Six Degrees 'Til Midnight


vf_edward_icon.gif vf_rickham_icon.gif vf_steve_icon.gif

Scene Title Six Degrees 'Til Midnight
Synopsis Seeking to consult with her husband, Steve finds herself instead tangled up in Edward's web.
Date November 10, 2011

The Hub: Edward's Office

He hadn’t been in their rooms. Wasn’t in the common area. He’s not scheduled to be anywhere else, and while it’s not like he doesn’t have free roam, well… Allen Rickham’s agenda is predictable to his wife. Being a walking day planner may not be the most useful skill in the apocalypse, but it still has its uses.

By the time Steve Rickham is walking down the corridor that leads to Edward Ray’s office, she’s shaking. They have a newcomer - newcomers, but she’s only met the one - and what she’s learned about her has left her rattled. Her composure is slowly coming back to her, because it must. Poise is her armor.

No Admittance applies to other people. No one else would dare to ignore the note on the door. Or if they did, they would be knocking first. Steve isn’t other people. The desire to shove the door open is kept at bay in favor of a smoother entrance. Shoulders back, head high, like she’s supposed to be here. Like she’s expected.

What greets her when she pushes open the door and steps inside is not expected at all.

While his office has never been the most organized place - and she’s begged for the chance to fix that - it’s never been this. There are strings crisscrossing the room in all directions, connecting photographs, newspaper clippings, and documents on the walls. Steve leans back against the door heavily, not bothering to hide the way her eyes widen and take in the state of things, lips parted slightly.

Her throat is dry when she finally swallows visibly, jaw tense. Her eyes don’t seek out either of the men in the room. “What is this?”

Edward Ray and Allen Rickham turn from conspiratorial tones at the middle of the string web to look at Steve with equally cat-and-the-canary expressions. “Well, I suppose manners have finally died here in the post-apocalypse,” Edward stresses with a raise of his brows, turning away from Steve as he ducks under a string and walks to his desk.

Allen frowns in that visibly disappointed way he can where every crease in his face seems like it's an inch deep. He ducks under strings, heading to Steve. “It's a map, Edward constructed it to help with his probability models and you shouldn't be in here.” It's all very diplomatically stated in Allen’s Presidential tone of voice he takes when he presumes he's right.

If there’s anyone who can properly intimidate the woman with a spine of iron, it’s her husband. There’s a constricting feeling in her chest when he gives her that look. Edward’s words slide off her like water off a duck’s back. His disapproval doesn’t mean terribly much to her.

The map finally loses her focus so she can bring her blue eyes up to her husband’s face. “I shouldn’t be here? Since when did you start cutting me out of things, Allen?” That’s what hurts the most. The question is rhetorical. If it’s been more than just this, and she’s certain now that it has been, he’s not about to tell her. “I came to tell you Elisabeth Harrison is here.” Steve shakes her head, running her tongue over her teeth and glancing toward Edward with a faint narrowing of her eyes before turning her wounded expression back on Allen. “But you already knew that, didn’t you?”

“Yeah.” Allen confirms her suspicions. “Look, I maybe been President when those things mattered, but Edward is in charge around here.” He motions back to the smaller man, who is rummaging through a cardboard box with his back to the others. “If I'm asked to compartmentalize information I— ”

“Don't blame Allen,” Edward finally says from beside his box, turning around and walking over to the string web with another photograph he clips up. “I asked him to keep her secret between us, so as to not cause a panic, but… I assumed she'd spill the beans herself eventually.”

Edward’s lips press into a thin line as he releases the clipped photo. “Maybe after a week.” He belatedly grouses. “But, I suppose the cat’s half out of the bag now. I'd ask if you could continue to keep that secret to yourself, but it'll only be a matter of time before word spreads.”

Edward walks to another box, opening a folder and taking out another photograph. Allen looks over his shoulder at Edward, who’s gone quiet again, and returns his attention to Steve. “You know I don't like keeping secrets from you. How much did she tell you?”

Steve’s brows furrow and she shakes her head at her husband, barely able to believe what he’s saying to her. They will talk about it later. Not here in front of him. That he would think keeping her in the dark is the best plan of action is surprising. Shouldn’t he know by now that she always figures out what’s going on? Edward seems to have.

And when she slants a look his way, it doesn’t betray the fact that she assigns him his fair share of blame for this situation. “She didn’t volunteer anything,” Steve is quick to assure. “I recognized her.” Then she fixes Allen with a look. “I wrote the speech for you about Washington Irving. Why did you think I wouldn’t notice?” She researched everyone who died that day, made sure they were spoken well of. Elisabeth Harrison was one it was exceptionally easy to speak well of.

There’s a soft sigh when what really isn’t an apology is delivered to her dressed up like one. “So don’t.” Her hand finds his, rubbing her thumb over his knuckles. She’s annoyed, the gesture says, but it will be okay. “She told me she was in witness protection.” Not entirely accurate. Steve asked if Elisabeth had been in witness protection, and the blonde had capitalized on the opening. “But there was something… off about it. About her.”

Again, she lets her gaze wander to Edward and his work, watching for a moment in silence. The slight tightening of her grip on her husband’s hand betrays her tension. “She called me Nicole, like she was so certain it was my name. Or like it was some kind of code word? I don’t know.” It bothered her.

“That’s…” Edward exhales a slow sigh through his nose and puts a file back in the box. “Neither really here nor there, is it?” Blue eyes fix on Steve. “The old world and all it's mysteries are gone. I suppose.” Walking back over to Allen, Edward fixes an inscrutable stare at his back. “I'm going to take a walk, I… need to check on something.”

As Edward steps past to leave Rickham and Steve alone in the office, he gives a look back to the man who would be President and affirms a single knowing nod, then closes the door behind himself. Rickham looks at the door, then looks at Steve. “Edward is working on a plan, very need-to-know only.”

Rickham walks away from Steve and motions to the string web. “This is something that helps him chart out probability by…” he squints, trying to remember. “Charting interpersonal connections. Apparently the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game can be used to predict a lot when you get down to it. Edward said it's a game-changer for him.”

Motioning for Steve to take a look at a few strings in one corner, Allen points out some photos. One of a thing young man with dark hair. Another a dark-haired woman with intense eyes. Another’s a boy no older than maybe ten. The last one is a baby-faced man with a square jaw and dusty brown hair. “He says these people might be survivors somewhere, says they’re all like us. But that their abilities will work in tandem together to help us…” his head tilts to the side. “Defeat the Vanguard, basically.”

Allen motions to them one at a time. “Niles Wight is some kind of electricity replicator. Like, makes electricity copies of himself that can do all sorts of crazy things. This one,” he taps the woman’s photo. “April Bradley, former Company agent with some kind of forcefield power. Edward thinks it could maybe keep out the virus.” Motioning to the boy, Rickham shakes his head. “Some kid named Reed, apparently he has the potential to be a technopath like Hana was.” Was. She may not even be dead yet, but Allen’s already put her in that space. “This last one is Tyler Case. Edward’s the most interested in him. Says that with the right instruction his Company dossier suggests he might be able to rip an ability right out of someone.”

Slowly looking back to Steve, Allen frowns visibly. “We’re still trying to determine if they're alive. But if we can find even one of them, Edward says it could change everything.” There's worry in Rickham’s eyes, though. Considerable worry.

Steve steps aside to let Edward depart. In fact, she makes sure she gives him a wide berth. Something about the way he responded makes her uneasy. And that’s not just her default reaction to the way he interacts with the world in a decidedly different manner from most people.

When he explains the map and shows her the connections, she studies each of the photographs in turn, striving for some kind of recognition that doesn’t come to her. “So all of them together… could save us?” The corner of her mouth ticks up nervously, “Has he calculated the odds of how probable it is that they’re all dead?” It’s not funny, and the attempt to crack humor tastes of ash in her mouth.

“You…” Steve takes a deep breath and angles her face up to catch the gaze of the man who would be President. “You know how crazy this all looks, right? You know I trust you, and I trust Edward,” most of the time, “but please tell me you at least acknowledge how insane this all looks.” Which is precisely, she knows, why this whole thing is need-to-know.

“It's way crazier than this,” Allen says reluctantly. “But for right now we've gotta keep it quiet. Edward’s being… more paranoid than usual. But,” his eyes scan the strings, followed by the deferential huff of a laugh. “Yeah, this is really crazy.”

“Come on,” Allen urges Steve back with the brush of a hand at her side. “Lets go get something to eat, try and let this sit in the back of our minds for now. Because, based on what Edward’s said? Most of these people are more likely dead than alive. Which, he said, means he's going to need substitutions.”

Allen's brows raise. “Whatever that'll mean.”

Steve doesn’t go along immediately, waiting for him to turn back toward her. When he does, she reaches up to hold his face in her hands and hold his gaze. “I love you, and I’ll do anything for you. You know that, right? I know I don’t have to tell you I’ll keep your secrets.” She’s never let him down on that front. “If you say this is what we need, then I’ll do whatever you want me to do to… Make this happen.”

Then there’s that smile that’s just for him. The one that shows her teeth and lights up her eyes. It’s the kind of smile people give in their happiest moments, or for cameras. Nobody has an abundance of the former around here, and the latter is something she despises. That’s what makes this smile special.

It’s also selling the lie she’s telling him. Underneath everything, Stephanie Rickham is still a politician. Right now, he needs to believe she’s 100% on board with this, because God help her if he thinks she isn’t and he tells Edward. Paranoia breeds trouble, and something about that nod on the way out…

Steve isn’t wrong to be paranoid. Edward is an efficient leader, but he isn’t always a compassionate one — what he did to Hana, what he had to do to Eve — Edward makes the hard choices, and often times that results in someone’s death, or worse. As Steve reaffirms her feelings to Rickham, he closes his eyes and leans in, pressing a kiss to her forehead in the tender way in which he’s always expressed his feelings to her. He can be distant, at times, physically and emotionally. These are one of those moments where it isn’t the case, though expressed in his own way.

“Edward trusts you,” Rickham explains in a rumble against her brow, one hand at the back of her neck and fingers gently brushing her hairline. But he’s candid with her, as he always is, because the measure of their survival depends on it. “Because — trust me — If he didn’t…”

“We wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

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