(1940-01-19) A Shared Burden
Details for A Shared Burden
Summary: Rena goes to meet Faulkner and break some somber news.
Date: 1940/01/19
Location: A country pub
Related: Dark Clouds Overhead

Nobody ever said life was easy - nor did they ever say life was fair. If anyone knows that, Irene Lee does. However, she has a nasty habit of making decisions that land her from the proverbial pot and right into the fire. Always making things harder for herself (and the people around her) than they have to be. It all catches up eventually.
She meant to wait inside the pub for Faulkner where it was warm and inviting; and she did try for a time… only to find that she just couldn't stand it. Fortunately the weather is extremely mild for winter, and she is able to walk outside in her coat, hat and gloves comfortably.
Looking decidedly preoccupied, but somehow, expressionless, Rena slowly paces a short distance outside while waiting for his arrival.

Faulkner didn't bother trying to get a car this time - he figured they weren't going anywhere, and everyone must do their part in this time of rationing. So for the short jaunt from the base, he's gotten hold of a bicycle, and he pulls up on it, wearing his leather flying jacket to keep warm. And his goggles, too. Because he rides the bike much as he does his plane, getting as much speed as he can on the downhills. He swerves into the carpark and pulls up, leaning the contraption against the wall, "Irene! You'll catch your death out here." he says, and then sweeps her into a warm hug, "What's wrong?" he asks, immediately.

The young woman scarcely glances up from the ground initially when Faulkner arrives, only vaguely noticing the sounds of his arrival until he came near. Then, upon hearing his voice, her face finally lifts. Pulled into his arms, she clings tightly to him, not paying any mind to the brim of her hat getting rather crumpled by the force of the mutual embrace. For what seems a very long time, Rena doesn't say a word in reply until she draws up the courage to speak. "I… I had to be taken to Saint… the hospital, a few days ago." She tries to explain, seeming oddly controlled and dead of emotion - for her.

"Ah, yes, the one Guy told me about." Faulkner says, trying to avoid leaping into the obvious question. But it's natural, and he can't help it, "What happened? Are you alright?" He keeps his arm around her and guides her towards the door, "Let's go inside, before you catch something out here." Is cold air bad for you? Who knows, but people have been associating it with getting sick for a long time. He takes her inside and into a little booth that provides good privacy, in a corner so they can sit next to each other. He shrugs off his coat and keeps his arm around her, ordering two hot toddies from the bartender.

"Yes, I'm alright," she answers in a quiet, subdued manner. It's one of those answers that belies the fact that the person is not, in fact, "alright" as they say.
Irene doesn't want to go back inside the pub, and Faulkner can feel the resistance in her body as he guides her along. She hesitates further at the door, but finally gives in at the last moment. Once they are seated in the relative seclusion of the small booth, she glances after the server as they leave, clearly trying to figure out what she needs to say.
"I… more or less collapsed," Irene begins, her hands on the table before her so that she can madly concentrate on picking at some nonexistent thing on her glove. "F-for a number of reasons. Exhaustion, for one." A little shrug is given, followed by: "And the “medicine” I'd been on - turns out the body don't like being fed something like that for months and then stopping cold…" If only that were all that was wrong. But, clearly, something else remains.

"You're not telling me everything, Irene. There's something that's eating you." Faulkner says, and then stops when the hot toddies arrive. Whiskey, hot water, lemon, and honey. The cure for everything that ails. He pushes her glass in front of her and says, "Drink." Then he turns to look at her, his hands around his own glass. "You've been so very unhappy lately, darling. But what is it now? I thought things were going in a good direction."

A few days ago, Irene might have nervously refused the drink; but now, what difference does it make?
As ordered, she takes hold of the glass and raises it to her lips with a slightly trembling hand. Slowly, she savors it before finally swallowing. Liquid courage has no effect. His words help, however to bolster her ability to speak again. "I'm not… expecting, Birdie. Not now, anyway." Despite the stillness and hush of her voice, her words strain against each other without even verging on tears. "Just one of those things," Irene goes on, feeling rather like someone who has pushed a boulder to the top of a hill and is able to let it roll down the other side, now. "They say it happens a lot and people don't even know." Here, she pulls a faint, mirthless smile and downs more of her drink. "Nobody's fault. Just one of those things."

"Oh, Irene, I'm so sorry." Birdie says, in response to the devastating news, reaching over to put his hand over hers and kissing her cheek. "You shouldn't blame yourself. I know you well enough to know that you do, and you don't believe a word of what you just said. But that doesn't make it any less true." He squeezes her hand softly.

Irene lifts her chin and draws a slow, steadying breath. "I'll be alright - eventually, I'm sure." She says, seemingly resolute. Either she is being incredibly stubborn and willful, or else, she is suffering from some sort of shock where she isn't really feeling anything.
Then, the harsh light in her eyes begins to dim, and the set of her jaw relaxes as her body sags. Leaning into Faulkner, she rests her head against his shoulder and murmurs softly: "I'm sorry, Birdie… can you ever forgive me?" She asks, not even sure if he'll be alright, now.

Faulkner strokes his fingers through her hair and clutches her against his shoulder. "Shhh…" he says, just letting her get it all out. Eventually, though, he says, "There's nothing to forgive, Irene. Nothing at all. You didn't do anything wrong."

He doesn't push her away - as some small, fearful corner of her heart thought he might. Instead, he holds her even closer. It takes time, but some small fragment of emotion seems to ease its way back into Irene as Faulkner holds her against him. Closing her eyes, she tries to stop it from happening, but several tears slip by and drop onto his jacket, just over his heart.
"Do you still…" She begins to ask a question, almost uncertain of the way to word it. Does he still want her, now? Does he still love her? "I've put you through such hell all along, and now this."

"Love is patient, love is kind, etcetera, and so on." Faulkner says, shaking his head slowly, as if surprised that she'd even ask such a thing. "Yes, I still want to be with you. Anything worth having is worth fighting for, isn't it? Though I'd appreciate some peace and quiet for a while, and I'm sure you would, too."

Relieved, Irene softly nestles her head against Faulkner again, just existing for a few moments in total silence between the two of them. "I just want…" What does she want? Can she even put into words what she wants and needs most of all. Him and his love and affection - those are a given. Of course she wants those, but something harder to define lurks in the background. Finally, it comes to her. "I just want to rest a while. To sleep… for once." And well he knows that she is both a light and easily disturbed sleeper. Now, all she wants is to have a fragment of peace within and without.

"You do. Sleep easy, no less, instead of on edge." Faulkner agrees. "You know, they say the same thing about pilots. You get a twitch, you know. From always looking over your shoulder. It's enough to make a chap paranoid." He continues to just hold her there - or let her stay curled up, at least - "You've got a very important job, from what I understand. A lot of stress."

Somewhere in the depths of Irene's mind, she likely has an exact body-count of all the people she either found dead, mutilated or watched die before her eyes over the course of the last year. Including that one who ended up with a bullet between the eyes, while he was using her as a shield.
"Important." She repeats quietly, sounding unconvinced of herself. "Saved London from burning down." That's important, right? "But, so many times, I can't save people. I try…" Again, she closes her eyes and cuddles against him, not caring who sees.
"I suppose I'm something like you." Irene muses, stating the obvious. "And you're something like me. It's not a fairytale like Charlie thinks I've dreamed up for myself. I know it ain't a fantasy. It's very real."

"In that we've both seen too many people die? We're not supposed to talk about that, you know. Chin up, stiff upper lip, that sort of thing. In reality, though, the midden will fit only so much before it overflows." Faulkner explains to her, pausing just a moment to sip his cooling hot drink. "I'm far from a fantasy. But I try, too. Yes, just like you."

A strange sort of shift comes over the small woman's demeanor rather abruptly. Sitting up in a slow, careful motion, as if slightly pained, Irene looks directly at Faulkner. Raising her hand to brush gently against his cheek, her mind struggles again to find the words she longs to say to make everything right. Failing that, she whispers: "No matter what happens, it's going to be alright. You hear me?" Whatever time they have together, it's going to count. And whatever ends they may meet, they will have had each other. That's what really counts. It's not a fairytale - it's just love. Just as Faulkner said in the letter that still rests over her heart inside of the coat.

"I know, darling." Faulkner says, "And I'll be here for you, if its in my power to be." He gives her a fierce hug, and then says, "Now, why don't we get something to eat and then… go somewhere more private. I only have the afternoon, but…" Well, might as well get reacquainted, right? He kisses her cheek as well.

Irene would object that she isn't very hungry; but, she knows that Faulkner won't take no for an answer. He's determined that she take better care of herself if he has to badger her gently into doing it.
Leaning close, she brushes her lips against his cheek in a feather-soft kiss. And then, she does her very best to offer a small, but genuine smile. They'll work it out, somehow. In her heart, she really does believe it will be alright… someday.

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