Hides the Face


asi2_icon.gif elliot_icon.gif gabriella_icon.gif ace2_icon.gif pride2_icon.gif seren2_icon.gif

Scene Title Hides the Face
Synopsis The dreamers gather to reach out to their angel.
Date May 30, 2021

In my eyes, indisposed
In disguises no one knows
Hides the face, lies the snake
And the sun in my disgrace


7:25 pm

"Wow, Baird," Seren breathes to the being at their side, arm linked through his. "Would you get a look at this place?"

For anyone who's never been to a joint like Rossignol, the low lighting, the staggered sheathing of dark chandeliers, and the contrasting gold and black is a lot to take in. One eyebrow arched in curious wonder, Seren pulls off the dark microbial mask they'd worn outdoors and shoves it in the pocket of their long, velvet cardigan. "You were right about there probably being a dress code. Good life choices, all around," they murmur to the humanoid being at their side. They're thankful they wore the dark navy cardigan with the black jeans passing possibly as slacks.

Boiling heat, summer stench
'Neath the black the sky looks dead
Call my name through the cream
And I'll hear you scream again

Baird smooths a darkly-tanned human hand down the front of his cerulean and grey jacket, swirled with black lines turning the blooms of color into peacock patterns. It's a distraction, partly, from where black cloth melds to black fur, giving way to the darkened head of a jackal. Narrowed amber eyes rotate over the room in silence, black nose dipping in the direction of the stage. A navy-and-grey shroud of fabric is pinned to the back of his head between his ears, striped horizontal and ending at his shoulders, staying somehow affixed to his head despite the dip.

"Ah," Seren murmurs. "Yeah, that's Ourania. She said to meet her upstairs, so…" They look left, then right, and politely tell a waiter who approaches that they're doing just fine. Together with Baird, they make it almost to the visible staircase up to the second level before they're intercepted yet again.

Black hole sun
Won't you come
And wash away the rain
Black hole sun
Won't you come

"Mx. Evans, isn't it?" the gentleman in a heather-grey suit asks, flashing a warm smile to them alone. The words sound odd to his ears, but he pronounces the title as precisely as it was first enunciated to him. "Fancy seeing you here."

It takes them but a moment after starting from the man's sudden appearance to fix their silver-ringed eyes his direction and make a positive ID. They relax immediately once they do. "Oh! You're Harry, right? Ms. Ourania's…"

"Fiancé, yes," Harry says with a thinning of that smile, one hand sliding into the pocket of his slacks to present with a more conversational posture. The lighter grey of his long tie continues to split his dress shirt into perfect halves. "I thought I recognized you. And this…?" Only then does he turn his green-grey eyes up to the half-human, half-jackal beside them, unused to having to look higher to see anyone.

Stuttering, cold and damp
Steal the warm wind tired friend
Times are gone for honest men
And sometimes far too long for snakes

In that time, Seren cheerfully inserts, "You remember Baird."

Not like this, he thinks to himself, but he simply nods to acknowledge the creature. "Of course," he answers smoothly. "When I was told he can change his look, I didn't know one of them happened to be Anubis."

With a sudden bout of nerves, Seren's shoulders tighten. "Ah, yeah, he—" They look to Baird at their side before flashing a sheepish smile back to Harry. "We're— kind of on a mission today, and I guess he wanted to look the part. Speaking of which, I'm, um, I should head up."

In my shoes, a walking sleep
And my soul I pray to keep
Heaven sent hell away
No one sings like you anymore

"Up?" Harry inquires politely, then gestures up at the box above with a single lifted brow.

Arm tightening in the loop around Baird's, Seren nods mechanically. "Ah, yeah, I'm supposed to go to the…" They falter.

His other eyebrow arches to meet the first. "I wasn't made aware anyone had reserved the box this evening."

Black hole sun
Won't you come
And wash away the rain
Black hole sun
Won't you come

"Y-yeah," Seren says, and when their head lifts this time, the silver of their eyes shine a little brighter. Harry hadn't noticed it before— somehow— but there was a white curl of a pink-tipped orchid on the breast of their jacket. Pinned, possibly— looking fresh. His own eyes catch the light as they hone in on the shape of it. "I'm here to meet Ourania?"

It takes Harry a moment to register the words properly, expression polite. He nods before he fully registers what he's heard. "Well, enjoy your time while you're here," he advises cordially. "I'd thought to surprise O at the end of her set by showing up early tonight, but…" Finally, he looks to the stage with a tip of his head. "Sounds like she'll be occupied."

Hang my head, drown my fear
Till you all just disappear

Elliot enters the venue with an unhurried gait, waiting politely for his turn to enter and nodding to the staff. Hosting employees are given plenty of room to go about their work uninterrupted by his leisurely stroll. Clean shaven and hair neat, he’s fresh from the barber. He didn’t clean up for the benefit of those gathered, he deploys in less than a week. First impressions in an alien timeline seem more important than others.

His goal is to move through the establishment without any meaningful exchanges, but hesitates when he sees Seren escorted to the lounge by the god of the dead. Taking the buddy system seriously this time, it seems. “That is fucking precious,” Wright says, “But don’t throw Baird off his serious mission with a snoot boop. What? No. Sorry, Boog he can’t take a picture right now he’s working. Yes he hears you and he says he loves you too even though you filled his backpack with glitter but also you will regret it, just you wait.”

Black hole sun
Won't you come
And wash away the rain
Black hole sun
Won't you come
Won't you come

Elliot keeps the exchange relegated to a slight flutter of a smile across his cheeks, stepping toward Ace as he’d be expected to. Too late to pretend he didn’t see him. He picks at a cufflink under the sleeve of his black suit jacket. Knows his tie, plum with a golden sheen, is straight as an arrow. He nods to Ace politely as the manager talks with Seren. Nods professionally to Baird as well, a flicker of the I see you there lightheartedness he gave him earlier in the year while the phantom hid in the shadow of Seren’s shoulder at the Book and Nook. The first physical meetup of those drawn into this bizarre nightmare.

The sound of applause signals the end of Ourania’s set. From her position on stage, she’s had to turn her head to see if any of her guests have arrived. About halfway through the set, she’d given up looking. It wasn’t like she’d exit the stage any sooner. If no one showed, then she’d simply enjoy the rest of the evening from her usual reserved seat at the bar and not have to deal with her anxiety.

As it turns out, when she’s exiting the stage, escorted by the bass player as always, there’s a different source of anxiety waiting at the bottom of the stairwell. “Harry!” she chimes cheerfully. “I wasn’t expecting you until the last set!” It takes effort, but she doesn’t let her eyes stray to Elliot, which means she shouldn’t let her eyes stray to Seren.

Except to not let her eyes stray to Baird would be telling. She is going to catch hell for this later, but for now, she’s all smiles as she slips one hand to rest against the inside of Harry’s elbow, the other settling lightly on his upper arm. “My, my,” she murmurs appreciatively. “Doesn’t Mr. Baird cut a handsome figure tonight?”

Seren perks up considerably when they catch sight of the familiar face in Elliot, cheerful in comparison to Baird's regal return nod to him. "You made it!" They're relieved. After all, they had a time making their way here. Out of an intense desire not to be rude, they stammer out, "Harry, this is my…." Finding a title that both neatly and accurately describes their relation to him without directly touching on either complicated topic that binds them trips them up. Seren hesitates before smiling. "—friend Elliot."

Harry begins to look between the two humans with idle interest, on the verge of asking something when his fiancée attaches herself to his arm. He's not used to just how fast she's gotten. "I thought to surprise you, but I didn't realize you had plans," he murmurs a reply to her instead. Since he's been introduced, he afterward gives a slight tip of his head to Elliot. His eyes, though, are on the unfurling flower on Seren's cardigan, revealing itself impossibly to be an orchid mantis. He knew what he saw before, and it wasn't that. His smile fades while he ponders that oddity.

Having to think about the other ways they know each other brings up a question Seren keeps meaning to ask. "By the way," they begin, worry creasing their forehead. They look to Elliot. "By any chance have you heard from… Rue?"

Harry's eyes half-lid before he announces, "I'm intruding," in a bid to leave the three to their business. Seren tries to insist otherwise to which he only flashes a kind smile. "No, please. Don't let me interrupt. I'll find you later, O." He lifts his head and acknowledges, "Mx. Evans," then lays a hand over Ourania's. "Miss Pride."

He flashes an amiable smile to Elliot without looking his way. "Mister Rosen." Then he slips free of Ourania's arm to head at a leisurely pace to head for the bar.

Seren looks vaguely apologetic before Baird, so often silent, clears his throat. It reminds them why they're here. "Right! The, um, stairs are over here, right?" They gesture that direction.

Elliot had been hoping to avoid a collision of Ace, Seren, and himself. Finding himself immediately in the midst of one is unfortunate, especially with Seren’s well-meaning introduction. With Ace not looking directly at him when he uses Elliot’s burned cover identity, he suppresses a wince. Tries to play it off as confusion. You must be thinking of someone else.

The look is quickly gone as he pivots. Seren’s question earns a sad shake of his head. “Different department,” is all he can offer in this setting. With his and her past professional capacity, he’s not too worried about Ace digging into Rue. With the group now heading for the VIP box, he gestures for the others to lead, taking up the rear. His eyes dart through the crowd looking for a headcount and familiar faces.

Ourania finds herself pleased that she can pass off Elliot’s presence as a plus one for Seren, potentially. Still, she telegraphs her own anxiety to Harry with a subtle tightening of her fingers, as though she’s as nonplussed as he surely is to see the Hound here, ready to head up to the VIP box.

That grip loosens as her fiancé means to take his leave. Ourania’s fingers trail down his arm until she catches his hand, her arm outstretched like she might try to pull him back toward her. Instead, she smiles. “Je t’aime, mon phare. I’ll be sure to perform a special number just for you to thank you for coming to see me.” With that, she releases him, only a wiggle of her fingers before she accepts her own dismissal.

“Let’s go get drinks, shall we?” Miss Pride offers, gesturing toward the staircase that Seren so astutely noticed. She brings up the rear in her sparkling aubergine dress, the train of it short, but nonetheless easy enough to present a hazard on the stair. “Whatever you like is on my tab,” she informs the pair when they reach the box. “Mikey will be taking care of us.”

Yes, she poached her favorite bartender from the main floor to come work the VIP booth just for her. Who can say no to her? Besides Ace Callahan anyway. O flashes a smile to the bartender. “Just a Shirley Temple tonight, sweetie.” With a gracious nod, she moves to sit on one of the sofas, staring down at the crowd on the floor below and trusting that her drink will be delivered to her when it’s ready. The inclusion of liquor is not necessary tonight. This is already going to be difficult for her and emotions are going to run high as it is.

“I think darling Eloise got skittish,” she speculates to the others. “Can’t blame her, honestly… And Agent Cooper has a prior engagement. Nick’s been incommunicado for some time…” This both perturbs the songstress and serves as a source of relief. “So I believe it’s just going to be us this evening.”

Seren drops to a seat immediately once in the VIP box with its several couches and the view of the floor below, especially the band. They sit on their hands while they take it all in, working on both boxing up their nerves as much as trying to get their focus back onto why they're here.

Baird, in contrast, is taking his time. He's walked around the box's piano and the bar hugging it, trailing his fingers along the curious melded shape of those two things together. He's turned and made his way nearly back to the piano keys when the curtain sealing room from hall draws back again.

On the other side, Asi Tetsuyama holds the curtain open with one hand and ushers a younger, blonde woman in beside her. Her face is passing familiar for those here, who've seen it before in stone. Seren blinks once from their seat, head lifting.

"Now the party is complete, actually," Asi says with a glance to Ourania that might even be apologetic, vaguely. Her arm lets the heavy curtain drop behind them after, and she looks to Gabriella after. "I wasn't lying when I invited you out for a drink and to discuss our mutual situation. However, this will trend more toward… yours, I think."

Asi shifts a look to Elliot. "No matter how unexpected the sources have proved to be."

Elliot gives the new arrivals neither scrutiny nor attention of any kind when they first enter. He’s been studying Gabriella’s behavior since she met up with Asi. Instead he busies himself with settling into the space, looking suitably impressed by the amenities.

He takes a moment to communicate a drink order to the bartender, a simple if odd concoction of sauerkraut brine, soda water and lime juice, before smiling and nodding to Asi. An ah, you’re here for the benefit of the other guests. He continues to the seating area, making sure to sit somewhere Gabriella won’t feel boxed in by him. This conversation could turn south quickly, and nobody wants to start a commotion here.

Ourania lifts her head, her focus on watching Baird circle her space broken when the curtain parts, expecting to find Harry there. To check up on her. See if she needs anything. To be a snoop. When it isn’t that, the pleased little smile she’d been wearing — to have her unusual piano apparently appreciated by an equally wonderfully unusual creature — fades to something more polite, personable.

The gracious gesture in Asi’s direction is meant to convey welcome, and that if she truly did feel apologetic, it wasn’t necessary. Not this time anyway. “добрый вечер. Welcome, ladies. Drinks are on me tonight. Feel free.” Ourania glances away briefly, her smile gone. After a deep breath, she returns to the moment and opens up her senses to get a read on emotional states. Ms Milos’ reaction to this situation interests her a great deal.

“It’s good to see you outside of my wo—” Dr. Pride catches herself and chuckles quietly, her lips closed and curled into a smirk. “Well, I suppose I’m still seeing you at my work.” The scientist, the singer. Ourania is a woman of many masks. “Have a drink and sit wherever you like.”

This isn’t the first time Gabriella’s been to Rossignol. The tall woman wears an olive-green silk jumpsuit, paired with gold heels that match the bangles on one wrist. Her long hair is in a loose, wispy fishtail braid. Green-gold eyes move from one person’s face to the next, her face registering no recognition for anyone until they land on Ourania. The scientist’s comments are ignored for the moment, as Gabby’s gaze alights on Baird, and one eyebrow lifts.

Her attention is pulled back to Ourania. Gabriella doesn’t sit, but hangs back by the curtain, hands finding their way into her pockets in the picture of feigned Mean-Girls-esque nonchalance.

“I’m not discussing my so-called ‘situation’ with strangers,” she says coolly, her head tilting slightly to her side, indicating that she’s speaking to Asi, but she doesn’t turn to actually look at the other woman.

“Why are we here, and not the others? If it’s something to do with your other job,” this is directed to Ourania, as evidenced by a jut of her chin in the singer’s direction, “I’d prefer to do it without an audience. Or is this some sort of marketing scheme for the nightclub?”

Seren watches the conversation flow back and forth with slightly widened eyes, the edges of the grey to them washing a sparkling silver. They're hesitant, wanting to jump in, but uncertain their words would even be welcome right now. Clearly— clearly their appearance doesn't ring a bell to Gabriella. The shape of Baird's face changes as he looks right back at her, one brow arching in a mirror of hers.

Asi steps very slightly to the side, content to let the strange play happen on its own until she's essentially summoned back into the circle of conversation. Her expression tempers, a deadpan thing. "No, nothing like that," she assures in a demure voice. "It has to do with your situation specifically. These people here have gone through an experience recently, something unusual. It's for them to say, but they have strong evidence it has to deal with…" Her eyes alight on Gabriella, saying as pointedly but gently as possible, "You."

“A wind with a wolf's head howled at our door,” Elliot explains with a misquote, then gestures to a seat at the table in invitation to Gabriella, “And we burned all the chairs and sat upon the floor.” He leans back into the seat, crosses a leg over his knee. While he’s curious if the poetry will prompt a reaction from the subject of this interview, he doesn’t want to appear on edge, or ready to pounce.

At this, Seren comes quickly to their feet. "Do, um— d-do the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay mean anything to you?" they wonder, quick and earnest. The bulk of one hand is pinched about the other as they look to Gabriella, silvered eyes gleaming. "There's been someone coming to us in our dreams. Someone who doesn't very well remember who she is, or at least she won't tell us. And, miss, after the last dream we had, we came to the realization that…"

Baird shifts by the piano to look at the summoner out the corner of his eye, and Seren takes courage. Not much, but some. "Well, she looks a lot like you," they explain sheepishly.

Ourania holds up her hands, and shows her palms, followed by the backs of her hands, then her palms again. She’s unarmed here. No tricks up her sleeves, or even beneath the chunky rhinestone of her bracelets. “This isn’t about my other line of work, no.”

A small sound between a cough and a laugh is all that comes of the urge to tell Elliot he’s being dramatic. But even Ourania can appreciate the irony in that sentiment coming from her. “We’ve been visited by a dreamwalker who’s been attempting to deliver to us a warning.”

Turning to look out over the railing, as though surveying the crowd, O instead considers the shapes of the clouds, the messages hidden in every dream. It isn’t her own memories that lay over the top, but it is. A realization dawns on her and she turns back to Gabriella. “Please. Hear us out. It won’t cost anything but your time, which I can see you compensated for however you wish, if it comes down to that.”

Giving a tight, apologetic smile, Ourania further insists, “This isn’t an ambush, despite appearances. We’re just trying to understand something that’s happened to us, and binds us together.” To her credit, she does not glance to Tetsuyama for back-up. It’s simply expected that Gabriella will empathize, whether she wants to or not. History has seemed to show she won’t act on it.

It takes effort to pinpoint her focus on a single target, but the empath eventually narrows it down to the green eyed blonde, intent on feeling only what she feels without muddying it with the emotions of the others. She repeats one more time: “Please.”

Gabriella glances from one person to the next as they speak, long-lashed lids dropping in slow blinks between each glance, like curtains falling and rising between performances. That brow lifts at Elliot’s recitation, but eventually both brows draw together in a look of perplexity.

“I’ve read a couple of her poems. Most people have. I don’t know any about wolves, though,” she says.

Seren’s talk of dreams followed by Ourania’s, draws a disbelieving laugh from the woman. “Well, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do anything like that. I don’t know what you two know,” Gabriella looks to Elliot and Seren, “but I don’t currently possess an expressive talent, nor have I ever.”

Tossing her braid from where it rests over her shoulder to behind it, she adds, “It’s nice to know I’m the woman of someone’s dreams, though. Let me know if you find them.”

Asi is on the verge of interjecting, but Seren beats her to it, drawing a glance back in their direction. "It's true, I don't know anything about you and your situation and why there would be someone who looks exactly like you trapped and sending us coded messages through poetry in dreams to help us track something down, possibly her, but just…" The silver-eyed summoner looks to Ourania, not repeating any sort of hand-gesture, but looking to her for support.

"Just hear us out, okay?" they repeat the songstress' supplication far more swiftly. "About what we've found out by deciphering the messages she leaves in poetry. I know you don't know us, but m-maybe something rings a bell after all." They really hope it might, by the end. Uncertainly, like they want to avoid seeming as though they're trying to start a confrontation, Seren finds their seat again, hands fixing themselves together between their knees.

Baird shares a look out of the corner of his eye knowingly with Asi, whose eyebrows tic in a slight furrow as she has no idea what that look is supposed to convey her.

Elliot hides his disappointment. “It was never going to be that easy,” Wright says, touching up her ruby eye shadow in the car’s visor mirror. Though, her mood shifting to mischievous, “You should see if this one also thinks you’re dreamy. I hear you have a thing for leggy blondes.” Elliot goes on to hide a long suffering sigh, fingers tapping out a quick no in response.

He focuses on what he does know as Wright’s giggle ripples through the network. In the real world, Gabriella’s father is very likely Artyom Miloslavsky, the last living owner of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s former Greenwich Village apartment, a two-dimensional slot-house at 75 ½ Bedford Street. It seems a bit premature to add that to the conversation, so he waits for an indication that she intends to hear them out as suggested.

Ourania sits pensively at first, staring out at the crowd and processing the confusion she divines from Gabriella’s emotional state. The defensiveness continues to track with what Dr. Pride has learned over the time that the socialite has been her patient — she’s always been consistent in her claim that she’s never possessed an ability — and now Ourania thinks she may know why.

But while she’s chewing on that notion, her head turns sharply, like a hawk suddenly aware of prey nearby. With her attention now aimed at the piano, Ourania stares at Baird, except not exactly at him. Blue eyes narrow assessingly, one corner of her mouth pulling back slightly. The audacity.

“I believe,” the blonde draped in deep, sparkling purple lifts her voice finally, “that I may have some explanation for this.” Ourania dips her head, a rueful sigh matches her smile. “What I’m seeking here is a show of trust,” she states emphatically, lifting her head and glancing around the box to everyone in turn - even to Baird, “that when I’m ready to tell my part, I will. But first, I don’t know the prologue. I don’t know what’s gotten our heroine to dreamland, where she’s giving us her warnings, and clearly needing our help.”

Straightening her spine, Ourania gives Gabriella her attention, a softer thing than the scrutiny she showed earlier. Empathetic. The name rolls off her tongue easily.

“Can you tell us the tale of Gavriila Miloslavskaya?”

None of the tension in Gabriella’s posture abates, and another brow lifts as Ourania speaks of tales and prologues and trust. Both brows lift at the question, and she shakes her head.

“I don’t know that name, aside from it being a, what, Russian cognate of my own. I’m not Russian, as far as I know. I’ve been to Moscow, once, but as a tourist,” she says, speaking a little slowly like they might need her to speak slowly to understand what she’s telling them. “I don’t remember much except the architecture. I was only a little girl.”

She lifts one shoulder. “Maybe it’s a coincidence. People can be many things in dreams. But if I were a dreamwalker and could be whatever I wanted, I’d probably not be myself.”

"But, she's not— and that's the thing— herself," Seren interjects quickly, almost breathlessly. "She's a stone angel like one you might've seen in Central Park or something before the war." That certainly sounds a lot more positive than or in a graveyard, and they're sticking to it. "We think we might've figured out who she might be, but she herself doesn't remember properly, either. A-and the people she was wrapped up with, the people she said she'd give up everything for…"

Asi steps in where Seren fails to speak, turning to Gabriella. "They're the sort of people who would've had the resources to make a person forget they once had an ability, for one. And it's not unheard of— it happened to a companion of mine. We, as we are, don't have abilities. But once we did; and I struggle to see why you would be the outlier— the exception to this rule."

She dips her head gently. "And as bollocks crazy as this all sounds," she allows in a more measured voice, "What if there's another you out there that does have your ability. And maybe the memories to go with it, albeit fractured." Asi lifts a hand to gesture subtly between the group of she and Gabriella to the rest of those visibly gathered here. "We could help each other. Maybe you help them. Maybe they help you, in the long run. Us, to get answers about what's happened to us."

That's the most they can hope for. Her eyes flit to Elliot, silently asking for him to go on.

Well that’s interesting, Elliot thinks. His eyes meet Asi’s, carrying his confusion as he begins placing things in order with what few clues he has. He turns to Gabriella, setting his glass on the table between them. “Apologies for the subterfuge getting you here,” he says earnestly. “I assumed it would be a bit easier to connect the dots here. Elliot, by the way.” A gesture at himself.

“During the course of this…” he pauses, looks into the ether for a moment, “Investigation doesn’t feel like the right word, but. On following up on the dreaming Angel’s habit of speaking in incorrect Edna St. Vincent Millay poems, I dredged up some property records. Millay owned a townhouse in Manhattan. Greenwich Village. The last owner of that property was one Artyom Miloslavsky, Russian property magnate. The widower of Ekaterina, he died due to apparent heart failure in 2016. He left behind three children, Mikhail, Rafail, and Gavriila. All names of biblical Angels, none of them currently living in the Safe Zone.”

“Any of this hit close to home?” he asks.

It's only then that in a tear of frustration, cowed by something that's been said, a presence felt only to Ourania distances and fades.

Ourania’s eyes lower to the floor slowly as she draws in a deep breath, her spine straightening and looking vaguely unsettled. Odessa’s choices will have consequences later. But later is not now.

The others have dropped a lot of information on Gabriella already, so she keeps in her hands flat to her vest for now, instead continuing to focus on her emotional state, and to ensure no unexpected intrusions to their conversation. “I know this is confusing,” the empath offers quietly to the other blonde, “but I think if you can help us understand our situation, it might help me better understand yours. From there, we might both find answers. I want to help you, Miss Milos.” Ourania’s gaze flickers to Asi. She wants to help all of the crash victims.

The face Gabriella makes when Seren says the dreamwalker uses the guise of a stone angel shows how little she thinks of that idea,

“If that’s the chosen avatar of this Gavriila, she sounds like a nutjob, if you ask me,” Gabby says flatly. She gestures to Elliot. “Walking around talking like she’s in a Dr. Seuss movie or something, to boot. Jesus Christ, how does that sound like me?

The rhetorical question is delivered to Asi and Ourania, who she’s at least met before.

Her green eyes find Asi’s and she lifts her shoulder, looking a little like a petulant teenager being asked to help do something they don’t understand how to do, or why.

“Literally none of it sounds familiar. I don’t know those people. If someone took my ability, they also took my memory, so I’m not sure how I can help,” she adds, tone shifting to one that’s a little apologetic, and it rings true to Ourania’s senses. “I mean, I’d love the help in the other situation, but I’ve got no quid to quo, You,” she points at Elliot, “literally know more about this person I’m supposedly supposed to be than I do.”

Asi's hands slip into her pockets, and Seren's shoulders sink. Baird tilts his head slightly forward in deeper appraisal of Gabby, concerning himself with her. If someone took her ability, they also took her memory is such a terrible thing to consider— and what if it's true?

Seren lets out a small note of distress. "I'm… at a touch of a loss about what we can do, then." They lift their attention to look between Elliot and Ourania again. "What else was new, again? We were going to talk about what we learned last night…"

Elliot’s sigh chases a wave of confusion and frustration through the network. He’d offered Angel a chance to find her missing memories, but the extent of what Gabby is talking about is leagues beyond Asi’s implanted memory. Even if one is the other—if Angel is Gabby’s missing memories, which he won’t rule out—there’s nothing to be done about it in this setting. With so little time left. Best to see if O’s revelation shakes anything loose.

“I didn’t say it sounds like you,” O counters as gently as she can, “I said the angel looks like you. If anything…” She trails off, exhaling slowly in a way that sees her chest visibly fall — a feat given the lift provided by the foundations beneath that deep purple dress — while her gaze loses its sharpness and drifts to a level between the floor and people’s faces. “She sounds a bit more like me.”

The singer’s hands fidget in her lap in order to keep them from coming up to rub her face and smudging her make-up. “Does the name Feng Daiyu mean anything to you, Gabriella?” Her head lifts and her eyes follow a moment later. There’s concern and sympathy in her expression, like whatever it is she already knows, she doesn’t like.

Gabby’s brows lift at the looks of dejection and Elliot’s sigh. One corner of her mouth lifts up and she brings her hands together as if to wring them. “Poor Scooby gang. I’m sorry I’m not more help, kids. You’ll get ’em next time, sluggers!” Her tone drips with faux reassurance.

Ourania’s words draw Gabriella’s green eyes that way, and one brow rises. “Maybe it’s you, then. Maybe you got one of those shiny new abilities courtesy of whatever you guys did over in Detroit?”

She shakes her head at the mention of the name. “No, but it sounds delicious,” Gabriella declares, as if the man were a piece of dim sum she could eat with a pair of chopsticks.

Flashing two fingers as a farewell, she adds, “Peace out. Good luck, li’l Scoobies,” before turning to exit the VIP area.

Seren might be of a gentle disposition, but they're not immune to rousing to frustration, or even anger. Gabby's blatant flippancy for the matter would only lead to grumbled comments later if not for the way she invokes Detroit as something 'they' were responsible for like it was some happy little experiment with harmless global consequences.

The silver limning their grey eyes sparkles not in wonder, but like the gleaming edge of a knife. Baird at the piano turns and considers Seren with momentarily widening eyes of his own, before they narrow with the emotional weight of the words their summoner can't immediately form. He turns back in Gabriella's direction….

But she's sweeping out after her cheery farewell, and the darkening palette on Baird's figure mellows.

"Thanks anyway," Asi turns her head to aside to Gabby as she goes, even in tone. She glances to Seren before lifting her head to consider Elliot again. A beat passes after their angel-doppelganger leaves before the former technopath posits quietly, "It was worth a shot. Sorry— perhaps I should have warned you this just how she is."

At that, she finally gives a sympathetic grimace and lets her hands fall back to her sides with a sigh.

“Decanter,1” Wright says, shaking her head and flipping the visor mirror closed. “Blackbird?2

Elliot shares Wright’s anger at Gabby’s provocation but contains his exasperation and blinks out a No. Asshole or not, he believes she’s being honest, which leaves them with nothing. Nothing other than Feng Daiyu slowly marching his way west through Russia. “Thank you,” he says to Asi, “The lead was worth exploring.” He looks to Seren to reassure them with a lop-sided smile, if only to push his anger and frustration out of the network. It fades slowly.

The wounded blonde can’t tell which is worse: Gabriella’s flippant dismissal of the subject as one she knows nothing about, or the fact that it rings true. Rising from her seat, she starts to cross away from the direction their dead end lead exits from. But she hesitates, fiddling with the strand of pearls around her neck. With a frown, Ourania turns back to the bartender she borrowed from downstairs. “Ask Angier to make sure my guest makes it to the Ferry without issue.” A hand irritatedly waves its way through the air. “Tell her personally. And then take a break.”

Changing the trajectory she was on once the bar is vacated, she slips behind it instead. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I need a chaser.” Four rocks glasses are set up on the bar. Pointing a finger at Elliot with a look at him from beneath lifted brows, she assures, “I got you, honey,” before she starts pouring.

“I didn’t learn a lot when I worked at Old Lucy’s, but I at least know how to mix a few things on my own.” And this drink, judging by the way she seems to be measuring with her heart, isn’t a terribly difficult one to have learned. Three bottles into the first three glasses, three more into the lonely fourth, and all topped off with one last liquid ingredient. Everything stashed away again as she goes.

“Here we are.” The impromptu mixologist lifts one glass for herself while gesturing to the others with a flourish, a cynicism twisting her smile. “Four scooby snacks for a gang of Scoobies.”

Seren comes back to the moment slowly with Elliot's attempt to defuse their fouler emotions. They bring their arms before them into a tight fold like that will help smother them more quickly, brow knitting. They flash a small smile of reassurance of their own for only a flicker of a moment. Baird comes to their side, arm around their shoulder, hand resting there with a calming air.

Asi turns her head in the direction of the produced alcohol like she's heard a gunshot, yearning for the taste— shutting down that sensation quickly and isolating it from broadcast. Wright and Elliot don't need that. She remains still after the comforted Seren walks past to claim their poured drink.

"I'll take Elliot's, too," they offer instantly, taking both glasses. (They assume bar + bartender = alcohol in that glass.) It leaves Asi to narrow her eyes thoughtfully, considering breaking the link to partake. Her desire for a drink crashes against a cliffside that proves to be taller, sturdier than that kneejerk wave.

"Sorry," Asi says with a lift of her hand. "I'm trying to quit. It's terrible on the tech."

"I'm just so mad," Seren finally blurts out, holding tightly onto the drink they're presently sipping from. "She was so rude. How can somebody just… have no compassion like that? Not even be willing to— to try and understand why she might be involved. Just 'no, this sounds weird, bye, I'm out'. I just…" Pink sparkles joined by a pink mist wreath Seren's head and shoulders as they mime Gabby's reaction to it all before expelling out into nothing with a violent, "Ugh."

"For what it's worth," Asi inputs, hands finding the pockets of her jacket again so she can thumb the side of her phone out of habit. A part of her brain still instinctively wants to tug for her ability, checking the time and notifications and to queue up searches. "I think you all were on to something, and Gabriella's own answer might hold the key. Whoever stole her ability may have altered her memory. Why? I don't know. But I also refuse to accept that she's the only member of our merry band who did not previously have an ability."

"If the goal was to take our power, maybe she was a prototype to the next step, or simply programmed more than we were— to forget she ever had one." She blatantly ignores the way Seren turns and looks her way with a twisted brow of confusion. "To go as far to rewrite her entire life is a sick twist, but I trust you that the dream girl you saw was her. If you find her again, all I can suggest is to call her by name. Ask her who is forcefully holding her asleep— if she's able to get that information by focusing on herself and those physically closest to her." Asi rolls her jaw in thought. "Vanguard ties or not, if she was kidnapped the same as the rest of us, she deserves freedom, deserves out. And if she can lead us to where the rest of us are being kept, all the better."

Seren just turns from Asi to Elliot for help in understanding what literally any of that means.

Elliot is touched by Seren’s preemptive grab of his drink, then by Asi’s decision to abstain as well. A feeling of gratitude comes across the network from Wright as well. “I believe that drink is dry,” he says to Seren as they return with hands loaded. “Thank you, though.” He nods appreciatively to Ourania.

“Getting the Angel to answer any question has been difficult,” he tells Asi. “It seems like the more specific we get, the harder she deflects. I offered to try to help her locate missing memories and got nothing. I’d offer the version who just left but I don’t think there’s a variation of ‘Raytech Basement Acid Trip’ that she would react well to.”

He doesn’t want to crush Asi’s hopes for a lead, so he tags what he can remember from the dreams. The recent dream is clearer, though even it has degraded the way most of his dreams do. The one before that, Wright’s turn on the gameshow, has mostly fallen apart but she shares it after viewing Elliot’s. His first shared dream is clearer just for the specific nature of the tailored nightmare component. The beginning of that one is locked down—BLACK BLACK BLACK—but the cabin and what happened there is open to Asi, including the anxiety Elliot carried in with him.

Ourania confirms the state of Elliot's drink with a nod. "I'll drink doubles, then," she assures while she mixes up another glass for Asi without waiting to be asked. "She's not lying to us, at any rate. She doesn't know what we're asking her about." She says it with such a certainty, a small frown of thought on her face.

"She is a bitch," the blonde grants to Seren, "but she's also been through… quite a lot, even if she isn't our Angel. I can forgive her a little of this." Asi's drink is nudged along the bar in her direction. She meets her eyes, hoping she can recognize it as an act of service. There are so few ways O has been able to help Asi and Gabriella.

Sighing, O takes a drink and sets the glass back down with a thunk, leaning heavily on the bar. "I do think I might have an… outlandish explanation. But I… I need it to stay among us."

Set straight, Seren sheepishly divests themself of the stolen drink to Elliot when they pass, making their way to Baird to bump shoulders with him for comfort. Still of human stature, he wraps an arm around their shoulder and ruffles their sleeve in reassurance. Whatever passes between them happens silently, a thoughtful if distant look in Baird's amber eyes. Seren is only half-listening, withdrawing a little at the mention of some apparent experiment with drugs that happened at their workplace.

They take another sip from their glass to rid themself of that uncomfortable feeling. There's still so much of this going right over their head, but they shouldn't give up over something they can learn. They try their best, anyway, to put all the pieces together. "I thought all the Vanguard members died, anyway?" they offer up in a murmur, looking between the others. It can be ignored in favor of the larger conversation easily.

Asi chooses to do just that, not looking at Seren, not looking at anyone while she quickly goes through the tagged memories. Far be it from her to pull back the curtains on alternate realities for anyone else, much less advertise what she's heard muttered about the citystate of Providence. She pulls the newly prepared drink to her in her offhand, merely holding on for now. When she gets through the review of the memories, a flicker of sympathetic frustration overflows from her in the link, momentarily preceding a glance in Elliot's direction.

"You know," she asides stiffly, "I'd almost say her being difficult to deal with is a point in the direction of them being the same person." The joke is drier than the drink she'd been handed, which she now sniffs at after lifting before taking a test sip.

It's then she returns a look to Ourania, more business than thanks. "By all means," she suggests, spreading her arm carrying the drink open at the elbow. "If you have anything in your past experience that can help shed a light on this, ご遠慮なく[[footnote]]Don't hold anything back. lit: (politely) without reservation[[footnote]]."

The unnamed, mild distrust she has for Ourania is stamped out, her mind quieted, memories carefully blocked. It's not as smoothly done as Elliot's omission, but she keeps her— and Ourania's— secrets to herself. Those are for her to expose.

Elliot notes O’s declaration of Gabriella’s truthfulness. He agrees, though he wouldn’t state it in such definite terms. Probably just confidence, but one never knows. He’s leery of the idea of someone being able to divine the truth anywhere near him.

He turns to Seren to confide, “I also was under that impression.” He knows the OEI got the interdimensional travel suit from at least one of the members, though he can’t recall if it came off of a corpse. Less than two weeks before he plummets through a hole in reality wearing a hasty knock-off, which he avoids focusing on.

Asi’s observation earns a quiet giggle after she finishes viewing his memories. He taps her native Japanese reflexively, then turns to Ourania and nods in agreement.

“うん,” O affirms absently in response to Asi’s insistence. It doesn’t take someone as familiar with watching body language for tells as Elliot is to see how anxious the blonde is. “The Horseman, the ghost, the snake, the wolf… Feng Daiyu.” The man. “I’ve met him. Though… That’s a very domestic way of putting it.” Her nerves apparently need some steeling, because she takes a long drink from her glass.

“There seem to be a great many similarities between Ange and myself. I once, ah… Was wrapped up with the Vanguard. I was connected romantically with one of their members.” It’s a half-truth, a lie of omission, an obfuscation. Wrapped up with the Vanguard is the truth. Connected romantically is as well. However, the second statement misrepresents itself as a logical explanation to the first. A softening. Connected through romance, not because she was a member herself.

A misdirection.

She doesn’t look up from her drink, lest she be noted to be pointedly not looking at Asi, who knows the truth of her. “Ah… When the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge was destroyed back in 2009,” a structure only just now being rebuilt — it will eliminate the need for the ferry between this very borough and Brooklyn, “I thought he had been killed. I felt it was for the best.”

A shaky breath leaves the singer and she drags a hand through her hair. Her fingers are trembling and she keeps them deliberately in front of her, curled into fists on the bar. Not around her drink, just into her palms. “Then a few months later, Feng Daiyu shows up. He drugged me and held me captive for… I don’t know, a month? I guess he was trying to get me to talk in my haze and eventually didn’t like what he was hearing.”

Ourania Pride’s blue gaze goes somewhere far away from the space and the time they occupy now. Elliot and Seren have seen that look a lot on their mutual partner’s face when she has one of her episodes.

“Feng got me alert enough to start asking more direct questions. Asking where he could find—” A shudder runs through her body. “I didn’t even know he was alive until he started demanding I tell him where he was.” Tears roll down her cheeks without any recognition for them. Without properly crying. It’s almost a passive thing. “I remember the knife on my face and my throat, but those were just to get my attention. He moved to my fingers instead, and he started with my thumb.”

A breath of unbidden laughter follows, a nervous and broken sound. “He knew how to hit me where it’d hurt. Said if I gave him names, I’d still be able to play the piano. I screamed and I cried and I pled and I begged, and I begged, and I begged, and I—” With a sharp gasp, Ourania breaks out of the cycle she was falling into. She grabs a cocktail napkin from the bar and starts patting her face dry.

“I, ah…” One deep breath is pushed out. Another. Both juddering things that betray how rattled she is to this day. “I gave him the man who got me out of the Vanguard. I couldn’t give him my lover, so I gave him my friend.” Finally, Ourania relaxes her fist. She looks at her palm and traces a line that’s no longer there. “I still had the scar on my palm for a long time to remind me of what a shitty person I am.”

Her glass is lifted. “Fucking cheers.” And drained.

That’s only part of the story, and it’s clear from the look on her face that Pride is trying to figure out the best way to continue on while nursing her wounded namesake, but this much needs to sit for now and be left to sink in. Illustrating the kind of man Ange’s snake is seemed important.

Seren wants, at multiple points, to interject on Ourania's story. But something stays them. It seems important to her to get her exposition out fully, no matter how painful it is. They wonder at what she says— about all of that taking place before the war. They realize their understanding of events happening back then is so very skewed and distant, much like their understanding of the war. Learning that Ourania herself was part of the Vanguard leaves them feeling slightly hollow.

There is so very much they don't know about the Americans they work with.

Baird squeezing their shoulder finally brings Seren to speak. "Baird wants me to let you know you don't have to talk about anything too painful, miss Ourania. Don't open old wounds you don't have to."

"I'm inclined to agree," Asi inputs, decidedly less sympathetic about it. Not a shred of surprise echoes in the link, just disapproval— repulsion that can't hide itself as easily as normal. Woefully tragic betrayal of a friend is still betrayal, in her heavy-handed book. Not for the first time, she wonders at her decision to trade one life for several others when Odessa Price decided not to walk away with the nice terrorists who invaded PISEC.

"How does this all tie to what's happening?" she asks calmly, softening the edge of her voice.

Elliot listens politely, not feeling any strong emotions for the woman about whom he honestly knows almost nothing. He does have a moral objection to torture, which rouses something in him. Nobody deserves it, and it rarely gets actionable information, making it cruelty for its own sake. Seren’s concern is predictably wholesome, which he appreciates. Asi’s revulsion is noteworthy, though he easily keeps it at arm’s length.

While Asi’s judgement causes a moment of roiling anger where O has to look anywhere but at her in order to keep from snapping something about how she didn’t shoot anyone who was begging for their lives, she’s sick with shame by the time the rest of the reactions have rolled in. It’s a lot to carry on her shoulders, but she won’t let down her ability. Not when she still wants to ensure a lack of intrusion.

“I didn’t mean to say so much,” is confided quietly. “Once I started, I just…” They all saw — heard — what happened once she started. She leaves it at that.

“When we were in that dream, he’s the man I saw. The wolf stalking us through the woods. The one who attacked me. But Feng Daiyu’s been dead for years, and Ange says he’s on the move. Currently.” O looks down at the bartop and rolls her tongue over her front teeth. With a sigh, she asks, “Is there anyone here not familiar with the concept of parallel timelines?”

Before Seren's eyes even have time to finish widening in initial surprise, Asi cuts in harshly. "I know you're amongst friends here, Miss Pride, but if the wrong person were to hear you ask such a leading question, your past would suddenly do you even less favors than it has in your life." The snap doesn't come from the same nose-upturned place she'd been moments before, rather the need to draw a sudden shield over their conversation. Now she turns to Seren, who doesn't look up, and Baird strengthens his protective fold around while staring Asi down. "Which means that by no means should you talk about this. With anyone."

But the summoner continues to work through numb shock of Ourania's implication at their own pace. When the Other Rue had lured them to her apartment at Cat's… when SESA had failed to seemingly give their account any credit… There weren't just theoretical other worlds out there. There were real ones, and they were bleeding over each other. Not just familiar places, but familiar faces. Startlingly familiar ones.

After Seren manages a nod, still lost in their own thoughts to the extent the silver in their grey eyes intensify, Asi lets out a sigh, complicated emotion behind it. Sympathy prevails, and it doesn't fade when she looks back to Ourania. "The answer is the answer. You can't help that. But the world at large isn't ready for that kind of information— or so your government has decided, and will do plenty to keep that secret close to its vest."

"So you believe an alternate version of Daiyu is at the heart of this, then," Asi continues now that warnings are dispensed with. "Based on the clues you've obtained, do you feel that Daiyu is the cause of the angel's loss of body, or simply a fixation of hers— something she's trying to tell you a message about?"

“I see she subscribes to Richard’s stance on non-disclosure,” Wright says.

Elliot pinches the bridge of his nose. He really has stuck to his own NDA. Even Marthe was never told what he and Wright will be doing in less than two weeks. But he does know that Seren already met ‘Marlene’.

“Altered memory could obviously be a component here,” he says, “But I have difficulty lining up the who-knows-what of it. Angel knew what Edna’s house looked like, including it being abandoned and ruined. Why would a different Gabriella know that, considering the one who lives here is supposedly Russian?” Not the one who just left the room, but Gavriila.

Ourania watches Seren keenly while they work through their conflicted emotions. “It’s overwhelming,” she says gently, knowingly, “but after what you’ve seen in Detroit,” she doesn’t know the rest, “I know… I know you know already.” So she doesn’t feel guilty for bringing up the topic. Not as, anyway.

That she already knew the Hounds had a good notion, she doesn’t address. They raided Sunstone, after all, and she’d talked to others at PISEC enough to put pieces together. And all of that’s to say nothing of the overlays. Or the Crossing. She didn’t sign anything related to that.

“Obviously, what I say can’t leave this room. It can be acted upon, but not repeated.” With her warning delivered, she takes a deep breath and curves her shoulders inward as much as shrugging them upward before dropping them back again abruptly. “I believe our Gabriella’s memories may have been altered, yes. I have… strong evidence to suggest this.” She doesn’t even so much as glance at Asi as she says this, keeping her attention squarely on Elliot, providing the answer to his question without suggestion that her mind is wandering.

“Near as I can tell, the path in the woods diverged sometime around the winter of 2008 or spring of 2009, but I… I can’t be sure.” O shakes her head with a frown. “I don't know if Gavriila is dead or merely left behind. I spent time with one of the Horsemen — those who travelled from the other world to ours — and I'd think, somehow, the subject would have come up if they'd had a comatose dreamer.”

She stares off into a place not so long past. “I could have helped.” The thought is let go because it has to be. “I suspect she's tethered to Daiyu in some fashion, unintentionally. She's reaching out for help. I don't know why us, but here we are. The thing she is telling us is where to find him, and now we have a somewhat predictable trajectory for him.”

Her gaze moves to Asi then, next to Elliot. "You would know better than I would if that serves anyone."

The severity in Asi's expression doesn't quite return, but her mouth tightens into the beginnings of a frown. "Russia is no Canada," she murmurs to herself pensively. It's not a quick jaunt back to the US border and relative safety. And any trip across the ocean, much passing through Expressive-unfriendly territory…

Then a ping of realization. She could potentially go without scrutiny on that front, if making the travel legally. She doesn't have the marker anymore. Her frown deepens nonetheless. "Spying on Daiyu after we find him will still be a bitch. I don't think it isn't worthwhile, I'm just unsure how we accomplish it…" Her tongue presses to the back of her canine rather than into her cheek.

"Is it good or bad Cooper isn't here for this conversation?" Seren suddenly, faintly wonders. They haven't moved an inch while they work through their catharsis and anger both regarding the lack of being 'believed' about Rue's doppelganger.

"To be seen," Asi answers immediately in an offhanded mutter. "SESA's resources and connections could be invaluable. Otherwise we're talking about needing to engage an untold number of less-than-legal contacts to potentially trace him given the map your Angel has provided and begin to monitor his activities. I have… one or two contacts I could task to tracking him, should we find an identity he's going by to track him by, but…"

She doubts he'll make it that easy.

With O’s eyes returned to him, Elliot asks directly, “What strong evidence do you have to suggest that our Gabriella’s memories may have been altered?” He feels a faint irritation that Ourania would state something about this investigation to suggest that she knows more and without revealing it when talking about it directly. He won’t be here if there’s action taken against the former Vanguard, but at least Wright may still be close enough to get caught up in another dream.

“We’re here to talk about Angel and her plight, Daiyu is obviously adjacent to it. If there’s a chance she’s the detached consciousness of a dreamer, having any amount of information about what was changed may be the only way to save her before she loses herself and dissipates.” No theorizing about what that might do to the Gabriella who was captured and replaced. His eyes turn to Asi. “If she is, she may provide a way to wake the dreamer.”

“I don’t know about us spying on him directly,” Ourania admits to Asi with a shrug of her shoulders. “But if anyone would know where to look for someone who could, I figured it’d be you and Elliot here.” Her chin jerks briefly in the man’s direction. A guilty look is shifted to Seren. “Personally, I’m glad Agent Cooper isn’t here. I—” She looks down and wraps her fingers around that second glass she graciously agreed to consume since Asi is abstaining.

Her eyes come up again when Elliot makes his pointed remarks. “I’m her doctor, and I—” Have already violated any perceived doctor-patient confidentiality? O takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. Now she does look to Asi, this time for guidance. For a go-ahead that it’s okay to say, or perhaps an invitation to explain the situation herself. She would know better anyway, wouldn’t she?

"They stripped of us our bodies and our abilities," Asi turns her head slightly to Elliot to aside deftly. "If your people in the dream saw and confirmed the Angel is Gabriella Milos, either we're dealing with an alternate— or a case where whoever changed us also created 'Gabriella Milos.'" She doesn't lift her hands for the airquotes, but they're implied all the same in her tone.

Seren's eyes clear again at this strange secret that's less personal to them. Baird looks to Ourania seeing her discomfort, eyes narrowing in a sign of consolation, while his summoner glances to Asi while she speaks. They lay a hand on top of Baird's to signal they'll be all right, then slip out from under his protection to rejoin the conversation, sipping from their drink. Boy, is the alcohol welcome in all of this. Scooby Snack, indeed. "So, is there a chance we can find Ange's snake?" they ask cautiously.

Asi shifts a look back at the youngest of them, gaze sharpening on them. She considers the question for a moment. "Possibly." she finally pronounces shortly. "If we're working on— securing a bounty against Vanguard members, that grants me some leeway in who I contact. Otherwise, I'm certain there are elements in several governments who would love to flag any questionable intercepted communications and have me shot for suspected terrorism."

Seren breaks the look first, eyes darting to Elliot. It's not hard to imagine their thoughts here, given their bewildered expression. What in the world? They're completely at a loss for what to say to that.

Elliot isn’t sure how to address Seren’s confusion other than a whispered “I’m so sorry.” It really is a lot to take in. He hides his frustration with his own helplessness via the usual humorous deflection.

“I don’t understand why anybody would have the option to accurately create a duplicate of her but instead choose to make radical changes to her backstory,” he says, though he doesn’t expect any progress on this front. He wishes he could be useful in an operation to scoop up the wayward Vanguard, but he… It dawns on him that he could—it would be a terrible idea, and probably also treason—ask Asi if she wants to link before he ships off to the rig. Plenty of time to scheme, regardless of their separation. Wouldn’t hurt his morale either.

While Asi explains the situation and lays out some impossible options, Ourania retrieves her cell phone and starts tapping something out on her screen. “If I’m right,” she says absently to a question asked long enough back that the context needs fishing for before it drifts too far from sight, “I think I know where to find our snake. Or at least where he was most recently.”

O works on two different searches:

Gavriila Miloslavskaya
Tula Oblast

"That's still only half the battle," Asi sighs, her posture shifting, slumping. She feels a mixture of things as she looks off, peeking over the ledge to the floor below. "But it's a better lead than we've had in…"

Since when? She can't say. The dull roar of persistent, constant head pain rears its head in that way.

Seren takes Elliot's apology with a small shake of their head. This isn't his fault, after all, that this stranger is so brusque and surely needlessly intense. "If someone went through the effort of…" Warily, they keep Asi in the corner of their eye, waiting for another seemingly inevitable snap from her. "Kidnapping people and replacing them, maybe they figured they'd just go the whole nine in that replacement. I don't know— sympathizing with villains isn't something I'm good at."

With an apologetic smile that attempts to be humorous underneath, they break off what they're saying in favor of looking up to Baird, who looks meaningfully between Elliot and Ourania. They translate, "Baird says if knowing's half the battle, then that's half the battle already won. We can't help Ange if we don't take what advantages we've got available to us."

Asi starts to look back, the layering of emotions in their complexity shifting order as she half-turns in Baird's and Seren's direction. She doesn't have a word as a trigger, instead letting her eyes drift halfway shut as she focuses on a memory, then tugs on Elliot's attention.

"What do you think?" someone, male, asks her. Asi stands from her lean against the side of the desk and casts a disbelieving look down at him out of the corner of her eye.

"I think that's optimistic," she replies blandly.

“Knowledge is power,” Elliot agrees with Seren and Baird. His hands go to his face as if to scratch an itch on his chin, then a flick of his fingers at his forehead moving directly on into his hair as if to adjust it, signing Capricorn. Wright bobbles a cool can of soda in her right hand, then a slightly warmer one in her left before closing the lid on the cooler. “Agreed,” she says, handing the colder one to Elliot.

O goes perfectly still, save for her eyes, which lift up from her phone and settle anxiously on Seren when they say sympathizing with villains isn’t something they're good at. Then her gaze shifts sharply to Asi. For a long moment, she doesn’t even dare to breathe, like she’s stepped on a landmine, or she’s facing a predator that will lunge if she moves wrong and snaps even the smallest of twigs. Worried that she might react to the comment.

What she finds instead is something that’s been niggling in the back of her head since the departures of Ace and Gabriella. Some sort of push and pull that seems to exist between the two Hounds. Ourania’s brow furrows, but not until she’s got her gaze firmly back on her phone and what she’s scrolling for.

Slowly, her posture eases back to something casual. “I’m not getting any meaningful hits for Tula Oblast,” the empath informs the group. “Just the obituary for Miloslavsky, which we already knew about. But a search for Gavriila Miloslavskaya gives me a little more.” Her blonde head tips from one side to the other in a couple repetitions to indicate not quite. “Getting information out of Russia is a bit like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. But I have evidence that she did live there as a child. I’ve got a hit about winning a prize at a high school science fair back in like 2006, soccer games… A newer listing for her time on some half marathon in Moscow.”

There’s a heavy sigh before O lifts her head, leaving her scrolling alone for the moment. “The most recent hit shows she was an associate professor of Foreign Philology.” She waves one hand in the air and explains, “Teaching English and Literature. This was at Samara National Research University.” Frowning, she doesn’t seem to like what she’s fished up. “Samara and Penza — where it seems Gavriila went to high school — are between Oufa and Tula, in that order. So our snake isn’t headed in those directions.”

Again, Ourania’s gaze returns to Asi. “I don’t have dates on when Gavriila taught at the school, I can only see that she’s not current faculty. I do, however, speak Russian. I can call around and make some inquiries, if you want. See if we can pinpoint…” She picks up her second glass, holding the cool glass near her sternum as her gaze slides away. “An abduction date.”

She knocks back the shot.

It's Seren who answers first, with enthusiasm. "That sounds like a great idea!" Then they, too, finish their shot, which was supposed to surely be downed in a single gulp, but here they are. Solidarity in the now is possible because of it. "Someone might remember her, know what happened to her, be willing to talk."

Asi is less enthusiastic, but she lifts her head from her seeming distant thoughts and nods her head. "I can set you set up with a number that looks as though it rings from within the country, from somewhere nearby. Spoofing numbers should be easy." She tongues the back of one canine before looking off. "The abduction date, if it matches with ours, would be late July 4th of last year. But if they did additional work on her, it may be earlier. We'll have to see what we can turn up."

Her eyes soften as she turns back to Ourania and offers her a nod in an expression of thanks, even a silent one.

Elliot leans forward to set his glass on the table, half empty. He nods in agreement to the plan as laid out, but having nothing to add, he remains silent. He does have one other idea, but he won’t mention contacting the OEI about an interdimensional terrorist in this setting.

“You know where to find me when you have those lines set for me,” Ourania nods to Asi, fairly solemn. She can’t help but smile for Seren, however. Their enthusiasm reminds her of a period she feels was more than a lifetime ago, rather than only fifteen years. It reminds her to be polite. “ありがとう.” She could be left to try and sort that out by herself, after all. Regardless of Asi and Elliot’s working relationship, Asi doesn’t necessarily owe Odessa a kindness.

“If anyone thinks of any way I can help between now and… whenever we get our next bite, reach out. Otherwise…” There’s only a fleeting and sour sort of smile for the little half-hearted joke that follows.

“I suppose I’ll be seeing you in our dreams.”

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