Worst Fears


vf_rickham2_icon.gif vf_steve_icon.gif

Scene Title Worst Fears
Synopsis Stephanie Ciati is presented with a dreadful reality…
Date January 12, 2012

The Hub

Makeshift Infirmary

Her worst fears are coming to play.

Steve had heard Rickham returned with the others, all of whom were put into quarantine, about six hours ago. He arrived long after her and Elisabeth’s team did, apparently with only Kaylee and Magnes in tow. But no one had told her what her husband’s status was. She was made to wait, made to wonder, left with people who didn’t know anything either. It wasn’t until he’d been back for four hours that she was finally permitted to see him.

Escorted down the concrete halls lined with rusted piping, Steve is escorted to the infirmary. Half expecting to see Allen injured, she isn’t expecting to see him watching vigil over the injured. Nor is she expecting to see him still in his metallic form. As soon as the curtained door to the infirmary is pulled open for her, she can understand why. He stands shirtless, body made of dark and pitted iron, and there is a massive divot in his chest just to the right of his sternum, as though a chunk of his body was taken out. Other, smaller pockmarks cover his chest and arms.

Nearby, Magnes Varlane lays on a cot, bloodied and bandaged and unconscious. Rickham turns hematite eyes to Steve, brows furrowed with a creaking sound of moving metal. He doesn’t have anything to say to her yet, save for the look of guilt on his face that transcends his shifted form. He looks like a particularly solemn and sad statue of her husband. A bust that should be on display in a museum decades after his two terms in office.

It’s a dream they won’t get to live.

Stephanie has been through a lot in the past few hours. First, she could feel her best friend dying inside of her - her body and her mind - and then Lynette died in Ruiz’s and her own arms while he sang. And all the while, she didn’t know where her husband was. She feared the worst. Feared that he had died, or gotten infected and was going to die.

This? Is almost worse.

Usually, her backbone is just as much iron as he is. She’s the pillar. The one who does not break, no matter how bad things have gotten. This time, however, Steve is instantly in tears. There’s a loud gasp that serves as the prelude to the torrential flood of emotion.

“No! No, no, no, nonono!” Allen’s wife buries her face in her hands and refuses to step any closer. It’s a habit. She’s been negated, which allows her both to avoid infection, but also to continue to lie to herself about her friend’s death. There’s an absence where the hum of Lynette Rowan’s power should be, and it’s rattled the First Lady enough that she doesn’t hide anything anymore.

It’s all gone to shit, and everyone knows it now. What’s even the point?

“Not you. Anyone but you. It—” Her breath hitches in her throat, her next words coming out as a whine. “Nooo…” Long, thin fingers rake into her long hair, tugging until her scalp hurts. The pain feels deserved. Who did she even manage to protect?

It might not be permanent,” is Rickham’s presidentially diplomatic response delivered with all the hollow, metal cadence of Optimus Prime. He closes the distance to Steve, lifting up an iron hand to carefully raise her chin. “We’re going to make it out of this. Together. Somehow.

He smells like rust at this distance and has a coppery hint. He's cold to the touch, too, and yet remarkably gentle in that form when he wants to be.

She doesn’t believe that. Doesn’t believe him. That might be unfair, but she’s feeling like he’s attempting to placate her with false hope.

For now, she’ll entertain it. Steve falls gently into her husband’s embrace. It doesn’t feel like him - not in the way she’s used to - but it does still. All at once. Maybe it’s her imagination that she still feels like she can smell him under what she’s sure is some metallic allegory of blood. She’s morbid that way. Quietly, and buried in the depths of her own mind.

“I should have been with you,” she laments, apologetic. “I should have— It should have been me.” Instead, she got away nearly unscathed, while so many others died. She doesn’t wish she had died in someone’s place, but she wishes she could have shielded her husband, foolish as she knows the whole notion to be.

Deep breaths have calmed the sobbing for now. She traces the hard lines of his face with her fingertips, wondering if he feels it in any way.

“I punched a tank,” Rickham notes rather flatly when Steve suggests she should've been there. “It's a miracle the boy and…” a flash of something, guilt? “And Kaylee survived. Knox and Dirk weren't so lucky, Stephanie…” He's careful to only partly return the embrace, while he can be gentle in this form one wrong move with his metal body could be disastrous.

“I know… I know it's going to be hard, but you and I need to be strong. We need to support Edward because half the Hub is going to want him dead. He's trying to put together a fallback plan involving the man you rescued. Apparently he's… sort of like the woman we were looking for, but Edward’s uncertain of the odds.” He looks down at her, hematite eyes narrowed and jaw set square.

There's a moment of silence where he cups a cold iron hand to her cheek. “We've still got each other…” and if she closes her eyes it's almost like nothing’s changed, and that distorted voice she's hearing is just bad cell reception. Maybe he's in a tunnel. There's plenty of lies she can tell herself.

“Of course,” Steve responds flatly. There’s no telltale static causing her hair to stick out when she removed her hands from it, which might be an extra comfort to him. Her hands dropping to her sides abruptly may not be, however. “Of course you did.” It’s absurd, but entirely believable and this is so not the life she ever pictured for herself back in Boston. Most of the time - even in this hell - that’s been a blessing with him at her side. Now? She isn’t sure how she feels about anything anymore except numb.

She repeats, “Edward is uncertain of the odds.” That’s not a comfort, and she keeps her voice low because of it. Steve sighs heavily and starts wiping the tears from her face. When his hand joins that motion, she rests hers over his. It feels tiny over the cold metal. “I know. I’m… I’m glad you’re alive.” She leans into the touch. “I hope to fuck I didn’t have to actually say that for you to know.” It’s not like her to speak like that much, but she’s rattled and it’s obvious to anybody, not just to him who knows her so well. “But I’m furious with him right now. I’m furious with us.

It wasn’t just Knox and Dirk, after all. And Kaylee wasn’t the only injury. She almost had to kill one of their own to protect them all.

I know,” Rickham says about everything. The whole thing. As much as he’s trying to be quiet, the hollow nature of his voice makes it feel amplified. “I know it’s…” Complicated? Terrible? All of the above? Rickham isn’t sure how to explain himself or what they’ll do next. But he remains there for her, more her ‘rock’ than ever before, in as much as his steely presence can be reassuring when that’s half the problem.

If this doesn’t work out…” Rickham says quietly, “we just leave. We walk north, find someplace remote and just… live what life we can while we have it.” It’s the first time he’s ever considered abandoning everything.

Steve is stunned for a moment, staring up with big, blue eyes that shine only with her tears. Finally she nods just once. Then again, over and over, shaky and incredibly honest in its display of how overwhelmed she is. “Yes.” Like he’d just asked her to marry him all over again. “Yes, yes, I’ll do it.”

God help her, but all she wants to do right now is walk away from all of this. Everybody who’s relied on them. They never should have relied on her and it was deceitful of her to ever allow them to pretend she should. She lied to herself most of all.

“Anywhere but here, as long as it’s with you. However long we have is… is all I can ask for.”

Their embrace is a tentative one, where Rickham is too anxious to truly draw her in. It ends, just as tentatively, with his heavy and metallic hands smoothing down her shoulders and along her arms. At times his grip still feels too tight, but it is fleeting. “Edward’s going to need us, whatever comes. You and me…” Rickham’s brows furrow, “together, here. Wherever.

His expression — his whole being — is adamant to this notion. He finally presses the knuckle of one finger under her chin, delicately lifting her eyes to meet his featureless ones. “Win or lose, just like during the election, we’re going to be together.

Not even the Vanguard could stop that.

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