2238-03-18 - The End

They escaped the factory behind enemy lines, the winter woods of Picon and the cylon sympathizer living therein, the warehouse, the privations of hunger and exposure, the danger of sepsis, the airstrip of the labor camp at the mine and the besieged ranch, the threat of their own uncertainties and reservations and their uneasiness about what they were becoming, Whatever That Was -- always keeping an eye on the future. For threats, and also in some trepidation about the dangers of hope. And in the end, it wasn't the future they should've worried about. They escaped all of those things, but they couldn't escape the past.

Date: 2238-03-18

Location: Northolt

Related Scenes: None

Plot: None

Scene Number: 1681

Jump to End

It's the day after the Wolves' award ceremony, and subsequent party. Fortunately -- at least for the sake of their respective hangovers -- it's an off duty day, one in which -- by the end of the day -- they will have to put in for their respective transfers, if wanted.

One benefit of the new base is that they have a room -- to themselves! -- but there's also a downside, that being that Gage seems wholly, determinedly committed to Not Making a Decision, Like Ever. This means the day begins with Gage -- already dressed -- trying to coax Ines into a run, "To get back into a routine," he says.

At least it's done after he delivers the pair of them his miracle (horrible) hangover cure.

-

Into a routine.

He may be able to obstinately pretend he doesn't see it, but he won't be able to actually avoid seeing it: the look on her face when he says routine. As though that's even possible, now. Sitting groggily on the edge of the bed -- she's never been a morning person, Ines, still a creature of comforts in spite of herself -- she pins him with that incredulous look, squinting, half-asleep in spite of the assault and battery that is Tauron's most widespread hangover cure. It's a delicate moment and her mind, presently, is not as honed an instrument as she might like.

"But..."

The word sounds helpless, flummoxed.

-

"There you go, up and attum." Gage even lowers a hand to her elbow as if to help her to her feet, clearly intending to take full advantage of that state between Ines being fully awake enough to rigidly protest, and being too hungover to be dragged out of bed.

"Weather's much nicer here -- the sarge mentioned there's a good worn track around the base to follow." He's trying hard -- being cheerful -- neither of which are typically attributable to the Tauran.

-

Ines still too asleep to pretend, too. It's possible to see sluggish thoughts attempting to link up in her head behind eyes still hazy with whatever dreams she's been pulled out of. Like she's wondering if maybe he has a plan and this is part of his roundabout way of getting to it; a ramp up to -- something that makes more sense than trying to establish a routine.

And then it's possible to see her consider that finding out is going to cost her a post-night-out run, a price she actively weighs. Her decision arrives in the form of slumping shoulders and closing eyes, a hand that rubs at her face. "Gods. Alright."

She stumbles through half of her morning routine: a splashing wash-up of at least her face and whatever smudged shadows of eye makeup she didn't manage to get off last night, hair bunned up, teeth brushed and running tights pulled on one hopping leg at a time. By the time her shoes are on she looks marginally more functional and significantly more skeptical, so: obvious trade-offs. She keeps glancing at him sidelong while they walk.

-

As for Gage -- he watches that indecision and finally resignation play out across her features with what can only be described as an amused quirk of lips.

The base is pretty quiet, though not empty -- no base ever is. There is, in truth, few Wolves up and about, however, mostly the regular staff that occupy the Caprican base. Outside, there's a slight breeze, the sun pleasantly warm but not unbearable -- the perfect running weather.

As they begin their stretching routine, they can see a jeep speeding across the tarmac -- not an unusual sight -- coming across from the administration building and heading towards the dorms they've just emerged from. The driver is one of the base staff -- a private -- the woman in the seat next to him unfamiliar.

Well, unfamiliar to Ines, anyway. Gage -- he goes abruptly, noticeably still when his gaze lands on her.

-

It's not until he stops that Ines even bothers to look up, turning her head in time to catch a fleeting glimpse of the vehicle and the people in it. Her brows knit, and then one slowly begins to rise as she sends another sidelong look at him -- this one tentatively amused. "You didn't go punching any reporters when I wasn't around, did you?" Obviously, she's assuming the woman must have been some person of authority she's not familiar with. There are plenty of those. The Leonese pilot only spent a little over six months with the Wolves, all told.

"The brass can wait until after we go for a run. You dragged me out of bed for this."

-

"No," Gage says, faintly, and there's something... odd in his voice. He doesn't move, Ines' cajoling aside.

The woman -- around thirty -- steps out of the jeep and moves towards them. There is nothing that says 'military' about her bearing in any way. She has a distinct elegance and poise to her bearing -- from her manicured nails, to her carefully neat hair, to her stylish clothing. "Gage," she breathes, falteringly, as she stands, staring at him. Her gaze flickers briefly to Ines, but doesn't linger there as, abruptly, she's closing the distance between them, reaching out her arms and embracing the Tauran marine familiarly, intimately, lips pressing against his.

Ines has known Gage long enough to be able to -- in some part -- read his body language. The stiffness of his body betrays both shock and tension.

<FS3> Ines rolls Composure - 3: Good Success (8 6 6 5 4 4 3 3)

Amusement turns on the fulcrum of that tone of voice, so strange from him -- not one she's ever heard. It pivots smoothly into concern. Soft: "Hey..." Reaching, as though to touch his elbow; with a narrow-eyed glance toward the Jeep that scrutinizes the contents -- not that she can tell what significance any of it has.

Yet.

"What's wrong?"

And then the Jeep stops. She withdraws her hand only because she knows it bothers him, public displays like those, and she has no idea what's going on. The slight knit of her brows might be read by a stranger as a response to the glare of the early morning sunlight, but it's unease, and something else -- something preemptively displeased, defensive. Not of herself, but of him. If they're coming out here to make trouble for him...

And they are, as it turns out. Just not the kind of trouble she thinks.

That beautiful, well-dressed woman coasts in on what is probably a wave of elegantly fragranced air, and she-

It takes long, long moments for what she's seeing to even process through the shock of it, enough stunned surprise that it leaves her mouth hanging open and her eyes only slightly wide, everything else about her held in stillness. There's nothing else, at first. Nothing at all.

And then, in the hollow of her head, just this: oh.

It happens to soldiers on battlefields in the same way. Mortally wounded in some violent upheaval they sometimes stand and stare, dimly aware that something is terribly wrong, but unable to place the feeling because the pain is delayed by shock. In those first moments, sometimes it's a soft confusion: what's happened to me?

But Ines isn't stupid, and she can't remain bewildered for long.

She knows exactly what's happened. Knows it suddenly and completely, and the knowledge crushes her chest as though the Jeep had never stopped at all, and driven straight through her, snapping every rib as it went.

All she can do is turn her head away and close her mouth, tendons standing up in the line of her throat, listening to the dizzy hive of sudden bees in her skull.

-

She can see the tense line of Gage's throat as he swallows. The pair part, Gage stepping back, hands held stiff at his sides, struggling for words and failing to voice them as he stares at the elegant brunette -- not like he's never seen her before, but like he sees someone he barely recognizes.

The woman is clearly unsettled by his reaction, giving a thin-lipped smile. "It's a lot, I know -- I've got a lot of explaining to do," she begins. "Can we...?" her hand gestures towards the building they've just come from.

Gage's face is gone stony, now, as he glances at Ines. Whatever he's trying to convey -- it's not clear. There's a mess of a reaction in his gaze, nothing particularly clear. His reaction is not unlike hers -- a shock, a lack of comprehension, and an understanding that -- in that moment, everything's changed. He sees that in her, too -- opens his mouth, tries to find the words to express it...

The Tauran woman, meanwhile recovers her poise, though there's definitely a furrow that knits her brow as she sees Gage look at Ines, sees... something in Ines' reaction. She knows, clearly, that there's something -- an acknowledgement of the moment without voicing it -- instead offering both a thin, somewhat forced smile and a hand towards Ines. "I'm Catrin Tomak, Gage's wife."

That might be worse. Gage's eyes close for a moment.

She's still there when he opens them again.

-

The last three years of her life have been tumult after tumult, and her life is routinely terrifying; there were more hairy flights with the Wolves than not, and now she knows what it's like to live her nightmare: being shot down behind enemy lines. She doesn't know it, but it's her composure that really set her apart from the rest of the people she flew with on Leonis. That's what got her into the Wolves to begin with.

Turning her head to meet that woman's eyes with her own, furnish a small but somehow-impossibly warm smile, and reach to shake her hand still costs her more than anyone present may ever understand. It costs some small piece of her that she has no name for. "It's nice to meet you, Catrin." The words are quiet, but steady. "I'm sure-" The hitch there is brief -- a momentary refusal of her lungs to expand. But it's subtle, too. "...that you have a lot to catch up on so..." Also subtle: the faint tremble in the shape of her mouth. But she keeps that eye contact, anyway; holds those eyes with the force of will she'd need to employ if she kept her fingers tightly curled around a white hot bar of iron. And already she's turning, backstepping, moments from escape while her heart threatens to batter itself to pieces against her bones. "I'm going to go get that run in."

And I may never stop.

-

Catrin's smile widens at the warmth she receives, even if it's slim -- she misreads the pilot's composure, and doesn't know her well enough to see that tremble at her mouth -- the Tauran woman's shoulders relaxing marginally as her own smile settles into something more genuine, now. "And you -- you work with Gage?" she asks, politely, and then as she continues, adds, "Oh, yes, please don't let us stop you."

Don't let us stop you.

Stop.

It's what he wants to say. He hears the faint hitch of breath, sees the slight tremble of her mouth -- all the little nuances he's used to reading in her expression now. He sees, too, what it costs her to maintain that equilibrium.

Stop!

"Ines..." he wants to yell it at her, to beg her not to go, not to leave him. But her name hangs there in silence as he fails to find any way to verbalize even a tiny sliver of what he wants -- and can't -- to say to her.

So he lets her go.

-

Work with him?

"I..." Did. Does she still? Ines didn't know the answer to that when she woke up, and now she's even less sure than she was then. So she nods, instead, and it doesn't matter, anyway. Catrin is dismissing her, she's taking her hand back.

Her name is a razor he cuts her with, and that can't possibly be understood by anyone else there, either -- because he says it so rarely, and only ever when they're alone. Only whenever it was important. It's almost enough to shake her hold on the steadiness she's desperately clinging to. Rattles her enough that she can't look at him, even with every last hatch battened down, because that would be too much. But she looks aside, anyway; toward, if not at, to say: "Maybe I'll see you later?"

Which is the absolute last thing she can stand, and almost too much -- a dangerous thing. Because she aims for casual, but the maybe is vast, overwhelming. There are hours before decisions must be made. Even if this weren't cataclysmic in its significance, the sands have almost finished passing through that particular hourglass.

It is, though. Cataclysmic. The maybe is everything.

Horizons they left unstudied in the distance, refusing to acknowledge them, are suddenly closing inescapably in on her. Leaving him there is the last thing she wants to do, and the only thing she can do. She turns, and starts to run -- jog, in defiance of any suggestion that anything is wrong, until she rounds that first corner. That's when she bolts. Lengthens her stride and sprints, no destination in mind, everything in her straining forward and away because this is the day she loses everything, everything, everythingeverythingeverything-

-

Even if she's not looking at him, she can hear him -- hear the breath that hitches in his throat, so familiar. Sense that moment when something unspoken happens, unvoiced.

And then she's running. Running away from him. Away from this moment that some part of him wishes desperately he could escape from, too. He's spent all this time avoiding his future, and now his past is here, literally, standing in front of him.

Catrin is talking to him. Has been talking to him, and, like a radio dialed to static, her words come into focus, slowly. "...they'd told me that you were missing, and--" she comes to a stop, abruptly, catching something in Gage's expression.

Gage swallows. There's something rough in his voice when he says, "Let's walk." And they do -- Gage refraining from looking back. By the time Ines comes back -- if she does -- there will be no sign of them.

-

Ines does not come back.

When she sets off she's sure she'll be able to run forever, worries -- dimly, somewhere underneath the seething cauldron of things she contains -- that she's going to run out of civilization to run through, and find herself back in the woods before long. It's an hour and a half later, but eventually her diminished physical strength wins out even over the numb endurance of someone for whom the world is crumbling away, some unknown chasm opening up endlessly at their heels. By the time she's forced to stop she is forced to stop, her leg aching where the wound in it was, deep scar tissue broken up by the effort. Under other circumstances it's uncomfortable enough that she might favor it a little, but there's something self-punishing in the choice to walk on it as though she weren't affected, which she does as she seeks some place to be alone.

The beach, even if it were empty, is a no-go.

Where she winds up in the end is an unbeautiful field adjacent to the airstrip, sitting in the unmanicured grass -- the way she did when she joined the Wolves; the way she used to on Leonis -- with her eyes turned skyward, watching aircraft take off.

-

It takes him some time. There are conversations to be had, and it can't be easy -- these things are never easy for Gage. He leaves her, his wife, his not dead wife, putting her back in a jeep that heads off base. And then, systematically, he begins to hunt for a certain pilot. He starts in the obvious places -- the places without people. The beach, the cliffs, the areas surrounding the base. Finally, eventually, he sees her sitting there in the field, and he approaches, slowly.

Once, in a town in the woods of Picon, there was a moment where everything stood on a precipice. When she'd left to give Nate her antibiotics -- maybe giving up her future in the process -- and he wouldn't, couldn't deal with that moment.

It was fragile, but she brought life back -- first with a touch, and then with words -- with honesty.

Neither of which he is exceptional at, by any means.

But it is a place to start. His gaze is glued to her as he approaches, taking in everything of her demeanor that he can, as he settles down beside her and, after a moment, slips a hand into hers.

-

What she looks, from any kind of distance, is small. Especially against the birds taking off on the tarmac periodically, massive machines of war -- even vipers are large when they're on the ground. She wouldn't mind, if she knew. Small is how she feels.

Airfields are noisy places, and Ines is buried underneath the weight of a thousand things she doesn't know how to fix. She doesn't hear those footsteps until they're very close indeed, and something in the line of her back stiffens to signal it. The usual slight turn of her head doesn't follow, because instead of looking, she's listening.

Is it one set of footsteps, or two?

The resonance of his choice isn't lost on her at all. It puts the first hole in the bulwark of her composure, chasing a sound out of her that she muffles with her other hand, lifted to press over her mouth as her eyes close and her brows knit for one long, breathless moment of struggle. But unlike that moment in the town abandoned to feral dogs, when he'd floated for long seconds of uncertainty before finally choosing to clasp her hand, there's no mirroring uncertainty in Ines. The entire, lean line of her arm defines with the pressure of her grasp, tight and sure -- even if she doesn't look.

There's still a high, pulled-in defensiveness in the set of her shoulders that suggests anything more than his hand might not be wanted yet, but the hand she takes readily enough, and tightly.

She says nothing, though whether that's because she can't speak yet or doesn't know what to say isn't clear.

-

He releases a breath he didn't know he was holding, when she returns that pressure, though the sound of the engines might mask it. He doesn't push his luck, doesn't try for more. Silence passes while he allows that moment of relief to pass. He could sit here and not say anything, and maybe, eventually... what?

He speaks, voice low and flat, not practiced but careful, chosen. "My daughter's name is Amerie." It's five words. Five easy words. But they cost him a lot to voice, aloud, even to her. It sucks the breath out of him for a moment, such that there's a long silence before he continues, quietly: "She would be... turning eight, this year."

There's a roughness in his voice that, perhaps, she's not used to hearing -- although she has heard it before. An emotive quality -- reminiscent, but resigned, sad, too. "The day the uprising happened... my family was, I thought, at our house. We'd had a fight because we'd planned to head to the park with a picnic, spend the whole day there, but I had to work. Catrin was furious with me. She didn't know that my business was in trouble. That it was in trouble because..."

He trails off, jaw clenching. "...Because of choices I made."

The silence stretches, borne by a weight of the many things he doesn't say. The things he weighs and discards as unimportant. He pushes on. "By the time I managed to get there, all that was left was the shattered remains of bricks -- the whole neighborhood was flattened or in flames."

"I... we searched for them, but there was no word. The waiting -- the not knowing -- was the worst. Eventually, I had to let go. I had to let go, because it was killing me, inch by inch. So I let them die, and I joined the marines."

-

In the same way she was sure she'd just go on running until she found the ends of Caprica, Ines is sure that there's almost nothing that can silence the cacophony of things in her head -- a busy place at the best of times, and a deafening crowd now. She's as wrong about that as she was about her run, it turns out: those five words slap her endlessly looping thoughts into stunned quiet, because they are the last thing she ever expected him to say.

It sweeps aside the chaos and debris of her and leaves behind the clarity of an empty space for what comes afterward: his slow explanation, every word a labor. Something he doesn't owe her -- and she knows that -- no matter what they might have become.

There's so little strength she can pile atop the hold she already has on his hand, but she tries, anyway -- some intensity of grip she can't possibly sustain, a pulse of...who knows? Gratitude, or support? Some signal that she's listening? Because she still says nothing, hovering in a silence as delicate as spun glass. Every last inch of her is a tuning fork, bent on hearing him, but the words don't come, yet. Not until she's certain he's said everything.

-

He isn't surprised by her continued silence -- expects it, maybe -- even if that squeeze of her hand against his catches his breath and stumbles his words to silence for a time.

"Catrin tells me they were captured, early on -- that they were out in the open, and they, along with other civilians there -- were the first to be taken, put in camps." An anger floats through his voice, undirected. Anger at the cylons, certainly, but also at the situation, and the imaginings of what they might've endured in such a place. It rivets through his spine, ramrod straight, and his tightening jaw.

"They were separated when my daughter turned six -- two years ago. She hasn't seen Amarie since then." There's that pause, like every time he mentions his daughter's name, a little hitch he's entirely unaware of. "Three months ago, the camp Catrin was in was liberated by a combined strike of the Tauran Military with some help from the CF. She spent the first couple of months in rehab. When they released her, I was... we were..."

They were in the woods of Picon, becoming... whatever they were.

-

Another squeeze, for the mention of his daughter being separated from his wife. Her expression falters around something nameless, some sort of sympathetic grief. It's a horrible story that he tells her, tragedy from top to bottom.

Except for the bit at the end.

"I had normal once. A long time ago. Aint sure, maybe it's worse, to know what it was and never be able to get back to that moment, that place, that time."

It could never be the same as it was, but it's the closest that anyone will ever come to being able to go back. It's not a tragedy -- it's a miracle.

"I used to think that. Better not to know what it's like, so I can't miss it now that there's no hope of that for me." She'd stopped short there, balked at speaking the rest of the thought out loud: But now I'm not sure. I'm starting to wonder for the first time if it wouldn't be worth the pain of losing something, just to know you had it for a while.

If she didn't feel sick to her stomach, she could laugh. It wouldn't be a good laugh, but she'd have to. The naivete of it. The idealism. How many times can she be wrong about everything?

"Three months," she says, finally. Her voice has holes in it, put there by her labored breathing during that excruciation of a run. "She looks good. For three months."

It's so out of place, as sentiments go -- the kind of thing someone more casually acquainted with him might say, a reassuring silver lining. That even after a harrowing experience like Catrin's, she looks as though she's come out of it well; that she's recovering. That she'll be alright. With so many other things between them it doesn't make sense, but it's the first thing that occurs to her, and she means it, at least -- something true, and something hard.

-

Her words surprise him. Not because they're not true, and not because they're not genuine -- just that he never thought of that. That it's the first time she speaks since he sat down doesn't even register -- her return into the conversation as natural and accepted by him as the norm.

"Catrin thinks Amerie's still there, somewhere."

It's a simple statement, but it opens up a breadth of things. All the things which he'd packed up, and let go of, three years ago, thinking that they were dead. Putting them to rest in his head. Settling the memories in place, in the dim recesses of his mind, where they couldn't disturb him with the pressing intensity of the here and now.

Like is happening right at this moment. The strain is obvious: he's not one given to displays of emotion, but the raw sentiment -- hope -- shines in his gaze all the same. Hope that, maybe his daughter lives. Hope that he could find her, rescue her. Hope that Ines understands all of us, somehow.

It's a huge amount to ask someone -- anyone. So he doesn't voice the thought aloud, but his gaze is on her all the same.

"Ines..." there's something ragged, hesitant. "I think I have to..." leave. Leave you. Leave this place, the wolves, the only home he's known for the last three years. He can't say it: it stops, strangled to silence in his throat.

-

All the while, though she listens because of whatever this person has become for her and the story is his, and so she necessarily cares, she's still listening for selfish reasons, too. Waiting to find out which way the scales will tilt.

When he says that -- that his daughter is still out there, still waiting to be found -- that's the moment she knows: he's leaving her.

It's just another tremble in the shape of her chin, where it dishes shallow beneath her lower lip, in the moment before her eyes fall away from the blue vault of the sky and the promise of aircraft gaining altitude -- distance from all of the complexity and hardship and memory and damage of the war, superficially so escapable. Her gaze drops, fixed on some invisible non-point in space, just in front of her, and she nods. Just a little. It's still shocked, in its way, but present enough that she obviously understands what he's saying. There are tears, but it's not like the night they stole the raider, messy crying. It's not like the grudging thing he saw at the fireside, either, when guilt was eating her alive. It's too quiet for either of those things.

"That night in the woods," she says, finally, haltingly, with determination and very little volume, "The night we went to the cabin. When I found you, you were...confused. Disoriented. I was helping you back to the cabin from the woods -- you crawled the wrong way, after he-" Pause. "And you said 'I heard her voice.'" A little silence, after that. Her eyes are still unfocused, but the strength in that clasp on his hand is gradually waning. "I felt guilty. Something you never talk about. I was glad you weren't going to remember it. Telling me, or thinking that you heard it." After a pause, the corners of her mouth turn up, just barely. It's bottomlessly sad, but trying for something else. Not to cover for the sadness, but for him. "But maybe you did."

And because she has to let go, she does. Gently, and with one last squeeze, to fold her arms around her knees. "I hope you find her, Gage." These words are pinched -- this is getting harder by the moment for her; there's only so much she can endure -- but she means every last one. The emphasis leaves no doubt. "And I'm-" She manages a swallow, around a knot. "I'm glad you're going to get a second chance. At...everything."

-

I heard her voice. His eyes close, a grimace crossing his expression. He doesn't remember what he said, that night, but it rings something inside him, something that strangles a half noise into his throat that barely makes it out.

When she draws her hand back, his fingers tense around hers for a moment, like he wants to hold on -- but he lets go. A second chance, she says. "I wish things were different." It slips out before he censors it, surprising maybe even himself. But he doesn't take it back -- he means it.

She can hear him, then, standing, but he doesn't move yet. Can't, maybe, until he finishes, until he finds the words, the right words. Finally, he leans down, pressing lips to the top of her head. She can feel it, murmured into her hair, his breath warm, full of regret. "I'm sorry." They're words. Maybe not the right words -- but the right ones are far too painful to voice, especially now, especially when -- moments later -- he's turning to walk away from her.

-

"Me, too." Ines isn't so selfish as to avoid the pang of guilt that comes along with saying it out loud, even if he invited it. Someone better than she is could probably resist the urge to be that honest, knowing that everything she says or does now, in these moments, can saddle him with a weight he'll have to carry or relieve him of the burden of doing that. But she's not that person, and she does wish things were different. She does. Still, she finds it in herself to absolve him in the only way she knows how. "No apologies."

It all happens so fast after that, the way these things do. She closes her eyes when he kisses her crown, holds her breath to smother the sound she wants to make, because it's the seed of an audible expression of grief that would spiral into something he couldn't possibly walk away from -- and that's what's going to happen next, she knows.

Knowing doesn't change the disbelief when it finally happens. That after everything, after everything, this is how it ends, whatever it is.

Was. Whatever it was.

And then, Ines is alone.

No Wolves. No wing. No hauntings from her past to turn up at the last moment, somehow miraculously alive, to give her a place and a purpose again, to replace what she's lost. It's just Ines and the airfield, and the screaming birds of war.


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