emily4_icon.gif zachery2_icon.gif

Scene Title Disorderly
Synopsis A year and an entirely different hospital later, neither Emily nor Zachery are as shipshape as they might hope to be. Though their circumstances are not as happy as either would like and they're wearing, in some ways, opposite hats as when they first met, enough has changed that this meeting ends differently than their first.
Date November 8, 2020

Fournier-Bianco Memorial Hospital

6:35 am

Somewhere off in the distance, the sound of a child crying is carried through barren hallways. The ding of an elevator is followed by an announcement too far away to be understood. Long stretches of near-silence make it much easier to welcome these signs of life as a heartbeat, of sorts. A sign the world has not yet frozen just out of sight. It's almost nice.

These signs used to come a lot easier, after all.

Zachery Miller sits in the lounge in one of the top floors of the hospital, hunched forward in his black peacoat, with his elbows jammed onto his knees and a grey scarf draped over a leg. He stares blankly out through the tall windows on the other side of the room, at the sun that's just started to rise, colouring the sky a pale gold where it pushes up against the blue of the night before.

He is unconscionably early for an appointment. But a hospital's a hospital, and on quiet mornings, with as much time as he's spent in these sort of environments - they're as good a home as any. Home enough to let his face fall into his hands, and to remember how tired he is.

Maybe he'll close his eyes just for a moment, head in hands. Who's going to notice.

Zachery isn't the only one who's early for an appointment.

Really, she hadn't meant to arrive a half an hour early, but traffic to and from the island was so different this early in the morning than it was later in the day. She'd changed her schedule this week to try navigating outside a set schedule she was rapidly dissociating into.

She was trying to do better, though. For whose sake, she didn't know. But… maybe her own?


So she's walking, doing her best to nurse strength back in legs that have suffered from atrophy— ones that know just how to walk, but get tired easily, still. She tells herself these silent rounds she's making are good practice, promises herself that with how early this appointment is, she can just go home and sleep afterward.

It's the unfamiliar, to Zachery, sound of a single crutch used as her mobility aid that announces her presence in the hall. Steps come even, if slowly. She's in no rush. Part of it's because she's got plenty of time before she needs to be in a different lobby on the floor—

Part of it's because of her attention on the phone in her hand. She scrolls, tight-lipped while she walks. Whatever she finds isn't anything that brings her joy, only aids in the passing of the minutes until she can get her fucking blood drawn and then go home. Her patience is minimal.

And then her phone slips through fingers not entirely dexterous enough to manage a one-handed hold on it cleanly. It lands with a noisy clatter, face-down, because that's just her fucking luck.

"God…" Emily Epstein sighs out, eyes closing. The rest of her swear comes out nearly in a hissed whisper her mutter is so low. "Damn it." Now you get to do extra exercise, Emily. You get to handle picking up the phone on your own.

She knows she's not alone, but she's too stubborn to ask for help. Too proud to even look, lest the man with his head in his hands look her way and offer it. Lest she find out the reason he's sitting there the way that he is. Instead, switching arms the crutch clings to, she holds onto it carefully to mind her shifting grip, and she starts to sink down to a knee to pull the phone closer to her.

Please, she thinks to herself strongly. Don't be cracked. In trying to flip it over with her non-dominant hand to see, her grasp on her crutch slips for some fucking reason and down it goes, too. "Fuck," she breathes out vehemently, coming to an awkward, but painless sit to accommodate her sudden lack of balance.

The phone falling had been enough to rouse Zachery from half-sleep with a start, but though he lifts his head, he only does so just enough so he can slide his hands onto his neck, fingers pressed tightly into skin.

His annoyance is clear in every visible aspect of him, from his expression to now even further exaggerated hunch. If people could just hold their things with the limbs they were given, or maybe just fucking duct tape them to their hands so at least they wouldn't make noise, they—

He knows that specific 'fuck', he realises then.

His thought process is halted, his eyes opening. As he turns his head, one eye finds the seated form, while the fake, near-identical acrylic eye on the other side stays sleepily half-lidded.

"Jesus fucking Christ, Emily," he says as sharply as his voice is hoarse with disuse - before realising a different thing all together. His hands slide off of his neck and fall slowly into his lap, as his back straightens of its own accord. His expression clears, astonishment finding its way into the echo that leaves his mouth next— "Emily."

The first time Emily hears the sound of her name, it's reacted to as though the syllables may as well be nails on chalkboard. Of course the person she's falling apart in front of happens to be someone who knows her. God fucking damn it. Her voice gathers up sharply with her, emerging violently and unconsciously. "Don't you fucking—"

When she meets Zachery's look, whatever she sees, whatever she feels brings her look to likewise change how his has. Sharp, defensive anger evacuates in place of… something else. Something void of anything but the surprise she's experiencing, namely.

"… dare."

Whatever threat that statement first held has vanished, the weaponization of it undone. When the last sound comes from her belatedly, it brings a touch of color to her face and causes her to look down and away immediately.

Fuck, Emily seethes. Her embarrassment returns, doubled over in on itself.

The fallen cellphone is hastily retrieved, clasped tightly in one hand, and then she begins to push herself to her feet unsteadily. In her rush to remove herself from looking like a mess, she forgets her crutch entirely on the ground. As soon as she realizes that much, her head swivels back in Zachery's direction, a new spate of fervered energy coming to her as she swiftly informs him, "I've got it."

Her voice is only a little raised in her insistence on this point.

"I can see that," Zachery grates back somewhat flatly, before clearing his throat. He twists his hands together, glancing uncertainly down what he can see of the way out— then back to Emily again.

Apparently, he is staying put.

He considers the situation for a moment, then says barely loud enough for her to hear. "I keep thinking I've lost it," he informs, dry and sardonic, "so I'm glad you've… got it. Fitting, somehow, really, when you think about it. Whether or not you're a manifestation of… stress?" He ventures a guess. "A side effect of as-of-yet-unknown brain modifications? Or, hell, maybe it's just some good old-fashioned guilt."

That last one in particular has him inhaling a breath anew, through his teeth, scrubbing a hand over his face all over again, head thunking against a wall behind him.

Phone goes to pocket. Hand goes to wall. Emily hunches over to swipe her crutch off the ground, and back upright she goes again, no less worse for wear. No more falling, no further issues. Mission accomplished.

She hates her situation even more than before— wishes she could storm off and prove she is just fine— but she's not feeling confident enough to actually do just that. It's with a humbled, if frustrated, tuck of her head she slides her arm back into place, lying her forearm against the metal and digging her hand into the grip.

Rubber tip meets ground. See, Emily? You're put back together. All is well.

But all is not.

She finds herself walking toward the cube of chairs rather than firmly away from this situation, finding herself taking the first available seat. It places her almost as far from Zachery as she could be, still visible in the periphery of his good eye even if he's unturned her way.

"Let's entertain for a second the absurd fucking notion that I'm not real, then," she sighs, shooting him a glance out of the corner of her eye. It's carefully that she avoids actually making eye contact now. "If it'll keep you from asking questions I don't want to answer."

And she's talking now more than she has in a few days. More than she's dared to.

Her throat works for a moment as she looks down to her lap. "I, uh…"

Whatever sound is meant to follow that— doesn't.

She finally relents away from the topic too difficult to approach with a faint laugh under her breath. "Okay, humor me," Emily asks in a murmur, her voice barely carrying. "The fuck do you have to be guilty about?"

It's not entirely clear whether Zachery's even paying attention as he's staring straight ahead of himself, with only the occasional roll of his jaw to indicate a rolling around of thoughts.

And the fingers of one hand tightening around that scarf to indicate something else besides.

"I don't know," he finally relents, after almost too long of a time. With every extra second that passes, he looks less pleased with being awake. "I never really understood guilt, if I'm honest. But isn't that what happens? You trust someone a little bit, go on about this or that, set out to do better. Then time passes, nothing is better, and then you remember, one day, the half-promise you made."

Gladly risking eye contact, he looks at Emily directly again, watching her face while keeping his head resting against the back wall. Not as keenly as she's known him to do, like someone's shaved the edges off of both his words and focus both. "And you just have to sit in it."

Emily's eyes begin to narrow in thought, pointedly not returning his look. She starts to— once, and then she looks down, lifting her hand to rub at her forehead, shoulders pinning together a little more closely— like she endeavors to make herself a little smaller. A smaller target, a smaller hammer.

"Not sure that's guilt," she murmurs so absently it may not even carry beyond her.

Sometimes she's not entirely used to the passing of time still having meaning again, slipping into silence she doesn't mean to— but not now. Now she's keenly aware of each second that trudges on without clarification, aware that each past a certain amount rapidly adds up to n too many.

When she hits critical mass, she suddenly draws in breath to apologize for the delay, forgetting herself and looking up at him out of habit. Emily freezes when she realizes she's done so, overanalyzing her words even more than before. Finally, words come, in a total lack of substance that could make one wonder just what took her so damn long to come up with them.

"But that makes two of us."

She looks tired after that. All that effort, and she couldn't have found something better to say.

So she cheats, this time. Instead of fighting it, she lets it envelop her voice, sounding no less weary. Sinking back into her own seat, Emily leaves her eyes on Zachery this time. "I'm real," she promises, the two words laden with something strange and invisible that makes them believable. The ghost of a smile, or maybe a sneer— or maybe it's just discomfort in general— pulls at one side of her mouth a half second before she continues, "Figure I should make that clear before you get it in your head that I'm only agreeing with you because I'm some fucking figment of your imagination."

The momentary attempt at humor fades then, giving way to something solemn, something softer. Her brow begins to knit in on itself. "I'm sorry things are still shit for you, too."

That's painful to face, though. Too much. So Emily breaks eye contact, looks away like it'll stop her from feeling entirely. It takes only a moment to find a suitable distraction, a neutral topic to shift the conversation toward, should it be allowed that way. "You think they have any free coffee at this hour, nice place like this?"

For all the words he had earlier, Zachery doesn't look too bothered by the silence. Not by her admission of being real, either, even if he does end up scrubbing his face one more time. As if today wasn't starting off complicated enough already without having to consider that.

The subject of coffee is tempting, and has him breathe out the barest excuse for a chuckle, as if the simplicity breaks the tension that had slowly begun to build. When the scrubbing hand comes down again, his gaze drifts upward as he considers. But no— she's going too fast, and he's not done yet.

"They were very good for a while," he says, a little louder now, and in a tone that implies it's somehow surprising. "Things, that is. They're actually not… awful, at the moment. Complicated and difficult, yes, but… better than when I last saw you."

He looks at her again, taking a deep breath before forcing it back out in words, clipped with restraint as if he knows they're not quite the right words to say as they leave him anyway. "Could have sworn you were taller, though."

Emily finds her head turning back Zachery's way when he hints at what he's been through, even if she doesn't look at him again. She doesn't begin to know the events that have happened to him, and it'd require properly looking at him to begin building context clues that aren't read in general posture.

Complicated and difficult was… something, at least. She lets out a faint tone of acknowledgement. As far as things went, it sounds like they could have been worse. Or that if they had at some point, he's adapted. At least there was that?

She knows there's something off about his observation before she knows what it is. Her brow begins to furrow. Blue eyes seek out his face again if only to express directly how indignant she is when she pieces it together.

"Fuck you, Zachery."

The words are involuntary, hiding an exposed, bewildered shock behind a flat wall of dismissal.

She shifts in her chair, looking ready to take her leave. If he'd phrased it any different, any more direct, maybe she would have. Heart pounding, she closes her eyes, looks away. Her hand slips from the armrest of the chair as she decides not to bolt unceremoniously. Her heel begins to bounce nervously as she looks away, focusing on an imperfection in the wall. If she stares hard enough, maybe she'll feel nothing else. Maybe she'll make it through the rest of this conversation just fine.

"How, even?" escapes her first, a rocky stammer of a sound. "How did you find out?" She tries to put together the limited places their circles overlap, and thus, figure out who else might unexpectedly know what had happened to her at this point. For all she knows, Eleanor fucking Ridgley might.

Or, more realistically, the goddamned barista at Sheepshead Beans.

Some slack returns to Zachery's posture, and he leans forward in his seat again, as though this situation is finally feeling familiar enough for him to start to relax.

Not that he looks happy about it, necessarily. The profanity lobbed in his direction garners no direct response, and both of the questions almost don't seem to, either. A quick, distracted glance between Emily and the floor later, he realises what's been asked of him, and starts to answer, "Between talk of sparse wedding invitation options on my side and…"

His jaw sets, regret setting in so heavily it drags his head down as he swallows. Still, a moment later, with his hands finding one another again between his knees, he continues studying her face and finishing his answer both. "And… baby name discussions," he says particularly rigidly, before managing to find an easier speaking rhythm again, "your name came up a few too many times for Nicole to keep it from me, I think. SESA and all."

A wedding.

Still focusing on that distant point, Emily hears the variations in Zachery's tone as he explains, stumbles, then finds his footing again. She's taken by surprise, and then by something sadder, by the end of it shifting uncomfortably with regret of her own.

Her jaw works without sound for a long pause after. "Nicole," comes from her softly. That Nicole.

Baby name discussions. When Emily circles back to that thought, she looks pained. "Congratulations— I think." She turns just slightly away from her staring point to ask, "Did the twins…?"

She can't bring herself to finish that question. She'd like to hope for the best, but she feels something complicated hidden in his words.

Less complicated is the slow shake of Zachery's head. It's the extent of his answer to the congratulations, or question, or both.

When he speaks up again, contemplation slows his words. "I didn't take your disappearance well, I think - might have made it easier to pretend you'd just gone elsewhere. With what's happened in the meantime, it felt like you were gone for years."

He frowns, and promptly decides to leave no room for a response to his accidental slip of sincerity before asking more enthusiastically, instead, "How did they— are you alright?" A nod of his head is given in her direction. "The crutch."

Something happened to the kids. There was a wedding, and something happened to the kids. Maybe with Nicole, too. Emily— honestly doesn't know. It's only been a few weeks, and getting back to work has been the furthest thing from her mind.

Back when she was trapped, she would have thought an immediate return to normalcy would be on the menu. To live as fully as possible and not let go. Reality was more difficult. Reality was full of rehab for her dexterity and strength, and the surprising stress of getting used to having all five of her senses again.

The question being redirected back to her brings her to look down at her mobility aid. "An old friend," she clarifies in an attempt to assure him she's alright. "I'm fine. I'll— be fine. It's— it's just gonna take some time for everything to feel normal again." The pause that follows somehow feels cut short, overridden by some thought that has to get its way out now before she loses her sense of humor, or her nerve.

"I'm given to believe the pool of people who come back from being murdered by a serial killer is small, so, I guess I'm a part of a special club now." She swallows to rid her mouth of its sudden dryness. In a mutter smarting of forced bright, she adds, "Got that going for me, at least."

That's right where the extent of her bravery in addressing what happened ends, though, heard in the waver of that last syllable, seen in the way her expression tightens. She takes in a shallow breath that doesn't give her nearly the oxygen she needs it to before ushering out a rushed, "Anyway." to gloss right past the moment.

Zachery listens, still vaguely absentminded in his mannerisms. Maybe all of this is just too much to process at this moment. But then, by the end of what Emily says, his brow knits. He drags himself upright again, palms pressed flat against his knees.

"That doesn't feel quite right, does it." It comes out as a rhetorical question, and he corrects his tone almost immediately when he repeats, "Does it?"

After his voice falters once more in some half-formed and discarded word, he finds an anchor of determination to steady it. "Alright, maybe you're not some manifestation of guilt, but— for all the weird twists of fate in my life of late, this… has to be something."

Finally, with the light of the still rising sun at their side, he's looking at her properly now. Watching for something or another as if he won't be dissuaded from whatever he's doing until he sees it. Anger replaces any semblance of sympathy on his face prior.

"I turned my whole fucking life around because of you," he continues, voice raised now, too sharp and loud for the lobby and audibly strained to keep from just shouting. "Actually started living it, Emily, held onto your words as truth. And before you fucking start — it was not because you effectively died, because that came much later. And despite that being the first of—… a generous fucking handful of big losses, I kept trying. I'm still trying, I'm still—" He throws a hand out to gesture abruptly into the rest of the room, as if his very presence here is supposed to mean anything.

He stills, long enough to realise he hasn't blinked in a while, and long enough to try to recompose himself, though he fails to shake the tension that's made its way into his shoulders. "So," he says regardless, with finality added to the muted fury, "I can't help but feel like I should point out that this isn't an 'anyway' matter. That you're not."

Emily turns at the mention of fate, her brow immediately knit together, her hand tight around the old crutch nestled against her. When the fuck did Zachery Miller believe in fate, anyway? It wasn't so long ago that he believed in nothing at all.

The tension in her forehead slacks when she realizes just what happened. The impact she had.

She starts to draw in breath to say something, anything, but nothing comes. She believes him when he says it happened before— because when she had told him here matters, that was last Christmas. Emily's jaw tightens then, lips sealing into a thin line as she tries to decide what to do with this information.

In the aftermath of his assertion, she comes to her feet. The aid of the tool she carries with her is foregone, as there's only a few steps, and her strength is much more than it was a few weeks ago. She settles down in the chair adjacent to Zachery's, deciding, "I don't know what you think you have to feel guilty about, Zachery. You… you more than took what I said to heart. You did something with it. You persevered when you could have given up."

Her head half-turns to him, eyes flitting to his. "Don't sell yourself short." Her lips purse again as she looks forward. "And… thanks." Her posture still hasn't properly righted, leaving her still looking a little small where she sits. "For deciding I matter, too."

"Not that your opinion means anything on the matter," Emily tells him dryly, leaning a little toward him while saying so. "But it's nice to know you care."

An elevator dings again, muted by the distance between them and the bay it arrives at.

Her jaw works, lips parted. The question that wants to come takes its time in its decision. "Can you tell?" she finally asks softly. "If I'm gonna be all right?" She doesn't know his ability's gone, but surely she knows enough to know that even if it were there, it doesn't quite work that way. The scars she bears from the harrowing she returned from aren't ones that appear to have left physical marks.

There isn't much movement from Zachery, his attention drifting over to the wall ahead when Emily swaps one seat for another. When she leans toward him, the movement of it finally has him look halfway in her direction again, his expression a carefully controlled neutral except for a corner of his mouth threatening something more uneasy. Does he care?

He'd really rather not.

And yet, here he is. Trying, against his better judgement, to find a sliver of the thing that allowed him to glimpse Emily's physical state the first time they met. Staring, for a moment, into nothing - and getting much the same back.

"You'll be fine," is what he settles on, firmly, but empty handed. As if to fix that issue, he loosely grasps the scarf still messily draped over one leg, and gives it a small shake before letting it fall again. "I appreciate you coming back so I can get you back for that surprise Christmas present."

His words still don't come easy, but. Easier.

Emily lets out a soft laugh hidden under her breath when Zachery says she'll be fine. Wow. Why does that not feel reassuring? Usually he was in the habit of calling her a fucking mess when she was torn up emotionally.

Then again, that was advice offered unsolicited. This time, she was seeking it.

Maybe you should just accept when someone tells you everything's going to be fine instead of trying to find a way to tear it apart, Emily. But that was easier said than done. She restarts her respiratory processes again, a slow, resigned breath leaving her.

She'd forgotten about the scarf, so when attention is called to it, she only shakes her head. "Assuming the world doesn't end by then, sure, you'll get the chance." Her cynicism is verging on pedanticism, but she'll fight anyone who challenges her on it at this point.

"Assuming I don't become a complete shut-in and never leave the house again, because…"

Words suddenly dry up, as though suddenly aware that by speaking them they might become true, and she's not sure she wants that for herself, no matter how deep a hole of self-doubt and anxiety and anger she's fallen into. Emily swallows hard.

"Fuck," she breathes out in a hardly-audible hiss, looking down.

Underlying frustrations resurface, Zachery's focus snapping back onto Emily's face, unkind with a lack of understanding. "You turned into a tree!"

His words aren't meant to sting — if anything, a knitting brow seems to suggest he's hurt himself in the process of saying them, lip pulling back in an idle sneer as he shifts in his seat to look at her more directly, one hand tight around the edge of his seat. "And here you are. Real and walking, talking and thinking clearly. What could possibly still be standing in your way at this point?"

Both of his hands lift as if he's about to grab hold of her arm, before tension wrenches them back and then up against his face to be dragged down far rougher than could possibly be necessary. Half muffled through both frustration and his fingers, he adds, "People mourned you, Emily."

Zachery doesn't touch her, but maybe she needs shook.

Maybe his words do it for him anyway.

Because he's right. What's holding her back? She could lash back with spiteful answers born out of how overwhelmed she sometimes feels, but there's not a point he's wrong on. So instead she snaps back in an answer of: "Me. I'm the one holding me back."

"Because it was quiet before, and now it's not, and I got used to that new reality. I didn't think I was ever coming back from it. And me coming back is both not a miracle and nothing but, but that doesn't mean I—"

She runs out of steam, self-conscious. Her head dips again, eyes closing as she regains control of her voice. "I mourned me, too. But it turns out that's not where my story ended." Emily concedes with frustration, "I'm not going to give up, I'm just…"

For a lack of knowing what else to do, she looks up at him again, not shying from eye contact. "I'm lost," she says, and something in it conveys just how deep and complicated a thing that is without her needing to elaborate any further. "I'm— working on finding my way back, but reality isn't simple. It never is. I don't know why I thought it would be."

Zachery holds eye contact, and though his hands come down from his face, the exasperation on it remains in how tight his jaw is, eyebrows low over narrowed eyes. He tries to will the expression away, exhaling sharply like he might sigh it out.

Like Emily's mess isn't his business. Like he hasn't already stuck his nose in her personal affairs, and hadn't from the moment they met. In a different hospital lounge, at a different time, both in wildly different situations.

"You can't find your way back." His answer comes whether he wants it to or not, with anger still tethered to every word. But once the first sentence of his reply is out, the rest seems to follow with less of an issue, the disapproval cooling slowly into something else. Something more patient, even if he has to force it. "It's like… trying to come back to a home you used to live in. At worst, you'll find it's been reclaimed. At best, you'll find it devoid of anything you may have liked about it before."

He stops, making some noise in the back of his throat as though that's not quite what he meant to say. But nothing better follows, either.

It's not comforting, but it's apt. And for some reason, Emily much prefers it to the attempted optimism from before.

It's more real. It's relatable. It… it fits in a painfully accurate way.

It's impossible not to read the sadness, the momentary mourning for the idea that things could somehow go back, but her jaw tightens, she continues to look Zachery in the eye, and she nods, seeing the reassurance in the realism. "Maybe," is as much as she'll concede aloud, but it's a boilerplate argument only. He sees— knows?— there's more behind it.

"If I could burn it all down and start over, I'd do that," she grouses, looking away. "But I guess I'll have to find some amount of satisfaction in… taking what I've got and figuring out what to do with it." With that attempt at humor, the corner of her mouth pulls back in what wants so desperately to be a smile, but it wavers away.

"So what are you here for?" Emily wonders abruptly, voice still soft like there's something else she might rouse if she lifts it up to a normal speaking volume. "Is Nicole okay?"

And just like that, Zachery's frustrations fade from the surface of him. He retreats back into the person he was when Emily walked in - shooting her one more observant look over before he slumps forward in his seat again, as if the last year of his life has been one too many.

His voice, though, stays the same. Tired, as Emily knows it to be all too often, but forced into a cadence too airily casual for the content of his words. "No, she's not. She elected to try some amateur electroshock therapy a few… days… ago." His words slow around the nonspecificity of the statement.

He frowns, hands on the side of his neck again as he stares into the floor. How many days had it been? From the look of him, now that Emily's sitting closer, a few more days than the nights he's actually slept.

So Nicole's not taking things well. Emily can't imagine what Zachery described would actually do to an electrokinetic, but he nonetheless sounds distressed, and the situation overall sounds reckless, so…

Jesus. What a position to be in.

She finds she has no words for him, and instead of struggling to produce any, she turns to him and wraps an arm around one of his shoulders, settling her chin on the other. It's slightly awkward given their mutual positions, given her coat doesn't easily let her stretch her arm out, but it's a hug.

And it carries with it plenty that just can't be said.

"I'm not gonna pry," she mutters anyway. "Not unless you want to talk about any of it." The hug holds on in silence several more seconds before it begins to ease. Before he has the chance to decide to dump his mess, she adds brusquely but gently, "We should leave that for later anyway. For maybe when we've both had more sleep. Or at least more caffeine."

Then she slips back into her own personal space bubble, the invasion of his easily ready to never again be discussed, if so desired. Her head moves forward, eyes finding her lap after she shifts and settles her arms.

The hug elects no movement from Zachery, no attempt at reciprocation nor recognition beyond a pinch of his brow. As if the just pressure in itself is confounding.

He remains staring at a fixed point on the floor, unyielding.

Only once it's over does he release a breath he was holding, dropping his gaze further down and unscrewing his jaw. Rolling it slowly right to left before finally drawing another breath to say, "I can call you, if you like. For coffee. And that."

Gone is the fake nonchalance carried on his words, words now dragging like ill-fitted boots through mud. "I should be out later today, provided they don't take more of my brain than I've bargained for." He turns his head, but only just enough to get a lazy glimpse of Emily's face.

The phone Emily had slid out in her shifting remains sitting on her lap, the current time reflecting up at her. She should get going.

But how can she, with a comment slid face down across the table at her such as how he did? Haha, Zachery. Very funny. That's surely a joke about things they do in hospitals rather than a reference of a very specific procedure one would undergo.

Instead of airing the need to leave, she looks at him with her eyebrows pinching together in wary suspicion. Surely he'd not be doing this alone?

That's the tipping point. That's the errant thought that unsticks the gears in her mind. It's a thing she decides must be addressed in the offchance that wasn't just a joke.

"You want me to stick around?" she wonders, direct this time. No glancing off of subjects through metaphors and euphemisms and vagueries now. "I need to go let them make sure I've still got more blood than chlorophyll running through my veins in a few minutes, but that shouldn't take long at all. And it's not like I had plans."

Depressive anxiety napping aside.

"At the very least, you need someone to watch your phone," Emily insists quietly. She tries to play the moment nonchalant, like that's really the motivation behind the offer, but she does a poor job of being convincing on that. "Can't trust anyone these days."

Zachery's monocular gaze lingers on Emily's face - but he tracks her poorly, in distracted starts and stops. He listens, and for a moment it looks like the comment about his phone might warrant some amusement pulling at a corner of his mouth — before it warps too quickly into something else.

Something unacceptable. He lets his head fall again, leaning fully forward as his hands slide over his face. The fingers of one hand slide in past his hairline and press tightly into his scalp behind his head, while the other hand stays covering his right eye.

No use unsplaying the fingers clawed with tension across the other.

"You were a fucking tree, Emily." He insists, barely audible through gritted teeth and reluctance dialing down the volume by force. "You need to take care of yourself."

"You're alone," Emily counters with a sudden edge in her own voice— a knee-jerk reaction to not abide by limits. At least, the kind others place on her. But it's also more than just that— it's everything Zachery tries to cover up, and the growing cracks in that facade she can see through. It doesn't take her ability to catch on the emotional response he was trying to fight down now, the struggle he's going through. "I don't see Nicole. I don't see anyone. You're— you're here, and whatever the fuck you're facing, it doesn't sound like something you should be doing alone." It didn't sound like it was something small, that's for sure.

"It's a form of fucking self care," she argues regarding staying, very matter of fact. "Not worrying." If she leaves, and is left to wonder what happens to him after this….

Hanging out in a hospital is not exactly self-care, but maybe in this one case, it'll be close enough.

A beat passes and then Emily takes in a sharp breath, half-turning to Zachery. She can feel the weight of the words she doesn't even know she wants to say yet. Holding onto them helps her better appreciate their danger, and adjust her course accordingly. Her eyes avoid his, head reducing the angle it's directed at him, and she scales back everything she means to say to a simple, soft, "Please."

Even that word alone holds weight, but at least it's not filled with one that would crush any argument he might make to it.

The fact that he's alone is not news to Zachery, and yields nothing but a bitter, quiet excuse for a chuckle.

The seconds that pass after that start ticking by without so much as another sound from him, his crumpled form unmoving, mind stuck pretending it is the only one in the room.

Until, finally, something gives. "There's a new machine."

Sluggishly, he drags his hands back down until they fall into his lap, eyes opening halfway so he can stare ahead of him in a haze of whatever thoughts hold sway, tension still clear in his expression. "One floor down, around the corner from the elevators, through the double doors. Get yourself some coffee. Get your things done."

He nods, in vague acknowledgement. "I'll be here."

Emily snakes the strap of the bag she carries with her over the top of her head so the contents remain behind on the seat when she comes to her feet. Her calves brace against the side of the chair while she stands, slipping the cuff of the forearm crutch back around the limb it's intended for.

She turns to look at Zachery, advising him very frankly, "I sure hope so."

The bag is left intentionally.

"I should be back in twenty, tops," the young woman promises, then begins to head off. She swings the crutch with each step out of habit, cautiously nosing the rubber tip of it against the floor without any real press of weight behind it. Any true need for it is fading, its presence serving now as nothing more than a training wheel that catches her during uncertain spells. Soon, she won't need it at all.

"Don't have too much fun without me," Emily dryly requests, not even turning to properly pitch it over her shoulder and back at him.

"I'll try to restrain myself," is the only thing Zachery can think to say in response, seemingly lacking the energy to even look in her direction as his head is tilted back against the wall again.

Only when she's out of sight does he reach for the chair beside him, drags the bag closer, and - with his hand still across it - closes his eyes.

There is a safety, now, in dozing off more openly. But not before he says, just under his breath, "Just don't fucking stay gone this time, will you."

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