Here Matters


emily_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Here Matters
Synopsis Zachery arranges to meet with Emily with the intention of saying goodbye.
Date December 23, 2019

Sheepshead Beans and Bagels

At the beginning of the month, Zachery had texted Emily. Set up a meeting with Devon, he asked. Also, I need to talk to you, too. Later.

She thumbs the edge of the lid of her to-go cup, nail on plastic creating a just-short-of-satisfying clunk. She looks down at the otherwise empty table, her other hand steadying the cup's warmth on the table. She flicks the lid again, her gaze distant.

Without actively focusing on anything around her, Emily lifts her head and peers across the café from her seat nestled in the back corner. The place looks beautiful, with its green garland wrapped around railings and along ledges, and the white fairy lights strung along the walls. Normally, she'd settle in to stay a while, enjoy the tasteful, comfortable decor despite the Christmas classics playing softly overhead. But no. She hasn't even taken off her coat, the creme of it which long-since drycleaned back to perfection. It's been… only a month and a week, she reflects, but it feels like so much longer. She leans back against the bench along the wall, eyes half-lidding. Maybe it's just too early for her on this Monday morning. Maybe it's just that the coffee hasn't hit yet. Maybe she's tired beyond that.

Maybe she's wondering what she's doing here at all.

She lets go of her cup and brings her hand down to rest on something nestled between her and the wall, eyes closing while she waits.

"Should've told you to meet me at a bar."

This is the first thing Zachery says to Emily, sinking into the seat across from her in a tired whomf of black coat and dishevelment. Certainly, he's looked better - even disregarding recent events, long days of working, fussing and restless, alcohol-aided sleep have not done him many favours. After he settles in, posture slack, he idly shoves some fingers through his hair, which fixes absolutely nothing, and lifts his own drink to his mouth to have a generous glug of The Regular (read: as much caffeine and sugar as they would legally allow him to have in one cup).

"Almost hard to believe people are still doing Christmas." There is no warmth there, no joke. It's just hard to believe. He is not taking off his coat either, angling a weary look at Emily. Maybe he's hoping the one side of the collar that's sticking up and the bits of dried grass in the wool will distract from the fact that he's got a slowly healing cut on his neck, and still faintly visible bruises on one side of his face.

The sound of Zachery's arrival doesn't appear to rouse Emily entirely, her brow twitching and her eyes remaining unopened. Maybe she's irritated because she'd just slipped into a doze. "Too early for a bar." she murmurs. The comment about Christmas pushes her to let out a laugh under her breath, posture righting. Her eyes open just enough to see the table, to slip the hand around the package at her side up and over its surface. The white paper with gold, green, and red candy-cane pinstripes across it gleam in the light in clusters of lines as she sets it down.

Emily lifts her eyes only so she can look at Zachery pointedly. Some people still celebrate Christmas. So there. The knowing, smug look on her face is short-lived. It's not as though she had been radiating sparkles and sunshine to begin with, but the light in her eyes dims to nothing with each additional detail she notes wrong with him.

It's been a month and a week since she's seen Zachery Miller, and somehow he looks worse than before. In comparison, her hidden bruises have mottled away, the cut on her neck reduced to a scarring line.

"What did you do?" she whispers in alarm.

The look she gets back is one of amusement pushing just past exhaustion, a thin line of a smile that disappears as soon as he becomes aware of it. "Ploughed the Bone Wagon into the Sea Witch Bar."

Only then does he look at the thing that's now on the table, barely more than a beat passing before he takes advantage of its purpose as a distraction by asking, "What is this?"

Well, he answered. Emily could ask why, but she's not sure she wants the answer. Her throat is tight, indecision stalling words from coming. She finally blinks hard, tearing her eyes off of him and looking down at the present. Her hand comes to gently rub at the side of her neck, palm over the scab while she massages her fingers into muscle.

"You'll have to open it." is as much of a hint as he'll get, one said with the fog of someone still processing a shock. "I'd already had it." she explains, a touch of dismissal in it. Like she'd not have purchased him something had she known certain things, but at the time, she had simply seen something that might make a good gift. "It was supposed to be a thank-you, for…"

Instead of finishing, her hand drops back to her lap and she glances back up at Zachery uncertainly.

"Emily." Zachery says as if in disappointment, as if he's embarrassed in her stead. He looks at the gift again, sets his cup down, and drags a hand down his face, fingertips lingering to press hard into the stubble along his jawline.

"You understand people don't do this past a certain age, right?" He continues to stare at the bright paper while musing, "I don't really- I haven't-… Christ, it's been longer than you've been alive."

If he looked tired upon sitting down, saying those words aloud may well have put him near fucking death. It's going to be a thing if he doesn't open it, though, and he sinks further into his seat before dragging the gift closer to start picking at it. Fine.

Zachery's attempts to insist the gift away are met with a flattening of her expression. Yes, people do continue the practice of exchanging gifts past a certain age, even if he doesn't. But thankfully, he has the grace enough to accept what he's been given, if stuffily. Emily waits patiently while the wrapping is pecked apart.

Oh, it's a box one might smarmily charm and leave it at that, but it's a box that was purposefully left untaped to avoid such comments. As soon as it's no longer pressed down by the outer wrapping, the cardboard box halfway opens. Continue, it asks politely.

Fingers brush against a cold, metallic cylinder. Pulling it from the box reveals a drinking container, deep brown with the logo for the coffee shop they sit in printed onto the side in black. It looks like it could hold at least 20 ounces of liquid, and likely has some kind of insulation to keep it warm longer than ceramic would. If he had to guess, it could even fit snugly into a cupholder— nevermind what's currently become of the Bone Wagon.

It's also overflowing with a bundle of knitted wool that just keeps coming out when pulled, almost comically, until it's finally separated from the mug. The scarf sits in a pool, long enough to be wound around the neck twice. Handmade, by the looks of it. Probably not her hand— she doesn't look awkward enough for it, not silently or non-silently critiquing and downplaying its existence. It's nothing flashy— a dark gray that stands out shades lighter than his coat, a strip of yellow at either end.

The box emptied, it rattles on the table. There's something else in it, too. Tipping it on its edge, a keychain slides down the bottom of the container, silver. It's a single, bloblike shape without meaning until it falls over onto the wall of the box and reveals the other side. It's printed with a Louisville slugger.

Emily just waits through the process without providing direction, leaning back against the wall in patient silence.

It takes a little while for the words to come, the ambient hustle and bustle noise of their surroundings remains undisturbed while Zachery explores what treasure he's been granted. The first gift is placed right in the middle of the table with a wry grin the exact cause of which he does not immediately address - but the scarf is handled almost like it's some small animal, carefully inspected with both hands as he angles his head ever so slightly to center it in his monocular vision, before it's neatly folded into squares draped onto itself.

His expression is one of contemplation throughout, brow furrowing occasionally. It's not until the last thing falls out of the box that he chuckles, quietly, and looks up to Emily with a look of dry consideration and a grin he's unable to entirely fight back.

"This is- sweet." The word leaves him like it's something he thinks he's supposed to say. And a lot like he's genuinely just not quite sure what else to say, still holding the keychain between his fingers as he feels the weight of it. "I'm using this, you know."

"I try not to give gifts just for the hell of it. Only ones I think might be useful," Emily explains with some distance, like the items on the table were for someone else entirely. "I noticed you don't seem to wear a scarf. Or a hat. It's winter now." She seems to find that fact inspiration enough, and she doesn't elaborate on the other two, at least not aloud. Though— Zachery's large to-go cup next to his new mug might speak for itself.

And then there's the keychain.

She just lifts her chin to acknowledge that he intends to use that one, lacking for a response beyond that at the moment. The moment was sweet, the gesture was sweet, but she's having trouble appreciating the present when reflecting on everything that happened since they'd last seen each other — and maybe everything before that, too.

Worry sees her lips purse together in a hard line as she looks up at him, at a loss for what to say.

On the other side of the table, Zachery's eye drifts back up to the scarf and the cup. He suddenly has too much to say.

Sincerity is difficult.

So, instead of deciding on something right away, he slips a hand into a pocket of his coat, and brings it back out to drop six loose keys onto the table, all of different make and size. The cup is placed next to them, and the scarf scooped up and draped loosely around his neck. Claimed. It's an unruly mess. He'll fix it later.

With his newly formed barricade of cup and keys and scarf armour providing him some protection, he starts to affix the keys to the keychain. Nimbly - but still fidgeting. "Emily. You know the whole thing, in films, with… the boy who starts telling his dog to fuck off? Throwing a fit. Throwing rocks. Because if the dog doesn't leave his father'll kill it or — something, that part's not important."

The first of his keys is attached onto the keychain with a satisfying tik of metal coil closing around itself.

Or something, Zachery says. Emily nods her understanding. It's a curious time to bring up that kind of imagery, but here they are, leaving her to wonder where he's going to go with this next. Normally, she'd hope it's not somewhere unpredictable, but upsetting metaphors can only lead to upsetting places.

It doesn't help that she has a bad feeling who is who in this situation, if Zachery were to weave the scenario into their conversation any further. But ultimately, she's assuming right now, and still has no idea where he means to take this.

"I've seen it before, I think." she acknowledges opaquely. Her eyes go to the keyring. She has a sinking feeling maybe the conversation lasts only as many keys as there are left.

Possibly fewer.


"You are that dog." Zachery looks up at Emily, but seems unable to hold his attention on her face, and turns it instead to a third key, dragging it close with a quiet scrape before scooping it up. "And I'm having trouble figuring out which rocks to throw because," his words slow, and the grin he forces onto his face has no connection to what he's saying so much as to what he's trying not to show instead. "Because there are… quite a lot of them, and some quite sharp. And you run easily."

But isn't that the goal? Then again, he called her here.

Emily's look grows more opaque, thoughts unclear as the seconds tick on. The only indication to her state is the slow slope of her shoulders while she watches him loop the keys.

There were only so many places this could go, given how it started. She gets the feeling this is no different than the same conversation he'd tried to have with her months ago, except this time, he's…

Her mouth presses into a thin line.

And she's…

Not going to just let him walk out without a fight this time. Emily decides, looking back up to him. She reaches across the table and snags the remaining three keys under her palm, swiping them closer to herself and leaving her hand over them, her gaze sharp.

"Here's the thing: I'm not a dog, and this isn't a metaphor. This is life. Your life." Her look hardens. "You want me to stop caring so you can stop caring. Tough fucking luck, Zachery Miller."

The challenge Emily sends him in her glare is that it's not her who was on the verge of running away. Not from where she's sitting.

Zachery watches the three keys escape, expression falling and his eye locking back onto Emily's face.

Sharp rocks it is.

"Got my job at Raytech back, sort of," he starts abruptly, on a nice note despite his voice having gone flat, "and apparently a girlfriend, for a bit - one of your SESA buddies, Nicole Varlane? She was in the driver's seat when I crashed it, on purpose, into a wall. This was only a few days after Devon broke my nose because I told him I'd stolen his blood and used it for - are you ready?" He cants his head, but not does actually wait to admit, in a café, quite cheerfully, "Human experimentation!"

His arms go wide with a bounce of poorly wrapped scarf, keychain still clutched in one hand. And he's not done yet - ramble only picking up in speed and volume and sharp edges. "It went horribly wrong, and she actually, legitimately almost melted away while I did absolutely nothing about it and then I skipped town without really knowing how that ended up. Richard knew about all of this, of course, somehow, but told neither you nor Devon, and then he didn't tell you. The world's fucked and I'm sinking steadily away into a quicksand of my own making, so if you'd like to stay and care, you're welcome, but I just simply wanted to tell you how it is, because apparently no one else will!"

Finally, finally, he's done.

Sharp rocks indeed, but Zachery gave away his intent before he even cast the first stone. Emily sits, expression unchanging, through the whole thing. She ignores the odd stares being glanced in their direction, the sudden decision by the person sitting nearest them that maybe they'll take their coffee for the road after all. She ignores the Christmas decor, pleasant and bright in all the ways this conversation isn't, for how enlightening it is.

When he's done, she takes a sip from her coffee, expression cool. The thoughts racing in her stay hidden behind her eyes as she looks down at the table. Her fingers over the keys twitch and begin to curl. She reaches for the carcass of the wrapping paper, tugging it free from under the box so she can begin to ball it in both her hands. The keys stay on her side of the table, exposed now.

If he wants to run, that's on him, apparently.

"Why the fuck are you making the quicksand, Zachery?" Emily asks, her voice measured and quiet compared to her earlier snap. If he's in the mood to be telling things how it is, why not keep going? The blue of her eyes are no less icy sharp than before. "Why are you taking every possible good thing that comes your way and spiking it as hard as you possibly can into a fucking volcano? Do you honestly not believe you're worth better?" The paper in her hand crumples to a ball a fraction of the size it was before.

"Because you keep doing this shit to yourself, and if that's not self-hatred, I don't know what it is. You're aware enough to know what the fuck you're doing, so I honestly want to know—" even if she regrets it, "why?"

Everything about Zachery makes it immediately clear that this is not how he expected the person across from him to respond; his arms come back in, his hands finding each other in his lap as he turns his head to look around for a second, as if trying to spy a glitch in the fucking matrix. This isn't how this was supposed to go.

"No one is… worth anything, Emily," he answers, brow knitting as if she should know this. Like he knows this. And it's exasperating to know it.

He leans forward with conviction both in how he meets Emily's stare and in how it lends a weight of certainty to his words. "You might trick yourself, in the moment - but we're all just… meat and nerves and bones and trying not to die but circling closer to the drain every day, regardless. Even the victories, ultimately, aren't that. They - end. A fabrication. And there's - Emily - there's other places, other times, other - BRANCHES of reality where everything's happened, or nothing has, and it can just come here like nothing that's occurred in its place means anything at all."

He swallows dryly, blinking, as if regathering a lost train of thought, but ultimately just resorting to asking, incredulously and nearly out of breath for how explaining this was apparently more important than breathing, "Do you really not understand? It's… it's hopeless. No. It's worse than that. It's falsehood."

This feeling, Emily realizes as she watches him, the changes he goes through. Zachery's experiences are his own, his feelings are separate from hers, but she slips into them like a second skin, wearing them for just a moment like they're her own. I've … felt this before. It's surreal to hear him and see him and recognize, finally, what it is that lies behind it. The unique brand of nothing matters, anyway that Zachery is living is suddenly painful, knowing what she does now about it.

The last time she'd felt it, unwittingly, she'd shed her nerves talking to her father. Because it didn't matter; fuck it, let's give it a shot and see whatever the hell happens. God. That'd come from him.

And it's even worse, because it's not your average existentialism— he knows what other people only ponder at, in terms of other realities. How long had he been suffering from knowing that? How many had he seen? How long ago had he seen them? Or had he seen none at all, and just encountered any of the travelers and realized them for what they are?

Her expression changes, eyes softening. "Oh, shit." she breathes out, like everything suddenly makes sense, her gaze refocusing on his. There's a moment where it seems like she finally sees it from his way, that she understands, but she doesn't look nearly distraught enough by it.

But neither does she disbelieve him. She just very clearly thinks, yeah, that'd fucking do it, wouldn't it?

And she's trying very, very hard to not discredit his view.

"If this is false," Emily says very carefully, her voice barely carrying at all despite the weight of her belief. She's not keen on shouting this, for all the severity and gravity in her expression. "Then nothing at all is true. Here matters, okay?, because this is the only reality we've got. This is our only fucking chance. The rest of them might be out there, but they're the ones that don't fucking matter. We don't live there, so why the fuck should it matter to us?"

Her hands settle in her lap below the table, brow furrowed while she looks at him with slightly widened eyes. "This world is fucked," she agrees, something plaintive in her own tone as well. "Fucked because it takes a lot to build something up and make it worthwhile, but only one asshole with a fucking nuke to knock it all down. Fucked because it's easier to hate and fear and destroy than to hope and do better than yesterday and to put stock into what very little good actually exists in this hellhole of a universe."

It's her turn to be out of breath now but she holds his gaze before taking in only the slightest inhale. "But it's not hopeless," she murmurs with conviction. "Not when there's people willing to fight." A beat passes before she shakes her head. "And honestly?" she asks, looking down to the table while her hands wad the paper in her lap into an even tighter ball. "Not throwing away what little time we get is the most selfish fuck you anyone could give to whatever fucking powers that be."

Something pained flits in her expression, causing her to look down though she quickly looks back to him, more solemn than before. "We've got such a short time, some of us even shorter," like she would have had, had she not been healed. "So why the fuck not spend it doing something worthwhile?" She exhales a short breath, a laugh on the edge of it. "Why not be the you that every other you would be jealous of, if they knew you existed?"

Emily's words do not find completely barren ground in Zachery, even if it takes some burrowing. It's not all gone, because why else would he be here. Why else would he not have simply sent a message, if he wanted to address the situation at all?

He leans slowly back again, the hushed environment a blur as he watches Emily. Because who the fuck does she think she is? His shoulders are pushed back a little, chin up, exhaling as his expression screws up into pinpoint focused resentment. Maybe here matters solely for the fact that if he proves her wrong now, that'll be it. He'll have made up his mind fully.

And yet. That doesn't feel quite like truth. Anger lingers, directionless. Channelled into how tightly his own hand closes around the keyring and keys, metal points digging into the flesh of his palm. In the end, the only words that manage to make it out of his throat manage to do so with barely any life clinging to them at all. "Wolves had no business raising you like this."

A small smile forms in the next small breath of laughter that comes from Emily, this one humorless. She takes a moment to set the crumpled ball of paper onto the tabletop, looking off from their situation to begin paying a shred of attention to the world around them again.

"And you have no business giving up, much less seeking my approval to give up." she intones as she comes to her feet, one hand pressed to the table to support herself. It passes next to Zachery's shoulder as she maneuvers around him. If she actually needed to support her steps, it might be rude, but make sense for her to perform such a gesture. Instead, there's this, which is performed quickly to prevent it from becoming awkward.

Emily squeezes firmly and lets her arm fall back to her side immediately after. "I'm going to head back to the wolves now," she explains, maybe for both their benefit. "And I'm not going to say goodbye as I go." She's bad at those. She's not even going to try. "So be safe."

Until a next time, if such a thing exists. One where things aren't worse— where apologies have been made, where care has been given to repairing bridges left burning, or where any number of other small miracles happen. One that happens here, rather than in any number of other realities.

Emily can hope.

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