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2040-04-21 Death in the Family

From X-Factor

Death in the Family
Date Posted 2016/04/20
Location Irene's House
Participants Irene, Vega
Summary The day after the Staten Island incident finds two women trying to cope with loss.
 
IrIrene.jpg VeVega.jpg
With darkness comes a quieting of the busy city. Traffic is still common, though compared to other parts of New York this neighborhood is nearly silent. The cool evening air is punctuated occasionally by the sounds of a television leaking out an open window. Almost every one of them seems to be turned to the news.

Vega already knows where the Atwell house is. An hour away from Staten Island on a good day, the neighborhood it's in is full of thin, similar looking houses packed tightly on lots like the buildings are holding their breaths. But it is not a good day. Irene's house is unobtrusive, with off-white slatboard siding and a peaked, grey roof that's seen some years. It looks small from the street, with a scrap of driveway beside it and a postage stamp sized yard out front.

Steps lead up to the front door, above which lightly tarnished gold numbers sit, illuminated by the light just above them. But it isn't necessary to read them to know this is the right house. The staircase is doubling as a porch tonight: Irene sits on the top step, thrown into shadow except where she is outlined in light from above the door. A cigarette hangs from her mouth, the red ember casting a little light onto her face.

The news shows the same scene on every channel. The faces of the broadcasters change, the logos change, but the horrors remain the same. The caught footage repeated ad infinitum: Staten Island: Destroyed. Thousands Dead. The flickering televisions don't show the other half of the aftermath, of families left pale faced and waiting for people who won't return, like the woman who sits on the front step of her house. A cigarette in her hand and shadows in her features.

Driving up the street, Vega pulls up slowly as she reaches the Atwell house and cuts the lights to her borrowed vehicle. It leaves Irene in shadow again for a moment as she leans across the seat to grab a brown paper bag with a bottle in it. Her partner's pink hair has been hastily pinned back from her hair and her clothes are black as he expression as she steps out of the car. Swallowing thickly, she pauses as she sees the woman on the steps. "A-- Irene," she says, voice cracking a little on too much and too little to say. She approaches in quick steps until she reaches the bottom stoop and then stops uncertainly.

The news seems inescapable. There's almost nowhere anyone can go to get away from it. Irene watches the approach of the car with only a vague awareness of it, attention drawn by movement more than interest. Even when Vega steps out of it, nothing much changes about her expression of posture, sitting stooped on her front steps like a shadowy gargoyle. There is no light in her dark eyes as she watches the approach of her partner, just the reflection of that cigarette ember. It's the use of her name that finally jars her back into the moment, jaw clenching with a visible twitch before she regains control. She looks like she might speak, but ultimately just blows a bit of smoke out on an uneven sigh. She doesn't have the words. Or she doesn't trust herself with them.

There aren't words. There couldn't be for this and old formalities die on Vega's tongue as Irene meets her eyes in a shift of bleak emotion; no light at all shines in them. It is that look, that twitch of expression, that causes her to move and cross the last few steps between them. Bending on one knee she sets the brown bagged bottle down with a clink against the step and carefully moves to hug her partner or if nothing else put her hand on her shoulder. "{This happened too soon. I am so sorry for your loss}," she whispers in pained and formal Mandarin, voice seeming loud on the dark street. Her jaw trembles a little even as she tries to clench it.

Unconsciously, Irene shifts the cigarette away from Vega as she approaches and kneels close. Some part of her mind still functions on basic principles, keeping the burning end away from her partner. It's the most of her movement. She neither shifts away from the hand placed on her shoulder nor does she lean into it. But Vega can feel a tremble briefly ripple through Irene's body beneath her hand. Every noise seems especially loud on the street tonight, regardless of actual volume. "{Thank you}," she replies softly, the response like a shot in the still air when her voice cracks.

From the way Vega moves, even if Irene isn't wholly conscious of it at the moment, the cigarette wouldn't have deterred her. The metal edge of her knee digs into the concrete unfelt as she squeezes her partners shoulder, the heat from her hand seeping through into skin. Her dark eyes watch Irene, glossy with the pain of sympathy and mutual loss even if hers is not so deeply felt, and her jaw tightens around words. "{You are strong,}" she reminds on a harsh whisper, breath shaking as she tries to pull her emotions together. "{I am here for whatever you need. I brought…}" A hand gestures towards the bag which isn't enough, but it is something. "{Is Idris asleep?}"

Irene can't quite meet Vega's eyes, her own gaze falling somewhere into the distance, at nothing in particular. Far away. She ducks her head, shaking it in disagreement at the reminder. Her jaw clenches again as she swallows thickly. The cigarette is forgotten, burning slowly away against her fingertips. Shakily, she takes a deep breath and looks up, in the direction of the second story of the house. The exhale is just as uneven, a harsh sigh that precedes her answer. "{Yes}." Asleep for now, anyway. He's young enough to understand that things are wrong, young enough to be upset, but also young enough to not really understand what is happening.

Far away. Vega doesn't make any attempt to draw Irene back or to make her focus, she simply watches her with an expression that is less guarded than she might wish. After giving Irene's shoulder another squeeze, she releases it but remains kneeling at her partner's side. "{Good. And you? Have you slept or eaten?}"

At some point Irene realizes the cigarette has burnt out. She drops the butt and absently brushes the ashes off on her pants. "{I'm fine.}" Even if that weren't defensively spoken, it would seem patently untrue. No one here is fine. It also doesn't really answer the question.

"{Let me make you some food,}" Vega decides gently, bending down to pick up the bottle that she has brought and offering Irene a hand. "{I should have picked something up. Unless you want pizza?}" She lifts her brows, looking down at her partner. She can order a pizza.

"{I don't give a fuck about food.}" That sounds more tired than angry, though there is something brittle about the words anyway. It's the most Irene has spoken in awhile. Her voice is rough, Mandarin a little sharper than usual.

"{No.}" The sharp edge causes Vega to stop, her hands folding over the bottle that she carries with a solemn expression. "{You still need to eat though. If you want I will leave after,}" she offers simply.

It's such a practical suggestion. You need to eat. Irene just can't bring herself to care. She shrugs a shoulder. Do whatever you want, the gesture means. Normally she'd have an opinion. Normally she'd voice it with authority. Not tonight. She looks up at the night sky. No stars are visible here. "{Were you there?}" The information passed onto her hasn't been much more than what's on the news already. Just what's been most personal. She doesn't have to come back to the station for a few days.

It's such a pragmatic suggestion. It will leave food for Irene and Idris to eat once Vega is gone and alleviate some of what will need to be done later. Moving up the steps, she pauses to look back down at Irene and nods her head shortly. Her partner doesn't see because she isn't looking at her, just at the stars. "{Yes. Not… on the Island much but helping with relief. It was… It was bad, Irene. I don't know what happened exactly. We don't know yet,}" she says lowly. The paper is pulled off her bottle, she moves to sit next to her partner rather than move into the house and untwists the cap in her hands. The first drink is Irene's… if she wants it.

Irene is looking for the stars, but they aren't there to be looked at. "{Fuck}," she spits, hands shaking a moment before she clenches them tightly. The single curse encapsulates a lot: That's awful. I'm sorry. I wish we knew what happened. I wish... "{Fuck,}" she says again, softer this time, almost a whisper. She swallows heavily again, chokes down a quick breath...and then for the first time she looks directly at Vega. There still isn't much life in her gaze, but at least it isn't so distant. Just haunted. Slowly, she unclenches a hand and takes the bottle from her partner, tipping it back for a drink before holding it out again.

Bowing her head, Vega closes her eyes for a moment and just grits her teeth. The curses sums everything up at the moment. "Yeah," she murmurs in English, the word harsh as it replaces Mandarin on her tongue. Her dark eyes lift as she feels Irene shift next to her, regarding her partner with an expression of sympathetic pain. The bottle is offered with a slight bow of respect. Drink. "Me too. I wish… If I had been closer… I wish there was something I could have fucking done." For Harper. For anyone. All she could do was damage control. She can't wash the grit of it out from under her palms. Licking her lips, she takes the bottle back when it is offered and takes a long pull. "{Fuck.}"

There is a space of time where Irene is just silent, staring into the darkness, not really seeing the street she lives on. The street she and her husband lived on. When she speaks again it seems abrupt and loud, even though her words are soft. "Me too." There is such naked longing contained in two small words. I wish... She shudders, taking another sudden breath, like a soft gasp, and hugs her arms around herself. "I should have been there instead," she murmurs regretfully, imagining what could have been, seeing another future just out of reach. Lips pressed together, her jaw flexes with tension, emotion barely held at bay.

Vega takes another pull of the bottle when Irene speaks, wincing as she does. She gestures towards Irene with the bottle, holding in her right hand so she can wrap her left around the other woman's shoulders. It is a gesture of companionship. Of comfort. Of solidarity. Irene can hear the soft rustle of her hair as she shakes her head. "There is no way you could have known. Not of this and not when or how," she reminds lowly. They can't guess when death comes. "But… yeah. I wish we could have done something."

It's with slow, careful movements that Irene reaches out and takes the bottle again from the woman on her right. She doesn't immediately drink, though, hand clenching around the bottle and then loosening her grip again a little, for all that it doesn't look like it. It is enough to keep her from breaking the bottle, though. Barely. Her body shakes with the effort to hold onto that control. "Shit," she hisses, tilting her head back, staring upwards, trying to keep the tears from coming. It's all the harder suddenly for Vega's companionship and comforting gesture. "I stayed home instead of him. He could have been /here/-" Her voice breaks. She can't go on.

Not even thinking of Irene's strength, Vega just holds onto Irene's shaking shoulders with a gentle grip as if she can anchor her partner. Swallowing thickly, she lifts a hand to wipe a tear back from her features which look younger and pale in the dim light. Her gaze flits towards Irene as her head tips back, a harsh note caught in her throat. "{Cry if you need. There is no one to see.}" There is no one to judge. Vega won't judge. Her arm holds Irene tighter as she explains, muscles tensing to pull her close. "It could have been something else. It just… wasn't." It was this. It was Staten Island. "{Fuck. I am so sorry.}"

"{It is not like I have a choice.}" The words are unsteady, harshly spoken past the lump in her throat. She can't stop the tears. They slip out of the corners of her eyes and slide down her cheeks. It's stupid, but she's so angry about that for a moment. "Fuck," Irene chokes out, the word turning into a sob. "Fuck..." She bends over, curling up, curling in on herself under Vega's hold. The bottle is forgotten, half set on the concrete between them, half slipping through her fingers. It hits the step with a sharp ping of glass but doesn't break. Ragged breathes take the place of words. It was this. She can't even respond to that apology. She barely even hears it over the rush of her own heart beating in her ears.

Irene can't stop her tears. Vega can't stop her own either as she watches her partner, her recent friend, shatter under the weight of her grief. Tears silently slip down her cheeks in the dark night, breathing shaking as she slowly, soothingly rubs her hand up and down Irene's back. The bottle is tended to negligently. It is enough to set it in place. It doesn't matter. It was this. She doesn't speak or try to fill the air with useless words or pleasantries, she is simply a silent presence at Irene's right and the pressure of a warm hand against her back.

The person Vega sat down next to on the steps was barely held together to begin with. Now Irene shatters anew, grief pressing down on her until she breaks. All the desperate work done over the day, all the effort put into holding herself together...it's all undone under a sympathetic touch. Body flinching with each sob like she's being struck, she couldn't speak even if she wanted to, struggling to even breath. There are no words for this, anyway. And none that will make it better, either. She'll be grateful for Vega's silence in the future, when she's heard all the pleasantries, all the things people say in times like this...finding only emptiness and loneliness in all those good intentions.

There is nothing that could make this better. There are no words to amount to the grief of a loved one. They are all rendered incomparable in the face of such loss. Vega's hand drags a slow rhythm along Irene's shoulder, gently mapping the flow of chi and her beating heart with a light up and down touch. It says all that she could: that she is here, that she will stay, that she will listen, and that Irene is not alone.

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