Shoreless Seas


ff_chel_icon.gif elisabeth_icon.gif

Scene Title Shoreless Seas
Synopsis Being cast adrift, whether it's the ocean or a sea of stars, is still hard.
Date July 26, 2019

Raytech SZNY Branch, Michelle's Office

She didn't call ahead this time. Elisabeth is usually really good about not springing surprises on Michelle. And she doesn't have a pixie with her. And she is even conceding home court advantage — she brings it to Michelle in the quiet corner office in the hydroponics labs. But there's a definite sense of … purpose.

She taps twice on the door but enters without waiting for an invitation and then closes it behind her. The only indicator that Elisabeth has slid a privacy field in place might be that the already very low level of noise from the indoor gardens is eliminated. And although her tone is a little bit tight, there is sympathy in her expression. Despite their months of slow getting to know one another, she's never seen quite this expression on the blonde's face. "We need to talk."

Those four words rarely bode well for anyone, though Elisabeth certainly doesn't seem angry or even annoyed.

What’s always made Elisabeth uncomfortable about Michelle’s office is how uninhabited it looks. Whens he moved in, the office was unused. Today it still doesn’t look like she actually spends any time there. The walls are a neutral, eggshell white with no decorations hung on them. Vertical blinds on the windows are halfway shut, leaving the office dimly lit, and she’s somehow disabled the motion sensing overhead fluorescent lights. With the rain outside today and the sky a sheet of slate gray, her office feels both dark and empty. But there’s a single laptop on her otherwise unadorned desk, screen on and shedding pale illumination against her face.

The screen is reflected in a pair of reading glasses perched on the bridge of Michelle’s nose. Ones pushed up when Elisabeth comes in. It’s the first time she’s seen Michelle with them on. “Don’t worry it’s not like I’m working on anything, you can come in,” comes with a hint of sarcasm, motioning over to the single beige-gray chair opposite of her mostly barren, L-shaped desk.

Michelle pivots in her chair, leaving the laptop at her side to cast its pallid glow across one side of her face, leaving its reflecting a narrow rectangle in the edges of her glasses. “Did Richard break his touch-surface desk again?”

Elisabeth snickers at that. "Alia has a stash of them. I don't think he's broken it this week yet." She ignores the sarcasm about Michelle's work — they're all always working on something.

Moving forward, she drops into the chair across the desk from the older woman and studies her. "He's hurting though," she says simply. "He knows you're hurting and neither of us know what to do. Michelle… talk to me, please? I have been the stranger in a strange land, trying to figure out who to be. And I know that's not all of what you're dealing with. No one expects you to just get over it all. But damn it, woman… I didn't fight this fucking hard to get you all here safely just to watch you implode."

“I’m not going to implode,” is Michelle’s quick and flat response, taking off her glasses and folding them closed to rest beside her on the desk. “I just need to stay working.” She adds, rubbing her hands over her eyes, then brushing her bangs from her face.

“It isn’t— ” Michelle makes a face, gently biting the inside of her cheek. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the here,” she says, and outside a small flash of very distant lightning illuminates the Safe Zone skyline. “It’s fine here, I’m actually adapting to here… better than I expected. Everything makes sense. The science makes sense. It’s just— I…” She looks down and shakes her head.

Sighing, Michelle shakes her head and looks back up to Elisabeth. “It isn’t that complicated,” is how she chooses to try and sidestep everything.

She listens with a faint furrow to her brows, blue eyes intent on the older woman. "It may not be complicated," Elisabeth replies, "but it's definitely a problem." And unfortunately for Michelle, her soon-to-be daughter-in-law has a tendency to go straight at problems.

"I know none of this has been simple or easy, and god knows you've been fighting forever." Her voice is soft. "Is there anything I can do to help you find a way through whatever is still holding you back?"

“It’s you.” Michelle says with a gesture at Elisabeth, but she realizes that’s neither entirely fair nor accurate. “It’s— it’s everything. It’s all of these children, all of this extended family, everyone— I can’t…” Sucking in a slow breath, Michelle closes her eyes and holds it and then lets it out her nose. “Elisabeth,” she says with a look blinked up to her. “Thirty years ago I lost the only son I ever had… to a fucking… fucking vortex in the air. I lost my child and there was no getting him back, so I tore heaven and earth apart to find him again and it turns out I’ve unleashed the anti-christ or whatever in God’s name that thing was when we arrived.”

Biting down on her bottom lip, Michelle scrubs the heel of her palm into her brow. “My daughter is dead, died to get me here, died doing the wrong thing because none of us should have ever come here. Because I never should have started working on that goddamn machine again.” Michelle looks away, wringing her hands together. “If I’m not working, I can still see that— silhouette in my mind. The Looking Glass, just— it’s burned into my eyes.” Chel swallows, tightly. “I’m not ready for… for family.”

Enlightenment dawns. "Michelle…" Elisabeth shoves her hands up through her hair and down to the back of her neck. Blowing out a slow breath, she nods. "I'm sorry," she says simply.

When she looks up at the older woman, regret colors her expression. "I haven't forgotten any of what we went through," she says quietly, "but I think I did lose sight of just how hard the adjustments are. I've… had to learn to do the fast social adjustment on the outside even when I'm still reeling on the inside." It may look like everything's easy, but she's faking it. She just has more practice at the faking it and fitting in part. Only Richard sees the toll that nightmares and sleepless nights staring out the window or rocking Aurora takes.

Elisabeth drops her hands and then asks, "What can I do? Obviously, letting us know that you are not ready for any of this — that's what we needed to know." Gently she adds, "I don't … know how to manage the relationships I've suddenly been handed either. I'm sorry we've pushed you too hard too fast."

“No one pushed me,” Michelle tiredly explains. “I… pushed myself, if anyone did. I just— I was so afraid that if I didn’t commit one hundred percent to— this.” She motions around her office, “all of this, that it’d just be gone. That everything I dreamt about since the day I lost him would just vanish into fucking smoke.” Her voice cracks at the end there, eyes rimmed with red and glassy with tears.

“I pushed myself into this, into— trying to adjust, trying to forget Ri, trying to— not think about the ghost of my husband in a fucking prison across the city.” Jaw unsteadied, Michelle swipes her thumbs at her eyes, drying them as she stands up from her chair and starts pacing behind her desk. “But it didn’t go away. It didn’t… stop. Nothing. Suddenly I had grandchildren in the plural, I had more family than— I knew what to do with. I wasn’t… ready. The only thing I could do was just— shut myself off.”

Scrubbing a hand at the side of her face, Michelle looks exhausted. “On top of all of that I’m… terrified. I’m terrified that everything I have here is one giant fucking monkey’s paw, because we let a djinn out of the bottle and it’s going to come for us.”

Yeeeeaaah. If there were only one thing these two women have in common, that fear is probably it. Elisabeth nods slightly, and she sighs softly. She is slumped backward in the chair she dropped into trying to figure out words where there really aren't any good ones.

"I wish I could say that you're wrong," she finally replies slowly, "but my life the past few years has been a Chinese curse, so… I understand. It's hard not to expect everything to go to hell at any moment." Elisabeth is struggling with it herself.

"This is my home and it still overwhelms me regularly; I know what it's like to have everyone around be strangers wearing familiar faces. Well-meaning and helpful, but still strangers, and as I've been reminded regularly lately… it's only been a couple of months. It's a lot to take in. Nothing that you have here, none of the people you have ties to, are going to simply disappear just because you need us to back off and give you more space to mourn and adjust," she says gently.

“Now I just have to get myself to believe that,” Michelle says with a strained laugh, brushing her bangs from her face. “I don’t even — honestly I just don’t know where to start. There are morning when I wake up and the sun hasn’t come up yet and I have a panic attack because I think I’m back in the Ark. Or,” she motions with one hand through the air, “Richard will mention Edward in casual passing and I’ll feel like… just crushing regret that we left him behind.”

Swallowing audibly, Michelle walks over to one of the windows, leaning an arm against it and bracing her head on her forearm. “I’m sorry about dinner,” she finally says. “I just… I knew I was spiraling and the last thing I wanted to do was do that in front of the kids. It’s hard enough keeping myself together for Richard, but… those kids don’t need to see— that.”

Elisabeth waves the apology off. "You have nothing to apologize for," she replies. Leaning forward, she clasps her hands between her knees with her elbows resting on her legs. A long sigh escapes as she looks at the floor. "It's not something that goes away overnight. The… disconnect between what you lived and what's in front of you now. We don't expect miracles of you, Michelle."

She looks up, wishing she knew the right things to say or do. "In the one world that we might have stayed in," Elisabeth murmurs to the woman's back, "it took me more than two years to reach a point where I didn't wake up crying every morning after reliving the battle at Natazhat. Over and over again, I see… the day of the battle or I relive evacuating one timeline or the other." Her hands scrub her face.

"Even now I don't sleep through the night," she admits quietly. "I wake up uncertain what world I'm even in, wondering which horror I'm dodging today — is it Pinehearst, robots, a purge? Letting people close when it's all you can do to put one foot in front of the other every day and believe the reality around you is real… is hard. Do it in the smallest baby steps that you need. We're not going anywhere."

Sighing through her nose, Michelle gives a small nod as a response. Staring out the windows, down to the street below, she is both still and quiet. “It’s funny,” she says in a tone that implies it isn’t, “whenever I pictured him, he was still a baby. Sometimes I’d conflate what I imagined he’d look like as an adult with what his father looked like when he was younger.” Closing her eyes and shaking her head, Michelle gently thumbs the side of her fist against the glass.

“I’d never considered, even once, that he’d moved on with his life. Grown up. Started a family. Lived his entire life without me.” Jaw unsteady, Michelle slowly shakes her head again. “I had this… this delusion that everything would be like it was before he vanished. My little boy.” She exhales a shaky breath. “When I heard his voice over the radio for the first time in decades, I… it was the first time I really had to grapple with the fact that I wasn’t rescuing my baby.” She forces her eyes shut tighter. “There’s no going back and saving him from that, is there?”

"No." The tone is gentle, but Elisabeth offers the simple truth. She's watched Magnes and Elaine and Lynette and Mateo mourn for children taken from them. There are no words of comfort anyone can offer about what was lost. "But he doesn't need you to save him from anything now. He just needs you. No matter how old any of us get, we still need to know that someone loved us that much." She pauses. "He doesn't care much about what came before. He's just grateful to have you now. To have the chance to know you and, through your eyes, know his father and Rianna."

Eyes shut, Michelle can only nod in response. When she does finally open her eyes, all she can do is stare down through the window at the street below, to a city foreign to her, in a world she’s never known. There is vertigo, but to describe it as physical would be wrong. It is a vertigo of the heart, when the world is flipped upside down, and everything you loved comes crashing down around you.

“I know,” is Michelle’s long-held response. She’s always known. “I just… need to figure out how to do that for myself first, otherwise all I’m going to do is drag him down into my own depression. I… I just need to do something that’s… that doesn’t hurt people. I need to be responsible for something,” she leans away from the window to look at her hands, “that doesn’t turn to ashes.”

She is so much like her son sometimes. Elisabeth can't help the faint smile that quirks her lips. "Why do you think Richard does the things he does?" she murmurs quietly. "He builds hydroponics gardens, goes out into the streets to help build homes for people with his own hands… because he's taking responsibility for the unspeakable things a version of himself did. You won't drag him down; he's one of the few people who will truly understand whenever you're ready to talk."

Pulling in a slow breath, Elisabeth nods slightly and grins. "I'm the meantime — let's talk about what kinds of things have been running through your head about projects. Because clearly, like your son, you are going to need me to occasionally prod you into motion so you're not stuck in your own head. You were talking about water filtration and treatment. Talk to me about what you think needs to be built — and then let's throw you and some Raytech money at the right city people to put your plan in motion." She has a wicked twinkle to her blue eyes as she lies like a rug. "My dad loves to deal with this city's infrastructure management teams."

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