A/N: Shoutout to Roadleader for sharing this idea with me!
My friends, I could write plenty about what I thought of TEW2 but this isn't the place for it.
Just know that it's a solid 11/10 in my books.
Radio silence had to be the most uncomfortable form of silence.
Over the sounds of working keyboards, bypassing footsteps, and quiet arguments, all Kidman heard was the silence settling in her ears.
No one could have predicted Union to collapse the way it was currently going- and so quickly for that matter. Kidman could see the panic in the scientists around her as they struggled to keep STEM online, as they struggled to keep it stable. She could see the panic in the medical staff as they worked around the clock trying to keep their 'sleep study' patients alive, trying to figure out how to disconnect them safely from STEM's control without rendering them brain dead. Not that it mattered. They had lost well over half of their patients three days ago and right now they were sitting at less than one percent of the Union community being alive.
The hazmat team was working overtime to get rid of the bodies.
Kidman could see the red warning messages flashing on the screens around her; she watched as yet another red chalk outline popped up on the screen overhead, announcing yet another patient lost inside of STEM. She could hear the panic in the scientists' fingertips as they desperately tried to run program after program against STEM, trying to save what was left of Union.
But you can't save something that was already lost.
They tried to run back-up servers once trouble started brewing, only to watch as each one failed immediately upon activating.
They tried to run the collected backlogs of Union, hoping to roll back the data they had on STEM, only to find that it had become corrupted the moment the Core became unstable. Rolling back STEM data was a risky move and the projected predictions for doing so dictated minor memory loss, a city-wide paranoia of deja vu. Neither of which would be major, let alone lethal to the system.
But it was too late now.
A week in and there were still no viable options for saving Union.
All those years of work, all those years of torture... all for nothing.
Gone in a matter of days.
So many lives lost.
No one could have predicted this kind of downfall, this kind of upset, even though it was necessary.
Not necessary for Mobius, nor for STEM.
But for Lily.
Kidman sighed and rubbed at her temples, feeling the throbbing pain that ached behind them; it reminded her that she needed to keep her jaw unclenched in order to relieve the aching pain. But it was difficult to sit here in silence, to sit here amongst the panic, and not feel like every bone in her body felt more like steel than organic.
This was a sensitive operation.
They couldn't afford to fuck it up.
Kidman knew that Sebastian could do it.
She knew that he would find the Core, that he would find Lily under Mobius orders.
But he didn't know the full story.
And she couldn't afford to let him know what was really going on behind the curtain, not now- not until this whole thing was over with. So she would play her part as the Mobius dog to report to, to answer to. She would play the hand behind the nightmares that have been plaguing him for three years now.
And Sebastian would play his part.
Never knowing that he would be the one to walk away with everything in the end.
... They just needed to get to that point.
Kidman jumped in her seat as what sounded like whispering spilled through her headset. It was faint, barely audible, and for a moment she was convinced that she had just imagined it. Still, fingers cautiously moved to reposition the way the headset sat in her ear, hoping maybe she would catch the sound again. If it was static than fine, she would know that it was just her tired, anxious mind getting to her; she would know that she needed to walk around, that she needed to clear her head- maybe even grab a fresh cup of coffee from the break room.
Just something that would reset her senses, something that would get her back to square one.
When nothing else sounded off, Kidman was ready to write it off as anxious waiting- but something wouldn't let her leave it at that.
Something about the whispering, the hinted contact from inside of STEM, it wouldn't leave her alone.
She told herself to err on the side of caution.
"Sebastian?" Kidman questioned, quiet amongst the panic of the control room around her. She waited for a response, trying not to expect much- although Sebastian was surprisingly attentive with her calls, always answering when she rang him. He could've easily cut them off from inside of STEM; he could've opted to leave them in the same darkness they had been in for a week now. It wouldn't have helped him in the slightest but... he was doing this for Lily; he was cooperating with Mobius, or at least as much as one could be with a proverbial gun to the head.
The silence on the other end told her that it had just been her own paranoia playing tricks on her.
A cup of coffee was sounding really good right now.
She was near ready to remove her headset when she heard the heavy sigh that came through from the other end of it.
And it felt oddly relieving to hear.
It felt like a weight had been ripped from her shoulders.
(It meant that she wasn't crazy.)
"Calling back so soon?" Kidman continued, trying to keep her tone smooth and casual, trying to slip back into her monotone facade. "What's up?"
There was no immediate response.
And again, the silence made Kidman wonder if maybe she had simply tricked herself into hearing something on the other line; if she had imagined it all to play tricks on herself. After all, she was no stranger to hearing the occasional disembodied voice yelling at her from the dark corners of the room. She was no stranger to catching images in the corners of her eyes, only to turn around and see nothing there.
Nothing more than confused colleagues anyways.
Maybe this was just another one of those times.
Maybe seeing STEM in front of her again, from the outside perspective this time, was bringing up those memories she had long since tried to suppress.
"After all this time, there's something we've never talked about, Kidman."
The solid words coming across her headset assured her once again that he was real, that Sebastian was really on the other line of communication. That she wasn't just hearing voices and whispers from a long-ago past.
But at the same time, his words made her thoughts race.
The two of them only talked when Sebastian was reporting something about Union back to her, sharing another nightmare report on what was going on inside, on what was happening to their people. He had already reported two casualties from their security team- and countless others from the Union community. There were a few survivors from the initial turning of the Lost, but their prospects weren't looking good.
The few other times they talked... they were usually reminiscing and talking old memories over.
Well, Sebastian usually talked and Kidman listened.
It had to be therapeutic for him to get some of that stuff off of his chest.
And sometimes it was therapeutic for her as well.
They talked about Lily, about Myra, and they both shared different sides, different stories of each person.
Hell, they even talked about their days back at the KCPD. Sebastian had even brought up the first case she took on after joining the department. It had been a simple pawn shop robbery, an easy open-close sort of case. But the Lead Detective had been impressed with her quick deductions, with her apparent skills; he admitted to her that she could've been one of the best.
Kidman still didn't have the heart to tell him that she had been personally involved, even orchestrated a few robberies like that herself. She knew what to look for because she knew what evidence had been used against her before.
It was a matter of using old skills for new purposes.
Legal purposes anyways.
They had even briefly discussed Beacon, to which they both admitted that neither of them really ever recovered from it.
Even still, there were countless things for them to discuss, for them to come to terms with in regards to each other.
So the question remained.
What was it exactly that they had yet to discuss?
"What is it?" Kidman started, carefully eyeing the reflection of the Administrator behind her through the black corner of her computer monitor. She had purposely arranged her program windows so that she had a small corner to use as a mirror of sorts; it was just enough something to allow her to watch the man orchestrating the operation around her, to allow her to keep an eye on him.
The Administrator's close proximity was the only reason Kidman forced herself to speak stiff, to speak in riddles sometimes; she spoke however way she needed to to avoid drawing suspicion. Not that the suited man seemed to care much for her and Sebastian's personal talks; the Administrator only cared about business, about STEM.
That didn't mean that she could let her guard down though.
"Not what, but... who," Sebastian corrected. His voice sounded rougher than it had been when he called her earlier, signaling that the man was more than exhausted by this point. Either physically or emotionally. And given what he had reported back about Union, about how it was resembling Beacon... there was no telling what the man had gone through already.
There was no telling what kind of additional horrors the man had once more been forced to bear witness to.
But the prospect of who left Kidman wondering even more.
Was it Myra?
Did he figure it out?
No, no that wasn't possible.
She had been too careful and there was no way he could've ran into Torres- not by now anyways.
After a brief pause, Sebastian spoke the one name Kidman had been training herself to forget.
The name brought back warm and cold memories for her.
Kidman felt her hands curl in on themselves before she could stop the motion. She felt her knuckles turn white; she felt the tight grip try to stave off the shaking, which only seemed to encourage it further, making it worse. Her eyes closed and she clenched her jaw against her own resistance, feeling the throbbing in her temples rear back. Drawing in a deep breath through her nose, she slowly let it out through her lips.
Her hands came undone and she released the built up stress that now ached in her joints.
Kidman quietly cleared her throat, hoping to dislodge the minor lump that had already formed in it. "Right," she started off, testing her voice and ensuring that it would hold up in conversation. "I know that you respected Joseph and that he felt the same way towards you."
Keep it calm.
Keep it professional.
Do not draw attention to yourself.
Sebastian followed her up with another heavy sigh. "I never had the opportunity to make amends after that. Things were... confusing after Beacon," he started; it sounded like he was struggling to say that much. "I should have tried to get answers about what happened." There was a pause, a collection of thoughts, a clearing of his throat that Kidman assumed was for the same reason as hers. "I mean, I know what happened, but..."
Kidman felt the tug of memories pulling at her chest now.
They were clawing inside of her, scratching at her, desperate for her to remember.
Desperate for her to remember the weight of the gun in her hand, to remember the pull of her finger on the trigger.
"Don't worry, I can't fault you for what you did," Sebastian continued, a surprising sound of forgiveness in his words. There was a sense of force in them as well, but more like a physical one- like he was having to force himself to talk through this. It was a discussion three years too late. "I still blame myself for his death."
It was those words that cut her deeper than the memory did.
It was those words that made her go still, that made the pit of her stomach rip wide open.
"You don't have to-" Kidman started, or tried to at least.
"Why not? You'd prefer that I blame you?" Sebastian interrupted.
And Kidman felt that had the man not been so exhausted, had he not been so drained, he might've sounded more combative with her. There might've been more of a bite in his tone, in his words; he might've sounded like he wanted to drag her into STEM with him so she could experience this nightmare for a second time as well. So she could see the memories, so she too would be forced to relive the past over and over again until she was yanked to the brink of insanity.
But there was only exhaustion in his tone.
He couldn't fight her even if he wanted to.
"You are the one who actually killed him."
And it was odd how the somber tone of his words, the roughness of his voice seemed to make the accusation hurt even more.
Kidman remembered the sound of the bullet going off; she remembered the recoil of the gun pushing back against her hand.
It was a memory that ached and ached and ached still.
"No, I didn't," she objected, struggling some to keep her voice collective and calm.
Her left hand was shaking and no matter how hard she clenched it, it wouldn't stop.
Against her better judgment, Kidman looked down at her clenched hand; it was gloved and hidden, partly curled against the crippling pain of her scar. Even though she couldn't see it, she knew the Mobius symbol was there; like the microchips in their brains, every person here had a piece of Mobius carved into them. It made them like property, like assets to the black market company.
But it was the black leather glove, the one that concealed her shame, that made the lump in her throat return.
"I saw you shoot him, Kidman."
It was the bitterness in his words that was getting to her now.
It was digging under her skin.
Kidman closed her eyes and watched as the scene played through her head once more, just like it always did. She could still feel herself turning on her heels, stumbling some as the ground began to crumble underneath them. Her hand was too unsteady to make a clean shot but she fired anyways, wasting the bullet as it clipped the nearby fountain instead. She could hear the other gun go off but she knew Joseph wasn't aiming to hit her; he was just trying to scare her, trying to get her to put her gun down.
But she didn't.
And because of that she could still see the blood blowing out of his shoulder.
"I know you did," Kidman whispered, moving her other hand to squeeze at her clenched fist, trying to work her tight fingers loose from her palm. "But..."
She swallowed hard, opening her eyes again, ending the memory where she always left it.
With Joseph hitting the pavement.
Motionless and bleeding out.
Kidman moved her eyes to the corner of her monitor once more, taking note that the Administrator was preoccupied with one of the STEM scientist at the moment. He wasn't watching her, thus he wasn't listening to her. "... Joseph isn't dead."
There was silence.
Unspoken, bitter, hurt silence.
And Kidman couldn't begin to process what was going through Sebastian's mind.
Sebastian had spent three years thinking and accepting that his six-year old daughter was dead.
Only to have Kidman come out of the blue and tell him otherwise.
He had spent three years thinking and accepting that his partner, his friend of nine years was dead.
Only to have Kidman now tell him that that too was false.
(And there was still Myra to go.)
"What?" the single-word question was spoken in breathless disbelief and Kidman swore she could feel the man's shock in her own chest. "Are you...? It can't- Joseph can't- what happened to him? Where is he?"
Too many questions.
"That's a long story," Kidman breathed, unclenching her hand, "and a conversation for another time," she glanced to the monitor once more, "when we're both safe." She felt the pain in her hand spreading to her wrist, slowly swallowing up her arm. "Just know that you don't have to blame yourself for what happened, you don't have to blame yourself for Joseph's death anymore." The pain was hot, near crippling as her fingers bent in on themselves despite her own physical restraint on them. "I... I gotta go, Sebastian. Let's finish with Union and... then we can talk later."
"Yeah," Sebastian spoke, sounding as though he needed time away from her as well. "You bet we're going to talk later."
Her headset buzzed as the other end dropped connection.
And Kidman knew that Sebastian just had to have the last word with her.
But she would be damned if he didn't deserve it.
Taking a deep breath, Kidman reached up and pulled her headset off before she pushed herself to her feet. Her left hand, once crippled, had now relaxed and given her full control over it once more- proving that it had just been in her head. Just another constant reminder that she couldn't control when her memories flared up and got the best of her. When psychological problems turned into physical issues.
"I need to get some water," she announced, biting back her voice until it was monotoned again. She waited until the Administrator gave her a nod to go; the suited man was still more preoccupied with the latest STEM report then he was with her, which worked out in her favor.
She still felt like an idiot waiting for the man to give her permission to go somewhere, but three years of playing the good soldier had forced her to suppress most of her anger. After all, obedience was a necessity to Mobius. And it was the only thing that had kept her alive up until now.
Stepping out of the control room, Kidman headed down the bleak hallway outside and took a left at the first intersection. She was moving more by memory and instinct as her thoughts remained preoccupied with her hand, gently tending and squeezing it as she moved. Kidman moved two rooms past the break room and ducked into the bathrooms instead- locking the door behind her.
Moving to the sink, Kidman hesitated before she slowly pulled the leather glove off finger by finger. She stuffed it into her pocket before she switched the faucet on and cupped her hands under the running water. Letting the cold water collect in her palms, she watched as it spilled out over her fingers, flooding down into the ceramic bowl below.
Kidman leaned down and brought her hands to her face, splashing the water over herself. There was that split second of shock as her skin registered the chill, which was just enough to wake her up and bring her back to her senses. She ran her hands over her face, over her hair, smoothing it back and pushing it out of style. Kidman could hear the deep breaths passing through her lips more than she actually felt them in her chest.
Once more, she found herself pushing down memories of cold water rushing around her.
Flooding up to her neck, reaching her jaw, her chin, covering her mouth and nose, filling her lungs.
Sighing, Kidman wiped her hands off on her jeans and looked down at the white-scar on her palm.
She hated it.
But what she hated more was what she used to cover it.
A single black leather glove.
Every Mobius agent wore the traditional black gloves with the red palms; they were thick and durable, mostly used in combat, or for the occasional clean-up task. They were mandatory for the security teams, or any team going into STEM- or any persons being seen outside.
Pulling the leather glove from her pocket, Kidman held it in both of her hands, and ran her fingers over the smooth, conditioned leather. She had been taking extensive care of it, ensuring that the leather didn't crack or split around the high-stress areas of her fingers; she ensured that it remained soft and flexible and still conformed to her hand where it could- it was a little big on her.
Every time she looked at it, she thought of Joseph.
The man always wore the leather gloves in a pair; he always covered his hands although he insisted that there was no real reason for them- despite the rumors that the department liked to spread. Joseph gave in once and said that if he had to give a reason, it would be that the gloves kept him from accidentally contaminating evidence. And even that excuse was a bit of a long shot.
Joseph was always careful around a crime scene.
Often times he had to correct the adjoining police officers and remind them not to touch or move anything.
So to think that he wore gloves simply to remove his own trace evidence... it was hardly an option.
But that was how Kidman preferred to remember him as; the tight-lace Detective who never let a single detail escape him. Even when they were locked up in Beacon, suffering from STEM, Joseph was always looking for answers, always trying to find an explanation to what was happening to them. Even when STEM was getting inside of his head, twisting and corrupting him...
The memories of Joseph, skin blistered and bleeding, always made Kidman shiver.
She grasped onto the glove a little tighter.
Trying to push out his screaming, his anger from her head.
Kidman could still feel his hands, cold and shaking as they wrapped around her left hand, gripping it tightly with what strength he had left to muster. She could still feel his fingers curled against the once open wound, the still healing fracture of her bleeding palm.
"It's not too late, Juli... you can still survive this."
She let out the stagnant breath she had been holding on to, forcing it past the lump in her throat once more, forcing it out between parted lips. She slowly uncurled her hand and carefully slipped it back into the leather glove- gently cuffing it back into place on her wrist.
"It's not too late," Kidman repeated to herself, flexing her hand, testing the leather.
She could still do this.
Sebastian could still pull this off.
And when everything was over, when the time was right...
They would go back for Joseph too.