Falling Leaves


s_delia_icon.gif emily5_icon.gif

Scene Title Falling Leaves
Synopsis Emily's living nightmare is interrupted.
Date September 16, 2020

In Dreams

Ripples circle out from their epicenter, the point of contact from a toe in still water.

Splash splash

At first it was the game of a small child with springy red hair and bright blue eyes. The little girl that’s been in hiding for months and months. Six now, if we’re trying to count. This is a place she’s avoided by request and polite girls always do what they’re told. She’s a small and sickly thing, a paperbag princess with a crooked crown and a warped tinsel sceptre. The only reason she’s here is because she could feel the loneliness.

It made them the same.

Still, she doesn’t announce her presence or go out of her way to make herself known. She’s not here to cause trouble, she’s just adding a splash of color here and there to a bleak and grey environment. A grey it is. Grey sky, with clouds threatening to burst at any moment. Grey skeletal trees whose leaves have fallen ages ago. Dark water that reflects the sky and is too cold on bare toes. Still, the little girl splashes and from every little spray of water, color blooms and spreads, almost like it’s infecting the grey.

No. No. Not here, too.

A thin blonde with her hair drawn back into a ponytail is stumbling amongst the trees, black boots splashing in cold water. Legs clad in charcoal grey cross over each other as she struggles with her surroundings. She's dressed in a white turtleneck owing to the chill, a fur-lined plum vest work zipped over it. Her blue eyes reflect a panic.

Please, god, not here, too.

She'd gotten better at avoiding these kinds of thoughts, she'd thought, but she must be dreaming again. And dreams… sometimes were nightmares.

There's not even anyone here to help her fight through it, either. And the pretty, pretty sword hanging impossibly from her hip can't help with this.

Letting out a noise of distress, Emily Epstein whips around again, hoping to find herself surrounded by anything but trees. She's almost succumbed to a panic when she spots the little girl with red hair between the spindly trunks. "Please," she calls out to her, begging. "Make it stop. Take me away from here."

Her being flickers, multiple versions of herself splicing over top of each other. She's a child in a black dress. An adolescent in a pale hospital gown. She's in a winter coat and sickly veins the color green appear from the side of her neck and curl around her jaw. Then she's herself as she was, her voice laced with something powerful behind her terrified pleading.

"Please help me."

Everything stills as the little red haired girl stops splashing her feet in the frigid water. She looks up, her blue eyes a little too vibrant against pinks that should be whites. She’s been crying, for a long long long time, that much is obvious.

“I can’t.”

A bitter reply made by a dulled voice.

“I’unno how.”

She’s not about to tell the other girl/lady that she’s just here to wallow in her misery. It loves company.


Slowly, like a middle aged man who's had too much the night before, the little girl groans and staggers to her feet. Holding her hand to her back, she stretches out the ache earned from sitting too long. She’s been there for days, probably. “Well.. maybe.” Taking a deep breath, she bows her head and then rolls it from one shoulder to the other. Slowly, slowly, she stretches her little muscles, from the neck she windmills her little shoulders and then her arms.

The wind picks up. Tossing leaves through the trees, red maples and yellow brown oaks whip around the little dreamwalker in a tornado, the howl almost masking something else. Other voices. Ones more familiar to Emily.


Emily can see the screaming, terrified, bodies of her friends, ragdolling through the air as the tornado rising from the little girl catches them. One by one, the wind flings them in each direction, somewhere amongst the brambles. Near enough that she can hear the crack of branches but far enough away that she can’t make out exactly where they landed.



"Son of a BISCUIT EATER," is finally what comes out of someone in the woods. It's not actually a voice Emily knows. The tiny frame of Brynn stomps through the brush, and she stops short at the sight of …. "Emily? Why is your butt hanging out of…" Then the image is gone. She's so confused. And her mouth is not moving. And still she doesn't bring herself to say bad words much. "Where the heck are we now???? I'm so freakin' tired of this botswarf!" She's been through a hell of a lot lately!

One of the bodies that flies toward the brush does so with an involuntary cry in panic before landing just out of sight, and going quiet.

But not for long. A girl emerges from the brambles behind Emily and into the drab scenery. Finch, looking almost as bleak as her surroundings, holds one arm tightly against herself and leans gingerly on a tree as her eyes sweep what's within sight. Her eyebrows crumple in confusion at the faces she finds, but then… "Emily."


Like a lightbulb, Finch switches on - colour finds her in bits, but it finds her fast. By the time she's hurrying her way over wayward roots and toward her friend, her hair is a faded purple and yellow floods back into her shirt under blue overalls. A ring of saturation persists just outside her - she'd colour this whole place in if she could. But first. Emily.

Right on Finch's heels, something else comes tromping through the bush like a miniature enraged mastodon, crushing and completely flattening the brambles that the girl in front of her had evaded.

Its head is on fire. No… wait. Geneva Stevenson's hair is fire, roaring upwards from her head into the sky in a constantly whorling, beehive-shaped fireball.


This rest of the rotund distortion of Gene is a marshmallow-shaped block of fire-engine red, and as squat as one: she barely comes up to Finch's softly glowing hip in height, which can be seen when the two halt together for a second. Not that any of those details seem to be bothering her in the least—

Right now, she is a simplistic avatar of anger. Nothing less. "I've had ENOUGH!" The tiny, fiercely flaming Gene snarl-yells, in a unison of agreement with Brynn. "EM - I - LY!"

They are here.

It isn't the first time that Jac has been tossed into a dream that wasn't her own. That first time she was at least on a boat that took her through unfamiliar and wildly dangerous lands. Hurtling through space like a discarded toy is far less pleasant — especially the landing.


“Jasmine.” The name comes from her lips as a complaint as much as a question. It comes from a face down child with a mop of curly red hair. A different child than the one Emily saw before. This one has a familiar voice and

familiar blue eyes when she finally picks herself up from the ground and out of the leaves that didn't break her fall. Those eyes fall on Brynn and Gene first, then Finch when her colors briefly manage to overwhelm the brightness of Geneva’s flames.

Jac finds Emily last, while getting to her feet. Her mouth works, those millions of questions all fighting to be the first one asked. None of them are given a voice, though. She throws herself to Emily, all limbs and shaggy curls dragging her friend into a hug.

The screaming and flailing of limbs of persons dear to her nearly brings Emily to her knees. Tears are streaming openly down her face when bodies go flying, a sob leaving her. One hand cups around her mouth in horror, wishing she could wake up from the awful nightmare.

So imagine her surprise when it turns out everyone's not dead.

Brynn's entirely unfamiliar voice takes her by surprise, leading her to take a start back, boots splattering a puddle of water. The sound of her name makes her take pause, and then the sight of her friend emerging leads only for her expression to blank. Emily is still trying to process when Finch flies at her, bringing brightness and vividness with her.

All wonderful colors. None of them green. She feels herself become a touch more vivid for Finch's closeness and her tackle of an embrace.

"What—" Emily manages only that much before some bitterly angry creature with Geneva's voice enters the periphery around Finch, and then past that she sees Squeaks running to join the pile of hugs being thrown on her. Her eyes soften for seeing the youngest of her friends, and she finally, belatedly lifts her arms to hug those closest to her in return.

She's still crying, but now for a different reason. Tears of confusion and relief streak across her face before she buries her head into the embrace as well.

"You came for me." Emily doesn't understand how, but she sobs the words out anyway. Because maybe it doesn't matter. If this is just a normal dream after all, something she's doing to herself and not an external reprieve from her living nightmare, no one tell her. She needs this. "You came for me."

"Stoopid." Brynn's 'voice' is a soft, aggrieved contralto. "You can't possibly imagine that we were leaving you anywhere. For fuck's sake, Ems." Gray eyes roll like they're gonna roll right on out of her head and away on the jungle floor. "Someone's always with you. You're never alone." Well… maybe that's a tiny exaggeration, but not much of one!! And it came with the F-bomb too!

Someone dressed in a long black duster comes tumbling out of the vortex created by the tiny dreamweaver, landing in the bramble with a yelp and a CRUNCH. Shortly after, a familiar figure to Finch and Emily sits up, holding her arms out. “What the fucking fuck is fucking going on?!?” Roxie shrieks in fear at no one in particular, staring at her ragged and worn clothing - the clothing of a homeless woman. She had just been hanging with the dog on the ratty old couch she found on the side of the road… now she was… fucking somewhere else?


When Roxie finally looks up, she sees a group of unfamiliar faces, which sends her scrambling backwards away from them. “Who the fuck??” At least before she can think of getting on her feet and running she spots the two faces she knows.

Now Roxie stops and just sits looking really confused. “The fuck…? Emily?” Then she looks at Finch. “Am I fucking dead? Are… we fucking dead? Holy shit where is Goober?” This whole thing is kinda new for the canine telepath.

"Better??" The little girl repeats.

Her face is scrunched into an angry little pout. Without waiting for an answer from the dreamer or her guests she twirls on one heel and storms off. Back to her bleak pond. Huffing, she plops back down to her former seated position and begins splashing her feet in the cold water again. Her impossibly bright blue eyes slide discreetly toward the group of friends before they snap back to front.

The sound of Brynn's voice shouldn't be recognizable, because obviously Brynn does not have that voice in real life. But it makes unquestionable sense to Gene right now.

As does the logic of the words.

The stubby Gene-faced marshmallow monster roars out something totally incomprehensible, practically knocking Jac out of the way and hauling Emily into the violent delight of her own, personal hug. Her flaming cranium blasts upwards in a short, streaking gout of blinding orange ferocity as she crushes herself facefirst into her friend's waist.

The flames do no harm to anyone, though they look like they certainly should be. Instead, the sensation they give off is much stranger: some sort of reverse whirlpool of confused, rather vaguely pressurized air. All of Gene's raw emotions, embodied.

"Of course we came for you, you fuckin’ wonderful dolt."

"Careful!" Finch yelps as she throws her arms up at Gene, relinquishing the whole Emily to let others have her turn making up for lost time.

She's still sniffling and teary-eyed when she offers the Emilyhugpile a wide smile despite her clear confusion, her yellows and blues and purples shining a little brighter for the joy she's feeling.

She, too, is confused. And not just because Brynn is talking, or because of the strange girl - or because the last time she shared a dream with others was not great. But even though her shoulders are up when she lets her enthusiasm take over, there is nothing but fondness on her face and in her voice when she says, "Emily, we missed you! Of course we came."


"THAT WAS FUN! I WANT TO GO AGAIN!" That voice can only be one person. Only one person would go flying through a tornado, land, expect to be okay, and then want to go again. "GUYS WASN'T THAT FUN?" Joe's voice can be heard as he makes his way from where he landed, stumbling free of a patch of thorny brambles that would probably not be something most people would try to force their way through. "Dorothy I don't think we're in Kansas anymore…"

Then Joe spots Emily. "Holy shit Ems!" Joe doesn't swear, like ever. But he sure does right then and goes tearing over the root heavy ground, picking his way with what might be surprising grace considering his usual lack of concern, but tripping means taking longer to get there. "Hi everyone!" He shouts as he gets closer, tripping a couple of times at the end in his haste before he comes to a stop near the whole group, and then well… Joe has always been a hugger, so he joins the hug pile where he can. Then he pauses and turns his head to look over at Brynn. "Wait you're… talking. Where are we?" He asks in confusion and curiosity, not that the hugging of the Emily has abated. "Mindscape?" He asks curiously, peeking around them before looking back to the others.

“Hey,” is about all the protest that Jac manages when she's shoved away. She wasn't finished. Bruised feelings are huffed at and stuffed into some corner. Joe’s arrival is a helpful distraction for that. Ample room is given for the others, with the interrupted hug for Emily being finished on herself.

“I think it's a dream,” she explains, voice thick and not very loud. Because she'd been asleep before, and how she got into this unknown forest was pretty similar to how Jasmine had pulled her into a meeting with Emily before.

The youngest of the kids watches Emily over the other’s heads. Her eyebrows bunch with sadness and worry, mouth a tight knot of trying to grin instead of allowing emotions to spill over. The last time she'd seen her friend was rough and painful; learning Emily was not just gone but a tree was worse.

But reunions are meant to be happy, so Jac aims for that brave face. As Brynn said, of course they’re here for Emily.

For having been so alone, Emily's overwhelmed by the wonder that is many of her friends being close by. The first moment she has a hand free she lifts it to smear away tears from her cheek, smile turning to more of a grimace as she tries to get herself together. Joe's hug and question about where they are brings her to lift her head and take a harder look.

This didn't feel like anything she'd surround herself with willingly. It wasn't like the place Kaylee had helped her solidify when she'd come to visit sometime between yesterday and an actual, verifiable eternity ago. And they definitely weren't dead— at least not all of them at once.

She didn't think.

Emily comes to the conclusion that Squeaks does a moment before she voices it, and it brings her to look back up to the sulking redheaded child across the way. Her brow starts to furrow in thought.

"Ryans," she acknowledges with cautious thought, remembering a warmer time. Warmer environs.

She'd fallen out of the sky, too, then— pinwheeling and screaming.

Emily lets out a faint laugh. "Better," she confirms, if a bit drily. She rubs her hand right through the firey mess of Geneva's hair in a firm return hug, then looks to Brynn of all people. "Look at the mouth on you," she teases with another faint laugh.

It tapers into noise of distress, overwhelmed. She finds Roxie to share that look with her, then gives a shake of her head to try and center herself again. "Um, okay. Somebody tell me something good. When is it now? Is it winter again?" If it was, maybe it'd explain all the bare trees she'd been surrounded by.

With no real answers forthcoming, Roxie doesn’t move. Watching the interactions with wide-eyed confusion and fear, brows lower over blue eyes. How are you all fucking okay with this?! she wants to say, but while her mouth opens… not words come out as she decides better of it. Instead, she sends a small glare in Delia’s direction.

While the other young adults all dogpile, the young homeless woman finally pushes to her feet and brushes the bramble off her, with an added look of disapproval at each thorny stick she pulls off her coat. Then she just stands back watching, fingers of one hand working at the sleeve of her long coat. When she sees Emily’s glance, behind the discomfort and worry, Roxie does look like she’s glad to see the other woman, even if she doesn’t say it outloud. Maybe afraid to speak up and draw attention to herself suddenly…. There were a lot of unfamiliar people.

Funny thing about thoughts in a mindscape.


The little girl’s blue eyes flare, angrier than the little red marshmallow. In an instant, she’s not at her spot by the pond anymore, she’s inches away from Roxie, glaring right back at her.


Even here in a dream, Brynn's smile is somewhat abashed now that Emily teases about her language. "Well," she points out in that smooth voice that still doesn't move her lips at all, "I did grow up with Brian and the kids. It just seems silly to sign such language. Loses something in translation." The quip is somewhat self-deprecating, although her grin turns cheeky. "Besides… it's rude."

She finally steps forward to wrap her arms around Emily tightly. "I've missed you so much," she murmurs.

Then the girl starts shouting about sending people away? What???

Jac starts to answer about the weather, it's easiest and autumn is a nice time of year, but the yelling draws her attention. Neither face is familiar. She frowns at that, and the anger. She just sighs, shakes her head, and chooses to say nothing at all about anything.

There is a shout of surprise when the girl pops up in front of her, sending Roxie cartwheeling back and landing in the bramble again with a grunt. “I don’t even fucking know you, you little shit!” Roxie shouts back from her seat in the bushes. Looking around her, arms going out, she adds just as loudly, back at her, “AND WHERE THE EVERLIVING FUCK IS HERE?!”

Roxie looks past Delia to the others, finding those familiar faces in the group with a pleading look. “All I fucking know, is one moment I was sitting on the goddamn couch studying and listening to my buddy, Joaquin, practice his fucking music. The next….” the woman’s attention shifts back to Delia, spreading out her arms in frustration, “I’m in the middle of nowhere getting shouted at by a short shit with a fucking attitude.”

She simply didn’t understand. Roxie was embarrassed and scared, which clearly made her defensive and so very angry. Pointing at Delia, the canine telepath growls out like a dog cornered, “You know what you fucking are? You’re fucking rude! You want people to fucking like you or want you around? Quit being a bitch.

Joe gives other people hugs too, but Emily got a big one. Then Squeaks gets one too. He saw her get pushed out of the way, so she gets a hug as well. A full hug, not an arm tap. His head swings back over to Emily about when he's letting Squeaks go. "Winter? What? No. It's September. So… good to know you're still in here though. Been worried. And why are little girls screaming at people?" He asks it, and then maneuvers away from the rest of the group to go over close to the little redhead. "Hi. I'm Joe." He holds a hand out to her with an easy smile in place.

"Wait. Ems said Ryans… Delia? Is that you?" Joe asks as his eyes narrow, his tone a touch confused, though not overly so. Weird is an everyday occurrence after all. "Well you definitely seem diff…" He pauses, looking over Roxie's way with a few blinks. "Why are you screaming at a child? Or at least what appears to be a child? And why all the language? Especially around a child. Or what appears to be a child. Never know." Joe's eyes are narrowed, and his tone is definitely chiding. He also steps between the tiny redhead and the older Roxie, his arms crossed over his chest. "And if you were listening you'd know we're in a dreamscape."

It takes a minute or two for Gene the Waist-Tall Marshmallow Girl to shove herself free of the hugpile that had, at a few points, completely buried her — finally exploding out of its confines like a flabby Kool-Aid man that had also previously been set on fire.

"Yeah, it's one of those weirdass dream-places," she confirms to Roxie belatedly, picking herself up as though nothing at all had happened, then shambling over the rest of the way on legs the length of toothpicks. "Goodfucking yard, little girls, stop yelling. Jesus Christ. You’re giving me a headache."

A pair of giant aviators materializes across Gene's eyes for no reason at all. Thanks to the sheer diameter of Gene's tomato-red body at present, the shades are the size of young geese and look approximately as serious. "Guys. It's a dream, and it’s not like we get this chance with Emily a lot nowadays. Let's party."

Between the shouting and the confusion and the worry and the Gene, Finch doesn't seem to know what to do with herself. The light around her dims a little, her demeanor shifting from overjoyed to see Emily to overwhelmed within seconds.

Still, after a hurried glance at the girl Joe may or may not have identified as Delia, Finch sucks in a deep breath and tries to recompose herself for the person she figures this is all about, especially now that time seems possibly short. Something good was asked for!

A bright yellow party hat pops into existence on her head as if of its own accord, and a literal shimmer of determination washes over her anew. "I saw twelve dogs today!" She eagerly tells Emily, when she catches a lull in which to do so. "And and- and the college was doing a book sale when I walked by and everyone was gathered and it was really nice."

Emily's happy enough to see everyone, catching Brynn's hug with both arms of her own, but the sound of the shrieking from the red-headed child draws her attention over her friend's shoulder. "Fuck," she breathes pre-emptively, and then her mood shifts, hardens into something foul.

But everything she would say, Roxie gets around to it in the end. Her brow arches in surprise at the force of her return yell, concerned just what the hell it is Delia might do in reply seeing as she seems on the quick-to-fire side of loose cannon.

She has a bad feeling about what else comes. So she makes sure she takes a moment to turn to Finch, to smile at her. "That's amazing, El. I hope you got to pet at least one of them, but not any ones that are just out roaming randomly. Don't get bit, okay?"

Emily slips between persons, resting a hand on Squeaks' shoulder and squeezing it firmly while she makes her way to where Roxie is, the sword hanging by her side bouncing off her thigh while she walks. "Roxie!" she calls out. "It's just a dream. We're all dreaming."

It might be too little too late when Roxie's already spoken too true to Delia about what people tend to do when you're rude to them, but she tries.


The little redhead disappears.

Without the dreamwalker to tether the rest to Emily, gravity fails and her visitors begin to fall upward.

Oh crap. Even as Brynn feels the yank back to the sky — or out of the dream — she flinches. "Emily," she says quickly, "don't give up! We're always checking and sitting with you and we will get you out of here!" It's all she has time to say and she's ejected from Emily's dreamscape.

Jac lifts her head when Emily passes her, brows knitted but a small grin managed for the older girl. Her eyes follow, while her feet stay


her feet aren’t on the ground anymore. When she recognizes the sensation of falling, Jac swings her hands for anything to grab onto, to stay a few minutes longer. “No,” she cries, desperate. It’s too soon. She’s only just seen Emily. “No! Not yet!” Thin, young branches are snagged and snatched, held onto for as long as she can. “Emily!”

Roxie looks between the others as they come to the little girls defense. “But… she…” Whatever she was going to say is lost as the little girl snaps out of existence. She scoots back a little more and only has a moment to look at Emily in confusion, still processing the information. Somehow, her saying it gets it sinking in. Maybe it’s because she trusts her friend. Still…

“What? HooooooowaaaAAAAHHHH!!!”

The young canine telepath’s question turns into a shriek of fear as she is yanked upward into the air. It’s a sound that will probably follow her into the real world, where poor Joaquin and Goober are still.

"I won't get bit!" Finch beams at Emily in more ways than one, managing a bright smile before she, too, begins to lose her footing. She reaches blindly out, clasping a hand fully over marshmallow-Geneva's face while the other grasps at her shoulder in a failed attempt to anchor herself. "Ah!" UP SHE GOES, legs first, eyes wide.

The last sound marshmallow-Gene makes as she gets hoovered up too, shrimpy limbs spiraling, is "wwwMGGGEHHHMRRLY!" with Finch's whole hand over her face.

One by one, Emily’s friends fall further and further into the sky. Back whence they came.

All but one.

For some reason, Joe’s feet are rooted firmly to the ground. In a literal sense. Thick wooded radicles have wound themselves up his legs ending at knee height. The rest of his body is buoyant, causing him to look like a drowned man in water.

Joe is expecting to be flung away, to fly into the sky, or rather fall into the sky. He's expecting to wake up suddenly, or end up in a nightmare. He's expecting a lot of things. What is he not expecting? To stay in place. "Huh." He murmurs curiously as he watches the others disappear. "Nifty." He waves his hand around in front of his face, looking down at his rooted feet, then around at the landscape. "Well, this is unexpected." Joe is both easy and difficult to ruffle though. Easy to ruffle when it comes to people messing with his family and friends. But pretty hard when it comes to new circumstances, like being rooted to the ground. "I don't think I'll make a good tree. Wonder if my tree would be bulletproof." Joe pulls against the roots around his legs, testing their strength and hold as he checks out his surroundings. "Well, at least the others saw me stay here. So if I'm trapped they can help get me out somehow."

Were it easy for Emily to wake, the rollercoaster of all this would have roused her by now. But the consciousness she could slip back to isn't the same, her default state being more of a dreaming one.

"Brynn! Squeaks! Roxie! El! Gene!" She reaches up, like somehow she might be able to call them back. She doesn't want them to go.

When Joe appears to be the only one left, she rushes him, arms cinching around his midsection to hold onto him tightly so he won't go. Her eyes flutter open again and she looks down, seeing the growth rooting him down. For just a moment she worries it was herself somehow causing it, but that didn't make any sense to her. Joe, though, had been the only one to come to Delia's defense.

So it looks like he stayed. He shouldn't have, though. He shouldn't still be here.

They'll have to get him loose.

Emily struggles with that, stepping back enough to watch him test the grasp of the growth, but embraces him tightly again as soon as he's back upright. "It's September?" she repeats back belatedly, faintly. "That means it's been… six months. September… September makes sense."

She shakes her head, overwhelmed for what to do with these few extra moments. "We've got to get you out of that so you can go back to everyone…" she acknowledges breathlessly, avoiding looking at him directly. "But… how are you? How's everyone? Everything?"

"Wait… If it's September, it means November is just around the corner." Very sternly, she rounds back to Joe. "There's no way in hell I'm missing my first Presidential election, Joe. You make sure they get an absentee ballot for me and you make sure it goes for Praeger. Fuck Medina."

She doesn't even know there's four people running, but she's adamant nonetheless about this.

It’s a silent motion, but a small bird perched at the top of one of the skeletal trees ruffles its feathers before settling in to eye the pair below. The black cap on its head and vibrant little red breast make it look quite dapper in the otherwise barren scape.

Emily’s right though, he shouldn’t be here and it’s taking everything Delia has to keep him where he is. The roots constrict like snakes around him, crawling now to Joe’s waist in order to hold him fast. From elsewhere, a sleepy sigh causes a soothing breeze, carrying the scent of lavender and mint, swirling around Joe’s head and lulling him to a calm state. Things around him work exactly as they should. There’s nothing abnormal about any of this. Emily has always been where she is now and him becoming a tree? Well, that’s just the evolution of invulnerability, the next stage.

Everything is fine. Everything makes perfect sense.

Joe is surprised but happy there's still an Emily. And much more surprised to get a hug from her. It only takes a moment though for realization to set in. She's been alone this whole time, so yeah, she's going to cling to something familiar. He wraps his arms around his friend and hugs her tight. "Standing up for people pays off." He comments to Emily with a big broad Joe grin. "We're going to figure this out Ems. One way or another we'll figure it out." He's not going to tell her it's all going to be okay. The kids have lost friends and family. They know better than anyone that it is not always okay, and it does not always work out.

He hugs her back when she embraces him again, hugging tightly. He's missed his friend, and she needs the hugs. "Yeah. September. We've all been visiting you I think. I see little things left with you. Flowers, keepsakes, new footprints. I go every few days, as often as I can really." He looks down at his feet and laughs. "I'm fine sticking around for a bit. Not worried about getting loose and getting back. They'll take care of me if I get stuck here awhile. Hospital, fluids and stuffs." Joe seems far more concerned with the fate of his friend than himself. "Don't worry. I'll make sure your ballot gets filled out. Pretty sure I can sign your name convincingly." He winks at her before turning his head to look around a little bit more. "So is this where you've been? Or is this different?"

Joe is looking around a little bit more, his head cocking slightly to the side as he looks up at the bird curiously. "Pretty bird. Odd here…" He murmurs, his voice trailing off before a big yawn leaves him. "Hmmm that's odd. Should I be sleepy in the dream world? I'd make a weird tree. Bulletproof tree." He snickers softly, then looks down at the roots growing higher, but the concern that should be there isn't, so he just shrugs and continues to hug his friend.

Emily brings her hand to her face, scrubbing away tears with the heel of her palm. She forces a smile as much as it comes against her will, shaking her head as she looks to Joe. How is it possible to feel so many things at once like this?

She knows just how. It's the sight of those vines climbing up higher on him, keeping him locked here with her, bringing her to worry just the same as she's glad to have him nearby however much longer.

"Here isn't like any dream I've had," she answers with a shake of her head. "I don't— I don't think about what's happened to me if I can help it. Kaylee Thatcher helped me form a… a kind of safe spot where I can rest and feel more.. me, if that makes any sense."

"Me," she clarifies distractedly, "Versus…"

She lifts a hand to cover the side of her neck, rubbing at a spot of changing skin— of coloring veins that thicken and green. Emily closes her eyes hard, taking a sharp breath in to try and gain better control of her thoughts.

The hug helps, admittedly, even if the end-result is she's even more worried about Joe than before. "This kind of lucidity, this kind of stability— I'm surprised things aren't more foggy. But I guess— Delia's ability's to thank for that. She… she needs to let you go, though." Emily forces another small smile as she points out, "How're you going to forge my signature if you're stuck in here with me?"

The bird dives from the top of the tree, like a bullet. Wings tucked tightly to its body until the very last second, as its shoots toward the ground, it grows. Less than a few meters from the ground the wings unfurl and spread and instead of talons alighting to the ground it's a pair of bare feet touching down. The wings disappear in an explosion of feathers.


Everything freezes in place except Emily. Joe's face permanently twisted in that state of Joe-confusion as he puzzles out what exactly is going on.

"You're breaking the rules," Delia says calmly to Emily. "The more they realize they're dreaming, the more they wake up. When they wake up, I can't hold them." She turns to look at Joe with a little frown on her face. "He's the worst of all of them, you know. That busy little brain always looking for logic where there can't be any. As soon as I start things up again, he’ll be gone." Shaking her head, she turns back to Emily. "I can help you, I can hold you until you're back to normal. You can travel with me and visit your friends as much as you want, but you have to follow the rules."

Joe's freezing brings Emily to blink, to raise one hand and wave it before him slightly before Delia's voice draws her to look back. Any anger she might have about breaking unspoken rules dies when she realizes Joe's going to vanish after all. It's a relief, because of course he should go, and yet…

Her shoulders slowly slope downward as she makes her peace with that, turning away from him finally to face Delia. Her left hand rests on the pommel of the sword by her side, pale brows knitting together briefly.

What's being offered sounds like escape, but if it was anything like what brought her friends here in the first place, it sounded like it could be a twisted thing.

"What are the rules?" Emily asks cautiously. "Because I have my own."

"Your rules don't really matter much compared to this one," Delia says with a small shrug. "You wake them up, we can't stay. If they know they're dreaming, they wake up. The only places that rule doesn't apply is coma patients and well.." She waves a hand around them, not exactly spelling out Emily’s current situation.

"If you come with me, you'll be …" She draws out that last word for a bit, as she searches for the right word, "asleep, but not dreaming, basically frozen while I'm awake." The redhead shrugs slightly and lets out a small huff or sigh, it's obvious that she's at least trying to be kind and somewhat helpful. "Which might be nice, considering you've been living in your own head, without a rest, for a while now."

She folds her arms across her chest, "I can sleep wherever, whenever… it's part of all this." One finger lifts and swirls around in a circle before tucking back down to join its fellows. "I'll take you where you want to go, I'll do what you need done… I won't snoop," she adds with a bit of an eyeroll, "but you can't wake our dreamers up. No blatant reality, that's the rule. That means no more talk about what's going on out there. We can paint a picture, make a movie, we can show them what you want them to know… but you can't let them know they're dreaming."

Now it's Emily who looks like she's been frozen in time, taking in a small breath and then not moving as she holds her words. The blue of her eyes reflects her uncertainty, her hand grasping the grip of the sword at her waist all the more tightly.

The green growth on the side of her neck becomes more prominent before she shakes her head to come back to the moment.

"Why? Why would you do that for me?" she asks cautiously.

"Why?" Delia just shakes her head and gives the young woman a serious but pitying look. "Because this," her arms unfold and she motions around them, "is torture." Then she's gone and in her place the little robin hops through the crunchy dead leaves.

I'll try to give you enough time to say goodbye to Joe runs through Emily's mind. Remember the rules.

The next second, the bird is gone and Joe is back, the roots are slowly receding from his buoyant frame.

Emily takes both of Joe's hands in hers, holding on tightly. She's going to cling to every last second of this she can.

"Hey, Peter Pan," she teases him nonetheless, anticipating that she'll not be able to hold on for nearly as long as she likes. "Say hi to everyone for me when you get back to Neverland, would you? Go fly since I can't." She smiles bright and broad for a flash of a moment, though it's clear she wishes she could join him.

Peter Pan? Joe looks dumbfounded for a moment before a quick laugh leaves him at that idea. "I guess I kinda am. Don't really want to grow up, but want to do all the grown up things. Even have all the Lost Kids, and we take in all the new ones we find." There's a big smile from Joe at that idea, then his features scrunch up in confusion, trying to snatch at thoughts lost before he was frozen in place. "There's… something… I can't remember now. Oh well. Hmmm. So if I'm Peter Pan then who's my Captain Hook? I don't think I have a nemesis yet. I should get one."

Joe's head bobbles up and down a few times before his eyes flicker around him, confusion once again pulling at his features. "Fly? I can't fly. Or at least… I don't think I can fly. Wait can I fly?" He asks his face going utterly befuddled. "I've always wondered if we can't have more powers and we just don't think we can so we don't. The power of thought and belief is amazing." He turns a bright cheery smile on Emily. "You should come with. I'm sure everyone would want to see you…" That again has his features scrunching up. He's forgetting something, and he knows he is, his mind picking at the edges of the dream reality, no doubt unraveling it a thread at a time.

“It’s nice here. Peaceful.” Joe looks around a little more. “I don’t get a lot of peace and quiet. I love everyone. But sometimes… it’s nice to have a quiet moment. I miss my Dad. You should go see your Dad, Ems. I dunno how often you do see him but you should definitely see him more. I lost one, don’t even really remember him. And now I’m away from my second one. Hmm.” There’s a small somewhat forced smile, a bit of bitter amusement. “Maybe not so Peter Pan after all.”

Emily only shakes her head, her smile deepening even if it's also sadder. "I dunno, Joe. I don't know anyone else who's perpetually able to conjure up happy thoughts. And— I'm glad for that. I'm glad you're you. I'm glad you saw I was alone and gave me the chance to know what it's like to not be. Because it was you, you know? You dragged me to everyone, and you guys accepted me for who I was— who I am."

"And you only judge me a little when I'm stubborn," she teases, squeezing his hand firmly. "Maybe rightly so."

Her voice hitches for a moment as she struggles to avoid talking about the reality of the situation, but she works past it. "You come see me any time you want a quiet moment, okay? I'm good at those. I'm a good listener. You know that. We can… we can do study sessions, like how we used to. I know it's been a while since we've done that."

She lets go of one of his hands to swat at his shoulder and point fiercely at him, still smiling. "If you forget about the absentee ballot thing, I'm gonna kick your ass, too. So remember that, okay?" Her brows arch as high as her expectations.

Stop breaking the rule. Show, don’t tell.

Delia’s voice is like a barking command in Emily’s head, but it’s not enough. Joe loses a shoe as the roots try to cling, but he is ripped violently away by consciousness. One dirty sneaker is all that’s left of the invulnerable manboy.

"Awww it's okay Ems. You don't have to be alone. You can come by anytime. Or I'll come by. It goes both ways. And you are too stubborn for your own good sometimes. It's okay. I am too conspiratorial for my own good. With good reason but it doesn't change the facts." He looks a little bit confused when she mentions the absentee ballot. "Why would you… oh. Oh! OH! That's right! Dreamscape! Why did I forgEEEEET!" And he's being pulled away like a Joe rocket, yanked free of the earth.

He's not scared though, he just grins a big Joe grin and waves at Emily. "I'll be back!" And yes, it's yelled in an AWFUL Arnold impression. And then the Bulletproof Kid goes sailing off, winking out of existence. Or at least, winking out of existence for Emily. Back to his own dreams and his own thoughts in his bed at the Lanthorn. Not that that place is any less crazy lately.

Emily grins in return, digging in her heels and holding onto Joe as long as she can. His fingers slip through hers all too soon, but it's okay. As long as he remembers he dreamt at all… maybe it'll be okay.

She falls back when the forceful parting happens, landing on the ground with her legs in a sprawl even if she remains upright.

It's cool down here. The earth is cool, seeping into her legs roots. Fall is coming.

Soon, she'll be surrounded by falling leaves.


"I couldn't help myself this time," she says softly to the air. "I wanted him to remember."

She'd also like to rise again, but she's not sure she could if she wanted to. Feeling rooted to one place, Emily turns back to Delia. "It's torture," she agrees quietly, "but I promised to hope it would end. So I can't give up on that. I can't just— leave myself behind." Eyes falling for a moment, she reconsiders immediately. "… Maybe I could go with you just for a while? To see a few of them?"


"Just… just for a while."


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