One year later...
Related Scenes: None
Scene Number: 1684
The base has been busy. Soldiers recently cleared through the spec ops school are preparing to transfer out to their respective new units. A large number of previous graduates are visiting, standard rotations through Arcadia adjusted to account for the occasion wherever possible. It's a busy time for most people, underneath the buzz of which the routine of military life continues like clockwork, as usual.
It does make for some excitement on the side, nevertheless -- like a handful of reunions between former Wolves. Absent from all of those reunions: Ines Correa. But the rumor that she's around is certainly true, as she's standing there in the flesh on the worn track outside, wearing running tights and a long-sleeved shirt with her hair up, stretching.
(There's another rumor going around that Gage Tomak broke the wrist of an officer -- a pilot -- yesterday, but since nobody has been brigged, it seems unlikely.)
Among those recent graduates was Cate, reinstated to the marines after her unofficial rehabilitation stint as part of Arcadia's hospital staff. The medic/doctor is looking better than she did when the Wolves broke up. Still lean, but she's put back on the weight she lost on Picon and a bit of muscle beside. And it looks like she's actually gotten some sleep these past months. She's wearing gray sweatpants and a CF-issue T-shirt, and is carrying a pyramid ball. Probably heading to the court beyond the track. She stops short, though, when she notices Ines standing a bit away. Approaching with a surprised smile, she says, "Ines?" Almost as if she can't believe it's her.
It would be hard for Ines to look anything but better than she did, the last time she saw Cate Rhodes. In the handful of transitioning days between the disbanding of the Wolves and the beginning of the expanded spec ops school she'd been physically recovering from Picon, but devastated by other events -- and Cate probably had enough inside information to make an educated guess as to why, given Tomak's sudden departure. It was not something Ines talked about. Talking, in general, was not something she did much at all, for those few awkward days between one life and the next.
She never did write, either.
When her head snaps up to the sound of that familiar voice, though, she looks...good. Better than good. Better than she ever did with the Wolves, even, though maybe that has more to do with preening than health. She squints into the sun at the sound of her name, and it's a moment before the smile comes. Tough to say whether that's because of the glare in her eyes or some hesitation, though. "Rhodes." Quieter than she used to be, too -- but she still sounds warm. "Hey." Straightening, she shades her eyes as she starts that way. "Are you...? Stopping in from somewhere else, or...?"
Cate did make a token effort to stay in touch, but truth be told she's a crappy correspondent. And with shifting assignments and the military's penchant for censoring and/or accidentally misrouting messages, who even knows if any of them even made it to Ines. She stops at polite conversation distance, turning the pyramid ball over in her hands, a sort of fidgety gesture to forestall not knowing what to offer. A hug seems overly familiar after all this time - a handshake inadequate. "Hey," she replies. "It's good to see you. You're looking well." The latter question causes her to squint over in the direction of the training ground. "Nah, I've been here for awhile. Just went through the school here. How 'bout you?"
Once upon a time, Ines would have been the one to resolve that indecision for them both. She'd go for the hug. It's not clear whether she notices the awkwardness or not, though -- just that she seems steady in an almost uncompromising way. You're looking well gets another small upward tilt to either side of her mouth. Not aloof, but reserved, maybe. "It's good to see you well, too."
"Ah? Congratulations. It feels good to finish with it, I know." Another few steps take her close enough to stand more at Cate's shoulder, eyes angled out of the late sun, better able to study the medic. "Have you put in for a transfer yet? Do you know where you're going? Where you want to go...?"
With neither of them inlinced to resolve the indecision, Cate just ends up standing there, spinning the ball. "Thanks, yeah - I'm glad it's done. Kind of a pain in the ass," Cate says, making a face at the thought. "They think they're weeding people out by being tough, but their shit's nothing compared to what the Wolves already went through." She shakes her head. "But no - haven't gotten my new papers yet. Where'd you end up?"
Outright mention of the Wolves -- or maybe what they went through -- prompts Ines to lower her gaze for just one beat of time, lashes angled low over pale eyes. "The rest of my new unit is...competent." Whether this is an endorsement of the product of the spec ops training program or the very opposite of an endorsement, her tone does not make clear. She glances up again, pulls in a breath, nods once. "Soon, though. Or- are they giving you time off, first?"
There's a shout from near the base that draws her eyes briefly, but it's nothing. Still, they haven't come back to Cate by the time she says, "Eh...Leonis. Near to where I grew up. For now, at least."
"Competent," Cate echoes mildly. "Well... that's something at least, I guess." A wan smile touches her lips but doesn't linger long - perhaps because of that reaction to the mention of the Wolves. She nods to the latter. "Got to go see it after all huh? I hope it wasn't too hard." Despite the distance that's grown in the intervening months, her furrowed brow seems to be genuine concern. "I think they said they were going to give us a little bit of leave. Is that what brings you here? Shore leave? Or is your whole squad rotating through?"
After all, Cate says -- referring to one of the last conversations they ever had. Maybe it surprises Ines that Cate remembers; it takes her a moment to respond, and when she does it's with a little bit of something else in her voice as her eyes bounce back toward the medic. Humor, maybe, or self-consciousness. Both. "Yeah. Every day. It's..." She pauses. Admits: "Hard. But I wanted hard."
Her eyes fall to the spinning ball, and after a moment she gestures loosely in the direction of the court, turning that way, herself. Not hurriedly -- just to move, maybe, while they speak. "Not all of us. Half. Two weeks. Mmm...closer to one week, now, I think. We do rotate. Early this time, though, so I think it was-" She lifts her hand, waves it vaguely. "All of this one-year pomp, with the program. Something."
Two more steps along, she lifts her arms and grasps one elbow, stretching her arm behind her head. "You were working in hospital for a while, no? How was it?"
Cate's lips tighten at Ines' answer. Sympathetic, but also a touch perplexed by the admission. "What - felt like you needed another challenge?" she asks, brows upraised briefly. But then more seriously. "But I'm sorry. It sucks... home not really being home any more." Cate falls into step towards the court, mirroring the leisurely pace. "Probably wanted some folks on hand for the brass. Success stories and all that."
She continues to fidget with the ball, frowning down at it when she considers Ines' question. "Yeah, I was there up till I transferred to the school. It was..." She fumbles for the words. "Nice and hard at the same time. Got to be a doctor again. Went whole weeks without anybody dying on me. But it felt empty, kinda."
"Challenge," Ines says, with a nod that turns into a tilt of the head and one-shouldered shrug. Toneless: "Distraction. Same thing."
They're not alone out here. The weather's been good, and there are plenty of other soldiers taking advantage of that: other courts, the track, the grassy areas surrounding both. Ines watches them through eyes narrowed into the light because it's easier than looking at Cate save in brief glances. Her attention is primarily on the woman beside her, though. She even sounds genuinely curious when she asks, "What sort of patients did you have..? Where did they come from?"
"There are easier ways to distract yourself," Cate points out mildly, slanting Ines a glance at that bland reply. She nods or returns greetings to a couple of the soldiers they pass, familiar comrades from a year spent at Arcadia. The question gets a thoughtful pause before she says, "Well, it's the main rehab hospital for the CF, so that's most of the patients. I worked in the ER though. Sick call, troopers at the school, sometimes random medical emergencies or accidents." She shrugs a bit and says, "Normal stuff. But not so normal any more."
One grey-green eye affixes to Rhodes' profile while she describes -- in some small way -- those first six months. It gains a mote of something sharper, too, for the gentle observation about Ines' taste in distractions -- along with a twitch of the lips that doesn't quite resolve into either a smile or a frown -- but when she opens her mouth again, it's only about the work. "I can see how you would miss it. Parts of it, anyway. The..." There's a momentary hitch in the pattern of her words, just a splinter of hesitation. "Connections." One long, slow breath later, she continues on in that conversational way, as though it had never happened. "It's not the same, being on the ground. Or-" She glances sidelong at Cate, and this time the upturn to one side of her mouth is a little bit stronger. "Out of your vest? However a marine would express it."
"Parts of it, yeah. Missed my friends. Missed feeling like I was making a tiny dent in the war." Cate's somber agreement is accompanied with a soft sigh. "It's not the same here. Sometimes it seems like people forget there's a war on. Doesn't seem right. I think that got to me more than anything." She lets out a soft snort and admits with a sidelong glance at the pilot. "Suppose I needed a harder distraction."
It's the first time today that something's happened to the Leonese pilot's face without her say-so: a blink and meeting of that brief look, and then the phantom of a smile, built on top of a sharp exhale that seems like it was the equivalent of a laugh. "Yeah," she agrees, nodding. Her eyes sweep back toward the court. "We're difficult people to distract."
Ines has always been comfortable with silence. It's one of the reasons she and Tomak got along at all. For three or four unhurried, strolling strides, watching other soldiers, she lapses into that, only to break it abruptly, turning her head to look at Rhodes. "Did you feel that way?" One of her brows rises -- only by small increments. "Like we were making this dent, in the war."
"We are indeed," Cate says, smirking a little in response to that phantom smile. "I mean, I'm not going to complain about not getting any more bullet holes, but I didn't like feeling like I was on an extended vacation while everyone else was still off fighting." Even if that's exactly what she needed. A realization of that fact probably accounts for the guilty grimace that touches her lips. The unexpected question proves to be a welcome distraction. Cate's brow creases, then she says. "Yeah, I did. Well, some of the time anyway. You didn't?"
"No. But..." The 'but' happens quickly, as though Ines is aware of how that sounds -- not exactly a ringing endorsement from one of these so-called success stories. "It was never about that, for me. Just the fighting. Just to be fighting. That was all I wanted." Something flickers through her expression, a momentary shadow, a stray thought she entertains for just a moment before sweeping it aside. "The rest is too big for me to see. It's good, to see progress in places. Achieve a goal. But what it means to the war? I could never tell." A beat, a shrug. "Someone must know. Someone, somewhere."
"That's all I wanted too. After Picon." Cate's jaw clenches briefly, a similar shadow passing over her features. She shakes her head, then. "And I don't know where it all fits, in the grand scheme of things. Maybe somebody does." She sounds dubious on that point. "But we helped people. That much I know." Or that much she desperately wants to believe, anyway. "Gotta count for something, right?" But that's a heavy topic, and since they've arrived at the court she takes advantage of the obvious distraction. "You play?" she asks, holding out the ball in offer.
It's not a new conversation for them, and Ines remembers the last one. Through a fuzz of fever, granted, but that fever had pulled an emotional honesty out of her that she rarely indulged then -- one that seems even less common now.
Still, some things don't change. And whatever the rigors of the year prior, this appears to be one of them. "I think it all counts."
The offer -- invitation? -- gets a blink from her, lips parting. She stares at the ball, then allows herself a small smile, a crease appearing, then disappearing, between her brows. "Ah...I...don't..." Pause. "I mean. I know the rules. But I'm, you know..." Longer pause. "Terrible." She angles a brow up as she lifts her eyes from the ball, and after a moment exhales a long sigh -- but it comes along with a smile that's almost, almost normal. "Eh, what the hell." She turns toward the court again, and starts to move with purpose. "Just promise not to laugh."