Disclaimer: Characters owned by J.J. Abrams and co.
Timeline: Set during "Truth Takes Time" in season 2.
Thanks to: Andraste, for beta-reading.
Author's Note: Originally written for Yahtzee's movie line challenge. The quote in question was "But for an hour, I'm the best actress in the world".
Sitting next to Laura, Emily tries to bring anything resembling reason into her thoughts. She doesn't know whether Arvin's explanations or the realization he had continued the deception until this day are worse. And then there is Laura, who, it seems, is not Laura at all. Who did not die all those years ago, any more than Emily had died. Who handed over disks to Arvin and was somehow involved in his quest for artefacts from a bizarre Italian prophet.
"We're two dead women," Emily says abruptly, ending the coiled silence between them. "Did the Alliance ask Jack to kill you? Is that why you left?"
Laura looks at her with just the faintest trace of surprise, and Emily is struck by the difference between past and present. The Laura she remembers had a very expressive, mobile face. You could read her very well, like Sydney; the love for her daughter, for her husband, her exasperated dislike for students who wrote term papers about Elizabethan drama based on summaries, her fondness for ice cream, everything big and small that moved her was recognisable at once. This woman, though, is completely self-possessed, and Emily doesn't think it's simply because two decades have passed.
"No," Laura says. "There was no Alliance, back in those days."
The voice is still the same; low, pleasing. Originally, Emily had befriended Laura because that is what you do with your husband's best friend's wife, but she had come to like Laura in her own right, had enjoyed talking with her about Dickens and the Brontes, had laughed when Laura confessed, in her disarming, charming way, that she had no hand for plants and had made it her business to supply Laura with fresh flowers on a regular basis so Laura would not have to try. Had helped Laura bathing Sydney and had confessed to her about her own wish for a child, and the fear that due to the removal of one of her ovaries, she would never have one.
The Laura Emily had known would never, ever have left her husband and daughter, letting them believe she was dead. There was nothing more important to her; she would have walked through fire for Jack and Sydney. Emily looks to the curtain separating the cockpit from the passenger room. Arvin is in there, talking quietly with the pilot. Unbidden and inevitable, the thought comes: The Arvin she knows would never, ever have done any of the things he had confessed doing on the day when he asked her to die in the eyes of the world, so that he could save her life. The Arvin she knows would not have lied to her afterwards.
Unexpectedly, Laura says: "I'm sorry."
"Are you?" Emily asks, unshed tears making the sound of her own voice bitter to her, like a scratched record. Any of those records they used to play during those dinner parties when Laura had coaxed Jack to show he was actually a good dancer. When Laura and Emily had experimented with the disco all the teenagers were trying out in the late 70s, and all four of them had laughed so hard about the result that the record player got knocked over by accident.
"I don't understand, Laura. I don't understand any of this."
"If you want my advice," Laura says, "walk away. As soon as we leave this aircraft, and as quickly as you can. Start a new life somewhere. I don't think he'll come after you, not when he's so close to Il Dire."
Among the many unfamiliar emotions Emily is fighting with, there is a familiar one, though never before directed at Laura Bristow. Whose real name she has yet to learn. It's the old anger about presumption, about the easy judgments people make when they look at you and think "harmless housewife, can't be very bright".
"What do you know about being married, Laura?"
For the first time, Laura seems to be somewhat taken aback.
"No, really," Emily says, and the anger she feels widens. It's directed at Arvin and herself as well, but Laura is still the primary focus, Laura whose face is the prism through which her entire past is supposed to look different to her now. But it's not that simple, and she won't let Laura assume that it is. "About staying married. About going through hell and having one person who is there, all the time, no matter how sick and hopeless you are. About thirty years together. Nothing. You don't know anything about that, so don't tell me what my husband will or will not do."
Laura doesn't reply. Her face, beautiful and flawless after all the intervening years, is very still, with not a single movement betraying her thoughts. So unlike Sydney's now, and yet Emily feels remorse. This is Sydney's mother. And even if the past is now another country, she can't believe that everything about Laura was a lie. If Arvin is capable of being both the man she loves and the man who bears responsibility for the death of so many, then Laura might be able to be both as well. The stranger who broke into the illusionary security of her new home with a single phone call and carries lethal mysteries with her, and the woman for whose death she cried all those years ago.
In a way, she wants to ask both of them the same thing. How could you do it? But she's not sure that the answer will make any difference to her any longer, not now. Maybe Arvin actually believes that he does what he does for her. Maybe Laura thinks that her actions somehow were the right thing for Sydney and Jack. But nobody can carry another's conscience. Just walking away isn't an option. Neither is staying with Arvin and pretending, again, that nothing ever happened.
Emily looks at her hand, at the missing finger. Despite anaesthesia, it hadn't been easy to do, allow someone to cut it off, and sometimes she still felt it, wanted to move it, believed it moved. Phantom pain. But it had been necessary, and so she had done it.
There is just one way she can see for herself now, one way that will ensure the deceptions and deaths end, and losing her entire arm would be easier.
"I'm sorry," Emily tells Laura, and means it. Laura can take that as an apology for the outburst earlier; it's not likely she'll guess the truth. Nor will Arvin, and the thought of that threatens to tear her apart, so she pushes it away and concentrates on Laura, willing her to accept the apology. Almost imperceptibly, Laura's face softens.
"It's a difficult time for all of us," she says. "But it will soon be over."
And there is another strange and bewildering thing about Laura and Arvin; they are both so clever, and yet they can't see that nothing is ever over if it is painful. Emily, who live with cancer for years and does not take her remission as more than a short reprieve, is all too aware of that. There will be an end soon, but not in the way Laura thinks, and while it will save lives, it will only cause more pain, not less.
Arvin practiced deception for a living before they met, when he was still doing it for his country. Laura, whoever she is, must be an expert in it as well. But neither of them will realize what happened just now, what has started to be inevitable since Emily found a dead woman rising to greet her.
She was in the company of two people who wore and discarded faces as easily as children did masks on Halloween. But for an hour, for an hour, Emily thinks, hating herself but being convinced that this is the only path left, I'm the best actress in the world.