RP:Less Than The God He Pretends To Be
Part of the Through A Glass, Darkly Arc
Summary: The Landons return from the hospital, one kid 'richer'. Candice issues a denial to the Veritas after a blind article runs in the same paper about her and Hudson's sordid evening after Kanze's party. Hudson breaks the news to Alvina and they discuss how to protect their children alongside the potential damage to their marriage.
The Landon Estate, Day One
The Landon's were released from the hospital, in full, within a couple days. The night nurse was on hold to resume her duties in the coming weeks, should they need her assistance. For now their new daughter, Meadow, didn't have many demands. She wanted to sleep, hang out with her sisters (Bryce was in a foul mood since they came home), and being held. Alvina considers them pros, considering. Several weeks pass but the night nurse isn’t notified. Bryce doesn’t play well with Meadow and the girls are just starting to understand the weight of their new sister’s condition. She’s a wolf. Full fledged, four legged pup who lopped around on paws too big for her little body.
The doctor assured Hudson and Alvina that it was temporary. It was common, even, if both parents are werewolves. Alvina felt a bitterness towards Little Miss. She felt like her own body had hijacked her pregnancy and stolen away the child she’d expected for the wolves. The wolves had know she was pregnant long before Alvina and Hudson. Meadow was a child, just shifted in wolf form. She’d unshift when she was ready. The explanation for WHY she’d been born that way was sketchy, boiling down to a fancy ‘we don’t know’ that aggravated Alvina further. Hudson commissioned a small kennel, fenced and padded, that whined in the living room while Alvina and Hudson switched out nights on the couch. Hudson wanted to bring the nurse in but Alvina refused. Her logic was how will this child unshift if it sees us abandon it? Hudson, no doubt frustrated by his illogical wife’s response, tolerated it with mild patience.
The name Meadow was Emily’s suggestion. Emily’d recently started trying to join the pregnancy train. She’d met with little success, but wanted to have a child named Meadow. Emily was a little granola hippy momish. This particular morning, it’s Hudson on the couch. She prefers the nights she’s out here, it reminds her to handle the after effects of giving birth without waking Hudson. Meadow whined, clawing at the kennel bars. The girls and Bryce were gone, having stayed the night with their grandmother.
“Hudson!?” Alvina falls off the bed urgently, bare feet hitting carpet and rushing blindly into the other rooms. “Meadow?”
This is not what anybody meant when they discussed getting a family dog. Hudson had intensively deposed the pediatricians who assured them that Meadow would eventually assume a human form. It strains credulity that she likely would not suffer developmental or social setbacks living her infant life this way. But supposedly it is all very normal, if extremely weird, even for werewolf parents. People sometimes ask them in public what breed of dog Meadow is. And Meadow has to be watched like a hawk because if left to her own devices she will eat her own poop. For their parts, the girls are delighted by her.
Hudson only barely tolerates his wife's refusal to call in the night nurse. Perhaps there is something to her theory that attentiveness on their part will translate to a desire to shift on Meadow's. If she could just shift once, even if it's for a minute, to prove that she is fine and all human components accounted for, that would be appreciated. In the meantime, he doesn't love sleeping on the couch. Sometimes Meadow howls from her crate, wanting to be let out to cuddle on the couch too. He permitted it secretly more than once, but on one fateful occasion awoke to utter destruction in the living room. New rules: Mead on lockdown at night, no exceptions for emo puppy vocalizations.
In the weirdness that is Meadow's arrival and continued persistence as a wolf, Hudson had managed to excise the incident from Candice Snow from his conscience. That is, until an advance copy of small-circulation paper the Veritas anonymously turns up late in the evening at his office. He is woken from his post on the couch by a knock at the door and Milo looking strangled as he says the words "sorry boss," handing him the section that runs city gossip and blind items, including one that reads: "This businessman was recently sneaking around with this recently relocated Rynvale actress. What a real dog! Not so wise, guy: no doubt his poor pregnant wife, who was giving birth at the time, won't take kindly when she learns of her husband and that woman with a not-so-sterling reputation..."
Hudson immediately feels himself sweating, rereading the words as Milo talks in the background: "This evening's edition. Other papers might pick up the story tomorrow. Even if they don't publish names, boss ..."
"No other papers will pick up the story," Hudson says coldly. "Find whoever published this, and kill them and their family." He flips angrily to the front of the paper, gesturing at the editor in chief name. "This Jules Egnasse. Literally anyone he cares about. Do them in front of him, then leave everybody in the street."
Milo balks. "Won't that suggest .. I'm wondering .." He struggles to tell Hudson that he doesn't agree with the course of action.
"I don't care," snaps Hudson, "the point is to stop it from spreading."
Milo says nothing. Meadow is howling loudly in the other room, and Hudson hears a door open and close elsewhere in the house. Alvina.
"Get it done," he tells Milo, and shuts the door in his lieutenant's face.
Alvina stumbles down the hall in the dark. She can see but her visions blurry from sleep. Without the night nurse, neither of them are sleeping optimally. She calls Hudson’s name again when she hears the front door slam. Their daughter was scratching and gnawing on the bars. Where is he? His silhouette is darker than the rest of the object in the room. There’s one brief, panicked moment when she wonders if it’s actually Hudson. But then he moves. Alvina leans up to kiss his cheek blindly before finding Meadow in her kennel and trying to soothe her. “It’s okay, we’re right here.” She whispers, though their pup continues to whine, dissatisfied with the accommodations. No doubt her previous lodging was ideal. “Meadow, honey, please…” Alvina leans her weight against the bars and sighs in exhaustion before fiddling with the door and opening it.
Meadow immediately runs three feet into the living room and pees on the carpet.
“What, nooooo, baby why?” The front door’s forgotten while they handle clean up detail. It’s Alvina that takes Meadow into the back yard, warm in her plush robe, to wait. Of course, Meadow has decided no further action is required and trots around aimlessly until Alvina waves her back inside.
“What was the front door…?” She asks, garbled, to Hudson.
Hudson is barely on autopilot when he encounters Alvina, who is doing little to assess the tension in his body while Meadow is upset. No doubt she's appraised him as uselessly tired. Watching Meadow is supposed to be his job tonight. He sits on the sectional's chaise, his mind an angry blur, while his wife tries to console their daughter, who invariably pisses on the carpet. She does this sometimes. Hudson gets the cleaning supplies, wordlessly soaking and scrubbing the carpet beside Alvina while Meadow pants happily and persistently tries to walk on her own mess.
Even though the business is obviously already done, Alvina takes Meadow out anyway. She returns to find Hudson putting things away in the kitchen. He leans against the counter. "I need a second. Put Meadow to bed, I'll tell you," he says. His skin is still prickling, the wolf's rage constrained by a force of will it's taken Hudson years to master and ignore when it counts. Now that Meadow is no longer her immediate focus, no doubt Alvina could read the signs. He doesn't give her an opportunity to remind him that it's his night with Meadow. He moves past her, goes outside to sit on the pool deck, under the sliver of moon.
Little Miss is aware before Alvina that Hudson’s on edge. She feels a sense of urgency to get back inside. He’d been eerily quiet at the door. Could be he’s tired but her gut (and wolf) tells her it wasn’t physical exhaustion that caused his silence. They come back inside, Meadow rushing ahead and returning to the spot on the carpet to sniff the cleaning produces. Alvina lamely shoos her away. “Where’s your dad?” She mumbled to the backbeat of Meadow’s tail hitting the couch. They wander into the kitchen to find Hudson stiffly moving around in the dark. “Hey…” She calls softly, feeling his withdraw and finding annoyance in it. It was his turn to do this. She’s patient though, knowing it was her decision to do things this way. It would be best for their daughter in the end, she knew. Hudson breezes past her to the back patio. Meadow, ignorant to the drama of adults (people?) plods after him, stopping short of the glass door as it closes. She whines, Alvina sighs and scoops her back into the kennel. The whining continues but Alvina can’t sit with her until it stops. “We love you, go to sleep baby girl.”
The door opens a couple minutes later, letting Alvina back out into the chilly autumn night air. She clutches her robe tighter, even though the werewolf in her keeps her body at a higher temperature. It’s easy to forget and fall into old patterns of behavior. Muscle memory. Old habits. “Hudson…?” Her voice is tight. She can’t read his face. Her green eyes hold him uncomfortably, narrowing in search of answers, like peeking through the keyhole of a locked door.
Hudson is in his bathrobe sitting on one of the chaises, hands steepled, looking at the covered-up pool, when Alvina joins him. He glances in her direction. "Hey," he greets her, gesturing that she be seated next to him in the spare lounger. "It was Milo," he says, about the visit at the front door. "A small paper printed a story about us tonight. Blind item. I'm trying to prevent it from spreading to more reputable publications." That's a positive spin on his directive to kill the editor and his loved ones. He squints out over the pool, falling silent for a moment. He rubs the back of his neck. "I want to tell you the story's a lie but it's not, and I don't know what else will come out, honestly," he reaches into his pocket to touch the folded up page with the blind. No, better not give it to her. He'll contextualize first. "You know, the night Mead was born .. at Kanze's party, I blacked out. Which is unlike me." He frowns. "And what I remember before blacking out, I'm fine with, nothing bad - I was fine." He remembers Candice kissing him, but he'd rebuffed her, hadn't he? Or is he just filling that in now, wishful thinking? Is it really going to be 'fine' in Alvina's view that he was hanging out with Candice alone? Except that hadn't been how it had started. It had just evolved that way, and he'd tried to leave, hadn't he ... "I mean, there were a lot of people in and out of where we were partying. It was fine, everyone was getting along. At some point - well, I remember thinking I wanted to head home. But, you know, after that, just," his hand waves at the air to indicate his recollection after that is gone, "And you know, obviously I didn't make it home."
“Hey.” Alvina echoes softly, the tone of his voice and secrecy of their meeting on the balcony when only Meadow was in the house, unnerved her. But she sits at his side and tries to follow his eyes to a particular spot in the yard. Alvina stiffens when he mentions a story. Why hadn’t she known about this? Was it based around Uma? Was she okay?! He continues to say it’s a blind item, which she knows means it’s ‘news’ from a ‘trusted source’ that excludes names so it can’t be immediately flagged. It’s also obscure enough that those not up to date on a person’s life, might have no clue what the item is really describing. She hears the paper wrinkle when he reaches into his pocket and feels her heart jump into her throat. His explanation starts off -bad-. A knot, long forgotten, starts to tighten and steal away her breath. The longer it takes for him to spit it out, the more she wants to throw up. “You couldn’t hold your liquor, yeah, you told me.” Her voice quivers, daring him to challenge his previous story with more details. Was the paper just publishing that he’d passed out at Kanze’s hotel? That’s hardly newsworthy. What did the traffic of the party have to do with anything? He didn’t make it home. “Where did you make it instead?” Though it’s old, so old the taste of it sucks all the moisture from her mouth like dust. Or a spoonful of cinnamon; safe and sweet in small amounts but dangerously stifling in large quantities.
His wife knows he's stalling too. There's an edge to her question, and he briefly catches her gaze before returning his attention to the landscaping across the pool. "Well, I don't think I left the hotel because that's where I woke up." He can feel a searing heat in her gaze, and he wishes he could fast forward past this particular moment. He heaves a sigh. Best to not make her snake it out of him. He begins to talk while the impulse stays strong: "I slept with Candice. I don't know how it happened, I just know that it did." The words are spoken quickly and with quiet certainty. He chances a look at Alvina. "And I didn't tell you. I didn't feel like I could, with Mead, and then I .. honestly never wanted to think about it again, because it was obviously a mistake that should never have happened. I'm sorry. It's not consistent with how I feel about our relationship, I have no explanation for it." He retrieves the folded up newspaper page from his pocket and holds it out to her. "It's the third from the top."
Alvina takes the paper in a stunned silence, pulling apart the folds like delicately thin pastry sheets. She didn’t know what to say. On one hand, he’d told her, but only because he had to before this was leaked to the press. They’d have questions. They’d ask her. Another man would accost her in the Cenril market and for what? Because Hudson drank himself to the point of passing out and Candice was either equally messed up or encouraged the behavior. She reads the lines several times. She, of all people, loved witty word play but this was too much. How could anyone approve releasing such a horrible thing when Hudson had a family? When they’d just had a kid? She doesn’t speak for a long, drawn out moment. Then she sighs, crumples up the paper and tosses it into the closed pool. It bobs for a second until the water soaks the paper and drags the ball down out of sight. What was she supposed to say? They’d been -so- good. Better than ever with the wolves getting along and Bryce moving out of his peeing in house plants phase. It didn’t make sense that he could drink enough to pass out AND have sex with that woman. Or maybe it made sense and she didn’t want it to, so she told herself little lies to protect their marriage. She wishes he was Milo telling her, so she could brush it off as fictitious but it’s Hudson. He was there and he wouldn’t lie and say he DID sleep with her if he DIDN’T. “I’m going to bed.” She says, finding herself devoid of the required energy for screaming or crying. They’ve played that game a hundred times. It doesn’t get them anywhere.
She takes the paper and reads it. Hudson gives her a second, gets up to check on Meadow through the sliding glass door. Perhaps doing this outside, in the cold, had the effect of numbing everyone. He looks back at her a couple times, and on the third time he watches her pitch the crumpled up paper into the pool, where it somehow lands in a gap between the water and the cover and sinks out of sight. He heaves another sigh and returns to his chaise, looking at her expectantly. At least she isn't screaming at him, but on some level Alvina's calm demeanor is unsettling. "Will you say something, literally anything," he says, at which point she announces she's going to bed. "Yeah .. That makes sense," he exhales. She stands, and he stands too. "I assume you don't want me to come with. I mean, that's fine, because I have to stay with Meadow. I'm sorry, Alvina. I messed up." She's waiting for him to move away from the door and he does to let her open it. "I love you, I'm sorry."
Alvina doesn’t know what stings more; the fact that he keeps talking despite her disinterest in starting a dialogue or the fact he keeps apologizing. She’d been so scared. Giving birth to their daughter. While he was unleashed to be a children. And in that instance. Ruined. Everything. “It’s your turn to stay with Meadow.” She sounds tired. They both sound tired. Babies do that to people. Puppies do that to people. Baby puppies is a two in one bargain bin dose of tired. She stares at him while she waits for him to move. He looks older than he had inside. His tone softened from the slam of the front door and the grunted invite to come outside. Did he...really not mean to? Little Miss is the more furious of the two, but even she can’t find the wherewithal to show her teeth. When he moves, she opens the door, careful not to touch him and risk his apologies soaking into her skin and dulling her quiet rage. “I love you.” It’s said automatically, the feeling missing but present elsewhere inside her. It sunk to the bottom of her chest the way that crumpled message sunk into the pool. It’ll be closed until spring. It’s fine. They’d forget about it by then, she hoped. She walks into the dark living room, rubbing her temples and immediately stepping in the slightly damp soapy spot Hudson’d cleaned. Alvina looks at the kennel, resisting the urge to curse, and lets loose another big sigh instead. She slips down the empty hall like a spectre; feeling a numbness that couldn’t cancel out the heat of her skin. She was both asleep and on fire but not fully one or the other. A younger Alvina would have cried, had cried and screamed and thrown things and fought through bathroom doors. She’d say hurtful things, pushing him away, daring him to stay with a show of bad behavior. Or tempting him to go while being the orchestrator of it all. By wielding control of the situation in such a way as to ‘make’ the thing happen, even if she didn’t want it consciously. He’d held this since Mead was born. Weeks ago. When she reaches the bedroom, the door’s wide open, spilling light into the otherwise dim hallway. She stands there, surveying the room for signs she should have seen but finds none. His behavior towards her hadn’t changed. He was still affectionate, grumpy when he had to stay up with the baby, but patient and generous with his time. They were older now and valued different things than their younger selves. Alvina shuffles in and sits down on his side of the bed, fingers roaming through her hair automatically, breaking the red streaks into three sections and snaking them around one another until a braid appears. Then she flops down on the pillow. Despite the fresh sheets, it still smells like him.
Hudson follows Alvina inside but as promised doesn't follow her further. He stays in the living room with Meadow. It would be not awful if she howled, wanted his attention, right now. He might let her on the couch, despite it being against the rules. But instead she is sound asleep. He sinks into the makeshift bed on the couch, kicking off his slippers and considering the sounds of the house settling at night. Some of them sound like they could be Alvina, but it's hard to be sure what's real or him projecting. He wonders what's taking Milo so long, but it's not rage he feels about it, just emptiness. He wakes around 4am to take Meadow out with the sensation of not having slept at all.
The Landon Estate, Day Two
Everyone pretends like everything is fine all through breakfast and school drop off. Hudson goes to his office, where he encounters Joanie, who quietly fixes him a coffee and, with no prompting, asks if perhaps it would be a good day to send flowers to Alvina. "I was thinking a big statement if you don't mind," she tells him.
"Let's do that," agrees Hudson, who appreciates her discretion in not addressing the reason dead on.
"Of course," Joanie excuses herself to order a small fortune in multiple flower arrangements. Hudson tries to work, but it's impossible because everyone is acting strange. Or they only seem as if they are acting strange to him.
Milo shows up, looking haggard, around midday, to report that he's just received word that Jules Egnasse is seeking asylum in Larket for fear of political persecution. The only play is to try to infiltrate a Larket government building where he's staying. "Do you want me to-"
"No," says Hudson.
Milo draws a belabored breath. "Another gossip rag is reporting that Candice issued a denial."
Hudson exhales in a rush, dropping a stack of papers with sudden bitterness. "Great, so now it's not anon anymore, and it's picked up by other papers." He sinks, defeated, into his chair, and lets his head fall back so that he can gaze dully at the ceiling.
Joanie enters without knocking. "Candice issued a denial! That shady bitch!"
Hudson is silent, presses his fingers to his eyelids. His skin is crawling with the wolf's displeasure.
"You should go home, boss," says Milo.
"Yeah," he exhales.
Alvina holds her composure through their morning routine. Bryce is old enough now to be in preschool so Marge has been taking them all to school. She smiles but looks tired. She kissed his cheek as he left. She is unsettled by how easy it is to pantomime routine. If anyone notices they’ll automatically attribute it to having a new baby. Meadow’s existence will be the bandaid she needs to not sulk on Hudson’s confession. Because, if we’re honest, she doesn’t want to sulk. She wants to forget it and move on. They weren’t children anymore. They had a big family to run. And as much as she hates it, and would never admit it, she just couldn’t care enough to fight with him about it. And if it’s not worth a fight, it’s not worth leaving. Leaving never even crossed her mind. She wonders if that’s sad while she bottle feeds Meadow on the patio, wiping milk off her shaggy face with numb acceptance of her life as it was now. Her newest child is an actual dog. Her husband went rogue as a youth at a party. She stares at the same patch of grass in the yard, frozen in place, for the next 20 minutes. Meadow wiggles but does get free. She finishes the bottle but is covered in milk (from the wiggling) and it’s Marge opening the screen door that breaks the spell.
Marge takes Meadow out for a short jaunt around a nearby park while Alvina shuffles into the master suite to draw herself a bath. It isn’t noon but there’s an open bottle of rose and a wine glass on the tub’s rim. The lights are low, ambient spa music chiming , while she stares at the ceiling. There’s a fogged skylight that lets light in if she wants it to. Presently, it’s closed. The only source of light being candles she lit on the bathroom counter. She shouldn’t drink while she’s nursing but in the moment, it’ll be fine, they can last until it’s passed. The lazy flicker of flames cast through steam and a light buzz gives the room an otherworldly feeling. Before Marge leaves, she gets the outrageous arrangements Hudson sent and signs for them, the delivery guy hauls it all into the kitchen. All the flowers are beautifully arranged and colored, loud and bright as apologies can be, but Alvina hasn’t seen them yet. The rest of the house is quiet. She breathes a sigh of relief and takes another drink of her wine.
Hudson leaves Milo and Joanie in charge and heads home, picking up a copy of the paper reporting on Candice's denial. Marge and Meadow aren't there to greet him, but that's not surprising. Meadow's insistence on being a wolf is convenient in some ways. It makes running errands and leaving the house bit easier. He suspects they're out doing some shopping to restock provisions at home. The flowers have arrived, though, Hudson can smell them immediately upon entering. They give the kitchen a floral jungle ambiance. He gets himself a glass of water and moves through the house, following the small noises and signs of Alvina still being at home. He knocks at the master bathroom door. "It's me," he announces himself, and then hearing no immediate objection, lets himself in.
"Hey, sorry to bother you," he greets her, posing the copy of the paper on the sink and leaning against the door. The bath seems a step toward where they need to be, and he's about to give her bad news. She must know he's here because there's no way through this storm but through it, evidently. "She's issued a denial," he exhales, careful not to say Candice's name unnecessarily. "I would have preferred everyone just ignore it, but I'm not in contact with her and I haven't been. So .. now the story's being printed, if only to say that she's denying it." He rubs the stubble lining his face. He hadn't shaved this morning. "I have to issue a statement denying it, too, for symmetry, suggest we're considering legal action, or whatever. Do you want to talk about the girls? They're almost certainly going to hear about it at school, probably tomorrow."
Alvina can hear movement in the house behind the closed door. It’s slight but she writes it off as Meadow and Marge before focusing on the back of her eyelids...until Hudson knocks. He’s home. That’s either a sign of guilt or worse. The situation has progressed outside of their tight knit circle. She calls him in, shifting in the tub to lean into her folded knees, giving her a sense of modesty. Hudson doesn’t need to clarify that it’s Candice who is stirring up trouble. Of course she is. Of course that woman would do this. What woman wouldn’t? Val hadn’t...but Alvina shakes that thought loose. Thinking she’d kept it secret for the sake of all their feelings instead of using the knowledge for other personal gains won’t sit well if she has the time to piece that logic together. Lucky for everyone, she doesn’t. All her focus is on Candice and Hudson, the latter of which is leaning into the door.
He looks tired and she stares at her toes through the pink wine in her glass. Of course he’d prefer if they ignored it. That line rubs the wrong way but she doesn’t bite back. Candice knows full well what she’s doing. She issued a denial to cement the rumor, remove any doubt that it’s not about her. His issuing a denial won’t guarantee anyone taking it seriously. That’s what people do; issue a denial first, issue a complex and remorseful apology later. “We should keep them home from school tomorrow.” Alvina suggests through the dreamy fluff of alcohol. “We can talk to them about this the way we talked to them about me going to jail.” The term jail is used lightly. It was more like a weird vacation. “They’ve already had some experience with ‘wrong’ media opinions so it won’t be hard for them to rebuff in school.” Only they’re old now, they have more questions now than they had months prior. There would come a time when their children would doubt them. Alvina prayed it wasn’t now. “We’ll tell them this Candice woman talked to you at the party, and reporters made up a rumor about you because we’re werewolves.” She pauses to drink her wine. “And important.” No doubt other students at their prestigious academy will have had similar run ins with bad news reports. “Give them the day to relax, ask questions, feel safe here and prepare?” Like they’re a small battalion in need of regrouping. Thought finished, she blinks several times at the floor before looking up at Hudson with wet eyes. She isn’t crying but her posture’s tight, voice precise.
Hudson tries to read the emotions behind this careful veneer on his wife's face. He appreciates her being collaborative about the girls and the party line, but he is holding his breath for a subtle, or not so subtle, jab from her. "Right," he agrees to her proposal that everyone stay home tomorrow, that the Candice story be relegated to a cruel rumor spread on the basis of next to nothing. He waits for any kind of caustic remark but none follows. She looks at him with doe eyes. "Yeah," he exhales, feeling the knot of trepidation in his stomach loosen slightly, replaced with a feeling of helplessness. He wonders, for the thousandth time that day, how he could have been so careless and thoughtless. He heaves a sigh, scratches his face. "Thank you." A pause lengthens between them, after which he adds, "I appreciate how gracious you're being. I'm sorry, again." He gestures at the wine in a nod to the general calming atmosphere she's created here, which he's obviously rudely interrupted bearing unpleasant tidings. "Alright. I can let you get back to all of this, if you want. It seems nice." He offers her a rueful smile. "If there's anything I can do, or if you want to hang out after, let me know. I'm .. going to go to my study for a bit."
Alvina will never hate anything more than the way Hudson sounds when he says she’s being gracious. It isn’t the first time, but connecting all the pins with red string was against their best interests. Then he offers the next thing at the top of the list of things she hates: an apology. She didn’t want him to apologize or thank her. She just wanted to get back to the place where none of this ever happened. The relaxing atmosphere was self contained but the breach would remain after Hudson left. The air deflated from the balloon. Instead of answering either statement, she simply nods and holds his gaze a tick longer. He smiles at her, like a kicked dog, threatening to crack her tame veneer. If there’s anything he can do? Go back in time and come home with me, she thought with a sigh while he puttered around uncertainly. He isn’t sure how to approach her, she thinks. He knows she’s not pleased but he doesn’t know what lines he isn’t permitted to cross presently. Would she let him hold her? Kiss her? Laugh at a miserable joke with her? Brush her hair away from her face with boundless love for her? For now, he tests the waters with ‘if you want to hang out’ like they aren’t married. “All right.” She says, staying hunched over her knees and drinking from her glass while he presumably shows himself out. She doesn’t linger too long. One more glass of wine, steam dissipating to a dull mist that clings to all cool, inviting surfaces. She surfaces in the kitchen in a satin sleeping gown, setting her wine glass in the sink and re-corking the wine for later. Hudson’s study is on the top floor, up a flight of stairs wound up the other end of the hallway past their bedroom. It’s usually dark, the door leading to the room locked to keep the kids off the stairs. Now, the door is open, noting Hudson’s inside. Alvina tip toes along the carpet, leaning her back flat against the wall at the base of the stairs, listening. After a beat, she calls up to him, announcing herself and her advance towards his work space.
Hudson appraises his performance in speaking to his wife immediately upon leaving the bathroom. The second guessing is immediate. Hang out? How can he be the same guy who orders a man and his family killed without flinching! Perhaps he should have just pretended nothing was different. Perhaps he should have just crowded her with his love and made it a trial by combat. No - that could have blown up very badly, in particular where the wolves were concerned. He needs to be cowed, he needs to show remorse. But perhaps he could assert himself more given that she's made no noises about leaving. Unless she thinks she can't. There's always that.
He wouldn't know how to untangle them if he wanted to, either.
But he doesn't think she wants to.
No, his current appraisal is that she just wants to hate him for awhile. Not unreasonable. But his obvious trepidation of her hate is only likely to extend this period. Tomorrow will be horrible, with the lying to their children. But after that, he needs to just buy her an expensive piece of jewelry, wait for some other poor individual(s) to become the object of public ridicule, and then get back on the proverbial horse.
In his office, Hudson smokes an herbal cigarette out an open window and reads a sports magazine. It has the desired effect of slowing his thoughts about the situation. He hadn't expected Alvina to actually join him, and when he hears her footsteps on the stairs he's quick to stub out the thing and confiscate it, like he's a teenager being busted by a parent. It's not that she'd disapprove ordinarily, it's that her mood is likely to be volatile and maybe it's a bad look considering how they wound up in this situation. Like a teenager being busted by a parent, however, the room still smells vaguely of the stuff. She enters the room and he swivels around on his office chair, as if he had been working this entire time. "Hey," he says, gesturing that she seat herself on the couch opposite him. He wants to know if she saw the flowers, but if he asks she could get angry about that too, because now's not the time to be asking for gold stars. Instead he says: "This is nice. I didn't actually expect you to come hang out."
Alvina could smell the cigarette from the bottom of the stairs. It's familiar, in that he smells this way on occasion and she pretends not to notice. It doesn't bother her like it used to. A lot of things don't bother her like they used to. She has no illusions about her ability to leave. If she asked, she thinks he'd agree under a set of conditions. It would look bad if she moved out during the controversy. She'd have to hold out a while. Even then, with the kids... It's no use thinking about now. She doesn't want a divorce was the bottom line. Not because she felt trapped in the gilded cage of their life, either. She'd grown more confident in her time as a wife in the spotlight and wolf. It took time but she was different, stronger.
Once at the top of the stairs, she pauses, following his outline where it bleeds over from the chair back. She'd seen the flowers but wasn't going to make mention of them. They were beautiful but apology flowers never feel as good as random, I love you or I thought about you flowers. Alvina moves cautiously to the couch and takes a seat, feeling oddly like this was an interview. He wags his proverbial tail immediately and she nudges words like hard candies around in her mouth until they feel right.
After exactly two glasses of wine, she felt relatively relaxed and pleased with herself. If they didn't have this nasty Candice business to tidy up, she'd shamelessly flirt with him. Maybe. She tells herself she would, considers doing it even now and then decides against it. Sitting on the couch made her feel small. She sinks into it then gets up promptly to prop herself up on the edge of his desk. There's something she wants him to say but she doesn't know what it is or how to tell him what she needed. Maybe he'll just know if they spend a minute really focused on just each other.
“I'm sorry about this mess.” Is what she settles on, though she doesn't exactly sound sorry. Not sure where to go from here she adds, “Do you want to brainstorm about what to say to the kids or…?” No that was parent stuff, not ‘hanging out’ stuff. She sighs, feeling awkward. “What do you want me to do here?” The question isn't accusatory. It's straight to the point.
Hudson is pleasantly surprised when Alvina opts to sit on the desk instead, looking flushed and comfortable in her own skin. Her legs dangle just within reach. He remembers the bottle of wine he'd seen. Of course: she's tipsy. He is grateful for the numbing powers of alcohol. She apologizes, and he gives her a strange look for it. That's like her, to apologize, but it couldn't be any less her fault. "Not your fault," he tells her. She proposes discussing the messaging to the kids, and he looks pensive for a second until she shunts the idea the side in favor of asking him directly what he wants her to do. He heaves a small sigh, considering her. "Talk to me," he answers her. "We didn't really talk last night, which is understandable. And not this morning either, it was just too busy. You're not giving it to me in front of the kids, which I appreciate, but I know you're upset .. and just earlier I talked to you about how to deal with the 'problem,' but we still haven't really talked about the problem." He frowns. "And you seem a little calm which honestly worries me. Maybe I don't get to say that, but I know I messed up and this is embarrassing and I don't want you to leave me and I meant what I said about not understanding why I did it. I have no idea if you even believe me, I hope you do but I'm not sure I would in your shoes. That feels bad."
‘Talk to me.’ Her right eye twitches obscurely. Alvina doesn’t want to yell at him. She feels tired just THINKING about yelling. Or crying. Or screaming. She looks away from him, staring hard at a spot on the floor behind him. Stray strands of her red hair fall to fragment her expression. “I –am- upset.” She confirms without looking back at him. Now, in the moment, it feels sharper because he’s being so nice and pensive. She can’t help but actually believe he wouldn’t have without blacking out. Her eyes shine, the prelude to tears, when he says he doesn’t want her to leave him. Did he really think that was on the table? “I believe you.” There’s a tightness to her voice that tells of her restraint. Alvina feels jaded by having a ‘protical’ for this. An escape plan. A map to the fire exits. She’s struck by his observation that she hasn’t yelled at him in front of their children. “Of course I wouldn’t.” She sounds offended. “I’m not going to say it’s fine, Hudson.” Obviously not fine. “I don’t think you are but just in case, you don’t get to ask for that and I don’t have to say it now.” Alvina pauses to swallow. “I don’t want to leave but it looks a certain way when these things continue to happen. It is embarrassing. It makes me look a certain way.” She should know. She’d committed similar sins while still maintaining love for him. Like she’s a trophy wife he keeps out of love for the image of their family and not love for her. Why else would he be with other women? If he tried to come, what distracted him enough that he’d stay instead? “Of course it feels bad.” She snaps, lifting her hand to brush back her hair and close her eyes, chin rising to the ceiling. “I’m sorry,” she mutters immediately after, drawing in a deep breath to exhale.
Alvina sounds angry and barely containing it, like a heating tea kettle. Her tone stings but he knows he deserves it. "I'm not asking you to say it's fine," he's quick to cut in during the small pause. She isn't done speaking her piece, though, and gets in a little dig about Valrae. 'Continue to happen.' As if it were a common recurrence on his part. As if she hadn't had her own indiscretions, which had happened soberly, and involved a betrayal of the heart. Of course she has to act like she might leave him over this. It had been a bit much on his part to expect her not to admit she'd at least thought about it. He had expected a certain amount of whipping, but now that it's started he's finding it hard to bear. His expression stays watchful, even after she apologizes. His skin itches with an undercurrent of irritation but he manages to keep from saying anything off the cuff, even if the result is a long pause that gives him away. Having smoked helps. "I am glad you believe me," he says carefully, at length. "I'm not asking you to say it's fine," he repeats. "It's not fine. Nothing is 'continuing' to happen, though," he holds her gaze, "you are not whatever -- a 'certain way,' OK? It isn't something that happened because I'm bored or not in love with, or attracted to, you. It's some .. I can't explain it but it has nothing to do with how I feel about you, which is very much in love, and not interested in anyone else. I .. she sent me that picture. And I told you, and I did fire her. OK? And then I didn't talk to her until the night of the party. And I only ended up hanging out with her, because, I don't know, Rijanna made friends with her." He holds out a hand. "Please don't." Make a dig at him for being attracted to Rijanna, a fact that in better times is a joke between them. "OK? Please, just. I know you hate me, a little, but I'm just trying to explain. This wasn't .. a thing that I like, fantasized about in my head for weeks and just couldn't stop myself from getting after. It was like .. I thought I knew where the line was, and then I woke up and learned that I didn't."
Alvina’s posture grows rigid in the silence that follows. She realizes too late that he thinks she means ‘continues on his part’ to happen instead of ‘continues’ as a way to mark both their sins on the wall. It’s still silent when she tries to correct it. “I meant…” Though she would have liked to have meant it the other way in hindsight. To say something just a little mean. Just enough for him to know it hurts it. He doesn’t directly address her addendum but he doesn’t need to. That’s an old argument that no one wants to have. She’d meant it as an explanation for embarrassment, not as a rod with which to prod or beat him. He digs his heels in a little, despite opening this box, and she feels the hair on the back of her neck stand. “I never said that’s why it happened.” She jumps in but he barrels forward, giving her pause. “I believe you fired her.” She cuts in again but she can’t keep up with him. He’s explaining it all rapidly and her head is spinning. She didn’t want the details, didn’t want to imagine the party and friendly events leading up to the line crossing, as he called it. But she lets him, as much as it crushes her ribs and shatters her breath, she lets him. When he’s done laying all his cards out on the table, she faces him again. Alvina studies the sharp line of his jaw, the flip of his smaller, wilder hairs jutting out at his hairline, the furrowed question mark that tightened his brow. His eyes. Defensive but regretful. “I don’t hate you.” She waits until he looks at her to speak at all.
“I’m not leaving you.” She wants to say it should be obvious but she resists the urge to be catty. There’s a solid beat between each sentiment. “ I didn’t mean it like that.” But she doesn’t go into detail about what she’d meant or didn’t with what or which thing she’d said. She doesn’t know where to go from here, though. She’d asked him what he wanted and he said to talk but when she started to, he bucked with explanations and excuses she didn’t want or need. He pelted her with reasons that didn’t change the outcome and forced her to endure the shame that was this mistake. But why would she care? She’s drunk and tired of fighting already. “I didn’t say any of that stuff.” Thinking it was different. You think a lot of different things during an argument or trying time but not all of it needs to be said. Most likely, none of it did. He was dumping proof in her lap like a bone he’d dug up from the back yard as a gesture of good will. She wanted to scream. “So again, I have to ask you, what do you want me to do here?” Again, her tone is even, earnestly asking what he wanted from this detailed explanation of events, besides unburdening himself. “I love you but I can’t make the guilt go away.” His guilt. The guilt coiled around his neck like a serpent bowtie. “And telling me all the details won’t make me feel better in the long run. I prefer a muddy picture.” Alvina closes her eyes, fingers interlace in a ball below her chin before she leans towards him. She uses one arm as an anchor, the other hand grazes her knuckles against the side of his face. “Please, if you want to make me feel better, don’t tell me any more details.” Her wrist rotates, palm cupping briefly below his chin.
Hudson would like to confess everything he can remember, soak them both in the guilt and confusion he feels, but she doesn't want any more details. She sounds resigned and frustrated, but done flogging him for this for now unless he persists. She doesn't want to leave, she says, that's the forecast for today. They'll see about that tomorrow and the day after, when everyone knows and she gets whispered about at the market: that poor woman. For now, though, he won't build the case against himself any more than he already has. He catches her hand in his and, when she doesn't immediately pull it free, kisses her on the wrist. He keeps her palm against his face. "OK. I won't talk about it unless you want me to then," he says. He kisses her on the wrist again and releases her. "Thank you for staying," not just with him presently, in their marriage in general. He scoots his chair closer and leans his elbows on the desk next to her, dropping his head into his hands and looking up to hold her gaze. "I wish we could drop everything and go away just us for a while," he ventures, continuing to look at her, his guilt etched onto his face. "I love our family but that's all I really want right now." He shifts in his seat to rest his head against her thigh. He heaves a sigh. "I miss you, and you're right here."
Alvina watches Hudson with growing empathy. If he’s lying about being remorseful, he’s doing a damn good job. The wine helped. Missing him helped. The last leg of the pregnancy and the first leg of the baby were the most exhausting in the process. It’s when they usually nap with their free time or stay in bed late (sleeping and only sleeping). “You stayed too…” She offers, quietly, when they lock eyes. Honestly, being a wolf helped. Since then, she felt a much deeper bond between them. One that transcends what she’d call ‘normal’ logic. It’s instinctual, the way she loves him. The way she’s grown, even now, to love him more. His head falls into her lap and she’s overwhelmed by the helpless urge to protect him. Without thinking, she musses his hair with smooth, lazy draws of her fingers. They can’t get away. What if Meadow shifts back? “Where would you want to go?” She asks. A common tactic they use with their children, where they know the thing they want isn’t tangible, so they create a path around that reaches a quiet compromise. She thinks about the house in the woods where they’d become an official pack and ‘renewed’ their vows to each other. When he isn’t guarded, isn’t in complete control of a situation, she loves him harder. That’s when he needs it most, she thinks. When he’s the boss and running an organization and a family and a city, she’s endeared by his control and admires how far he’s come. How much he’s grown. She’s attracted to the powerful aura he broadcasts, an energy that paints him as an exuberant reprobate. Nothing more than a cocky, confident boy. When he can’t put on the airs of control or confidence, she loves him more fiercely. When he is less than the god he pretends to be, she loves him more deeply. When Alvina feels needed, like she does in this moment where all he wants is her, that is the most she can ever love him. That’s when she feels first and foremost in his mind and in the light of attention and agreed upon need. That time is when Alvina allows herself to love him freely, without fear of being clingy or overdramatic. Without worry of looking desperate or childish. “How can you miss me if I’m right here?” She asks, voice pinched with emotion, in a way that says 'I love you' without trying.
Hudson closes his eyes to Alvina's raking her hands through his hair. This is a nice interaction, feels genuine in a way all of this morning didn't. Where would he like to go? "Somewhere warm and expensive, with food for grown ups," he says. His telling her that he misses her seems to crack something in her. He sighs and pushes himself upright in his chair. He gives her an expectant look. "You know," he exhales an answer to her question, and leaves it at that. Upon further consideration of her fallen expression he adds, gently, "Stop with that look." He gets to his feet and holds her by the forearms, giving her an opportunity to shake him off before leaning in to kiss her. It's done neatly, and afterwards a silence opens up between them as they look at one another. He'd like to apologize again, or tell her he'll make it up to her, or that he appreciates her graciousness, but those things now seem likely to fray her patience and therefore dangerous to say. She can read them on his face anyway. No, best to not say anything at all .. he'll just kiss her again instead.