|Summary||Rich and Iz fall apart way back when.|
"So, like. One year!"
Dating someone like Richard does mean that you can zip over to faraway places, but probably not /too/ far away -- his passengers don't magically share his durability at high speeds, unfortunately. But there are mountains not too far, and there are cliffs, and it's near-effortless to bring them to the very top of a stunning view. Richard has the fearlessness of one invulnerable to heights, his legs dangling over the edge of the cliff-face of their mountain perch, thrilling in the whip of the fall wind. He's restless, like he could have flown farther and faster and his muscles are still itching to try, but he's here with her now, even if it requires a sort of purposeful choice. He's dressed up a bit, at least in that he's pulled out a button-down for the occasion, though the sleeves have been folded and pushed back to his elbows in a way that he probably thinks of as rumpled but others probably think of as attractive. He looks like he could fly forever, but right now he's here and he's smiling at her.
Isabel has the fearlessness of one completely completely vulnerable to heights and addicted to the mixture of rushing adrenaline and quiet peace that dangling from the edge gives her. With Richard, it trends toward the former, a whirlwind of 'higher' and 'faster' and 'look how far we can /see/'. It is no surprise that he's chosen this for such a landmark day; she begs it of him often enough. Tonight Isabel has dressed to match, choosing sweet over sexy in a sheer white shirt with tiny daisies stitched along the hems pulled over a camisole and jeans. Nice jeans. She drags her gaze away from the view spread below her to tilt a smile in his direction, her hair wild and windswept around her face. "Don't sound so surprised," she teases.
"I'm not surprised!" Richard immediately argues back, although one might suspect him of arguing his point just in general defense of himself. "I mean, who wouldn't want to date me for this long, I can fly places. And kind of dance. And know /so much/ about vintage science-fiction. I'm a catch!"
"You are a catch," Isabel agrees. She leans into him, lacing her fingers through his as if she might tie him down, stem the tide of that restlessness. Her smile is easy and loose and happy, a world apart from the ones she used to give. Or used to not give. Amusement rises warm in her voice as she adds, "And you /can/ dance. Now."
"I could dance before," Richard continues to argue, because now she's /maligning/ his /dancing/. "I danced with you on our -- our /second date/, and then we had sex for the first time, so clearly it was /really awesome dancing/." His logic is impeccable. He squeezes into the anchor of her hand, fingers twisting into hers as if eager for some sort of reassurance.
"Shit," Isabel says, drawing her eyes wider as she looks over at him. "Second date. I'm pretty sure there are rules against that or something, so it /must/ have been really awesome dancing." It starts as a joke, but somewhere in the middle of it her expression softens, growing more quietly serious as she studies the familiar lines of his face. "It's been kind of a hell of a year, huh?" she says softly. "I didn't think we'd-- I didn't think I'd get this far, you know.
"You could always count falling off the boat as our first," Richard says in very gracious offering. "Then the dancing would be our third, and I think that's textbook-perfect." He looks over at her, studying her studying him, something quiet responding to her. "Why?" he wonders.
"I thought we weren't going to mention that ever again," Isabel objects. Her fingers tighten in his for a moment, and quiet grows into silence. For a moment she looks just a little uncomfortable, and she shifts under his gaze. "Because--" she starts, and then draws in a breath to start again, soft-voiced. "Because, Rich. Because I'm a disaster half the time and the times when I'm not I know I'm not /easy/, and you-- have got to be the most patient man I've ever known." She does not spell out the reasons; the surprise twitch of PSTD rearing its head at difficult times, an ex on the team she can barely hold a civil conversation with, a heap of insecurities buried deep beneath bravado and thorns. After a year, she surely doesn't have to.
"Oh, I /definitely/ didn't agree to that," Rich replies, but the humor's short-lived as the conversation continues into more serious territory. He listens to her, his gaze eventually beginning a slow descent until he just focused on the clasp of their hands and the brush of his thumb across her skin. He's silent for several moments, which is perhaps not the most encouraging response. When he finally does speak, his voice is quiet: "I wish you'd just let me love you, Iz."
The swift upward jerk of Isabel's gaze to Rich's is startled, and then worried. "I do," she objects almost instantly. "I mean, you /are/, we-- shit." She scrubs her free hand against a denim-clad thigh, scowling down at it. "I didn't mean it like that. I didn't mean to ruin the celebration. I meant-- it's kind of /amazing/. Is all."
Again, he's quiet, despite all her clear attempts to turn things back to the celebratory. "I didn't mean it like that, either," he eventually says. "I guess what I really mean is that--" He stares down at the clasp of their hands, unable to meet her gaze. "--I guess I wish you loved me."
The lift of Isabel's gaze is slower this time, dragging up along the curve of his shoulder and the line of his neck to watch his profile. Someone else might offer quick assurances. But this is Isabel, and she's happier with uncomfortable truths than lies (except the one, the most important one), and this is Rich, and even if she were a blithe liar, she couldn't find it in herself to lie to /him/. "Rich," she says, and that's all, his name left to hang in the air between them.
He finally manages to lift her gaze back to her face, searching, almost hoping for some sort of defense. But he finds only what he expected to find, and Rich smiles, faint and sad and unhappy. "Yeah," he agrees. "That's what I thought."
"No," Isabel says swiftly, meeting his gaze with her fingers tightening against his. "Rich. I'm /happy/. We're /good/ together." She twists, drawing her other hand up to press her fingers against the familiar curve of his cheek. "Right? Can't that-- just. Be enough. For now?
Richard doesn't pull back from her touch, but there's clear hurt that flashes across his expression, digging its claws in. "No. Iz -- /no/. It's not enough to sit here and be with you and have it just be /good/. It's not enough loving you while you're so clearly and /obviously/ loving--" He jerks his gaze away, fast.
Isabel rocks backward, jerking her hand back as if burnt. A long moment of silence follows, so thick with tension that it's practically palpable. Her fingers curl into her palm, hard enough to leave little crescents in answer to the prick of her nails. Despite all of it, she doesn't release his hand. She clings, as if that single touch might roll this conversation backward, allowing them to retreat to safer ground. To unsay what's been said.
Richard swallows hard, almost as if he's having a moment of wishing he could swallow back the words that have already been said, but they hang in the air between them. "It's not fair to ask that of me. It's not -- It's not fair, Iz."
Isabel doesn't answer immediately. She draws in a breath, holding it tight in her chest for a long moment. When she breathes out again, it is unsteady. "I thought you were happy," she says. "I thought /we/. Were happy."
"I am," Rich says, his voice gentling for a moment. "I mean -- a lot of the time. I am. Iz. I wasn't -- /planning/ on bringing you up here and doing this, but it's a year now, and maybe it's a time to -- to step back and really figure out what we're doing. Because -- you gotta think, you keep going after a year, that's -- that's in it for the long haul, you know, for real, and maybe -- maybe that's not a good idea. For us."
"Rich," Isabel says again, and on her lips it's like a request. Not a plea, not exactly; Isabel has too much pride for that. But she's still clearly asking something, asking /for/ something. She doesn't wait for the answer, though. Instead she turns her head forward to look out over the long stretch of the view below them and says, quietly miserable, "I /want/ to fall in love with you.
Richard 's jaw clenches, the muscle jumping, and it's his turn to draw back as if burnt. He carefully extricates his hand from hers to draw it back into his own lap. Very quietly, he says, "Do you have any idea how awful that is to say?"
Isabel :'s hand lingers, alone and a little lost between them, for a beat before she draws it into her lap to twist with her other. Her gaze flashes up to him, first startled, and then swiftly, deeply regretful. "I'm sorry," she answers. "I didn't mean it like that."
"Here's how I see it," Richard says, his gaze on the horizon. "We could keep going, and I get twisted up more and more in love with you while you -- /try/ to be in love with me. And you keep mentioning him five times in a conversation, and I keep ignoring it, because we're still good, we're still mostly happy, and what right do I have to call it. Or we can end it. Because maybe you've been happy, Iz, but we both know you could be a lot happier. Somewhere else."
With Richard's gaze elsewhere, Isabel clings to the chance to watch him unwatched, her gaze marking the unhappy shifts of his expression. She flinches a little for his words, and something rises tight in her throat, threatening to overflow before she swallows it down hard. "We don't both know that," she says in answering whisper. "I know that I'm happy /here/." And maybe it's meant to be a compliment, or an argument for staying, but it can't help but come out as cowardice. As selfishness.
"I'm not going to be what you settle for because you're too scared to be real with Tom Sikorski." The words come out all in a rush, with the consonants of Tom's name attacked with vicious emphasis that lays everything bare between them. "This isn't you /choosing/ me, it's you /not/ choosing something else." Frustration and anger leaks from his voice and sharpens his expression, though he still doesn't look at her.
There is little Isabel can say in the face of such blunt truths so painfully spoken, and so she says nothing at all. She looks away from him now, back toward the distant line of the horizon far below, and focuses a great deal of energy on not letting tears escape down her cheeks. In this, at least, she is successful.
Her silence leaves him with emptiness to spill his anger into, and it drains away to leave Rich with something much worse: loss. So where she's able to restrain her tears, he finds himself with wet eyes, and he turns his face away to scrub the heel of his hand across them, angry at himself for it.
Isabel chances a brief glance in his direction, and when she catches him mid-scrub, her breath catches in her throat and her expression crumbles. "Rich," she says yet again, and this time it /is/ a plea.
"Please -- don't," Rich says, his words a return plea. The heel of his hand stays pressed against his temple. "I'm fine. Just -- gimme a minute." His breath is shaky as he draws it in and tries to steady it.
Isabel lifts one hand, just a bit, an automatic instinct given free movement for the handful of seconds before she realizes with a sudden thud deep in her chest that she's just lost the right to touch him like that. It falls heavily back to her lap, and she stares at Richard for a beat before she presses her hand down into the hard rock of the cliff face and pushes herself up into an unsteady stand. A second later she's pacing angrily across the cliff top, away from him, as if there's anywhere she could possibly go. Telekinesis stretches outward to seize up an invisible handful of pebbles and fling them to their deaths on the rocks far below in a childish burst of angry frustration.
That's the thing, isn't it. For all the hurt and pain now between them, they're stuck up here until an intimate return flight home, only accessible by Richard's clasp around her to fly her back. He allows himself a few minutes to try to pull himself into a semblance of distance, removing himself from his emotions until he can be -- somewhere she's not. He makes his way to his feet. "We should head back," he says quietly.
There are a million hurtful retorts on the tip of Isabel's tongue. They would sting in a thousand different ways. Guilt and regret and accusation and need and every other soft spot she could twist a knife into. After a year, she knows them all by heart. It says something of her regard for Rich that even now, with emotions raw and bleeding, she does not say any of them. Instead she nods, a tight jerk of a thing, and wraps her arms around her middle as she turns to face him.
For a long moment, Rich just stands there, hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans. He finally steps forward, because it's a necessary step to getting home but also because he wants to a little bit. And then his hands pull out of his pockets and he reaches, not to offer his hand or the sweep of his arms to pick her up and fly her home, but for her face in a terribly familiar touch to bend his head and kiss her goodbye.
Isabel answers the touch of his hand with the automatic tilt of her head, moving in reflex to answer his bend with her lift in exact match. It is the brush of his lips that finally undoes her. Their kiss is flavored with the salt of her tears, and her fingers curl tight at the bend of his elbow. It is as much of a cling as she will allow herself.
The press of Rich's mouth is long and lingering, the kind of drowning kiss when you know it's your last and you have to fit every one of your feelings into a moment's goodbye. When he finally pulls back, he doesn't have the strength or the courage to keep his gaze on her face, but he reaches to lift her up in his arms nevertheless. A necessary pain.In his arms, Isabel turns her cheek against his chest as her mind catalogs all of the lasts in this moment, and all of the things she will never have again. It is a silent flight home, and a silent parting when they get there. Surely they will eventually be able to speak to each other again. Just not-- tonight.