Moment of Doubt and Pain


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Scene Title Moment of Doubt and Pain
Synopsis Overwhelmed by what they've learned, Elliot and Rue touch base.
Date December 13, 2020

The Reach

Rather than go for that cigarette immediately, Rue decided to take her things and head up to the room offered to her for the night. The style of it suits her fine. Something about the Seventies just makes her nostalgic. Maybe she watched too much Brady Bunch growing up.

The first thing she does, after setting down her coat and her pack, is start looking for recording or listening devices. It’s a habit. But what could they expect to glean from a woman alone in her bedroom? Disgusting notions aside. There’s no cell service, so who’s she going to call? Would they be that interested in her discussions with any of the others? She gives up about halfway through.

There’s a door left partway open in her mind and she reaches for the knob, a murmur of gratitude before she pulls it shut. The second door she pushes open all the way.

The tremor of her anxiety, her dread, is unable to be missed. But after everything she’s just heard, it would be a point of concern if she wasn’t affected by it.

“You can’t go,” Rue states firmly.

Elliot doesn’t respond immediately. He’s kneeling before the fireplace in his kitchen, adjusting the burning logs with a poker. He swings the glass doors closed and rises, only to settle back into the chair by the garden door. “I went back to work because there’s a lot of good that needs doing,” he says. He rubs his hands over his face and sighs. “Saving the world from an extinction event seems like the best opportunity I’ll have to do that.”

Rue spins neatly on her heel and drops to sit on the end of the bed, raking her fingers through her hair. “There’s a whole world of difference between what Wolfhound does and what’s expected here. You could live and still be stranded there.”

“I agree that it’s not optimal,” he says. He looks up at the ceiling before rising from the chair to pace through the house. He taps his fingertips against his thumbs back and forth, fidgeting with nervous energy. “Though from what very little we know at this point, the only thing unlike Wolfhound is the means of transportation. The rest is infiltration. Grab the data and go. Unless whoever has the plans we need is willing to just give us a copy.” Too many unknowns at this point.

“The idea of getting there only to find out that my ability doesn’t work across timelines would be pretty fucking traumatic.” He pauses to rest against the back of the couch. “After the festival I would certainly rather not go through that separation again. Short term I could handle it with drugs, but with the possibility of a stay of indeterminate length…”

He doesn’t directly mention the fact that even under ideal circumstances either he or Wright would need to stay here to guarantee a stable link. Rue is one of very few people who know about the unusual state of their telepathic link.

“I know,” Rue says noncommittally, inspecific to what she’s actually addressing. Maybe all of it. He fidgets with his fingers, she fusses with her hair, separating it out into sections and starting to weave it together by feel along the back of her head, starting at the top of her right ear and working her way across to the left side, adding more pieces as she goes.

“But this is what I’m talking about. You don’t even know if it will work.” She keeps her focus ahead while her fingers work, finding some picture on the wall. Some pastoral bullshit that people think brightens up a space. “If you do get cut off, you two are just— And what about Ames?

The frustration bubbles over. She just needs him to listen. “I’m not being selfish here. I know that’s what it sounds like. That I just don’t want to let you go. If it were that simple, I’d just fight to go with you. But you have too fucking much to lose. You need to be selfish.”

Her throat gets tight, her vision clouds with unshed tears. “If I go, and it all goes to shit, then nothing of value is lost.” Rue swallows hard. “You taught me everything. I’ve learned even more. I’m just as good an infiltrator. And if I get killed, or lost… It’s not an entire fucking family that gets destroyed.”

“Ames wouldn’t die in an apocalypse.” He says it simply, but there’s a fractured burst of emotions with it, overlapped in a way that makes them hard to differentiate. “And she’d still have an entire family.” That admission is a noticeable spark of the acceptance stage of grief.

He’s swept away for a moment by whatever it is he’s feeling about it. But then, layer by layer, the emotions return to that existential anxiety he was feeling before. Simpler, if persistent. Pervasive.

Then there’s a trill of regret, and he crosses his arms. “I’m sorry,” he says, “I was momentarily distracted from the fact that you were casting aspersions upon my girlfriend.” There’s a feeling of long-suffering affection that eclipses the guilt, attempting to sweep it aside. “Them’s—as the kids say—fighting words.”

The braid is tied off at its end with a hot pink hair elastic from around her wrist, the tail of it left to hang over her collarbone. She wants to argue that she would prevent the apocalypse, that that’s the point but she knows she can’t understand a parent’s instinct to protect. Her parents’ can’t be much better than her own, or wouldn’t they have tried harder to keep her from running off to the war?

Damn it, Elliot!” It’s not often she uses his given name. She wants to get his attention. “You know that’s not what that was about!” But the fact that he still feels affection when she’s trying so hard to undersell her importance finally brings those tears to fall. He’s trying to distract her, and she wants to let it work, but he’s not here to fold his arms around her and let her really work through all of these overwhelming feelings.

“I’m being practical,” Rue insists. “I don’t have kids. I don’t have a partner that would be destroyed to lose touch with me… Looking at this objectively,” as objectively as she can be while trying not to choke on her tears, “I represent the least amount of loss if things don’t go right. No, I don’t think you wouldn’t miss me. I don’t think you’d get over it in five minutes. But that isn’t the point.

Rue pushes up abruptly from the end of the bed and wanders to the bedside table where she’d found a box of tissues earlier, tearing two out. One to blow her nose, the other to dry her eyes. “And don’t you even think of playing dirty and bringing Seren into this,” she warns, pointing a finger at the empty space in front of her as though it’s where he’s standing.

“Talk it over with Wright, okay?” It’s not as if she doesn’t think they already have been, but at least it sets the expectation for what she wants from this mess. “And— And with Marthe, too. She deserves a say.” Rue shakes her head, more tears flowing. “You saved my life,” she tells him in a strained whisper. “At least consider letting me return the favor.”

“You never have a debt to me,” Elliot says softly. “You don’t have to repay me for caring about you.”

He lurches up from his perch against the couch and walks back to the kitchen. ”With the timeline they’re talking about, The most logical option is to have Wright and I on opposite sides of the wall. Even if you went in my place, we’d only have a couple weeks before losing the link. That’s assuming it doesn’t break for any other reason, which can still happen.”

He huffs out a quiet laugh. “Technically, I haven’t actually been asked to assist in this operation. And I’m sure even if I did accept I would be presented with the chance to learn more about the interdimensional particulars.”

“It took a lot more than caring about me to bring me back from that edge,” Rue points out with her own kind of gentleness. She won’t allow Elliot to downplay how much effort he’s put into helping her heal from her trauma.

Scrubbing at her face to remove the latest round of tears, she leaves her eyes closed when she’s done. “I miss you.” She admits finally. It’s not going to serve either of them to continue her argument. He won’t make a decision without more information, and she’d feel the same if their roles were reversed.

There’s a wave of self-loathing that ebbs away from her and flows to him. “Sorry,” she says quietly, knowing he feels it. “Mentally trash talking your girlfriend again.”

There’s a pulse of satisfaction from Elliot. “Good job noticing,” he says. “That’s the hard part. Though let’s not reduce your agency to just being my girlfriend. Gotta not shit talk yourself for you.”

He leans back against the kitchen island and crosses his arms, feeling more relaxed. “I miss you too,” he says. “You might be able to get a surrogate hug from Wright if you need one.” It’s not clear that she’d be in the mood to do so currently, with flickers of emotions still ricocheting back and forth between the two. But the largest waves seem to have passed.

“Yeeeah,” Rue sighs out. “But it’s way funnier if we pretend I’m talking about someone else.” She laughs softly in spite of herself, coming to sink back down onto the bed, crossing one leg over the other and resting her hands on her knee before opening her eyes again.

Tipping her head to one side and biting her lower lip, Rue jokes, “I don’t know, is she into that sort of thing?” Wright, she figures, will hug her just because she needs a hug. Whether or not it’s from Elliot. “I’m just struggling, wondering how I fit into any of this. What can I bring to the table? I know what they said in that meeting, but… But I’m not like you and Trace. I’m not like Richard. I don’t have Nick’s resources… I’m just a girl who knows when to duck out of sight and when to shoot things. That can’t possibly be enough.”

“Wright is the designated hugger for sure,” Elliot chuckles. “Maybe after some meditation though.”

“A Nons-only infiltration mission though,” he says. “You could do a whole lot of good there. If there was ever an infiltrator I’d trust to get a job done, it’s you. Knowing how to duck and when to shoot are primary job qualifiers there. You’re also an ace sniper for when you need to both duck and shoot simultaneously. Plus there’s the possibility that you will have Nick’s resources on the mission.” He says it confidently, not trying to cheer Rue up. The facts of what she’s capable of.

“I’m going to stick out like a sore thumb,” she points out, knowing there’s ways to mitigate that. “But… You’re right. Those skills are valuable on an op.” Even if she does think she’d be way more effective if she could fly or phase through walls or start fires with her mind or something. “I’m just not sure how Nick and I are going to be effective against an outfit like Mazdak. Talk about being outgunned.”

And that’s without a single literal firearm being involved.

Rue taps a finger restlessly against her knee. “How weird is it that I’d rather go to another frigging timeline than handle someone in our own? Talk about having the opposite of fear of the unknown, huh?” Raising her arms up above her head, the ginger tips back until she falls the rest of the way onto the bed, feet still dangling off the side and toes brushing the floor.

“Shit’s all fucked. It’s just so much. I need to blow off steam and I can’t drink and I… I don’t want you to kick me off the link, so.” Rue stares at the ceiling hard. “Maybe I’ll feel better after Nick and I share some cigarettes and bitch about this mess.” There’s no way Nick Ruskin doesn’t need to vent about this situation himself.

“There certainly is a lot of novelty to the idea of going to another timeline,” Elliot says. He raids the refrigerator for a handful of alchemical looking bottles and jars and sets them out on the counter. “But by the sound of it, sneaking up on Mazdak is the safer option.”

He looks down at the gathered ingredients and notices that he’d been compulsively lining them up and turning them without purpose. He shakes his head and disperses them back into chaos. He begins mixing a drink for himself as he talks. “I’m glad there’s somebody you can unwind with there. Nick seems pleasant.”

“Yeah, well that’s fucked,” Rue says of her option being safer. Because there’s nothing safe about it. But something about letting her mind drift to watch Elliot make order from chaos and then undo it all brings a little smile to her lips. Something normal happened for a second there.

There’s a noncommittal sound. “We don’t know each other that well,” Rue admits, “but well enough to trust each other. He is nice. Acerbic in all the right ways. A bit like me, I guess.” She can laugh at that. “But more like I used to be, not like…” Not like she is now. And not like she is when Elliot’s not around to remind her that she’s more than the sum of her mistakes.

“I love you,” she says out loud, because maybe they both need to hear it right now. “Whatever happens… Just keep that with you.”

Hearing it does help at the edges of Elliot’s anxiety. “Love you too,” he says easily as he separates an egg into two bowls. He goes about measuring other ingredients without mixing them.

“That place does look like a cigarette advertisement for businessmen who can’t keep their hands off the help, though I didn’t spot any ashtrays,” he says, staring at a selection of drinking glasses without choosing one. “Do they have a smoking section there that I missed or are you going back into the frigid wilds?”

“Ah, I think I saw an ashtray on a side table somewhere. We’re going to go outside, though. Doesn’t much smell like smoke in there and considering the reputation of the management, I think we’ll avoid upsetting them.”

Rue’s hand comes up and rests against the side of her neck, index finger brushing along an idle track to the hollow of her throat and back again. “I’m not shutting this down, don’t think that’s what this statement is, but just… God, I don’t want to think anymore. I wish you were here.” She cracks a grin, “You’re good at turning my mind off.”

But that’s not a topic that needs discussing, not necessarily. “What’re you making anyway? Is this something for me?”

Elliot chuckles humorlessly at the management. “Do you have any caltrops to slow down his wheelchair?”

Then he blinks and looks back at the scattered ingredients like he’s looking through fog. “I have no idea what I was going for here,” he says. “I think I’m kind of running on autopilot right now. I don’t know how good I’d be at turning your mind off long-distance, sorry.”

He takes a deep breath to clear his head, trying not to draw Rue into his own stagnant confusion. “You’re always welcome to start without me though.”

Hitch,” Rue laughs, caught off-guard by the joke. “That’s awful.” But hilarious in her frazzled state.

Her eyes stare at the ceiling unseeing, looking over the ingredients on Elliot’s counter, musing, “I thought maybe you’d make a drink for me so I could feel like I’m having something stronger.” His lamentation just makes her smile sympathetically. “It’s fine. The fact that we’re able to have this at all is… It’s nice. It’s helping.”

There’s a ripple of embarrassment that passes from her to him. “We’ll see each other again soon. We can spend a day talking about it, or not talking about it. Your place, my place…” Just a stairwell away. “Whatever you need.”

“That was the intended purpose of the drink,” he admits, then settles on a few ingredients and begins mixing with a bit more certainty. He ends up with a concoction of coconut syrup, lime juice and soda water. No mint, but the drink should be enjoyable still.

“I look forward to talking and or not talking about it,” he says, then takes a sip of his drink. “Perfectly balanced to compliment your tropical environment.”

Rue takes a moment to appreciate the taste of it on her tongue, eyes closed as she imagines a place quite opposite from the one she’s found herself in. She actually giggles. “What would I do without you?” she asks fondly.

Then immediately feels cold at the realization that she’s going to have to find out. The tears are immediate and she tries quickly to clamp down the bleed from her emotions to him, the mental movements of it fumbling with both her relative inexperience and the way she suddenly feels overwhelmed. It makes her clumsy.

“Sorry!” she’s quick to apologize. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—” More tears are squeezed out by a hard blink. “The drink is great.” The transition of topics is shaky, but Rue forces it for both of them.

Rue’s emotions wash over Elliot, but he isn’t swept away in the tide. “It’s okay to feel things,” Elliot says, setting his glass down on the counter. “This is a crazy situation. You can let it out, I’m here for it.”

“I— I know. I know it is,” Rue assures, however tenuously. “But that doesn’t mean I have to— I don’t know, broadcast them.” Still, she buries her face in one hand and indulges in a moment to cry. “It’s not fair to you, though, is it? You’ve got your own feelings to work through. You don’t need mine.

And they agreed to talk about that later. Or not talk about it. “Fuck, I don’t even know what to feel ninety percent of the time anyway.” Except sad or angry. She’s got those down to an artform. “Are you gonna be okay tonight?” Not that there’s a whole lot she can do about it from here.

They both know she won’t be, but that it also can’t be helped, and when it comes down to it, she’ll shove it back into the box she stuffs all her feelings into to be dealt with approximately never. She’ll make it all work out, because it’s how she survives.

“Feeling other people’s emotions is fairly run-of-the-mill for me,” Elliot reassures her. “Overflow happens, but it’s not some constant looming threat. I know which emotions are mine and which aren’t. That can change in sudden, high-stakes emotional reactions, but spotting and breaking away from that just takes practice. Meditation helps.”

He sips at his drink again, imagines small alterations he would make if he prepared it again. “I’m sure I’ll be fine tonight. I’m going to bed early to match Wright’s schedule, so hopefully going to sleep will take care of it. Unless we have a shared nightmare, anyway. Sorry in advance if you get pulled into that. It’s highly unlikely though.” He doesn’t feel worried about it.

“What about you?” he asks. “Are you going to be okay? Anything you can do locally to take your mind off of it for a while and relax? Personally I’m hoping to see the aurora. Wright and I have never seen one—well, a natural one, that crazy shit in twenty eighteen doesn’t count—but apparently we were both born during separate crazy solar events.”

“Wright gets to claim being older and being born on the crazier of the two,” he gripes playfully. “Apparently on hers you could see a red aurora as far south as Cuba and people thought world war three had started. My birthday solar storm at least caused the Toronto stock exchange to crash, which I appreciate on an economic level.”

“And here I thought being born on Leap Day was special.” It gives her something to laugh about, however weakly. It helps her get the tears under control again. “I’m sorry,” she says again, and she’ll blame the Midwestern in her. “I just… worry about being too much.” She’d intended to say sometimes, but she really means all the time, so she won’t do him the disservice of pretending otherwise.

Taking a deep breath to try and center herself, she lets it out slowly, focusing on the taste of the drink on her tongue. Tries to focus less on how she’d like to taste it on him.

“I… might see if Nick wants the company tonight?” There’s a cautiousness to that statement, a reason it’s phrased like a question. This isn’t something they’ve discussed in much depth, beyond maybe a joke that’s not quite a joke. “Unless it’s better for you if I call it an early night.”

There’s a subtle, but warm, feeling of satisfaction that radiates through the network. Elliot smiles cheekily. He doesn’t want to draw attention to this in a way that disturbs it. He’s certainly not going to point out the growth of Rue not being self-destructively secretive about her liaisons. “I can’t blame you there, he does have a handsome, roguish air about him.” There’s no pang of jealousy, no startled defensiveness.

“I appreciate the heads up, and honestly you working out your stress the old fashioned way is a good thing for all of us. Less tension in the network, everybody sleeps better. I can block you out of the network for the evening if that makes you more comfortable, and you can give Wright the all clear if you want to reopen communications after the fact. She’ll pass it on to me.”

He takes another sip of his drink, luxuriating in a slow swallow. Training himself to take the time to savor his food took years, it was hard to work past the am I going to get dinner tonight reflex of his youth. But now, even as he sits with one foot in a pool of anxiety, he takes a moment to be happy and present. For his sake as much as Rue’s.

“He does, doesn’t he?” Rue agrees easily, with a faux seriousness to it. There’s her own little impish smile in return, even if she’s still brushing away at the last remnants of her earlier overwhelmed feelings. “Would it be better for you to cut me out? I… think I’m getting the hang of pushing that door closed.”

There’s a moment of pause where Rue looks one direction, then the other, a frown on her face. “I have been, right?” The thoughts about what she might have accidentally let bleed over the network while she’s been practicing otherwise are slightly mortifying.

“You shouldn’t need to worry about it,” Elliot laughs. “Memories and sensory stuff can’t bleed through, and you’d know if someone was viewing yours anyway. Other than that, the only thing that can bleed through is emotions, which as I mentioned generally aren’t obvious. Usually you can ignore it entirely unless it conflicts dramatically with what another person is feeling. If it’s really potent emotions it’s like an alert other people get.” There’s no inclination that he feels awkward or embarrassed by anything they've shared over the network.

“As far as cutting you out, it’s not necessary unless you want it. I can just block traffic between us with the link remaining active. That being said, if you’re worried about experiencing some potent feelings tonight you can break the link yourself. It’s your choice. I’ll still be linked to Wright if you need to make an emergency call.” He turns back to the refrigerator, feeling hungry, but doesn’t feel that he has the capacity to cook. He taps through his phone security without looking at the screen and searches for take-out options.

“I don’t want to be locked out,” Rue is quick to insist, shoving her momentary embarrassment to ebb away on its own. “If something does bleed over in a way you find problematic, then do what you have to do. But if you say the rest works exactly the way I’ve been assuming it works, then… We’re golden.”

Rue looks down at her lap, chuckling briefly and absently. “Thanks for being so cool about this, by the way. If that ever changes, if you decide it’s not cool, please just tell me. Okay?”

Elliot smiles, looking away from his phone. “I do not foresee it becoming uncool,” he reassures her. “I’ll talk to Wright about giving you some Rue Time. Nick Time? Either way, you got this. Knock his socks off.”

Laughing harder, Rue shakes her head. “At least you didn’t say blow him away.” She bites her lip as if it might help her from laughing more. That isn’t what ultimately does it, but it does come to an end with a deep sigh.

“I love you, Hitch. Get some rest. I’ll check in with Trace in the morning.” Then, she closes her eyes and reaches out for the knob to the door that adjoins their minds, pulling it shut.

When she opens her eyes again, she’s alone with her thoughts.

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