Fragile Things


carl2_icon.gif castle_icon.gif chess4_icon.gif kara_icon.gif kaylee6_icon.gif luther_icon.gif

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Scene Title Fragile Things
Synopsis The sacrifices at Raven Rock are remembered seven years later.
Date January 18, 2021

Raven Rock, Pennsylvania

Today, for those who weren’t here seven years ago, it’s hard to picture the sound of gunfire and bombs or the cold fear and hot adrenaline that marked this day for those who were.

Some can imagine it — especially those who were in similar battles. But for those who were present that day, the mountaintop today seems surreal, too quiet and pristine, despite the smoke blowing from the Ohio River fire to the east. The snow on the ground seems too white, even smudged as it is by the footprints of so many here to pay their respects to those whose blood once marred the ground.

Today, no buildings stand where they once did, and any entrance to the remaining underground bunker is closed off in the distance under the federal government’s watchdog eye. If there was no gathering today, Raven Rock and the area around it would be desolate and quiet, a place of dark memory for many, despite also being a place of victory for the resistance, a place the second Civil War gasped its dying breath.

This is no loud celebratory affair, though there are some reunions among the visitors, most of whom have driven hundreds of miles to visit this place for the revealing of the war memorial erected on the hill. There’s little fanfare, no hiding it behind curtains or veils to reveal it mid ceremony: a black marble obelisk, standing about ten feet tall, large enough to contain hundreds of names carved into each of its sides, sits at the highest point. At its base, the pedestal reads the date and the quote: “Democracy is at its most fragile when its people act on fear and hatred rather than knowledge and understanding. We must always seek to understand more and fear and hate less.” — Raymond Praeger.

Behind the new monument is a raised platform with dignitaries sitting for the ceremony, along with a podium for speakers. Most notable among them is the new president-elect of the United States. He sits, head lowered respectfully as a chaplain gives a benediction. Secret Service surround him, their eyes watchful on the crowd, 300-strong. Most sit on the 250 white folding chairs set out for the occasion, but other visitors stand behind them, along with news cameras and photographers.

Chess doesn’t sit but stands at the back. Though she and Castle arrived early enough to be among the seated, she doesn’t trust herself to be able to sit without fidgeting — or worse. It isn’t her first time at Raven Rock since 2014; she returned every year until 2019, when living in hiding kept her in New York, and 2020 when she was in Praxia. Both of those years felt like a betrayal of Miles’ memory, and the rest of those who died that day.

As the benediction winds down, she stares at the ground in front of her, mostly melted snow due to the afternoon sunshine that keeps the temperature around 40 degrees. There are no tears — yet — but she grits her teeth together, and now and then Castle feels her gloved fingers tighten around his hand that she holds. On the other side, Luther feels the same.

Having joined the quiet crowd, Luther stands on the other side of Chess. Though he'd arrived separately, it didn't take him long to find her and Castle. The surreal feeling of seeing the landscape in its current state heightens the man's internal turmoil as his gaze sweeps the barren landscape and its newest landmark installed as a stark reminder. But he needs look no further than the faces beside and around him to recall those with their name etched into the obelisk. More still, those whose names aren't on it. His eyes close for a personal moment of silence during the benediction, head bowed, jaw working as he feels tightness growing in his throat and memories of deafening gunfire and explosions faintly roaring between his ears.

As Luther stands there, a small hand creeps into his hand and a young familiar voice loudly whispers, “Hello, Mr. Bellamy.” When the tall man looks he finds Carl Sumter standing next to him with a bright smile that was very much proof he was his mother’s son.

Speaking of which, another hand touches and then curls lightly around his upper arm, just before Kaylee steps into his view with a gentle smile and a hint of concern. “Hey, big guy,” she offers affectionately, glancing around at the people crowded around for the ceremony. Without her ability, the crowds made her uncomfortable and yet here she was.

Carl gives the hand he’s holding a tug to get Luther’s attention again. “Mom said you were gonna be sad today and that you were going to need friends,” he explains, still whispering. He glances at his mother and adds, “So I told her that means you were gonna need me, too.” While one hand was tucked into Luthers, his other clutches close to him the dragon bought in Japan.

Just behind the mother and son, Bob and Lou were just reaching the group, offering him their own encouraging smiles.

Come alone, Kara Prince stands with her hands shoved into the pocket of her Carhartt, beanie covering her head and sunglasses covering her eyes. The end of the war wasn't one she was there to see— one she wasn't even sure about for too long a time after, owing to the decimation of infrastructure on the West Coast. But it is a war she fought in, one thing she can be— somewhat— glad for in being dropped in this timeline. She fought and defended, not just for a just cause, but one that won.

She couldn't say that about her time in Afghanistan.

One thing she didn't expect to see were familiar faces of any kind, even if she felt it important to be here, idling at the back. When she turns to see Luther in a group of others, her brow lifts over the top of her lenses and she slides a hand from her pocket to hold it up in a silent, unobtrusive greeting. With a blink as she realizes she recognizes the person standing next to Chess, her wave is withdrawn half-performed, expression going deadpan and her hand sliding back into her pocket.

Of all the places in the world a DoE agent could be, Kara thinks to herself.

Castle may not have the same experiences with this location, or in fact, this war at all, that most of the others had, they still showed a reverence for the ceremony, bowing their head and closing their eyes, and muttering soft wishes and prayers, because they did know death and loss. With a squeeze, he returns the clasp of her hand, on one side, her hand in his left, before he hears the soft voice of a young boy and looks over with surprise. He had known that this man was the Luther he had heard about at least once, but he was still surprised to see Carl.

With a smile, they nod their head in greeting the boy. The Agent is dressed much more nicely than they had been in the park, more like an Agent, dressed in a suit that was suitable for such an occasion. It would have been even more suitable if it had been a solid black suit instead of a black and white patterning that made it a little too whimsical. But also very much them.

At least they weren’t crying, despite showing definite sadness during the speeches and concern for the young woman next to him. “You’re doing great, Stardust,” he assures her quietly, as his hand lifts hers up to press it against his chest, almost as if hugging her hand to his heart quietly.

The woman at Castle’s side closes her eyes, and both Castle and Luther can feel the slightest of movements in the muscles of her hand and arm, like she might let go of both hands she grips and bolt altogether. This feels too crowded, too public, for Chess, who has carried her grief from this place around with her for the past seven years, who has worn it every day and every night since.

Still, she stays.

“I’d like to welcome President-Elect Harding, who will give us some parting thoughts,” the official at the podium is saying. Many in the audience applaud, though Luther or Castle will have to let go of Chess’ hands (and Luther of Carl’s) if they wish to join in the hand clapping. Harding rises from his seat and moves to the podium, taking a moment to look first at the audience and then at the memorial.

“Today, we remember those brave enough to fight for what they believed in — for freedom and against oppression, the very ideals our country was founded on,” Harding says, dark eyes turning back to the audience. “We remember those who fought at Raven Rock, the final battle that turned the tide of the war, but I would ask you to remember not only those who died in this battle, but those whose lives were unnecessarily lost throughout the nation, before, during, and after the war. I ask you to remember the civilians whose lives were taken as well, including those here in Pennsylvania, as well as those across our country. I ask you to also remember those who survived, for they still bear the scars, emotional and physical, as the price of victory.”

He looks to the obelisk. “This memorial is a beautiful symbol for a couple of reasons. One, I’m told it is carved from one piece of marble to represent unity. This is something I would like us to think about. The war was won because people of all walks of life came together to fight for what was right — Rich, poor, young, old, expressive and non-expressive fought for those ideals for which our country stands: freedom and equality. And it is that unity that we must continue to strive for, to become not the nation we once were, but a better one.”

As people applaud, Harding waits for a moment for it to subside before continuing. “The second aspect of the design is the reflective surface of the marble itself. As you read the names of those who gave their lives in this ultimate sacrifice, you will see a reflection of yourself and the world behind you. I challenge all of us to reflect on what we are doing in our lives to uphold those principles that these names, these brave men and women fought so hard for that day.” He dips his head. “Thank you, and thank you for your service to our country.”

With that, the ceremony is over. The officials stand from their seats to offer one another handshakes, and people begin to mill toward the monument to look at the names.

The roaring halts. Replaced by not-so-quiet whispers, the sounds and soft touches disrupt Luther's inward, downward spiral. A smile, buoyed up by friendly, real, present faces, lifts the edges of his mouth. "Hey Carl," rumbles the man in response to the boy. He listens, nods once in gratitude, and gives the boy's smaller hand an appreciative squeeze. "Thanks for coming. I was a little sad, but now you're here, things are better." Grey eyes lift, his gaze meeting Kaylee's. His words to the boy are meant for the mother too, and the pair of ex-coworkers and fast friends accompanying them.

Half-lifted handwaves from another familiar face in the crowd draws Luther's attention briefly to Kara. But before he can recall her, obscured by winter wear and sunglasses as she is, she withdraws. Perhaps she was waving to someone else? He leaves the idle assumption hanging there.

Luther turns back to Chess at the slight reminder of her precarious emotional state. His hand remains, gloveless fingers briefly tightening just so, around hers. Castle's assurance mirrors in Luther's rougher expression to the young woman he's deemed a daughter, of found family. Who, for the present moment, is more important to him than Harding's address to the audience. Even at the conclusion of the speech, Luther doesn't clap. But he does finally release hands and turn to those around him, and to Chess offers first, "You're alright? Y'want some water?" One by one, the others also regain the man's scrutiny and confirmations of their presence. It is reassuring. Relieving. Luther exhales a breath he's been holding back subconsciously.

The young boy’s face brightens considerably, his chest puffing out a bit at being right, before he looks at his mom who offers him a proud smile. When Luther looks up, so does Kaylee and her cheeks flush slightly. She’s quick to look back down at her son, brushing her hand over his disheveled mop of hair.

Kaylee wasn’t able to be there for Luther on the 8th, but like hell she wouldn’t be now. The fact that Carl insisted on going too was a point of pride, plus she’d take any excuse to have more time with him.

Carl turns that bright smile to Castle next, excited to see them once the formalities of the ceremony are over. “Hi Castle!” Before they can react, Carl attacks them with a hug like they’ve known each other forever. So ends up with a boy clinging to him, backpack and all. Leaning back to look up at them, Carl starts lobbing words at them, “Did mom tell you I named my rock dragon? Her name is Hope. Did you get the cookies? I helped mom make them. She says you need to eat more.”

“Carl… “ Kaylee hisses out, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment, even if it’s probably useless. Instead the woman sighs and gives Castle an apologetic look as she finally greets him, “Agent Castle. Good to see you again.” Luther fussing over Chess gets her attention and… well… finds it kinda cute admittedly.

Kara is among one of those people who doesn't applaud, hands firmly still in ehr pockets. It feels strange to be within range of the soon-to-be President, to hear him acknowledge even in platitudes the challenges veterans of the war still face.

Is it a nice gesture? She supposes so. Is the physical memorial?

Maybe she'll get close enough to see her reflection, maybe she won't.

The breath she sighs out when everyone begins moving again after the speech is a haggard one nonetheless. The introspection she carries out is a deeply personal one, one she's glad she came alone for. Kara shifts her weight while she solemnly regards the crowd shuffling toward the monument, trying to decide if she's seen enough from here or if she should venture closer to pay respects.

As the applause swept through the crowd, Castle did not join in, because he did not want to let go of Chess’ hand. She would just have to deal with not being able to applaud either.He just bowed his head in respect and wiped at his eyes with his free hand before smiling over at the woman beside him. You don’t have to have been there to understand the gravity of a situation and the reverence at which it should be held at. And he wasn’t shy about tears when they were appropriate.

He’s about to say something when suddenly there’s a young child at his side, hugging him and that elicits a surprised laugh, the freehand coming down to rest on the boy’s shoulder in a return of the hug. “Me mum has said that as well,” he can’t help but comment on the topic of needing to eat more. “She did tell me you named the dragon Hope. That’s a very good name. I like it a lot. Hope is a wonderful concept and a great one to be named for. I am sure she is a proud dragon.” He looks over at Chess to explain, “We painted some rocks in the park a few months ago and this young lad here claimed one, a young dragon.” Castle’s accent is a lot thicker than it had been at the park that day, definitely more Irish than American, and there’s a different air about him too.

Something more masculine.

“Good to see you again too, Ms. Thatcher. Hopefully, your young lad here is keeping you out of trouble.” Like kids need to watch over their moms sometimes.

Chess eyes are still dry when the crowd begins to break apart, and she offers a weak smile that slides away quickly to Luther first, and shakes her head. “I’m okay. Just a little…” she shakes her head again. There’s too many people here, all of good intentions, but for her, the grief is too personal for this display.

“It’s nice, though, yeah?” she asks instead, with a nod for the memorial, her eyes finding Luther’s and then Kaylee’s, a small shaky smile for her as well. Beyond her, she catches sight of Kara — something about her seems familiar — was she a fellow veteran? Was she at Raven Rock? Chess watches her a moment with that ‘I think I know you’ sort of look on her face.

Before they answer, she hears Basil speaking to Carl, and looks that way. The tears shining in the agent’s green eyes make Chess’ widen a little in alarm a moment before her own get teary. She looks down, happy for the distraction that comes from the little boy and the discussion of rocks and dragons and the name of Hope.

“Hope’s a good name for a dragon,” she agrees. “I think if hope was a color it might be yellow, and fire is sort of yellow, yeah? And,” she latches onto this idea, eager for the distraction, “there’s a poem that says ‘hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul.’ And some cultures have dragons that have feathers or fur, not just scales.” She looks up at Castle, brow lifting. “Maybe Emily Dickinson was really talking about a dragon all this time.”

The young boy’s eyes widen when Chess talks to him, but not with fear, but awe. “That’s so cool. Could you read it to me sometime?” he asks without any thought or even knowing who she is. The fact that Castle and Luther were clearly okay with her is enough for him.

Letting go of Castle, Carl pulls his backpack off as his mother offers Chess an awkward smile. “Chess. Good to see you again.” She tries to rest a hand on his head, but he’s busy digging into this pack. “This is… my son, Carl. You talk to him about dragons and he’ll be your best friend forever.” There is a fondness in her voice that most mothers have.

“Nice to meet you, Miss Chess,” Carl offers politely, even if he is focused on replacing his plastic toy dragon with a red stuffed one. Dropping the bag at his feet, he holds it up to her. “Here. I brought him in case Mr. Luther got really sad like he does sometimes… buuuut…” He cast an apologetic look over at Luther and back again. “I think you might need him more. His name is Bubba. He’s a guard dragon, but he’s also good for hugging when you’re sad.”

‘Bubba’ looks like he’s had some mileage on him for sure, as the poor thing’s head slowly falls over to one side, staring balefully at her with sad eyes.

While Luther's collective worlds collide a bit around him, he stills back into quiet while watching the interactions of young Carl with Castle, and Chess with Kaylee. His eyes linger longer on Castle as if something about the other man puzzles his memory. Maybe the accent? The other man's energy? Luther remains unsure of it even as he turns his thoughts back to the present company.

Luther straightens some as if reminded they're out in public and he should be looking less perturbed. "Thanks for comin' along, too," he rumbles to the agent by his war-daughter's side. He glances back to Kaylee in exchange of curiosity towards her reaction to Castle's presence as well, before watching Carl dig through the Bag of Dragon Holding to extract Bubba. The man purses his lips briefly upon seeing the state of the plush. "We like Hope. We also like Bubba," he says, solidly shrugging off any embarrassing notion that a child has brought this grown man mired in mourning an object of soothing comfort, "Oldie but good to have at your side. Ain't that right?"

Still, to cover the small flush of self-applied chagrin, Luther averts his gaze away to the milling crowd. Grey eyes find Kara again in the long sweep of his stare. Beyond her, the memorial installation still waits for closer examination but stands as a dark reminder of the reasons they're all here. Reasons Luther remembers too freshly as he turns back to the others and clears his throat thickly.

Hesitating her own on whether or not to go forward or slip away, Kara decides closer examination is something beyond what she'd do alone. She catches sight of Chess looking her way just in time to see the presentation of the dragon, which makes her chuckle short under her breath. By the time Luther looks back again, she's still watching and tilts her head toward the obelisk.

Want to take a look?

“Aw, that is just the sweetest thing ever, Carl,” Castle says, pressing his hands to his chest. It might seem like he’s being silly or weird, but there’s something more genuine in the way he’s saying it that shows he’s not just teasing the young boy about bringing a guard dragon for someone to hug if they got upset. Perhaps Castle could use a cuddle with Bubba, cause of all those present he’s the one with tears in his eyes and apparently looking mournfully at the obelisk filled with names he doesn’t even know.

Or does he?

Either way, he’s definitely a very emotional person, watching these proceedings. “And she is so cool.” Chess, he means. With her poetry knowledge and everything really. Kaylee doesn’t need her telepathy to tell that the Agent is thoroughly smitten by the talk of poetry and— well just Chess, really.

“I could probably remember it except a few words now, but definitely I’ll read it to you sometime,” Chess says in reply to Carl. She glances over at Castle, Kaylee, and Luther with that sort of ‘aw, how cute’ look adults give one another when children do small things. “Friendships have been made over less, for sure,” she tells Kaylee.

She raises a brow as the boy goes digging in his backpack, but when he produces the red plush dragon and explains why he’s brought him, she presses her lips together to keep a sob from breaking free. Instead, there’s just a soft sound from her chest as she reaches for the dragon, hugging him to herself.

“He’s wonderful at hugs, and I’ll gladly take one, because I am pretty sad today,” she says, eyelashes wet as she bends down a little, bringing herself more to the boy’s level. “Can I have one from you too, though?”

The compliment from Castle draws her eyes up to him, her cheeks growing a little rosier than just from the chill in the air. “Lies,” she teases.

There is a hesitation from Carl, but only because he offers a counter offer. “Okay. I’ll give you a hug, but only if Castle can get a hug from Bubba too, cause I only have one.” Only then does he hug Chess, “I’m sorry you're sad today.” He says quietly.

Kaylee at this point can’t even look, Luther gets the weight of her teary gaze as she tries not to cry herself. There is no doubt she’s proud of him.

Of course, that feeling goes away pretty quick at his next question, “If you are like Mr. Luther’s adopted daughter, does that mean if him and mom—”

Okay,” interrupts his mom very quickly. Like, lightning quick. Her cheeks flushing a bright red, pulling her son back against her and hand over his mouth with a gloved hand. “Ignore that.” She sends a wide-eyed apologetic look to Luther, before she offers the other’s an embarrassed smile. “I’m just gonna take Carl and… uh… go…” She is so flustered and horrified she’s forgotten words, especially for the monument. “That way. Going that way. ”

Carl gives Castle and Chess an amused smile like he did nothing wrong, waving as he is pulled away by Kaylee, ”Hold on to Bubba and that thought! I’ll be right back!”

The head tilt from Kara seals that sense of familiarity to Luther, even if he hasn't yet verbally placed Kara by name, and he continues the signalled conversation via short, acknowledging up-nod. They'll get to the memorial. Eventually.

The fragile emotional platform remains tremulous while Chess hugs Bubba, and Carl hugs Chess. And when Carl adds that Castle can get a hug from Bubba too, Luther pipes up with soft mock-jealousy, "What about me? Do I get a hug?" The small smile he bears reflects on Kaylee's pride of raising such an empathetic child.

Smile gets replaced by curious confusion when Carl starts to ask a new question, this one interrupted abruptly. Luther's brow lifts, glancing after the pair's hasty retreat. Kaylee's communiqué to the mini group leaves him no more the wiser. Luther looks back to Chess and Castle once they're only three (plus Bubba). "Either of you want to go take a closer look?" he asks the pair, head angling in the direction Kaylee hauls Carl off in.

Kara, for her part, decides the acknowledgement is enough and begins making her way toward the marble monument. When Kaylee unexpectedly is the first one to seem to follow, their paths nearly colliding, she draws up short with a blink behind the frames of her sunglasses. "Ah, sorry," she says with a vague nod between the two, one hand sliding from her pocket to gesture they go first.

“We’ll take care of Bubba,” Castle assures, with a smile that looks happier than the situation calls for, and they also look mildly amused as their eyes follow young Carl and Kaylee as they slip away in the direction of the obelisk. Where he spots Kara. Whom they’ve actually met in an odd situation of the past, but they also knew from… paperwork. Multiple paperwork.

Luther’s question pulls him out of the thoughts, though, as he looks back, “Oh, that depends on Chess. I go where she goes in this case.” This had been for her, after all. He was here to support and that was perfectly fine for him. Support and be sad because even if he hadn’t been there for this particular experience. “This was a momentous event for you both, I know. So don’t let me be the deciding factor.”

Castle was willing to go wherever in this case. He was there for her.

“Thanks,” Chess murmurs to Carl, then smiles, eyes teary when she releases him. “It’s okay to be sad sometimes. I hope you never have to be this kind of sad, though.”

Her brow lifts at the question he asks, but then he’s hastened away by Kaylee, and she’s left with the dragon. The loveworn red animal is passed to Castle, since he needs to hug the creature anyway, and he’s the one promising to babysit. “Not quite as good a hugger as you,” she whispers with a smirk, lest Carl hear Bubba isn’t the premiere embracer in Chess’ book. “But then what Bubba and I have is purely platonic. Hard to compare.”

Luther’s question draws her gaze his way, and then to the monument. She would have been here — maybe not on top of the mountain, but nearby, closer to where Miles had died — regardless of ceremony or memorial. The names she knows on the obelisk are scored in her memory, and one on her heart, already. Still she nods, and slips her hands into each of theirs.

Over by the monument, the President Elect makes the rounds, shaking hands and giving condolences, flanked by the secret service agents; aside from the obvious detail in their dark suits and sunglasses, it’s easy enough to spot a few plain clothes agents as well. One makes eye contact with Kara as he passes her; she notices the nearly-invisible comm in his ear.

“..stop asking questions like… Oh!” Kaylee had been so engrossed in explaining to her son again why certain questions were not appropriate in such mixed company that she hadn’t seen Kara there. There is a part of her that feels like she should know this person, but can’t put a finger on it. It probably shows on her face.

“Sorry,” Kaylee offers sheepishly, dragging her son into line with her and glancing back worriedly at the group.

Carl for his part smiles up at Kara and like all kids… decides to try and have a conversation. “Hi. Did you fight here too? Mom didn’t and I was just a baby. So I don’t think I could have if I wanted to.” His mother offers an apologetic look, as her son continues. “Mom says history is really important, because otherwise we don’t learn anything. But I’m just here for my friend, Mr. Luther. Plus, road trips are fun… I saw a lot of new things and a lot of smoke.”

Behind the sunglasses lenses, Kara glances for a moment to the agent who passes her. The worst thing she could do is act out of place, so should she just blend in, then perhaps she'll be just fine.

And what a lovely distraction Carl makes to help her do just that.

She turns to look back down at him, her brow lifting in a granting of polite interest. "Hi—" she says right back, and then proceeds to be bowled right over. A small smile works its way across her, broadening with each reply she would have said but he just keeps going. He's a different beast than Odette, isn't he. Kara glances up, smile shown for Kaylee, too. He's fine, she promises.

"Sounds like you're just having a heck of a day, aren't you? You get the day to come off school just to pay your respects?" She looks toward the monument they loosely queue for closer access to. "I didn't fight here at Raven Rock, but I fought in my own way." For a moment it seems like a solemnity wants to take her over, but for Carl's sake she remains amiable. "I was with the Ferry. I helped families get across the border to White Rock and Vancouver. Most of my fighting went like that."

Kara slides her hand back into her pocket. "I bet you would have made a very brave coyote if you hadn't been a baby," she assures the young boy.

A short, light squeeze from Luther's warm hand against Chess' offers reassurance and support from his end. Each stride that takes him closer to the obelisk sees gloom slowly growing back on the man's face. For a moment he seems caught up again in the memories that flash by with every slow blink battling against a stinging wetness in his eyes. But in between the dark pauses are the feel of Chess' fingers, and when he looks over to Chess and Castle beside him, a flickering internal light of hope. Bubba's presence adds an extra spark of it.

Luther looks back to monument where Kaylee had retreated with Carl, and with Kara there, finally recognizes the woman standing a short distance away. "Princess?" he connects to a name, albeit perhaps not the one fully expected.

“Oh, I am an amazing hugger,” Basil assures, with a grin, because, well, he is. Especially where people he cared about were concerned. He would give her all the hugs she wanted, but now he was holding a stuffed dragon against his chest for the moment to make sure it wasn’t lonely, and to help himself, but he’s ready to hand it over if it looks like someone else needs it more than him. Someone with Carl’s obvious stamp of approval, at least, because he did promise to take care of Bubba. No handing the dragon to complete strangers!

He follows with them, glancing over at the President-Elect— very soon to be President— for a moment, before moving on. He’s not on-duty but he’s still ready to raise a small Castle at any sign of trouble anyway. The Department wanted to keep this administration, after all. There had been some concerns if certain others had gotten elected how they would handle the events threatening them.

But this one was good. Squeezing her hand for comfort, for the both of them, he stays at her side and looks up at the monument as they get closer.

Chess chuckles when Luther recognizes Kara. “You always know people,” she says, but she lets go of his hand, a little reluctantly, maybe, so that he can say hello. “She looks familiar to me, too,” she muses, looking over at Castle who could probably draw the connection for her if he is wont to do. She doesn’t expect it, though, unaware that Kara is the most important person to a person Chess holds important.

“I’m okay,” she says to Luther, before he can protest her release of him, and she moves closer to the obelisk. It’s mounted on a pedestal so that no name is too high above or beneath eye level, and it only takes a few moments before she finds her way to the D’s to look for Miles’ last name, even less time to find it. She holds her breath, standing still, as she stares at it. There are other names she recognizes but she doesn’t seek them out. She doesn’t point out Miles’ name or any other to Castle beside her, but he can feel her grip tighten again on his, and when she finally turns away, her dark eyes glitter with tears.

Others have brought small items — flowers, photographs, teddy bears, flags — that they lay at the base of the pedestal. The only thing Chess has left she can’t part with, so her fallen tears are the only thing that mark her presence here, invisible in the snow.

“A coyote?” Carl has no idea what that is when Kara mentions it and it shows. “No. I wanna be a dragon. Like Mr. Luther.” He leans closer and whispers. “He can breath fire. Pretty sure he is a dragon in disguise.”

When Luther addresses Kara as Princess, Kaylee’s brows tip upward and Carl looks at the woman with awe. He asks quietly the woman, “You’re a princess? Mom…” He looks up at his mom, who looks at him with amusement. “We have a dragon and a castle and a princess…” Each person gets pointed to.

“And a knight,” Kaylee says, lightly booping the little boy on the nose with a finger tip, which gets a giggle.

“Noooo, mom… I said, I’m a dragon, like the Good Dragon.” Carl says like she should know better, lifting his hands into claws and giving a bit of a badly whispered rawr. “You can be the knight, cause girls can be knights, too, and you're brave.” He quickly moves to grab Luther’s hand in his smaller one, smiling brightly up at the man. Dragons gotta stick together after all. “Plus, the Knight is good friends with the Good Dragon and they worked together to do good deeds and help people.”

Kaylee can’t help but chuckle, giving her son a shake of her head. With a sigh, she resigns herself to her fate. “Sounds like you have it all figured out there, kiddo.” Looking over at Kara and the young pair, Kaylee explains, “Carl’s favorite series of books is The Good Dragon series.”

Carl pipes up, looking at Castle, “I have them all.” He sounds proud of it. “I can let you borrow them if you want.”

Kara looks up to Luther with an arch of one eyebrow. Princess? Her thoughts filter long back, a gruff laugh of surprise leaving her. "It's Clara, actually," she remarks with a small grin, looking down to Carl in his excitement after. When the boy wisely decides girls can be knights, too, she reaches over to ruffle his hair. "Good to see you again, Bellamy. You looking after your head a bit better these days?"

She looks past him to the others with him, Chess and… Castle. Kara offers them a curt nod of hello, resuming quiet when Chess moves past to approach the monument directly. Her smile fades. "I didn't fight here that day," she repeats in a quieter voice for Luther's sake. "But a lot's happened this year that… makes me want to connect with the world around me a bit more. Being here felt right."

"Were you here that day?" she wonders, looking to Kaylee after even though Carl's answered that question for her. It's an invitation for her to say where she was fighting during the war.

Objection held in reserve, Luther still passes Chess a look to reassure her that he isn't going to be far. As Carl clutches his hand and mentions said possible dragon duo, Luther utters at the boy a quiet rumbling growl, "You're gonna blow my cover." Exaggerated winks later, he turns back to the recognized woman. "Good to see you too, Clara. And yes somewhat," answers the man with a sheepish shrug and glance to Kaylee and offering background, "Met at the Add-a-Ball, there were some…" He pauses, looks down to Carl, then back up again. "Some young ruffians. Turns out, the princess isn't helpless at all, but a strong warrior in her own right."

The subject of the day, however, shifts Luther briefly even further back to the past. He turns to the obelisk, eyes scanning more readily legible names. Gradually, his gaze slips to Chess and Castle. "The Rays were keeping morale going," he says, nodding slowly. "Those of us who could get the signal out where they were, took comfort knowing we weren't alone. And that we could even make it this far." Luther looks around again, blinking twice rapidly and mind landing back in the present. "Gave us reasons to keep fighting, and reminded us there was still a future." He looks at each face around him again, taking comfort in their presence.

“We might have more than one Princess,” Castle responds with a sly grin but doesn’t reiterate what they might mean by that. There’s something flashing in those eyes that seem to change color depending on how the light or shadows fall upon them. Sometimes bluer, sometimes greener, sometimes even darker than that. For a moment, they seemed bluer. “But I can handle a lot of different jobs.” King of the Castle, Castle itself. Jester of the Court. And even a Princess at times. Yes, they could be many different things—

But right then— they were guarding a tiny stuffed dragon and offering a hand to Chess. “I wasn’t here either, but I don’t think you needed to be present to honor the sacrifices made here. It was a difficult time for the entire world.”

And they could respect and give praise to that and those who had fallen here to make sure that certain things had turned out the way they had. “Doesn’t take much to feel the memories lingering in this place.” Doesn’t even take an ability for that. The obelisk probably helps, but even without…, the scars remain all around.

For Chess, the memories of Raven Rock are relived almost nightly, and despite her best efforts to not succumb to the wash of sorrow and guilt, a sob breaks through. Turning away from the small cluster of people near her, one hand clings to Castle’s. Her other arm reaches for Luther’s arm as she buries her wet face against his shoulder.

Her shoulders lift as her breath hitches, but when she lets go, she offers a shaky smile, glancing at Castle as he talks of other princesses. “I’m not the princess,” she tells Carl, in a deliberate effort to keep the subject away from herself or her feelings. “If I were in a story with a castle, I’d be an archer up on the battlement. I didn’t use guns during the war, just a bow and arrows and my ability.”

Never mind her ability is often as or more deadly than a gun.

“Is your mom a princess? Wait, you’re a dragon, so maybe she’s a princess dragon? Or a queen?” Chess asks, before glancing up at the other adults, smiling at Kaylee a little apologetically for maybe implying she’s a dragon mom.

“Hey,” she says to Kara — Clara — with a small smile and nod. “I’m Chess. Thanks for coming out.”

She rolls her eyes at herself, and huffs out a shaky laugh. “That sounds like I’m the hostess or something. But you know what I mean. Supporting those of us who were here.”

Carl’s attention shifts to each of the adults, though Castle gets a particularly long stare with his mouth hanging open a bit at the shifting colors of eyes. He looks at his mother to see if she is looking, but Kaylee is too busy looking self conscious about what she was doing during the war. She never saw her family’s part in the same light as the rest of them.

“I was pregnant at the beginning of the war with Carl,” Kaylee’s head tips towards the boy in question. “So the Ferry snuck me and my ex to Canada. At least until the Canadian government found us.” Her mouth pulls to the side ruefully. “After that I joined my family in Kansas… and yeah… helped with the radio station.”

“You know,” Carl says after a moment, looking at Chess from the otherside of Luther and having witnessed her moment with his head tilted. “I was thinking maybe you were the queen of the castle… cause your name is Chess and the Queen is the most powerful piece on the board. But… you could be a Archer Queen. That’d be pretty badass.”

Carl! Language, young man,” Kaylee hisses at him, applaud.

Oops! He ducks his head and hides his face behind Luther’s arm, with a small impish smile when he peers around to look at her with one eye. “Sorry mom,” he murmurs, knowing he’s been caught.

Kaylee looks at him disapprovingly and holds out a hand to him. “You are just lucky your father wasn’t here.” Carl reluctantly lets go of Luther’s hand and moves to take his mom’s with a pout. It was clear he was being given a pass by his mom. She leads the little boy towards the monument, since that was the other reason they were there, not just support.

Kara turns away from Chess's moment to listen to Kaylee's story, polite and distant for the amount of time it takes for the younger woman of the group to get herself back together. Luther's perspective helps lend additional context to an activity Kaylee clearly didn't think exceptionally much of.

"Morale," she opines quietly to Kaylee, "is as important a tool as any weapon. Maybe even moreso. Keeps people ready to use them, for one, when they otherwise might not raise arms at all."

When Chess turns back to the conversation, Kara meets her with a small smile of her own. "You can only hope to be at a battle that turns the tide, to feel like you made a difference. I hope you know— that you never forget the importance of it. That every sacrifice, every loss that day and leading up to it…"

Her mouth firms into a thoughtful line for a moment. "It means a world not entirely nuked into the ground. It means a future where Evolved kids aren't segregated from their peers. The fight you put out did that, that day."

"I'm just glad I could support in my own way, from the other side of the country." She says as much fully, earnestly, without the burden of guilt and grief that Chess has. And to which she cautions, reaching out to nudge the other woman by the shoulder. With another faint smile, she tells her, "You cry again, you might make me tear up, and I can't have any of that."

As if in a stalwart attempt to make sure there are no more tears, from anyone present, Castle suddenly says a very simple, but very pointed, “I do like it when you’re on top of the castle.”

Thankfully most young people won’t understand the connotations of that simple phrase as long as the adults don’t make a big deal about it, but from the mischievous gleam in his eyes and the grin on his lips— he knows very well what he just said. In front of her adopted dad no less.

Luther's attention immediately focuses down to Chess as she leans against him, and he shifts a bit to rub a warm hand on her back comfortingly. There he stays, patient and steady, waiting until she's gathered herself again to reply to young Carl. The man can't help the little smirk of amusement at behind used again for a protective hideaway for the boy as well. Alas, there's only so much he can do to shield the son from the mother though. "C'mon, he's heard worse," lumps Luther into the boy's defense, ineffective though it may be.

Clara's sentiment gets a slow, humble nod of agreement from Luther. The man's acknowledgment of current political climate extends via a turned gaze away from their small group to that of the larger crowd milling about then, to President-Elect moving along with security detail.

The distant stare abruptly cuts back upon Luther catching Castle's blatant innuendo. "What'd you say?" blurts from the man as he swivels a stare at the other man. For a few beats, it almost seems like he had missed the remark. Oh, but he heard every word. And while Carl had gotten a pass for certain verbiage, Luther doesn't afford Castle the same grace period. He lunges toward the DoE agent sudden and swift, one hand's fingers reaching to snag the man's shirt while the other hand balls into a fist and rears back for a swing.

Chess’ presses her lips together somewhere around the word sacrifice but she doesn’t argue with the sentiment, not aloud. A part of her will never agree that what she lost that day was ‘worth’ it, but another part needs it to be true, for it not to be all for naught.

She gives Kara a weak smile, the tears still shimmering in her eyes, only to have Castle make his gambit at teasing them away. She huffs a laugh, color rising in her cheeks as she looks skyward, shaking her head.

It’s in that moment that Luther grabs for Castle, and her eyes widen. She reaches for Luther’s arm, her dark eyes full of warning. “Don’t,” she says sharply, but it feels like the world is moving in slow motion, and the tricks up her sleeve to keep this from happening are too dangerous to use on friends or not well-practiced enough yet to call on in this second’s notice.

“Luther Marion Bellamy!”

Kaylee snaps out the older man's name in that familiar mom tone, when she sees him lunge. He knows it all too well. Letting go of her son, Kaylee moves to help Chess stop Luther from a bad mistake, her own hands grabbing for his other arm out of fear that he’ll hit the agent and potentially set off the secret service.

Free of his mom, Carl is quick to scurry to safety behind Kara. “Oh no…” he says with a gasp, “She used his full name. He’s in real trouble now.” He watches wide-eyed from his spot, kinda glad he was off the hook, cause the big guy was doing something worse!

Sorry for your life, Mr. Bellamy.

“This is not the time,” Kaylee scolds Luther, hissing it under her breath despite her original outburst. “There is a time and a place. This is not it. This is a sacred place and a place that has seen enough violence.” She adds, lowering her voice even more, “Not to mention the President is here, which means secret service. Wait until you are away from this place for shit like that.”

Sorry, Chess.

The disapproving and disappointed look she drops on Castle says she’s not joking. And as much as Kaylee likes the agent, he may deserve it in her eyes. If it had been one of her kids he was talking about - and they were adults, of course - she would have absolutely done it herself.

“I’m sooo glad that’s not me,” Carl opines quietly to Clara, trying not to draw his mother’s eye by talking too loud. He’s been there on the receiving end of that look.

Is she surprised Luther arced up to swing the way he did? No. Can Kara fault him for it? Also no.

Definitely not.

The look she suddenly shot Castle in the beats of silence between the offending comment and the lunge was a far cry from her earlier plan to avoid interaction with him however possible. Her brows had climbed high above the lenses of her sunglasses.

Kaylee's scorn is a welcome thing, though, perhaps. Saves Luther from punching a government agent in a crowd surrounded by plainclothes secret service agents. Kara winces in symapthy when Carl asides to her that Kaylee's chiding may in fact be worse than that, managing to keep an otherwise straight face.

That was— a little bigger of a reaction than Castle had expected. But then again, perhaps he never dealt with overzealous war-pops who apparently got overprotective of their war-daughters getting innuendo about in public. “Not the face, big guy,” he protests as his very nice clothing is grabbed and he’s lifted up a few inches off the ground. The Agent is not short, but Luther can tell he’s as light as he looks. He could probably be thrown across a room with little effort. “It was a joke. Trying to lighten the mood a bit.”

Unfortunately, the Agent can not really defend himself very well. He’s holding onto a stuffed dragon he promised to protect, and while sure, he could hide behind the dragon and let it take the blow for him, he instead continues to hold it close to his body in a protective grasp. The only thing that will be stopping Luther at this point would probably be himself.

Or well, the mom giving him a mom lecture, possibly.

As quickly as Luther had lunged in to instigate violence, he lurches like emergency brakes and monkeywrenches were thrown into the gears as Chess' voice sharply throws his focus and Kaylee's searing scolding reaches him before his fist closes in on Castle's face. Hands grabbing on to his arms break the brief bout of anger flared in his contorted, almost snarling expression.

The agent's face escapes intact, as does his shirt when Luther abruptly releases the other man and retreats a half step back. The man shakes his head to clear it as he looks back around to Chess and then Kaylee holding on to him, to Castle holding the beloved plush dragon toy, then to Carl hiding behind innocent bystander Kara. Luther drops his gaze down, chastised and chagrined. "Sorry," he cuts out in verbalized apology.

It's with worry that he looks back up again, reminded of the other security in place and the trouble he's possibly started for the others.

“It’s cute you want to defend my honor,” Chess says softly, stepping forward when Luther steps backward and planting a kiss on his cheek, hoping to defuse any lingering anger, soften any sharp edges left. “Joke’s on you; I don’t have any.”

The joke, crass as it may have been, has served its purpose, and Chess looks over at Castle with a smile that’s part gratitude and part apology — the humor the two share in private may not be so funny to others. Her hand reaches for his, and she turns to him to kiss his cheek too, though this time it’s longer than the platonic peck given to Luther.

“It’s funny ’cause it’s true,” she says softly, before turning back to the small cluster of familiar-and-less-familiar faces.

“I think I’m ready to go. If anyone needs a lift, we have plenty of room, though we have a quick stop a couple of miles out.” Her brows draw together at the inadvertent use of the word miles, but it’s not enough to draw up another wave of grief. The ache is dull but bearable.

This is the first time she’s had people at her side to remember the day, and that might have something to do with it.

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