In which I tackle a breadcrumb I laid in the previous RP, Welcome to the Fold. Thanks go out to Andy for letting me explain it.--Maer
Sunday, 09 Jul 2524
Flying E Ranch
We'd spent the afternoon regaling Ezekiel with our stories of Joshua. Dinner was more of the same, delivered with laughter for the most part, and love. Dessert was Nala's berry pie and most lingered over it with coffee. I did justice to my share but excused myself when the aroma got too much for me. I fiercely craved caffeine and I'd found the best way to handle it was to absent myself whenever it grew too strong. I settled on the broad steps of the porch and looked up at the stars, thinking it wouldn't be long before I could indulge myself again. At which point the baby gave me a hard roll and a kick.
"Hey," I whispered. "Don't knock it til you've tried it, little man. Although it'll be a while before you do."
Getting to hear the stories of his younger brother's exploits left Ezekiel with a bittersweet swirl of emotions. Ezekiel had heard it once said that everyone gets the same deal from the Lord - one lifetime, not returnable or exchangeable for a refund. And Ezekiel had no doubt that his brother had taken the Lord up on that offer wholesale. But all the pleasant feelings were tinged with anger. Anger at his mother for turning his brother into an experiment. Anger at Joshua for not being alive for their first meeting. And, he admitted freely to the Lord, I'm pretty pissed off at you. Did you really think I needed an object lesson?
Kiera had wandered back to the kitchen to help Nika and Nala with dishes. Kiera needed time to rebond with the woman who had been her captain. And I, Ezekiel thought, should take some time to rebond with Kat. Rina, he corrected himself mentally. Rina, the mother of his brother's child and perhaps the one person in all this that he wasn't angry with.
He walked towards the porch and stood in the doorway, looking at Rina take in the night sky. "I hope I'm not disturbing you."
I heard his step behind me and smiled as his voice confirmed my guess, then addressed the man limned by the light from the open front door.
"Not at all. I was hoping to get a moment alone with you, actually. I'm sure you've got questions you'd like to ask without the others around." To say nothing of my wanting to do the same. However, Ezekiel would take priority over my curiosity. His was the more pressing need. "So please. Ask."
Ezekiel walked over and slowly eased himself down. He had given his cane to Nika and he found that he had grown more accustomed to its presence that he liked to admit. He would have to work on spending time without it. He looked over at the woman he had known as Kat and chuckled softly. "I have thousands of questions. I'm honestly not sure where to start. But I think there are only two truly important questions. The first being, did he love you as much as it is apparent that you loved him?"
"Yes." I tipped my face to the stars and shut my eyes against the prickle of tears. The months since his death hadn't lessened the pain of that admission. It had sharpened it. Never one to deny the truth when it hurt this much, I forced the words past the tightness in my throat. "He loved me more. Had it been me, I would have exhausted every other alternative than the one he took, hoping it would buy me more time with him. He, on the other hand, cut straight to the chase and ended it there."
"I thought as much," Ezekiel said quietly, watching the obvious pain in Rina's face as she talked about Joshua. Which made the second question seem all the more right. "So, then, my second question is: What can I do to help you, Rina?"
I opened my eyes and told him another painful truth.
"I don't know. I—." My voice broke. The black ocean inside me, quiescent til now, roared and threatened to drown me. Like a man overboard, I took a deep breath and braced myself for the water closing over my head.
Ezekiel recognized the signs of someone in the shadows looking for the light out. Why wouldn't he? He had been there before. But in his case, it had been the light of the Lord and his unwillingness to let go of the faith that become the bedrock of who he was. And he had come out the other side of that darkness stronger than before. And the Lord had rewarded him with Kiera's entry into his life. Unless she had dramatically changed from the Kat he remembered, Rina was not going to be one to be looking for the Lord's light when she was plunged into the depths. So he would have to be her light in this moment.
Reaching forward to take her hands into his, he said simply but firmly, "You have the strength to do this, Rina. The woman who helped me so many years ago had that strength and I somehow doubt that has changed. Joshua is not gone forever. The pain of absence digs like spikes driven into the very flesh of our heart, but it will fade. And one day, when you're done with the tasks of the mortal Verse," and he placed their hands on her belly, "then you'll see him again. That I know as certainly as I know anything."
They say confession is good for the soul and Ezekiel had the knack of invoking the sanctity of confession, of offering the comfort gained by unburdening oneself. I'd encountered it years before on Santo and the years since hadn't eroded it one bit. But what I carried inside me burned like acid, corrosive and unforgiving and inescapable because I knew it was true.
It hovered hot and bitter at the back of my throat. I clawed to my feet and struck off down the path. Ezekiel could follow me or stay on the porch. I didn't much care. All I wanted was to get out of earshot of the house before I royally lost it and set off the Twins. As much as I hated myself at that moment, I hated their cosseting even more.
Ezekiel slowly rose from the porch steps, not for the first time that day cursing that grand gesture he made up on arrival. But he was not in the middle of an episode. That meant he was not helpless...just slow and slow could be dealt with. He followed down the path, uncertain as to where they were going, but he could feel that she had a destination in mind. Or if not a destination, at least a goal. And this, he could see clearly, was one of those signposts from his Maker that he had told Kat about during their first meeting. What he did and said here would be important and have lasting effect. So, as he walked, he prepared himself, mentally stepping through the same calming and strengthening techniques he would use before a battle. If he grappled tonight for the health of his brother's wife and child, he did not intend to lose.
I made it as far as the front gate before my baby kicked me hard. I gasped and grabbed the post and waited for the discomfort to pass.
Pull yourself together. Tearing off in a tantrum isn't doing you or the little guy any favors.
I heard Ezekiel's step behind me and I relented, staring at the stars until he caught up.
Ezekiel stepped beside her and looked up at the stars. "It's a big Verse, isn't it? You would know as well as anyone." Ezekiel had gotten into staring contests with the Lord in the past. Patience was something he had in plenty. He could wait for her to say what she needed to say.
"It's big, yes," I allowed. "But these days it's too damned small. It's positively smothering me." I opened the gate and stepped through it. "Walk with me?"
Nala had taken great pains to warn me of the hormonal roller coaster that pregnancy inflicted on women. Even without my grief I knew the ride would be rough. As I set my steps for Joshua's grave, it occurred to me that the only reason it was rougher than it had to be was my stubborn pride. I hated weakness more than I hated almost anything ... But right now, whispered my inner critic, you can't tell me you don't hate yourself more. How healthy is that?
It was dark, the night well established, but by now I could find my way to Joshua's grave blindfolded. Even so, I slowed my pace, knowing that Ezekiel hadn't the benefit of my experience. It wasn't fair to make him go over the unfamiliar ground so quickly. Neither was it fair to make him wait for my apology.
"I'm sorry. I know you're sincere. You meant what you said with all your heart and please don't think I'm ungrateful. But ...." I stopped and gauged the distance from the house.
Far enough. Let her rip.
"You say I'll see him again, like it's a reward for doing well," I continued, velvet over steel. It was harsh and I knew it but it was the only way I could get through this. "I know I won't. Not ever. And I'll tell you why." I took a deep breath and told him what kept me up at night, that made my waking moments and dreaming ones absolute nightmares. "God doesn't reward murderers, Ezekiel, and I killed Joshua as sure as if I'd drawn my gun and pulled the trigger. There's a seat in Hell with my name on it and killing Joshua made it mine."
If God didn't reward murderers, then Ezekiel had a long hellish afterlife to look forward to. But that was the choice he had made in the service of the Lord. Of course, of those who still believed in the Lord in these days of strife, most seemed to believe that the Lord took some sort of tally of a person's deed and misdeeds, like an accountant of the soul. But Ezekiel knew better. His God looked into a person's soul and didn't need a count of their deeds. He just knew whether they were a good person. And Rina was a good person, Ezekiel was certain of that.
"I don't believe that, Rina. But I'm willing to listen. Explain to me how you murdered him, the man you loved so very much."
We'd already told him of the events on the Ark, so I didn't have to rehash it.
"I should have known something was up. Joshua was too upbeat for that positive outcome. Positive the way he was when he wanted to avoid acknowledging something ugly. I should have seen it coming but I didn't. And when the time came, it was my hand that installed the cure in the atmo system, Ezekiel. Mine. Not Arden's. Not Joshua's. Mine. And it was my hand that slapped Arden into next week when I realized what I'd done. And it was my selfishness that made me hope that maybe the Cure wouldn't kill Joshua all at once but that we'd find a way to hold it off. And before you say it wasn't my fault, think on this: No one else had the know-how to install the cure in the atmo system. I was necessary to make it work. That makes me responsible for Joshua's death, and Arden's, and that's all there is to it."
Ezekiel nodded briefly. "I understand, Kat. I won't deny you had a hand to play in that story. In the long chain of events that led to that moment, yours was the last link. I could make many arguments. That the Cure was necessary. That the plague was the result of evil people. Or even that Joshua would have probably yelled at you for thinking that way."
He stepped closer. "But all that is meaningless, isn't it? It's true, but it isn't the truth. But I'm guessing that the truth is that you're angry. Blindingly white hot angry. The kind of anger that can destroy you from within. But nobody wants to let you be angry. They want to reassure you that everything will be alright. That it wasn't your fault. That life will go on."
As he put a hand on her shoulder, Ezekiel lowered his voice. "The Lord has His plan, Rina, but nobody ever tells you how angry you're going to get at Him and the Verse along the way. No one ever tells you that it is okay to be that viciously angry at the Verse. Even at yourself. But I think that's my place here to tell you that it's okay. Because until you acknowledge that anger and make it your own, you'll never be able to forgive yourself. And you deserve to be forgiven, Rina. I know that is the truth."
"Dammit! So help me, Ezekiel, shut the hell up!" I slammed my hands against his chest and pushed him. "Truth or not, I can't do it. I can't!"
I should have known he wouldn't understand. Couldn't understand. My rage and self-hatred were all I had to keep my despair at bay. They were all that kept me from drowning. If I forgave myself, I would have nothing to keep my head above water. To keep myself going. To survive until my baby was born.
"Please, just ..." And that's when I lost it. I couldn't hold the ocean back any longer. It surged and pulled me under and I let it take me. I curled up around my baby and let the ocean pour out of me. I'd come to map its moods in the months since Joshua's death, had watched it obsessively like a maritime sailor on treacherous seas, and knew that I had to let it storm itself out.
He sat down next to Rina as she let grief overtake her. He gently but firmly brought her up to him and held her tight as the crying spasms wracked her body. Ezekiel didn't say anything. The moment for words was past. It was time to just be the human jetsam in her sea of despair, something to cling to until she could find land again. And she would find land again. Ezekiel had been where she was and for a moment, the bitter anger passed through him like it had in the past, the endless scream at God for bringing misery into the lives of the living. But it passed, quicker now than it had then, leaving him to comfort the woman that his brother had loved.
For one blazing instant, I thought Joshua held me. Disbelief and hope burned my despair away. Reality asserted itself a second later and the ocean threatened to come crashing back again. And yet ... For all Ezekiel was not the man I knew and loved, there was no mistaking the similarities between them. Both had the ability to offer solace when I needed it, to produce solid ground to make my stand.
And deliver a swift boot to the ass when I've earned it. And God knows, I have. Jesus, woman, pull yourself together.
I sucked down a quelling breath and held it, then let it go when I steadied. I found myself sitting on the ground wrapped tightly in Ezekiel's arms and God help me, it felt good. Right, even, though I couldn't say why. It came to me a second later: it was the first time since Joshua's death that I'd let a man hold me. How much of my pain was a direct consequence of keeping men at a distance? Of rejecting the comfort they could offer? The idea slithered through my thoughts, wondrous and frightful at once. Possibilities beckoned. Happiness could be mine. I need only to be open to it. Too soon, I thought. I was too raw to pursue it. But I knew I couldn't avoid it forever. Joshua was right. I was no longer the woman I had been, isolated and alone. The woman I had to be required I be more.
I stroked Ezekiel's face as I looked up and said, "Izvinityeh. I'm sorry. You're right. But I need that rage. It keeps me going. I know I have to let go of it. It just can't be now. And it's made me breathtakingly rude. Please forgive me. I never meant to hurt you. You deserve better."
"You didn't hurt me, Rina. And I never said you had to let go of it right now." A small smile. "You'll know when it is time. Hopefully before the baby is born. He or she is going to need all the love you can provide. They have a large legacy to live up to, it seems." He let her go now that she had gotten herself stabilized for the moment. "Just know that no matter how dark it seems, there will be light on the other side. I can attest to that personally, Rina."
He eased back and I did the same, reasserting our personal space. But I held onto his hand to keep him with me.
"Now that is a story I hope to hear someday. Maybe by then I will have earned it." I rose to my feet and firmed my chin. I'd babied myself enough. I had to go back to the business of living. Never good with words at awkward moments, I wondered if I should say something. At a loss, I fell back on my old stand-by: self-deprecating humor. "C'mon. We should get back before Nika sends out a posse for me."
"It strikes me that she wouldn't send it, but head it up herself." Ezekiel chuckled before growing serious again. "Thank you for loving Joshua, Rina. I wasn't able to be there for him. I'm glad you were."
"He would have loved you." I slipped my arm around him and hugged him tight. "And I'm sure he understands why you couldn't be. As for my loving him ...," I shook my head and gave Ezekiel a smile with equal parts joy and sorrow. "He always called me a force of nature but I don't think he understood that he was a force of love. Because that's what he was. Unconditional. Unstoppable. There was no way I couldn't love him."
Ezekiel returned the hug. "C'mon. Let's go back. I could use another serving of dessert." As he walked with Rina back to the house, he thought how it was truly amazing how he had found a new family. He just wished it hadn't been at the cost of Joshua's life. But that was the Lord for you. Mysterious ways.
 HOW TO SPEAK RUSSIAN
Izvinityeh =извините = eez-vin-ee-tyeh = Sorry; excuse me Sound clip