What's Puzzling You


ruby_icon.gif rue_icon.gif

Scene Title What's Puzzling You
Synopsis In the aftermath of startling revelations, Rue Lancaster has a heart to heart with an old friend's mother.
Date December 13, 2020

A steady snow is falling outside. This far from civilization, surrounded by pine forests, mountains, and frozen lakes it is easy to mistake Sweden for upstate New York. Maybe that’s why Ruby had a house in the Catskills, maybe it reminded her of this place.

Approaching midnight, she finds herself unable to sleep. So she haunts the lounge, wrapped in a woolen shawl, arms bound around herself, head bowed and eyes closed. She isn’t here, isn’t in the crackling fireplace glow, she’s a million miles and decades away. Simpler, better times.

But Ruby isn’t the only one unable to sleep.

The Reach
Lappland, Sweden

December 13th

11:43pm Local Time

February Lancaster may have expected the lounge to be unoccupied at this time of night. Instead, she finds an old ghost lingering by the tall windows overlooking the snowy forest beyond, visible only as the soft reflection of the house’s lights off the freshly fallen snow.

“You’re welcome to join me.” Ruby says aloud, catching Rue’s reflection in the window glass.

Having been just about to back up the way she came when she felt she might be intruding, Rue stops in her tracks and commits instead to entering the space fully, without reservation. “Thank you,” she murmurs quietly, hospitality accepted.

The past couple weeks have given her a home where she doesn’t have to wear layers to stay warm, but memories of the Bastion and days rougher than that mean she still has the bedclothes for something less ideal than the garden level brownstone apartment she rents from Elliot and more suited for a drafty castle. Thick wool socks make her steps silent. Black thermal pants keep her legs warm and a pair of shorts keep her looking like she’s appearing in an ad for long underwear from the Shopko like her mom auditioned her for before she could write her own name.

The purple of her sweater contrasts with the red of her shorts. The boatneck on the former shows the black tank underneath. Unconsciously, Rue attempts to smooth out her disheveled braid. The fishtail plaiting of it has come loose throughout the evening and the strands don’t want to stay put anymore. It’d be an easy enough fix, but somehow, her heart isn’t in it.

Rue takes a place near the fireplace, holding her hands out toward it for warmth, as if she might be lacking it. Everything she heard this evening has left her colder than the mountains outside the windows, admittedly. “Can I ask you a question, Ms Brauer?”

“Harper.” Ruby gently corrects. “I haven’t been Ms. Brauer in a very long time.” When she looks back to Rue, there’s just a patient smile on Ruby’s face. “But by all means, you were invited here — so to speak — to get answers.”

“Sorry,” Rue is quick with her apology. “Ms Harper.” Names are important, and it’s extremely important to her that she’s using the correct one. The wince is small, but not unseen in the firelight and the moment of embarrassment is given the time to pass before the younger woman lifts her head again to turn her attention once more to Ruby so she can ask her question.

“How old were you when you got pulled into all this madness?”

Ruby laughs at the sheer audacity of the question, her smile reaching her eyes enough to know that Rue didn’t cross a line. “I met Simon when I was just shy of thirty,” she says with a light in her eyes. “He was so handsome that I was willing to forgive the upending my life went under almost immediately after. I found out I was pregnant with his son two days after he introduced me to Richard.”

Ruby looks back to the window, her eyes becoming somewhat distant at the mention of her son. She closes her eyes for a moment, then shakes her head. “I wasn’t pulled in, though. I walked in of my own accord. Though I thought I’d gotten out, for a time. After Richard died Simon and I broke up… it wasn’t a good time for any of us, and Richard’s death… it affected us.”

Ruby looks over to Rue with a sadder smile. “If I hadn’t, I never would’ve met Jeremy, or had Lynette.” She flutters with a regretful bit of laughter, then looks back to the window. “But, I suppose I got roped back into this. Back to Simon, and away from my daughter.” Her smile fades.

“Do you have any children of your own?” Ruby asks, looking back to Rue.

It’s not a situation Rue can relate to, but she can still feel empathy. “I wish I could say I got swept off my feet and into all this, but…” Instead, she saw the cruelty of men and knew she couldn’t sit by and do nothing. Live her life like an ostrich with its head in the sand.

The issue of Ruby’s own children is left untouched for now. That’s her pain to bear, or talk through as she desires. It isn’t Rue’s to speculate or offer commentary on. The question posed to her, however, that she can answer. “No,” is the simple version. “First I was too busy with the fighting, and now… Given what I’ve agreed to, well, my beau and I are about to be separated for a while.”

There’s a quick wave to dismiss any possible concern there. “My lifestyle just doesn’t really leave room for that option to me. Not that we were even ready to have that kind of discussion anyway.” Rue shrugs her shoulders. “Maybe someday. When the world is safer.”

“That’s the trick, isn’t it?” Ruby says with a look over to Rue, then down to the floor. “The world’s never safer. When I had my son, Desmond, we were in the middle of the Cold War. I didn’t know if the world was going to end in atomic fire and Richard’s reassurances to Simon felt like a cold comfort.”

Lifting one hand to thread a lock of hair behind one ear, Ruby’s eyes trace patterns in the floor, following seams of wood grain. “None of that had changed when I had Lynette. It wasn’t the world I was afraid of with her, it was the people in it. Hell, myself.” She snorts, shaking her head. “I wanted something better for her.”

“I suppose you’re right about that.” Rue looks away from the woman by the windows and stares at the way the fire dances in the hearth for a bit. “Ms Rowan was always good to me. Ah— Sorry, Lynette. I… I was very young when I met her. I still have a hard time calling her by her first name, I guess.”

Looking up again, Rue can’t help but smile faintly at some distant memory. “You know, I imagine you’re familiar with the whole ripples in the pond effect that people have. How one event causes a seemingly unrelated one.” She doesn’t wait for confirmation. Given the company Ruby Harper keeps, she has to be aware of the concept. “Well, you are a big part of the reason I’m even sitting here today. Even though we’ve never met before.”

Her smile grows in strength faintly. “Because you had Lynette. In those last days with the Ferry, just before Colonel Heller began the siege on the island, I’d been accused of informing on the network to the government. I was framed, and… They were going to hang me.” It was a long time ago, but recounting it still leaves Rue with a chill.

“But Lynette…” The ginger finds her smile again. “Lynette believed me. She believed I wouldn’t have done something so awful. And she fought for me.” Rue shrugs her narrow shoulders. “And while a lot happened to me between then and now, the point stands that if she hadn’t been there for me then, I wouldn’t have had a chance to face any of it.”

Sighing, Rue looks away, suddenly self-conscious. “I don’t know why I felt the need to tell you all that. I guess I just think it’s interesting how the universe works things out sometimes.”

Ruby looks out the tall windows, the dim light from the lounge’s lamps reflecting crisp against glassy eyes. Her smile is a delicate, treasured one, but it is quick to sag into something more regretful. Blinking back tears, Ruby nods and looks away, lifting a hand to give herself a modicum of perceived dignity and dry her eyes. When she looks back at Rue, it’s with a more restrained expression.

“I have always been… so proud of her.” Ruby says in a hushed voice. “I don’t imagine she thinks very much of me, given what I did to her, but at the time I thought I didn’t have a choice.” he smiles, apologetically, and doesn’t clarify her choice to leave Lynette any more than that.

“But I watched,” Ruby says with a fond, emotional smile, “on the news, I read in the papers. My baby girl, a hero. Saving people.” She swallows audibly, her smile tight and quavering. “Do you…” she looks up to Rue, then shakes her head and doesn’t ask the question she’d been considering. Instead, she just smiles tearfully. “We’re both very fortunate for her.”

“I’m sorry,” Rue says in a soft voice, like she’s afraid to break the delicate quiet or the illusion that’s held between them that this isn’t a topic fraught with barely restrained emotion. “Maybe it wasn’t my place to say anything.” She offers her own smile of reassurance. “She is special. There aren’t a lot of people who could go through everything— Everything that happened in those years, and come out of it the way Lynette has. Even now, when she’s more than earned her rest, she’s still helping people. Every day.”

If that’s not something to be proud of, what is? Maybe this is why Rue’s parents prefer the photographer, the model, the actress, and the dancer to the fledgeling freedom fighter, the soldier, the mercenary, and the spy.

“If you have something you’d like to ask me, you can ask me. If you’ve changed your mind, that’s fine too. But that avenue’s open.” Rue’s gaze falls to her hands in her lap. “I’ve only ever fought against things I could see with my own eyes and explain. Nobody ever asks me along for the world-breaking stuff.” The corners of her teardrop shaped mouth turn downward in a frown. “I guess they still aren’t. Not really.” There’s no bitterness to be found in that realization. By staying behind and tracking Mazdak, she’ll be doing what she does best.

As much as she firmly believes she’s the wrong woman for the job. But since Nick’s in, she’ll follow.

“I should ask her myself,” is Ruby’s determination, followed by a bittersweet smile.

But then, Ruby has someone else’s problems to focus on, and as she turns to more fully face Rue it is with a gentle, grandmotherly smile. “Don’t let Marcus’ demeanor fool you,” she says with a rise of her brows, “he’s just a proud cat, prancing around with his fancy furs. He’s already lost one eye for it, I’d wager, so when you and Ms. Tracy came after him he got defensive.”

Ruby shakes her head, crossing her arms over her chest and drawing the edges of her spun wool shawl tighter around herself. “If Marcus didn’t think you were ready for this job, he would’ve had Niklaus leave you at the base of the mountain. You should’ve heard the way he was talking about you — about all of you — before you walked in that door. I think he wanted this to go differently.”

“There is very little about me that’s remarkable, I’m afraid.” There’s no self-loathing laced with that insistence. Rue’s made some kind of peace with her place in the universe as very insignificant in the scheme of things. “But it’s nice of you to say anyway.” It’s hard to imagine Marcus Raith having anything kind, let alone positive, to say about her after the way things went earlier.

“He could learn to pause, breathe, and admit things got off on the wrong foot. You’d think being around as long as he has, that might’ve sunk in a bit.” She might be a fine one to talk, but at least Rue knows when she’s screwed up and when to apologize.

Taking some of her own advice, Rue pauses. She breathes. She chuckles quietly and without mirth. “I feel like all I’ve done lately is mess things up. I haven’t been able to succeed where it matters. There’s so much riding on this. What if I fail?” Something about Ruby’s manner makes Rue feel safe enough to give a voice to her fears. Maybe she just hopes someone more like her will understand.

“Then you fail. It doesn’t sound to me like it’d be your first time.” Ruby notes with a cheeky smirk. “And that’s not a criticism, but a reminder. We all fail. And either we’re lucky enough to get up and dust ourselves off and learn again, or we’re not.”

Most people tend to learn from their mistakes. I suppose that’s what separates the Simons of the world from the Marcuses.” Ruby spreads her hands slowly. “But you’re a survivor, Rue. Maybe, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. Survival.”

Unbidden, one corner of Rue’s mouth hooks up. “But what if I fail and it dooms the whole world?” Multiple ones, if she understood the pitch made earlier. But the point is taken, and she signifies this with a quiet sigh. “I suppose trying and failing is better than refusing to try at all because I’m afraid of it.”

Stay afraid, but do it anyway is a phrase she has on a refrigerator magnet back home.

“Thank you, Ms Harper.” The smile Rue gives this time is heartfelt. The gratitude is genuine. “If there’s anything I can do for you…” Now or later is the tacit portion of that offer.

“If you ever see Lynette…” is all Ruby can think to ask.

“Tell her I love her.”

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