Beech Please


yi-min_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Beech Please
Synopsis A compulsory accord is still an accord. Where there's a knife, there's a way.
Date January 19, 2020

Miller Residence, Providence

A beechnut rolls over the hardwood floor of Zachery's living room. It tumbles into the shadow underneath a leather couch, barely making it out of the light before it's followed by a flurry of black and white feathers and snapping beak.

Alf the magpie sticks his entire head and body down against the ground and scrambles to grab the nut, emerging victorious and wrapping a talon around his prize to start pecking it into smaller pieces.

"Come, now." Zachery, slouched over in a spot of early morning sun where he's seated at the kitchen table that overlooks the open plan living room, eyes the bird. "You can do better than that."

He looks almost like normal - there's patches of decidedly less-than-smooth skin still on the edges of his ears, blotched around his face, and dotting his forearms and hands. A small pile of beechnuts lies just in front of him, still in their green, spiky husks.

This is the first time he's spent longer than five minutes outside the home's only bedroom in a week, and he looks it - there's a dark fleece blanket still draped around his shoulders, shirt and sweats and stubble. Certainly not how he'd have preferred to present himself for most of his life, but, well. Here we are. Times change.

Besides, apart from Alf, he's alone. This is fine.

Not as alone as he might feel. Or hope.

The familiar figure that quietly clears the far threshold to the living room is a world apart from Zachery in every possible manner and aspect. Him, with his blotches and blemishes, silhouette misshapen by the bulk of his blanket, dappled in sunlight from the glass pane by his head.

And then there’s Yi-Min, for of course it is her, as casually unobtrusive as always— her approaching sliver of a shape indistinguishable at first from the deep, hazy redoubts of lingering gloom pooled into the dustiest corners of the room, not quite dispelled by an immature sun.

Even with her little form thus melded into that state of half-light, Yi-Min gives off the clear appearance of having been up for a while. The pinpoint of calmness settled behind her eyes speaks of her lighthearted curiosity regarding the sound of clattering.

"Making friends?" is her opening question, gaze following the fate of the beechnut as it unfolds before her. How times change, indeed.

"No," comes an answer back from Zachery, lightning-quick. He lets his face fall with a sigh breathed out through the nose, before he straightens his spine and lifts his one-eyed gaze - allowing her to see that he's bothered to put the other eye in today, at least. "Making my own entertainment," he corrects. "Or I would be, if he could catch."

Alf lifts his head too, throwing the last of his snack down his throat before turning it to peer toward Yi-Min, then back to Zachery, beady eyes expectant after a pattern had been set.

A pattern of snack.

"I'm well enough to work normal hours today, I think," Zachery continues, without looking at the creature that is most definitely not his friend, reaching blindly to fidget with the beechnut husk by one of his hands, but maintaining eye contact with Yi-Min. "If we're on schedule, I suggest you go home for a few hours."

Yi-Min meets Alf's peering with a restful glance of her own, one raised into thoughtful focus by the bird's obvious attraction to the lure of snacktime. There is an aura of an overseer's remoteness to both this and the look she levels at Zachery after this, though it lacks her characteristic chill.

In its place is something a little stranger than a simple lack would be. A mild imprint of warmth from her, as slight as the rays of light cohering in strength beyond the walls. Aloofness already layers across it—as finely as a sure, silken curtain— but more and more this feels born only of convention as opposed to current emotion.

Mostly though, there is just some surprise. Zachery had never suggested that she leave early before, sardonically or otherwise.

"It is good to know that you feel better." That is genuine, and feels so. "…Yes, I suppose I could do this. Why?"

Zachery's mouth opens — and then nothing comes out. He was not prepared for this question. "Because you've had to take over my work for days," leaves him anyway, bluntly, a second later. "I'd tell Doctor Allen the same thing except, well."

That's a little more complicated. At least neither of them are chained up right now.

He drops the husk back onto the table and braces himself to get up, stiffly and with one foot still swollen. His jaw sets - teeth gritting - somewhat stilted movements making it all too evident that the pain from the beginning of this month still lingers.

The sun's rays still hitting his side, he leans a hand against the fridge and pulls it open to peer at its contents. "I promise not to burn the place down while you're gone." Said with just a smidge of humour in his voice — a smidge that's gone when he adds, "On purpose."

"Sometimes I only wish that you could."

It may not be the response Zachery had been expecting, but it's the one that leaves Yi-Min anyway with a faint touch of wistful wryness in turn, even as she watches the stiffness of his movements.

The other thing induces silence from her for a moment longer, leaving Alf's muffled movements and scratchings to fill in the background.

"I thank you. It… does us well to be in a shape to preemptively avoid mistakes, given that the deadline we share draws near." A commendation of wisdom from Yi-Min, rather trite-sounding. So the words go, but the curious slowness to her tone indicates that maybe, just maybe, there is more substance in there yet left unspoken. But whatever that implication may be,

"There is still jin yin hua remaining if you would like me to make some tea."

There is something uneasy in the way that Zachery holds himself — in the way tension enters his brow and in the way he stays heavily leaning on that fridge with one hand planted on its front, the other clamped onto the side of his neck before it slides down and idly pulls the blanket tighter around himself.

Uneasy, and tired. And possibly hungry, considering he opts to reach into the fridge before ever answering, pulling out a half finished jar of pickles and swinging the door shut.

He doesn't speak again until he's seated, dropping heavily back into the chair he'd claimed before. The jar lands on the table with a glassy thunk, still held, and the slack in his posture does a poor job of matching the uncertainty with which he looks to Yi-Min again. Studying her face in particular before saying, "This is awfully civil."

Yi-Min notes the extra buildup of tension in the way Zachery is holding himself. It's hard to miss, given that she'd already had her eye on the pain harrying him just a minute ago.

Despite this, she doesn't seem to feel the need to acknowledge any of it explicitly. While Zach is busy inside the fridge, she meanders nearer to the window as though drawn by the gentleness of the light, allowing a single stripe of sunlight to drape across her form at last.

"Why shouldn't it be? You haven't yet done anything else that would warrant stabbing you up again." It's a joke. Probably. While she says this without a single waver in inflection, her eyes take on a look to them that is at once relaxed and shrewd in feel.

"Now. Would you like me to make this tea, or no."

There's some give to Zachery's voice when he answers, without pause, "Go on, then." As though he's allowing her an indulgence. "Why don't you make me some breakfast while you're at it."

It's an offhand comment, spoken as though the very notion is ridiculous. But while there's a steady measure of confidence within the mockery, the rest of him does not communicate it very much at all — as he sinks closer and lower into that table, his hands meet at the back of his neck, back bent, gaze cast downward. "I've been meaning to speak to you about… that."

There's a screech from down below — Alf is displeased and would very much like the beechnuts still on the table, please. Two seconds later and he's jumped and flapped his way onto the table, eyeing an unmoving Zachery and the partially shelled husks.

Zachery's disparaging answer to her notwithstanding, Yi-Min does not seem particularly inclined to move from her new spot immediately. She even closes her eyes for a brief space, holding herself so still as to appear similar to a statue bathed in light, content to drink in what finite warmth the dawn has to offer.

When it comes down to it, she is nothing if not patient. She waits for Alf's rekindled clamoring to die down again, or at least lapse enough for her to comfortably interpose a short word in.

Which she does, presently and amenably enough. "Yes?"

Zachery's attention returns to the bird with a short-lived sneer in response to the noise that was made. But. There are more important things requiring his attention. And so, with minimal movement on his part, he flicks the beech nuts away and onto the floor, husk and all, and watches as Alf gives a bop of his fanning tail and follows the snacks down with a flick of wings.

"When all of this is over," Zachery starts again, eye snapping to Yi-Min. Even if he's still vaguely curled into himself over the table, his words leave him a little sharper now. Impatient amidst the stillness of his posture, a tension that refuses to leave him just yet. "Whatever 'this' ends up being. Assuming we walk free. What are we to each other, then?"

In that soft, directed glow of sunlight, Yi-Min still doesn't move, even when she very gradually opens her eyelids again over the space of the next few moments. Her gaze remains lidded, angled thoughtfully downwards as a clear sign of having acknowledged his question, giving the impression of a figure that seems placid and yet suddenly quite small.

"This depends, I think, mostly on you," she states more quietly than before. "Your perceptions of me, and of the actions I have taken against you. And most importantly, your intent."

In the colorlessness of her voice lies the smallest, steadiest, oldest reminder of the warning that it could contain.

Could, but presently does not.

"My intent," Zachery shoots back sharply, dragging himself upright again, "is to have my agency back. The only way I can do that is to have you believe my intent is not to let this month — this fucking wreck of an arrangement—"

He stops, the volume of his voice having risen to a height he's only just now becoming aware of. His shoulders come up beneath the blanket, before he sighs them back down again, sitting otherwise still.

"— Colour my perception of you and your actions extremely negatively." He continues a little calmer, but tension shows in the stare he fixes on Yi-Min's form. "Even if it does - and how couldn't it, why wouldn't I simply pretend? How would you prove intent?"

Mud under the bridge. All of this is expected. That's a concession Yi-Min offers up to Zachery, not in direct words, but in the marginally lowered slope of her shoulders as she surveys him in the style of a mildly curious cat.

"Intent is a funny thing," she observes without hurry, as though it were a reminiscence— one that is self-aware without quite reaching a point of bitterness. "You are right. There is nothing I could do to stop you from pretending. And yet, it has been my hope that we may begin by becoming honest with each other. There is… enough to contend with." Enough knives for everybody's backs.

The next breath she draws in feels simultaneously gentle and clinical. Zachery’s tension is met by continued contemplation. "We can start with me. I don't expect your negative perception of me to change. At the same time, I don't believe you ever actually asked me why I did all these things." It's not technically phrased as a question, but the notion is ingrained somewhere in there nonetheless.

What had his assumptions been?

"Does it matter?" Zachery answers and questions all at once, leaning back and stretching his uninjured leg forward. As if he'd sprawl if he wasn't on a simple kitchen chair.

Like he doesn't even really care at all. See? Elbow lifted up onto the chair back.

Except for the fact that when he looks away to watch Alf struggle to rip more innards from the beechnut husk, he watches a little more closely than is perhaps necessary. "You knew I was working for Adam, by extension, at least, and you were in an excellent position to squeeze some more information out of me about who else might be in the same position as I was. Am." He pauses, just a beat. "Was." Probably. Most likely.

"It does. Because if you actually know what it is I want, that is a huge step towards your answer of how you can get out of this, and how you can get me to be content with leaving you alone."

It's extremely plainspoken even for Yi-Min, who sounds at this point as though she is trying to explain things to a slow schoolchild.

The alternative is even simpler. Occam's razor. With an actual razor, probably.

"Why not just tell me, then?" Once again, it's another question that leaves Zachery. "Instead of dangling it in front of me like I'm supposed to…"

He stops himself, brow knitting and hands balling into fists before he relaxes them again. Without looking at her, he continues, half-sneering at some niggling thought in the back of his mind. "Supposed to beg for it. Or something - I don't know - why did you?" The words leave him with no energy, like he's only saying them like he's supposed to. "Why did you torture me? Why are you still here? Why are you doing any of this? Why are you feigning… common courtesy or…"

Again, he stops. Gaze unfocusing, he manages one more word, in a disconnected shade of calm. "Sorry."

"Because you have never asked. Because even when I have tried to be straight with you, you have rebuffed me at every single opportunity. I did not want to inflict torture on you, and I never have. It was my last resort, and it came after you gave me one hundred avoidant answers."

The hundred and first time, Yi-Min had had enough.

There is no displeasure evident from Yi-Min as she lays out these words: just a solitary, somber shadow beneath the muted steel of her expression. "You finally want me to tell you why I have done what I have? Why I am still here in this hole, with you? Then shall it be so. Everything I have ever done has been for the sake of preserving the lives of those whom I love. This is it. This is the entirety of my goal. Then and now." No, that’s really it.

It's an explanation that is as coolly set out before them both as it is clear. No plea for forgiveness, no moralizing diction.

Only a bare accounting of what is.

"I have never feigned anything with you. Not this 'courtesy,' and not anything else; not that I suspect you would listen. All I have ever wished for with you is open communication, and it is a door that you keep closing."

For having shown complete disinterest in listening before, Zachery seems to - at the very least - be trying now. Sinking slowly closer into the table until his arms are folded over one another, he seems a small amount of exhaustion away from resting his head right atop them.

But apparently, watching Yi-Min takes precedence. Studying her face, her body language, and yet more beyond.

The tension's left his face and voice both when he decides on, apparently, an unhurriedly spoken compromise of sorts. "The hinges on my end might be a little rusted."

Yi-Min's face and body language reveal about as much as they always do. Which is to say: not much beyond what he chooses to read into the mood of stillness that permeates her entire being. The way her gaze rests on him as though from someplace far removed, light and tranquil and deeply penetrating all in comparable measure.

"When our situation is over, what I want from you follows naturally from what I just said. If still you harbor anger for me for my actions, then be it so. I will tell you now that I care not for myself. Turn your anger, in the form of whatever retribution you may wish for everything that has happened to you, onto me. Perhaps our relationship heals. Perhaps you kill me. Que será, será. But harm anybody I am close to, and you shall not wake up the morning after."

This is getting about as explicit as Yi-Min can possibly make it, at this point.

Zachery's eye stays aimed where it was, his face seemingly - in twitches and smallest of movements - unable to settle on any one expression. It switches between what looks to be the beginnings of confusion, frustration, disapproval, maybe a hint of fascination until…

Until finally, he just laughs. A wheeze, a giving up. Letting his attention slide away, down to the magpie where it still stands, pecking away at the husk.

With the previous subject apparently cleared up, he asks, simply, "How about that tea?"

There is a sudden visible eddy of coldness inside Yi-Min demeanor, as though some internal sluice gate had been lowered out of sight, and her eyes take on a sheen like that of black ice— a gloss of the smoothest, darkest calm.

In the next moment, she is gone from her lazy perch by the sunlit window.

The blade of a long knife pricks into the skin just above Zachery's sternum, pressing suggestively into that pit of soft, delicate flesh, held there from beneath by Yi-Min in a seemingly extremely relaxed grip.

"I would suggest," she says pleasantly. "That you forget about the tea for just a moment."

The movement elicits Alf to hopskitter away and to take flight, into the living room.

Zachery glances down, and then up. Whatever amusement was on his face yet lingers on his lips in a tired, mirthless echo of some emotion already past, before it fades and he slowly - ever so slowly - raises a hand as if simply having it hover near Yi-Min's might urge the blade away.

"All I want," he starts too calmly for how controlled his breathing is at the moment. "Is to be past this. I don't care about harming anyone. All I care about is for this be over, and to get some sleep, and not to hurt, and to speak to people freely, and maybe to rebuild some semblance of a normal life."

He swallows, something about those last words slanting his eyebrows uncomfortably. Time to move on. "I know trust may seem a strange thing to lean on in this moment, but it's the only one I can offer."

These are not the words Yi-Min had expected, but they are words that she accepts.

Schlipppp, goes her knife back into a sheathe sewn into the anterior of her belt. As the gleam of the blade disappears from sight, so, too, does the long shimmer of admonition from her gaze.

Some of her wintriness lingers on in her posture, but it is transmuted into something at least marginally softer in the space of the long, long pause before she speaks up again. "I understand. For what it is worth," if that is anything, "know that I am sorry, too." Sorry, one can assume, that this path is the one that came into being, out of all the paths possible to them.

"Go upstairs and rest for a while, yet. I shall bring something up to you." For some of that hurt, maybe, as long as they are on that topic. It is said quietly, even a little bit kindly, but in a way that does not indicate tolerance for argument.

Sitting still for a moment longer, Zachery watches Yi-Min draw back before he starts to rise slowly from his seat. The movements are awkward, not least of all because of the still injured foot. The fact that he doesn't look at her when he notes one last thing before he leaves the kitchen probably speaks of something else. Something a little more cautious. Maybe something learned.

"I'm going back to work starting at nine thirty. The sooner we can ensure everything can go as planned, the better."

The matter-of-fact silence that emanates from Yi-Min's back, already turned away from him towards where the empty tea kettle sits waiting, signals her acquiescence.

That was something they could agree on.

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