Of All The Places


emily3_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Of All The Places
Synopsis Somehow, on the other end of the world, Emily Epstein finds Zachery Miller. They're going to liberate a relocation camp, or…
Date April 19, 2021

Edinburgh, Scotland

United Kingdom

Having slipped into the home of a former Ferryman with the help of a door-traveling government spook, Emily Epstein kept her quiet during initial introductions to the faces they'd come to interface with. Her eyes had been long to leave Esme, regarded the port-headed Claude with a studious but quick glance, then Alistair said—

"And, ah, Miller's still out back."

There's hundreds of people with that last name, if not thousands. But Emily's heart leaps anyway.


"Yeah, Z—"

It's all the excuse she needs to announce, "Excuse me," and break formation with the other SESA agents, feet quickly taking her out of the dining room, through to the farmhouse kitchen, and out the back door. It opens like gunshot for all the quickness she goes through it, and out on the porch she goes, pulse hammering through her chest in a way she's half-certain can he heard for its ferocity.

The door swings shut, and Emily still stands there, staring out at the field and listening to the night. There's someone out here, as advertised there would be, and the sight of them doesn't bring the relief she thought it would, even if it does bring some.

Still standing on the porch with the shroud of the house's light at her back, she calls out into the grass, "You look like shit."

There is no immediate response from the man still standing in the near dark, who's only just turned halfway around at the sound of that door slamming.

He continues to stand sideways, as if pondering the potential anonymity of the wilderness at his side, but still keeps his eye on the lone, familiar figure standing near the light. Who should be drawing something more from him than a squaring of his shoulders, surely.

And yet.

"You haven't even seen my good side," Zachery says sluggishly after he decides he's delayed an answer long enough, choosing to face Emily fully, now - empty eye socket, scruff and thoroughly worn clothes and all. Looking nor sounding entirely like himself when he adds flatly, "I can't get away, can I?"

Haven't seen his good side. A laugh comes to her unbidden. "Seen better sides than this," she reminds him, part defiance, part concern that hides beneath that. The precision in seeing the wrinkle in her brow leaves a lot to imagine, but he's seen it enough times to know.

Emily trudges one foot and then the other down off the steps and into the yard, making her way toward him. Echoes of things she could say or yell or do bounce harmlessly until she makes her way out to him properly. She looks past him, taking a moment to likewise speculate upon the anonymity nature provides before offering with a tilt of her head, "I couldn't get away even after I was turned into something inhuman and was all but unreachable. Some well-meaning assholes came after me, thought I might like living a bit better."

"You want to talk about it?" she wonders, turning to better face him, scruff and scraggle and eyehole and all. One arm limply lifts to gesture back at the farm house. "Or at least talk about how the hell you ended up here?"

Zachery listens, watching Emily close the distance. Searching her face as she provides him with an answer. He fights something back that ends up tightening his jaw.

"Do I want to talk about it, she says," comes his instant echo, before he clears his throat to try and rid his voice of some of the grit it's picked up over the last few weeks. It clings anyway. "I don't want to talk about it," he answers sharply, and then, with a vague gesture of his right hand, keeps saying words despite. "I figured I'd— try saying yes a few times where I would have previously asked someone if they were out of their fucking mind."

Whereas Emily looks to him, he looks past her now, and back toward the farmhouse he should have probably re-entered. "And now here I am, wondering, if, for a second time, I'm just imagining you being here."

"Trust me," she interjects with a sudden burst of callousness, "I'd love for today to have been a dream. I'd love to not be jet-lagged and shaking from adrenaline after barely escaping fucking Torchlight only to be called here at the apparent behest of the American fucking President and find, beyond all reason or expectation," Her nose wrinkles in her frustration. "You here at the center of it."

Emily huffs out a sigh, adding much more quietly with a shrug of both hands out from her sides before they collapse back down to her skirt, "But here we are." She sounds nervous, and looks away rather than confirm it by looking him in the eye.

"Yeah, do you want to talk about it," she appends roughly, nearly in a mocking tone of her own sincerity. "You ran away out of the city, out the whole fucking country only to end up the last place I'd ever have expected to see you again. People don't do that for no good reason, and I've found bitching about things like that to only tangentially-related parties helps."

"Or haven't you noticed that's my strategy by now," Emily wonders with a bitter laugh at her own expense.

It's the laugh that has Zachery look Emily in the face again, as if to try and get a better reading of its true nature.

"I've given up," he answers, his focus remaining where it is. "On talking about it. On thinking about it. Because shit like this keeps happening." Now it's his turn to laugh, slightly off-kilter and abrupt, before a hand goes scrubbing over his face as if to physically wipe the beginnings of an unwanted grin off of it. "Shit that makes absolutely no amount of sense."

He sounds like he's done talking, but all of a sudden, that scrubbing hand is freed from his face and goes swinging off to be gestured blindly at the grass behind him, and beyond it where angry storm clouds obscure the night sky. "Weren't you supposed to be somewhere sunny?!"

"God, I wish," Emily whispers wistfully to the sky. She closes her eyes and leans her head back, taking in the moment and all of its absurdity for what it is. Out of context, the entire thing is surreal— and even having lived the last few hours, she can't help but feel mostly the same, too.

Her head swings lower but when her eyes open, she can't look Zachery's way again yet. She might lose her nerve. "The whole reason I'm out here— when Squeaks was nearly kidnapped in February, they got an ID on the teleporter. We came here to find her— found plenty, save for her herself." She rolls her lips, wetting them. Quietly, like the words might get away from her otherwise, "We found out she was the one who must have gotten all of you in the first place. There were— photographs. Bedrooms, homes. We found out she was in communication with someone at InVerse."

The reason why she's not excited about any of the news makes itself manifest as she looks away and says, "She's in the wind. She received warning and ran, or was taken in the end, or— or something. But it's … it's more than you knew before, right?"

The hope in that hurts. That somehow the scraps of what they were able to find, as hard-won as they were, are somehow worth something.

"And now we're here," Emily finishes just as quietly, light and void of emotion now. She begins to look back to Zachery. "In the rain and the dark, either on the verge of liberating a concentration camp or—"

In the movies, they tend to say things like die trying right there. But the potential for that actually happening, and her realizing it brings her expression to falter, her throat to dry. She doesn't say the words, but she looks up to Zachery all the same.

The lines under her eyes are long.

As if the landscape itself has adopted him as its new scarecrow, Zachery stands near frozen save for the eye tracking Emily's face as she speaks, and as the tiniest droplets of rain begin to drizzle down around the both of them.

In spite of himself, he can't leave everything behind. Not the connections that have his expression grow colder in tiny twitches of change. Investment he can't quite fight back, which sets his jaw and screws his posture into spring-ready unease.

And then suddenly, it's gone.

His shoulders relax as his brow knits, and his mouth opens as if prompted by a question that fails to arrive. He visibly loses focus, a flicker of something bringing him to dart a glance to the side before he says, quieter than before but firmly, "You're going to do me a few favours. The first of which is to forget about this—"

At which point he steps and leans forward, grimaces as if somehow in physical pain and awkwardly puts one arm around Emily's shoulders for as brief a time as could possibly be accepted as an embrace.

The horizon gives off a single, faint grumble of thunder like it acknowledges the disquiet in the moment and in their emotions.

Emily, not unexpectedly, is the one who holds onto the hug longer than the giver intended it for initially. She takes in a shudder of a breath to steady herself by. She stands there for a moment, swallowing away more meaningful words before muttering to him, "Don't be stupid this time. Friendly fire will do more than just deduct points from our team score." The tease is as much an attempt at diversion from her and their emotions as it is to be serious.

Only then does she let go. She hates hugs, generally. But these are special occasions.

"Sorry," she says as she steps back slightly. "I ruined your momentum there."

Special occasion, pfh. As soon as he's able to, Zachery turns sharply away to begin to pace through the grass on dirt-streaked boots. A chuckle catches him off guard, leaving his throat marred by both haste and reluctant surprise.

"Right," he hisses out through gritted teeth, quick to change the subject with his voice dragged into a tone of stern lecturing. "A second favour. Being that I don't want to hear it." Continuing his circular wandering off to nowhere and back again, he levels a severe look at Emily. "Anything about back—" He pauses. Home? No. "Back in New York."

She can't promise that. There's no way she can. Emily is torn between batting an honest truth back at him or lying about her capability to do him that full favor, arms coming to a fold quickly. Her tongue is so deep in her cheek it physically shows.

Her weight shifts from one foot to another, and she waits patiently under the mounting drizzle. Intentions on leaving the weather take a back seat to this, whatever this is or happens to be.

"What else?" Emily breaks her silence to ask patiently.

"A question, first," Zachery answers, after a few seconds worth of thought, squinting awkwardly up at the near black sky. "You're aware I'm not me?"

The laugh that comes from Emily, surprised and broken, indicates a negative to that question. She blinks at him, her eyes tracking him more intently while she remains otherwise unmoving.

"You—" Again, another huff of a laugh. Because that's insane. She looks at the hollow where his missing eye would be. "You're sure as fuck not your twin, Zachery." Deflective humor out of the way, now she looks back to the eye that remains, her hand coming off her ability. "I know shit happened, but…"

"That's…" The stammering comes as she tries to wrangle control of her tone again. "That's just a point of view. You're— you're you."

Zachery shakes his head, turning on a heel and carving a path directly back to Emily, aiming a cold stare down at her. "No. I never came home. This body, this—" he struggles with whatever was supposed to follow, anger settling into both his voice and a gesture at his whole fucking self in a messy sweep of an arm. "I'm a fabrication. Which leads me to— that? What we're both here for?"

He points back at the house, eye contact holding without blinking. "My last favour is for you to humour me on something about that."

Her shoulders pitch upward ever so slightly in a physical bristling of his insistence on his inhumanity, unable to and unwilling to consider that truth. Her jaw locks, body refusing to let her speak even to argue against his point. Her mind is a mess of half-formed thoughts anyway, the look in her eyes filled with a stubborn distance.

"What?" she finally asks in a quiet hiss, looking past him rather than at him.

It's all the indulgence Zachery needs to keep going, leaning forward with conviction suddenly brimming. "I have a particular feeling about all of this," he admits, too loudly. "A feeling that— I'm here for a reason. Both of us?"

He laughs suddenly and sharply and puts his hands up, as if to stall any reply Emily might have ready now, but his hands end up traveling further upward still, to be dragged over his face, half muffling some of his words as he returns to pacing while he explains. "And that's a bit of madness, probably, maybe, but this can't just be coincidence, right? I'm not saying it's the same as when I was— I have memories of praying, as a boy, more as a… habit than—"

His train of thought cut short, some frustration easily communicates itself in the straightening of his back as he stops in his tracks.

"Nevermind. This is not that, I want to be clear. But it's something. And it's… it's just…" He swallows. "It's something bigger than— …" Another sweep of an arm both goes out to the farmhouse, and this time that's where his wild-eyed focus lingers, his back straightening. "Esme, the girl in there? She said that in the camp, there were people with wires coming out of their heads. Hooked up to machines. And Claude's— he's got a whole port in his head. This has to mean something. Right? Maybe I've forgotten something, like I— have been, but. Even with none of this making sense to me, I…"

He looks back at Emily now, keen and bright and with a witless grin despite the hesitation that has him pause before asking, "Have I completely lost it? Am I that desperate for a purpose?"

He's scrabbling to make meaning out of all of it. To make it all serve something. Emily can sympathize with that, and her eyes soften despite herself.

"It is something bigger than us," she acknowledges quietly. "Maybe it is something like kismet that drew us here and into this. If there's a higher purpose for us, maybe we find it here, taking the chances that are given to us to make a difference."

In many ways, this surreal trip has been a lot like the videogames she idealizes— the clear opportunity to do the right thing. It's certainly granted her a sense of purpose, stealing away her hesitation and nerves. Hopefully not to her detriment.

"I'm that desperate for a purpose," Emily confesses to the side. "I want all the suffering I've been through to somehow have been worth it. To help end it for others. It's the whole fucking reason I stayed with SESA, maybe to lead me to here, to now, to tonight."

"Maybe suffering is the price we have to pay for the chance to make a difference, if we're brave enough to push past all the shitty things— all the broken glass and rusted nails." She looks back up, blue eyes catching the porch light and bringing brightness to them for just a moment in the dark. "I'm not sure I can go on living without believing in something like that. That there's some kind of reason for all of this."

A fragile part of her wants to hope that much; a fast-burning fire that threatens as much to go out quickly as it does to burn her while it still lives.

"I'll give that one to you for free— no favor needed."

Emily purses her lips together before canting her head carefully as she adds, "But succeed or fail, we can't stay here. You can't stay here. I can't walk away after this waiting for Torchlight— for the whole UK government to catch up with you." Hands balling up in the fold of her arms, she insists, "I'm not saying go back to New York— not if— not if you can't, after everything that's happened. Just… don't stay here."

"Please," she adds, like it'll make a difference.

Though the grin stays plastered on Zachery's face, the more Emily talks, the more it steadily warps into something uglier and colder. His own focus shifts to the grass again. Listening, still, but restless, with his fingers twitching at his sides.

"It's not about what's happened," he tells her. "It's about what might, still."

When he begins moving again, it is back toward the farmhouse. "You're going to die, some day, putting others' needs before your own. Don't let it be here."

It doesn't sting her the way it ought to. Better that than failing to act, she wants to say. Better that than dying to cumulative complications from the diseases that controlled all her formative years of her life.

But instead, Emily stays standing in the mist, watching Zachery's back. He's got a point, after all. What they were doing here was dangerous, and there were days yet to live for. For both of them, she wants to argue, but she wonders how well that would go over with him.

Fuck it, actually.

"Same to you," she says as life returns to her again and she rushes to catch up with the progress he's made back to the house. It's a short jog, at least. "I'm not sure I can go home after this if it means leaving you behind." Stubborn, and selfish beyond right, but there it is. "So don't do anything stupid beyond what I'd do." Emily manages a quiet, small laugh at her own expense there.

It crackles and dies as she looks back up to the farmhouse, something more serious taking its place.

"Something tells me the people of New York City will be forced to look at my face again either way," Zachery answers, slowing his walk to reach for the door, but also to cast a sidelong glance to Emily — one that's considerably less than subtle with how much he has to turn his head to get her swung back into his field of vision.

For a second, his jaw screws tight in thought. And then— he grins a mirthless grin, pushes the door open and gesturing for Emily to enter first. "One way or another."

Whether or not Emily chooses to see humor in his cheek or forces it into being is a mystery only she knows. "One way or another," she agrees knowingly, a hopeful hint of mirth in her own tone.

Hopefully as a returned man to communities he left behind, however grudgingly or briefly it might be done.

… Hopefully not as the face of some terrorist on international news.

And hopefully not as a stilled body and face delivered back to his family in a plastic bag.

As ever, Emily chooses to hope, even if it's in vain.

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