The Eye of the Hurricane
ANNNND Terri keeps batting a thousand. Which is good, cuz Rina needed that clue bat.--Maer
Wednesday, 08 March 2524
Joshua's Death + 28 days
Durance class Exeter
En route to Georgia
1300hrs, ship's time
When in mourning, time acquires a dual existence. There is an inside time and an outside time. The outside time is what the rest of the world uses. It marks the hours on the clock, the days on the calendar. Sunrises and sunsets. Inside time is different. There are no seconds, no minutes, no hours. There is no day. There is no night. There is only pain, which tells you that you are awake. There is only oblivion, which tells you that you have somehow slept. There is no past, only ghosts. There is no future, only the void. There is only now. One breath, one heartbeat, between one now and the next, trapped between life and death.
It is hell.
And yet, it passes. The wounds start to heal, the mind learns to think again, and the spirit—however sundered—rallies. The world intrudes. The sorrow retreats. By degrees at first imperceptible, inside and outside time converge. The seconds, minutes, and hours have value again. Day and night regain their meaning.
It took me a month to gird myself to step aboard Exeter to gather Joshua's effects. A month between washing his body on the Ark to boxing up his clothes in our quarters. I knew it would be painful but necessary and so gave myself plenty of time, both inside and out, to do it. Everything I touched reminded me of him. Everything he'd worn held his scent, bringing his face, his laugh, his voice back to me. When I came to his favorite shirt, the one that brought out the color of his eyes, I had to stop and bury my face in it and breathe him in, trying for one last contact with the man I loved. I don't know how long I sat there, hunched over in misery. Inside time held sway. I could only breathe and endure until I could let go again.
It was not until Rina released the shirt of her own volition that the voice from the doorway, gentle as always, intruded. "You should keep one or two," Harry observed softly. "It will not retain his scent for as long as you might wish, but it will for far longer than you think. You will sleep better."
"Hello, Harry," I said, brittle as glass, but I managed some warmth. After all, this woman was a friend. I motioned her to the sole chair in the room and tried not to see Joshua in it. "Please, come in."
The Asian woman accepted the invitation but only stepped far enough into the room to sit in the desk chair. The room was sacred space and she wished not to violate it more than necessary. "It is difficult to recover from such loss as yours. Not merely a husband but also a brother and a valued friend. Each must be mourned. I am glad to see you take this step, Irina," she said quietly. "It tells me that you are beginning the healing process. Kicking and screaming," she observed with a hint of amusement. "As you do everything. Do not feel that you must rush, though. Letting go is a slow process and by no means always a forward-moving one."
"Kicking and screaming? Fitting enough, since I started this journey kicking and screaming." I breathed a laugh. "Thought it would take longer to arrive here, though."
I couldn't address the irony directly. As with nearly everything these days, I had to approach it sideways, to blunt the pain I knew was coming.
"It takes as long as it takes," Harry responded. "Putting his things away does not mean that you are forgetting him. It simply means that you have come to the acceptance that he will not walk through the door again. It is a big step forward. But you will feel regret in the darkness of the night. Feel that you betrayed him somehow by removing his things. Which is why I said to keep a few things to sleep in. It allows the letting go of the physical to be more gradual for your heart." She still made no move to help Rina pack Joshua's things. She was merely a supportive presence.
Good advice, echoing what I instinctively knew. I had already put aside several items to take with me. The rest would go to charity once we kissed dirt. But I could see that however perceptive Yu-Shin Harrington was, she had missed my meaning.
Very well. I'll be blunt.
"You once told me that I should seek therapy to allow people to be close to me," I said as I rose to put his shirt with the other keepsakes. There was no censure in my mien, just a statement of fact. "I doubt that had I known ahead of time I would be here now that I would even have attempted it."
There was a faint smile. "You did know," Harry retorted placidly. "Not the specifics of the matter. But you knew the risks. Allowing one person in leads to allowing others in. It is the logical progression. Had you not been ready to step back into life, Irina, nothing I said to you would have mattered. Life means many wonderful things... but you know that you cannot have light without darkness. We are all where we are when we're supposed to be there. Everything has a pattern. A reason for being. Even the horrible."
Inside, the ocean roared. Outside, the breakers broke free.
"What purpose would it serve to live with only half my heart? Sane by day? Mad by night? What good could possibly come of my baby never knowing its father?" Anger, that I'd thought I'd exorcised on the Ark, blazed up Roman candle bright. It sought a target and found it in the Asian woman who was my friend. "What reason could all this possibly have, Harry?!"
I was nearly screaming at the end and I had to put Joshua's shirt down before I tore it. My heart, broken as it was, was racing in my throat and I literally saw nothing but red. I wanted to scream. I wanted to bite something. I wanted to rip the pain out of me and tear it to bloody pieces, to make it suffer. In retrospect, it was pathetic. In that moment, however, it gave me strength to last the next five minutes.
It wasn't unexpected. Harry's voice remained calm though her dark eyes watched Rina closely. "Would the Verse be a better place if your husband and your friend had chosen to hide the cure for the simple fact that it would kill them?" she asked. "Would he have been the man you loved without such willingness to put the welfare of all above his own? How many times in your life together had he already done so, Irina?"
"I never said they should have hid the cure. Joshua would never allow it." I stroked Joshua's shirt and closed the box before spinning to face my opponent.
I'm sorry, love, I begged Joshua. Don't watch.
"Don't you dare suggest otherwise, Harry. Don't you fucking dare!"
The guantlet had been thrown. It made a mighty sound on the floor. Would Harry pick it up? Or would I have to strike her with it?
"Your Joshua would never allow others to suffer if stopping it were possible," Harry agreed. "It is what made him who he was. I admire him immensely for his dedication to the greater good." She couldn't take Irina into the physical -- it could harm the child. Having pushed her this far, giving her a place to spew the rage right out, she relented slightly. "But the greater good has taken your husband from you. And from your child." She tilted her head. "Not many would have been so selfless as to ignore the needs of their wife to allow the greater good to take precedence." It was tweaking the tail of the cat -- but Rina needed to vent the rage.
"Yes! No!" I yelled, closing the distance between us in three hard strides to snarl in her face. For a split second I wondered Harry had gotten her facts wrong. "Ignore the needs of his wife? The plague was killing me, Harry. Joshua wanted me to live. Had he known about our baby, he would have wanted us both to live. He wasn't ignoring me. He was taking care of me. Taking care of us. And he did it the same way he did everything—so damned optimistic that he'd come out fine! You say that like it's a bad thing."
His optimism was his shield, accepting no other outcome. Considering all the demons he'd confronted over the years, it was the only way a sane man could attempt it. And I couldn't love him if he were any other way. Why would Harry suggest otherwise? As usual, when presented with a puzzle, my mind abruptly turned sideways to deal with it and my anger, burning so bright and painful, began to gutter out.
You're overthinking it again, Rina love, whispered Joshua.
"How?" I asked, forgetting Harry was there.
Harry remained silent, her dark eyes fathomless as Rina hurled her rage out into the Verse. The shift in the younger woman did not go unnoticed and the Asian woman's gaze sharpened to watch more carefully but she did not interrupt what was happening in front of her.
You know I love you, whispered Joshua. Ever since the first moment I ran into you.
Trafalgar, I remembered. Reavers and blood and death everywhere. The first moment he ran into me was on Trafalgar. Fighting.
You're a fighter, love. It's one of the things I love about you. You never give up, Rina. You'll be fine.
I don’t feel fine. I feel far from fine. I feel like—
I stood frozen on the deck, ignoring everything in front of me to listen to a man who wasn't there.
I'll be with you, he said. You know I'll be with you. Just … don't go back to the way you were. Don't. Don't you do it. No—Don't. Do you hear me? Don't. Stay open.
I don’t know what that means anymore, I thought back at him.
Yes, you do. No, don't argue with me. You do. You do, Rina. You did it with me, once. You can do it again. I know you, he insisted. You're not going to let a little thing like this beat you, love. And you know why? Cuz you're awesome. You're an awesome wife. You're gonna be an awesome mother. Don't let this setback get in the way of that. So … you know, stay open.
Inside time. It pulled at my senses and tugged at my heart, a siren's call to sink into the black ocean and never resurface. It was already up to my waist and my grief was making me heavy. It would take me in a minute.
Stay open, Rina.
Oh, sure! I thought back, irritation flickering in my chest, small at first but growing fast, making the black water recede. Like some candy-assed new agey crap is going to get me out of this mess. Dammit why didn't you wear a suit?! You could have gone to Exeter and grabbed one and—
"You would have been fine!" I said, unaware I was speaking aloud. "We could have made it work. We could have isolated you and you would have been fine and you'd still be here and I wouldn't be talking to myself in the middle of the hallways like a crazy womangoddamnyouJoshuaGabrielDrake—!
The last was a full throated scream. The ocean roared. I roared back. The horror of his blood on my hands, his last breath on my lips, feeling the life go out of him, to have the Verse come crashing down on my head—all fuel for the fire of my anger, my rage. To hell with building a boat. By God I would burn that fucking ocean dry before I'd let it take me. I'd burn it dry, stride across that baked ocean floor, and piss on its fucking teeth.
Just try to fuckin' stop me.
The petite Asian woman nodded very slowly, her eyes compassionate. That Joshua Drake and Arden had made their decision knowing it would doom them but save almost everyone else was well worth admiration. And she did admire them for their courage in choosing their own demise and the death of all those like themselves, most of whom seemed like not very good people. But the man's wife also had every reason in the world to be absolutely, utterly furious. She moved to stand now, drawing Rina's gaze.
Her movements were slow enough not to give Rina a reason to attack her as she stood but quick and fluid enough to make her the only target in the room. She retrieved a pillow from the bed.
"It was unfair for them to take away the thing that would have made grieving easier," Harry told her softly. "To not give you the time to make these arguments in person and come to your own acceptance of what had to be done. That they made their sacrifice for all the right reasons will never be in question. But you have the right to be angry, Rina." She smiled faintly. "You have the right to curse at him, even though he is dead, because had he survived you would have cursed at him just like this for being stupid too. Do not deny yourself a rightful anger at your husband. It is not a betrayal."
She held up the pillow to give Rina a target to strike at. Although Harry would not spar with her due to her pregnancy, she would give the only outlet she could so Rina could find catharsis.
The ocean spoke again, a hiss instead of a roar, retreating from the heat of my fury. The water that weighed me down was virtually gone, evaporating to steam and just as hard to grasp, to choke the living shit out of. The horizon, once infinite, fell in on itself and became the solid walls of my quarters. Mine now, because Joshua was no longer there to share them. Something moved in the corner of my eye and I spun to face it, fists up, teeth bared, determined to fight for what was mine.
A pillow. Held by a tiny Asian woman barely bigger than myself. Talking to me. What was she saying? The ocean hissed again, spat one last breaker on the shore and faded, leaving my head quiet so I could hear.
You have the right to curse at him, even though he is dead, because had he survived you would have cursed at him just like this for being stupid too. Do not deny yourself a rightful anger at your husband. It is not a betrayal.
I flexed my fingers. They ached. Looking down I saw that several of my knuckles were split and bleeding. What? I blinked and saw the room was a mess. The chair lay on its side. Several of the locker doors hung open and a few sported dents and smears that explained my knuckles. Drawers lay on the deck, sprung free of the bureau, vomiting their contents. None of them Joshua's, I realized. All of them, from lockers to drawers to effects, all mine. Even blinded by rage, I couldn't bear to harm Joshua or anything that belonged to him. The hatred evident around the room had been directed at myself.
Harry was right there, in arm's reach, and I gently tugged the pillow from her hand. Smoothed the soft case that wrapped it. Brought it to my face for a sniff. Joshua's scent bloomed in my nostrils and my knees went to water and I sat down hard on the deck, sobbing into the pillow that had been his.
The pillow was relinquished to Rina's hand and Yu-Shin Harrington moved to sit on the floor wrapping an arm tightly around the younger woman, simply letting her know that she was not alone. There was nothing further she could say to help.
Inside time. There are no clocks. No suns, no moons, no stars to track the hours, minutes, seconds. There is only the agony of stretching thin, of attenuating to infinity, as one waits for the next breath, the next heartbeat, to set one free.
It is hell. And yet, it passes.
The next breath comes faster than the last, the heartbeat speeds. The infinite shrinks, the body returns and sanity returns with it.
I rose from Joshua's pillow, every inch of me aching ... but this time it was different. Pain had always been my focus. I had long ago come to map its intensity, its flavor, its tone. What I felt now was a good pain, punishing but salutary, and Joshua whispered once more in my head.
You know I love you. No way I can stop loving you. Even when you're mad at me. You're a force of nature, love. Like a hurricane. No way to stop you. No way I could let you die, let something so beautiful fade from the Verse. You gave me that strength you know. The strength to fly. So don't you die on me. Live. Live, Rina. Live the only way you know how, the way you taught me. Show the Verse how it's done.