One Left Alone


vf_elisabeth_icon.gif vf_steve_icon.gif

Scene Title One Left Alone
Synopsis Liz sees a side of Steve that's normally hidden away.
Date December 14, 2011

The Hub

In one of the far back corners of the Hub, there's a stairwell that leads to nowhere.

Well, that's not precisely accurate. It leads to somewhere, but the door has long since been welded shut, preventing outside access. The fewer points in, the safer everyone is. It makes this corridor far less traversed, due to the lack of a destination beyond.

It's the perfect place for the First Lady to sneak a smoke. A Virginia Slim is held between two fingers. It was never her brand before the apocalypse and it's incredibly stale by now, but it tastes like life before everything went to hell. For a few minutes, Charlotte Caiati is sitting on the fire escape of her foster home in Boston, hoping the breeze would be enough to carry the smell of smoke away from her clothes.

But there's no breeze here. Her husband will smell it in her hair later and frown, and she'll apologize. Steve holds the lungful of smoke in her chest until it burns before blowing it out, head tipped back, in a stream above her, watching it dance lazy pirouettes slowly toward the ceiling.

The smell of smoke draws one woman from the common area, if only to check and be sure it's someone and not, for example, a butt left behind. Elisabeth moves down the stairwell with no real intention of hiding her arrival, and at the sight of the first lady, she simply waves. "Hey. Sorry — don't mean to intrude. Just checking to be sure that it wasn't a fire waiting to happen." Because, well…. it's not like it would far, but then again they're all kinda trapped down here. Blue eyes study the woman who is married to the man who would have been president and she hesitates before going back up the stairs. "You doing okay?"

Steve smiles in a friendly manner, waving to the other woman. "I appreciate you looking out for everyone. I'd rather be intruded on than have someone ignore a fire hazard."

The smile fades, but not completely, when the question is asked. "I'm just a little melancholy," Steve admits in a hushed voice. "It happens to me every so often. I try not to burden anybody." Hence hiding in a stairwell to nowhere with a cigarette. "People need to see me as strong and hopeful. I can't afford to let that slip around them."

There's a tip of her head in acknowledgement, and Elisabeth comes to the bottom of the stairs to lean against the wall there. "I don't honestly know how some of you remain as positive as you have. I've been here barely a month and I'm… struggling so hard sometimes not to let it drag me under," she admits quietly. "But there are kids here. It's worth keeping up some kind of a face for them."

"I don't have the luxury of submitting to my fear." Steve shrugs and takes another drag from her cigarette, savoring it even as awful as it tastes. She makes sure she blows the smoke away from her companion. "Some of them don't know any other kind of life. Some of them are aware of just how dire things are." Steve smiles again, sadder this time. "I think they work harder than any of us to keep people's spirits up, honestly."

There's a genuine smile as Elisabeth lowers herself to sit on a step. Resting her arms on her thighs, she leans on her elbows. "I think you're right about that. They're great kids… but I learned a long time ago that kids see and comprehend the nuances of a lot more than we give them credit for." She sighs quietly. "It kills me to see them worry. And I think in some ways our arrival here has confused some of the younger ones." She looks down at the floor. "One of them asked me after lesson yesterday, since I was out there and didn't get sick, if it was safe to go outside now." She sounds very unhappy about giving them that false hope.

Steve frowns thoughtfully. "It's not your fault." Because she knows guilt when she sees it. "They'll understand eventually. They always do." In many ways, she's more careful about what she says around the children than she is around the adults. "I'm glad they're asking that question, honestly. I want them to believe it's possible. As long as they believe in that hope, they'll carry on."

Looking up, Elisabeth studies Steve. "Do you ever worry what's going to happen when they're the only ones left? When it's just… a couple of them? Or one of them left alone finally? You and I both know that someday, there will only be one left."

"Every single day." The First Lady's response is easy, no hesitation or deliberation necessary. "I'm trying to prepare them to survive. Because that's the only choice any of us has left. We have to hope that the Vanguard thinks they've wiped us all out and move on. That the virus finally dies out or… something." That part she doesn't have an answer for. "I just have to hope we give them the tools they need to make their own decisions. Whatever those are."

Nodding slowly, Liz just tells her quietly, "I know nothing else can be done… but at the same time, I have to wonder if we do them any favors. If the virus mutated through someone like Adam Monroe… it'll eventually adapt to pass the human/animal barrier too. They might never see the sky again." Pulling in a slow breath. "Even if we can't get everyone out, we have got to get the children out, Steve."

"And send them where?" It's not that Steve is irritated - she's not - but she's had this conversation more than once. Usually she's been in Liz's shoes and Allen has been in the role she's taking on now. "There is nowhere to send them. As far as any of us knows, we're the only human beings left alive on the entire planet. There may be nowhere safe for any living thing."

"There are safe places. It's just a matter of getting to them," Elisabeth tells her quietly. "That's what Ruiz, Magnes, Edward, and I are working on. We didn't come from outside, Steve. We came from somewhere else. Somewhere on the other side of one of Ruiz's portals."

"Mateo makes black holes, Elisabeth." Steve takes the last drag of her cigarette and crushes it against the concrete wall, making sure the embers are no longer glowing. "Nothing could survive going through that." And yet, it's so outlandish, she isn't sure Liz could be making it up. "…How?"

"Yeah, well….." Elisabeth's drawl is rather dry. "Welcome to the wonderful world of the weird. I've lived there quite a while, myself." She clasps her hands where they dangle between her knees, looking Steve square in the face. "From a parallel world… where Allen never made it to the presidency because the Vanguard attacked him a second time before he was inaugurated and outed him as an Evo. He stepped down. And you …" She sighs heavily. "She's an amazing woman. She didn't marry Rickham, though. She's a very strong person, much like you are here. And she seems to be generally doing well in life." She honestly doesn't think Steve even wants to know the rest of the information that goes along with it — because whatever her role was supposed to be as Steve Rickham, Nicole … is not here. "Some things happened there similarly — Washington Irving was attacked," she tells the first lady. "But I survived it."

There's an ache in her chest that Elisabeth can see plainly in Steve's face. "I can only imagine how she feels. Allen is my whole world. If it wasn't for him…" She smiles wryly, "I'd have gone topside without a suit by now to see how many of the Vanguard I could take with me."

"So… people aren't sick there?"

Elisabeth shakes her head. "No," she says quietly. "We thwarted them. And in the end, Kazimir Volken was killed. The virus was incinerated." She smiles just a little. "That's not to say that the Vanguard themselves were out of the game then — they were still doing shit. But that one we managed to avert. It's not a perfect world, by any stretch. But… it's a hell of a lot better than what you've all suffered here."

"So what are you saying, Liz?" Steve is beginning to wish she'd bartered for more than one cigarette. She picks at the frayed cuff of her navy blazer with her thumbnail. "That we could go through one of Mateo's portals to your world instead?"

"That's what we're working on," Elisabeth tells her quietly. "That's what Magnes and Ruiz are doing in that room they've taken over. Trying to figure out the how and why of the power interaction, trying to replicate what brought us here." She reaches up and brushes at her short hair, sighing softly. "We just … have no idea how long it could take. Maybe never. So… we're not keeping it a secret anymore, but we're also not broadcasting it."

Steve nods her head slowly, taking in every possibility this represents. "How will we know if it works? It sounds like someone has to make a real leap of faith here." Not that she thinks there'd be a shortage of people willing to take it, even if it meant dying. Some people here would rather take the risk than sit around waiting to die.

"Hell if I know," Elisabeth actually laughs. "I'm tending not to really think about that part right now? Becuase…. honestly, I'm not sure we will know. And even if it looks like it does, how the hell do we know for sure anyway?? But you know…. I think in the end, we're going to have to something. At least if we wind up dying, we'll have died TRYING… instead of slowly dying off one by one and leaving the kids alone. We'll make it an adventure, get everyone who can go through, and… God help us. If there's something there, we did it. If not? No one will ever be scared again." It's perhaps a little fatalistic…. but this is a DEAD WORLD.

It may be a little fatalistic, but it echoes Steve's sentiments perfectly. "You're right. Does A—" She stops herself, tipping her chin down with a rueful smile. "Of course he does." Steve shakes her head slowly and sighs softly. "That man's sleeping on the floor tonight," she mutters.

The blonde looks VERY amused at this. "Of course he does. Because he and Edward are thick as thieves." Tipping her head, Elisabeth studies Steve. "Do you mind if I ask you something?" A quick grin flashes, because… well, she just did. "In my world, Edward was distinctly less than trustworthy… he spent a lot of time manipulating other people to his own ends. Is he really as benign here as he's trying to make me think?"

Steve doesn't hesitate in her response. "I trust Edward with our lives." She smiles reassuringly and reaches over to take one of Elisabeth's hands in her own. "More importantly, I trust him with Allen's life." Which really says so much more. "He just wants to make sure we all live as long as we possibly can. That maybe we'll find a way to somewhere safe. He's not just benign, he's benevolent."

Benevolent. Elisabeth is grateful for the fact that her job as Director of Frontline required her to gain REALLY GOOD CONTROL of her public face. Because the words that come out of Steve's mouth would otherwise make her choke. Instead, Liz simply nods. "I can understand why," she acknowledges. "He's done everything he can to make sure that everyone survives — he's working hard at it." She doesn't say that he's only doing it to make sure his own children survive and everyone else is simply collateral survival… because in the end, who cares why someone works toward the survival of a whole group of people?

Moving to stand up, Elisabeth smiles slightly. "Thank you, Steve. I really appreciate the insight."

Steve nods with a faint smile. "No problem. See ya around."

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