... The Brighter The Stars


elisabeth_icon.gif richard_icon.gif

Scene Title … The Brighter the Stars
Synopsis "Only those willing to walk through the dark night will see the beauty of the moon and the brilliance of the stars."1
Date June 7, 2019

Raytech Rooftop

She's been tired the past two weeks, and the nightmares of the other night are still lingering in her expression. The trip to DC brought up a lot of things for her, a lot of bad dreams though she hasn't really spoken of them specifically. Sitting with him on a blanket, leaned up against a wall, up on Raytech's roof where they can watch the night sky, she brought a bottle of good whiskey to savor. She's been working up to something even as they've talked casually, laughed, made out a little. The time they make for each other is important to her.

Maybe it’s time to stop running. Maybe make a stand, even if it’s just in a dream, and maybe it’ll help. You can’t run from what happened forever, but while you can’t change it… you’ve gotta come to terms with it somehow.

With her head in the curve of his shoulder, she finally finds words. "You said I should stop running. And you're right, it's time," she whispers. "I don't feel like I deserve this life. It's bought with a lot of blood, Richard." She looks up at him finally, blue eyes solemn. Talking to Curt helped her find some of the words she needs. "My hands are not clean. I thought I knew what I was capable of before Alaska. I didn't know shit, Richard, until I had to choose. And every minute of my life, from here out, I will know these things about myself." She swallows hard. "I love you. I want a life with you, whatever that entails. But I need you to see me… and it's ugly."

“C’mon, lover…” Richard’s lips curve in a faint, rueful smile as he looks down to her, arm around her shoulders and fingers brushing over her upper arm, “We’ve all done a lot that we’re… not proud of. I’m not going to judge you based on what you had to do to survive, to protect our daughter…”

He dips his chin a bit, “I’m listening. Not gonna think any less of you, though.”

"That's just it," she says quietly. "Some of what I did had jack shit to do with saving our daughter, Richard." Elisabeth grimaces slightly. "I didn't even know she was coming when some of it happened." She reaches up and absently rubs that spot on her head that years ago was the site of a bullet. "I know — in my head. But if I don't put it out there, I will always wonder what's going to happen when you hear it." It's stupid. She knows it's stupid. And still, it's enough to make her heart feel like a rock in her chest. They say confession is good for the soul, but in this case… she only hopes it doesn't take the life she wants to build.

"The worst of the nightmares come from the Virus world." That can't be news to him. But to put the words into the air between them, it's clearly a struggle. "Shoot the hostage," she says softly. Every syllable holds her regret. "It's the one thing you and I always held pretty much inviolate — the kids." May as well throw the worst one into the ring first. "And we broke that rule. We … needed to get into the stronghold, and they were caged like animals." The words even now tighten her throat. "We burned them to death. To take away their leverage, Richard." Not for any other reason. "They weren't sick. They weren't going to get sick. They were just fodder."

She looks up at him, and the haunted expression is tight. "That was the day I really understood exactly where you get some of the things in you. David… was so goddamn horrified that day."

At that news, Richard’s eyes widen a little. “Christ,” he swears under his breath, glancing away before back to her, tightening his arm around her, “I… did you have to? I mean, did you— have any other choice?”

Horrified, yes, but he doesn’t pull away— trying to understand.

When he looks away, her eyes close. That he doesn't pull back — it's reassuring, but now she has to do more than just hurl it at him as an action. Now she has to use all the words that have choked her for years. Elisabeth pulls in a slow breath, fighting to keep her voice level despite the emotional reaction that has her stomach clenching and his skin buzzing lightly.

"Yes. We had… choices. It was my team, and my responsibility, though." She won't throw Isabelle under the bus. Her hand drags across her mouth. "We'd been there almost two months already. Everyone knew that it was just a matter of time… they'd been left alone in the bowels of ConEd but… that wasn't going to hold. Edward hadn't been expecting me and Magnes to fall through the portal. Apparently he'd been expecting some Asian woman or something. But… you know how he is. And once we were there, it was… we knew staying wasn't viable. So we worked up a plan." A bitter smile. "Would you believe I had to teach him about string maps?"

She pauses, chewing on the corner of her lip. "After the tests we did that were on the tape you saw. We … figured out that Ruiz there was … he needed help." Each time she halts, it's more to gather herself and speak around her own reactions than it is any kind of attempt to sugarcoat what happened. It's a but temporally jumbled but she can't help it. And she still can't look at him. "And Volken had Gilly. We figured we'd only get one shot. Volken was holed up in a fortified location. We were badly outnumbered. We knew that going in. So we hit them head-on from a couple of angles. There were a lot of .. familiar faces there. Ben and Lucille Ryans were in the team that came against mine. It was a complete clusterfuck." So much horror.

“An Asian woman?” Richard’s brow furrows, “Hrhn. I wonder who that is…” He trails off, dropping silent as he listens, fingers rubbing over her arm reassuringly.

“Okay. And you had to… deal with hostages,” he says quietly, “Okay.”

There's a moment of disconnect when she opens her eyes to look at him in puzzlement. Who cares at this moment? It's tempting to let him derail her, to walk away from this conversation and simply leave it there. Elisabeth is sorely tempted. And chooses instead to not dodge it. "Ryans shouted that they had hostages and we'd better back off or they'd start killing them," she tells him quietly. Although her tone is emotionless, the very lack of emotion is telling. She can't let go of it or it will swamp her. "So we took away their leverage. And then we killed as many of them as we could. And still failed in our own objective. And brought Volken's full attention onto the survivors hiding in ConEd."

Of course there was a massacre of children, says the colder part of Richard Ray’s mind, there always is. He doesn’t ask how many children, because he suspects he already knows the answer. Telling her that wouldn’t help, though, and he knows it. And if he let himself think like that about everything, he’d be all too close to how his adoptive father thought about things.

A slow breath is drawn in, and he exhales it in a sigh, leaning his head to rest against hers. “I’m sorry,” he says softly, “I’m sorry you had to do that. It sounds like— no matter what he would’ve found them eventually. Or they would’ve died off in hiding.”

He's not wrong. And she nods slightly in acknowledgement of it, taking comfort in the way his head presses to hers. "When it was over…" Some things, like people being put out the airlock because of exposure, she just… she has to leave alone. "That was when your fath— David told me Edward had him spying on me. Not that I didn't already know that. But.. he also told me Edward had killed Odessa there. And that Edward was afraid of me. And afraid that I'd leave him behind." Elisabeth looks up at him. "I didn't. Not purposefully. He just… when the Vanguard hit ConEd and we evac'd, he wasn't there." And she didn't have time in the mess to try to find him.

"We went through the sewer tunnels, heading for the Deveaux Building, and we got rerouted to the surface because of Virus victims." She shakes her head. "It was … worse than you can possibly imagine. And once we surfaced, they started laying mortars down. I had… a whole bunch of people with us who didn't make it. David was standing right next to me when I … well, I sort of Pinehearsted the street." He might remember that tsunami of sonic nastiness.

"We, uhm…" She swallows hard again. "We got to the building and got attacked there by some bitch who could teleport or something." Absently she runs her hand up and down her thigh, where the knife scar still puckers the skin. "She kept popping in and out stabbing people. And then we finally started to get the portal open and Volken landed there. With… With Eileen's skull in his hand and he started turning people to fucking ash." Like what she saw in DC. That's why it hit so hard. She has to stop there, choking on the words.

A little nod, from Richard, his hand sliding up to brush against her neck as she looks up to him. Just listening, no judgement, his expression grave as she tells him what happened. A bit of a grimace at David’s fate, his thumb sliding over the ring he’s wearing as he recalls where she said it came from.

As she starts telling the last, he tightens his arm around her. “You don’t have to tell the rest,” he says quietly, “I’m pretty sure I can fill in some of the details. I assume I showed up around then.”

"You were… already up there with Hana," Elisabeth tells him roughly. The memory of David literally exploding next to her is still a fractured one. "Trying to cover the retreat. When you found out Peyton didn't make it… " She shudders palpably. "It was like Antarctica," she whispers. "I flashed back so hard that I couldn't … I didn't remember until DC. You were just…." That high-pitched sound, muted only by virtue of the fact that it is nearly outside of human hearing ranges, rolls away from her and she clenches her jaw.

"We landed on top of the building… with 36 survivors."

“It’s okay. I know what happened with him, with Volken,” Richard reassures her quietly, shaking his head a little and squeezing her against his side, “You don’t need to say it.”

A slow breath’s drawn in, and he nods a little, eyes closing. “Of course you did. At least you saved that many, Liz.”

That he already knows… is both a blessing and not. But at least she doesn't have to tell him that she left him to one of his worst nightmares. Curling into him, her forehead dropping into his collarbone, she whispers, "I keep telling myself that. We got out with that many. And most of them … they landed in Bright and thought it was paradise. And I couldn't blame them. Christ… I gave serious thought to just… giving up." He knows far more about everything that went on there — it's the world she can talk the most easily about, and she's left literally nothing out with regard to what happened there and the whys and hows of her choices there over the months.

“Compared to the other nearby timelines,” says Richard dryly, “It is a paradise. So long as you didn’t fall under the foot of the Tyrant in charge of it all.”

He shakes his head a little, “From what you all have said, it sounds like you left it in— pretty good shape. I wouldn’t’ve held it against you if you stayed.”

"Now you tell me," Elisabeth quips shakily. Now that the worst thing she's done is out in the open, spoken aloud to the person whose opinion means the most, she might actually finally be able to start coping. Leaning back a bit to look up at him, she forces a small smile. "It was… difficult, trying to walk the line. Most of them didn't want to continue on, and I was glad for them. Things were a little complicated here and there… Magnes with the Elaine of the Virus world. Mateo from Virus married Lynette from Arthur's world." She shakes her head. "Five years is a long time. Honestly, if Arthur — or, if Samson had left well enough alone, things might have gone very differently."

There's a long pause, if only because she needs to gather herself. And then she blinks, frowning. It's been a long time since she thought about Edward and his fear of her, the fact that he'd been expecting someone else. "Do you… think Edward there had a clue about it?" The thing between worlds. "I mean, before we told him? Mateo had always assumed it was… inside his head, you know?"
“Samson’s a fucking asshole,” Richard mutters under his breath, giving his head a tight shake, “I think he’s finally accepted that he’s going to die. May it come sooner rather than later.” Despite the man’s aid, he still holds a grudge. A lot of his friends were killed by the man, after all.

“About… mnm. I’m not sure,” he admits, drawing away slightly and turning his gaze to the sky, “I… Kaylee thinks so, I think she thinks he was being manipulated all along. I’m not sure. It’s possible. He…”

Silence, for a moment, “I think that some of his plans crossed worlds, crossed timelines, and… entangled with and supported those of others. I’ve tried to wrap my mind around it and all I can think is that there’s something I’m missing.”

She grimaces. "Great." Her tone says the exact opposite, but Elisabeth just shakes her head about it.

Resting there with him, the high-pitched whine is slowly easing though it's still tangible against his arms. "There are plenty of other things that give me nightmares," she tells him softly. "Plenty that I've done." The hesitation is short. "But that one… is the one that I have the hardest time dealing with." Her fingers pluck restlessly at the material of his pants over his thigh. "What happened to Gabriel and Eileen, that eats me. Other choices eat at me. But … I think for the most part, even when I made those choices I tried to make sure everyone around me had the choice whether to follow me or not. That one?" She shakes her head a little. There aren't words for that one. "There are days I can't look at myself. I feel… guilty. Dirty. There were other options, we just… took the expedient way."

“As if I can judge that? Look at my family… Cardinals and Rays both,” says Richard with a slow shake of his head, and then he presses his face against the side of her head, “We make decisions in the heat of the moment. Expedient ones. I’ve done things I… find it hard to think about too. And I still carry the weight of the war, it— well. It was Edward who did it all. To save us.”

Looking up at him, Elisabeth looks at him intently. "That's not yours to carry, lover. The ones that you've done… we all live with that. But don't live with the ones that aren't yours." It's the one thing she's brought with her out of all the years of therapy — it's easier said than done at times, but it's not bad advice. There's a soft sigh and then she offers him a smile that is still a bit tremulous. "When we blew the Alaska facility? Part of it landed in Zeke's world. Elisabeth told me that it changed everything. Seeing you fight him… it changed what he did. She was still left alone with their son… she was still lividly angry at him. But… he died trying to stop what he put in motion."

“I know,” Richard murmurs, “He sent us a message over the Mallett device, we picked it up on the quantum radio station during a solar flare.” A little shake of his head, “I have to carry that weight, though, Liz. If I don’t, I’ve got to accept something else, and it’s the better choice to carry it. And just make up for it as best I can.”

She won't be able to talk him out of it… and she doesn't try. Elisabeth merely leans up and softly kisses his cheek. The subtle tremor of stress is still evident, but no longer overwhelmingly so. Her fingers come up and gently stroke down the side of his neck, drawing the chain that holds the dual-sided medallion around his neck. She holds it there on the pads of her fingers, studying it thoughtfully. " Repentant thieves," she whispers. "Businessmen and military intelligence." Just to name a few things Nicholas is patron saint of.

Her smile is soft. "In another place and time, she gave him Saint Joan and Saint Rita of Cascia… the patron saint of lost causes and impossible dreams." Her hand moves up to cradle his jaw. "I have to think we've got a guardian angel or five, you know. I wasn't sure you'd look at me the same way."

“You picked the right saint,” Richard observes a bit wryly at her words, watching her holding the medallion, “I’m all three, after all…” His gaze drifts back up, and he quirks a smile, brows lifting, “Liz. How could you ever think I’d see you differently?” A turn of his head, and he kisses her palm, murmuring, “I love you. That comes with no conditions.”

Maybe only because she sees herself differently. But Elisabeth's slow smile holds relief. She simply kisses him lingeringly. Whatever else comes, she can deal with that.

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