she seems to be less panicked than …. shocked. And trying to catch up.

It's actually not the worst news, she has to admit to herself. "Our Edward… seemed to love you too," she says quietly, looking up at him. "But I'm a little concerned that whatever intel he offers, Richard… it's from a comatose, damaged brain. And you have no way of knowing if he has all the information he needs or the right information at all." She swallows. "Are you… you're still going to risk it. I know you have faith in him. But…"

She trails off.

Richard’s already holding a hand up, shaking his head. “No, no, Liz, you don’t understand. I said mercenaries took him off, not— not Broome’s people. Simon doesn’t have him, Liz.”

Mazdak does. We’ve been fighting Edward’s plans this whole fucking time.”

He can see the moment it hits her, the misunderstanding — the look of resigned fffuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck as she lets her breath out slowly and her shoulders slump. "Great."

(It's not.)

Elisabeth takes a moment to realign her thought processes. Outthinking Edward Ray is almost as bad as trying to outmaneuver your own self, dammit!

"Right then. Okay." She swallows. "So… " Wow, there's a whole lot of questions she could raise here. Instead, she simply looks at him and says softly, "I'm so sorry. This has to be tearing you up."

“Christ, you have…” Richard slumps back on the couch, his head falling back to the cushions, “…no idea, I don’t even know how to react to this, there’s just— it’s all too much, there’s so much of it and we’re so fucking tangled in the web already that I don’t… I don’t know if it’s too late.”

Moving to curl back up against his side, Liz rests her temple on his shoulder. "I don't— I wish I had an answer, love," she says softly. "Mazdak… did what they did to you and Nathalie for a reason. Edward… his involvement in this, involuntary as it is, makes me have a lot of thoughts about the whole thing." Although now doesn't seem the moment to really spew those out. So many thoughts that may just tangle things more. So many questions with no answers.

"What can I do?" The question is a far different one than she would have asked the last time they saved the world. Elisabeth's faith in him is a bedrock of life. "Is there anything you need from me that can make what is going on easier for you? Anything I can take off your plate so it's one thing less?"

Richard shifts, draping an arm around her, turning his face in to bury it into her hair for a moment. He draws in a slow breath, then exhales it, murmuring, “I don’t know. I just— I don’t know, Liz. It’s like fighting ourselves, back in the old days, when we were the ones with prophecies and predictions to follow, only… now it’s the other side that has them.”

“How could they have beaten us? How can we beat them?”

Breathing in the scent of him quietly, Elisabeth lets the questions linger for long moments. When she finally does speak to them, she has to smile just a little. "Well, lover … the more things change, right? We learned the last time that trying to outthink ourselves isn't the way to go. It causes us to think in circles. So… Let's do the only thing that makes sense — make the best call you can with the information at hand. We'll deal with whatever the fallout is." It's a pragmatic viewpoint, but given the life she lived for a decade, it makes sense.

"One thing I think we can count on… if it's really Edward's plan, he does nothing that would cause his kids to be hurt. He does everything to save you all." She tips her chin up to look at him. "So you let his comatose brain do what it's gonna do over there and outsmart Mazdak — cuz he'll have made his plans, even in his subconscious coma brain, with the knowledge of what you're capable of. It sounds simplistic, but sometimes you just need to take the scissors to your mental string map and just make the straightest line you can from point A to point B. Throws the assholes off every time, because you're not playing their games. They're looking for the catch when there isn't one."

Sometimes a simple gambit gets missed in all the overthinking.

“He’s not able to pick and choose from his plans and predictions, though, so this time… this time we can’t count on that,” Richard says, closing his eyes, “Maybe you’re right. I hope you’re right. The problem is it’s not always that easy to make a straight line, especially not with how powerful they are right now, especially on their own turf. Trust me, as much as I want to just kick down their door and start shooting…”

His fingers idly brush over her shoulder, “…they’d see it coming a mile away. They’ve got a whole damn council of precogs. What we need— is a mountain to move.”

Looking up at him, Elisabeth says simply, "That's what we do. And you have a plan… at least the start of one." She nuzzles his shoulder gently, taking comfort in the scent and the feel of him. She feels like there's little enough she can contribute to any of this right now, and she's forcing herself to focus on now and on making things okay for him and for their kids. "If you spot that mountain, lemme know how much explosive we need. No matter what happens, Richard—" Swallowing hard to keep her voice steady, she murmurs, "I'll be waiting for you to get home."

“One way or another,” Richard murmurs, pressing his face into her hair and inhaling the scent of it, “I’ll be home. You think mom’s going to let me get dimension-lost that easily?”

“She’ll tear time and space apart with her own hands if she has to.”

She's not the only one. But she can't say that aloud. With her face buried against his shoulder and her body curled against his side, Elisabeth is grateful he can't see the tears that she fights to hold back, her voice a mere whisper. "I'm holding you to it, lover."

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