Avalanche – Snippet 18

And moments later, Harmony began to change.  Bulwark had not realized how pallid she had been, how shrunken her cheeks, until color suffused her face and it took on the look of vibrant good health again.

They stood there, like that, for ten full minutes by the clock on the recordings.  Then Vickie looked up, and chopped her hand through the air between them.  “That should hold you for a while, and I’ll be back when you run low again,” she said, a little hoarsely.  Then came that wry twist of her lips.  “Sorry it isn’t as tasty as what you were getting from the buffet.”

“There’s something to be said for bitter, but strong,” Harmony replied.  “But how are you–”

“Hiding that from Bella, the empath who lives next door?”  Vickie snorted.  “Practice, practice, practice.”

“Why did you–” Harmony narrowed her eyes.  “You want me to owe you.”

Vickie tapped her finger on her nose and pointed it at Harmony.  “Got it in one.  That’s the lore, right? Freely given, not stolen, nor taken by stealth, means you owe me.  Right?”

“Right.”  Harmony actually growled the word.  “Damn you, Victrix.”

“You’re not the first to say that,” Vickie shrugged.  She flicked her fingers, perhaps dismissing the thrice-ring, turned, and left without a word.  The door closed behind her.  Harmony glared at it, muttered something, and slowly lowered herself down on her cot.  She continued to watch the door.

“Pause it, there!” Bulwark snapped.  “Close in on her.”

The monitor froze on a brief twitch that broke Harmony’s calm and uncaring demeanor.  For a moment her nostrils had flared, her lips had curled, and angry lines had appeared across her brow.  Bull knew that look.  It promised murder.

“You want to tell me what you think you were doing in there?” he asked.

From her seat, tucked neatly in the back of the room, Victoria sighed and stood up.  She strolled up beside him, and crossed her arms in defiance.

“My job,” she said, looking up and directly into his eyes.  “I’m the only expert you have on magic.  Harmony’s magic.  We need to know what she is and what she can do.  QED, I was doing my job.  And for the record, you folks would never have been able to deduce what I found out.”

“So what is she?” Bull asked.

She told him.

“Come again?”

She explained it.  “Mind you, that doesn’t mean I’ve figured out everything she can do.  So there could be some…surprises down the road.”  She was banjo-wire tense; despite her calm expression, every muscle was clenched.  Waiting for something.

Probably his response.

“Right,” he grunted, and favored her with patronizing look.  “You’re telling me we’re living in a penny dreadful.  What next?  Werewolves that work for the Feds?”

Victrix coughed.  “The job needed doing.  I did it.  There’s your intel.”

“Well, you’ll excuse me if I don’t ask you for a written report.  You can’t possibly expect me to sign off on something like that.”

“It would look a bit odd,” she agreed, still tense.

Bull glanced up at the monitor.  “You see that?  That look there?  That’s her, Victrix.  Whatever rules you think she has to play by, whatever you think is binding her, that’s who she is.  She means to end you.  And she’s not looking to make it clean or quick.  You had no business going in there like that.”

The odd thing was, he expected an explanation, an excuse, or anger.  The look in her eyes was…none of that.  It was the flat despair of someone who didn’t care anymore.

“You never would have given me permission,” she said.  “And this was something you have to know.”

“You’re damned right…”

“Of course I am…”

“You’re damned right I wouldn’t have given you permission to go in there and paint a giant target on yourself.”  He held her with a stern look.  “You’re too important.  And we’ve lost too many as it is.”

She got a guarded look.  “Not that important.  You’ve got the Colt Brothers now.  And I’ve got….stuff in the works.  No one can be irreplaceable around here.”

“You think I mean just your value with Overwatch?” he asked, and shook his head.

“Yes, I do,” she said, flatly, that look of despair flashing across her eyes again.  “I’ve already cost you too much.  That’s the only thing that keeps me valuable.”

“I’ve heard some pretty asinine things in my life,” Bull muttered.  “That one ranks, I think.  What do you think I do here, exactly?  What have I been working for, all this time?  I teach people their worth, Victrix.  No one is expendable.  And if you truly think you are, then perhaps you don’t have a place here.”

Her eyes went empty.  “That’s what I’m working towards,” she said, and turned away to go.

“Now wait a moment…”

Vickie flinched as Bull reached out for her.  He caught himself and grimaced, and drew his hand back, cautiously.

“I went too far,” he said, simply.

“No.  You were just blunt.”  She looked back at him.  “You think you know what a person is worth, Bull?  You.  Know.  Jack.  Shit.  Everyone’s telling me how important I am, how I can’t ever give up.  Hell, Red even made me promise.  And it wasn’t the sort of promise I can just break.  I can’t walk away from this, do you understand?  It’s on me, I have to do everything I can, no matter what it costs me.  Every decision, every choice I make I’ve had to consider what it means to the greater good.  Nevermind what it might do to one person, it’s everyone as a whole that counts, right?  Do you have any idea how tired and numb and broken I feel?”

She rubbed her eyes with an odd defiance, and straightened up.  “Doesn’t matter.  I can’t let it matter.  I’ve got a job to do, and no one is going to stop me from doing it.  I’m going to fight to the end, and I don’t suppose I’m going to make it.  Can’t really say if it’s going to be a Krieger blast that takes me out, or the way I’m killing myself night and day to make things work, or yes, maybe it’ll be Harmony.  I can tell you what it won’t be though.  It won’t be because I didn’t balance all the risks against the rewards.”

Bull began to answer, but stopped, confused.

Vickie sighed.  “It won’t be by committing suicide by taking deliberately stupid risks for small rewards.”

“This isn’t all on you,” Bulwark growled.  “You can’t take on all of this yourself.  There’s a reason for us, for ECHO, for the CCCP, for all the nations banding together in this fight.  You can’t expect to take on the burden of a war all by your lonesome.  None of us fight alone.  You keep going like this, someday you’ll have me send you out alone to die!”

Vickie glared back at him, and nodded.  “If that’s what’s needed, if you have to, then I expect you to do it.”

“Like you did with Bruno?”

He regretted saying it immediately.  From the moment Bruno had died, Bull had hidden his feelings from Victrix.  A part of him blamed her for the boy’s death, as much as he blamed himself, as much as a part of him would always hold Scope accountable for driving Acrobat towards a suicidal fight with a killer like Harmony.  But he held it back, he kept it tucked away, never to be brought forth and used as a weapon.  He did that a lot, he knew, but it was his way.  His trademark stoicism wasn’t a product of upbringing or indicative of an extremely introverted nature.  It was a choice he had made long ago.  In truth, it was all a mask for the boundless levels of rage he felt most of his days, a rage he controlled most carefully.  It had hurt people, years ago, and badly enough that he had sworn to never let it loose again.  It was a promise he had broken over the years.  Once, it was released in a mighty blow that had brought a building down on top of him.  Usually, it barely registered as little more than pointed jabs, harmless vents of scalding words easily passed off as stern reprimands.  Here, he had revealed a bit too much.  He had mentioned the boy, and all those months of pent up frustration over another preventable death seeped out.  It was the last thing she needed to hear.  Yes, a part of him would always blame Victrix for Acrobat’s death.  And now she knew it.

The blood drained from her face.  But she didn’t drop her eyes.  “Yes. My Dad says that one FUBAR cancels out a thousand Attaboys.  My FUBAR was Bruno.  And I can never, ever make that up, but I’ll die trying.”  Her eyes were blank, looking somewhere other than him.  Carefully, she turned back towards the door, walking as if every joint was made of broken glass.

He watched her leave, and cursed silently.  “We all die trying, Vickie,” he murmured.  “My fear is that you’re trying to die.”