Never Easier


barbara_icon.gif liza_icon.gif nora2_icon.gif rue2_icon.gif

Scene Title Never Easier
Synopsis Some things can't be improved with repetition or time.
Date April 21, 2011

Pollepel Island: Burial Grounds

It starts with one freshly turned grave, a swatch of black earth that will only grow over with flora in the coming spring. Out the corner of one's eye, an erected cross, leading the gaze to yet another burial site. And another. Moving through the trees, the evidence of burial becomes more frequent, coming to a cluster at an open clearing devoted to burying the dead of the Ferrymen. There are rocks of grey and black to mark each site, and on chalk that is renewed nearly every day, especially when the rain comes, are the names of the deceased, the day of their death, and their age.

Placeholders, for when they can be honoured properly. This place is quiet, reverent, and almost claustrophobic in the press of trees and the density of the buried. Crosses made of wood, both cut and raw, can be spied looming their shadows like guardians, save for one cross made of metal, a relic of a church perhaps, leaning against a tree.

The ground is soft. Soft enough that here and there, one can find a spot where their foot sinks in and doesn't want to come back out again. Not without a squelching sound, at the very least. But the sky is clear, and the sun is shining. Things will dry eventually. Rue Lancaster has mud halfway to the knees of her skinny jeans just from the walk to the burial grounds, a small basket in hand. There perhaps aren't many who jump to volunteer for this task - it's not exactly a fun one. Simple enough, but not easy.

Someone has to freshen up the names written on markers in the ground. And while Rue actually sort of enjoys the task, it breaks her heart, so she doesn't like to go it alone. And apart from all that, there is safety in numbers. A hunting rifle is fastened around her body by a thick strap, because it makes her feel better prepared for trouble. Not necessarily safer.

Not part of the volunteer crew, Nora nears the burial grounds, dark eyes peering through the trees when she hears the others. She's looking for Hana today, though she fears the older woman has left the island. No one ever seems to know for sure where Wireless is, and it's been days since their last awkward meeting.

That day, she was more worried about the conversation of the present; and even when her worries dwell on her past, most of her past is still in the future. Today, as she sees the grave markers, the past weighs down on her. The past of the lives of the people buried beneath the wet ground. These people who have no future.

Nora shrinks against the trunk of a tree, trying to stay out of sight of the others as the solemnity of the place overwhelms her and her eyes fill with tears.

Squelching footsteps behind Rue mark the sound of Elizabeth Messer's trail at the heels of the tall woman in front of her. While she wasn't happy about the task itself, she was more than happy to accompany the other woman out to the graves. "Some weather we're having, huh? The ground must think we're pretty tasty," she says, quietly. Humor's supposed to be a good break to something like this, right?

Rue and Liza aren't the only ones out today, in this small force of volunteers. It's probably a good thing Barbara Zimmerman never particularly liked this pair of old frayed jeans, caked in mud as they now are. She hasn't really left her knees since she started, simply shuffling from marker to marker. Nor has she spoken terribly much, remaining silent and solemn as she works. Some areas of markers are avoided, particularly those of the children. Not out of disrespect.

Barbara just doesn't know if she can handle refreshing those names. She'll get to them last, if no one else does.

Chalk in hand, she works diligently, carefully renewing each name as she comes to it, and for those she knows well enough, some sort of personal, fitting flourish added. A little personalisation, so that even in death, they can stand out a little and have some personality. Something to be remembered by. She is an artist, after all, it's the least she can do.

Where Barbara avoids the names of the children, Rue is pulled that way as if by gravity. She finishes the row she's on, and takes the time to let her hair down from its ponytail, only to re-bind it again and moves on. She kneels in front of Lucy Tanner's grave, double-checking her date of birth against the cheat sheet she has with her. It isn't so much that the rain has washed away the last marking efforts, but that she wants to be absolutely certain she has everything right.

Especially for the little ones.

Despite the solemnity of the task, Rue's managed to stay cheerful, tone light when she speaks. "I swear the castle will sink in at least two inches if the mud gets any… muddier." Her piece of chalk breaks after adding a close approximation of twinkling diamonds to little Lucy's marker, so she rises to her feet to wander back to her basket for a new piece.

Rue's shriek pierces the air when she happens to glance up into the treeline and see that they're being watched. Her hand clutches at her chest and she starts to laugh when she realises that it's Nora who has her eyes on them. "Holy fuckin' shit, girl. You scared the bejeezus outta me!" Doubling over, her hand drops from her chest in favour of wrapping an arm around her midsection while the opposite hand covers her face. "Hoo~ I'm not jumpy. Honest."

The scream has Nora ducking, looking for whatever the danger is, expecting the red glare of a robotic eye or the gleam of Horizon armor in the shadows, but then laughter and words directed at her make her rise once more. A surreptitious swipe of a hand across her cheeks clears her face of any tears, though the hint still glimmers in her eyes and lashes.

"Ix nay on the screaming, Rue. Jesus," she says with irritation — more at being found than the high pitched squeal itself, though she tips her head to listen — and listen — for any communications that shouldn't be there.

Liza instinctively reaches for where a holster with a gun would be… if she was wearing one. She relaxes, after a second, when she sees it isn't some kind of raid coming to take them all in. "I think the castle should be okay. It's withstood the test of time so far. Better than some of us," she adds the last bit a little more softly, moving to carefully trace a half-faded name on one of the markers, refreshing the white lines that are all that is left to remember the person below.

The name Barbara had been writing gets skewed and misshaped as her hand jumps at the sound of the shout, chalk dragging and snapping against the marker. Her gaze darts up and her eyes narrow as she looks around for any sign of trouble, before finally her eyes settle on Rue, and then move over to Nora. There is a bit of irritation on her face as she reaches to collect the broken piece of chalk, shaking her head.

It passes though, giving away to a small hint of a smile. "I don't know. It helps to make sure that none of us have fallen asleep. It was getting a bit too quiet to be comfortable," she muses, looking up at the other three women.

"Sorry, sorry!" Rue takes a deep breath and lets it out again heavily. "I'm just… didn't expect anyone out there." Colour creeps into her cheeks, embarrassment about being so startled. "I guess I'm a bit more wound up than I thought."

New piece of chalk retrieved from the depths of the basket, and broken pieces left in its place, Rue returns to the row she was working through. "This is why I don't come here alone. Too quiet."

Another marker finished, and Rue moves on to the one where a cluster of violets grows. She grows very still and stares hard at the writing. Tears blur her vision, making it difficult to read the name there. Mala Patel.

The teenager shakes her head and chuckles at the tall redhead. "Just relax a little. It could have been a deer or something else — and screaming's a good way to give away your location if it was a person who shouldn't be here. Better to have the element of surprise," she says coolly and neutrally, a teaching voice, as Nora tries to shove away the emotions of the cemetery, the reminders of the illness that took the lives of those buried here.

"I didn't mean to startle you, though. Sorry." She steps away from the shadows of the tree she huddles against. She moves to the path that will lead back to the castle, apparently not keen on joining in this act of remembrance.

Liza lets her gaze fall on Nora, offering her a gentle smile. "You know, we're not going to bite. And if they do we'll have a lot of trouble on our hands instead of just chalk-dust." Her gaze goes back to the chalk lines. "It always hurts, but it's a bit easier after the first. First person you know who dies, I mean. It's never easy, but… the pressure's lessened. It's easier to take." She straightens the wood bearing the name before standing fully upright to stretch her legs.

"Some conversation would be welcome if you're willing to stay and join us," Barbara remarks a little distractedly as she looks over towards Rue. The broken half of the chalk is shoved in her pockets regardless of the mud. Her hand rubs at the marker, trying to fix where her steady hand had skewed. A look over at Liza, and Barbara rolls her shoulders. "For some of us it is. Are you alright, Rue?"

There are a few seconds of silence before Rue realises she's been addressed. "Oh. Yeah. M'fine," she assures, a quick shake of her dark head. She brandishes her chalk and kneels carefully by the marker, avoiding crushing the flowers beneath her knees. "Mala's always the tough one for me, s'all…"

Rue doesn't leave that topic up for discussion, however. She looks up and flashes Nora a smile that's shaky at best, emotion trying to get the better of her. "I saw Benji the other day."

Nora's eyes flash at Liza's comment — first the joke and then what's meant to be kind advice, assuming it's for her. "Don't talk about them that way," she snaps, taking a step away, and her eyes flood with angry tears. "And they aren't the first people I've known to die. Not by far. Keep your platitudes for someone who might believe them."

She takes another couple of steps away, tension in the stiff lines of her posture, before she glances back again, shaking her head. "It doesn't lessen. It's always there. You just grow more numb and dead to it, but once in a while it hits you again, and it's just as bad, just as painful as it was the first time… maybe even worse, because you think you're over it." Her eyes slide over to Rue at the mention of Benji, but she doesn't speak.

The petite blonde looks surprised at Nora's reactions, Liza's eyes flickering back to the graves. "I wasn't speaking as a platitude, I'm speaking from experience," her protest comes, softer than it should for a defensive retort. "I know it's always there. It's how I live. It's all I know how to do. All I meant was… it hurts, but after the first, you at least know what to expect. I'm sorry if you thought me irreverent or demeaning." She clears her throat, which seems to be a bit tight at the moment. "Can you finish? I should get back. They might need me for… something."

Finishing her renewing of the name on the marker in front of her, Barbara looks over towards Rue. The last time she saw Benji was at the meeting a few weeks back, and unfortunately she didn't know the young man well enough to offer more than a smile and a nod off in Rue's direction. "How is he? Doing well on the mainland, I hope."

With that, she pushes herself to her feet, gaze lowering on the two retreating women. "It is hard times we live in. Let's not jump to bite at each others throats. I highly doubt, Nora, that Liza was simply seeking to placate you or anyone else." She does a half turn, looking over toward Liza. "It's like I said. It's different for everyone." Her eyes close, and she looks down a bit. "For me… it doesn't get easier. I still feel the same sadness for everyone here. For everyone over the last few months, for everyone from Thompson." She rubs her cheek, moving the chalk between her fingers. "What does get easier is being stronger in the face of that adversity. For some of us. At either rate, I doubt anyone meant to insult anyone else. Now… it will take Rue and I quite a while to finish these on our own. Some company would be welcome, if not more help. From the both of you."

She smiles, having sounded stern but gentle the entire time. But at the end, it really just sound like she'd be happy to have the company while they go about their sad work.

"Uhm, yeah. Benji's doing fine." Rue murmurs, avoiding the use of a pronoun, figuring it isn't her place to divulge. "I brought Selina back. I'll miss her." Little bundle of quickly growing fluff. Her shoulders have hunched up, tense as she keeps her focus on her work, making sure Mala's name and dates of birth and death are as close to perfect as she can muster.

Then she pushes to her feet and hurries toward Nora. These days, she's as close to a bestie as Rue has. "Please don't go," she begs, with the intent to wrap the shorter woman in a hug. She isn't so much crying, but the tears flow freely down her cheeks of their own volition, more or less. Just without the miserable sniffling that usually accompanies.

At Liza's words, Nora's eyes slide to the side and down, her brows knit up in a fierce scowl that would look fiercer if tears didn't stream down her face. One hand comes up to swipe at it, only smudging dirt across before she's wrapped in the hug by Rue.

For a moment, she lets the taller girl hug her. For an instant, her arms return the hug.

And then she's pushing away. She shakes her head, looking at Rue, then Barbara, avoiding Liza. "I can't. I was just… looking for someone." Chin jutting toward Liza, she adds, "You stay. I'll go."

"You don't have to go," Liza answers lamely, balling her fists. The pressure of her nails against her palms make little crescent shaped marks as evidence of her feelings. She grasps her piece of chalk again, silently moving to scratch the letters of a name into the wood, focus intent on the letters.

Barbara grimaces a bit at Nora, watching her as she turns to leave. "If you insist, Nora," Barbara remarks in a nonchalant matter. "But it's not like the boats are leaving right this moment." She watches Rue as well, arms wrapping around herself. Working here, doing what they're doing - it's always work that brings an air of tension and sadness. It's just unfortunate that it had to manifest in this manner. A glance over to Liza as well, and Barbara rolls her shoulders. "Don't press down too hard," she says as she walks over, speaking in a friendly manner. "You use the chalk up faster, and I'm not sure people want me to get out my coloured chalks."

Rue wants to grab for Nora's hands and beg her again not to go. And this time she would be begging her not to leave the island. She refrains, because Nora does what Nora wills, and asking her to do otherwise is not only futile.

It's pathetic.

"I'll ring you next time I'm mainland, okay?" she calls to Nora's retreating figure. "We'll get together." Rue wipes at her eyes and stares down at her shoes for a long moment before trudging back to the marker she left off at. Her enthusiasm for the task terribly diminished.

"I have to pack," is the terse and sullen answer from the teenager. Not like packing will take the hours of daylight left before the boats will leave. Only when she feels the trees have obscured her from their sight does she break into a run, letting the anger fuel her pumping legs and arms, letting her hurried paces carry her as far from that place as they can before she nearly stumbles. Slowing to a walk, she sobs, leaning on a tree to catch her breath, before making her way alone back to the castle.

"I'm just trying to make it show up better," Liza replies, coolly, moving to another marker as she writes out letters, albeit a bit lighter. She's being defensive, but taking the advice. She falls into silence, focus entirely on her work.

"If you bump into Abigail, please let her know I'll be back to her ASAP." Barbara knows it's unlikely that they'll cross paths in the next 24 hours, but it's hard to say these days. Bending down a bit, a comforting hand is placed, just for a moment, on Liza's shoulder, before moving to return to her own work as well. "And be safe, Nora."

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