Nobility of Guilt


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Scene Title Nobility of Guilt
Synopsis Richard and Des have much to catch each other up on.
Date June 29, 2018

Staten Island Trade Commission

There’s a moment that hangs in time - metaphorically, not literally - as the door closes behind Mara with a solid click, with Richard Ray staring down at the woman he knows best as Desdemona Desjardins, a tangle of emotions visible plainly in expression and eyes.

Joy at seeing her again, confusion and shock at her words.

“How— what do you mean, wait, she was there in— Arthur’s future?”

That also inserts a measure of awkwardness talking to her about the woman he used to refer to as his ‘statistically-significant other’.

“That’s what I’m saying,” Des says with a hint of apprehensiveness. “When we… switched, Odessa and I, I found that I had contact information for Mateo. But not the one of that world.” She grimaces. “This is going to be complicated. We’d better sit down.”

Reluctant to disentangle herself from his arms, she summons her will to do so and leads him to sit on the bench at the end of her bed, where she has a seat next to him.

“Mateo was from the Virus timeline, where Elisabeth and Magnes apparently found themselves? With his ability, they found a way to Arthur’s world.” Well… Some of them made it. “So, that’s how she was there… I know, that sounds way too simple, but I’m not this kind of scientist.”

“No, that… tracks,” says Richard as he eases himself down to sit, shoulder bumping up against hers, “I know the order of the worlds that they’re moving through— this is the one I was worried about the most, honestly…”

Silence for a moment, “Is she… doing alright?”

Des sighs heavily. “Some days are better than others. The stress gets to her sometimes, but… She’s got good things going for her.” The best of those things she’ll withhold until the end. That’s partly selfish, but also partly because it’s a bit like saving the best for last. And she expects it’ll pull his focus away.

“It was good to see someone from home. For both of us. She didn’t want to trust me at first, but… She came around.” A smirk plays briefly on her lips. “Name-dropping you helped, I think.” Reaching up to scratch gingerly at the reddened skin near her stitches, she takes a second to compose her thoughts.

“She said the old witches have answers. There was an incident with the Looking Glass. Charles Deveaux was a big part of it, but she says they’ll know. But I get the feeling that’s not all that newsworthy to you.” Like he already knew something. Des narrows her eyes faintly, assessing his reaction.

The touch to the freshly-stitched wound brings Richard’s gaze up to it, his lips tightening in worry, but he doesn’t say anything; she seems to not be worried about it, and it is already stitched up.

“She’s a smart woman,” he admits, “Cautious, and… of course they do.”

As for the ‘newsworthy’ comment, clearly she’s hit the nail on the head, as he simply nods, “Yeah. There was, but… the Company sanitized it completely. Used a memory partitioner named Caspar Abraham. There’s— well, I have a lot to tell you too. I’m not surprised the old women have some answers… I need to go kick in their door. They owe me.”

“Good ol’ Company. Gotta mess with everybody’s lives.” As though she didn’t used to believe that it was for the greater good. As though she isn’t so sure it still could be. “There’s also some leads on your mother. Liz said her old dorm room? Is a gold mine of information. She used the walls like a chalkboard. It’s all under the paint, or the wallpaper or something. It might help u— help you tune the Looking Glass.” If he can get his hands on it.

The next bit of information has her brows furrowing in preemptive apology and concern. “She also found the man who… Who was driving the truck that hit Michelle. She thinks he might have answers for you too.”

“The old dorm… shit, thank you, yes,” Richard’s attention briefly far away, a flash of something in his eyes, “I’ll get some people out there a-s-a-p to see what we can find, that’s— that’ll help.”

Then his eyes widen a little, “Wait, the guy who— who hit my mother?”

“Yes. I…” Des draws her lower lip between her teeth for a moment, unsure of how to proceed. The discussion of his mother’s death shouldn’t be treated casually, she knows. “Elisabeth thinks if you can find him here, he might know something.” She shrugs her shoulders a little. She’d personally feel guilty about making someone relive that terrible accident, but if it will help Richard…

“His name is Thomas Redhouse.”

Richard’s momentarily clouded expression breaks into something startled then… and he brings a hand up, rubbing between his eyes. “Jesus,” he mutters, “There’re way too many coincidences in the world sometimes…”

His fingers brush away in her direction, “He’s a precognitive painter, like— Mendez, like Mas. I’ve seen work signed by his name, but never seen him.”

Des shakes her head slowly, dumbfounded by the smallness of their universe. Everything seems connected somehow, and it doesn’t feel like a comfort.

“Are you okay? I… I’m sure this is a lot. I don’t mean to overwhelm you. I’ve been holding onto this information for almost a year now. I just want to make sure I finally deliver the message.” Who knows how long she’ll even stay put in her own body? So far it’s a fluke, but what if it happens again?

“I…” Richard’s fingers rake back through his hair, and then he stares at her for a moment, “Did you say a year? You were only ‘gone’ for a couple of weeks here, Des… Christ. There must be a time differential…”

His hand drops down to rest on her knee, giving it a reassuring squeeze, “Not— not the most shocking thing I’ve heard this week, believe it or not. Keep going.”

“Yeah, no kidding…” There’s a relief in only having lost two weeks of her own life, and a sense of guilt and pity for her other self for all the time she’ll have lost in return. It’s unfair.

Des clasps her hands together in her lap, near his on her knee. One thumbnail pushes absently at the cuticle of the opposite. She stares down, unaware of the fidgeting for preoccupation with her own thoughts. “Elisabeth—” Blue eyes close as if in pain, her lips press together.

She finds her courage. “Elisabeth has a baby, Richard. Your baby.”

The woman’s hesitance is noticed, and sparks worry in the man beside her; Richard’s head tilting a little as he watches her face, as that pause after speaking Liz’s name lingers for the moment. Fingers tighten on her knee, a brief squeeze.

Then she drops that bombshell.

He blinks, shakes his head as if to clear it, blinks again. “She— wait, she was— she was pregnant on that mission? I…” If he was shocked by the news that Des had met Liz, this bowls him over. For once, he doesn’t know what to say, trailing off in mid-sentence..

“Shit.” He looks away and across the room, the hand on her knee lifting to rub against his lower face, “Shit. She’s got enough worries going through all these— all these fucking timelines, and she’s doing it with a kid. My kid. Fuck, I don’t— I don’t even know what to think here.” A look back to her, hopeful and uncertain, “Are they— she— are they okay?”

“They’re beautiful,” Des offers as an assurance. “Little Aurora is happy as can be, and Liz’s smile is something completely different when she’s got that baby with her. It’s tough, but they’re… fine.” For a given definition of the word. “I’m sorry you had to find out like this, but… You needed to know.”

Des sighs softly. “Liz told me to use tact and… I’m afraid that’s just not my strong suit.”

There’s a certain wistful sadness to the smile on Richard’s face, but it’s a smile nonetheless. “It’s alright,” he says with a little shake of his head, “That’s— I did need to know, so, thank you.” His shoulder bumps back against hers in a lean, and he looks up to the ceiling, “Aurora. Heh. Ironic, really.”

“Poetic irony,” Des counters quietly. She doesn’t move to reciprocate the affection, but she isn’t pushing it away either. “If it weren’t for Arthur’s paranoia… That world’s really not so bad.” She knows that’s not a popular opinion to have in Richard’s presence, but it’s honest. “Odessa’s got a… family and friends. She has a good life there, and she’s free.”

Not that she’s oblivious to that world’s flaws, but she thinks they’re either fixable without tipping the balance, or that they’re a necessary sacrifice. Easier for her to think, when it’s not her directly impacted by those so-called imperfections.

There’s silence from Richard for a long minute after she says that, and he tips his head to look back down to her. “She’s not free. Not so long as she’s working for Arthur… how many people do you think he’s buried in Moab, or one of the other sites,” he asks, a brow lifting, “How many people do you think he’s killed because they got close to his secrets, Des? It’s not a utopia if it’s built on the bones of the innocent.”

He grimaces, shaking his head, “No. He might have painted the bars a pretty gold, but that world’s a prison for all its people.”

“I’m beginning to think that’s the only way utopia is built, Richard.” That is to say, Des isn’t sure utopia can exist. She looks down at her lap again. “It doesn’t make sense, though. That world… I can’t figure out its deviation point. It has to be further back than I expected, but…” She had a lot of time to think about where the timelines diverged, and couldn’t draw any clear conclusions.

“It doesn’t really matter, I suppose, does it?” There’s something that’s bothering her, deeply, but she isn’t ready to talk about it. “You’re not wrong, okay? But life was a lot fucking better for me there, even with having to appease Arthur.” There’s an instant regret when she says that, but she doesn’t take it back. Doesn’t revise.

“I’m sure it was, Des…” Richard breathes out a sigh, hand lifting to push hair back as he leans slightly back, straighter, “I’m absolutely sure it was. I’m sorry. I’m working to figure out something— call in favors— but it’s not easy, and it’s slow going.”

That hand drops down to the edge of the bench, and he starts to push himself up from the seated position.

“I’m not sure there’s enough favors in the world to save my skin, Richard.” Des looks up at him as he starts to stand. She looks smaller and more fragile like this. With the stitches in her head it’s like she’s a broken doll. “I’m… thinking about giving up. Turning myself in.”

She knows what it means, but she also knows she can’t keep putting the people she cares for at risk. That means him. It means Mara. Kaylee. Mateo and Lynette. Eve. The list is short, but the people on it are worth protecting. “I can’t let you continue to… risk yourself. Not for me.”

Des stares down at the floor again, her mouth quirking upward on one side in a self-deprecating smile. “You know, I couldn’t even bring myself to tell Elisabeth the truth? She trusted me, and I lied to her. Because I knew she would hate me if she knew, and she’d have every right to. She was right about me all along.” It was years ago that she called her out on her connections to Humanis First and Des had denied them.. Now she wonders if Liz understood her better than she did herself.

At those words, at I’m thinking about giving up, at turning myself in, Richard freezes in place for a moment. “Are…” He turns back ‘round to face her, on his feet, his brow lined with sudden consternation and worry, “Des, are you— they’ll hang you if they find you guilty.”

His hands spread a little as he steps in front of her, pleading his case, “Just— give me a little more time to figure something out, there’s got to be a way to do something about this— what are the kids saying these days, bot-worf?” A pause. “Bullshit. This bullshit. Everyone deserves a chance at redemption, whatever fucking Lazzaro says.”

“It doesn’t matter if I’m a saint looking after children, Richard. People will never trust me. And they probably shouldn’t.” A hand comes up to absently rub at her throat. “It seems like I’m either a terrible person or dead in any timeline. What if that’s just my destiny?” It’s defeatist, but she’s feeling defeated right now.

“Before you… got here,” Des shakes her head slowly, pushing a huffy exhale past her lips and puffed out cheeks, “Samson Gray nearly killed me. If Mara hadn’t shown up… I’d be a bloody mess on the rooftop across the way.” She looks up again, tears in her eyes. “I don’t wanna die like that.” Or like what Edward did to her Virus counterpart. “I’m not living a life, though. I’m just spending every day trying not to die. That’s not living.”

“Samson…?” Richard’s eyes widen slightly. One of two people that he’s afraid of, the other one being dead. “Jesus, Des— “

He shifts, dropping back down to sit beside her heavily, one arm reaching to wrap around her shoulders. “C’mere,” he murmurs, leaning his head down to rest against hers, “I don’t want you— I don’t want you feeling like that. If you— if you really want to, if you want to fight this out legally, okay. If that’s really what you want.”

A breath’s drawn in slowly, exhaled a bit shakily as he reins in his emotions, murmuring against hair, “You aren’t terrible or dead in every single timeline, though. Yesterday I talked to one that I don’t think you have.”

Des resists the urge to count off on her fingers all the other versions of herself she’s aware of and her opinion of them. The good ones are dead, and the one who seems to enjoy it best when she’s bad is living a life Des can only be envious of.

Confusion clouds her expression as she lifts her head to look at Richard when he makes his assertion. “What? How do you mean?”

Richard leans back enough to look down at her, arm remaining in a loop ‘round her shoulders as hazel eyes meet hers. “There was another solar storm,” he explains quietly, “The last time, there was a… signal that my radio station was receiving, but with no source when I triangulated it. La Mer, was the song, by Trenet— but it was Else Kjelstrom singing. I recognized her voice.”

“We were receiving it again. So I set up an— experiment. Warren, some technopaths, we boosted our signal range at the height of the storm. We— received three different signals. The only one that was two-way was to the flood,” he explains, and…

He closes his eyes. “Her name was Destiny. She was manning the console listening for contact, and when she made it she called Director Cardinal down. Director Michelle Cardinal.”

“What the…” Shoulders sag like the wind’s gone out of her sails. “I don’t understand. How did you know when it was? Where? You think you were talking to… me?” Des shakes her head slowly, her confusion deepening. “What the fuck, Richard?”

This time, she shakes her head faster, as if to drive away the conflicting thoughts and focus on what’s important about the situation. “So, what happened? You talked to your mother?”

“I know your voice, Des,” says Richard with a shake of his head, “It wasn’t— you, you, but it was another alternate. She sounded happy. Lively. Said things like ‘gosh’.” A smile tugs a little up at the corner of his lips, “You aren’t doomed to be horrible or to suffer, Des.”

Then there’s a slight grimace, “I did, but the signal— broke up. She was trying to tell me how to build an anchor portal, I think. She was trying to get my sister on the line. Rianna.”

Color floods into Des’ face when he says he would of course recognize her voice. “I never say things like ‘gosh’ anymore,” Des admits with a huff of laughter. “It’s not a gosh kind of world anymore.” But maybe there is a version of her out there who got it right… Hard as that is for her to believe, but she’s in a self-defeating mood at the moment.

“Your… Your sister?” Des’ brows hike up, quickly followed by a wince as the expression tugs at her stitches. “Her name’s Rianna?” It isn’t that Rianna is an uncommon name, but their world doesn’t contain those kinds of coincidences it often feels. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take,” Des sighs out heavily.

“I know, I know, it’s gotta be a… coincidence, though,” says Richard with a shake of his head. Maybe it is. Who knows. “I— sorry, I shouldn’t be piling even more shit on you. I just wanted you to know— she sounded nice. Sounded happy, at least what little I heard of her.”

He draws back again, shaking his head, “I just— I don’t want to lose you, Des. If this is what you want— think about it, at least? Talk to your mother, talk to…” A sigh, head dropping, “I just… you don’t deserve this.”

“We should both hope it’s a coincidence,” Des says with a look cast in his direction. This thing that they have, whatever it is, has never not been some kind of weird, but she’d rather it not be worse than the kind of weird her ineptitude with people and relationships brings.

When he again asks her to reconsider, she seems to relent. “My mother thinks the law will save me… I think she’s wrong. I’m not so sure I don’t deserve to hang. I… There were people who did things way worse than anything I did during the war, but that doesn’t mean I was a good person. I was a soldier. I…”

Des withdraws from Richard, just a short movement down the length of the bench, but it puts a physical distance between them, even if they’re not good at the emotional one. “I’m not sure where I’d be if… If he hadn’t died. I don’t think I’d be here with you.”

“You sound like Lazzaro now…” Richard’s hand drops back down to his knee as she draws away, and he looks down at it with a frown before glancing up, “He thinks you’re just manipulating me. Of course. And maybe he’s right, but I don’t think so. Maybe I’m just a sucker, but— I don’t think you’re a bad person, Des, not at heart. I just think you’ve been trying to stay alive your whole life and nobody’s ever given you time to live.”

The ghost of a smile, there and gone. “Maybe you wouldn’t be. But you are.”

“Oh, excellent.” Still, Des laughs at herself and the comparison to the man who wants to take her down. “It’d be the performance of the year if I managed to manipulate you. I’m not known for my long game. You can ask anybody.”

Des turns her gaze off toward the window, staring out at the pane as though there might be something beyond it worth looking at. “I still have nightmares about the day I left. About how I couldn’t save him. I have so much guilt. I don’t know how you don’t— How you still tolerate me, knowing this.” Odessa Price is a complicated creature with complicated emotions about the complicated life she’s led so far. “But… thank you.”

“You aren’t the only one carrying a truck-load of guilt on your back, Des… maybe mine’s less than yours, maybe not, but…” Richard brings one shoulder up in a shrug, hand raising palm upwards before it drops to land on his thigh, “I don’t know. I don’t know what to say, or…”

He watches her for a moment, then admits quietly, “Maybe I’m just biased. Always had trouble not seeing the best in people I love.”

“I feel like yours is a bit more… I don’t know. Noble?” Des smiles faintly and shrugs her shoulders. She isn’t sure how one quantifies the nobility of guilt.

Then he’s saying that word and the breath leaves her lungs and the tears shine in her eyes again. “You— I—” Des presses her lips together and sniffles softly. “You definitely shouldn’t say something like that about me where someone else might hear you,” she teases, but with just a shade too much seriousness. What she wants to say is that he shouldn’t love her, but she’s learned something about which arguments to pick with Richard Ray over the years she’s known him. That’s not one she wins.

“I don’t give a fuck what people think,” Richard brushes that away with a shrug of one shoulder, offering her a faint if genuine smile, offering a hand out to her, “Kaylee’s constantly annoyed by it. I’m not politically correct enough for her.”

“Look,” he says softly, “If you want to turn yourself in, I’ll be right there beside you the whole way. If you want to keep hiding while Lynette and I work on figuring something out, I’ll be there, too. So will Lynette, and Mateo, and Kaylee.” Maybe not Luther.

“You’re not alone anymore, and I promise, you won’t ever be again.”

Des takes Richard’s hand and brings it up so she can plant a kiss against the back of his fingers. “Okay. I trust you guys to find a way if it exists. I’ll give you time to do it. I’ve hid this long… What’s a little longer?” But before, the government didn’t know where to look for her. They’ve much better ideas now.

“You should… I mean…” Her thumb brushes over the side of his hand gently. A tear slides down her cheek. “I should let you go… You’ve got a lot of information to sift through.”

“I’m sure your mother needs to fill you in on what… you’ve been up to,” Richard admits, his hand turning to brush against the curve of her jaw, “I don’t— christ, I don’t even remember why I’m here on Staten honestly. Look at what you do to me, hm?”

That smile twitches wider, then fades, “I’m not going to stop trying. If you decide that you— can’t handle living like this anymore, though, let me know. I’m going to fight for you every step of the way, though, Des. I love you.”

That’s twice now he’s dared to say it. Finally, she rests her hand over his at her jaw and leans in to crush her mouth to his in a kiss that feels long overdue. Even if their lives are a tangle of increasingly concerning coincidences, they still steal their moments.

“I love you too, Richard.”

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