Like Strangers


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Scene Title Like Strangers
Synopsis Elisabeth greets her fist dawn in a new timeline with a heart-to-heart.
Date October 23, 2018

Dawn has never looked so alien.

Morning rays of light spill out over the fog-shrouded coastal waters of what was once Manhattan. In the light of day the looming towers of broken glass and crumbling concrete are a visceral reminder of this world’s fate. Gone are the noises of the city, the distant pop of gunfire of the wasteland, and the haunting stillness of the virus-wracked New York. Instead there are the cries of sea birds, the crashing of the surf on barnacle and seaweed-encrusted buildings, and the noise of distant bells and signal horns.

The rooftop of the building Cat lives in has been converted entirely into a communal garden. Wood-framed box planters are set in a grid pattern, growing tall with vegetables and herbs. A handful of unfamiliar-looking residents of the building are up early, picking bugs off of the plants and tending their private gardens. Overhead, a dazzling aurora shimmers like the ethereal hem of a great dress, decked in shades of green and blue and pink.

At the low stone railing that surrounds the rooftop, Elisabeth Harrison has come up here to face the day literally and figuratively. The distant silhouette of the World Trade Center towers to the Southwest took her breath away, and left her momentarily lost as to her placement in the universe.

“That’s never not weird, is it?” She isn't alone in that feeling.

The Pelago


October 23rd

Walter Trafford cuts a meandering path through the gardens from the roof access. Hands tucked into his pockets, head bowed and shoulders hunched, he looks every bit as uncomfortable as a stranger could be in such a strange land. His dark gray, cabled sweater helps fend off the damp cold in the air, but it simply isn't cold enough to be late October in New York. It feels like early autumn, if not warmer.

“Figured I might find you out here,” Walter says as he joins Elisabeth by the railing, leaning over to look down the edge as the breeze plays in coppery hair. He doesn't have an agenda for this conversation, evidenced in the earnest helplessness of his silence.

He assumes she might, though.

"No," Elisabeth replies quietly. "It's never not weird." The World Trade Center and the Aurora above. She turns to face him, hiding the bereft feeling behind a small smile. "Not the first time I've been this far from home, though. I wish I could say I was getting used to it."

With both elbows resting on the rail, she has the sleeves of her fleece-lined jacket tied around her waist over jeans and a long-sleeved black top. Simple, durable clothes that she'd thrown in her backpack before the left the last crazy place… or rather, the one before that, even.

Blue eyes skip back out over the water and she hesitates, then she asks, "Tell me what happened during your left turn at Albuquerque?" She's still trying to parse through a couple of half-formed thoughts. "Do you know when you actually landed?" Maybe it conforms to one of their own jaunts.

“I left not long after the civil war ended,” Walter explains as he looks out over the watery horizon. “Kincaid… he didn't handle things well once the fighting stopped. Kept asking about the people we left behind. Word got around about what folks saw at Natazhat, the lights in the lasers…” He looks down, watching a seagull land on the ledge below, breaking open a crab with its beak.

“Anyway, he wanted me to take him home. Back upstream, so to speak.” Walter shrugs, ambivalently. “We were never close. I don't think meeting his parents again went how he'd wanted. But,” he turns his eyes from the crab and gull to Liz, “I wasn't really sure what t’do with myself either. So… I figured I'd take a walkabout.” And not tell anyone he was leaving, he doesn't bother to explain.

After a moment of silence where he rubs at some coppery stubble coming in on his chin. “We went back home. Found it all still there… none of the civil war had happened differently. It was still our wasteland, and nothing we did changed fuck-all of anything. Hannah and Howard… they'd still be alive if we never left.”

It takes Walter a minute to calm down, scrubbing a hand through his short-clipper hair. “I didn't stay long. I couldn't— face them. I left, like I always do. Nothing different about the how and the when, I just…” He tosses his hands into the air, unable to explain something as ephemeral as his ability.

“You ever pull a muscle?” Walter asks rhetorically. “It felt a lot like that. Whatever happened when I left, it was like… something broke. I felt a pain in my head behind my eyes, in my fucking teeth, and I was falling through a lightning storm.”

After a sigh, Walter motions out to the water. “Eve Mas found me, right where I found you. I woke up on her boat… just a little over three years ago.” He scratches the side of his face, then closes his eyes. “I've been stranded here for three years, Liz. My ability’s fucked, even so much as trying to move from one place to another is excruciating.” His brows furrow, dark eyes cast over to the sea gull tearing meat out of the crab. “Nice to know you and Magnes survived everything.”

Elisabeth listens, not necessarily because most of what he says gives her insight into the hows of the situation but because… he's Teo's boy. He's a good kid, tried to change the world. And he's clearly hurting over what he learned — Time is not a line. The hard-learned lessons of the past years is perhaps evident in her eyes too as she watches him. "I'm sorry, Walter… I'm so far beyond sorry that you had to learn it all that way." She reaches up with one hand to shove the blonde hair back off her face, turning her gaze skyward.

"When we bounced through the singularity at Natazhat, we landed… at ConEd. In a world where Phoenix and the others never stopped the Virus," she tells him quietly. "The only thing we can figure is that some combination of Magnes's augmented power, Mateo's power, the Mallett device, and maybe the astronomical phenomena," she gestures to the sky and its myriad colors, "was maybe the reason we got shoved the way we did." Her hand falls back to the railing. "It took months of trial and error to escape." She swallows hard. "And it was at great cost."

"The second timeline we landed in wasn't so bad. Arthur Petrelli built a wonderful utopia… granted it was on the backs of people, but isn't it always? We spent five years there." Her voice is wistful. "We learned a lot. About powers, about physics, about anything we could think of that would help us. Aurora was born there. Magnes met that world's Elaine and had a daughter. Named her Adelle too, even. Mateo and Lynette — that's a whole huge story on its own." She huffs a soft laugh, her gaze dropping to the waves again. "But in the end, we couldn't stay. People were trying once again to build a device to cross worlds… and they had their eyes on our home. We made a huge mess. A bunch of things, including that infernal machine, blew up. We thought Magnes was killed but Arthur had him. Shit went downhill, as it always seems to do for us… so we took a chance. It, too, at great cost. And landed in what we thought was your wasteland. I was … hoping we'd find some help there."

Shaking her head, she murmurs softly, "Not quite. A lot of things went differently there than in your world." Her eyes are distant, but she looks at him. "I don't know if I can get us all home again. According to Edward Fucking Ray, I need Michelle Cardinal. And if she's alive in this world…. The only two places I know to look are Kansas and the Arcology, the latter of which is apparently under 300 feet of water. So… I don't suppose you know anyone with gills who can breathe underwater a la Waterworld, do you?" She would love to laugh at the absurdity of all this, but she can't.

“Jesus.” Is Walter’s catch-all response, one hand resting over his mouth and gaze lingering on the blue horizon. He doesn't say much of anything to all of that, but in so much as trampling rough-shod across timelines, he's in a pretty glass-walled house to start throwing stones. The Laudani in him almost gets the better of him, regardless, but all it manifests as is a sidelong look at Elisabeth with one brow raised in that way Teo would, implicitly judging.

The seagull departs from the ledge, letting the broken carcass of the crab fall away to the water below. As it alights, Walter exhales a deep sigh and seems to deflate just a little. His head hangs, shoulders slack, and fingers drum on his arms.

“Inland is still there.” Walter says with a wave to his side. “Kansas, I mean. Most of the inland states were a scorched earth mess when the Vanguard attacked. Air strikes, wildfires, reprisal attacks, and the way the melting ice fucked up the weather. It's a goddamn disaster on dry land. Ruined cities as far as the eye can see, toxic storms blowing out of burned forests. Tornados, maybe?”

Ultimately, Walter shrugs. “I've never seen it. People say they've ventured inland, most of them seem scared enough. It's quieter out here on the water, at least in this neck of the… uh, woods?” He shrugs again. “I don't even know if there is an arcology here. Best as I can tell… there wasn't even ever a Company, let alone an Institute. I don't know much more than that, except that…”


“Michelle Cardinal?” Walter squints at Elisabeth. “Like Richard Cardinal? Why would his mom matter at all, even if she was here? Does she have some sort of click your heels twice and go home power?”

The side-eyed look is met with the same look she’d give his father. That is to say, a raised-brow What? You don’t think I *know* I fucked it all up??

“Something… almost like it. Maybe,” Elisabeth replies quietly to the last question. Her blue eyes are pensive as she looks out over the waves, perhaps trying to sort out the short short version of all of this. “There’s a lot you don’t know… a lot that I only know parts of. Michelle Cardinal was a hypercognitive. Somewhere along the way, as far as I can gather, she was the original creator of a machine that opened portals between the timelines. It was uncontrolled. And people… basically people were shunted from one world to the next on the continuum of timelines that Magnes and I are traversing, I guess.” She looks at him. Leaving out the intricacies of the fact that she herself is apparently one of those people, she says, “She did this in 1982, and it was all erased by the Company, a massive cover-up effort. But … assuming she’s still alive in this world, it is entirely possible that she either has access to this machine or at least maybe has the know-how to help us actually aim the portal so that we can get back to the proper timeline.”

She shrugs a little. “It’s no longer a shot than any other we’ve taken. And as much as I fucking hate doing what Edward Ray wants because he’s an asshole in every fucking timeline… he’s also given us good information each time because it suits whatever his own twisted purpose is in getting us where we want to go. We’ll just assume for now that it’s because where I want to go coincides with whatever it is he’s doing.”

“I've got complicated feelings about that particular asshole,” Walter admits. Edward, of course. Not Michelle, he doesn't have any particular feelings about her yet beyond a vague sense of familial uneasiness. “But that’s… just sort of my entire relationship with my father. And Ghost. And…” He shakes his head, this isn't the time or place for that.

“Anyway.” Walter digresses. “So you're set on leaving here and getting back there? If it's possible?” He raises one red brow. “What's the plan if it isn't?” He turns his back to the water, propping his arms up on the stone railing. “It… can't be easy with your little girl.”

“Mmm.” Elisabeth understands complicated relationships. And hers with Edward Ray definitely fills the bill on that description too. Pulling in a slow breath, she tells Walter in a flat tone, “If it’s not possible… then we do whatever is required to survive, I guess. Same as every other world we’ve landed in.” Her head drops as she rests on her elbows on that railing and she closes her eyes for a moment.

When she raises her head and looks at him, though, it’s with an expression that holds equal parts weariness and … contentment? “It’s not easy,” she agrees softly. “She’s worth every minute of heartache. I wish… that I hadn’t had to rip her from the only home she knew, the only father she knew, with no guarantee that I can get her back to the home she’s supposed to have. I wish that the worlds she’s seen since we left that one were better ones. I worry every minute that I did the wrong thing, even though I really didn’t have an option but to run. I worry every minute of every day what she’ll become in the end because of the hell she’s living through, even though she doesn’t really know that it’s hell. She’s the first thought I have every morning and the last thought I have every night.” Her smile is wry. “I’ve dragged that beautiful baby from one end of the fucking universe to the other. I haven’t seen my father in six years, Walter. He thinks I’m dead. Aurora’s never seen her father, except as a picture that a friend once sketched for me.” An image lost to their travels at this point.

“Nothing about this has been easy. Going home? Sometimes I think it’s pure fantasy anyway,” she confesses quietly, her eyes shifting back out to the lights dancing in the sky. “Sometimes I'm almost convinced we’re actually dead… that all this is happening at the event horizon of the black hole that Magnes became, where we’re stuck in the infinitesimal eternity between physical death and true death. That place in the in-between where you still remember dreaming…” She trails off in a whisper.

Jesus.” Walter says again, shaking his head and looking down to his feet. “It's… hard. The other side of that.” For a moment, Walter doesn't explain the hushed admission and just stares squarely at his feet. When he pushes away from the railing it feels as though he may need elaborate on it.

Until he does, just a few steps ahead.

“I have a daughter,” Walter says quietly, hands tucked into his pockets and shoulders hunched, back to Liz. “Lucrezia,” because of course he'd name her after his aunt. “I fucked up being a dad so hard her mother won't even let me see her, really. I can't blame her.” Brows furrowed, Walter bobs his head in a series of shallow and erratic nods.

“When I, ah…” Walter hesitates. “When I got back with Kincaid, she didn't even recognize me. She asked her mother who I was and I just…” He bites down on the inside of his bottom lip and clenches his jaw. “She looked at me like I was a total stranger.” He closes his eyes. “It's not going to be easy when you get back. If you ever do.”

When she looks back at him, the depth of her sympathy and hurt for him is staggering. She reaches out and touches his arm. "I'm sorry." There are no other words that can even be appropriate for the information he's handed her.

"And I know it won't be easy." Elisabeth has no illusions. That you can't go home again is a truism that you can't exactly prepare for, but it can't be any other way. "It's been far too long to really… expect that anything will be the same. Or that there's anything left of what was."

Sometimes, just acknowledging that you can't fix the worst things and being present is all there is. "What can I do for you? I can't fix any of it. What can I do in the here and now to give you at least a little peace?"

And that simply, he's one of hers. He has been since the moment they arrived, but perhaps he now realizes it too.

Walter smiles in a way meant to dismiss concern, scrubbing a hand at the back of his neck. He takes one more look out at the horizon, then turns for the stairs from the roof, waving one hand in the air as though swatting at a fly, or perhaps just an intrusive thought.

“I don't think you can.” Is how Walter chooses to say goodbye for the morning.

He has his father’s way about him.

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