I'm so sorry this took so long. I've been working on another fic, and I've also been suffering from a bit of writer's block on this one as well. Hope you like it. It's a bit dark, but hopefully I threw in enough humor to balance it out.
Thank you to Izzy-I.R.T, LucyRider17, MoonlitSorrows, .32, and Guest for reviewing.
And a huge, HUGE thank you to LMScatterbrain for helping me through this chapter. I owe you big time.
DISCLAIMER: I do not have and scruffy little beard. Therefore I am not Steven Spielberg and do not own 'Falling Skies'. Any familiar dialogue is taken from the show.
Photos of OCs, soundtracks, are on my profile.
Chapter 18 – Small Miracles
That day was a day of small miracles. It was the only way Evelyn could really think to describe it. Not that she believed in miracles. Or fate. Or Ouija boards and psychic crystals. She believed what she could see and what she could touch, she believed in empirical fact, but the words 'chance' and 'coincidence' just didn't seem enough for what was going on here. They were too trivial, too clinical. It wasn't enough to really convey the things being felt by her and the people around her. It was a small miracle. At least that was how it felt to her.
Finding Ian after being so certain that he was dead—that was amazing enough. But then they had gotten back to the rest of the Second Mass. They got back to the Second Mass and that girl Jeanne sprinted in front of the rest of them and threw her arms around Captain Weaver. In that moment, Evelyn decided that was the most beautiful thing in the world—seeing a family reunited. Even through the tears and puffy, red eyes, and snot, there's something that manages to shine through all of that. Evelyn could see the kind of love that bound parent and child, the kind that's supposed to be there but isn't always, and she couldn't help but feel a little bit jealous. Watching them was like watching a supernova. A beauty so blinding it made you ache inside. After a few moments she had to turn away, trying hard to choke back the feeling of emptiness that sometimes ate at her when she saw families like that, and scurried off.
That's how she ended up in that mess tent with Hal, Ian, and Maggie. She had gone there to stuff her face, deciding to refer to it as 'filling the void'. 'Eating her feelings' just sounded far too pathetic. And she had initially gone there to be alone—usually she wanted to be alone when she felt that gnawing hole inside—but before there hadn't really been anyone she felt close enough to for her to seek them out. But things were different for her now. That much was made clear when Ian dropped into the seat opposite her, clapping a hand on her shoulder. Then Maggie had taken a seat as well. Neither of them seemed to have any family either, at least not in the normal sense. And then Hal had entered as well, waving to indicate that he would be over in a second.
In that moment it occurred to her that maybe she actually did have a family. It just came in a different package than everybody else's. That thought had entered her mind more than once, but she just seemed to keep forgetting. She was so used to being alone, her brain seemed to default to that every time something bad happened. After everything that happened on the ship and then with Pope, she felt like she had been broken down into tiny, tiny shards of herself. Now she was putting them back together like some ridiculous puzzle. Start with the corners, and then build inward. That was what she was doing, she was building inwards. Maybe this time it wouldn't default back to loneliness. Maybe this time things would stay good.
"So how long were you guys out there?" Maggie asked, looking poignantly at Ian. "You and all those kids?"
A sly sort of half-smile slowly spread across Ian's face. Evelyn groaned and slammed her head hard against the table. She knew where this was going, and while it would be entertaining to watch, it would be pretty painful as well. Usually that face happened when he was around cheerleaders or sorority chicks, and Maggie was nowhere near either of those things. She was the girl who sat behind the bleachers smoking pot and making fun of those things.
"Can't say actually. We didn't exactly have an official time keepin' system or anythin' like that. My guess would be about…three, four months in that." He groaned loudly and stretched his arms in the air, slowly bringing one around so that it rested on the back of Maggie's chair. "It's not like I keep track anyway," he said, voice dripping in swagger. "I do it for the kids."
"Do you want to keep your arm?" Maggie said in her usual low, vaguely threatening voice.
"Alrighty then," Ian said in a higher octave, removing his arm just as quickly as he had put it there.
"Here you go," Hal muttered slightly angrily, slamming a plate of food in front of Ian with much more force than necessary before sitting down next to Evelyn. She could feel a tension in the way that he moved and spoke, but she couldn't for the life of her understand why.
Ian flashed his wide toothy grin, seemingly ignorant of the fairly blatant hostility oozing out of each of Hal's pores. "Oh man," he said grinning at the pile of still-steaming beans and rice before turning back to Hal. "Dude, I mean this in the manliest way possible, but I think I love you."
"Keep it in your pants, Ian," Evelyn said, flicking some of her beans at him. "You have a chance for a new start. Don't get that same reputation you did in college. You were so much better than that—I'd really hate to see you go down the same road twice."
"Look at you tryin' to protect my honor," he said, flicking some beans at her as well. "I'm flattered, Eve, but you should know by now that I'm a lost cause."
"Alright, I'm a little lost here," Maggie broke in, holding her hands up to make them all stop talking. "How do the two of you know each other? I've known Evelyn here since she was fourteen and I haven't heard a fucking word abo—"
"Yeah," Hal almost spat, looking seriously at Ian. "We're all on pins and needles here."
Evelyn closed her hand into a tight fist. Letting her fingernails dig into the skin of her palm. She really didn't understand what was going on here—why Hal was behaving the way he was. Ian could only help them. He knew the area much better than anybody from the Second Mass did. At this point he was an invaluable resource, but Hal was looking at him like he was trying to light him on fire with his brain. It made Evelyn uncomfortable, but it seemed to make Ian absolutely giddy. There was just too much testosterone in the camp for that. She would have hoped that Pope leaving would have caused a deficit in that particular hormone, but apparently Ian was more than compensating. Or maybe he was overcompensating.
"Again, Eve, I'm insulted!" Ian exclaimed in false indignation. "I'm as close to a Greek god as this world has ever seen. Why have I not been discussed before?"
"Maybe I didn't think that you were worth mentioning," Evelyn muttered, raising her eyebrows at him and theatrically taking a bite of her food in front of her.
"Pshah!" he scoffed, rolling his eyes heavily. "You were afraid they'd like me better is all." He cleared his throat and placed both his hands palms down on the Crappy old card table like he always did when he was about to start a story. Evelyn sighed heavily and laid her head on the table, preparing herself for the inevitable embarrassment and frustration.
"Ignore her," Ian rambled on, waving his hand dismissively. "I always do. Anyways, the two of us had organic chemistry together last year. I was havin' a bit of a bad time of it seein' as I had to keep goin' with the soccer most of the time so I could keep my scholarship. Braniac over there tutored me for a bit," he said, punching her lightly in the shoulder. Evelyn stuck her tongue out at him in response. Something about Ian always made her less mature. He just patted her on the head in the most patronizing way possible and kept talking. "So we spent a bit of time together, got acquainted, and that was that."
"Of course you play soccer," Hal mumbled under his breath derisively, earning him an elbow to the gut from Evelyn. She didn't understand the hostility. She would have thought that Hal and Ian would have gotten along well—great even. They were so similar in some ways, she could have imagined a fairly heavy bromance developing between the two of them, but at this point the only hug between them that seemed plausible was one where Hal was strangling Ian. Evelyn took a long drink of water, pretending that it was something much, much stronger.
"So, Ian," Evelyn interrupted in a voice that was probably louder than necessary, "how did you survive D-day? I mean, you were living in the dorms right? That was right at the center of the explosion. How did you get out?"
Ian's face visibly darkened—there was a shadow behind his eyes that belonged to someone who had seen too much. It was the same kind of look that Evelyn had seen on the faces of veterans of World War Two or Vietnam in all those documentaries on TV. It was the same look she saw on Max's face on more than one occasion. A lot of people had that look about them these days, but on Ian's face it was different. That ridiculous smile was always on his face, so seeing him with that expression just made everything feel more broken.
Ian cleared his throat and started drumming his fingers on the table. "I wasn't in the dorms that day," he said in a dull sort of voice. He let out a low groan and ran his hands down his face. "I was at Massachusetts General Hospital. Blew out my knee in that last game."
"Shit, O'Neely," Evelyn murmured, "why didn't you tell—?"
"I didn't tell you 'cause you were goin' to go all 'mom' on me," he said, waving a finger in her direction. "You'd start makin' industrial-sized vats of tea and soup an' all that shit. No thank you." He sighed heavily and leaned back in his chair, placing his hands behind his head. "Who would've fuckin' thought that the end of my career would save my life? After that I started headin' down to Mississippi to look for my folks. On the way I found Julian and then Hillary. At first I was gonna bring 'em with me, but there were more and more of them—"
"You always were one for picking up strays," she said with a slight smile.
Ian shoveled some more food in his mouth and nodded in agreement. "Yup," he said through a mouth of food. "I met a guy movin' north who said that Mississippi was blown off the map, so that but a bit of a halt on those plans. And that didn't really matter 'cause soon enough there were more kids than bikes to carry 'em, so we kinda got stuck in place. I've been tryin' to get enough crap together to blow that joint, but we've been kinda down on our luck lately. Some of the kids caught the flu a few weeks back. Damn near destroyed us."
Evelyn pursed her lips and nodded slowly. It was so easy for things to fall apart. One malfunctioning piece of machinery, one runny nose, and an entire operation could fall apart. It really was as simple as that. Evelyn looked around at the other people at the table. Maggie looked sympathetic and Hal looked…slightly less hostile. He still had a suspicious look about him, though. Like he didn't quite trust him still. Ian didn't seem to mind all that much, though. He was immune to it. In fact, he seemed to enjoy it a little bit.
"Sooooooooo," Ian drew out slowly, looking poignantly at all of them and reinforcing the awkwardness of the silence, "I haven't slept in like four months. Is there anywhere I could pass out or something? It'd be the first night in fuckin' ever that a kid didn't trip over me on the way to the bathroom."
"Sure thing, man," Evelyn said punching Ian in the shoulder for what felt like the twentieth time. "We can get a cot set up for you. You can bunk with me and Maggie for the night—" Suddenly Hal started coughing and spluttering into his plate, making Evelyn suddenly stop talking and looking at him. He looked a bit freaked out. She patted him on the back and cleared her throat a bit before continuing. "That is if it's okay with Maggie of course."
"I don't see a problem," Maggie said with a weird sort of smirk on her face. It was a knowing look, and it was driving Evelyn a little bit insane. She stood up and patted Ian lightly on the shoulder. "Come on, I'll show you where to set up. Let's leave these two idiots to themselves."
She took a few steps away, shooting that same annoying glance over her shoulder as she went. Ian on the other hand started shoveling the remainder of the food on his plate into his mouth. "Well ladies and gents," he mumbled, "in my experience when an attractive blonde tells you to do something, you do it."
Evelyn snorted. "You do realize that she will actually kill you if she hears you say something like that."
"Yeah?" he said, scrambling to his feet, "well I just think that's hot." He stood up and stretched, letting out a loud groan. "Alright, I'm off for some shut-eye. Squirt, stay frosty. Hal, stay weird."
He clapped his hands and rubbed them together eagerly before jogging off after Maggie, dodging between the people milling about, randomly high-fiving a few of them. Evelyn watched him go. Even through all of this shit he still have that same child-like enthusiasm for absolutely everything. Once he disappeared into the crowd, Evelyn rounded on Hal, smacking him hard in the chest.
"What the hell was that?" she hissed angrily. "Seriously, Hal. Is it your time of the month or something?"
"I don't see any need to be sexist," he muttered darkly.
"Shut the hell up, Hal!" she said, smacking him again. "You've been acting like a complete ass-hat!"
Hal bit at the inside of his cheek and shrugged his shoulders. "I just don't like the guy."
Evelyn rubbed at her forehead, trying to get rid of the headache that was forming. "Don't be stupid, Hal! Ian's a good guy. Everybody likes him."
Hal let out a derisive laugh. "Well clearly that's not the case. I mean, he plays soccer. A bit pretentious, don't you think?"
Evelyn stared at him, gaping a bit in disbelief. "You're kidding, right? Hal, you play lacrosse. That's like soccer with props."
Hal shot an angry glare at her, but opted to ignore the dig. "And he's cocky."
Evelyn slammed her fist into her forehead in frustration. "You can't be serious. That's not even the pot calling the kettle black. That's the pot calling the kettle a pot. Why are you acting like this?"
Hal sighed heavily and stared intensely at the table. "It's just—who the fuck is this guy? He shows up out of nowhere and you know each other so well and—how do we know we can trust him? Why do you trust him?"
"He saved my life, okay?"
Hal suddenly looked up from the table, his eyes snapping to hers. Evelyn groaned and ran her hands through her hair. "I was in the library one night studying, and I had a seizure or something because next thing I know I'm in the hospital and the guy I'm tutoring in organic chemistry is sitting next to the hospital bed I'm in. Turns out his little brother has—had—epilepsy. Anyways, that sort of thing just….makes friends out of people, you know?"
"So he knows," Hal said quietly, "about the….." He let the statement trail off, not willing to actually say the words out loud. There was a sort of unspoken agreement between them. They wouldn't talk about it, the dying thing. Not explicitly anyway.
Evelyn nodded shortly. "Yeah. He drove me to my last surgery. Mom couldn't be bothered, so I called him."
Hal swore under his breath and took a long drink of water. "You're right," he said in a tone that sounded more than a little bit bitter. "Sounds like a great guy. If he wasn't here I'm sure he would be busy rescuing kittens from trees. He definitely had your back. At least someone did back then. He sounds like a freaking saint, keeping all those kids half starved in the middle of a skitter-infested city."
Evelyn stared at him for a moment. He seemed, sort of…sad. Sad and angry. He was sulking and be was broody. And for some reason that really, really pissed her off. Like a seething hot rage level of pissed off. She sat there completely frozen for a few moments, clenching her fist so the nails dug into the flesh of her palm. So she slapped him upside the head.
"What the fuck is wrong with you, Hal?" she demanded, ignoring his protestations and hitting him again. "I—I just don't get it. It's not like anything's changing here. You're still my partner. We still watch each other's backs. And if it comes down to it, I'll back you. Every time. Unless you're being an idiot, which, let's face it, isn't exactly unheard of. Now, for instance."
Hal stared back at her without saying a word, but something in his expression changed. There was an almost imperceptible change in Hal's posture. His shoulders sagged a bit, losing the tension that had been in his shoulders ever since they had gotten back, like something she had just said had calmed him down of something. Evelyn looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to say something—anything—but nothing came. She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth, trying to fight the frustration, but it wasn't working. She drove her hands into her hair and pulled at it, letting out a quiet scream before storming off herself.
Evelyn made her way back to the tent stomping her feet like a petulant child. The mud was squelching under her boots so that each time her foot made contact with the ground, and it kind of held onto her boots, forcing her to yank her feet up with each step. It made the entire thing more satisfying—storming off. It felt more definitive that way. By the time she got back to her tent, some of the anger had petered out. She was still pissed as hell at Hal, but she wasn't vibrating with anger anymore. She didn't know why, but that boy could get under her skin more than anyone else she knew.
Sighing heavily, Evelyn plopped down on her bed and wrenched off her now muddy boots before collapsing backwards on the cot. She grabbed hold of her musty, dirty pillow and covered her face, screaming into it. And then she just lay there, listening to Maggie's snores. That girl really could fall asleep anywhere and everywhere. Evelyn just let the sound wash over her and lull her into a calmer state of mind. That constant and even progression of sound almost had the cadence of waves crashing on a beach. That's where she sent her mind. She was on a beach reading a good book—Pride and Prejudice, of course. Her hair was clean too, she had washed out all the oil and dirt that collected there while she went for a swim in the ocean. And there was glass of cold something-or-other and she could watch the small beads of condensation run down the side and—
"Trouble in paradise," she head a muffled voice say. She pulled back the pillow and exhaled sharply in frustration. Fantasy shattered. Dream destroyed. Turning on her side she saw Ian looking at her, eyebrows raised with a vaguely amused expression on his face.
"I thought you were going to sleep."
"Now how could I sleep with all this drama flyin' around," he whispered loudly, waving his hands about. "It's like I'm in the middle of a post-apocalyptic soap opera! All that's missin' is an evil twin."
Evelyn groaned and turned to look at the ceiling of the tent. "You are my evil twin, Ian," she mumbled. "I really don't need you to analyze my life right now."
"Ouch," he said, theatrically placing a hand over his heart. "Words hurt, squirt."
"Never seemed to stop you before."
"Nope," he replied, popping the 'p'.
Evelyn sighed and rolled over so she was facing him again. "I'm sorry about Hal," she mumbled. "He's usually not that much of a dick."
"I don't know," Ian said in a light voice. "I kind of liked 'im."
Evelyn looked at him like he was insane. "Seriously? He was really fucking terrible today."
"Yeah, well I'm focusin' on the 'why' he was actin' that way more than the 'how' he was actin'. I really approve of the 'why'. It's adorable, really. And I could understand how he'd be threatened by all this good stuff," he said, gesturing to himself. Then he gave Evelyn a knowing look, which she returned with a blank stare. Ian rolled his eyes and swore under his breath. "You for someone who's so smart, you really can be a fuckin' idiot. He's got it bad for you, squirt."
Evelyn bit her lip and shifted uncomfortably in her bed and stared intently at the ceiling. "Hal and I are friends," she said in a rehearsed sort of tone. "We're partners. We—we look out for each other. That's it."
Ian let out a low whistle. "You are seriously self-deluding or whatever. It is so fuckin' obvious. Then what's the holdup? This is the Hal you gushed about like a school girl who doodles his name on binders and that kind of shit, isn't it?"
"It's more complicated than that and you know it."
Ian let out a derisive snort. "No. No it's fuckin' not. I really don't understand you, Eve. Ever since I met you it's like—it's like you won't ever let yourself be happy. It's like you sit on the sidelines waitin' for the opportunity to play, but the second you get tapped in, you just freak out and run off. Shit. You're parents must've done a real number on you." He exhaled sharply and shook his head in disbelief. "I'm goin' to sleep. Talk more in the mornin'."
She probably should have been pissed at him for saying that, but she couldn't make herself be. He was right. She knew he was right. She was afraid. She was freaking terrified. If anybody realized how scary and damaged she actually was, they would go sprinting away from her as quickly as possible. Letting people in wasn't something she was good at. It wasn't something she had ever managed to actually do. She wanted to—she really did—but every time she tried she felt this overwhelming sense of guilt. Getting close to her was like boarding the Titanic. She was going to go down in flames and the fire was going to swallow up anyone around her.
Evelyn rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands. What she needed right now was sleep. To sleep and to think. But then again the thinking was part of the problem, wasn't it? She just could never shut her brain up. It kept running around in circles like one of those sad little greyhounds chasing that rabbit in the races her mom used to drag her too so she would have an excuse to wear one of her ridiculously huge hats. And just like with those poor, pathetic dogs, there was never any payoff. They never caught the rabbit, and it wasn't even a real a real fucking rabbit. She never got anything from the mental calisthenics. They just made her feel dizzy and a little bit sick. It all came down to one thing: there was definitely something very wrong with her.
"I thought you were going to sleep, Ian."
"Yeah, it's just….Maggie. What's her deal?"
"She'd eat you alive," Evelyn muttered back. "Seriously, at your own peril, man. And if you piss her off, she's really good at shooting things."
There was a short pause. "Nice."
So there it is. Hope you liked it and hopefully the next chapter will come out faster than this one did.
Please, please review and tell me what you think. Reviews are love. And they kill skitters, so...