From the Story Arc: Hope is the Thing With Feathers

Previous Story in the Arc: Traces by Victoria Victrix (Wednesday, June 08, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Shadows by Victoria Victrix (Monday, June 20, 2005)

(posted Saturday, June 18, 2005)

(This takes place the day after the rescue of Althea Nagy)

Vickie stood on the top of the Arena in Galaxy City and stared at the comm in her hand. Put it on her belt. Paced. Picked it up and stared at it. Put it back and paced.

And finally picked it up again. Red was listed as on but not in a mission. She keyed his code. Opened her mouth and the first thing that came out was not something clever or comforting or supportive but "Hi Red, how are you"

You're supposed to be good with words, idiot. How lame can you get?

And he did not sound all right. "I'm... sorry I haven't called earlier." In fact, he sounded like hell.

She she was about to make it worse. "Red---there is so much I need to talk to you about and I'm afraid to do it."

He responded instantly. "I'm coming to you. Galaxy?"

Oh, this was going to be hard. "Yeah. Our spot."

She heard his voice soften. "Our spot. I like how that sounds."

If it still is "our spot" after what I tell him---

But, "So do I," she said.

Then she watched the comm as he zoned until she heard his voice behind her, and turned, and there he was, fires out, in civvies, eyes smiling. "Heya," he said, and she ran to him and felt his arms go around her and only had to fight herself a little to keep from tensing. She put her cheek against his chest and closed her eyes. "Heya," he repeated softly. "Did it work? Did hitting the books help?"

Maybe she could ease into this. "Yes it did. I found her, I found the location after Josh found the zone."

She heard the smile in his voice. "What did I tell you? I was wondering how they found the I know."

She had to give Thea credit too. "It wasn't all that hard once I realized Thea was deliberately leaving trail of hair for someone to follow. Surprised she isn't snatched bald at this point---"

The dry chill in his voice made her freeze up. "She'll make a valuable addition to the CCCP then."

He stepped back. The smile was gone from his eyes. "You've heard then?"

She swallowed. No, there would be no easing into this. "Red---It was on open comm. Bella had a good long rant about it. Also on open comm."

His eyes---there was such pain in them. And she was going to make it worse. "Bella..." he said. And quietly, "Shit. Bella... Bestial... Communard... Chuggy... and so many more... I can't believe this...I can't believe what I may have to walk away from."

She bowed her head. "And me."

She looked up to see his eyes were closed. "No. Not you. Nothing will keep me from you."

Someone---anyone---make me not have to say this---

Stupid request. Lie now and make it worse later---later, when someone like that Rancor creature dug it up and told him---"I wouldn't be so sure about that if I were you," she said quietly.

His eyes opened, startled. "What? Saviour can't keep you from me."

No, not Saviour. Only the truth.

This was the hardest thing she had ever done in her entire life. Harder than facing the fact that she was going to be a freakish monster. Than the pain of coming back to the living. Even than having Pwyll stand over her and gloat. And she was going to do it to herself. And to him. Doing it to him was worse. "I was hoping I able to tell you some things about me gradually. Little by little. I don't think I have that luxury now. Better.....better it comes from me." He was silent. She closed her eyes so she didn't havet to look at his face. "I'm a killer, Red."

"I know," he said quickly. "Or at least... I figured you might have been... before. I was too."

She steeled herself and took the plunge into the fire. "I don't think you do. I AM a killer. Not was. AM."

His response: a quiet, "What?"

She shrugged. "Unseleighe Sidhe. CoT. Elven Nazis. Humans. Not monsters, humans. When my liege calls, I must answer. When my liege says 'no quarter,' none is given. I have not been called since---since the---since I healed. But I have not been released. My vows still hold. I could be called today, tomorrow, or never. I could be called to ride to war, or to ambush someone and slay them in cold blood. This is why this is tearing me apart. Because---"

Red Djinni, who had been unreadable, staring at the ground, interrupted her. "Stop. Just... stop. This doesn't make you a killer. I'm not going to pretend to know the world you came from... you're still apart of...." He sighed. "I've had to do a lot of thinking, in a short time...And I've come to the conclusion it's not that black and white. You've sworn an oath to serve, and you follow. Fine. Like what happened last night, I don't blame the soldiers who follow Saviour, I blame her herself. The slaughter was unneccessary."

Please, someone stop this. Drop a rock on me. Blow up the Arena under me. Make me not have to say this---"One who kills is a killer, Red. And it wasn't always Underhill. Red---I am a Knight-Mage. That makes me a leader too. I've given those orders, as well as taken them. No mercy. No quarter."

He nodded. Oh, he had no idea---

Please kill me now. I would rather be dead than have to tell him this at this moment.

"Under what circumstances?" he asked, with remarkable calm. "An actual war?"

He was expecting a "yes."

"No," she said, grimly.

He didn't hear it at first. "It's understandable. Horrid, but unders..." He froze. "when then?"

"There are no more declared wars Underhill now," she said. "And it wasn't all Underhill anyway." She rubbed her temples with both hands, and tried to keep her voice steady. "I will tell you the worst of them. And I will---will understand if you hate me for it. There was a government project designed to catch and study elves---needless to say, it was a black-ops project that was kept very secret, especially from the Bureau Arcanum and people like my parents. The facility was very nicely hardened against magic, especially elven magic. My liege assembled a team, but only a human could lead it, only a human who had lived in the World Above for most of her life." She paused. "And only a human who knew what would be needed to make sure this never happened again. My team---all humans, most fosterlings raised by elves---went in to rescue the three captives. I gave the order---because I knew unless we destroyed everyting and everyone related to that project that someone else would start it up again---'no mercy, no quarter.'"

The silence was terrible. It burned. It ate her soul and scorched her heart.

"These weren't even soldiers. They were 'scientists.' Sadists, but unarmed scientists. We destroyed everything. When we were gone, there was nothing but ashes."

They all knew what they were doing. The captives are still in healing. Torture---it was nothing less than the worst kind of torture, mental, physical, emotional. Any of them could have stopped it by blowing the whistle and none of them did.

And none of that matters to him at this moment.

She bowed her head. "You can hate me now. I'm not sorry for what I did."

"Would you do it again?" he asked, with a deadly calm.

There was only one answer to that. "Yes. And I could tell you all sorts of mitigating circumstances, but.....but that's the bare truth."

"Aw gawd..." he muttered. "I...I can't..."

Final blow. To her heart as well as his---though his was rightly all he was thinking of at the moment. "And I'm sure one or another of your friends will dig this up sooner or later."

"I can't deal with this... I can't..."

"Because the contractor handling the project was Crey."

She heard him take off, and turned, in time to see him shoot a little way above the Arena. She saw him stop, heard him scream, saw an explosion of fire up there, then watched him fall out of the sky and land hard not that far from where she still stood. She felt as if she'd killed him. She wished she had killed herself instead....

Well, that could be arranged.

"....we....had a good moment or two, Red," she said, knowing he probably wasn't hearing it. THis was more for her than for him. "That's more than most people get."

She turned away and looked at the skyline. Towards the Perez Park gate.

"... doesn't make sense... nothing is MAKING SENSE...."

"And I still love you with all my soul," she said, hopelessly, knowing that even if he heard her, this wasn't going to make any difference---

And it didn't. "Do you now?" he said quietly, deathly calm, standing behind her.

Words ironically rang in her memory. Not that long ago. A day, two days ago. And until the day you tell me to go, I will never leave you. So if you never tell me---I'll always be with you.

"But it might be time for you to tell me to leave now."

He didn't understand. Or didn't remember. "You don't have to go anywhere," he said, and she heard him take off.

"Goodbye Red," she said, and turned her comm to the command channel and tapped out the code she had gotten back when she first arrived. The code she thought she'd use on the day the pain became too much. Not for nothing was she the daughter of Feds.

The code that turned off the transponder between her shoulderblades, the one that would send her to the hospital or let the hospital override and grab her if she didn't respond before the last of her life bled out.

She headed for Perez. After the kidnapping, no one would be surprised at another hospital override. They'd assume it was related, look into her background, figure she was another victim of the Council with less luck and fewer friends than little Thea. She had a "Take Ten CoT" on her mish-list. Suicide alone, but she'd been soloing a lot and they would probably figure she was overconfident, not thinking, or both.

And an end to the pain, finally.

She clung to the stone of the gate for a little while, eyes closed.

I hope this doesn't hurt too much.

At least he shouldn't blame himself for this.

If he even has one iota of feeling left for me now.

She made it as far as the forest; looked for the tell-tale green glow of a CoT soul-severing rite. It wasn't hard to find.

Also not hard to find were Hellions, who followed her in and hit her just as the CoT noticed her.

It hurt, actually.

It hurt a lot. She fought back, though, caught the CoT in an earth-hold, tried to heal herself, but---saw the redline on her tell-tale and knew---

But what came next was not an end to the pain.

Fire enveloped her and everything around her. Suddenly there were no more enemies.

Suddenly, there was only---him.

"That was stupid," he said flatly. "You know better...."

She would never tell him why she was really here. If he knew, he would feel honor-bound to try and keep her from doing it. She looked at the ground. There were always more mishes she could take that would send her into places she couldn't handle alone. Hell, most mishes she couldn't handle alone....

"Yes it was. I didn't much care anymore."

Let him think---let him think she was just overreacting. Or something. He would go away, she would get another mish later, and---and then---

"Hey," he said, the coldness gone from his voice. "You... you can't get rid of me that easily."

Words she had never expected to hear. She looked up. He stood mere inches from her, looking down intently into her eyes. "Red?" she said, voice breaking.

He held her face, and sighed. "Can't give you up..."

She flung herself at him and held him, and held him. And his arms went around her again, as she shook and tried not to cry. "....oh Red...."

"Shh..." he said, one hand on the back of her head, keeping her face held to his chest.

" can't....just love the good parts...." she faltered, around the tears she was holding back.

"I love you," he replied, quietly.

"...and if that was....what you were in love with...."

"I love YOU," he said, with emphasis.

And suddenly, her mind was made up. If he loved her enough to deal with what she was and had been---she loved him enough to---

---to change. Make a sacrifice of her own.

"Oh Red----I love you so much. I---" she gulped. This would change everything. One way or another. "I can ask to be relieved of my vows. My liegelord can set me free."

"I can't ask that of you," he replied slowly, then before she could respond, said, "Wait." He let her go and looked down at her, meeting her gaze, eyes solemn.

"Do you want to? Is it something you WANT? Can you be yourself without it?" he asked.

"I don't know," she said honestly. "It's been a part of me for a very long time."

"Then don't," he replied, with a certainty that made her heart lift. "We'll... work this out."

He didn't just love the "good parts." He knew the worst. It was going to be all right. Not "all" right, not right now but---


"I---think we can," she said.

A smile started to grow in his eyes. "... yeah."

"I think---" she said, feeling the hope that she thought was dead raise its head and start to sing again, "---together we can do just about anything."

"Aye," he said, holding her again, as she tucked her head in against his chest. "Aye."