Dark Roast


emily4_icon.gif zachery2_icon.gif

Scene Title Dark Roast
Synopsis Emily and Zachery continue their time-honored tradition of roasting each other over coffee while glancing through each other's life troubles. This episode includes a declaration of war.
Date January 25, 2021

Beans 'n' Bagels

The sharp inhale Emily takes with her eyes closed brings with it the scent of coffee and good bread. These smells should be welcoming, warming, but she's having trouble getting that far. Right now, they're just a reminder of something that feels at this point like a lifetime ago.

When she opens her eyes, the rest of Sheepshead Beans and Bagels has a blue tinge to it, thanks to the sunglasses she wears even though it's indoors, and even though the sky outside is overcast. She stands in line next to Zachery Miller without the mobility aid he saw her with last. It seems she's doing better than before.

On an upward trend.

So are her eyes as she regards him and the scar on the side of his scalp in the edge of her periphery. "How's your head?" she asks, shoving down the feeling of it being wrong to be here. It's the closest she's been back to campus since she's been herself again, and she no longer lives several blocks from here. It was a deviation from her usual loops to end up here.

But if she and Zachery were to grab coffee anywhere, of course it would be here.

"What? Oh, ah—" Zachery glances at Emily with all the distant, sluggish regard that tends to accompany waiting in line for coffee for the umpteenth time.

"It's fine," he manages, looking back toward the front. "For the most part, it's fine. I've been forgetting about it, actually, at least until I attempt a combthrough in the morning and rake the…" He motions vaguely upward to the arc of new hair growth over his ear with one hand and half a shrug. "Another month or so of growth and no one'll be the wiser."

Without pause, he fires back in deadpan, "How's your everything, then? Smiles in here a little too bright today?"

"Absolutely." Emily's voice is so dry it sheds flakes. "I'm prepared in the event I end up running into any little fucking rays of sunshine this morning."

One could venture she needs that coffee. Anyone who knows her well enough might see it for the deflection it is.

She slips her hands into the pockets of her peacoat while they wait in line. "I'm glad to hear it," she segues back. "With how long they kept you back for when all that happened, I didn't know what to make of it." November 8th had been a long day. An American Gothic of yes, he's out of surgery, no, he's not out of recovery, no, you can't go back, no I don't know when—

"I'm a productive member of society again since the last we spoke. I got off my ass and went back to work." Her weight shifts hard to one foot and she tilts her head at nothing. "I have your wife to thank. She paved the way for me to go back without immediately being tossed back in the deep end." Emily's shoulders tip up in the tiniest of shrugs. "So I've got that going for me right now."

What she doesn't do is ask about the overarching what did 2020 do to you. At least… not yet. There's time enough for that yet.

One might mistake Zachery for having stopped listening again, the way he fails to respond to Emily's snark or the mention of his going under the proverbial knife. Still, there's something that lifts his head a little higher, and to indicate he hasn't completely zoned her out.

"That is one of her strong points at work, I hear." His words are deliberately slow as he observes the person ahead of him move, then takes a step forward. "Anticipating the needs and capabilities of others."

He, too, slips his hands into the pockets of his coat, as if the subject awards him just slightly too much restless energy to be standing here. "I still find it hard to believe you're working with her, sometimes. How can a city this fucking big feel so fucking small?"

"It's beyond fucking me," Emily sighs out as she takes a step forward, all the energy of a jaded old man spitting gossip at the park rather than the sunny paragon of youth she ought to be at twenty-and-whatever now. "For all that I pretend otherwise, it still barely sits in understanding that the woman you proposed to is someone I know and work with. I know the Safe Zone isn't half the size New York used to be, but these circles of relations could stand to overlap slightly less."

A beat passes. "But if I were that fucking worried about it, I'd go on and move to Kansas City already." She steps forward when the line moves again. All the man stepping away from the register had wanted was a drip coffee. Good for them. They're next after this.

"Are you still at Raytech?" Emily wonders.

"I aaam," Zachery fires back his answer with a seemingly undue amount of cheer, too loudly and with too wide of a sudden grin aimed at no one in particular. It finds no home in the top half of his face, and melts itself into his words with the sincerity of a gifted, store-bought casserole. "And I'd like to waste precisely zero words on that, thank you. I'm paying for your coffee, by the way," he is quick to add. "What do you want?"

The tone strikes Emily odd, bringing her to half-turn her head back in Zachery's direction. The fuck? But his weirdness elaborates itself in that he doesn't want to elaborate on it, doesn't it. With a small shake of her head, she clarifies, "I was just going to say make Richard's life difficult for me, but hey."

She'll drop it.

Her eyes flit up to the specials on the board, finding none of them are great. "Just…" It's hard to choose. Tastes have all been great, but her tastebuds seem like they've changed. Earthy no longer bothers her the way it used to. But she doubts they'll have green tea here like they do in Yamagato Park. "Chai with vanilla? Large."

After a chuckle badly hidden in an exhale, Zachery nods in the direction of an empty table in the corner. "Go sit, then."

He doesn't take long — only Emily's order needs to be repeated, since his own coffee is slid across the counter the moment he steps up to it. He's been here enough times ordering the same thing, after all.

He's only just paid, grabbed both drinks and turned when he asks, loudly, "Hey Emily. Do you have a knife?"

It's a good thing she doesn't already have her drink in hand when he asks. Surely, it'd be ejected from her nose otherwise. Regardless, from her seat in the corner (they changed the seat cushions and it's a different color now which is both fine and not fine don't worry about it) she chokes anyway on absolutely nothing, eyebrows popping high over the top of her aviators.

"Could you have asked that any louder?" she counters, notably not as loudly.

Her phone is in her hand, whatever she was reading tilted at an angle. Coat still on, scarf halfway worked off. She looks perplexed, even with the widening and narrowing of her eyes hidden away.

Only now does Zachery show genuine amusement, failing to fight back a smirk as he sinks into a chair across from her and answers, "I'm pretty sure I could have."

It's almost a joke, if not for the fact that Emily is fixed with a severe look more befitting a threat.

Landing both drinks on the table, he pushes an index and middle finger against hers and sliiides it over to her side without breaking eye contact. "Would you like me to try, or would you like to answer the question?"

She accepts the drink with a cant of her head, purposeful in its slowness, as are her words. "No," Emily answers, meeting Zachery's eyes behind her sunglasses. "I'm a gun person, not a knife person." She twists the cup around without looking, letting her thumb see for her where exactly the top opens up to drink.

She peers at him more quizzically than before. "Why?"

"Because," Zachery is quick to answer, watching Emily's face as his own relaxes into a less confrontational sort of pleased. "I was too busy last month to give you this."

He pulls himself fully back to his side of the table and retrieves from his pocket a dark brown leather belt holster. It is pushed toward Emily just as the drink was, but left halfway across rather than travel all the way. A wooden handle of warm coloured juniper wood with a stripe of steel running through the middle pokes just out the back end of it.

In elegant, curly-lettered cursive pressed into the holster, Emily is told,

Don't get fucked up

"Admittedly," Zachery pauses if only to wrangle down the laugh that visibly tries to claw its way out, "when they asked me what I wanted on there, I may not have been prepared. Still," he leans back in his seat. "It holds."

A knife with which she could lash back out at a world that's done her wrong. Emily at first can only blink, aware of the knitted line of a scar on the right side of her throat more than she has been since being made whole again. A strangled sound of a laugh leaves her, too.

Of whatever she expected to happen… it was not this.

All the same, she lets go of her drink to pull the knife closer, a faint, absent-minded smile flickering into existence when she turns it to read the script worked into the leather. "I guess," she concedes with some mirth, "Now I'm a knife person."

She pulls it from the holster, running her fingertips down the etching in the steel bone of the hilt before pressing against the exposed curve on the other side to help it open. The blade doesn't spring into position, requiring a flick of her wrist to fluidly lock it open. Another faint breath of laughter leaves her as she admires it, brushing her thumb against the edge of the blade. It feels sharp enough.

Taking a moment, she finds the way it needs shifted to break its locked open position, minding her fingers extra carefully as she folds it back into place. "I'll try to make sure to use it on needlessly extra things. Like opening letters. Hopefully never need it for anything more than that."

Still, she holds the body of it in her palm, appreciative of the way it lays in her hand. She looks back up with an arch of her eyebrow. "You know this means war, right?" Emily teases with nearly deadpan humor.

Emily is watched as Zachery works the top off of his cup entirely, before turning his gaze downward to fish something else out of his pocket. Not for her, though - this time, it's a flat metal flask, cap twisted off and upended over his coffee.

"You started this. Just took me… over a year to fire back." He keeps pouring, tone airy and light. "Besides, guns are loud, they make a mess, and have you tried using one to get the peel off an apple?" Finally, the cup almost overflowing seems enough reason to lift the flask up to be stored back where it came from. "Useless."

He pours. And pours. And pours. Three seconds of pours from Zachery, nearly as many blinks come from Emily. "I'm sorry, is it happy hour and no one bothered to tell me?" She's sarcastic, of course. Rhetorical.

It is not happy hour, after all.

"At least I'm the one with the deadly weapon— s— now," Emily reflects in a balking tone, pulling her chai closer in case he has fixations on assaulting her drink with a dose of Irish as well. But she struggles.

Surely there's a reason he's doing this. Reaching for alcohol.

"Are you prepping for story time, or is this just some new thing you're doing?" she wonders.

A chuckle leaves Zachery, abrupt and dry. "New? Oh, no." He shakes his head, letting his attention wander as he lifts his drink for a sip— undoubtedly not great without a stirring, but he doesn't seem to mind. "Caffeine, sugar and alcohol. Why die of only one? Let's both just be happy I never picked up smoking once I hobbled past my teenage years, yes?"

"Besides, we're being social. I've given you a gift, you seem to like it," which he looks particularly content with, one elbow hooking over the back of his chair as he eases into it. "I'm just enjoying myself."

He levels a look at Emily to go with the end of his answer, eyebrows raised before his cup follows in tow for another glug.

Emily's eyes can suddenly be seen over the top of her sunglasses as she fixes Zachery with a look after dropping her chin slightly. She sighs and lifts one hand to cup the side of her face, rubbing cheekbone to eye and massaging the hollow above them. When her hand frees itself, off the aviators come too.

She blinks at the light that is suddenly granted better access to her eyes, pupils dilating and adjusting rapidly. Then the ice blue of them focus to Zachery again, wearily, head still drooping. "Mazel tov," she wishes him without particular enthusiasm. And then, then she finally takes a long drink from her own cup.

Emily sinks back against the cushion against the wall, head resting back against the cool surface. Her eyes slide shut for a moment. The spiced mixture is just what the doctor ordered. "So." A beat. "What's…"

She lets her eyes open, gaze lazily finding him again as she holds her chai in one hand and still has the other laying over the knife on the table. "What's up?"

Rather than evade Emily's, Zachery's eye contact holds. It isn't until that question that his confidence seems to wane. Enough for him to put the cup down, though it's held close, still, both hands loosely positioned around it.

Right. This is also part of being social, isn't it.

Briefly, he sits in silence. Caught off-guard, at least until the words come on their own. "What did Nicole tell you?"

Emily only shakes her head, the action prompting her to sit upright again. "I didn't ask. Unlike others, I don't have a voracious need to dig into other peoples' traumas." She says as much without particular vindication in it, but even in the even tone it's clear it's something she finds distasteful. "No, you… you said we'd catch up over coffee at some point. So, here we are."

Setting her drink back down, Emily admits, "Listen, 2020 kicked you in the teeth, and that's only what I can put together by context clues. If you don't want to talk about all of it, or even any of it— then you don't have to."

Brows lifting, she counter-offers wryly with a slight tilt of her head, "But that means you have to listen to me bitch about what's going on in my life currently, and nobody wants to do that." She even manages a slight smile.

Zachery once more finds his own words coming back to haunt him. He rubs at his face, dragging it over his fake eye and down his jawline again, reluctance pulling a corner of his mouth outward.

"I'll talk." He decides, voice firmer than anything with anything else he's said so far. "But— does anyone? Listen, I mean."

"Depends on their level of investment," Emily posits. No sense in not being honest about it. A sugar-coated life wasn't the sort either of them lived. "For what it's worth, if I didn't give a damn, I'd have left you on read."

"Am I gonna have magic words that make everything better?"

"No," Emily is certain. "But I do promise to listen." Her voice softened at some point, noticeable in the harshness it takes on as she jokes most seriously, "I even promise to keep any advice I might have to my fucking self if you don't want it."

There's a hint of gladness hidden in the way Zachery's head dips before he nods with what would be a smile if he'd let it fully form - but at least he does suffocate any possible counter-argument to Emily's logic.

"Go ahead and let it run wild. Like animals divested of their cages." He lifts his drink again, but pauses its journey to his mouth to ask, "Now if only I knew where to start. Where do people start, when they do this sort of thing? Beginning? End? Start with the big stuff and then move backwards in descending order?"

Then, just as a bonus, he reminds himself in words half spoken, half humourlessly chuckled against the rim of his cup, "I'm twice your age. Why am I asking you."

Maybe the next mouthful of coffee and whiskey will help.

Suddenly Emily's replacing those frames over her eyes again, tines unfolded and slid back over her face. Like a melodramatic diva, or at least, that's what she's pretending. She even rests the flat of her knuckles against the underside of her chin. "Because I'm much more charming than a rubber duck," she insists oh-so-suavely.

Lenses replaced, she feels a pang of nerves tighten at the top of her abdomen. She smooths them out in short order. It's fine. It's safe. If she's aware, she's in control. Everything will be just fine.

She reaches deep. "You know," Emily suggests gently, brow knitting as she looks up to him. "If it's a long story and you're drunk before you start, you'll be incomprehensible by the end of it. Maybe we start there."

Before, she couldn't be sure if what she thought she'd picked up on was nothing, or it was in fact something emotional from him. She thought the barrier of the sunglasses were supposed to help. It's why she'd taken to wearing them at work since December.

But now… now she doesn't look away like how she had so many times the last time they'd crossed paths. Now she waits to see what comes of seeing him eye to eye.

Results do not come readily. For a moment, Emily might not be entirely sure Zachery's heard her at all, freezing with his drink still held near his face.

The next breath he draws is used for a quip of clipped words. "I'd best make it a short one, then."

Even still, the cup comes down - though he does curl a forearm around it as if someone might take it when he's not looking. He studies Emily's face a second longer, before looking down at the dark band of metal and wood that makes up his wedding ring. "How about I start with something good. Somewhere you ought to have been."

Though it takes him a moment to decide what to do, the fact he stops all instead of snorting a laugh into his drink and taking one anyway is a sign all of its own. Her eyes flicker uncertainly behind the reflective blue lenses of her glasses, but her shoulders relax ultimately.

Still, she thinks to herself, Shit.

With an air of something not-quite-resignation, she slowly lifts her hand again to pull the sunglasses off of her face again. She smiles in brief apology. Sorry, she's still trying to figure herself out. Socially and otherwise. But he looks down at the ring, and so too do her eyes follow. Soften. She lets go of her own anxieties in this moment.

"I think that'd be really nice," Emily admits in a quieter voice, like to speak loudly breaks the nice thing. It's fragile. She sets aside her aviators just as delicately. "Did it happen in spring or summer?"

The movement draws Zachery's attention to the aviators, where his eye remains as he searches his memory.

"Right in the middle of spring." His own voice grows a little louder, now, as if to counterbalance Emily's retreat into something more suitable for a potentially sensitive subject. Still, it's a particular tone he adopts, like one might for the first page of a book. "It was a day of… good moods, high spirits and resolutions. In several ways, that last one."

He promptly leaves his drink on the table to go digging in a pocket again, but for his phone this time. As he searches through what looks like a gallery, he says more absently, "I think you would have liked it there. It was… simple, but in the best of ways. To the point."

The volume of Zachery's voice keeps Emily from slipping into reverie, imagining the scene with all her might. But instead, she picks up her cup and takes another deep drink while he finds the photos he means to look for.

She even leans forward better to see. "Too much frill and it'd get in the way of you two." With a wry note, she confirms, "I approve." Then she's looking back to the phone. "Did you stay in town or go somewhere?"

"I have a hard time believing you'd have a destination wedding, but for all I know simple means a handful of seats on a beachside."

It'd not be her cup of tea, but she's seen it done.

"I didn't even know what 'destination wedding' meant until last year," Zachery notes, squinting at a picture before moving past it. "It wasn't quite beachside, either, but close. Little place in Brighton Beach with just the right amount of corners to hide in. Nicole sorted it all out, of course. Not for lack of trying, but— well, she's an organiser type, isn't she."

He sounds a little sick of this conversation already, voice lowered, but that belies the whole truth. An inkling of which can be seen when he finds the picture he's been looking for, and slides the phone wholesale toward Emily to show it.

"This is really the only one worth looking at, if you ask me."

Staring up at Emily is a picture of Nicole. Though she's clearly in her wedding dress, the red-adorned parts of it can only barely be seen. The lighting is bad at best, in some featureless hallway, taken with the phone it's still on. Her hair looks like it's just had a hand run through it, and she herself looks in between two sentences, caught unaware.

She's tired, but she's smiling. And just for a moment, even if it's aimed squarely at an inanimate object, Zachery forgets not to look a little glad, too.

The corners of Emily's eyes soften. This isn't some wedding photographer's best shot, this is a treasure of a different kind entirely. She leans in a little more, fingers halfway to touching the screen to zoom in on the dress— but that's not going to help at all. That's not what this photograph is about.

She admires it a moment longer before looking to Zachery. "I can't imagine how fucking nerve-wracked you must have been before it all happened. People worry about a bolting bride, but you— that had to have been something else."

"You look like you had a good time, though," Emily opines, even though Zachery is nowhere to be seen in the photo. He was happy enough to snatch a small, momentary reminder of just how happy an occasion it was, and how much it meant to Nicole.

The negative space speaks as much as the frame does.

Though the huff Emily gets in response to the mention of nerves neither explicitly confirms or denies anything, this is the moment Zachery decides to pull his phone back.

"My nerves were…" He wrinkles his nose with a forced and unconvincing wince, before he half shrugs it away and lifts his gaze to Emily again, looking still a little keener than when he entered. "They weren't bad - with one or two exceptions, everyone was there for her, after all. As they should have been," he rushes to add, and what's left of the smile he may or may not be entirely aware of is pulled a little wider, his head lifting. "Congratulations, concerns and all. She was pregnant, too, let's not forget, and…"

Until— suddenly, his expression falls, and his looking at Emily becomes more of a looking toward Emily. "She was pregnant too," he repeats, a little quieter, as if it'll help coax out what was supposed to come after it. But what was before? His words slow. "But no one really… they only ever asked her." His hands find themselves back around the cup in front of him, a twitch of frustration pulling at a corner of his mouth now drawn to a thin line. "Sorry, where… where was I."

Emily's eyes flicker in concern, sympathy. Maybe he's hit a wall. Maybe talking about the pregnancy is hard. Maybe it stops all thoughts that's come after it because it's left such an echo behind.

She's been there.

Her gaze drops to her cup, mouth drawn in a line. She doesn't want to lead him over to what comes after, not when it's unpleasant, but… it's where they were meant to go next. "You were about to go on with what happened after the wedding. With the… pregnancy, with…"

She dithers. She doesn't know what else, of course. Not yet.

Right. Zachery blinks, then nods. "Sure. So."

When he leans back with his drink in hand and continues, his words flow from him much more eagerly, like this is a song he's more familiar with. "So fittingly, after all the planning for perfection, the hope that it might turn out even better, and preparation for that to be reality, I…" His free hand lifts to gesture in the most sarcastic and low-energy wave of celebration. "Woke up!"

He laughs, and the abrupt and probably somewhat misplaced, frantic mirth of it carries into his speech and into the wide grin once more on his face. "And it was all, every single bit of it, on fire!" He raises his eyebrows, his stare at Emily growing expectant as he emphasises— "Literally everything around us was on fire."

It takes effort not to try to paint in the picture with assumptions. There's just a bit too much missing to accurately guess what he's even talking about. "The house burned down?" comes from Emily anyway, her brow beginning to knit.

That's a strike against her being a mind-reader, then.

Immediately and with a questioning cant of his head, Zachery asks, "Wouldn't that have been nice? And simple. So easy to explain to family! But no, in fact—"

He lifts his drink toward Emily, as if in some twisted toast, sudden enough to where it spills over the rim and down his wrist, "Both Nicole and I, apparently, crashed down in in airplane, in Mani-fucking-toba," said like it may as well be Narnia for all that he's concerned, "where I'd never been and had no intention of going."

Emily is granted a pause— he won't be drunk soon at this rate, and he stills to steal a healthy glug of the drink while it's still warm.

It might as well be Narnia for all that she doesn't know where it is. It's not a country. A state? But where. Not here, that's where.

Emily doesn't pick up her phone to look. Ultimately, the location is less important than the event. A plane crash? Her jaw works, her appetite vanishing, even for the pleasant drink. "What the fuck?" she utters quietly. She doesn't gawk, her jaw doesn't gape. She doesn't look away, crack a grin, or call bullshit.

No, she— she feels it's not euphemism, this. "What the fuck?"

"What the fuck just about sums it up, doesn't it?" This is a rhetorical question Zachery delivers while peering at his hand, wiping away at what Irish coffee's trickled down his arm. Hgh.

With all the vigour that frustration and mania whirlwinds up as a team effort, he continues, staring at Emily from under a lowered brow. "We're there with— a bunch of fucking strangers just as clueless as I am, yes?" Keeping up? No matter, he's continuing anyway. "My leg's broken, and there's a man just sort of impaled, and Nicole's not pregnant. Nothing was lost, just— it was like nothing had been there in the first place. Like it'd all just…"

He taps a finger on the table, then again, a few times, until his hand just curls into a fist, eye contact maintained and remaining just as severe, but thoughts stalled again.

Emily's brow begins to furrow. Her eyes narrow keenly, sharply. She leans in, her elbows on her knees, phone facedown on the table, cup left of center on her body. "But it wasn't a dream. You— what you can do, you didn't just imagine what happened with Nicole. Your ability showed you." And she trusts that, for whatever it was worth. "There were exams, weren't there? There…"

She shakes her head once, gaze sharp and yet somehow vacant. This was how they lost the pregnancy?

A freak accident? A freak not-accident?

"I don't understand," Emily asserts, impatient for her lack of that knowing. She meets his eyes again. "Tell me the rest of it."

What the fuck.

"'The rest of it'," Zachery repeats in a scoff, voice dipping as he leans forward over the table and clarifies— "There isn't a rest. Oh, we thought there might be - trust me!" This is too loud of an assurance for their location, but he does not particular seem to care about the looks cast in his direction just over his shoulder.

"I yelled at the doctors until my throat felt like I'd swallowed a fucking cheese grater and half a dozen lemons. But who am I to…" His breath catches until he pushes it back out by force, in an ugly noise that sits somewhere between laugh and something much more pained, exhaled through gritted teeth.

Only now does he look away, toward the light shining in from outside. "Anyway, I can't… I don't have the ability anymore. None of us on the plane had— whatever the fuck any of us did before. Castrated, the lot of us."

Emily begins to sag back slowly in her seat, looking pained. The only thing she can do is pull her scarf the rest of the way off of her neck, her hands toying with the edges of the fabric in her lap. A look of horror passes briefly over her, directed down at her hands, covering over with a frown.

She takes in a deep breath, and is uncertain just how to expel it. What words can possibly help. What advice there is for this.

"I'm not sure who got the worse end of the fucking stick, suddenly."

She has none.

There's something fragile in the blue of her eyes as she looks back up to him again, holding on tightly to her scarf. He doesn't know who, his scoff had said. He doesn't know why. He just…

They just. This was Nicole, too.

Emily looks up and over at the grey sunlight now, too, teeth worrying at her lip. "It's not a contest. It shouldn't fucking be." Her brow beedles inward on itself in concern. "But somehow I think you won it anyway."

And then she lets the thought of it take the rest of her breath away, shaking her head in the process.

But for all the weight Emily seems to be feeling, Zachery sits unchanged for a moment. Head up again, breathing steadily. Looking out a window like the weather might be more interesting than what's been discussed so far.

"We're both back where we began, though, aren't we?" He asks, on that note, expression neutral again. "Sure, I— I'm married, now, but I'm not changed, am I? I'm just less." Said flatly, like he hasn't been affected at all. Or as if it's just not reaching him for the right now.

His eye finds Emily's face again. To study it as he asks, "If only less tethered. Are you? Now?"

She isn't entirely sure she agrees with his logic. Less is changed. And she's not sure he's less, but also maybe he is. If abilities were what made them more, how else would you qualify a lack of it?

Emily only shakes her head, less in a direct response to him and more in a general sense. She takes hold of her drink to sip from it and get some sense of warmth through her suddenly-chilled being, eyes unfocused but moving quickly. "I… yeah, I guess. Yeah, that's what I've been up against, feeling less tethered. But I—" Her expression scrunches together momentarily in disagreement, eyes narrowing when that's done. "At the same time, also heavier. Like I'm not going anywhere after all, even though I'm snapped free."

She rubs at her eyes like it'll help them see more clearly, shake the fog that's entered them. "So Nicole tried some electroshock therapy to see if it would help her with those feelings," the young woman guesses. "Except that's not shit you should try on your own."

Zachery's shoulders sink. "She didn't technically do it on her own." His voice is level and cold. "She did with the assistance with someone I have to work with, every day, someone who—"

He stops, as if to reel back the conversational line he's thrown out before its hook manages to lodge itself into the cheek of something he'd rather not pull up.

"Either way, it's not my place to care," he finishes instead, with annoyance manifesting in the beginnings of a sneer.

That could definitely explain why he's not keen on Raytech right now. Emily's brows lift, like they're what's been caught by that hook instead. She shifts her weight in her seat, shoulder leaning against the wall, hand coming to cup her chai again. Her thoughts wonder for a moment until Zachery takes the tone he does, and then her eyes are magnetized back to him again.

"Zachery," she counters flatly. "Just because she went and made a fucking stupid mistake behind your back doesn't mean she's suddenly not the person you care about. She's—" Emily struggles for just a moment visibly with stepping into this territory that is nowhere near her place to be discussing, but then she charges on. "She's still your wife. You're still married. If there's one situation where you're more or less obligated to give a shit about a person, it's that one."

Before she can stop herself, she tacks on, "You know she knows she fucked up, right?" Only after do her shoulders sink a little in discomfort, brow creased in sincerity.

At first, when his name is said, Zachery sinks back in his seat, attention turned upward as if he's ready to check out of this conversation entirely. Leaving his drink behind on the table if need be.

But then, against his better judgement (or no current judgement at all), he laughs again, bitter and unrestrained. "She was in the hospital for something she'd done to herself, Emily. That's a pretty clear sign." Planting both elbows on the table again, he fixes the woman across from him with a sharp look, the grin that's spread on his face again staying.

Emily lifts one hand, thumbing the side of her nose as she looks away. Her tone remains even, neutral despite the look on her face, one she pointedly aims away from him rather than potentially let influence this conversation in a way she doesn't mean for it to.

"I went down and saw her when you were back for surgery that day. I don't know if she told you. We didn't talk about much of anything, but when I first got there, only thing she wanted to know about was you. If you were okay. If you said anything. She was—" She has to catch herself from looking back to Zachery, and it's a near thing. "She was convinced you were going to leave her like the next day."

And it's been some time since then.

"I don't know what my point is," she concedes, because she had an idea, but bringing up what she has feels— weaponized, even if she hadn't meant for it to be. He's not someone she wants to hurt, and the moment she feels as though she has a knife in her hand, she drops it like it's red-hot and seared her. "But…"

Emily bites on the inside of her lip, and it rolls outward as she tries to find her wording. "Why do you think it's not your place to care? Is that something you really believe, or is it just something you threw out because what she did sucks and you're hurt over it and you don't want to be?"

Now she catches herself looking back at him, posture still slouched. Her mouth firms into a line.

Zachery's grin loses some of its strength. And again, then one more time, fading in increments every time a new detail hits him, his cup lifted halfway up until he simply seems to forget to drink from it. Like something's gotten stuck in the gears.

But— the grin never quite goes away completely. When the time comes for him to answer, what's left of it blooms right back out, but tighter, and unkind.

He straightens in his seat with a slow inhale, the grip on his lowering cup suddenly too forceful as he sets it down - like he might sooner throw or crush it than drink from it. He looks right back, and offers just one slowly and firmly spoken statement: "This is not a productive conversation, Emily."

Emily's tongue rolls into her cheek as she looks away for a moment and then back. She needs that moment— needs to not keenly let his anger wash over his borders and crash upon the shore of her own mindset. The keen… betrayal? he was beginning to feel shines like daggers in his eyes.

"You're right," she answers flatly. "It's not. Caring about people fucking sucks, and talking about it just leaves a bitter taste in everyone's mouths when it's done."

Back leaning against the wall now, rather than the cushioned part of the corner, Emily glances to Zachery out of the corner of her eye. "I'm sorry," she adds more quietly. "I crossed a line. It— I don't know. I was trying to help, I—"

"You know how it goes," she mutters tiredly, and thunk goes her head as it hits the wall behind her. She both is and isn't trying to beat herself up for sticking her foot in her mouth.

A long moment passes before she asks quietly, "So has SESA done shit about any of this or have they collectively been one giant fucking shrugmoji in terms of figuring out what the fuck happened and why?" This one has an edge to it at the end. Because this is an agency she works for. This is an agency that should do better.

Zachery remains every ounce as guarded. But of all the words said to him, it's 'shrugmoji' that has him exhale away some of the tension that's gathered in his posture, confusion-fueled distraction throwing the saloon doors of his mind wide open once more.

"I forget how young you are, sometimes. Even looking directly at you, I just…" With his sentence trailing off, so, it seems, does his mind. He looks down, at nothing in particular. "I don't know," is tacked on instead, still clipped. "Maybe. Things have been slipping from me like fucking sand. I'm not sure the answers, or even a solution would change much. The idea's gone."

Emily has no argument presently for Zachery's forgetting. Her head reels back, chin closer to her neck as she bites back everything except a small scoff. Excuse you. Or maybe that's short for fuck you. Who knows. There's no words.

Just a hard dose of side eye that loses its intensity when he keeps talking.

There's no easy rescue from the jaded outlook he's currently in. She doesn't have it in her at the moment to summon him back from that, still trying to grapple with the reality that faces him in general, only just having comfortably gotten her feet back under her in her own. With a slow inhale, she considers just how literal it is that things keep slipping from him. Is it related to the brain thing? Is it just because this is all fucking stressful?

Does it matter?

The idea's gone, Zachery says, and Emily regrets that. The idea, whatever it was, maybe held with it hope. But maybe they can go digging for it some other day, when Emily has a greater sense of peace to guide them both by.

Her jaw works as she looks down at her lap, wondering what even to say. "Would you want a distraction in the form of knowing what Twilight Zone bullshit I'm getting up to later this week, or is that a bit much to segue into right about now?" She glances up at him out of the corner of her eye again. It won't hurt her feelings if he shoots her down, she means to say. It's just a distracting suggestion.

Zachery does not see her looking, far too busy scrubbing a hand up and then back down his jawline while he stares into his drink. But his voice is calm, if a little tired, when he says, "Please." Lazily waving a hand out in front of him as if to physically clear the air between them, he nods. "As much as I appreciate someone to actually…"

He clears his throat, as if it will excuse him not finishing that sentence. "Tell me about your plans. I'm interested."

If Emily wonders where the rest of that sentence was going, she has the grace not to ask about it now. Maybe the new topic will be slightly less depressing.

A little more anxiety-inducing on her part, but that's to be expected.

"Plans is a strong word. More like … orders. Assignment." She lets out a tsk of a sigh as she pulls her feet up onto the bench seat with her and leans back against the wall no longer at a strange twist, but with her knees tented before her. She scoops up her cup into the tiny interval of space between thigh and chest, sipping at it before clutching it between both hands while she scowls at the window. "So get this," is how Emily chooses to start.

"I've been back at the office for— not even a month. I fucking— got off of field agent duty because I literally could not handle it. I didn't want to be in the field in the first place, and it's probably what got me turned into a fucking tree, but SESA's short-staffed for field agents so I'm pretty sure Corbin both gets it and is still withering a little all at the same time, even though he's still just glad I'm alive."

Who's Corbin again? Nicole's maybe mentioned him before. Someone at SESA, clearly. Someone to do with field agents. Whatever. Doesn't matter, particularly, to him personally, does it? But at the same time it's

Oh, right— the guy who— Nicole called. After the thing with the tree. The Christmas trees at the lot. The fucking nope we're just not going to think about that anymore.

Emily keeps talking.

"Still, not even three fucking weeks back and they pull me aside. I'm doing office work, not field work, so clearly that's the right time to pull their fresh off of 'medical leave' junior agent on a fucking diplomatic assignment in a whole other fucking country."

Agitation, thy name is Epstein.

Her hand flies up from the cup of coffee in a gesture of frustration. "S-so now," and she stammers, blinking hard as she tries to remember where she was even going with this aside from just venting because she's not talked through her feelings on the matter sufficiently enough elsewhere, "There's this fucking trip to Mada-fucking-gascar I'm going on, because of all the fucking agents in all the goddamned country, they decide to send an intern— and I am pretty fucking sure if this isn't an attack on my dad by shoving me underqualified into a position of literal national security vis-a-vis diplomatic relations with the new Silicon Valley of the world, it's one on me directly, and I don't know which is fucking worse, Zachery."

She finally looks back at him, hand still raised, expression excruciatingly bewildered as she finishes the rapidly-conducted rant. Did he get all that?

"You're going to Madagascar." Zachery stares back over the rim of his drink, and has been staring for a while. At least he got that part.

But then, he puts up a hand of his own, to discourage Emily from replying before he's done responding to what's already been said. "Hold on - you are not going to Madagascar. How are they sending you there? Not physically, I mean—" He gives a quick shake of his head, then bites back a humourless laugh that exits through his nose anyway. "Who would you be going with?" His tone skews incredulous. "And what the fuck for?"

Who is she going with? "One," she holds up a hand with just one finger. Count it— "One other agent, and a Wolfhound attache for our safety." Emily seems infinitely relaxed that he has what she'd consider to be a sane response to this strangeness. There's no griping about 'this will be a great opportunity for you!'

Just: why?

Which is a response anyone with half a brain should have to this. Right? Because why? Why her?

She simmers about this as she takes a well-earned sip from her coffee. "The specifics I'm pretty fucking sure I'm not allowed to talk about, but it's— work." Emily looks uncomfortable for a moment as she shifts the seat of her hand around her cup. "Important shit. One-shot matters. And they're leaving it essentially halfway up to me."

"It's fucking— what do you call it?" She glances at Zachery out of the corner of her eye, asking for confirmation with a small laugh to inject levity back into the conversation. "Mental?"

"Mental's right," Zachery concedes easily, snapping out of stunned silence. "Listen- I realise I know very little about you, but that's sort of why this works, doesn't it?" He gestures unhelpfully over the table, but doesn't wait for an answer. "And while you seem capable, are you—"

He pauses, "Are we sure SESA's not run by three dogs in a trenchcoat? Barking instructions from up top with wild abandon? Because sometimes, I swear…" he lets that sentence hang, dragging his phone closer and flipping it the right way around so he can begin tapping away at something again. A message, this time.

The gesture over the table is met with a small, knowing smirk from Emily. Yes, their distance save for very infrequent, very deep coffee encounters is what makes this whole thing work effectively, doesn't it?

She laughs at his question, even if she shouldn't, because, well…

With a grimace of a grin, she rubs at the side of her face while he works on his text. "I'd say 'hey, that's your wife you're talking about', but SESA NY isn't the whole country, and even within the office it always feels like there's plenty of quiet shit happening in the corners at all times." Emily's levity wears off as she wonders for a moment if there's more than meets the eye to what's happening with the crash victims, if anything in particular is being kept deliberately from those involved— including Nicole. Her smile fades entirely and she tries to drown out the fall of her mood with another deep drink from her cup.

"There's a reason," she's sure, and it goes for both topics on her mind. "A political one, no doubt."

Settling what's left of her coffee back down, she looks back and down at his phone in a telegraph of curiosity about just what he's doing. "This better be the most… uneventful trip, though, or I swear to god."

If Zachery is at all concerned about the possibility of badmouthing Nicole, a quiet, bitterly amused exhale as he looks down at his phone is all he has to show for it.

When he meets Emily's gaze again, it's with a steady determination that was not present before. "What if you contracted, suddenly, a very serious and not at all made up disease? I'll write you a doctor's note." Probably a joke, even if his voice is level as a fully stagnant lake. It lifts a little when he shrugs and continues in a casual tone, "Failing that, I'll travel right along with you. Keep tabs. Prescribe you— whatever the best thing to eat over there is."

He looks just off to the side, addressing some imaginary person with a distinctly crisper version of his own accent, like the laces have been tightened on it. "Emily? Oh, no, terrible news, she's come down with the—" He waves a hand, dismissively, searching for a word on the fly, "—morbs again. Bedrest and roast aye-aye, I'm afraid."

A very serious disease, Zachery says, and Emily laughs short and involuntarily. She takes on the mirth he shirks in his deadpan delivery. Her stress cracks, and so does her composure, bringing her to let out another laugh, hand half-lifted to cover her mouth but she doesn't actually care enough to.

"Oh my god," she wheezes out, nearly in tears. This is very close to being the straw that breaks the camel's back.

"I think it's the again part that murders me. And— what the fuck is even a morb?" She knows what it sounds like, at least. The word vibes with her on an inexplicable level. "I'm gonna use that in the future. Thanks for that."

Very deep and dramatic, she informs an invisible person right in front of her, "Unfortunately it's the morbs. Don't worry, it's chronic, but not terminal, so she'll be back in a week or two, or whenever the sun reigns to shine for longer than a single afternoon." See? She's catching on.

Emily slides a look back to Zachery, silently seeking either his approval or condemnation.

With every laugh, the scale tips a little. Toward unpleasantness forgotten, and stressors set aside. If only for a few minutes, and within the confines of these walls.

Though Zachery's straight face holds while he listens, something within him, too, falls away, a victim to levity, when Emily looks in his direction again.

His head falls, hand slipping from his drink so he can slide his fingers up over the back of his neck, gaze averted. "I should go," he decides with one last, quick glance toward the clock on his phone before he puts it away with the slow bend of an arm. "Duty calls, all that. But before I do, and this doesn't need to be said, but. Stand up for yourself. Get as much information as you can ahead of time, be prepared."

He glances back up, even if it's without a full lifting of his head to accompany it. "Yeah?"

Emily looks a little more anxious at the thought of facing the real world again, but she manages a nod. Once. Twice. A third time, for nerve's sake. "Yeah," she says breathlessly, void of the laughter entirely now.

The warm ember of whatever happened is still there, just covered over and kept protected before winter's chill can come to claim it by leaving it in the open. She palms her sunglasses off the side of the table.

"And as for you, don't forget to let yourself be human. As much as we'd like to not feel at all, we don't have that fucking luxury. We're not complete fucking psychopaths." She glances back to him very carefully. "Your eyes are going to start to miss things if you don't clear the filter off of them every now and then."

If that makes a lick of sense.

Before the advice has the opportunity to sound combative, Emily sidles out from the table and comes to her feet. "If something happens, call and I'll do what I can. Whatever the fuck that might be. All right?" She's careful not to look directly at him while she says as much, but her eyes shoot up meaningfully immediately after. Sometimes, granting a sense of not feeling alone was the most powerful thing a person could do for another, and she wants to be able to provide at least that. With a rough sigh, she slips an arm around his shoulder in what possibly might be a hug, a strange tension of closeness that ends almost as soon as it begins.

"Until then, wish me luck," she asks of him gruffly, palming her phone off the table before shuffling off without another word, determined to be the first to leave this time.

To prove something, maybe. That she was capable of moving forward and coming back from what happened to her, in the way she's failed to demonstrate before. She pauses at the door first only to push it open, but at the last moment she turns back to lift one hand in a silent farewell before trudging out into the cold.

Whether or not Zachery is actually listening is not immediately evident in the way his eye rolls off to the side the moment Emily begins to reciprocate what little slip of heartfeltness has sprung from his direction.

He's just in the middle of a deep sigh when he is unexpectedly— embraced? And true to the pattern thus far, he does little more than freeze, only managing to look back up again once Emily is already up and away.

Still, as much as he might try to fight it back, and despite a knitted brow through which confusion yet clings, he still cracks a grin while answering, finally, "Good luck, you fucking maniac!"

Aviator frames slipped over her face again, they reflect the cloudy sunlight while the corner of Emily's mouth pulls back in a smirk. She boldly flashes the horns through the giant bay window as she walks out the door, down the sidewalk, and out of sight.

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