astor_icon.gif emily_icon.gif

Scene Title Courage
Synopsis On an ordinary day at work, Emily finds herself accosted by a strange man with an unbelievable secret to share. And a favor to ask, besides.
Date July 1, 2019

Governor's Island, NYC Safezone: Fort Jay

All kinds of people come to SESA's public spaces. Filing aide requests, seeking SLC-E legal advice, reporting unusual activities or concerns. There's even a kiosk where you can file for a free SLC-E test kit, if you're willing to hurdle consent paperwork. There are cost quotas to consider, privacy to maintain.

Astor Loukas is not here for any of those reasons.

Astor cuts a strange figure in the spacious room. Despite the motley diversity of different people here, civilians from all walks of life and agents from all kinds of departments, he manages to look slightly out-of-place. His shoulders have widened out from a (mostly) proper diet and Delia's steadfast care, no heroin, only a modest amount of highly toxic replacement drugs of dubious origin. But still he holds himself like a skeleton from a grim novel. His wuthering height is slightly stooped, his expression flat as he turns his head this way or that. He has already told the greeter that he is waiting for somebody two times, impatient despite the fact that he probably…


know better. #oracleproblems.

Oh but here she comes. His eyes cut to the third set of elevator doors and then ping open the next moment, gasping out a full load of lunchbreakers. Like the existing patrons of the lobby, they are all different ages, genders, races, one fellow in business casual kevlar, a couple of secretaries in skirts or trousers. But he zeroes in on the intern, who seems to be juggling several personal belongings in her haste to beat the worst of the stampede. Apparently, that isn't yet: the worst of the stampede.

Get out the door, get on the ferry, get on the bus. There was a tight window for each task, and if she missed any of them in the order that needed to be done, she was stuck on the island and wouldn't get her errands run over lunch like she meant. As it was, she was already cutting it close.

Emily Epstein steps to the side of the traffic to fuss with her shoulderbag that is arguably too small to be fitting the amount of things it currently has in it, and into which she is trying to shove a small notepad and pen while extracting her phone. The waves of the long, thin skirt she wears today ripple as she jostles the bag roughly, the angle of her wrist adjusted so she can peer past the dress-shirt cuff peeking from under the sleeve of her pale cardigan.

Okay. “Okay, good.” she says to no one but herself as she finally gets everything in order, adjusting the lay of the bag's strap on her shoulder as she looks up and across the lobby, plotting her path through the crowd to get her out the door quickly. Her gaze is like a thrown stone, skipping and settling in equal parts as she makes note of not just her course, but the people nearby.

It settles for a moment in Astor's direction, long enough for his figure to register

and then it moves on from him, along with the rest of her. Feet clad in practical flats sweep her path forward, heading for the door and the sun-dappled courtyard that awaits beyond.

It's the strangest, most disconcerting thing, to see someone who has been gone from your life for decades, out of time, out of place. And for that recognition to close locks on your heart, settle a laser point in your brain.

And for them to look right through you. Then past you. As if you were a pane of glass, an interchangeable face in the crowd. But of course he is. He is a stranger in a public building, loitering in a lobby. "Bye," Astor says to the greeter, who keeps trying to help him. She looks — suitably concerned when he beelines after the very young, very fresh-faced intern heading out the door, and maybe she might have even done something about it, but suddenly Astor is calling out after the girl: "Emily Epstein."

Emily is a real common name, unlike his. The surname seems like an appropriate specifier.

Despite that he's rushing, Astor isn't very good at looking urgent. It might make him look slightly less threatening, when he is otherwise a very big tall dude lumbering after her in a bad guy black coat, his slightly overgrown hair snaring strange curls above his eyes. "Do you have a minute for a time-traveler?"

No one looks over, incidentally. There's a lot of noise in here, by strict '''coincidence.''' If anyone had been listening, it would still be a sufficiently peculiar event to warrant a look.

Common or not, she still would have turned at the sound of her name, the first one alone. Emily is her name, after all. Epstein, on the other hand…

She catches herself in that absent half-turn, cycles through the possible reasons someone could be yelling for her specifically, and here of all places. Her gaze settles on the man heading for her, sees immediately he's neither a coworker or some other figure of authority, and determines in a split second that he's the sort of person she does not want to head back to chat with. Her hand tightens around the strap of her bag, her thoughts branching forward into different paths she could take— and then he calls out again.

She jolts to a stop, her renewed steps suddenly lacking a clear destination. Her eyes stay on the doors for just a moment longer, but the rest of her has already started to turn back Astor's way, wondering…

What the hell is this guy's problem?

Emily observes Astor from afar, her face a blank, if calculating slate. While she hasn't come to a decision about him, she eventually lifts her head in a sign of acknowledgement to what he shouted.

“I'm kind of in a rush,” she shares, stiff in a way that goes beyond formal. Her guarded tone turns with slight curiosity and accusation both as she asks, “Who the—” and cuts herself short with a glance to their surroundings. The conversational tension swearing tends to invoke might draw a look, one that his shouting about time travel somehow didn't. “Who are you, exactly?”

The guarded look is one that holds strangers at arms length or beyond, rather than one that questions the sanity of people declaring themselves a time traveler. He has that going for him, at least.

Sanity is overrated in these insane times, according to this time-traveling prophet. It's worth noting that all the times he experiences tend to be: insane. He's catching up to Emily now, covering the space between them in long, slightly stilted strides.

Astor is half a foot taller than she is. But he doesn't stand too close, so she only has to crane her head a few degrees in order to see his face. There's more meat on Astor's bones these days, even his cheeks. But he still has formidable eyebrows, reinforced genetically from both sides of his parentage, and a hazel stare with a lot of green in them, sphynxy, even when they are focused primarily on just the usual three dimensions of space. "I know you from another timeline," Astor tells her. This time, his voice is somewhat modulated, which happens to coincide with a few pedestrians walking by. Those people are probably about to go and make the ferry that Emily's at increasing risk of missing. "You used to take care of me when I was small."

Astor is half a foot taller than she is. But the way he says it doesn't seem like a joke, his expression flat and unironic. Or maybe just frank. His eyes remind her of someone, probably; a niggling phantom of recognition, haunting the edge of her thoughts, even before they are fully realized.

"I need to ask you for a favor," he says. Astor has been doing that a lot. Lately.

This all is getting to be a bit much, and how much the muchness of it is reflects in the cracks that form in the hard, ice blue of Emily’s eyes. She can tell he figures honesty is the best way to get what he wants, just as much as she can see that being honest, or at least open, isn’t entirely in his nature because he’s not really answered her question. She looks past him, back to the elevator. Lance probably still isn’t taking lunch for another 30 minutes, Emily. she has to remind herself, and then look back to the person before her to weigh them for herself.

She wonders anyway if this is what it feels like when Lance faces Cash — at least on some level. Right now, she’s experiencing an intense cognitive dissonance that comes from Astor’s use of the phrase when I was small to refer to how he knows her, when he is older than her. To her best knowledge, though, she doesn’t know any black-haired children that would even fit this man’s description. That realization eases the weight of indecision that’s kept her rooted to the spot, suspicion crawling back in again about who he is.

Maybe he’s lying? As she poses the idea to herself, the passing resemblance in him catches her attention again. She looks him up and down one more time, weighing his presence and his request before she comes to an abrupt decision.

“That’s nice,” is what Emily pronounces, politely but with an air of finality to it. She turns, joining the flow of people heading in and out of the lobby for the various reasons they might at this hour, her arm extended out forearm-first to hold the door open and head outside when it’s her turn to pass through.

It's weird when people don't believe in their alternate universe experiences, and entirely inexplicable. Astor and his dramatic deficit of empathy stare at her tiny figure as she muddles off toward the door, contemplating other ways that he can get what he needs with half his mind, while the rest of his mind has already resolved that this sure is Emily Epstein.

(This is actually more just like: how everyone is, when Astor drops onto their hair like an uninvited spider and requests favors, while absent-mindedly ignoring their questions.)

"Eileen Gray was my mom," Astor says. 'Eileen' is a commonplace enough name that no one looks up at that, either. Astor knows better than to name her in full in this world, where she was last known a terrorist, questionably returned from the dead, doing. Who knows what. "She's not married here," Astor adds. The mundanity of his words blurs into the soup of ambient conversation. So many people come into this lobby, filing reports for missing SLC-Expressives, subscribing to research reports, appealing for resources. So often because of their mothers, their broken marriages, the ones they love. Unlike his time traveling comment, these words are lost not out of some immaculately timed lapse to background noise, but because they are so ordinary.

Astor hasn't moved to pursue her. That would be creepy. (And you know Astor Loukas, he's never creepy!) (Though perhaps to Emily's point: she does not know Astor Loukas, and who the Hell is Astor Loukas?)

(He's the man who says:) "Do you still love her here?"

Emily never does quite make it to the door, does she. The name Astor invokes cuts her internal engines off, and she’s lucky her feet take her out of the path of direct foot traffic before she stops, turning to look over her shoulder much more slowly this time.

He wasn’t taking chase, which she’d have suspected to mean maybe he was lying if he wasn’t desperate enough to follow after her and continue to make his plea. She’d planned on writing him off if he’d stayed rooted to the spot he was. Those plans lay in tatters, as do most of her plans on any given day.

Finally, she finishes the slow turn so she’s better facing him, the question he poses bringing a tightness to her chest. Of all the people… Emily wonders to herself in silence. She’s sufficiently diverted off course, now, the impending departure of the ferry forgotten. No, she’s taking in the look of a man who just might be Eileen Gray’s son — and makes sense of what she was seeing before but didn’t understand. Instead of answering his question, she asks of him, “What’s your name?” with a heaviness to it, a touch of some opaque emotion nearly dragged to the surface before sinking under its own weight.

“And what is it you think I can do for you?” is added with only a touch of reluctance. Given the givens, it seems like she’ll at least hear him out before turning him down now.

"Astor," says Astor. "After I lost my parents, I took a different last name."

Of course, he knew that would work. Of course. But somehow, also, he hadn't; there's a difference between knowing and knowing. He is obscurely relieved.

Slowly, Astor starts to walk toward the door, leaning ponderously into one step, then the other. He lacks his mother's ethereal float, and his father's subtle cunning of limb, always slightly inefficient in his movements, at odds with his body, at least, right up until a burst of violence. Symptom of a chronically dysfunctional brain, maybe. But he doesn't care, pushing through the door and out into the sunshine. This time, he holds the door open for her, politely waiting for her slighter and better-coordinated frame to get through. He then releases the handle just in time for it to nearly smack the next pedestrian on the face.

Not intentional. He just: doesn't care.

And the difference in how Astor treats what he cares about and what he doesn't is marked, to say the least. He moves immediately for a quieter space of courtyard, looking to and fro to check for obvious eavesdroppers, his eyes slightly unfocused. There's a bench around a bend of path, amid the groomed garden. "Can we sit here to talk? This is safe."

Emily tracks Astor's movement the same she does before, even if she also suffers from an internal lightening of self due to relief. Hers is for a distinctly different reason, one that releases her from wondering if Astor might be the son of the Eileen Gray she knew. It… didn't seem likely, at least. (How many alternate realities were there, anyway?) (At least more than one where Eileen and Gabriel were married, and who knew how many others where she apparently helped look after their son?)

Maybe some tangling of lives were perpetually bound to happen, no matter the timeline.

Before Emily can disappear into that line of thought, she follows Astor out the door and into the sunlight with only slightly less trepidation than before. “I'm sorry,” she says while she scans the front walk, her gaze sweeping to him at the end of the statement. “About your parents.” Because losing one's family was terrible, no matter how obscurely one came to be able to reference that fact.

Following along with him, she keeps a polite distance from his side, hand still on the strap of her bag. When he suggests they sit, she lets her face tilt in the bench's direction as a sign of acquiescence, coming to stand next to it. She waits to sit, not entirely comfortable enough to just yet. Her attention tracks back his way in short order. “Tell me; how— old was I where you come from? How long have you been here? Did you…” The taper off is brief as she cycles down through the scenarios of world-travelers she was aware of. Only one of them involved time travel too. “Did you come back with Lene and them?”

"Yes," Astor answers. "She was with us." He's a bit self-centered, you see. It takes him a minute. But he didn't go with Lene in his frame of mind, Lene came with him; and mostly, she just happened to be there.

She hadn't been doing well. He cares more than he did about holding doors open for strangers, but at best, that's a lapsing pause. Astor is generally speaking, bad at being close with anyone.

Astor sits down heavily on the bench, leaning his back against the wood slats running horizontal. Squints around after that, his face defaulting to a sour look of disapproval. Maybe he was born an old man, or maybe it was really his parents' death that did a number on him. "Where I come from, you died when I was a teenager, along with most of the people that you know. Before that, you took care of me a lot while I was growing up. You had a cat there, too." It's an absent-minded slip of tongue, probably; he hasn't been stalking her. (Has he been stalking her?) "I think he helped you with the pain, until you found a cure.

"I don't remember if you had your thirtieth birthday, because we didn't do birthdays anymore."

This should not require a great explanation, but Astor isn't sure. His thoughts are unfocused, wandering. He's looking out over the courtyard, the paths winding further through in the distance. A secretary seems to be breaking up with her girlfriend over yonder. "I've been here for nine years. Wasting my time, if you ask any of the others." This may not be true; the travelers he came with had always tolerated his bullshit more than they should. But they: probably shouldn't have tolerated it, and should've called him out more often.

That shift of importance to himself doesn't go unnoted, a crinkle appearing along Emily's forehead as she patiently waits for whatever additional explanation to his being is forthcoming. And when it does come, in the form of hearing she's died where he came from, she looks like she could use that seat next to him. But all too quickly, he has that slip and her hand leaves the back of the bench before she can sit, suspicion of him returning.

Okay, it's not like she goes out with her cat, so.

The shade of the tree the bench sits under shifts, crackles of sunlight making its way through as a breeze winds through the leaves. Emily decides she isn't going to leave, if only because the context of what he says has cleaved her of legs to walk away with— metaphorically speaking.

Lene said when she saw me, I wasn't— that I didn't need my crutches. she remembers. That other self of hers had felt so distant and unreal, she hadn't ever gone back to remember her and wonder if they had shared the same history, to a certain extent. And as for the pain he mentioned … well, she imagined in a world at war, there were luxuries one went without. (After all, they’d lived through a war of their own, here.) She'd go on wondering about that other time and her other self, but Astor comes back from whatever meandering path his thoughts had taken him down. Thankfully, it lets her own distraction come off as patience.

Emily lifts her head a touch in acknowledgement of what he's said. "Is that what you're doing here now— wasting your time?" she asks, her gaze sharpening as she points out, "I'm not sure why you waited, came all the way out here," and with a wave of her hand she gestures in the direction of the ferry dock. "if you've been spying on me at home. Why not just knock, at that rate?"

Why is that people who perceive in a normal quantity of dimensions are so difficult to relate to? Astor stares at the girl. Blankly at first, still unfocused, and then apparently something processes and his very dark dark eyebrows clip down sharply over his eyes. "What?" he sounds more exasperated than he has the right to be, all things considered. "I'm not stalking you. I knew you. Considering the experiences you've had, and common knowledge, I don't think 'stalking' is the best shortcut you can take here.

"If you want me to pretend I don't know the fundamentals of who you are and where you come from, that would be lying. Lies of omission are still lies, and they hurt you before. I don't want to start that bullshit now." Either cold or grumpy, or possibly both, Astor crosses his arms over his narrow chest. His mostly-green eyes venture back out into the open spaces of the green. "I know it's new to you, this concept of losing someone who's never met you. But it's not something I encourage you to try; we both know that losing people who know you is hard enough.

"And when I'm wasting my time, I don't recruit people into it. I'm very capable of doing that on my own. Heroin was my best friend for years." Astor glances back at her again, hands tucked under his armpits. It doesn't occur to him to talk about the nature of the cure, the origin of her pain, the dates of her cat, not uninvited anyway.

“Oh, so you've been following me,” Emily ventures in bright sarcasm. “I never said stalking, that was all you.” True anger doesn't shine through in it, because for better or worse, she's curious about the vague-yet-specific things he's saying, trying hard to pay attention lest the nuance packed into them be lost. It's a game of mental Twister, one she's not had to perform since—

“Jesus Christ, you really are Eileen Gray's son, aren't you?” It's okay, Astor. She's exasperated with you too.

She might ask more about her other self if she knew him, felt comfortable enough to initiate that experience, but it currently neither feels pressing or (unfortunately) relevant. Instead, she furrows her brow in a stern period of silence, contemplating Astor himself just as much as anything he's said. She turns, arms folded—

and sits down next to him finally.

Her initial bristling has settled some, falling off her shoulders while she looks out over the water. She glances back to Astor, arm lifting from the fold over her chest to take him by the forearm near his wrist. She doesn't grab roughly, but tries to get him to turn arm over so she can see. “That must have been after I died,” Emily says absently, brow ticking into a momentary knit before everything smooths out again. “I'd have beat the shit out of you.”

She lets go, eyes tracking back up to his. “I think you probably had this conversation in your head one too many times or something,” is said with a conciliatory tip of her head, and more calm than might be expected of her given how agitated she was only moments before. “Because there's a couple key pieces of context you've missed actually telling me. Can you take it again from the top, Astor?”

Emily lets out a long, calming exhale. “Who's in danger, and how do you think I can help?” He's right— her heart is already hurting enough from other loss lately.

Astor puffs out his cheeks — which are under ordinary circumstances too hollow. He allows her to fiddle with his arm; the track marks are mostly old now. Adhesive from a single, more recent band-aid sticking to the middle part of his inner-elbow. "I haven't been following you," he says. "This is the first time I've seen you since I came to this timeline. If you like cats in both, that would make sense.

"I'm a precognitive."

It may occur to her at this time that she isn't wrong. He probably has had this conversation too much in his head. Or possibly, not enough times, given that Astor seems to be somewhat stunted in the social skills department, and imaginary practice has never been the same as performing the actual skills in vivo. "You're right. You died a long time before I got into the drugs," is definitely the most charming and kindly thing he could say, under the circumstances. "Is that the top?" he asks, studying her profile. "Is that really the context? Or do you still think I've been following you? Can't get to the rest without that.

"The truth is going to be strange enough to seem like a conspiracy as much as the product of my ability." This may not actually be true. But a precognitive's sense of necessary chronology may not be something the rest of the world is going to see eye to eye on. Astor quirks the corner of his mouth; his stare is very level. "You'd be amazed, at how often abilities can pass for the mundane machinatios of humankind."

If you can't laugh at your own jokes, what's the point, really?

There's no scoff at what Astor says, just a twitch if her brow as she latches onto a particular detail. “Are you really a precognitive,” sounds absolutely ridiculous at first until she follows it with, “because Lene had said she was too, when I first met her, when she—” was trying to avoid explaining she came from the future.

“Then again, she also didn't lead with “I'm a time traveler”, so there's also that,” Emily immediately concedes to herself with a mutter, looking off.

Changing one's mind tends to take more than a split second when it comes to repairing a damaged opinion, but she's trying. Like a cat that keeps nosing forward while the rest of its body is sunk as far as possibly away from the thing it's desperately curious to explore.

Regardless of whatever he actually is, it doesn't change the fact he's bad at his conversational pacing, she tells herself.

Then again, half the time so is she.

Emily tries not to linger long on that similarity.

“I'm following,” she offers up, because she's at least trying to, despite her impatience. A small, loud part of her wants to declare this is a waste of time, because her mind is screaming at her there's more important things to be doing, mundane and otherwise, but here Astor is talking about loss, and—

She forces herself to breathe.

The top,” Emily says with measured force, trying to keep her voice level. “would be getting to why it is you're here, at this point.” At least he can count on her to be honest about what she wants, that's something that's unchanging, even if sometimes she might beat around the bush with it as much as he currently is. (That, too, is something she would do does when she's all too aware of how wrong things could be taken if couched the wrong way.)

Emily hears his humor as he circles his next pass around the topic, arching an eyebrow. “That's funny,” she says. “I've never heard of a precognition that was exactly subtle.”

The light shifts in her eyes after the words leave her mouth, a reflection being made on what she'd just said.

He wasn't talking about himself, was he?

Astor doesn't answer, when she asks if his ability is real. His eyes crinkle slightly; perhaps the only time that a smile has actually reached them, and it's just like him, isn't it? That he'd finally experience some half-pint of joy and for it to present as ragged bemusement. He stares out at the park. "In many ways, your ability is the inverse and opposite of mine," he says, finally.

"Precognition is almost entirely passive." Astor has a wry twist to his voice when he says this; the irony is not lost to him that this is his first engagement in the world in quite some time, and that he has been… aggressive in his pursuit of it. He is: the ambulance chaser of precognitives, today. "On the other hand, yours is incredibly active. I have the potential to see anything, anywhere in this reality, in the future as we'll ever know it. But the raw overload of information, in its magnitude, regularly fucks up my circuitry. I burn out. It used to show up as seizures, and I still run that risk today. And even when I do, I can't see everything.

"You, on the other hand."

A bird flies by. Dipping stubby wings through the air, its bill out to skim a gossamer mouthful out of the sky, tiny, fleeting, there-and-gone.

In contrast, Astor's voice is a peregrine falcon dropping from the sky, a stone interrupting still water, a storm over earth. "You have the ability to talk people into doing anything you want them to do. But only as long as you believe, in true compassion, and your deepest sense of justice, that it's the right decision for them." Astor turns his eyes, so like his mother's, toward the young woman sitting beside him on his bench. "What I'm saying feels impossible, so take a minute. You'll know it's true. And that's what I'm asking you to do. I need you to use your power for me."

While Astor is entirely certain that some part of Emily will get hung up on the yet-undisclosed details of his specific request, he is also: completely certain that the young woman is going to need a moment to process this. He isn't intentionally being difficult; he's being as merciful as he ever can be.

Emily can only furrow her brow when Astor continues to nonspecifically state he knows what it is she is. (Is it what she is, or just what she can do? Questions she's never had to face for herself, despite a firm belief others are more than just their ability.) His slow wind back around the subject, pointed yet vague until it's no longer the latter, helps her prepare mentally. Maybe he knows her well enough to know she needs it.

It allows her to remain rooted in the abstract when the knowledge hits her, though nothing stops her sense of self from instantly becoming blurred at the borders of her being. Her outline is no longer clear to her, and it shows in the dilation of her pupils and the introversion of her gaze.

Inverse. Opposite. Astor sees the future. You can make the future. she cautiously reflects, testing that boundary of self. Anything you say can…

Her stomach flips, nausea clawing up her esophagus as panic takes hold. A half-dozen instant 'what ifs’ rush to the front of her mind, bowled over almost immediately by as many more. A dozen bad places, threatened by a dozen worse ones her thoughts might take her if she doesn't drop it all as hard as she can, and immediately.

“You're joking.” Emily insists, the words flying harshly away from her in a kneejerk reaction. But they lack something her insistence to Julie had held months ago:

It lacks conviction.

That realization won't dawn on Emily until much later. For now, she's automatically reacting to the panic in her system and working on shutting it down. It's a practiced reaction, though it still takes time to put into effect. She's left feeling deeply ill at ease when it's done, but acknowledges aloud, “You're not joking.” because that was an important step in the process; letting him know she'd made that mental shift.

Her hands weakly clench around the edges of her skirt and then let go, a meaningless action that does little to actually help her feel better. “I fucking know how Luke felt now,” she mutters more to herself than him, looking across the grounds without focus. “when Vader told him to search his feelings.” One hand shifts over her lap and she leans back into the seat of the bench, eyes closing. “Jesus Christ.

She's not yet moved on vocally back to demands to know just what the hell he wants, but it's surely forthcoming if he doesn't volunteer the info first.

Well Astor probably has a bad sense of humor, wherever that sense of humor is, wherever he keeps it stowed. He doesn't answer when she asks him, knowing her well enough — knowing people well enough, if only barely — to be aware that this kind of information leads to rhetorical questions. He looks at the silhouettes walking back and forth in the distance. If he were a more imaginative and empathic person, he would be imagining that her mind is racing to find evidence of her emerged gifts in recent history. But he's not, so he doesn't.

It is neither empathy nor precognition, that leads Astor to know this fundamental truth: she'll be okay. He only knows because he knows her.

And now she knows. Now, she knows the piece of her own identity that has been missing or blank for months. Now it's Astor's turn, and he owes her the explanation.

"Something big is coming."

…is not at all what Astor had meant to say, actually. "I've had the feeling ever since I came to this timeline. It wasn't in the other one. At first, I thought it was some neurological bullshit. But that's a long, long way away." His is the briefest, lapsing pause. It's not intentional, actually; he isn't intentionally doing with this narrative what he had in introducing to her her powers. He's merely… distracted. "What I need you for is — connected to that, in some small way. People have been taken. Not quite like Jacelyn," is so casual, so absent-minded.

She's about to get mad at him about that, probably. Astor continues, rubbing a thumb along the round bones of his own wrist. "Pure Earth is taking people. And I need you to force them to make a mistake. Convince them to take the wrong people."

The longer she turns over the information in her mind, the more real it begins to feel. The intangible concept becomes something more solid, taking shape. Perhaps it's a puzzle piece. Perhaps she'll figure out where it fits into her on a future day.

For now, the most Emily can do is hold it instead of rejecting it.

She doesn't drop it when Astor makes his declaration, turning to him with a sharpening of her gaze. In fact, she holds onto it all the tighter, willing to try and wield this thing — even if she has no idea how. The mention of her missing friend cuts her deep, eyes widening. The unexpected additional emotional weight of Pure Earth kidnappings is the only thing that keeps her from launching immediately into demanding if he knows where Squeaks is.

Emily weighs it out— getting involved in what is surely some act of vigilantism for the sake of gaining something in return. It gives her courage where otherwise there would be an abundance of doubt, if not in the plan, then in herself.

“If I do this,” she says slowly, the statement carrying the weight of her deliberation. “You help me— help them,” Emily corrects herself, indicating SESA with a gesture back at the nearby structure of Fort Jay. Her voice hardens. “You help them find her.”

Her brow arches high to emphasize her demand-inquiry. “Deal?”

The lanky oracle says nothing for a short while, studying her face, which is a miniature of the one he knew. Partly because she's smaller. Partly because he's bigger. Partly because he doesn't remember just right, as people are wont. Even ones with special relationships with time.


Astor's voice isn't any softer or coarser than usual. But he smiles faintly, which seems like — something.

He extends one long hand toward his younger companion. If she takes it, she'll find that he doesn't have very good circulation, his fingers rather cold and blocky-feeling on the back of hers. But he has a firm shake, the kind that symbolizes honesty.

Emily’s expression softens with relief before she accepts the shake, her own stiff. It’s earnest, unguarded, her shoulders slacking at the hope she feels — and the resignation that she now has an end of the deal to uphold before they get to that second, just-as-important part of their arrangement. “Good,” she says quietly.

Then something creeps into her expression she in her other life would have carefully carved out of her reaction to things, or at least done a much better job of hiding. Hesitation, uncertainness in her own capability. “I don’t suppose if you know what I can do you know how it is … that …”

Her gaze darts back to him, eyes at the corner as she half-folds her hands in her lap, palms up while pinching the knuckle of her middle finger with several fingertips of the opposite hand. “I mean, obviously I can do it, I just—”

This was important, couldn’t be left up to guesses. How was she supposed to know exactly where in herself she needed to speak from? (Though she can guess.) How she would know? (Though looking back, now she sees the signs.)

How could she make it happen on command?

“Th-that’s probably something I just need to figure out for myself, isn’t it,” is hastily added on to the end of it, her gaze dropping to the fold of her hands.

Astor is silent for a moment. Even with the deadened heart he has, he can feel the edges of her fear. Numb, far away. Maybe she'll regret what she's tasked herself with, in a few days from now. Maybe she will wish she hadn't hitched Squeak's fate to this star. Maybe she'll realize that there lies terrible responsibility, guilt, a vulnerability. Maybe she'll realize that, if she doesn't save Squeaks then, this fledgling relationship with a time-traveler that was good and precious in another timeline.

All of that takes a terrible kind of courage. A terrible privilege and an equally awful burden.

A few hours ago, he took a dose of the drug that Emily's sister stole for him. He pulls on the tightened focus of his power now, closing his eyes for a long moment, digging deep. Reopening them. "If you sit out here for another half hour," he says slowly, eventually, "you'll be late for work, but your supervisor won't notice because a new call in about inland fire hazard assessments. In twenty minutes, it'll rain a little," there are but two or three cotton skein clouds in the sky, peeking past the leafy boughs of tree. "And you'll see a rainbow over there."

Astor points with one bony finger, an ill-begotten reaper in the wrong world, one that's bursting full of vivid green and pink and blue spring-time color, as he hails the sky for the opposite sort of phenomenon that a reaper ought to hail. "A woman will come sit with you. She'll mention the annoying as fuck week she's had with someone she loves. The things she can't find the courage to say. You'll know what to do. And I think you'll feel better for a couple of hours."

He shuffles his hand into his pocket, extricates a scrap of paper. His cellphone number scrawled across it. Already, Astor's voice sounds scratchy, worn to a rasp. He is unused to this much conversation. "Text me next week?"

Emily looks up at the wrinkled scrap of paper, reaching out to take it without question. Her eyes are indicators that she’s filled with too many of them, and she’s still working on categorizing them all out. Which ones she can answer herself, even if it takes time and even if it’s hard, and which ones she needs to ask of Astor … or others. Pinching the paper between two fingers, she spreads it out on her palm with a drag of her thumb. The number looks real.

This is all real, definitely not a dream, and Astor’s last advice seeks to prove all of that. Trust me, he asks of her.

Part of her wants nothing more than to wrap her arms around his shoulders, embrace him as tight as she can for the answers he’s given her, and a clear path forward to easing her heartache. It’s more than just for her sake, though — It sounds like he’s been alone a long time. It sounds like it took a lot of courage for him to approach her. It sounds like it was brave and selfless of him to see this and want to do something about it instead of letting it stream past him, one more tragedy in the world. She wishes he hadn’t had to be alone, and face all that he has had to face thusly, even if his aloneness was at times resulting from his own nature.

But she also doesn’t know him yet, and doesn’t know that she’d be able to explain herself if Astor questioned why she was doing what she was doing. So all she does is nod. “Yeah,” she says, still mired in the moment and its various realizations.

She’ll see him again, without a doubt. And there will be time to talk more then, almost certainly.

Emily watches that point on the horizon after he leaves, waiting for the promised rainbow after the rain that hasn’t even fallen yet. She works through her compartmentalizing in silence, fingers still wrapped around the number she hasn’t put into her phone yet.

When a woman stops and asks if she can sit with her for a moment, she looks up with a small smile. “Sure,” Emily says, and watches as she folds herself down onto the chair, digging through a large bag for something she’s misplaced. By the tears stinging at the corner of her eyes, the teen wonders if it’s a to-go pack of tissues.

“Rough week?” she ventures softly.

God, and it’s only Monday,” the woman sighs in exasperation, and she gives a small, broken laugh. She turns to Emily with a smiled apology as she tries to get herself back together.

And then seemingly out of nowhere, raindrops pelt them both from above.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License