Toy Soldiers


vf_dave_icon.gif vf_elisabeth_icon.gif

Scene Title Toy Soldiers
Synopsis Is that all we are in this messed-up place?
Date January 13, 2012

The Shoe Culvert

The silence is suffocating.

The Hub is practically a tomb compared to the chaos just over a day ago, but away from the argumentative shouts in the common area and the mourning cries of those who watched friends die, the tunnels leading away to the Lost and Found have an appropriately cemetery quality. Elisabeth isn't surprised when she finds David Cardinal here, sitting on an upended milk crate, staring at the large box of shoes that once belonged to the dead.

He draws his hands down his face, looking over to the sound of approaching footsteps. There's emotion in his eyes, reddened and tear-filled. It's hard not to empathize with the way he feels after everything he's seen. He looks run down as he sits there, threadbare sweater doing little to keep him warm. There's still smudges of dirt on his face, hair greasy, soot stink clinging to his hair.

It didn't end well, for anyone.

Quarantine, for Liz, was oddly silent. Or perhaps from Liz is a more appropriate way to describe it. Aside from answering direct questions put to her in the fewest number of words possible, the blonde has literally not spoken of what they all witnessed. Whatever the reactions of those within the quarantine, her own are compartmentalized very thoroughly so that if the remainder of the team needs something from her, she can give it.

Only now, after they have been released, is the facade beginning to crack just a little. Isabelle and Shaw are gone, having never made the retreat point to meet them. She has no ability to compartmentalize that fact, so instead she goes over and over again the one thing besides the horrifying stench of burned human remains that stuck in her head and her nose when it was all done — David's face.

Seeking him now, she pauses at the end of the small hallway that acts as a shoe repository. When he meets her eyes, he can finally actually see something there — not the calm face she gave them in quarantine, emotionless. Her real emotions are surfacing and she is holding on, though barely. She moves to sit on the makeshift bench next to him, pulling the sleeves of the sweater that she wears down over her hands some. She's distantly grateful that it's too big — she feels a little bit hidden, protected, within it.

Step by step, heart to heart

"I'm sorry," she tells him quietly. "I'm sorry you had to be there for all of it. And that we failed so spectacularly." Her voice is low, choked in the way that says she's just managing to keep from crying herself. "Is there anything I can do to help you cope?" It was perhaps not what she'd intended to ask him initially, but she can't squelch the need to take care of her people before dealing with her personal stuff.

Dave is silent, staring off into a point in space both close and such a great distance away. “I… I don't know.” He looks down at his hands, at the ground below them, and then rakes his fingers back through his hair. “Honestly, I— I don't know if there is coping with what we saw.”

Breathing in deeply, David exhales a sigh and looks to the shoes. “It isn't the failure that… that bothers me. It's…” he looks up to Liz, the regret and resentment in his eyes so clear. “It's what we were willing to do when we thought we’d win.” His eyes avert to the floor, then find the shoes again.

“The fuck is the point in living if we give up our humanity?” Liz knows that haunted tone in David’s voice, the world-on-his-shoulders posture. She doesn't need a blood test to see a familial resemblance and a genetic predisposition to guilt made manifest.

She could say so many things to him… that it was us or them; that they were already dead and hadn't had the courtesy to lay down and die yet. The things a leader might say to try to bolster the soldiers who fought under their command. But she can't, at this moment, force any of those kinds of platitudes or inspirations out of her mouth. The woman is damaged in places she isn't sure she'll ever recover from.

Left, right, left, we all fall down

"You never learn quite so much about how far you've fallen until you have to make a choice like this," Elisabeth finally says quietly. She knows she is well and truly damned to Hell for her part in all of this. "To remove the hostages from the equation… was not our only choice." She wets her lips, struggling to find something — anything — that might help this man. "I do not know that I could have given her that order. I've ordered people killed before… but everyone has their lines. And I don't know if I could have crossed that one. That being said… I wish I could say it was the wrong one. It wasn't the right one down to the core of my being… but I can't say it was the wrong one either." And the schism might just fracture her at the core levels.

Bit by bit, torn apart

"You — no, we — are living on a dead world, David. If we are giving up any chance to leave it… it would almost be kinder to simply kill the residents here in their sleep." Could she do that? When she looks at him, the conflict of that thought is evident. "How, in a world like this, do we pick and choose who gets to leave it? Whoever lives here goes and to hell with the rest? How do we choose our own lives over someone else's? Does it make us evil to do it?" Shaking her head slightly, the blonde whispers, "I don't have the answers. These are the horrors we face. And someone has to choose to not give up… if we don't fight, who will?"

We never win, but the battle wages on

David never looks up from the spot of concrete between his feet. He wrings his hands there, jaw muscles working tense and relaxed. “They weren't sick,” he says with little strength left in his voice. “They— they weren't even…” he swallows down the discomfort, closes his eyes.

“This isn't just some world,” David finally looks back up to Liz. “This is our home. It's no different to us than whatever the fuck it is you came from, and— and every single fucking person out there— my son— all live in it!” He isn't mad at her, but the anger he feels and the frustration with it is so painfully real. “We don't get second chances, we probably don't even get to leave here. We have to make the best out what what we’re given and— and fucking stand by our convictions or— or what's even the point?”

Jaw unsteady, David’s eyes search Elisabeth’s for understanding. “If we become just like them to get what we want, how the fuck do we live with ourselves if we even do make it away from here? How— how— h-how do we live with ourselves?” He could have stopped Isabelle, could have shot her, distracted her, something.

He could've done what Edward Ray did in Isabelle’s other timeline.

Instead he let it happen. That guilt, and the horror he saw because of his inaction, haunts him in a way a ghost never could.

There is no way to mistake the understanding, the impotent rage, or the shame that reflect out of her face. She is nothing if not a truly haunted woman. His first words make silent tears overflow, they weren't sick. And they weren't going to be, but she doesn't interrupt him. He needs to say it all out loud… and she deserves whatever he throws at her. She could have ordered Isabelle to stand down or killed the pyrokinetic herself. And she let it all happen. Some might offer that they simply froze, unable to really comprehend in those moments… and it wouldn't be a lie. She had. But she offers no such excuses either. It was her job to lead, and the responsibility is hers to bear.

"You'll live with yourself because you'll find a way to rationalize it…" Elisabeth looks up at him, her tears silent and perhaps all the more devastating for the fact that they just keep running in a steady stream. "It's for your own children, because you're fighting to somehow save them. You live with yourself by accepting that some of us become monsters so the rest don't have to. And you never really sleep again. You either learn to see their faces in your dreams and find a way past it or you eat your gun." The past two years have perhaps done even more to her than she realized; she considers that idea with a distant kind of introspection. And dismisses it for now.

As she looks down at her hands, he can see from her body language that she too is struggling to make some kind of sense of the horrors. "So," the blonde murmurs as she looks up, "What do I do? I can't save everyone— " He can hear the moment she loses the battle for composure. Her voice breaks on the last word. Her body hunches in on itself as her arms wrap tightly around her own middle and her jaw clenches. If he thought she was untouched by it, he was brutally mistaken.

Withdrawing on that realization, David takes his fingers through his hair and sighs deeply. “Edward…” is the last name Elisabeth may want to hear right now, but it's that or silence. David's decision isn't without some internal debate. “He wants to see you and Magnes. I don't know why, I don't know when I was going to tell you…”

Looking away, David furrows his brows. “He's afraid of you,” is an admission she also hadn't expected to hear. “I've— been his spy for a long time. Keeping the peace in the Hub by watching others. He wanted me to spy on you, make sure you weren't going to strand him here or something…”

He looks away, to the shoes, then back to Elisabeth. “He's afraid that you're going to let him and Kaylee die here.”

It takes her several long moments to rein it back in, breathing deeply to subdue the surge of emotion that has the potential to drown her in the horrors of burning children. It's not time for that yet. When she finally sits up again, she is once more in control of it, wiping her face with the backs and front of her hands. "I'm sorry," she murmurs. "You didn't need to deal with that." Blowing out a slow breath, her blue eyes come back up to David.

She studies the man in front of her and says softly, "I'm not surprised by any of those revelations, you know." Elisabeth wishes she could be amused, but mostly right now she's just fighting to keep some amount of equilibrium. "Here's the thing. I don't care what he thinks he knows about me — I'm going to bust my ass to get everyone that I can away from here. No matter my personal feelings, no matter what someone has done here in this world… I'm not the judge, jury, and executioner of anyone who lives in this world. YOUR world. All I want is to get home and to take as many of you as want to come with me."

She leans over again and rests her elbows on her knees, just breathing slow, counted breaths. Meditation breathing, really. But it helps. When she speaks again, she asks quietly, "David… " She looks up at him, her demeanor gentler as she asks, "why are you telling me this?"

“Because maybe you should.”

David stares at Liz for a long, silent time before he dares elaborate. “Not his daughter, she's— innocent in all of this. But Edward’s… he's dangerous. I've never heard or seen anything to be sure, but he— he keeps his secrets. People get exiled, people suddenly come up sick…” David’s eyes wander away from Liz, then down to the shoes, them back again.

“Just before you arrived,” David starts in a hushed voice, “he sent Odessa Price out into the ruins to look for a cache of adynomine. I was observing her, following her eyes, and… the directions Edward gave her, they led to a tenement building full of people infected with the virus. A whole shanty-town of them.”

David’s blue eyes unfocus, tongue sliding across his teeth. “She took an adynomine injection. I saw her take it. She came back to the Hub, she passed clean inspection. Then she went to go see Edward and I stepped out of her eyes. Figured he didn't need me there anymore…”

Scrubbing one hand over his mouth, David looks at the shoes. At a pair of thick-heeled tennis shoes poking out. “Next thing I know we’re having a memorial. He said she never came back.”

David covers his face with his hands, brings his head down and scrubs his hands along the sides of his face and laces them together at the back of his neck. “I'm not saying to confront him about it just— he's dangerous. And he’ll do anything to get what he wants.”

But the explanation to that want of Edward’s remains unanswered.

Elisabeth drives one hand up through her hair in a movement as instinctive as it is useless— she no longer has the waist-length mass to hold at the top of her head anymore. Motherfucker. She sighs heavily. "Well," she replies in a dry tone, "I wish I could say that was a surprise." The admission is weary.

"He's was a ruthless motherfucker where I'm from, so it stands to reason he's a ruthless motherfucker in most worlds. At least when it comes to the survival of his kids. It's almost funny that he's afraid of me — I have zero interest in the politics of this world. I just want to go home." Shaking her head a little, she comments quietly, "Richard was convinced that despite his methods, Edward had good intentions. The only thing I've ever really seen him lack is compassion — he was emotionlessly pragmatic in the attempts he made to try to thwart bad shit." Leaning back on the wall, Elisabeth crosses her arms again. "So… what is it that he wants?" she asks.

David just shakes his head, not knowing the answer to that. “He loves his daughter. That's the only person or thing I've ever seen him truly care about.” There's a tremor of nervousness that comes through him on saying that, but it passes as he looks down to the ground.

“After what happened at the warehouse, with the other kids, I just… maybe he saw that. Saw some possibility that— ” David tries to justify Edward’s fear and comes up lacking. “I don't know. I just know he protects Kaylee like she was made of glass.” And David has no way to know that she's the last of his blood-related children here, perhaps held in regard even above Richard. Their dynamic here seems to be different. Less master-student. In fact, they hardly seem to have a dynamic.

It's strange.

She's noticed the lack, but Liz hasn't really wanted to insert herself into those relationships. She's still leery of giving this Edward too much information about her own home, though she really cannot articulate why she has such a negative reaction to the man. It wasn't merely that he'd ordered her shot — that action she simply chalked up to pragmatism and expedience. They never really tried to explore why he wanted to have her killed… and the fact that he's afraid of her here brings that thought to the fore. Why had she been someone who needed to die on that list? Just to drive Richard to the point that he needed to reach to become Ezekiel? Why is he afraid of her here? Why did he kill Odessa? What purpose had that served? He'd tried to do it bloodlessly, where it would cause no questions. Was he just getting rid of anyone who might object to his actions? Or had she known something that might have changed everything?

Won't you come out and play with me?

Her brain is now awhirl with questions of timelines and conspiracy and who gains what by killing whom. She's always hated this part — in the past two years, she has literally felt as stupid and thick as another person can, trying to keep up with the mental shenanigans going on around her. Circles within circles within puzzle boxes wrapped up in chess games on all sides. Ugh. RICHARD, goddammit. This is your job!

"If I were what he feared… I'd spend my time trying to gain your confidence and turn you against him," Elisabeth finally says quietly. "Because I know he's not telling me things. That's a given with him. It would be nice to know he's not just out to fuck me over. But I'll do what I always do — move forward with the best information I have and try to keep as many people safe as I can while trying to get where I need to go. And to the best of my ability, I'll do it without compromising my principles." She shrugs. "You can take that for whatever it's worth to you right now, given what we've just been party to."

The thought of it sends a wave of revulsion through her and she has to close her eyes against it. The nightmares she's about to suffer might just wash away the ones she expected to be having about a mushroom cloud of shadows. Or maybe it'll just add to them. But she's quite sure she will never forget yesterday as long as she lives — yet another horror to file in her Treasure Chest of Memories She Wishes She Didn't Have.

“Yeah…” is the weary and noncommittal response Dave gives to everything. He finally sits up, unlaced his hands from the back of his neck and lets his arms drape over his legs. He can't take his eyes off of the shoes in the box. “Just,” Dave looks over to Elisabeth, haunted in ways words don't convey properly, yet in ways Liz understands intimately. “Just be careful.”

Dave looks over to Liz after that, breathing in deep and tense. “If you've got any tricks left up your sleeve, it might be best to play them. Because…” Dave eyes the shoes, them back. “We gave everyone hope, and now it's— ” he closes his eyes and looks away.

“We need something.” Anything, he means.

Exhaling a long breath, Elisabeth nods slightly. "That we haven't been lynched already is a miracle," she observes in a dark tone. "I'll go see what Edward has to say… assuming he doesn't gut one of us or have us turned out, we might be able to sort out something else. It's possible that I actually do have an idea."

It's grasping at straws. Or worse. But she has to wonder if the Arcology is still there in this world. And if it is, and if the precogs of this world warned them… there might be a chance at amplification drugs or even someone like Gillian up there. But it's a hell of a long shot. And it means trying to convince at least one person who is unlikely to trust her again to undertake what would be a long trip in a world where travel was impeded by zombies. Goddammit, Magnes was kinda right.. it is a fucking zombie apocalypse.

"Fuck," she breathes out wearily. "We knew this was a long shot, but he wouldn't have sent us if he didn't see some possibility of success coming from it. Maybe … maybe there's something else in those fucking probabilities for us to work with." She turns her head on the wall where she's leaned it to look at him. She isn't sure what to say to him — nothing that will help anything comes to mind.

"Thank you," she tells him softly. "I honestly had already assumed you were doing exactly that from the moment we shook hands… but I appreciate that you warned me."

There's a vacant look in David’s eyes, followed by a resigned nod as he laces his fingers together and can't pull his eyes away from the shoes in the pile. “Yeah,” he says in another distant exhale of words, shoulders slacked and jaw set. “Yeah I… I hope it mattered, in the end.”

He hopes any of it mattered in the end.

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