Welcome Back Flowers


lance_icon.gif liza_icon.gif

Scene Title Welcome Back Flowers
Synopsis Lance returns to work, and finally gets a chance to sit down with his work partner to see how each other are holding up.
Date May 25, 2021

Fort Jay

Technically, Lance should be carrying a cane when he comes in to work. He’s forced himself to walk without it, though, and is just keeping his pace easy, leisurely, like he’s taking everything in and not hurrying. He was careful to dress as he ever did, suit and tie and everything – if anything he looks more clean-cut than previously, with more care taken to look presentable.

It isn’t that he’s worried about showing weakness, or anything macho like that - he’s worried that one of the people that sent him on the mission will see him, and he wants to seem as good as ever even if he’s not fully healed up yet. Nicole already feels guilty enough.

Speaking of Agent Miller, he glances at her office door as he walks past it– sees the slider pushed to Clean– and doesn’t duck his head in like he normally would to call some quip or another to bother her, since he knows she won’t be there. Past the door, onto the main floor, and he heads for his desk.

There’s a thing of flowers someone’s set on the desk for him, and a card that’s still in the envelope– he smiles faintly to see it, stopping just behind his chair, hands resting on the back of it. Then he pulls the chair out a little, craning his neck to look beneath the desk for some reason.

"Are you afraid someone is trying to prank you just when you're getting back?"

The voice is Liza Messer, who is currently poking her nose out from the break room, meandering her way towards his desk, coffee in hand. The white of the cup is marked up with several check-marks and notes, clearly a complicated order that she decided to bring with her rather than use the office coffee machine. Dressed in a snug-fitting red blouse and grey slacks, she offers a chipper smile with her equally chipper attitude.

"There's nothing weird under there, I checked. Not because I don't trust our co-workers but… I don't trust our co-workers. The desire for a good laugh sometimes overcomes sensibility when it comes to welcoming back someone who has been… away." The small blonde nods towards the flowers. "Uh, I didn't know if you were into flowers, but I got some anyway. If somehow you don't want them, I'll just move them to my desk and make people think I have a secret admirer."

That saves him the trouble of reading the card.

“Just because I was out for a bit doesn’t mean Cooper’s going to go easy on me,” is Lance’s wry observation as he straightens his neck, looking over to Liza with an honestly relieved smile. One hand rests on the back of the chair, which he absolutely doesn’t need to keep his balance comfortably thank you very much.

He glances at the flowers then back with a chuckle, “Pft, I’m sure you already have enough secret admirers around the office, we don’t want to make them jealous– I’ll keep them. Thanks. I do appreciate it actually. So, uh– “

An awkward pause, “How have things been going since you got back?” The subtext being how are you dealing with what we experienced.

“They’re really secret,” Liza says with an amused grin. “Glad you like them. I wanted to make sure you knew you were missed.” She’s silent a moment after the awkward pause, but it’s clear after a second that it’s because she’s forming her words carefully. “Uh, things are… things. Work continues, it’s a distraction, but it all feels uncomfortably familiar.” She clears her throat.

“I mean, it’s the office, of course it’s familiar.”

“I know what you mean. It’s like either the– fieldwork was a dream, or this was,” Lance admits, glancing over the office briefly, “And it’s hard to tell which one it is, or was.”

The tip of his tongue briefly moistens his lips, and then he looks back to her and flashes a smile again, “Anything interesting been going on? Any workplace gossip I missed while I was out? Cooper get anyone good?”

It’s awkward, and not in the charming awkward way that Lance usually is. He’s not sure how to act right now.

Liza takes a glance over the office for a moment, then returns her attention to Lance with a smile. She doesn’t answer his question immediately, just casually speaking. “Have you gotten to talk about it to anyone?”

She’s not asking if he’s spilled the beans. The look in Liza’s eyes is more of a concern that he hasn’t gotten to talk about it, even to the few people he can talk to about it.

“I mean– Emily, and Nic– Agent Miller,” Lance corrects quickly– can’t call her Nicole in the office!– “There aren’t a lot of people cleared for it, so it’s not like I can just chat with my sister or anything, but…”

He gives his head a little shake, offering her a slight smile, “It’s okay. It’s what I was trained for. All of us.” One gets the feeling he doesn’t mean the SESA agents when he says ‘we’.

“You need some coffee, and a donut if Cooper hasn’t stolen all of them,” Liza says cheerfully, stepping so that he’s got a clear path to the break room. “Wouldn’t be a good workday without a pick-me-up to get things going, right?”

“You’re not wrong,” Lance chuckles, stepping away from the chair - drawing in a breath as he moves too easily and feels a pang - and moving towards the break room as she suggests, “I’m sure I’ve got a lot of paperwork to fill out, after all.”

Liza hovers nearby, following behind Lance as they head towards the break room. Once he’s inside, she follows him in, then shuts the usually open door. Grabbing a nearby chair, she drags that over towards the door, angling it under the doorknob so no one will likely have much of a chance to get in.

“It’s fucked up, is what it is,” Liza says, moving to an empty spot on the counter where she hops up onto it, resting her back against the cabinets. “I know I’ve seen a lot over my lifetime but it’s still stupidly fucked. Pardon my French.”

“What’s fucked,” says Lance with a frown, stepping over to the break room’s table and easing himself down into the chair, “Is that none of that’s gone public yet. It’s just going to be drowned in politics and red tape, and they’ll keep doing it.”

That’s what’s fucked. We saved people but they’re not going to stop putting them there. Everything we got and they’re just going to… let it keep happening.”

“How do you even begin dismantling something like this?” Liza asks, letting out a huff of air. “I hate feeling as if we aren't even getting a chance to do something. Everything we did and it's just going to keep happening. The problem is that everything is so tied up with each other. It's lives and international politics and wars and so much bullshit that I don't even know how I can possibly feel qualified to even be able to make decisions regarding that, much less make a dent in it."

She presses her lips together in a firm, displeased line. "See, I went the field agent route and didn't go the political or legal route and now I'm wishing I had gone the other way just for shit like this."

“I don’t know. I guess this is all… in the hands of other people now,” Lance admits, though he doesn’t sound happy about it, “I just– this is exactly what they were trying to do to us before the war. By us, I mean Slice. I hate that they’re just going to get to… keep doing it.”

He looks down at his hands, silent a moment before saying quietly, “Maybe this is why Brian gave up on people.”

Liza pushes off from the counter and back down onto her feet with a soft thump. "Hey, there are plenty of good people in the world. Every single one of us that went on that mission? Good people. It's a systematic thing, less of a people thing. You get people too high up with the money and the power and influence and they decide rules regardless of how the rest of us think."

She finishes off her coffee, tossing the paper cup in the direction of the trash. It hits the wall and lands right in, but she hardly looks at it. She's focusing on Lance. "I guess we just have to find a way to get the good people to the right spot." Liza chuckles. "Ever thought of becoming a politician? You look good in a suit."

It’s a suggestion that gets a laugh from Lance, looking up with both eyebrows raised in an amused arch. “I can barely get taken seriously here, Liza, let alone as a politician,” he observes wryly, “They’d see me and see a kid.”

“Besides,” he quips, “I hate paperwork. Oh, and my father’s an imprisoned terrorist, that probably wouldn’t look great on the campaign trail.”

"Oh, I don't know. It's all about spin," Liza says, cracking a smile. "It's a thought. Really, though, don't worry so much about the feeling like you're not taken seriously. It's taken me basically up until more recently that I felt like I was treated like someone with knowledge and authority. You aren't a kid and they shouldn't treat you like one, but I get being in the position where everyone thinks of you as that. Somehow it's hard to even see yourself as more beyond it when you're stuck in that place. I doubted myself a lot."

She grins. "You're doing great, though."

“I don’t doubt myself,” Lance waves off with a hand, quirking a smile, “I know what I can do. I’ve been practicing my whole life. Honestly I think they mostly hired me because they couldn’t stop me from showing up at crime scenes…”

He flashes a brief grin, “Being underestimated can be a good thing, but I don’t think it’s good for politics. Besides, I’d die getting stuck behind a desk. I don’t know why people don’t treat you better, though.”

"It's because I'm short," Liza replies almost immediately. "I also think it's because I refuse to fit the standard of a cookie-cutter agent and having a positive attitude breaks that mold more times than not." She grins at him. "I don't let the job become all of who I am. I want to still be me when it comes down to it. Hard to wash this personality down to fit in. I think that's part of the charm, though. And people underestimate me, so that's a win."

She nods in his direction. "You've proved yourself plenty, so I hope people do take you more seriously after everything that happened."

“Ah, but– “ Lance flashes her a grin, eyebrows lifting, “— me proving myself is top secret, so nobody can know. It’s all on the down low.” He taps a finger against the side of his nose, then winks.

“Anyway, I like you having a more positive attitude. This job’s hard enough without it being all gloom’n doom all the time too; you’re like a, a breath of fresh air or a ray of sunshine. Makes the day easier to deal with.”

"You proving yourself is top secret, but the higher-ups know you did well and that's what ends up being important down the line," Liza says, moving to take a seat opposite him. "I'm glad my attitude has a positive effect on someone, though. I do it for me but I also do it for others, if that makes sense?" She smiles broadly at him. "I take that all as a big compliment. I know this stuff is hard sometimes, I don't want it to completely bog me or anyone else down."

“I mean, most of our cases are either hate crimes or horrible accidents because someone lost control of an ability,” Lance’s nose wrinkles a little, “If you let it, that shit’ll drown you. Not everyone’s used to that. You gotta laugh sometimes or you’ll cry, you know?”

He rubs a hand against the back of his neck, “Anyway. We’ve been talking about me – how are you dealing?”

"Laughing and crying in equal measures turn out to be a good thing," Liza replies, nodding her agreement. They really do unfortunately usually just end up dealing with the rough stuff. "Well, yeah, we were talking about you because you're the one who is just coming back. I'm pretty good at dealing with this kind of stuff, though. Frustrated we can't do more, sure, but I'm getting uncomfortably used to having to deal with trouble on this scale. I try to not dwell on it too much, but it always hits hard for at least a little while."

She shakes her head. "I don't have a SLC ability, but it kills me for there to be such an us-them mentality. Like everyone has to be categorized like that. The civil war was bad enough."

“You were worried about me?” Lance sounds bemused– and then he chuckles, though it’s not exactly with humor. “I– uh– did I ever tell you how I grew up, Liza? I mean– before the Safe Zone, and all that.”

He reaches for his coffee, looking at her uncertainly.

"I think I know some of it. There were probably even times we almost met. Two ships passing in the night, or however the phrase goes. Also, worrying doesn't mean that the person you're worrying about is incapable, thank you. It just means you want them to be well and okay in the midst of bad circumstances," she says.

Liza gets up momentarily to go fetch a powdered donut, setting it on a napkin. "Want one? You shouldn't have to get up." She nods in his direction. "Also, if you don't want to talk about rough things in the past, you don't have to. Some of us have gone through a lot. I'd like to know more, if you share, though."

“Naw, it’s not rough really, just…” Lance takes a sip of the coffee, bony shoulders lifting in a shrug, “I mean, when I was a kid I was with a ferry. Then just before the war, Brian took us all to Canada– spent my teens preparing to literally infiltrate and take out concentration camps, stuff like that. So, like– this was normal. Hell, it was almost a relief. This is what I was taught to do.”

He gestures with the cup, “It’s not even, uh, the first time I’ve done something like it before. We hit a few trafficking operations on Staten back– “ A pause, “—no of course we didn’t that would have been super illegal and of course we’d never do such a thing.”


"Just because something's your normal doesn't mean it's not hard or that it doesn't punch you in the gut when you see it or experience it," Liza replies before she returns to her seat, settling in with the donut in front of her. "There's a reason I barred the door, Lance. We're having an open conversation that is ignoring the fact that we've both done some pretty illegal things in the past."

She smiles somewhat sadly at the mention of the Ferry. "Those were some good people. Saved my life. They took me in when I had nowhere to go. Pollepel was a rough time, but the people there made it okay." She looks towards him. "Having an abnormal childhood is rough, but it doesn't mean you have to be all serious business saving the world and busting into concentration camps. That's a thing you were trained for, but that's not all of who you are."

“Hey, do I look all serious business?” Lance offers her a reassuring smile, spreading his hands, “I do this, sure, but I’ve also got a side gig playing music and shit for the Safe Zone, I help take care of things at the Lanthorn…”

He sips from his coffee, assuming a lofty if playful air, “I am a man of many layers.”

Liza takes a bite of her donut, realizing her mistake in choosing powdered sugar as it gets on her hands. When she finishes the bite and sets it back down, she brushes her hands off carefully. "Our co-workers are going to think we were doing cocaine in here," she says, sounding amused. They'd figure it out quickly enough, but she's sure someone would think it.

"I'm glad you have layers. Honestly, that's important to get through this stuff. Don't end up like me. I think about work way too much. If I didn't have such an interesting personality I'd probably purely be a workaholic and move right up the chain of command." She chuckles. "That isn't something I'm keen on doing. The higher up you go, the more paperwork there is."

“If they realize that you locked the door,” Lance chuckles against the edge of his coffee cup, “They’re gonna think we’re doing something else in here, that’s for sure.”

He makes the joke, but blushes a bit anyway.

“But what, you don’t have any side gigs, no hobbies? You’re gonna turn into Nicole.”

Liza chuckles in reply. "So, let them think. If they're bored enough right now to want some office gossip, I'm happy to make their day and let them think we're getting drugged up and doing other things. They'll get bored of the idea the second Cooper does another practical joke."

She leans against the table a bit, smiling sheepishly. "Not, uh, currently. Work has sort of been a lot of my life for a while now. I'm boring." She pauses. "Oh god, I am going to end up like Nicole." She can't hold back the laughter at that. "Either way, I'm looking for new hobbies. Something less complicated than underwater basket weaving, though. I'm sure I could manage that, but it'd be such a time sink."

“You do need to find some hobbies, then,” Lance laughs, leaning back in his chair, “I don’t suppose you want to work in radio? We could always use more volunteers down at the station, especially with Mister Pines still in protective custody somewhere…”

Eyebrows waggle, “Or you could take up some of those secret admirers, I guess.”

"Radio could be fun. I'm willing to try new hobbies, especially if they mean I'm not being a boring workaholic. That's not exactly the person I thought I'd turn into, even though I've always been very career oriented," Liza admits. "So I might just do that. That could be a fun way to pass some time."

The eyebrow waggle and suggestion gets a hearty laugh from Liza. "The secret is I made them up. Makes me look more mysterious and intriguing, right? I don't exactly go on a lot of dates. I'm not sure if I'm too intimidating or something, but I figured that can't be it."

“Well, if you ever want to stop by WSZR sometime, let me know,” Lance offers easily, “It’s a little intimidating at first if you’re doing the talking on air part but eventually, you know, it’s pretty fun actually. Plus you get to decide what half the Safe Zone is listening to on their commute. Mu-ha-ha.” Yes, he pronounces each of those syllables as individual words, wriggling the fingers of one hand ominously.

Then his eyebrows jump back up again. “What– really? You’re all– outgoing and sparkly and friendly, and cute, how are you not drowning in dates?”

"I've got a good radio voice, I would think. I feel like it would be almost kind of zen to hang out in there and pick music for people," Liza says, though she shrinks back a little sheepishly at the surprise. "Honestly? Maybe it is intimidating." She furrows her brow, looking to Lance. "I mean, is it intimidating? I'm sure I can come across as a little much for some people, but I'm not some commanding presence that lures in admirers."

She takes a much more careful bite of her donut this time, wary of the powdered sugar, and looks back over at him once she's finished. "I also don't meet a lot of people outside of work. There's also the fact that I'm pretty much always at work. I can't even remember the last time I went on a date. It's been a while at this point." The sheepish smile returns, though she tries not to look too embarrassed.

“It is kinda zen,” Lance admits, “Plus, it’s just– nice to know people are listening, you know? It’s a different kind of making a difference than working here, but it still is.”

Then he wrinkles his nose, gesturing with the coffee cup and proclaiming, “You are not intimidating, I promise. And you and me both. I don’t really think I know how to date, to be fair. I mean, most of the people I know are basically siblings I grew up with.”

"I can see that. Knowing that even if you never meet a person, they hear you, maybe something you say helps them in their day or is just… heard. I imagine it alleviates some strange sense of loneliness," Liza muses, then glances back over at him. "Dating is complicated, and most of the time I find that I end up making things overcomplicated. Maybe I just overthink? Anyway, I can totally understand the not really knowing how to."

She lifts her donut, this time being smart enough to hold the whole thing with the napkin. Now at least the sugar is somewhat contained. "Just meet people you find interesting and talk to them. That's all dates really boil down to. Might be tricky for you to find someone you don't consider a sibling, but I bet you'd be just fine at it if you found someone. Sounds like we're both in a similar situation."

“Pft,” Lance laughs a bit, tilting back the coffee to finish it off before lowering it and gesturing with the cup, “By that definition, we’re on a date. Gotta be a little more to it than that.”

He leans back in his chair, lifting the empty cup to aim for the garbage can. He aims, he shoots– he scores! The crowd goes wild. No it doesn’t. There is no crowd.

"Nice," Liza says, grinning at the successful cup disposal. She takes the opportunity to finish off her donut before she continues. "First of all, we're at work so that doesn't count as a date. Dates are not work functions. If we were doing this anywhere else? Yeah, this would absolutely be a date. They can really be just that simple. Coffee, food, an activity… figuring out the date itself is the easy part. It's not being nervous which is the hard part."

She laughs, suddenly. "All of the stuff we do and have experienced and dating is the nerve wracking thing. Who'd have thought?"

“Right?” Lance chuckles, shoulders shaking a bit as he turns back to her, arm dropping back down to rest on the table and fingers idly sliding over the edge of it, “Fighting terrorists? Easy. Dating? Terrifying.”

He grins, shaking his head, “See, if you were like– ten years younger we could just be like ‘oh let’s fix this the easy way’.”

"Are you saying I'm old?" Liza protests, folding her arms across her chest. After a moment, she laughs. "You know, that's a little ironic. For most of my life I've been the young one. I've been in your position, struggling to be taken seriously, capable but thought of as inexperienced and struggling to get chances to prove myself. People change over the years. If I were ten years younger, I wouldn't be the same me that I am now."

She unfolds her arms, tapping her fingers lightly on the table. Perhaps a nervous gesture. "Ten years ago, I wasn't sure who I was. I admired people, wanted to be like them, tried hard but felt completely lost. I don't think I found myself until Pollepel. I always turned to someone to guide me, a figure to feel close to, to look up to. I lost them, though. The work with the Ferry helped me. I felt more like a person that people could look up to. I became the people I wanted to be like."

Liza cracks a broader smile, glancing across the table. "Ten years younger me would not be nearly as interesting as I am now, so unfortunately this is all I've got. I'm pretty great now, though."

“No,” Lance laughs, waving a hand through the air, “I’m saying I’m young and my fragile ego can’t survive being laughed at for bringing up the idea.”

He leans forward then, arms folding on the table and his expression and tone both turning more serious, “I don’t know if I wish Brian had taken us to Pollepel or not. I… maybe it was for the better, we’d already lost enough people by then. We probably would’ve gotten messed up even worse– hell– not all of us might have made it. We…”

A glance down, then back up, “We didn’t get to decide who we were gonna be. We got to be who Brian thought we needed to be. He was wrong, though.”

“Pollepel was rough,” Liza admits. “I’m glad you didn’t end up there. Wherever you were was probably slightly better.” She traces a circle on the top of the table, idly, then traces something a little more elaborate. “Other people really like to think they get to decide who we are,” she frowns just slightly, then looks back up at him, mid trace.

“You get to decide who you want and need to be, now, and that’s freeing, in my opinion. Also, you clearly need to get to know me better if you think I’d laugh at you for the suggestion. You don’t have to worry about that kind of thing from me.”

“Nobody gets to decide who we are. Sometimes we don’t even become the people we were going to become in the first place,” Lance says, his tone a bit wistful about something– the phrasing unusual, but clearly means something to him. Then her words sink in, and he lets out a bright laugh, lifting a hand.into the air.

“Maybe not laugh, but,” he waves a hand vaguely, “You’re not telling me that you’d seriously consider it. Although I do want to know you better regardless- I mean, we work together well.”

“I mean, why wouldn’t I consider it? Just the age gap? Cause that seems like an excuse and not an actual problem. So I’ve got more life experience. That’s a good thing,” Liza shrugs, then offers him a smile. “And we do work well together. I enjoy assignments with you. I trust you, and having people you trust around to have your back is vital in this job.”

She pokes him gently with the toe of her shoe. “We can just hang out outside of work. There’s nothing preventing us from knowing each other better.”

“Well– “ Lance lifts an eyebrow, “Then you should come on by the radio station one of these days, we can hang out and talk, I can let you decide what music the Safe Zone listens to that day…”

He grins, then, hands spreading slightly, “Can’t hurt anything, right?”

“That sounds like a fun idea,” Liza agrees with a cheerful smile. “You’re right. It can’t hurt and I do need to find more hobbies and things to do outside of work. I’ll even try not to talk about work the entire time. I apologize in advance if that becomes difficult—work really has been my life for… years, really.”

“I’ve got plenty to talk about for both of us,” Lance replies easily, “For example– what’re your feelings on jazz?”

“That depends on the kind of jazz, and if you’re talking specifically for listening to or for dancing to,” Liza replies easily. “But, I’m always happy to hear someone else’s thoughts.”

“Huh.” Lance tilts his head back a bit, expression suddenly thoughtful, “I have… no idea how you’d dance to jazz. The old man had a lot of jazz records sitting around, though. He was really big on Thelonius Monk– real old-school stuff. It grows on you, though.”

“Aah, older jazz. That’s the sort of thing you’d probably just slow dance to, but eventually you get jazz music that blends into swing and the sky’s the limit for dancing there. I tend to think of older jazz as the kind of thing you’d hear in the background at a fancy party. Good stuff either way, just depends on if you’re leaning earlier or later generationally.”

Liza flashes a smile, but quickly looks a little sheepish. “I kind of have a little bit of knowledge in a lot of areas and usually it tends to be useless unless I’m at one of those trivia nights.”

“Hey, a little bit of everything means you never know when it’ll be useful,” Lance replies with a grin, eyebrows going up, “I’d rather have a broad foundation than a narrow tower. Hard to see the rest of everything from up there, after all.”

“So, it’s settled. One of these days when you’re not busy after work, you’ll join me down at the station.”

“Towers are nice,” Liza agrees with a broad smile. “I like the view from the top. So yeah, it’s settled. I’ll make sure to add some life to my work-life balance and come by. Honestly? Probably sooner rather than later. I could use a break and something fun.” She glances at the door and the chair she propped against it.

“They are totally going to think we were banging in here.”

“They really are,” Lance admits, eying the door as well.

Then he glances back over, flashing a grin past a sudden blush, “Wanna?”

Before she can answer that, he’s rolling up to his feet with a laugh, looking over to the door, “We should get back to work.”

There's a warm laugh from Liza as she heads over to the door and pulls the chair aside so they can leave. "I did get you flowers," she points out, then her smile widens to a grin. "Let's keep 'em wondering."

“You did, that’s right,” Lance grins, movjng to open the door and waving her through, “C’mon, let’s get back to paperwork before someone comes and yells at us. I can only nurse this gunshot wound so far.”

“Yes, we’d better return to those endless mounds of paperwork before they double in size. There’s some sort of gremlin who sneaks in and puts more paperwork on your desk every time you aren’t at it.” Liza grins broadly at him as she steps through the door. “Welcome back to work, Lance.”

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