Together For Christmas


wf_avi_icon.gif wf_emily_icon.gif

Scene Title Together For Christmas
Synopsis At least in one reality, the Epsteins are together for Christmas.
Date December 24, 2017

An abandoned cabin in the Adirondacks, near Lake Placid

I'll be home for Christmas

You can plan on me

Please have snow and mistletoe

And presents on the tree

Emily was curled up against the windowsill, knee to her chest with her knuckles against her mouth as she watched the snow fall outside. The small, windup radio was at the foot of the bed, projecting the Christmas classic with cheerful obliviousness. In scanning stations, she'd stumbled across it and couldn't bring herself to tune it away … even if it was from a station broadcasting from inside the Dome.

It was going to be Christmas, wasn't it? The weeks had snuck by, one bleeding into the other, with more focus placed on scavenging and making sure everyone was safe, warm, and supplied rather than paying too much attention to the passage of time itself.

A popping log in the fireplace snares her attention, head craning to make sure no embers jumped out onto the wooden floor. After a moment of staring, she sinks back into her perch, satisfied for the moment to resume watching the snowflakes shimmer down through the icy, fog-laced air.

Christmas Eve will find me

Where the lovelight gleams

In fragments, she begins to hum along, her arms wrapped around her shin now while her thumb brushes her knee.

I'll be home for Christmas

If only in my dreams

Something about the melancholy turn in the lyric resonates with her, agitating soreness both old and recent. Blue eyes dance over an unseen idea, her grip tightening on her knee as she holds onto the sense of purpose she's suddenly filled with. She clears her throat, turning away from the snow.

“You know most of the people who manned those stations are dead,” is the greeting that comes with Avi’s tall frame pushing its way through the door from outside, accompanied by a gust of bitterly cold air. He’s slow, limping as always these days, hunting bow and a quiver of arrows slung over his shoulder. There’s three skinned and drained rabbits tied together over his other shoulder, some fur pelts too. It'd been a long couple of days.

Shaking off the snow, Avi manages a reluctant smile to Emily, then ambles over and lays down the rabbits on the wood block countertop in plain sight of the fireplace. It isn't a big cabin, but it's enough for them, and it's far away from the Hunters and Centurions and other nightmares.

“You hungry? I can… start making something.” Even this semblance of quiet home life is awkward for Avi. It's a difficult measure of normalcy juxtaposed against a world of exceptional terror and ever-present dread. But he’s learned to make a bisque, so that's good.

"You never know. Occasionally, there's something on." Emily replies, squinting at the stab of cold that hits her from outdoors. She lets out a tut and crawls forward off the bed to grab another log for the fire. Even if it still had a good while left before it needed it, just being closer to the fire would feel better at the moment.

The log tossed in, she takes a moment to warm her hands, catching his smile and returning it with a thin one of her own before looking off again. She was grateful to have seen so much of him since the injury, but he was getting back into everything — pushing himself to do more than he should. The world didn't wait for you to be ready to fight again, though, it just pushed you to survive.

The thought causes her to come to her feet, coming to his side as swift as she can. "Let me help." she says in the distracted, forceful way she does. He'll know she has something on her mind. She does this on occasion — finds something distract herself with long enough to build up static courage to speak her mind.

It doesn't take long in this case. "You know what today is?" she asks offhandedly, knife already in hand to begin separating meat from bone on the nearest rabbit.

“Is this a Christmas Carol reference?” Avi says with a crooked smile, choosing to let Emily handle the meat as he moves over to the small L-shaped counter space that serves as a kitchen. He retrieves a pair of oddly shaped potatoes from a basket, then sets them down on the counter. “Because in this analogy I’m clearly going to be fucking Ebenezer.”

With that rejoinder laid out, Avi walks to the far end of the cabin and opens the ice chest packed with snow and retrieves an opaque bottle of milk they've been rationing, then an old stewpot from the storage shelf. “But no, really, what day is it?”

Emily grins almost involuntarily in response, pausing for a moment with a quiet 'heh' before turning the rabbit over on the countertop. "Dad, don't say things like you'd fuck Ebenezer Scrooge. That's weird." she mumbles almost incomprehensibly through a wry smirk.

When he comes back with his question, the look fades quickly. Then, her shoulders square and the tone of her voice lifts back up, conversational and with a forced lightness. "Well… there's something I need to ask you." Her eyes stay on the task before her, working deftly. "It is almost Christmas. It can even be a Christmas present, if you want."

That's not what— ” Avi clamps his mouth shut and stares at Emily with the biggest frown, followed by his inability to keep a straight face and bursting out laughing. It distracts him from what he was doing as much as the rest of what she was saying did. Setting down his knife, he walks away from the counter and over to stand beside her.

“We've been over this,” Avi says with level earnesty. “We’re not getting a monkey.” That level stare he manages to maintain, in spite of the sarcasm.

It's difficult to not cave and deflect, to just laugh and go with the moment. If not a monkey, then a dog! But she doesn't.

"Eve's batshit crazy plan — I want to help. Let me come with you."

She draws in a breath, eyes still on his. Her words come out in a rush, trying to keep him from having any room to get in a counterargument. "Whenever word starts coming back about what'll end up happening — about whatever's going on with those people— I want to be a part of it. I can be of more use than just sitting back and holding down the fort."

Sure, guarding the kids was important. It was arguably, no, LITERALLY guarding the future. But it increasingly wasn't where her heart was.

"This is going to be huge, and I don't want to just hang back with the kids while you're out risking your life." The knife is set aside, laid flat.

“Absolutely not,” Avi says too quickly to have even listened to her. “Eve’s a case study in the perils of drug use,” comes with two fingers pinched at his mouth and a puckered, sucking face. “Her plan isn't even that, she had some halfassed vision of something she won't explain in detail and we need another batshit crazy seer to resolve it.”

Waving one hand flippantly in the air, Avi exhales a sigh. “Look, I'm not even involved. I did a couple friends a solid and helped keep their asses out of the fire but that's it. Special Activities has bigger shit going on than this. Than some fucking… Ray Bradbury bullshit.” He regards the travelers with little care.

“Trust me. You're better off here with me and Eileen,” is his quietly admitted perspective. “We aren't going to win this war by dumb fucking luck. We hunker down in, wait for another nation to pick the fight, and support them. French Resistance style.”

"Dad, there's no one coming." Her palm grinds into the table as she shakes her head, looking away. "There's not some Lafayette that's going to show up in the middle of the night and show us how to get our shit together and everything." Wrong war, Emily.

"All we've got on our side beside better brains than those mongoloids are the superpowers they want to strip out of everybody in the first place. So maybe, maybe Eve's onto something, even if she's fucking crazy." She's frustrated and deflating slowly, heel of her palm still turning. Her voice gets quieter with each phrase. "Nothing's going to happen unless we make it happen. And maybe getting good people out from under the dome is what it takes."

She tilts her head back toward the ceiling, trying to state her belief on the subject instead of just avoiding it. "I don't know, shine a light on what we find in the process. Force the world to see. Who knows, maybe if we did something like that, some other country might even come in and pick a fight finally." It's a weak if, a weak maybe. Not enough certainty. And a lot of resources, human and otherwise, that could be wasted on it. But if it all worked out… She could see the value. She could see why it was worth taking that risk.

Her shoulders curl up in a defensive shrug and she holds one hand open-palmed in an apparent yield. "I don't want to argue, Dad."

He was going to — adamantly — right up until she said that. Instead, Avi’s shoulders deflate and he exhales a sigh and shakes his head. “Yeah… yeah I know.” Momentarily eyeing the counterspace, Avi puts dinner on hold for a moment. “I guess… I guess it's not even about waiting to win. I just… I don't think there is a win left, Em.”

It looks like it kills Avi to admit that. “Europe’s gone full Nazi, China doesn't want to get involved, Japan doesn't have an army… the rest of the world'd be happy if we all burned for the shit the country paid me to do when I was just a few years older than you.” Regret replaces shame, and Avi looks down at the floor.

“It's hard to say this country didn't deserve it.” is a grim thing for Avi to say on Christmas eve.

The acknowledgement of the elephant in the war is met with a moment of silence. Hearing him admit it was different than it being something she just felt. It made it that much more real. Her hand falls back to the countertop to assist her in leaning against it while she thinks.

Her voice is clear, even though her words are spoken low, "I don't want to spend the rest of my life waiting for a centurion to come walking down the bunker stairs, Dad." She remembers what it sounded like when he'd first come back from Eve's great misadventure, the screeching of bending metal from his makeshift brace sounding like death had been escorting itself into the nursery.

"This isn't working. We either fight, or we run and hope for the best." The latter option is mentioned dismissively before she brings herself to look back at her father. "I'd rather die fighting than hiding."

She gives a helpless shrug after making that statement. "Don't let me continue to feel like that's all I do. That's all I want."

Emily draws the knife back into her hand, grabbing the next rabbit by its thigh and beginning again. "So yeah, I'm not asking for fucking world peace or something impossible for Christmas. Just let me go fight for it." Preferably by his side, seems to be the implication.

“Fight?” Avi’s brows scrunch up and his posture stiffens. “Fight?” Jaw clenched, he taps his leather eyepatch with two fingers. “This isn't a fucking reenactment of Red Dawn! I've watched kids your age get dragged out of houses, lined up against a wall, and shot!” His temper starts to flare, but not because she doesn't have a point. Quite the contrary.

“Fighting— Fighting is a means to a fucking end. We’re barely holding our own out there half the fucking time. Five people go in two come back dragging half of a third. Do you know they have a fucking Harvester that sprays negation gas now? We can barely fight that with half the Resistance leadership out in front!”

Avi starts pacing, limping on his bad leg. “Look at me!” He says with a motion up and down himself with one hand. “I've been fighting since I— since I was your age and there's barely enough left of me to bury in a ditch!” His voice cracks, one good eye reddened.

“We all die, Em…” Avi says much softer. “What matters to me is that you live.”

Stripping meat from bone is productive, and conveniently enough an excuse not to look at him as he raises his voice. Her movements are tense and pointed, until they're not. There's not much to work with on these to begin with, and she quickly loses patience with herself once her hands start shaking. With his anger comes a flare of her own, teeth gritting as she fights back passing a comment that wouldn't help.

Emily does look at him out of the corner of her eye as he makes that rhetorical plea, jaw still tight. Knife hand held slightly higher for a moment, it trembles as she considers and then regrets even worse what she wanted to say. A 'tch' escapes her as her grip shifts so she can stab the end of the knife into the countertop in frustration.

This isn't living. is just another thing she'd like to bitterly say.

Her voice is raised now. "If I lose you, there's no point left, though." She turns slowly, in a shuffle. "I can't stand feeling helpless like…" this. Her head drops and tilts, straining to keep her voice even. When she looks back up, her clear blue eyes are a shine brighter than before. "I can't. I — can't."

"What is there worth living for aside from family? You're all I have left." she swipes one hand in Avi's direction, her expression folding in. It's not an intentional barb, though she knows it stands to be just as bad as one. She tries to still look at him, but can't make eye contact. "And you just…" With an exasperated noise, her hand falls back to her side.

Avi makes a noise in the back of his throat. It's a small, conciliatory thing, accompanied by a disapproving grumble that she's come to understand all too well over the years. He sweeps one large arm around Emily, bringing her in to his chest as he places a hand at the back of her head. “Neither of us have much fight left in us,” Avi says into the hair at the top of her head. “We’re broken people.” He from a lifetime of war, she from bad luck.

“Neither of us are in a position to fight anymore if we don't want to lose each other,” is Avi’s sobering moment of clarity in all of this. “Eileen, Jensen, all the Remnant? Sure. Yeah, they aren't bags of broken glass yet. But… I mean, I should've laid up my gun a long time ago.”

Avi leans away from Emily just enough to look down at her, one calloused hand on her cheek. “I should've been a better father.”

It takes her a while to look up, head shaking slightly as she does. She's not bitter, but the admission does something to her. "Better's subjective, and doesn't change the now." she informs him morosely, her arm still wrapped around his torso. There was almost a decade of lost hugs they had to make up for, including the year it took after they'd been reunited for her to box up her hatred and leave it behind. It'd taken a lot from her to put her feelings around his lack of being a present father behind her, and to seize the moments going forward. Because if nothing else, they had then — they had now.

Emily's tone doesn't improve much as she tries to keep her emotions less visible. Her watering eyes betray her in that endeavor. "Between the both of us, I don't think anything would have been different. If we hadn't been here, if we hadn't been doing our best to help … I don't think either of us could have slept at night. It's not in us." She lets out a shallow sigh at that. Yeah, it's something that cost them precious time together when any day could be the unlucky one. But it's also something that made her incredibly proud to have a father like him.

"If it hadn't been for you, I'd have given up. One fucking way or another, I'd not be alive." Either from the camp, the Institute, or a loss of hope. "But you inspired me, you know? To try and make … something, out of all this nothing."

Her shoulders lift in a fragile shrug. "I don't regret that. I cherish that. I'm glad you came for me, and I'm glad I have you now." A sniff to clear her nose dashes away most of the glimmer in her eye, at least for now. She forces a smile. "Just… blame me getting sentimental on the holiday, yeah?" Emily lets out her breath slowly afterward, trying to mentally distance herself from the rough conversation they're having.

Before she can let herself write this off entirely, though, she leans the side of her face against his chest and hugs him as firmly as she can without actually touching him with her hands, which are curled away to prevent getting rabbit-dirtied fingerprints over his back. "The both of us might be broken in our own ways, but everyone is." Her forehead roughly scrubs against the fabric of his shirt before she pulls back, leaning on the countertop. For all her emotion, her determination with something hasn't been shook, and it's visible as she looks back up at him.

"I'm not ready to step back. I'm ready to be young and stupid and chase down every last scrap of hope we can find. But if you want to, you deserve to. Even if you don't end up stepping back entirely."

Something about the way Emily looks at him melts whatever resolve Avi had left into slag. He closes his eye, brings a hand up to his face and then slowly drags it down his mouth. He doesn't consent to any change of their trajectories, but his silent complicity implies that he may at least be willing to consider possible outcomes. Even if he isn't sure what form they could ever take.

“People keep telling me you're as stubborn as I am,” Avi grumbles as he steps back over to Emily, lifting a calloused hand to rest against her shoulder. “But they're wrong,” of that he's certain. “You're nothing like me, because you're compassionate, smart, and make better choices.”

Avi squeezes Emily’s shoulder gently, then lifts his hand to thread a lock of blonde hair behind one of her ears.

“Your mother was like that too.”

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