They Say You Can't Go Home (Again)


bf_kara_icon.gif yi-min_icon.gif

Scene Title They Say You Can't Go Home Again
Synopsis It took them time, but Kara and Yi-Min go to see what remains of their home together following the fires that swept the Pine Barrens.
Date February 6, 2021

A road leading to Providence

Northern New Jersey

Kara's grip on the steering wheel isn't quite white-knuckled, but it's near it. The stolen station wagon she's driven since fleeing Connecticut is kept up on its maintenance, so there's no reason for her to be anxious on that front. It's not so much the drive causing it, though— it's the destination.

She's not been home again since the fires reached Providence— since the sacrifices that were made to keep it safe from flames and genetic-eradicating robots both. That day had been a stressful one, as had been the day following. She should have stayed longer than it took to toll the dead and missing, to have helped the displaced make their way back to their homes, but…

Her thoughts had been on the horizon for a different reason; her worries less ephemeral than the fire or the damage it caused.

She reaches one hand across the center armrests to lay it face up in a silent bid for Yi-Min's to join it. Her eyes don't leave the road ahead. "Not much longer now," she murmurs gruffly. "How's your leg? The kit okay?"

"My leg is fine," Yi-Min assures in response, leaned back in the passenger seat with her gaze also muted and steady on the road ahead. "Everything here is as it should be, thanks to you."

And it is true. Without Kara at her side, Yi-Min would certainly have managed the whirlwind of emotional and physical adjustments her life has become, ranging from her total loss of color vision to the wheelchair she is now obliged to use when not bound to her walking aid.

Managed. But not dealt with half so well.

At any rate, her own state of being is not what is occupying her mind even by half, a thought she only solidifies as she interlinks her hand with Kara's on the central armrest. "I am more concerned about you, if I am honest."

"I'm fine," Kara breathes out, voice too light and thin to be reassuring. "I'm fine, Minni." She squeezes her hand briefly. "It'll be okay regardless."

The truth of it may be slightly more complicated, but she's always managed, no matter how severe a twist life has thrown at her. And she's not going to be facing this alone.

But she fears what they'll find. What has happened to the symbol of the life Kara and Yi-Min were trying to build together. So much has threatened them over the last year, but the homestead remained. It was an enduring symbol that housed their hopes.

Their memories.

"It'll be fine," she repeats softly as they come up on a dead-end into another road. To the right side of the road, a sign posts prewar mileage for nearby towns in either direction. Below there, black spraypaint mostly scratched away has been replaced by white, reflective paint still penned by hand.

It reads: ← Providence.

Kara lingers at the intersection, looking at the pointer in the direction of the settlement they're driving to.

It would be.

Yi-Min's hand squeezes Kara's back in response. Of course she knew that Kara would be 'fine', at least in the most basic sense. After all, this is the type of woman Kara is— the type who would keep stolidly persevering no matter what the world tried to bury her under.

But she wants Kara to know that things will be more than fine.

Despite the magnitude of the smoky, iron-colored sky pressing in on the windows of the car from all sides. Despite what they might find (or might not find) waiting for them.

"The fact that any of this is still standing is a marvel in itself," Yi-Min can't help but remark in a low murmur as she scans over the sign. Fires aside.

Taking in a slow breath, Kara nods as she turns to look left, in the charred direction of Providence. Her stomach is wound too tightly on itself to be capable of somersaults, but the blackened trees do little to ease her worry that there's a home left standing for them.

"Let's pray for one more marvel yet," she says quietly, and cuts the wheel to head South.

Some time later

Kara and Yi-Min's Farmhouse

Since they've arrived, Kara's said nothing. She doesn't trust herself to.

She stands at the edge of the property, just in front of the station wagon, her hands shoved deep into her pockets. Her lip worries itself back and forth over her teeth, bitten and released repeatedly. Her eyes sting, and not from the air quality. She manages to take in a slow breath, unsteady. It's meant to be bracing.

Instead, she feels as though if she exhaled, it might take the last of her will with it.

The home she and Yi-Min were making their own— the one they had made their own, in fact, wasn't entirely destroyed. But neither could it be considered standing, or liveable anymore. Half of it was exposed to the elements, a corner of it collapsed. It stings that it's pieces of the bedroom scattered to ashes and half-burned pieces that've been exposed to the elements. For as dry as the winter has been, there's still misty nights.

If there's anything of substance salvageable from here, it'd be nothing short of a miracle.

Kara finally withdraws one hand from her pocket to lift her hand to her mouth, pressing the back of it up against her nose. She takes in another breath on top of the last one, a short near-gasp of pain that serves to further prop herself up a few moments longer, then lets her arm swing down by her side, fingers loosely curled. She makes no attempt to hide how she mourns what was lost here, on the edges of Providence rather than in the better-protected core of it. For all she refuses to break down entirely, her melancholy is still easily read in her expression; stubbornly warms her against the winter chill.

She says nothing. She has no idea what even can be said, at this point.

Sometimes, words aren't the best first tool to use.

Once she has been settled in place for a while, Kara feels one arm encircling her waist, just before Yi-Min gently lays the side of her head down against Kara's upper arm.

Yi-Min is somewhat accustomed to handling disappointment with grace, but she, too, cannot help feeling as though a last small ember has been quenched within her breast. Her outward reaction to all of this is more muted than that of her partner's— it shows through mostly in the straight and soft melancholy of her gaze, resting on the sight of burned memories.

The universe truly sometimes had a terrible sense of decorum.

"Your hard work," she finds herself mourning aloud at last, disapproval at the fate that had befallen their shared home radiating into the sorrow of her tone.

"Yours too," Kara reminds her without any teeth or her usual teasing humor. Because while Yi-Min may have been gone as long as she had been, it was her heart and her eye that sat at the place's core— her desire that they have a home of their own rather than just a room in a factory.

The farmhouse had been more than a place they could comfortably lay their heads together. It was a promise to each other.

It's not one that's broken for its loss, but it stings to have the safety of it taken away.

She takes in another sharp breath, lamenting quietly, "Should have thought to bring boxes. Pack up what we can save to take. M… maybe there's…"

Maybe there was something.

Kara doesn't get as far as saying that much, though, turning into Yi-Min's support to draw her into an embrace she desperately needs if the smaller woman doesn't. A quiet, wordless sound passes from her as she hugs her partner tightly for as long as it takes for her eyes to cease their attempts at rebellion. She pulls back eventually, wiping at the corner of her eye with the side of her hand and a sigh.

"I'm sorry," she says of the wreckage.

In the heartache of that embrace, the pain that Yi-Min feels intermixes deeply with Kara's pain.

All of it. By far the greatest part is rampant indignation and grief for her partner's loss of yet another home— this one raised to life out of ruin, then returned to ruin. Yet some of the sorrow is her own, too: Yi-Min clings to Kara all the more morosely during this trade of emotions, squeezing her eyes shut against gray air.

At any rate, in the midst of this shambles, there would likely not be much of enough left to fill a box. That much Yi-Min can discern, even with her dysfunctional vision. So, she merely places a hand on Kara's wrist with a slight shake of her head as though to say, 'do not do this to yourself.'

"It is not the end," Yi-Min utters emptily, sometime after Kara's apology echoes. It's an unobtrusive thing, as though she is somehow skeptical even of her own daring.

But daring it is, quietness aside. "This place may be lost to us, but we can rebuild. One hundred homes, or a thousand— I am willing to build them all with you, Kara Prince. As many as it takes. …As long as you wish it to be so.”

That much was obviously important, but so the fact remained. The universe could not strip everything from them, so long as it left them at least their lives.

A symbol could be reconstructed.

If there were anything Kara hoped for out of this terrible harm, it was to hear that. To know that Yi-Min hasn't given up on them, and in some way, also hadn't given up on herself. Her expression breaks, overwhelmed with tearful relief. One hand finds its partner in Yi-Min's, fingers winding their way into the home of their twining.

"I love you," she vows. "I will, even when you don't want me to. When I'm driving you up a wall, or… or whatever." Her grip strengthens. "I'll always try again, so long as I get to do it with you."

Tears streaking down her face, she rests her forehead against Yi-Min's. "I love you," Kara repeats in a whisper. "I'm so glad you're here."

Now, but also at all. She'd been so worried about the prognosis of Yi-Min's future following her botched surgery. Kara would give up a hundred homes just to still have her, she realizes.

"Trust me, I have little intention of being anywhere else just yet." It's spoken with all lightness, but still, Yi-Min has to make an effort to stop her voice from cracking as she says it. To quash that, she lets out a sparkle of a sudden, self-cognizant laugh. A flush of incredibly fierce emotion rises into her heart when Kara wraps her fingers through hers, and she inhales slowly in that moment of being forehead-to-forehead with her partner.

"What did I do to deserve you? I still do not know this thing. I suspect I never will, either. Yet, I do recall that I made a promise to you back when you were still living in your dank hole of a room at the factory. And that was: that I would help you make a home for yourself here."

A real home. One to come back to at the end of a long day, with someone who loved Kara just as much in return.

"I suppose it happens that this one was simply a test run. And that is alright, yes?" They would get the angle of the gables perfectly straight on the first try, next time around. Perhaps a fresher perspective on shades of paint to use, as well.

All Kara can do is nod her head. She doesn't trust herself even to laugh at the mention of this just being a test run of their life together. Her eyes gleam with tears, even though they're already overflowing with them. She blinks and more come against her will, her fingers tightening around Yi-Min's to draw strength from her once more.

"You came out of the woodworks yourself, you know," she teases her without laughing. "Someone I never thought— never thought I'd end up feeling this way about. But you saw all the things I was missing and decided I deserved a chance at them, went out of your way to make it happen." With a lift of her other hand to brush Yi-Min's cheek rather than tend to the tears on her own, she reminds her:

"You were the one who made me fall in love with you, shǎ guā. And you deserve every bit of it." Kara presses a kiss to her cheek before withdrawing back a half a step, finally smearing the back of her other hand across her cheek and taking in an inadvisably deep breath in an attempt to clear her airways. The air still somehow burns, nearly brings her to cough.

"We learned a lot from this one. We'll do even better next time," she swears, voice sticky with catharsis.

"But of course I decided that," Yi-Min states as though it's the most obvious thing in the world. Perhaps to her, it is. "Nothing of what conspired to bring you to this place was in any way your fault. Yet: through the brave face you have put on so long for everyone to see, beholden to duty, never even once complaining, I could see you." And there, she lifts a single forefinger to prod Kara with playful lightness in the center of her chest, right where her heart lies.

"We will do even better next time. Just you wait and see. Additionally, I say to you that we shall… wait. Hang on." Turning away from Kara for the first time, Yi-Min pivots a foot slightly so as to better to squint off into the haze-obscured distance, peering at some mystery past the farmhouse's crumbled walls.

Even as Yi-Min says that, she guardedly takes a few small, mincing paces over the unevenly clumped ground just before her feet, testing for purchase with her good leg before fully trusting the weight of her dead one.

"I think I see something."

Something about Yi-Min's simple insistence, along with her prodding literal and metaphorical, somehow makes everything feel right again. Kara finally cracks a smile, overexaggeratedly staggering a step back when she's poked in the chest. The grin remains even when Yi-Min's attention becomes split, and it takes her partner a second to come back down to earth.

It's only after she's taken those first few steps away that Kara herself comes back down to earth, following on a delay as though she were attached by a string.

"What is it?" she asks absently. Her eyes dart up to the uncertain infrastructure of the home, and her steps quicken to not let Yi-Min venture in alone. "What're you looking at?"

"Come," Yi-Min replies with breezy, officious ease, waiting for Kara to catch up primarily so that Kara will be in a better physical position to help her even further along. Since they had brought the wheelchair (and left it some distance away, on even ground), she is not wearing her exoskeletal leg, and so walking is even more of a pain for her than it normally is.

At the beginning of her path forward, Yi-Min balks only to throw a sharp tilt of her chin up towards the gaunt line of the once-proud eaves. Such a vague gesture doesn't exactly help to clarify what she had spotted, but at least it gives a direction.

Even if that's also vague.

"Help me over there, would you? Gănxiè."

Kara makes her way that direction with even more haste, agitation growing. "Yi-Min Yeh." First and last name. Watch out. She frets the entire time her partner might lose her footing, her hand touching lightly to Yi-Min's back once she's close enough to do so, like the superficial touch alone might be of aid.

Her eyes dart up to where the indicative gesture was given, an eyebrow arching. "N—" Kara shakes her head once, stepping ahead and forward. "Let me check it out. You see what where?" The question is patient, accompanied with a glance back to be mindful of additional gestures. "Whatever it is, I'll get it. Don't risk a fall out here."

"Oh, Kara. Who is being the silly egg now? I know well enough how to walk," Yi-Min complains, though with only a modicum of the usual weight behind the objection. She does at least come to a slow stop, more for Kara's sake than for her own, finding a patch of solid soil to plant her feet onto while she gestures a hand ahead.

"Up there. That glimmering bit, just at the corner of the house. Where the shadow slices across the ground. Can you see it?"

Once Kara manages to catch sight of the thing Yi-Min is talking about, she will immediately recognize why her partner had singled out that particular item for retrieval. It's the lining of a thin metallic frame, nearly completely buried in blackened earth save for one extruding edge.

More than a year ago, Yi-Min and Kara had taken an outing to a beach deep in the Pine Barrens. Afterwards, Yi-Min had taken it upon herself to frame certain mementos from the trip in a miniature composition:

Several dried blue and violet wildflowers. One short, mustard-yellow feather, originally found near the nest of baby birds Yi-Min had introduced to Kara.

This is the remnant of that vacation.

The physical remnant of that memory.

That it's not burned, or otherwise shattered and exposed and its contents been lost to the wind is a miracle, one which brings Kara to gasp as soon as she sights what she's been lead to see. She surges a step forward to see where the frame has settled, fallen from a higher perch where the flame hadn't claimed the wall. She wonders the peculiar path it must have taken when it fell.

No matter.

"I see it," she confirms almost breathlessly, a caged animal seeking its way to something it desires. Her head twists to examine the path forward, uncertain if her intervention will cause some shift and collapse, but she decides it's worth the risk.

Stepping over charred remains and around the metal springs remaining of the burned, fallen bed, Kara carefully navigates to the settling of soot, her steps careful. Perhaps more careful than she needs to be, but the thought of ending up under rubble while Yi-Min looks on spurs her to caution.

Retrieving the frame is a much simpler task, lifting it carefully out of the black to see the cracked but still whole sheet of glass pinning the mementos to frame. A sigh of relief is saved until she's danced her way back out again, the back of her hand brushing away remnants of the fire from glass and frame both.

A choked laugh escapes her. "Would you look at that," Kara notes with strain in her voice. "It turns out we have some amount of luck after all."

As Yi-Min watches Kara root through the rubble, her half-lidded eyes shine more brightly with warmth as the frame is pulled into view. Unable to remove her gaze from the modest, yet blessed sight, she finds herself murmuring a lilting phrase under her breath.

The words are fully formed before she even speaks them aloud, as if plucked straight from a dormant memory. How fitting it was that they should find their way back to her tongue now.

"It isn't luck," Yi-Min adds in a lifted, more normal speaking voice for Kara's benefit, lifting her chin up too. "There is always treasure to be found, if only you know where to look." Her expression reshapes itself to better hold a touch of blissful levity, and she smiles at the self-indulgence of calling such a small, silly thing a treasure.

And yet, there it is.

It's that piece that does Kara's composure in entirely. An armslength away from her partner, she looks up with the frame in her hand, eyes shining. Her shoulders shiver involuntarily as she holds back from openly crying.

But as she begins to crack a smile, her eyes betray her and tears fall from each eye anyway. In their glimmer, it's easier to see that Kara isn't looking down at the frame anymore. It's Yi-Min.

It's always been Yi-Min.

Soft, half-formed whispers of love and praise leaves her as she steps in, cut off from finish from how she draws the shorter woman into an embrace and ducks her head to kiss her tenderly. Self-conscious once she realizes her tears are staining Yi-Min's cheek too, Kara withdraws and carefully rubs at her face with the side of her thumb, oblivious to the smear of ash she leaves in its place.

"Good thing I've got the best treasure-finder in the whole wide world, huh?" she asks on a broken laugh, more tears stubbornly making their way down her face in a renewed wave of emotion. She pauses for a moment, considering trying to recompose herself, then just laughs again. She looks down for a moment at the retrieved treasure of a frame and then back up to Yi-Min. "What do you say we head into town to find a drink?"

Kara looks back on the fire-destroyed home with a little more willingness to move on from it. Its ashes wouldn't be their end, after all.

She smiles a little when she looks back to her partner, and starts actively maneuvering them away from the ashes, their frame of found treasure still held tightly in one hand.

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