Title: No Easy Answers
NOTE: This fic was inspired when I saw Robbie and Ray reunite at the end of the movie. I thought that Ray was going to slap Robbie and not hug him. Probably because of all the Bollywood films I've seen. But I seriously thought Ray would first be angry and then suddenly hug his son. That would have been a great end to the movie. I thought about that for awhile, and then wrote this. Enjoy.
Ray pulled away from his son after what felt like a minor eternity. There were tears on both their faces. Robbie was crying openly, like a little boy. Wait, Ray told himself, he is a little boy. Then again, when he remembered the anguish on the hill, when he had had to make a choice between his son and his daughter…Not that little. He's old enough to know he should never have put me through that.
"I am so sorry dad," Robbie's voice reached his ears as though from a great distance.
"Don't say it," Ray shook his head, as his relief at seeing his son alive changed slowly to anger at him for running away. "I don't want to hear it."
"Dad, I…" Robbie's voice broke, and more tears spilled down his cheeks, "I…"
"Don't. Don't you dare," The anger in Ray's voice was so raw that even though he had not even raised his voice, everyone flinched at his tone.
"Ray, what are you…?" Mary Ann began but Ray did not even acknowledge her.
"I never want to speak to you again," he told Robbie, his voice shaking with emotion, "You- I can't believe you could even-"
"Look, dad, I'm-"
"Do something like-"
"I DON'T WANT TO HEAR YOUR GODDAMN APLOGLIES!" Ray roared, making Robbie step back in alarm and Rachel whimper softly in her mother's arms.
"Ray!" Mary Ann admonished him, "You're scaring Rachel!"
Ray just glared, too angry to take in what she was saying.
"Yeah man, you should be grateful, not angry," Tim said, "Your son is still alive even though you lost track of him!"
"SHUT THE HELL UP, TIM!" It was Robbie who shouted this time, startling everyone.
He turned back to Ray with a pleading expression, but the look on his father's face stilled his tongue. Ray's face was paper-white, he was breathing hard and his hand was pressed over his mouth as if he was about to be sick.
"Dad, are you-?" Robbie began, but Ray didn't let him finish. Tim's accusation was the last straw after everything that had happened to him that day. He pushed past his son, and ran up the stairs and into Mary Ann's parents' house so fast that if hadn't moved out of the way in time, Tim would have been knocked over.
"Way to go, Tim," Mary Ann was the first to get her voice back, and she lost no time in reprimanding her husband, for he had been uncharacteristically insensitive. "That was really smooth."
"I don't know what came over me," Tim said, ashamed, "It just didn't seem right that he was yelling so much when-"
"It was right," Rachel interrupted, speaking for the first time, "You have no idea what he went through. What you put him through," she nodded accusingly at Robbie, and, pushing past her grandparents, followed her father into the house.
Mary Ann stared around at the rest of her family, speechless. "I think we'd better go in," she said at last, looking pointedly at Robbie, "Evidently, there's a lot we have to talk about."
Robbie nodded miserably, and together the family went inside the house.
"Now, Robbie, tell me what happened to upset your father like that," Mary Ann said, once they had all sat down in the living room.
Robbie ran his hands over his face, and said miserably, "I ran away from him."
"YOU DID WHAT?"
Robbie looked down, too ashamed to meet his mother's eye. "When?" Mary Ann asked faintly.
"I'm not sure, exactly. Sometime in the night, while we were walking here and the tripods…" He shook his head, fighting tears.
There was a moment of silence, then, Tim asked slowly, "Why?"
"Why did you run away from him? What was he…?"
"It had nothing to do with him!" Robbie said, fiercely defending his father, "Why does everything always have to be his fault, all the time! Huh, Tim?"
"I…not… sorry," Tim stuttered, a little lamely. The truth was, Ray Ferrier had never been a responsible man, much less a responsible father; and it was hard for Tim to get accustomed to the fact that maybe; just maybe; the events of the night had changed him.
"If it wasn't anything to do with Ray, then what happened? " Mary Ann asked after a loaded pause, "Why did you run away?"
Robbie looked down. When he had looked over that hill after his father had left him, and seen that…that thing, killing people, destroying homes, lives…the bodies, the burning trees, the dying soldiers…the image had been burned in his mind for all eternity. In that instant, he had realized what a fool he'd been. I have to see this, he had told father, and when he had finally seen it, he had wanted to sink through a hole in the ground.
Two seconds were all it had taken. He had turned, called out, tried to find his father… But Ray had gone, and Rachel- he hadn't known what happened to Rachel. Had that couple taken her away before Ray could stop them? Or had Ray managed to rescue her? Without any answers, and with guilt and worry consuming him, he had walked home to Boston. Alone.
"Robbie?" Mary Ann asked, interrupting his thoughts.
"Could you please answer my question?" Mary Ann frowned, "Why did you run away?"
"I…wanted to fight them," he said reluctantly.
"WHAT!" Everyone yelled, causing him to flinched.
"Robbie…" Mary Ann said when she had recovered herself. "Why…?"
"I wanted to see them," he said, understanding her unspoken question, "I thought…I felt like I had to fight them. Dad kept telling me that I shouldn't but…" His voice trailed off and he shook his head.
"And Ray…lost track of you?" Tim asked after a long pause.
"Tim, I swear if…" Robbie began angrily.
"I'm not blaming him," Tim interrupted him gently, "I'm just asking because it could have happened to anyone. I…we all want to know what happened, Rob. That's all, I swear. Now, please tell us, how did you get separated from Ray and Rachel?"
Before Robbie could answer, Rachel burst into the room.
"Mom, something's wrong with dad!" she exclaimed breathlessly.
Mary Ann was on her feet before Rachel had even finished the sentence, "What happened?" she asked urgently, "Where is he?"
"He's in the bathroom. He's locked himself in, and he won't let me come in. He keeps crying and telling him to leave him alone. When I asked him why he was crying, he said he wasn't, but I could tell he was."
Mary Ann was about to race up the stairs, when Tim stopped her.
"Are you sure this is a good idea, Mary Ann?" he asked.
"What the hell is wrong with you, Tim?" she asked, losing her temper, "Surely you trust me enough to know that I'd never-"
"No! No, of course not. I mean of course I trust you! It isn't that," Tim was shocked that she would even think such a thing, "All I'm saying is, maybe he does need to be alone. He's been through a lot."
"Tim, I was married to the guy for five years," Mary Ann said curtly, "I think I know what he needs and what he doesn't need better than you do."
"Hey, honey, I'm not trying to be the bad guy here," Tim said, hurt, "I may not know Ray too well, but that doesn't mean I hate him. I just want you to think for a second before you do anything."
"I know," Mary Ann sighed, "I know, I'm sorry Tim, it's just…"
"It's alright," Tim interrupted gently, "If you think he needs you, I'm not going to stop you from going to him. Just…be careful."
"I promise you, if he jumps on me with a knife, I'll be sure to call for help," Mary Ann said, rolling her eyes.
"Very funny," Tim gave her a wry smile.
Mary Ann smiled back and began up the stairs again. She squeezed Rachel's shoulder as she went up, murmuring over her shoulder, "Don't worry baby, everything will be okay. Your dad's going to be fine."
I hope, she added silently as she reached the top of the stairs.
"Ray!" Mary Ann called out, knocking on the bathroom door.
"Ray, will you just talk to me?"
"I said I want to be alone!"
"Ray, if you don't let me in, I swear I'll use the spare key and let myself in."
"I can't deal with this right now," Ray said, struggling to keep his voice steady. But despite his efforts, a sob hitched from his throat and reached Mary Ann's ears.
"That's it, Ray, I'm getting the key."
Ray didn't answer. He didn't have the energy to get up and open the door. A few seconds later, she let herself in.
"Oh my God, Ray."
She had never seen him like this before, even when they were married and his dad had called him on their wedding night to say he had been diagnosed with cancer. He had cried then, but now he was devastated. He was shaking with sobs. Not just his shoulders, but his whole body was convulsing as he rocked himself back and forth, back and forth, hopelessly trying to control his emotions, and failing miserably. His hands were clamped over his face, but the events of the day were taking their toll on him, and he no longer had the strength to keep back the flood of tears and gasping sobs which were escaping his lips.
She sat down next to him, and rubbed his back soothingly. "Shhhh, it's okay, it's okay, Ray. You're okay. Everything's over. It's all over, Ray, d'you understand?"
He shook his head, moving away from her touch. "Please just leave me alone," he managed to choke out between sobs
"No," she said, inching closer to him, "You need me right now."
"Please," he begged her.
"I need…I need to let this out of my system," he said desperately.
"Then let it out," she soothed him, "Let it all out. I'm right here. You can cry all you want to, Ray. Nothing's stopping you."
"You don't understand, Mary Ann," He told her, shaking his head, "You don't know what I've been through."
"Then make me understand."
"I wouldn't even if I could. I never want you to know the pain of having-" he could barely get the words out- "to choose between your children."
Mary Ann was shocked. Holy shit. When the hell did this happen?
"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked gently, composing herself for his sake.
"No…no," he was still sobbing so much that he could barely string to words together.
"Come on, Ray, you said it yourself, you need to get it out of your system. I know you're angry with Robbie about this-"
"I'm not," he interrupted her.
"I'm not angry with Robbie. I'm…I'm angry with myself. For not being able to take care of both of them. Like I should have been. All these years," He paused and took a shaky breath, "I really messed up big time."
"Ray, you're not-" Mary Ann started, but Ray interrupted.
"I'm the world's worst dad."
"Hey, you don't have to-"
"Yes, I do have to. Until tonight, my son never even called me dad. He called me Ray, like I was a stranger or something And Rachel, I didn't even know that she was allergic to peanut butter, or claustrophobic, or-" A lump rose in his throat, and he broke off, shaking his head. "No wonder Robbie wanted to run away from me."
"Ray, you can't blame yourself like this. You may not have known those kids well before, but you do now, and you will make sure you'll never lose track of them again. A lot of things changed tonight, and not all of them for the worst."
"Did they?" Ray said, looking at her with eyes full of anguish, "Did anything really change tonight? When it came down to it, I was still the same selfish, egoistic, irresponsible excuse for a man that I've always been."
"What? Ray, how can you even SAY that after you brought Rachel through that-" She gestured wildly towards the window. "I mean, you saved her, what, a million times over?"
"Mary Ann, I killed a man in cold blood."
Mary Ann sucked in a breath, trying to conceal her shock. But Ray, looking at her face, saw it deep within her eyes. He knew he had to tell her more.
"He had…the man I killed, he took me and Rachel into his cellar- if that's the word for such a rat-infested hell-hole- after Robbie ran away," He said in one breath, and without allowing himself to dwell on Robbie again, he plunged on recklessly, "But he wanted to fight the aliens and…he kept shouting…I thought he was going to bring the aliens down on us."
Mary Ann squeezed his shoulder gently, "Whatever you did; you had a good reason for doing it."
Ray shook his head. "What sort of a man kills the man who took him in, gave him shelter? That's like…"
"Hey. You had a ten-year-old daughter to take care of. If I'd been with you-"
"And thank God you weren't-"
"-I'd probably have done the same."
They were silent for a time; the only sound was of Ray's ragged breathing echoing around the bathroom.
Then Mary Ann asked hesitantly, "How did you kill him?"
He looked at her for a second in complete misersy, but understood that she needed to know. "I strangled him," Ray said with self-loathing, "And then when he fought back, I took his shovel and hit him on the head. Hard. I felt his skull crack." A few tears slipped down his cheeks and splashed on his hands, which were shaking.
Mary Ann stared at him; not quite knowing what she was supposed to say to that. Impulsively, she put an arm around him. He stiffened, looked at her through bloodshot eyes. "Mary Ann…" he began, but she cut him off.
"Hey. We're still friends, aren't we? You need me, and I'm not going to back down."
"It's not that simple. What about-?"
"It is that simple. Never mind Tim, he'll understand. Now, are we still friends or not?"
Ray was silent for a time. "Alright," he said finally, "Although after everything I've put you through..."
"Don't go there. There's no point, and anyway, that was a long time ago."
"I know. But after everything that's happened today, I've realized a lot of things which…" Ray struggled for words.
"Which…?" Mary Ann prompted him gently.
"Which made me think a lot. Everything I've been missing out on, with the kids, and, just, everything, it hit me…really hard."
"You know, there's still time for you to get to know them," She soothed him, "At least you-"
"No. Not after this. After what the three of us went through, nothing's ever going to be the same again. I've lost what I could have had all these years. They've changed after tonight, and I'm never going to know the Robbie and the Rachel who weren't touched by the death and the horror they saw today."
"Ray, if you start blaming yourself for every crime and every death that happened today-"
"I'm not blaming myself for everything that happened today which changed them! I'm blaming myself for not being there before it happened. I didn't appreciate them while I had them, and now, it's too late."
"They're not dead, Ray. Please don't talk like they are when they so easily could have been."
"Your daughter saw bodies floating in a river. Your son saw his house destroyed by a freakin' airplane! Now you look me in the eye and tell me that the kids we knew aren't dead."
"Ray, I know they saw a lot of horrible things. I know they saw death. I saw it in Robbie's face, and in Rachel's too. But guess what else I saw. I saw that they love you. During the course of the night, they saw their father, not as the irresponsible, arrogant 'excuse of a man' as you called yourself, but as someone who cares about their well-being. And don't you deny it," She added when he opened his mouth, "I've seen it in their eyes. Do you really think Robbie would have allowed you to hug him like that before all this has happened? And what about Rachel- even dad could see how much closer you two have grown, and she doesn't even know you."
"So you're saying that everything that happened tonight happened for the best?" Ray said incredulously, "You're saying, basically, that every cloud has a silver lining and-!"
"When the hell did I say that Ray?" Mary Ann interrupted him, "I would never choose this! Your house, your friends, your brother, my friends, my brother, all of them, all of them, could be dead! I'm not saying that there's anything good about this invasion, all I'm saying is; we have to make the best of things as they are, right now, or we'll all go completely insane."
"I'm already past that, Mary Ann."
"No you're not. You may be battered and bruised emotionally, but you do have one thing to hold on to. Your kids. You love them more than you've ever done in your entire life, and they love you just as much. For now, can't you just make do with that?"
Ray thought for a moment, really considering her words before answering. "I could, if not for one thing. It took so much- too much- to get to this point with them. And with you, too. It just…I shouldn't need a whole freakin' alien invasion to get my kids on good terms with me. I should have been there for them from the start."
Mary Ann thought for a long moment, and then sighed, and said regretfully, "I'm sorry, Ray. I hate to admit it, but I don't know how to make you feel better about that one. You are right there."
She smiled sadly, and he managed to give her a watery smile in return. "Thank you," he said softly, "I just wanted you to acknowledge that there are no easy answers to some questions. Some things take time to heal. Not everything can get better by talking."
"I'm sorry," She replied, "I really thought I could help you."
"Hey," Ray told her, placing a hand on hers, "You did help me. I just need some time to…figure this out, you know?"
"Okay. Just promise me one thing. Don't take too long over this, will you? Don't make the same mistake twice because you weren't able to forgive yourself for something you can no longer change. Don't get so consumed by guilt that you forget about your kids again. Alright?"
"Alright," He promised, "The kids come first from now on. Anything else I have to figure out can wait. How does that sound?" He gave her a slight smile, and for the first time that day, it touched his eyes.
"That sounds wonderful," she smiled back hesitantly, and they sat in a comfortable silence, their first since they had been divorced.
Then Ray said with a heavy sigh, "I need a little time alone now, Mary Ann. There are still a lot of things I need to think about, and you can't really help me with them. If you don't mind…"
"Sure," Mary Ann said, disappointed that she hadn't been able to help him as much as she wanted, but still respecting his need for solitude. She rose and opened the bathroom door but paused before leaving, "You'll talk to Robbie soon, won't you, Ray?"
"Yes," he assured her, and as she turned to leave, he said in the most heartfelt tone she had ever heard him use, "Thank you, Mary Ann."
"You're welcome," she replied, thinking gratefully that maybe, just maybe, she had helped him after all.
"Mom, are you sure dad's okay? He's still not out of the bathroom. It's been two hours."
"He's fine Robbie, he needs a bit of space, is all."
"You guys talking about me?" Ray stood in the doorway, a slight smile on his tired face.
"C'mere, son," Ray wrapped Robbie in a tight hug.
"You're not still mad at me, are you?" Robbie asked, slightly fearfully.
"No, I'm not Robbie. Are you at me?"
"Then can we forget about this morning and start over?"
"I'd like that, dad."
Ray nodded, and looked at Mary Ann over Robbie's shoulder. Thank you, he mouthed in her direction. She just smiled.
Though he still had not come to term with his guilt over being a bad father for so long, he was very aware of how Mary Ann had opened his eyes to the fact that he now had a chance to make up for it.
And he wasn't going to blow it. He wanted her to know that, but didn't quite know how to put it into words. He raised his eyes to hers, and tried to convey to her how strongly he felt about the matter. He needn't have bothered. From the smile on her lips, he could tell that she had known it long before he had.
If anyone can suggest a better ending, please do. I was going to provide an explanation for there being spare keys to the bathroom (that since Mary Ann's aging parents living in the house alone, they needed to keep precautions of this sort) but somehow it came across as a bit forced. I don't know. This is only my second attempt at a non- Lord of the Rings fic, and I'm still a little uncomfortable out of that genre.
One thing to keep note of though- I did not intend this story as a romance between Mary Ann and Ray, although you're free to see it that way if you insist. Please review and tell me what you think!