Tell Me The Ending


elisabeth2_icon.gif francois_icon.gif

Scene Title Tell Me The Ending
Synopsis Elisabeth and Francois reunite to catch up over the mess they've lived through the recent past.
Date April 28, 2019

Raytech NYCSZ Branch Office

There's a handsome octogenarian waiting in the lobby.

You wouldn't know it! (The octogenarian part.) His ID, under Francis Allen — truly a fantastic alias that no one could see through ever — states a year that puts him at age 44, half the real thing, and a year he had come up with after some approximation, allowing perhaps just a hint of flattering surprise if someone were to ask. But perhaps not, anymore. Francois has moved on from imagining mortality, the kind that can be brutality disposed of with one minor accident in any given high pressure situation, to imagining old age. That it's going to happen, finally.

He's thinking about it a little now, in the aforementioned lobby, because he is waiting, and it's just where his mind turns to, among other rather miserable avenues ready and available. He's thinking about it also because it has been years, and he knows he must wear those years, and wonders how many Elisabeth Harrison must wear, and the idea of being lost for so long is. Existentially frightening, to him personally.

Time is a dark cave, full of winding, misleading paths, and certainly doesn't travel in any kind of sensible, linear fashion.

He is observing the framed articles on the walls. He's been here before, of course, being one of the Wolfhound elderly, but never for a personal call. The desk has been notified of his presence and so Elisabeth is being notified of his presence. Informally dressed for the informal occasion, embracing the sudden hike in warm weather in dust-blue jeans, a grey shirt with the sleeves rolled, revealing a very nice watch on his wrist. Wedding band glitters, too, where it ought, coupled with the slightly fancier engagement ring, white gold and silver together.

Given that his arrival is a bit of a surprise, Elisabeth asked security to escort him up to the door. By the time he's off the elevator, the audiokinetic is waiting with her front door open for him to disembark the conveyance. Her blonde hair is loose and the years have been perhaps just as not-kind to her as they've been to most — she's clearly seen hardship too. Silver strands now streak what used to be simply golden-blonde hair, and soft lines bracket her eyes and her mouth. She doesn't look old… simply matured in ways that one doesn't when they haven't lived war years. Her smile upon seeing his face, though, is just as bright as he remembers.

Slender, though with maybe a few more subtle curves to her than her lean form used to have thanks to things she's done in the meantime, she still has the appearance of a woman kept in fighting fit, as it were. Scuffed jeans encase her legs, a loose peach sweater with elbow-length sleeves graces her torso, and on bare feet she moves forward to greet him. Much as with other familiar faces who've come calling, she is glad to see him. "You, handsome man, are a wonderful surprise," she tells him, her hands reaching to touch his forearms as she offers a kiss to his cheek. The man saved her ass — more than once. And despite the years that have passed, he holds a soft spot in her heart. "Come in, come in. Coffee, tea, wine? It's a bit early maybe, but I think we could be forgiven."

By rights, Francois should have his own grey hairs, after leading Amarok for however many years it's now been, but the last few years have made more subtle marks — just that element of roughness, the polish of younger years well-worn away, but also: smile lines, bracketing his mouth and as creases at his eyes, because he smiles now in a way that is spontaneous and genuine. He is quick to approach, hands out to receive, head bowing to deliver the returning kiss to her cheek.

"Me, the surprise?" he says, just prior to the Parisian second, before drawing away, looking her over, his hands settled at her elbows. Fuck. Perhaps it shouldn't be a shock, given his own miraculous existence. "You did not RSVP a return from the dead, you know."

He lets her go, then, focus narrowing back to her face, smile renewed, half a laugh. "Oui, I'll drink your wine. Eventually, I'm sure you will start having more reunions that don't require it."

A rueful expression graces her features, and she admits, "I'm horrible. I don't call, I don't write, and then seven years later I just show up out of the blue." She's teasing, but there is a subtle regret in her blue eyes as Elisabeth tells him, "Well… the whole 'my death was greatly exaggerated' isn't exactly the best explanation for all that classified bullshit, but… it'll do, I suppose." She's not going to lie to the man outright, and this way if he doesn't have the details, she's breaking no rules. "If I could have sent word, I promise you… I would have."

Squeezing his arms gently, she releases him to turn and lead him into the apartment. Gesturing him toward the couch, she retrieves a bottle of wine and a couple of glasses while he looks around. It's still rather sparse — she's not been here very long — but there's an upright piano in the main space that someone clearly salvaged from somewhere. A luxury in this time and place. And there are just enough toys and accoutrements scattered about the place to indicate that a young child lives here.

"Honestly," she tells him as she rejoins him in the living room to offer him the bottle to open and pour so they can get comfortable, "I didn't exactly … feel comfortable just appearing on people's doorsteps." The confession might sound silly. Lowering herself to sit so that he'll sit with her, she adds, "It took a month when I got home to get released from quarantine. And another month after that just to get my land legs under me, as it were. It's somewhat overwhelming."

Francois wanders when she goes to get the wine, taking in the details, noting all that tells a story: the spaces yet to be filled in with accumulated life clutter, the small touches of personal taste, and of course, the appearance of bright plastic or pastel that indicates that Elisabeth does not spend her days entirely alone. Piecing these things together does not read on his face, and he takes the wine bottle, wrapping his hand around its neck end.

Follows along to the couch as he works the cork off, standing over glass to pour helpings — neither too generous not too modest.

"Remember the old days," he says, as he carefully pours, "when just anyone could arrive, out of time and reality, and join in, without quarantines and paperwork? Bureaucracy." He sets the bottle down, easing to sit across from her, and takes up his glass. "No one can fault you, Elisabeth, for taking your time. We did not leave anything as you left it."

It's also why he's not bombarding her with questions. He can imagine hating that, in her position, and also, he is in no personal rush, no desperate need to be an authority. Curiousity as to the details, the classified bullshit, can content itself, as he raises his glass across to her, to clink together.

"It's strange… I knew nothing would be the same. At least, intellectually I knew. It couldn't be as I left it, right? For a great many reasons. But getting home, it still hit like a freight train. I missed seven years," she murmurs. And they weren't relatively peaceful years wherein most of the changes were simple.

Laughing quietly as she pulls herself away from that thought, Elisabeth touches her glass to his and observes in a wry tone, "I think you could be romanticizing the old days just a little there, Francois. There were only no paperwork and no quarantines because everyone was too busy either hiding that it was happening or hiding that they knew it was happening and making sure no one could trace that it happened." She pauses, her brows rising and falling in an expression of almost Gallic acceptance. "Now they want to keep it a secret while leaving a paper trail that covers their asses instead of just wiping everyone's memories about shit that happens."

There is no mistaking the undercurrent of bitterness there, but she simply shakes her head on it. Sipping the wine in her glass, savoring the flavors on her tongue, she is quiet for a moment as she studies his face. "It's really good to see you. I saw your book release a couple of weeks ago. Congratulations on making the best sellers."

Francois could assure something like they were a shit seven years, but he's played this game before. Lost in time, rescued from it twice, being told of futures whose destructions occur in the mere telling of them, visions of fragmented possibility and fully grown children that are no longer your family — seven years spent where you want to be, with the people you love, is a great loss, no matter how shit those years were. His sympathy is not the veneer of someone who can't even begin to imagine, but someone who can, and would rather not.

"I'm glad someone told you we can trust the government now," is this side of too dry for a paramilitary soldier on their bankroll. "That would have been embarrassing."

Speaking of embarrassing, there's that book that happened by his own hand, and his smile goes crooked. "Thank you," he says, and means it. "No one else has published their memoirs, for some reason, but there are those who should." He tips his wine back and forth a little, having indulged in a sip, and happy to go slow. He probably needs to drive at some point in the near future. He is a responsible adult who does responsible things. "But then, no one said any of my nonsense prior to the 90s was classified."

Elisabeth snickers. "Well… given that they were present when I landed and didn't shove my ass in jail, well… I suppose I gotta trust them some. It helps that people I trust are in positions where if shit goes sideways, they're still cautious and watching." The admission is amused. She's not as far off the battlefield as some, so her faith in the government is a little shaky, maybe. In the intentions — or at least those of the people who are now in place — she's a little less shaky.

"Those memoirs make for quite the life lived, Francois. I admire the fact that you were brave enough to put it on paper," she tells him sincerely. "I don't think I could be as courageous. Hell, most of them wouldn't believe me if I could tell the story in a way that made sense anyway." Elisabeth wrinkles her nose at him. "It was smart to use a pen name, though — people who don't know you won't be walking up and harassing you, at least." She's apparently already felt some of the sting of the fact that her own face is a bit known. "If I thought it'd help, I'd go back to being a brunette. But… I doubt it'll help enough to make it worthwhile. I'm told I actually made the freakin' music charts here." She's still a little weirded out by that, and it shows.

It's odd, how the regard of one single person can alter the benchmark of so many things. Elisabeth says that it is a brave thing, to have written a book, and Francois' instinct is to disagree. It was vain to write a book. Foolish. Indulgent. Nothing that Teo has ever said — in fact, Teo has been flattering, imagining himself convincing — but it is just that the esteem of someone he loves feels so low that every action feels vain, foolish, indulgent, including but not limited to catching war criminals.

He drinks some wine, and is glad that conversation curls slightly away before he gets self-pity everywhere.

"There are worse things to be recognised for. Perhaps you'd catch yourself enjoying it. Not harassment," Francois amends, backtracking over her wording. "Obviously, but. Musicians are much better than writers." Stated like objective fact, a little facetiously, but maybe not. "Musicians say what they feel and mean without having to fill so many pages of rambling and cynicism and explanation, you know. Is that what you might do, now that you are here?"

"Hmmm," Elisabeth's murmur is quiet, her sharp gaze not missing the way he squirms over the compliment. It's … actually something she understands on some levels. The notion of being Someone to another single person is hard enough, but the idea that she had meaning in other people's world makes her ill-at-ease for reasons she still can't articulate well. So for now she allows him the dodge, instead choosing to answer the question posed to her.

"No, actually," is the candid reply. "Although Richard does keep encouraging me. At least, I think it's meant to be encouraging, wrapped up in the teasing," Elisabeth chuckles. "Uhm… well, I've accepted a position as the Lieutenant of the new SCOUT division," she confesses, shooting him a look that is at the same time abashed and dubious of the reception of that information. "It's a desk job… training, logistics, that kind of thing. I… think it'll be a good fit. At least, maybe for now."

Looking down at the liquid she swirls in her glass, she admits, "I spent almost five years in one place… built a career in music, though it wasn't a rich and famous one. Just club circuits and such." When she glances up, there's almost a kind of apology to her tone, as if she somehow feels the need to excuse the fact that her whole seven years wasn't spent entirely fighting and running. "Doing that here feels like… a step backward. For now. A step back into hiding." Although the argument could possibly be made that in that world, in that place and time, she was less in hiding than she'd ever been.

Ah, desk jobs, the promises we make to ourselves and those we love which include: personal fulfillment, safety, financial security. Francois gives Elisabeth a flicker of a smile at her news, nodding once in an acknowledgment of both information as well as how well it is likely to fit her, for however long. That little glimmer of amusement at how relatively quickly that she — and, god knows, people like her, like both of them — find a place to slot into the world order.

And as for apology for having relaxed into some kind of life, it doesn't seem necessary. Francois tips his head, curiousity slowly rolling to the forefront, wine glass in his tangle of hands, elbows on his knees. "Sounds like a kinder world than this one," he says. "Or, rather, a kinder world than the way this one was. Room to grow."

Both her brows rise and Elisabeth tips her head back and forth in a gesture that could mean 'eh!' "Sort of?" she offers. "I … don't know how much you remember from back when the Moab thing happened. But… we landed in the home of those visitors, where Petrelli was never taken down. It was… honestly, quite a beautiful place. For all that it was rotten at the core." She pauses a beat. "Not unlike here — better than here in some ways… Petrelli kept Volken from rising to power, at least visibly." She shrugs a little. "Of the places I could have landed, it was a better option than the others. I was able to have my daughter and give her a solid foundation to stand on. That's… something I'm grateful for." She glances at him and smiles faintly. "She's adaptable as hell. Which I'm also grateful for."

Sipping from her glass, she observes, "Your memoirs talk a lot about the past, but … they don't say much about what you're doing these days. I know you're part of Devon's team at Wolfhound. But that's about all I really know about it. Have you decided what you're going to do now that its charter is fulfilled? A vacation with your handsome husband, maybe?"

Francois shakes his head at this first part — he remembers none of the Moab thing personally, but is well aware of the incident. Of the place the Ghost came from, and the circumstances surrounding his arrival. He knows, too, that he never existed in this future — left dead in Louisiana, all those years ago, which is existentially strange to think about.

But the general gist is there. Paradise at a price, consigned to be a reality that no longer is, although their understandings of time linearity (or lack thereof) has certain implications that Francois is not scientifically minded enough to think too hard about. He seems interested in her life, there, the little glimmers of it he can see as they speak, but she turns it back to his — which is fair — and he almost corrects her that he in fact leads Devon's team, it's very impressive and so on, but it trips over this last part, as it must.

But he says, "Amarok," is the title of the team, boosting off of this prompt. "An attack team, with a lot of big personalities to manage. That we lived through it long enough is perhaps a surprise. A vacation would be nice, but we are— " His fingers splay, as if in an attempt to release some gathered tension. "Figuring things out, at the moment. We have led different lives over the past few years. Not quite like you and Richard, granted."

"The names on your team are… familiar," Elisabeth admits with a faint smile. "Most of you were in and out of the hospital when Devon turned back up. It made me feel much better to know he was so well protected," she says quietly.

Her lips purse slightly, and Elisabeth considers his words and how he phrases that. "Well… different paths are different paths, regardless of the universe those paths took you through," she says slowly. Toying with her wine glass, her blue eyes skim his features. Francois has always been such a private man, but… he offered the opening, and the comparison offered is a seeking of common ground. She ponders for a long moment. "Are you figuring things out because one of you turned to someone else in a moment of need for human contact while the other was busy in that different life?"

Gentle the query may be — and it holds zero judgment of him or the answer — she's never been one to pull punches either. Given his line of work, the audiokinetic suspects what the answer could be… but Teo isn't exactly a stranger to fucking up either.

Dnk dnk. The idle tapping of his thumb against the curved side of his wine glass is particularly audible to Elisabeth's sensitive ears, giving away the slight indication of anxiety that others might potentially miss. Sharp, too, are the verbal scissors that slice through his polite inference, the euphemisms that had felt cowardly as soon as he said them, if well-intentioned, and Francois' expression changes in those subtle ways where her suspicions are confirmed even as he is working on stitching together an answer.

He frowns, takes a finishing sip of wine, placing the empty glass down. "A few moments," he says, an admission that he dislikes the taste of. Elisabeth knows he is private and she also will remember how proud he is too. "On my part. We were living separated for some years. Are, still." Perhaps forever is a little more maudlin than he feels like inflicting on Elisabeth. "When you tell someone something like that in the interest of fixing things, it breaks a little more."

Who fuckin' knew. "I know you and he are close," he says. He's not sure why he says it. Maybe to acknowledge that perhaps Liz would rather not get tangled up on the wrong side of history.

"It can," Elisabeth acknowledges. "But… it can also offer the chance for actually figuring out if what you have is strong enough." Her lips twist into a self-deprecating expression. "Sounds like a fortune cookie, doesn't it?"

Letting out a long breath, she carefully works on what she wants to say. There's a lot, but it's too many words. "Finding your way home after walking different roads for so long… is hard, no matter what your relationship. And it's harder still when you don't like other people to see inside the walls." When she looks up at him, her hands still toying with her own glass, Elisabeth offers softly, "I'm finding it hard to be honest about some things. I think it's pretty brave that you told him the truth."

Francois helps himself to a second glass. He does so while she is speaking, and once she is done, he offers her a top up too.

And sits back, pushing aside the urge to merely fishtail flip away from this topic, as much as he does not want to languish in it either. Both of them are powerfully easy urges to give into and Elisabeth deserves better. The idea that perhaps what they have is not strong enough is the kind that puts shards of glass in and around his ribcage, feeling the edges at each breath in. A bitter fortune cookie to crunch on.

There's that idea again, too, of bravery. He shrugs, a little, equally a little dismissive of the notion as well as another attempt to ease some of the physical tension he carries. "I am certain Teodoro has other words for it," he says, allowing a crooked smile to hook rueful at the corner of his mouth. "In honesty, part of the problem was that— I thought he would not want to see what was inside those walls. I still think so. When you find one person you are comfortable in sharing these things with, and they…"

A gesture, both hands open (save for the ring his fingers make to expertly clutch his wine glass), a little helpless. Blaaah.

"He doesn't wish to talk about anything, ever. So. Here I am," and he makes his voice go wry again, "talking with you. It is, I should say, besides all of this, very good to see you again. Dimensional travel and motherhood has become you."

She holds her glass steady for the topping off and despite the shrugging off of the thought that it was brave, Elisabeth smiles slightly. "Teodoro may have other words for it, especially when he's pissed off, but he is and always has been one to wrestle with emotions," she agrees. Though a lot has changed, that's apparently not one of them.

That he's offering his trust, because he certainly doesn't owe her further explanation, brings with it a desire to help. But who is she to think she knows anything at all about her friends and their relationships after so long away?

A faint flush climbs her face with the compliment, and she looks down with an abashed expression. "Thank you… although I have to admit it wouldn't have hurt my feelings to forgo the travel part." When she looks back up, she tips her head and observes quietly, "Coming home seems the hardest of the things I've done, if you want the truth. First because even now part of me is afraid it isn't real and will be ripped away any moment. And then because the rest of me knows it is real and is terrified because there's no dimension-hopping out when I screw it up." Not 'if,' but when.

"There are only more mistakes if you are not able to stay and fix them," says Francois, and he will internally pat himself on the back for being so philosophically generous when there is a big part of him that would thoroughly entertain the notion, too, of escaping mistakes by side-stepping into a whole other reality. That Elisabeth is probably talking about greater cosmic catastrophes than fucking the wrong people does not escape him, or anything. His track record with Wolfhound has been decent, but a mistake is coming.

Because it has to. "But this world is resilient," he says, easing back into his seat a little. "It's seen a lot. The sides are dented and scuffed but the whole has yet to collapse even when we thought it had already. It can take it."

There's a rather indelicate snort from the blonde. "Yeah. Say that again when I'm calling your team in to help kick in the doors and deal with the fucking cosmic entity that's on the loose because of us that apparently only Adam fucking Monroe has a clue how to stop," Elisabeth retorts in a low, dark mumble. She takes a large swallow of her wine and rolls her eyes at him. "Sorry … my outside voice just got grounded for insubordination. Maybe treason too." But of all the people she knows, he is the one who perhaps might understand what's going on. At least in part.

Shifting the topic abruptly, she asks, "Did you sleep with that someone else because you wanted to sabotage your marriage, because you were just that cut off from the person you really wanted and needed to feel something, or because you wanted a reason to force the confrontation?" There is still no judgement in her tone. It's just a far simpler topic than entities on the loose and Adam fucking Monroe.

"We will be there," is really all that Francois slips into this first part. Now is not the time for judgment — sorry, universe, but he is happy that a friend of his has returned, and is amongst people who love her, so whatever price that will eventuate, someone will inevitably foot the bill. It's nothing he is inclined to drill down into right now.

God knows there will be time for that.

But apparently there is time for this, Francois pausing his glass's journey up to his mouth, reversing, back down to hover. The abruptness of it means that she can see the way this is still a fresh injury — whether or not it is of his own devising — as his expression ripples, but he crooks his mouth into a half-smile. One of those ironic, melancholy types, not an unfamiliar thing to wear.

"You know," he says, instead, pointing a finger at her past his glass, "you are the first person I've spoken to about this. Besides Teodoro, obviously. Perhaps you will first do me the mercy of saying you've participated in a similar indiscretion. Or have you been hurt by this before?"

Is it a mercy? Elisabeth's expression softens to regret. "I'm sorry," she grimaces. "That was about as tactful as a slap, wasn't it?" She pauses and then admits, "It's been a long time… but yes, I've been in the middle of such a tangle. I would imagine most people have, at least once."

Toying with her wineglass, she considers how to tell that story. "When I was in college, there was a young man. It was serious; we were moving toward getting married. I gather from talking to him that I had asked for a little time because things were not going the way I thought or something like that… and it wasn't a request to break up, just for a little space. And I then apparently walked up in him necking with another woman." Glancing up at him, she says quietly, "I'm not emotionally connected to the information anymore — it's among the ten years or so that I'm missing from when Danko shot me in the head. But… my father tells me that I was utterly devastated. And from what I can gather, that incident changed the way I dealt with love and lovers. There was no more monogamy in my life, and marriage was right out the window. I …"

There's a long moment of quiet as she considers. "Most of my adult life, I've conducted my affairs without strings. Probably so as not to ever face that hurt again."

So maybe the moral of the story is that someone (and it doesn't have to be Francois) shoots Teodoro in the head so that the raw pain of betrayal will be forever deleted from his memory.

Maybe not.

Francois thinks in silence for a few seconds, and wonders if the guilt he is feeling is entirely to do with the things he has done, or because he is darkening Elisabeth's perfectly pleasant afternoon. But as sharply as she is asking her questions, he knows she would not be doing so if she didn't care. He says, "When I told him, it was immediately after I started another argument about— the way we are. The way things could be better. As if it were some kind of— proof, of how wrong things went.

"That isn't why, though. Sabotage, or starting fights. I think it was a longer infidelity than just those times, you know. I would go out often and almost pretend to be someone else, when we had downtime. That I wound up drunk and with another person seemed like just an extreme version of that. I told myself he wouldn't care." And he only had to believe it enough to do it — rarely did the lie carry for much longer.

She can't know what he takes from it, though she should probably expect it to be bad. But Elisabeth has a point to why she told him exactly the way she did. "So …. That was the way I was on the other end of a tangle. But I've also been the one doing the betraying. There was a time when Richard and I worked .. so hard to keep ahead of all the bad stuff. When I tanked my life, when I came to stay with you? I didn't just blow up my life, I obliterated a life that I'd encouraged him to build. Redbird Security was started as a cover…but I encouraged him to make it more. To let it be the start of a life for us. And then I made choices that … gutted him and that life, and also destroyed all the dominoes that we'd put in place to try to help things."

She shrugs a little. "It wasn't sexual in that case, but it was as deep a betrayal of his trust. And looking back, I can't help but wonder if I was… somewhere down deep afraid of what I'd encouraged him to create, if we made it work. Told myself he wouldn't care … but he did. God…. he was so fucking mad at me. We couldn't talk to each other for weeks. I honestly believed that was it, we were done."

Her blue eyes are solemn as she meets his gaze. "You knew it would hurt him." That's a fact; she knows it like she knows her name. "Those different paths are feeling further and further apart. Getting a rise out of him and fighting with him is better than the silence, maybe? …. Only not really. It's frustrating as hell to want a certain response and not be able to get it." The woman has clearly spent some time in therapy. Probably a lot of it. It's possible that in hindsight over the past years she has way overthought those moments.

She's far more emotionally available than she used to be. How motherhood does change things. "How can I help you? What can I do, here in this moment, to be here for you, Francois?"

Francois just listens in a meditative silence. Idly wonders how challenging it must be for her, to pull salient examples from the time before she lost seven years of her life to other lives. Appreciates the effort.

And he manages not to look aside when she levels with him, a trace of doubt reflected back in his own clear green eyes. Not that he knew it would hurt Teo — he knew he'd been only kidding himself, even then, and in the awkward moments leading up to confession — but that it had design. Strategy. Even subconsciously. That Francois doesn't protest isn't just out of respect for Liz taking the time to explain a thing to him, but for the fact that in spite of his uncertainty, she could be right. He's still remembering, weeks later, that one thing Teo had said, about not needing him to be faithful. About not needing anything.

He can feel his throat closing by the time she asks him what she can do. Would there be anything worse than crying? Right here? About Teo?? In front of his friend, who has done miraculous things and promises to do more, recently rescued from being lost in time and space???

It's not happening, because that would not be acceptable.

"Tell me the happy ending," he says, and while his voice does come out rough, it comes out even. "How he forgave you."

She could never think badly of him — not for tears, not for what has happened between him and Teo. Everyone makes mistakes… sometimes they're huge. She takes a moment to pause, sipping from her glass as she remembers that time. "It was hard," Elisabeth finally offers in a quiet voice. "He stayed away from me for a long time, and when we did talk, it was… difficult. I tried to explain my reasons. They were probably bullshit," she admits. "And he pretty much … scoffed in ways that hurt because he pointed out my bullshit."

Pulling in a long breath, she finally offers, "I can't exactly pinpoint a how… you'd probably have to ask him that one. Time was a large part of it. He already knew I was pretty fucked up in the head … I was punishing myself for Beach Street." Among other things. Elisabeth is not looking at him, her voice low. To this day, that does still haunt her. "I don't know how he forgave it. I think it just comes under the umbrella of he loves me for all that I am, even the fucked up parts?" The twist of her lips into a half-smile is rueful as she looks up. "There were some knock-down yelling moments and a lot of tears involved while I apologized for what I thought he was mad at. In the end… I think the only thing he was really pissed off about was that I hadn't trusted him with what was happening in my head, hadn't talked out the ugly things I was struggling with so he could maybe talk me out of it before I did something reckless and stupid."

She pauses and admits, with amusement despite how hard it is to talk about those days, "Of course, maybe that's just a girl way to look at it. He might tell you that I've way overthought the whole thing and it was much simpler than that."

This last part gets a slight, quiet laugh from Francois, tilting a look down at his glass. "It is not just a girl thing," he assures. Men, too, can come up with convoluted mazes within their own hearts. He's seen it, and done it.

And he hadn't quite escaped his own rise of feeling, the salt-water glimmer gathered up in his eyes something he has to contend with and banish back with blinking, somewhere towards the end of her little story. It is only mortifying because it feels like self-pity; her sympathy would be equally mortifying. She can see it anyway, and she can also see that internal gathering of himself, not all the way leaning into stoic, just, you know.


"I'm impatient," Francois says, finally. "I know it. For the fighting to begin properly, and then the forgiveness. I wanted it to happen the day I told him what I did, but I feel as though if it goes on for too long, he will— I don't know. He is so ridiculous, Liz," is half-laughed, even if it's not very funny at all. "He moved back from the mountains to New York City, because he said we would work things out from there, but you know, I live in Rochester, and it is two hours even longer away. And he has a roommate, someone he didn't even know. He doesn't even speak of it, really, what I did, he just— "

Francois lists backwards into his seat. "I have not even said sorry," he says. "I swear, I want to. There is never a moment where it seems like I can."

She ponders the seemingly inexplicable decision to be in NYC while Francois is in Rochester… there must be some logic to that, yeah? Maybe because it's where it all started. The feeling that she, and others too, are coming full circle somehow makes Elisabeth vaguely uneasy and she shifts her weight slightly to pull one foot up beneath her.

"I remember feeling impatient too," she admits. "But being that angry takes however long it takes, you know?" Elisabeth hesitates and offers softly, "I don't know all the things you've seen and done in the years I've been gone, but… it sounds like your different paths has a lot to do with the job. Being a cop's spouse brings with it a lot of baggage. And you are, for all intents and purposes, a cop, Francois. Teo, more than most, knows what your job really entails."

Toying with the wineglass in her hand, she offers slowly, "Maybe it's really not time to apologize yet, because the real trouble is you're having that fight we all face on the job — a significant other is the one we want to share everything with and at the same moment we want to protect them from the ugliness we see, because why bring it home and wreck their sleep too?" She shrugs just a little. "I've been doing a lot of wrecking Richard's sleep the past few months." The horrors of her years come out in dribs and drabs when she can face talking about them. "And even knowing he has his own horrors, it kills me to tell him my nightmares. I … always fear he'll think less of me for what we did on the way home."

"Perhaps, then, it ought to be Richard giving advice to Teodoro," Francois says, finding comfort in being flippant. "And not you and I."

He doesn't mean that. He has also finished his second glass of wine but does not go for a refill, and will gesture a polite no if the offer for more manifests. And he is not so immersed in his own misery that his ears do not prick at little tells like what we did — but Francois is not Elisabeth, with her talent for getting to the bottom of an issue with the efficiency of a police raid, overturning furniture, checking the vents and the toilet tank for clues.

As an ex-immortal, he prefers a long game. It's an optimistic kind of perspective, if you think about it. "He— Teodoro," he says, to clarify, "thinks I should have more friends to tell horror stories to. Perhaps that is how you can save our marriage, chérie." He tips a look at her, adds; "We can trade."

Tipping her head to study his handsome features, Elisabeth can see toll caused by the damaged relationship not so much in the lines on his face but the way his expression sets itself into the neutral sort of look that cops — and, it appears, immortals — learn to perfect for their own protection.

"Anytime you would like to trade tales, Francois… I am here," she tells him solemnly. "No judgment in this house, okay?" Offering him a smile that quirks the corners of her eyes upward into soft lines, she adds, "And when I totally freak out and screw it all up with Richard, which is pretty inevitable because … well… I'm me," a roll of her eyes, "you can return the favor and help me keep my own together."

The faint flush climbs her cheeks and she gives an abashed shrug. "I'm… God help us all, he said yes." He's the first of anyone outside her immediate family she's told.

Francois was already smiling a little — a more deliberate smile that reflects the one she casts to him, a little rueful around the eyes. It is nice, and in spite of himself, and in spite of whatever he thinks about what he deserves, he does feel a moment of ease — that there is a place he can exist with a person that is without judgment. If judgment was what he had feared before, and apparently, maybe he had, beneath the surface.

At this last bit, he tips his head as if in wait of elaboration — said yes to what? — before the lack of it fulfills its own purpose, and he sees the colour rise in her skin.

Here he comes, up and long stepping around the table, over the corner of it, for the most direct possible path so that he might put his arms around her in the same motion as squeezing himself onto the same couch. There's a laugh as he is saying, "très bien, comme il se doit, je suis tellement heureuse pour vous," where he speaks French about nine times faster than anything he says in English.

It's done in humour, too, happy to translate more succinctly, "Of course he did," upon backing up a little. "It was my next question, really."

Her laughter comes with a still somewhat embarrassed kind of wonder as she finds herself joined and hugged all in the same motion, and Elisabeth has to be glad her own glass is mostly empty as she returns that hug — it would have been mortifying to waste such a nice wine down his back!

By the time he releases her, the flush has eased to a lighter shade and her face shows that sort of confused wonder that comes with admitting aloud that marriage is in her own future.

"Of course he did, hmm?" Liz chuckles. "I think everyone but me is going to be completely unsurprised by this. It only took me seven years, four worlds, and an accidental baby to figure out that maybe I might want this!"

"You're being here is a surprise," Francois says, settled back enough to respectable space — but here's just here on the couch now too, hello. He reaches out and resits a wave of blonde hair that had gotten out of place, still smiling, before leaving her be. "Perhaps even you're wanting to embark on this journey with him, so soon, a little bit of a surprise, but only for a moment, and only if you cannot imagine being in your position. His saying 'yes' to such a proposal? Non, I don't think so."

He doesn't know Richard's heart, or anything, but he has a rough sketch of the kind of man he seems to be, and the kind of dynamic he and Elisabeth had once shared. And he knows romance, and being separated by inconceivable forces from the person you love, and the kind of stability that something like marriage represents in an unstable universe. Token resistance, maybe.

"You will do well at it," he says, that moment of brightness dimming, but not in a bad way. Mellowed. "Congratulations, to both of you." And he probably means more than just rings and flowers and ceremony.

"Now you sound like a man who has seen far too many romantic movies," Elisabeth teases gently, tipping her head lightly into the gentle touch on her hair. She's never uneasy with gestures of casual affection. "I doubt we'll do any better or worse than anyone else at it, truth be told. And I'm quite certain somewhere down the way here, I'll be the one in your seat on this very couch."

With a wrinkle of her nose, she admits, "I really suck at figuring out normal sometimes. And the last time we lived under the same roof, I literally blew it up." She's always been far more confident of her lovers than of a more serious tie to anyone.
"At some point I'm likely to call you and Felix and Raquelle in a ridiculous panic because I've blown it all — so no laughing when it happens, okay? I promise you, it'll be an outrageous mess." She pauses just a beat.

"Why are all my support people handsome and loving gay men?"

Francois has opted to go for his third glass — just after dealing her a look like and you sound like a cynical American vis-a-vis romanticisms — and he had gone for a modest helping, but this last part moves him to splash one more mouthful in and set the bottle down with a clunk.

He turns back to her. "First of all," he says, with an affront that is purely put on, the corner of his mouth betraying him with its uptick, beginning a rare and elusive streak of humour reserved only for certain categories of friend, "it is 2019, and I do not think this is politically correct to say such generalities in this universe, someone should tell you. Secondly, I have been with and loved many women." Two glasses of wine aren't enough to have him joke about and he might well again, but it's kind of there anyway, pronounced silently. "Many.

"And thirdly— it is because we cannot find any sensible male friends to complain to." He offers his glass for a renewed tap from her own. "I am not being romantic. I think your charming lack of romance will see you through; you won't go in blind. But of course, when I am proven wrong, I will be here. Thank you for saying I am handsome."

Elisabeth dies laughing. "Okayokayokay — so one, you're absolutely right," she giggles. "Cuz neither you nor Felix are so easily categorized anyway. Complex men for a complex world!" Felix has, after all, been far more than just her partner and friend. "Two, I have definitely been informed that much better language for a whole host of things has been developed — case in point, my near-incoherent panic-babbling to Richard about our own relationship has made him laugh at me at least twice this week alone!"

Her eye roll at him is quite theatrical. "Three, I am so not touching the emphasis on the word "many" here — there is not enough wine in this house for that conversation right now." Elisabeth's giggles still bubble forth in a relaxed way that was nearly unheard of when she was last home. "Four! We're on four, right? Four … It occurs to me that my female friends were — and maybe still are —all almost as clueless about long-term relationships as I am." Odessa, Niki, Gillian, Alia, Monica, Abby, Colette…. Maybe not Niki. Yeah. The mental list is getting longer and still doesn't look so good!

"And five — you're welcome." She grins cheekily as she touches her glass in a gentle 'tink' against his. "I think we might be a little insane. But at least we'll go there together."

Francois has a nice grin, white and symmetrical and unable to be inauthentic — rare as it is, more so these days but also just in general for non-angst reasons, naturally given to composure more often than not. There are more lines in his face now than she recalls, but that isn't a bad thing. It is also nice to see her laugh, the brightness, the openness, and maybe some traitorous little sliver of his what I have termed marriage lizard brain wonders about the last time he'd managed to make a woman laugh so prettily, and he opts to conceal that passage of internal shadow by drinking more of Elisabeth's wine.

A crooked smile, still, once he's done. "Ah," he says, dismissive of charges of insanity. "Perhaps we are just deserving of levity. Or desperate for it, one or the other."

Her giggles subside to an easier kind of amusement, and Elisabeth offers a half shrug at that idea. "If the past seven years taught me nothing else… it is to cherish the moments of levity and the friends who bring them," she tells him quietly. Coming home is hard, but sitting here with him, she can almost see a time when she won't be still waiting for that other shoe to drop.

"I'm lucky enough that most of those years weren't so bad. I had a little time to learn how to not be a soldier again. It helped a lot to balance things. And I'm slowly finding my way back from the more recent battle zones. So the fact that you come bearing laughter, even through your own personal stuff, is far more valued than you know."

She leans her head on his free shoulder. "So… now you get to ask me all the questions you want about the missing years or anything else you're dying to know," she offers with a grin. After all, he's bared his soul on a matter of the heart, so this is a reward! Or something. Not really. Just, she can tell he's interested and she doesn't mind talking about it… mostly. The harder bits might take a little more time, that's all. "And by the way, just so you know? I'm really looking forward to working with you — even if it's more or less on an on-call basis."

It is comfortable, Elisabeth's lean into him, the subtle weight on his shoulder. Francois is content to list into it and nurse his drink and enjoy feeling something sincere and good, shiny enough to refract his focus away from other churning anxieties. Two glasses of wine down with relative speed is certainly helpful, in that regard. It's even nice, the thought of being cops together.

Strange, too, how all the many questions he had had kind of scattered like pigeons as soon as they'd slipped into something like friendship, as if that is enough. But it's easy to call them in again as Elisabeth grants the necessary permission — he can't begin to imagine the places she has seen, the struggles that brought her to each one, the people she met and dragged along with her. Given the curve of this conversation, he shifts his mind to selecting something sincere and good, and asks—

"What is your daughter's name?"

That question brings a wide smile, as he might have expected. Ask any parent about their child! "Aurora," Elisabeth replies on a soft huff of laughter. "It seemed… terribly appropriate at the time. She was born in our second landing place, and she'll be seven in June."

A sip of her wine — because those two glasses have her feeling quite mellow as well — and Elisabeth observes, "She was a hell of a surprise. And she kept me focused on getting home. I couldn't give up… for her." The unspoken part of the statement comes through as well — that, for a time, she must have wanted to and perhaps even considered it.

There was a period of time in which Francois and Teo spoke seriously of being parents, and arrived at the easy conclusion that it wasn't a good time, given respective lifestyles, the state of the world. The contract being completed had, naturally, brought those thoughts to the surface again, along with mortgages and other milestones of a life post-war — never shared, of course, given the conversations that had happened instead. Back to square one.

He edges his thumbnail along the rim of the glass. Inevitably, thinks of Walter Trafford. He says, "High stakes," in sympathy. "And her father?" Forgive him, Liz — your life and its passage of time is convoluted. He suspects he knows, given the trajectory of wanting to her bring her child back home.

She seems to take no offense at the query — Elisabeth's friends were all well aware that she wasn't in long-term kinds of serious relationships back when. "Richard," she replies. There had been a slim possibility of the answer being otherwise, but Tamara had confirmed it when she'd landed in Bright. "Apparently that homecoming of his from the 2040 Wasteland visit was a bit more celebratory than either of us realized."

He may not even know to what she's referring — it wasn't common knowledge back then that Richard had been 'evacuated' into the timestream by Walter when their son Joshua decided to kill Richard for resurrecting the Wasteland's Liz. For most, it merely looked as if he'd gone to ground.

"Finding out about her was … the most amazing and the most terrifying moment of my life," Elisabeth admits. "And that's saying something." She takes a fortifying swallow of that wine. "I didn't honestly expect to survive the Virus long enough to see her born." She shakes her head a little and injects a bit of lightness into her tone. "But we escaped that horror, and she was actually born in a halfway decent world."

It might be slightly more modern to not have asked at all, but in some ways, Francois has his old fashioned notions of what matters, in spite of his own negligent grasp of his bloodlines. It is pleasing, then, to him, to hear of a family unit resettled and put back together. There is nothing wrong with a little convention.

"The Virus?" he queries. Even 'Wasteland' evades his immediate comprehension, his understanding of diverging timelines more along the lines of 'good' and 'bad', scales of war, untimely deaths, surprise children. "How many of these places did you go to? I— " He pauses. "I'm sure there are things you tire of telling. I'd like to know where you have been anyway, the things you have done. Did you find the same people you know here? When do these things diverge, anyway?"

— oh here they are. The questions.

Elisabeth's chuckle has that edge of amusement in it. "I suppose I will tire of telling it — but for most people, honestly? I simply tell them 'I can't talk about it' and give them bare bones. That we were in several pretty bad places and one not-so-bad. It's all fucking classified beyond belief and I had to sign NDAs and all kinds of shit before SESA would let me loose. But… I don't think they truly grok exactly how much about alternate timelines is already known by those who were Ferry and associated. So… I can't talk to anyone who doesn't already know. And you, my darling, pretty much are outside of that category, so…."

She does take a long swallow of her wine this time, as if to ease the telling a bit. "The shortest version I have really come up with is… between 2009 and 2011, several Vanguard actions were thwarted by various Ferry and Phoenix and other players. The worlds I went through… they are essentially one step left. Worlds where one or the other of those activities weren't thwarted. Richard calls them superstrings and has a whole science thing that goes with it." She waves it all off. "Suffice to say, not many are pretty. The first one we landed in was a world where no one stopped the Virus from being released. It wiped out 90 percent or more of the world's population. It was… for me, one of the scariest worlds. It's the only world where we faced off with Volken himself again."

She gives him some time to assimilate that and figure out if he wants more details.

That's good. Because it might take a hot minute.

Somewhere in the middle of this, Francois touches his hand to her back in one last moment of affection, before reinstating space between them by returning to his original seat — and as he does so, she can maybe tell why. His expression and manner have shifted, a step back from silly numbered lists and relieved laughing and gently delivered questions as to her daughter, to something else, something more like how they'd been in Russia, all those years ago. It's been a while, but she can probably guess it has to do with the name Volken.

"And he had not been defeated by Abigail," he says, after a minute. "Or anyone." And certainly not Francois. It's an incredibly bitter pill to swallow, but he knows it is one he's going to have to do on his own time. "I don't like that," he says, forcing himself to be a little wry. "That there is a world where he got everything he thought he wanted. I feel like I ought to apologise personally," is even more sarcastic. He knows, in the grand scheme of things, the role he played was so minor. Hiro Nakamura had ensured he understood that much.

"No," she replies quietly. "He had not been defeated by anyone." A bitter pill indeed, and she knows that for him it is a personal blow. "There is no need to apologize. I… hope that at the end of it all, maybe he learned something too? I doubt it. But … if you believe in alternate worlds at all, there had to be at least one where he won." Elisabeth tries very hard, even now, to be at least a little philosophical about it. It's a marshalling of her inner reserves to be that calm about it all. Virus, of all the worlds, was the hardest one on her. The despair, the hopelessness, living underground in constant fear because ultimately… the survivors were simply the walking dead who hadn't figured out that to lay down and let themselves die was a mercy.

Pulling in a slow breath, she has to look away from him. "Getting out of there took… several months. I wasn't sure that we were going to be able to. It was a narrow escape." A lot of people gave their lives trying to get as many out as possible, something she doesn't say aloud. It's still too much for her to talk about very often. "The second world was one where Arthur Petrelli and Pinehearst were never taken down. On the surface, Eden. Much like here, only… I don't know. On a diagonal, if you will. Arthur's power kept the Vanguard down underground, but there were still things happening. That was where Aurora was born. We were there for about a little under five years while we tried to figure out how the hell to get home with better aim. This is where you sort of get into the whole story about a machine that rips holes in spacetime and creates auroras… and the fact that it all happened before too. It's a somewhat convoluted tale, as most of the tales of my life are," she deadpans.

You can tell where the bad stories are. Francois does not think Elisabeth is concealing them from him, particularly, but if you run your hand across the smooth story of her synopsis, there are the telltale ripples of expression, evasive word choice, tonal tension that show themselves, eventually. She's answering his question, but he remembers where they are, and drinks from his glass of wine as he listens. He will leaf through the implications of multiple worlds on his own time, and cash in on horror stories another time.

For now, he listens, sharp and keen, to the more medium story being unfolded. Nods, a little, to word of this Eden. All he knows of it is what Teo has told him, long ago, but it's becoming increasingly clear that it is not like a static painting, or— a room, to be entered and left behind. It was not Teo's home future, but a version of a similar kind, with its own trajectory.

He'd talk to Richard about the science of it all if he didn't think it'd make him feel both kind of sad as well as stupid.

"Much like here, only we've fought for our paradise," Francois suggests, and doesn't feel like he has to put some kind of ironic slant on this last word. Elisabeth knows better than to imagine he is that romantic. "It was not bought and paid for by someone with an agenda." He sets his half-finished glass down, tangling his hands together. "Make any old friends along the way? And before you say it," he offers her a smile, "I know I would not have been there."

That brings an expression of affection as she thinks of it. "I did, actually… it perhaps gives some amount of credence to the idea, if you have a faith that believes in such things, that some of the same souls travel together in packs through lifetimes. But maybe that's a little… well, it's maybe seeing a pattern where there isn't any? I don't know," she demurs. The word romantic would have a different connotation but eh… "I met a number of familiar faces in each of the four landing places… even my own, though I tried to stay far away from her."

Elisabeth leans on her elbow and props her head on her hand there in the corner of the couch. "It was a bit different each place. And different people traveled with us each time too. Making actual friends was a little harder. Ygraine Fitzroy, in the first world, was something of a rock for me… she remained in the second world when we left. In that second world, we were met on landing by Tamara and Colette… and I searched out Felix."

That makes her laugh. "Richard's comment on it when we got home and Aura knew Unca Felix was to chuckle and observe that he should have known." She shrugs. "I needed him. And he is a man uniquely capable of keeping his friendship with his Liz and his friendship with me separate while still being exactly what he is to both of us."

She doesn't mention that Kain had become one of her most trusted companions by the third world, but only because she is protecting his privacy.

"That sounds true," Francois agrees. He never learned much of Felix Ivanov, but what he did notice was a talent for steely compartmentalisation.

And he's thoughtful, for a few moments, thinking these things through and imagining the experience, spare as the explanation is. Realising there are depths to it he cannot, as his eye falls on some miscellaneous, brightly coloured toy set off to the side on the carpeted ground. He can imagine the constant anxiety of displacement, but perhaps not with the peace unexpectedly found along the way. "There must have been moments," he says, looking back to her, "when it would have been tempting to stay where you were. It sounds like it was on the table, to some extent."

"There were," Elisabeth readily admits, sipping from her glass. She follows his gaze toward the small shoes on the floor near the door. "There was a point where… we'd been there for several years. Magnes was working for Pinehearst in an attempt to keep Arthur off all of us as well as hoping to find a way to use the research he was helping with there to get us home. And then… that world's Elisabeth was murdered. We … I guess at that point, I pretty much realized even if I wanted to, we couldn't stay. And I set in motion our departure… because just about the time that happened, Magnes was also presumed dead in an explosion. I turned to Gabriel Gray, knowing that in that future he and Liz were friends. He agreed to help… and we attempted to open a test portal. It… didn't go where we hoped. It pulled a robot from the Wasteland world to us, and Eileen was… killed. Or nearly. Gabriel gave up the conduit to save her. But she… didn't have control of it."

She takes another long swallow. "We spent the next two years racing against time trying to get the fuck out. Unfortunately, she beat us to the machine… and kidnapped Lynette and Mateo's son and Magnes and Elaine's daughter along the way."

Her story is so much more convoluted even than she's saying. Elisabeth is desperately trying to distill it to simple terms.

He can tell, too, that she's doing her best to construct a bigger picture out of the messy reality — Francois' hands come together, palm to palm, as if to bookmark the precise moment at which he absolutely needs more information, but doesn't interrupt. He's prepared to wait it out, too, even to the end of her story, but on the off-chance more information will only bring about more questions—

"Eileen was a good friend of mine," he thinks to qualify. It doesn't sound, to Liz, like a request to tread gently, so much as to disclaim his own interest. "Perhaps— I was not as good a friend to her as I ought to have been. I suspect I am still failing in that regard, when we received news of her miraculous appearance in the company of other miraculously appearing Vanguard." His hands lower, settling between his knees, as he thinks of what questions to ask. What Elisabeth might not need to explain.

He tries, "She is in the company of Iago Ramirez, Joshua Lang. Emile Danko," is added, a little more delicately. "I understand that she did not come through to this world alone, then. And I know she was— is, in possession of the conduit."

Okay. So his question is, a little uselessly, "You witnessed it happen?"

Elisabeth grimaces and looks down. "It was my fault," she acknowledges quietly. "She… begged him not to get involved. Asked me, as gently as she was able, why I didn't just stop. Just … stay put in what really, overall, was a decent enough world. For all the rot on the underbelly. It was… addressable. But… I felt with the government specifically still seeking those of us who landed… that it wasn't ever going to be safe for us." She looks up at him. "For Aurora. So when Mateo opened the portal… the something on the other side… he just… he got this look. He was adamant that he knew what was wrong with the portal and that he could fix it. We tried, she and I, to talk him back down, to get him to close it. And then the robot was there."

She swallows hard and sets her glass down, her hand shaking visibly. She moves to her feet, apparently unable to remain seated, and starts walking a bit. Her hands rub her upper arms as she moves aimlessly, a low but audible thrum rising slowly in the room.

Panting heavily, she slides off the machine and shouts to Gabriel, "You've got to close it!! It's going to suck us all in!!!" Eileen…. Oh God, Eileen was actually hit. Please, dear God, let Gabriel be harboring a healing ability…

Black, ashy smoke seems to drift up off his skin, and starts spreading. Immediately, the fine green stalks of grass pushing up through the autumn forest floor all wither, crumbling to ash that lifts into the air, drawn to the vortex. Soft thumps of bird bodies fall from the air immediately above, reduced to bone and wet ash before they hit the ground. A nearby tree cracks as its vitality is siphoned away, leaves withering into nothing but dust.

And that corrosive dark energy is growing, feeding, more and more of it pouring out of Gabriel — and siphoning directly into Eileen's broken body, flooding through bullet wounds that mend themselves around it, but not stopping. …

He looks towards where the forest ground is becoming fine ash, creeping closer and closer and faster and faster towards Elisabeth and Mateo, and seems to see them for the first time since that strange voice emanated from the portal. In his expression, they see it clearly: nothing is within his control.

He says, "Run."

"She was hit in the crossfire. It… snapped him out of it. But… he wasn't about to let her die." She can't fault him for that. But those moments will be forever burned into her mind.

Francois applies gentle pressure to the foot of his wine glass as those subtle, audible vibrations carry through the room. Tempting as it is to jump up and reassure her, he is more inclined to let her find her own peace of mind, though his position on the couch telegraphs a new kind of alertness. Concern, of course. Sympathy, somewhere in there.

It's not exactly a common event to witness. He has only seen it once, and been caught up in it twice, and so he automatically tries to make sense of Elisabeth's experience with the things he knows.

"It is an awful thing," he says, gently, when there is a lapse in her story. "But there is a savage kind of selflessness to it. It seeks out the dying, and gives them another chance at something. My gift— " He stops, entertains a crooked half-smile that is more at himself than for Elisabeth, and so he suppresses it as he starts again. "The healing gift seeks only the healthy, normally. Which is a little unkind." He's thought, before, that maybe that's why he was always a little unkind.

So he asks her, "Are you alright?"

Elisabeth nods slightly, her steps slow. "I'm okay. Remembering that is… hard. That was… " She sighs heavily. "You know, I was honest with all of them. That it was dangerous. That I couldn't promise what we'd find on the other side, if we even got to another side. But she…" The lump in her throat makes her stop so that she can fight her way past it, swallow it down. "I cost her everything that mattered to her. It was the most selfish thing I think I've ever done — putting my own wants ahead of hers. I thought … it was between her and Gabriel to have that fight. I … thought they'd be able to have that fight later on."

Pulling in a breath, she visibly struggles to rein in the anxiety reaction. It lowers, though she can't quite quell it. Panic is something she's only very recently — or so she's informed — felt safe enough to actually feel. She didn't miss this part, when it wasn't happening.

"And the worst part? It was a failure anyway. Magnes turned out to be alive, albeit in Arthur's custody. He escaped… and the rest of us went through the portal something like a year after Addie and Manuel were kidnapped."

The compulsion is to say something like I'm sure you didn't twist anyone's arm, Liz, but it's a stupid thing to say and that's why Francois doesn't say it. Everything he could say, he's certain she has considered. That it is Gabriel Gray's duty, probably, to guard the heart of the person he loves. That Elisabeth's need to get back home is not nothing, and so of course there are costs to pay. That what if it worked, and how could she know it wouldn't.

But he doesn't know enough, either. He wasn't there. This doesn't look like the kind of guilt he can remove, either. Splinters push themselves out from skin, after a time, so long as it doesn't get infected. Elisabeth is resilient.

He watches her exercise said resilience, measuring it. Even when he was a healer, the amount of things he couldn't fixed seemed endless. "You came back to us," he says, gently. "We are celebrating it, and the winding, terrible path it took. Come. Tell me of the next place."

The shift in topic actually has Elisabeth looking incongruously relieved. Incongruous because talking about the goddamned Wasteland should not really relieve anyone. "Right, so… we managed to make it through to the next one, and … wished we hadn't?" She shrugs self-deprecatingly. "Zeke's world. The world that… Adel and Lene and all the others came from."

Her brow furrows a bit. "Only we landed in 2017. Time was passing in a one-to-one ratio with here." Elisabeth struggles with that a bit. "So… okay, so time doesn't work the way it does in the movies, right?" He knows that, yeah? "Them coming back, it didn't negate their own future. It doesn't work like that. That said," she rubs her forehead a bit. "The Alaska explosion hurtled a part of the lab there through the timelines in 2012, and it landed in the hands of that Richard Cardinal. Who… some of the things had still happened the way the kids knew them, but one of the things that landed there was a security tape, I guess. And that Liz told me it changed Cardinal's entire trajectory. So… he didn't become Zeke. He … tried to thwart them, and basically the Wasteland happened years earlier than the Ferry kids originally experienced it. Or something? I'm … not clear on whether that Wasteland was actually still their Wasteland. I don't think it was, which would make it yet another timeline."

She looks at him. "This shit gives me a headache." It's the understatement of the century. "Uhm… so we … joined up with their Resistance, had a little help from Crazy Eve there… and stayed there for just a few months." Long enough to create a lasting impression on her child of Robot=BAD. "Ultimately, we knew we were working on a time deadline at that point. If we missed our jumps, we might not make it home at all. And the next jump was important. It was…" How to explain this.

"If all the worlds I've told you about so far are offshoots of our timeline, right? Our own timeline is an offshoot from an earlier one as well. Infinite branches, you see? When we jumped that time, it was to a world that ours split off of way back. Like… maybe even Coyote Sands far back, I'm not exactly sure. That world… is where a few of us who live in this world were originally born. In 1982, a woman built the same machine that Zeke was working on… it blew up on her. And some people were shunted sideways, here into this world." Elisabeth shrugs a little. "If you think of that world as the 'origin', it's the world that we were going to be able to get home from because it was the closest link to this world." She pauses, thinking through that. "I'm probably slightly wrong in the explanation, but that's as best as I understand most of it."

Francois finishes this last glass of wine, somewhere in there.

Which is a mistake because he is denying himself a fourth, which would finish the bottle, but he is at least partially confident that they've gotten through the worst of it — and if not, then he can ride the rave of tranquility that comes with ingested alcohol's slow release into his blood system. The main issue, then, is he no longer has a prop to occupy his hands with — honestly, he should probably be writing some of this shit down, so that's his own fault.

Questions come and go, most of them escape him, darting away like slippery minnows as he carefully adjusts his understanding of the known universe. His natural bloodhound instinct towards all things that branch from his own meandering path through history— it pricks its ears at mention of Coyote Sands, but ultimately—

Maybe another time. He has enough rabbit holes to disappear down.

"How long do you think it will take you to go back to worrying about this one world?" he asks, smile crooked. He knows she's not done, but, while we're here.

"Oh, about the twelfth of Never," Elisabeth retorts drily. "Or … conversely, this is actually the only world I am worried about. When we came home from the last world — which, by the way, was like that old movie "Waterworld" kind of because no one stopped the nuke under the ice shelf — we … brought something with us. Something that… I don't even fucking know, lived in the nothingness between the strings? It's loose in our world. And Mayes from one of the timelines was intent on attempting to invade this one too, once they became aware of it. Along with people from the Bright world, the one where Aura was born. So… you know. I live with the constant awareness that we're basically under siege from various places."

She thinks she deals with it all comparatively well, all things considered.

Elisabeth finishes her own glass of wine and sighs. "It's been a long seven years, the past two exceedingly shitty and a nearly constant running gun battle. And then I brought Hell on Earth back with me. Along with a number of refugees. It's a monstrously large nutshell." She'd laugh her ass off that it's the most unbelievable science fiction ever if she hadn't fucking lived it.

Francois had always liked that stuff — science fiction, paperbacks that were already beginning to fade in the 50s, in the 60s. Magazines, soft focus movies, and the older ones in black and white. It's certainly where his mind goes as Elisabeth paints a picture of a disembodied alien being existing between realities, curling its claws in closing doorways between worlds. Menacing, oppressive, beyond comprehension. (It will take him more than just today for him to really seriously consider it.)

(Which doesn't mean he can't take her seriously in the moment, but it all feels hypothetical.) "What interest would they have in this place? It is hardly Nirvana," he says. "If they are the ones with such machines, we're not the most advanced, either." They have their own fair share of robots, of course, and Francois has seen the headlines released of scientific innovation, both from Raytech itself and across the pond, but that all just seems normal, to him. The accelerations of development he'd witnessed throughout his own decades.

He reaches for the wine bottle, but not to pour himself one. He offers the last of it to her, and will either play barman, or go about putting it and the emptied glasses away.

Refusing more wine with a simple head shake, she allows him to take the glass. She's definitely had enough. It's a comfortable warmth in her stomach now, a relaxing feeling. Elisabeth's words are quiet. "Perhaps it's just human nature to conquer," she offers softly. "Arthur Petrelli was fascinated by the fact that we came from another world. It's why he was working on the Looking Glass machine. For different reasons, maybe Mayes is too."

Her eyes follow him as he puts the bottle and glasses in the small kitchen, and she slouches back in her seat on the couch. "Petrelli is dead in that world, but he basically created the Institute there. And Mayes' world was literally like a fucking Terminator movie. It's worse than here, based on what I saw when we flew cross-country in February. But I don't know, Francois… I really don't know," she admits.

The bottle with its remaining wine is installed in the fridge, the glasses run under tap water and left upside down by the sink. Francois disperses remaining damp, palm to palm, as he moves back into the lounge room. There is a slight head tip as to human nature and conquering, but doesn't launch them both down that ponderous rabbithole, tempting though it may be on three glasses of wine. He sits nearby.

Takes her hand, pats his other over the top in casual affection, as if to physically steer the conversation away from business. "It's not for you to know," he suggests. "And besides these things, the Institute is gone. Georgia Mayes is dead, her power structures disassembled. War is terrible, but we are proud of it anyway, and it is over now. I don't know if this is the best of all possible worlds— "

He hopes not.

"— but it isn't bad."

Twining her fingers through his companionably, Elisabeth smiles faintly. "It's not bad," she agrees. "I have definitely seen far worse. And we are rebuilding. Perfection doesn't exist. But this is home. And I'm really happy to be home. To see all of you. And to be able to do this," she holds up their interlocked fingers. She is learning to accept that the cost was high but it's okay to be grateful and happy.

"And when they come… well, we'll just do as we always do. Defend what's ours." And that's okay too.

It seems like a safe landing, to Francois. There were a number of wild diversions and blind corners, narrowly avoided. Not overly sentimental, nor a hasty bid at closure, the signs of mental distress going unprocessed, or hidden away. The world, here, is okay enough, and so is Elisabeth Harrison — and is that not what he came to see for himself? He can feel her hand in his, warm skin and the trap of tendons and fine bird bones. He feels a feeling, and casts her a subtle smile.

"Thank you for telling me your story," he says, and a subtle quirk of his eyebrow indicates he knows he has heard hardly half of it. Just the structure, none of the detail. Speaking of which— "If you are ever moved to commit it to paper, I have advice."

Wishful thinking only. Stories so rarely ever just stay just that. But they'll keep, for the afternoon.

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