Fandom: Centennial (TV)
Characters: Levi, Lucinda (Levi/Elly)
Word Count: 2409
Summary: Levi attempts to make sense of Elly's death. [i.e. I attempt to make sense of the unnaturally quick transformation from devastated!Levi to in-love-with-Lucinda!Levi] An expansion of the scene in the beginning of "For as Long As The Waters Flow," the morning after Lucinda seduces Levi.
Author's Notes: I tried to be true to the canon scene as closely as possible (without actually watching that abomination again), but some details may be a little off. This portrayal of Lucinda is not very flattering, and perhaps not very fair as well. References to “The Wagon and the Elephant” are mostly canonical, with a little bit of head-canon added :) Also, I didn't know of this phrase prior to this episode, so for reference: “seeing the elephant”
~ Cross-posted to FFN and AO3 ~
“If hell lay to the west, Americans would cross heaven to get there."
~19th century saying
She’s not Elly.
That much was clear last night.
Apparently, even a grief-stricken man is not immune to pleasures of the flesh. And Lucinda was clearly no stranger to them.
Not like Elly… Elly was a good Christian girl, shy and sweet, ignorant of such things until she became my wife...
When Levi’s mother had advised him to ‘take only the best,’ it wasn’t the six grays that came to mind. Strong, capable Elly, longing to experience some of the adventure she’d read about in her books -- there was something special about her, and he just knew that if he showed up on her doorstep at dawn, she would come with him in a heartbeat. Even though he was practically a stranger to her (save for a handful of awkward conversations), and shunned for attempted rape -- an accusation she had immediately dismissed. “You wouldn’t be that way,” she had said with absolute certainty. She’d never even asked him for an explanation. Such blind faith in me, she had…
She’d thrown in her lot in with him on a whim – not unlike the one that made him set out for Oregon in the first place -- but it was meant to be. Levi could still see her running toward the wagon, carrying everything she owned in a pillowcase, long brown hair escaping from its braid as she fled that slave camp that was disguised as an orphanage. She never knew it, but that was the moment he’d fallen in love with her. It was like something out of a fairy tale, whisking her away from there like a prince in a chariot… or, rather, a crazy man in a Conestoga... wielding a rifle, firing a don’t-you-dare-try-to-stop-us shot in the air.
And I brought her out here only to die. If only I had known… if any of us had known...
None of this was Lucinda’s fault. Levi figured she was caught up in some political game her parents were playing. He was a little surprised it had taken so long for her to come out here and ‘cure’ him of his grief. By her father’s hand, he suspected; perhaps McKeag had decided enough time had passed.
Right. Because time heals.
Like hell it does. Time ERASES. It had erased Lancaster… life before Elly, unimaginable to him now. So if he continued on this path with Lucinda…
Granted, it was a sensible match, and Levi couldn’t keep living as he had been… no, not living -- merely existing. Not-dying. He’d stopped living the moment McKeag had passed him the lifeless body of his beautiful young bride. McKeag attributed the quickness of it all to God’s mercy. So quick I never even got to say goodbye… While Levi had been thanking God for blessing him with this wonderful new life out west, Elly was dying in McKeag’s arms, the baby dying in her belly.
Levi didn’t remember much of the first few days that followed. When his tears had eventually run dry, he’d alternated between rage and numbness. If he wasn’t whacking away at something with the ax until his body gave out, he was staring at the wall… truly seeing the elephant for the first time. He thought he’d seen it, based on Lykes' description, when they’d made the heartbreaking decision to turn around, with less than half of everything they’d brought with them -- including the wagon itself. They’d lost all hope, but he’d still had Elly then, and a baby on the way; he had yet to taste true despair.
Surrounded by friends, he wasn’t alone… and yet he was. He endured their efforts to reach him with sullen silence: McKeag’s forced cheerfulness, the cloying pity of Clay Basket and Lucinda -- especially Lucinda, always there, waiting… But the Ellylessness was all-consuming. Levi’s presence was a dark weight on these good people, bearing down more every day as they tried -- and failed -- to give him what he needed.
Removing himself from their home would spare them such fruitless efforts, although his main reason for leaving wasn’t so altruistic as that. McKeag had understood, and raised no objections when Levi asked him where he’d spent his own days of darkness. The older man had needed three weeks of solitude… Levi needed a lot longer than that. He would spend the winter in that God-forsaken cabin in Fox Canyon, where perhaps the cold was as likely to kill him as an Indian.
He’d never questioned his faith so hard as he had in the past seven months. The rifle had tempted him… as McKeag had known it would, and yet he hadn’t tried to confiscate it (he may as well have, since Levi couldn’t even bring himself to squeeze that trigger for hunting anymore). In the surreal times of lucidity, when the pain subsided enough to allow it, Levi had tried desperately to understand what no man ever truly could – the will of God. Why had God given him such an amazing partner, only to snatch her away so soon?
The only reason that held even a shred of bitter truth in it was that he never would have made it this far west without her, and he knew he was destined to do great things here (things he’d glimpsed and been excited about when Elly was still at his side to share the dream… things he didn’t give a damn about now that she wasn’t). No one could survive that journey alone. It was madness to attempt it. The times they’d fared the best were the times they’d joined forces with others, but they’d worked through many challenges on their own as well. Levi knew she was the right person to bring on the journey when she insisted on leading the horses through that first river... when she fell in the water and came up laughing, scolding him because he'd stopped driving. She’d made the optimistic remark, so typical of her, that there would be plenty more rivers and they would get better at this. Then she’d caught him watching her as she wrung out her skirt, and when she’d asked him what he was grinning at, he’d been too shy to speak what was really in his heart, his answer conveying only a fragment of it.
Rebecca's scheming had made him shyer with Elly than he needed to be, in the beginning. Not because he thought she'd be anything like Rebecca, but because he’d become wary of his instincts when it came to the gentler sex. He wasn’t even sure if he should kiss Elly before they were married. He almost did, countless times… until finally, she’d asked him what he was waiting for -- somehow managing to be shy and sassy at the same time. Rebecca had manipulated him... Lucinda may or may not be manipulating him now... Elly was never one for such games. She had gone about things the right way, by expressing interest -- both in him personally and in going to "a place like Oregon one day" -- and leaving it at that, allowing him to make up his own mind. Maybe because she thought he was in love with Rebecca, or that a man from a wealthy family would never look twice at an orphan girl he delivered scraps to once a week… but Levi liked to think it was because her heart was pure and honest.
McKeag might have assumed Levi’s faith would save him from himself in that cabin… it wasn’t so much God as Elly herself -- blasphemy, no doubt, but it had taken him months to even begin to try to repair his relationship with God. If he took the cowardly route, he would never be with Elly again, for Levi knew she was in heaven, along with their unborn son or daughter… it was a daughter that she’d wanted: “I want to see her grow up knowing your kindness and your gentleness.” Qualities he had no use for anymore. Having known so little of these traits in her short life, it was only natural that she valued them so highly in others.
Mine must have died along with her; I’ve been downright hostile to Lucinda. And whatever the woman’s motivation, she’d done nothing but try to take care of him.
Lucinda found him outside now, lost in his thoughts, and made some inane remark about blue spruce, to which he said nothing. He still wasn’t used to being around another human being after months of isolation. Certain things were expected: focusing attention on the present, rather than letting his thoughts wander where they would... the niceties of polite discourse. I ought to say something to her about last night. But what?
She was lovely; he couldn’t deny that. More conventionally pretty than Elly… and she knew it. There was a certain confidence about her. This was a woman quite accustomed to getting what she wanted. Why she should want a shell of a man incapable of truly loving her, Levi couldn’t say. It wasn’t like she had no other options.
I can’t deceive her. She has to know. “Lucinda… last night, when we were together…” he began, staring off into the distance. He forced himself to look at her. Pretty though she was, his heart felt no stirrings. “I wasn’t even there. I was thinking of Elly.”
If she was surprised or offended by his blunt confession, she didn’t show it. She didn’t even seem to be hurt by it. ...Just playing her role, then?
“Listen to me,” she said.
He tried. He heard her say something about Elly being beautiful but gone, and how the wildflowers blooming on the ridge would also be gone… flowers blooming… blooming...
Elly had so loved his "blooming like a rose" assessment of her pregnancy. It broke his heart a little the night she’d asked him if he still felt that way about her, "after what happened"... as if that scum Purchas had somehow marred her comeliness. Thank God we had that one last night... he had told her she was the only woman he'd ever really wanted, and he meant it. His love for her had grown deeper over time, deeper than he ever imagined it could be. Her beauty had bloomed from the inside out, right up until…
Lucinda was talking. Saying something about the sun, and the dirt… that it doesn’t matter if it’s flowers or mushrooms or cherries, as long as something grows.
“I am here now,” she might as well have added. Yes. Yes you are. But you’re NOT MY ELLY. Levi understood the cycle of life and death. Lucinda’s words were sensible, but they seemed… rehearsed. Like a script she’d been waiting to deliver at the opportune moment. Her intention was to comfort, but… she lacked Elly’s sensitivity. When he’d been heartsick over having to part with their horses, the look in Elly’s eyes had been more of a comfort to him than anything she could have said. She FELT my pain and regret… my failure...
…and now, Lucinda was saying something about how Elly was going to have his baby, but now maybe she would instead…
...Because it doesn’t matter what grows where? My wife and child are gone, but it’s okay because... I can just replace them?
The problem was… she wasn’t exactly wrong, intellectually speaking. She could have his baby. Having a child to replace the one he’d lost, even if it wasn’t Elly’s… maybe this is God’s hand, more than McKeag’s. Levi was weak and broken, but he’d survived the winter. He was young… it could be many years before God saw fit to claim his life. He could not spend it alone, ‘wasting the dirt’ while the sun still shone… and fatherhood would give him purpose. Maybe even the illusion of joy.
Even the most beautiful rose can’t bloom forever...
“No bastards,” Elly had declared -- because she’d known firsthand the challenges they faced. It was dishonorable enough that he and Lucinda had been intimate out of wedlock, but if the sin had gotten her pregnant...
Focus... Lucinda was looking at him expectantly now… and not unkindly. She knows. She knows Elly is the one I long for -- and she actually accepts it. She wasn’t Elly, but nor was she Rebecca; Lucinda’s actions came from a desire to help him, not hurt him. She was a woman in her own right, compassionate and strong… and she deserved better. Better than a man who’s been not-living for so long. I CAN remember how to be kind. Maybe I can’t give her my whole heart, but I can give her everything else. And…
He felt a tightening in his throat. In his chest. It hurt, watching the buds of spring attempt to replicate the blooms of summer. But what else were they to do?
...I think I can say goodbye to you now, Elly. I have to. It’s the only way I can do this. I’ll always love you, but...
Overcome with sudden emotion, he pulled Lucinda into a hug. She hugged him back tight – misinterpreting, perhaps, but… God help him, it did feel nice, having a woman in his arms again, soft and warm… the scent of her hair as sweet as the sunshine. She’s not Christian. She can’t even read the Bible. But that can be remedied…
…Was that the reason, then? Elly was merely the woman to get him here, a vessel to bring him to Lucinda and change her life? And to help in the mission of his new friends, forging a peaceful co-existence between the whites and the Indians… his contribution could begin with this union of a white and a half-breed. It didn’t offer a satisfactory explanation, or justice... but there was none to be had, nor was Levi owed either of those things. They were all part of a larger plan that he was not meant to understand. He had been given a new role to fill, and he had to find his way back to the land of the living to do so. If he couldn’t do that… it was no better than pulling that trigger, in the end. He had to try. He had to...
I will do it. I will marry her. In time, perhaps I will even learn to love her.