Pizza and Pronouns


seren3_icon.gif wright2_icon.gif

Scene Title Pizza and Pronouns
Synopsis Seren and Wright have an opportunity to get to know each other better over some pizza and pay-per-view.
Date July 14, 2021

When the door opens into Wright's suite, Seren invites themself in with a pizza box balanced on tented and splayed fingers for effect, highlighting the treasure they bring with them. "As promised," they boast modestly, and offer her a grin as they step in and around. Behind them, Baird follows in by flight– swooping past and over their shoulder and further into the room to explore. He's an unintelligible streak of black and sparkles at first, little more than a flying oobleck of barely-contained singular mass, but with his slowing he fills out into a semi-recognizable form.

So much as a gryphon made of pigeon and kitten can be, anyway, coloured still all with the deepest blacks and purples of the night sky, speckled with white dots and ripples like aurora along his wings.

"Where should I get this all set down?" Seren asks, lingering near the doorway until provided direction– unlike someone, Baird.

“You can just set that on Baird,” Wright says, stepping back into the room to make space for her guest. “He's looking too cute for his own good. Forbidden.” She winks at him in case he worries she might be serious.

As an actual answer, she gestures toward the room’s kitchenette. The suite is neater than she usually allows it to be, while remaining lived in. Clothes no longer litter the floor and furniture, having made a mad dash to cram everything into the closet in the moments surrounding her shower. She's dressed down and missing the elaborate makeup from earlier, choosing comfort over presentation.

“Sorry I got held up longer than anticipated,” she says as she makes her way to the refrigerator to withdraw a still mostly-warm bottle of soda and one of sparkling water. “Thanks for coming to me.” She didn't have much hope that she'd have been free of surveillance in Seren’s room at the Hilton, but at least here she knows where all the bugs are. Including the one who's staying in the room across the hall, Kenneth.

"It happens," Seren acknowledges with all the warmth of someone who's had it happen to them, possibly even recently. "The extra time gave me a little while to talk with folks back on the West Coast and wrap up my day since I 'lost' most of it here…" It wasn't lost, just differently used time, and they know it. The pizza goes down on the counter and they perk up to see the several different beverage options. Better than just tap water, for sure.

Baird, for his part, takes neither offense nor fear at the thought he might no longer be cute if anyone has their way about it, landing in the counter and puffing his floof up proudly. When he notices something he doesn't like, his strutting is forgotten in favor of lifting a wing to lick down its plumage with a purple tongue before golden eyes turn back up to show he's paying attention to the conversation.

"Now to put work aside for good and forever, though," Seren notes knowingly, looking down at Baird with their hands set on their hips. "At least until tomorrow."

Within a blink, Seren's no longer dressed in their businesswear from earlier. They've come over as dressed down as they can be, not having packed very well for it– they still wear their blazer, but over an oversized and well-faded black band tee of some variety, all of which is paired with a comfortable pair of predominantly grey flannel pajama pants. They grin with a touch of mischief when the glamour comes down, their shoulders slacking as they finally release what took them great focus to maintain on their way here. "Worth it," they whisper to themself regarding the headache they have no intention of letting others know about, and they shrug their blazer off to toss it over the back of a chair.

Wright seems poised to say something before Seren shucks their illusion. She has no problem with the blazer resting on the chair, that's where those go. “That's so fucking cool,” she attempts to say evenly but manages only enthusiastic admiration. “Every day could be pajama day.” Or you could just go commando, she does not add. Nobody would ever know.

“Wait,” she wonders, “did you wear those pajamas to breakfast for lunch?” She grabs plates from a cabinet, two dinner-sized and one saucer just in case Baird is allowed to pretend to eat pizza. She then turns her attention to the pizza box, drumming her fingers excitedly on the top before opening it to reveal its bounty.

A startled laugh leaves Seren and they look back to Wright with wide eyes. "Absolutely not," they assure, all while they briefly imagine the weight of the strain associated with keeping up that kind of masking all day long. A shudder runs through them. "It's actually really hard to make boring things with my ability," comes that final explanation, from which Baird extracts himself from the business of primming to look knowingly at Wright. "I managed to pull that off coming up the block and ending up in here only. I can't do very much at all while focusing on that."

And indeed, Baird looks much more real the more time elapses from the dropped facade.

The pizza box is split four different ways on the inside, a rotation of flavors savory and back again. Cheese, followed by veggie, then pepperoni, then Hawaiian before returning back to the very safe cheese once more. As it opens, Seren sheepishly asides, "I wasn't sure what you liked, so I tried to pick up a little bit of everything." They reach for the soda and turn to open the cabinet once more to nab a glass to go with it. "Hope something in there works."

Wright absorbs everything she can about Seren’s ability. “You're in luck,” she assures her guest, “I love a little bit of everything.” She transfers one of the slices of Hawaiian to a plate, then pretends to surreptitiously put another on the saucer for Baird.

“What about really abstract or nonsensical things?” she asks conversationally despite how extremely important it is to know. “Could you make a door of which the single distinguishing characteristic is that it is not a door? A lightbulb that gives off the color b sharp?” Parts of ideas, especially incorrect parts, are integral to the ways of the Palace. She makes room at the counter for Seren to claim their own dinner.

"I mean… sure?" Seren supposes, not at all picking up on Wright's individually-specific needs. They're used to having their ability questioned, and they're used to, as a result, having strong but loosely-held conceptions about how it works as a result. They're afraid forever of boxing themself in again. "Anything is possible, and I can let other people imagine things and create them now, so– if you had a concept for something like that, even if it didn't make sense to me, you could help me understand, because you could make it."

They trail off, their hand hovering over the other slice of Hawaiian pizza like they mean to grab it. But their eyes have gone distant and glittering, ringed with silver that's more prominent than usual. Of all the problems they could put their mind to recently, it's this one that's curious. It's this one that's fascinating and malleable instead of a hard reality filled with only so many right answers, where safety is imperiled with the wrong one…

The ceiling light in the kitchenette begins to hum, waves of amber and violet light emitting from the bulb and outward. Seren's lips part to whisper the particular phrase that has them enthralled. B sharp. Why not flat? B sharp. It's an alternate way to see what's there, a way to call a thing that obscures what it is, what otherwise is center and integral, and what if B sharp only seems like C unless you perceive it in another way, such as in color, and–

Seren blinks as Baird's tiny birdclaw tinks on the saucer plate while he nibbles at the edge of a piece of pineapple, and the glowing hum of secret light and sound immediately vanishes. They quickly reach for the pizza slice and pull it onto their plate, like the seconds where reality has begun to warp as they disappeared into the thought experiment hadn't actually happened, like they can make up for the lost time if they act quickly enough.

They go on with pretending that none of that had just happened, continuing smoothly, "Doors that aren't doors are easy, but like– you'd just need to not expect to go anywhere. I can do a lot of things, but last I checked, there's only so many impossible feats I can manage in a day." Seren laughs at their own expense, smiling while color enters their cheeks. They pour themself a drink quickly to keep their hands, their mind especially, occupied.

Wright’s growing smile is bathed in the light of sound. She's excited and relieved at once, and fights a nearly overwhelming urge to cry. Elliot's curiosity is roused again but she can tell him later. Right now she focuses on the secret interview.

As for volunteering the concept of a door that isn't a door, she's disinclined to think too hard about that. Doors that aren't doors can lead to places in the Palace, and rarely places one would enjoy. The last thing she wants to do is accidentally allow Seren to manifest even a reflection of the Palace in the real world. Doors are dangerous, and even with Elliot's familiarity with manipulating them in the Palace, she won't get close to dangerous ideas. A flickering cacophony of other thoughts purge the image from her mind.

She pours herself a glass of lemony, black tea-flavored sparkling water as she centers herself. “Sorry,” she says after a sip for a distracting blast of sensation, “I didn't mean to burn you out on friend's night in. That was exquisitely cool though.”

Seren flickers a nervous smile and immediately gushes, "No– no, it's fine, I promise. That's– nothing compared to–" Their stammering struggles with itself until they shake their head to try and restart their thought. It comes in a whisper as they say, "Yeah, sorry, I didn't mean to slip off like that."

A soft whirling coo comes from Baird as he makes his input on the situation, looking back to Seren now. He shifts his weight on the counter, going from foot to foot before he whuffles his wings open just enough to flutter up to Seren's shoulder, eliciting a small smile from them. "Thanks, bud," they murmur, then look back to Wright with a little more confidence and centering.

"Anyway," Seren sighs out. "I– appreciate the thought experiment! Really." They beam a quick, more intentful smile and then take a satisfied first bite of food. "Everything else lately has been so… oh you know, the end of the world, and all…" Another bite is taken for good measure. "So something a little less high stakes and a little more in my wheelhouse is welcome."

They tear off a pepperoni slice to pair with their first choice and then slide plate and drink off the counter to go and make themself comfortable in a seat. "I love talking about Baird and my friends and the cool stuff we can do, personally. Might be a little selfish, that."

“It's not selfish to be proud of what you can do,” Wright assures them. She decides she might as well add a second piece of pizza to her plate and grabs a veggie. Making her way to the loveseat in the room’s small sitting area, she continues. “I would love to hear all about Baird and friends.”

“I'm actually happy to talk about anything other than the Big Oof myself,” she says, sitting down and depositing her bounty. “Abstract thought experiments are a passion of mine too. Ever since we got dreamnapped I've been thinking a lot about how, in a place without matter, associations and deliberate misassociations are powerful. Relevance as a cognitive building block.”

"Dream logic honestly isn't worth arguing with half the time though," Seren opines from around another bite of pizza meanwhile they pull their legs up to themself to curl up and Baird takes flight to make a nest on the bed, covers pooling up oddly around him like he has made a nest of fibers as he wiggles down into the duvet. "Subverting it can break it. My experience has been that unless it's a recurring dream, too, it just…"

They dither for a moment and then seek to summarize it as, "Every dream has different laws, and even those laws depend on the person, anyway." Seren looks thoughtful and then draws a small sip from their soda before opining, "I mean– look at what happened with Angel. Her dreams were so hard to navigate, and figuring out the real her took so much effort. Every time we tried to bend things to work out in our favour, it… well…"

Their shoulders tip up in a small shrug. This was their experience, anyway.

"You can be confidently yourself, but we all compartmentalize our thoughts differently. Trying to manipulate someone else's abstraction with any confidence for results feels like you'd need to know them as well as you know yourself." They tongue their cheek before admitting while looking down at their food, "Assuming you do know yourself that well. How many people can even say they do?"

When Baird mewls an audible reply, Seren only looks over at him, a little sneeringly even though they smile in good humor. "Dæmon or no dæmon, people can still struggle with that, Baird. People can still surprise even themselves." As much is said with an air of rueful knowing.

Wright eats comfortably to hide a little thrill at Seren's intuition regarding the rules of dreamscapes and the Founder's innate advantage in the space. “Knowing oneself is truly complicated,” she says. “All we ever do is change, so there's always more to learn.” Truer for her and Elliot than most.

“I didn't really go into detail about the last dream with Gavriila,” she says, circling back. “She wasn't there at first, so altering the dreamscape was easier but still dangerous. It was falling apart. I didn't even realize I was dreaming for a while, then I used a trigger word me and Elliot share to figure out if we're sharing a dream or if I'm like just having a normal dream that includes him as a character. That can happen. So I completely changed the location, and had to kind of patch it with Relevant associations to keep a running narrative to hold it together.”

She clears her throat and takes a quick sip of her drink. “The Neverending Story had so many parallels, and I used them and adapted on the fly to get her to manifest like the Childlike Empress by naming her,” she continues. “Everything disintegrated but that happens in the story so I made it about the story instead of the dream and she showed up for a face-to-face before we got booted. She gave me a grain of sand to wish on to rebuild the world, but I didn't get to use it.” She laughs.

“So it seems easier to do things that are Relevant than things that aren't. Like if the scape was a desert it would be harder to create a boat but easier to create an oasis. Both involve water, but only one is Relevant to the desert. Though, she also wasn't actively fighting me while I tried. Who knows. Hopefully I'll get to practice again someday. If only understanding myself was so easy.” She smiles awkwardly.

Seren's eyes gradually widen as the details are fully revealed, their reaction culminating with a gasp over the gift received. They are entirely distracted. "A gift like that is powerful, though. If she gave you something like that, and she's as powerful a dreamer as she is, it could–"

Well, it could mean nothing outside of that dream. But Seren chooses to believe it means something, and that perhaps its effects could be transitive.

They start to come back to the moment and just nod vigorously their agreement. "Yeah. Yeah," they echo while Wright speaks, their voice whisper soft in fear of interrupting again, of getting carried away with their excitement again. They sip again from their drink. The uncertainty displayed by Wright grounds them again, though, and though they aren't willing to say anything–

But Baird trills in curiosity, and their eyes flit to him and back to Wright again. They return her smile a little sheepishly themself. "What do you mean?" they ask as gently as they can. "Does the you in your dreams feel more like you?"

After all, the two of them had never seen each other directly in these dreams.

Wright pauses to consider for a long while. She doesn't look uncomfortable weighing the question, just invested. “Dream me is weird,” she says finally. “It's kind of…” She isn't sure where to go with that, worried that too weird too fast will scare Seren away.

“I don't know, honestly,” she admits. “I'd like to be the me of my dreams, open and honest as my real self. But so much of my life is based around other people's perceptions and expectations of me. Like, it doesn't feel right, but I still fit in the box so it doesn't hurt to stay in it. It just kind of… sucks.”

Seren straightens in their seat, and in the time they take to process, they finish off the last of their slice. In the time it takes them to process, Baird no longer looks like starlight, brightening to an orange kitten with glimmering wings, amber eyes ever persistent in their hue. Seren takes a moment to wipe their mouth with the heel of their hand before they insert, "Yeah, no kidding it sucks."

They glance up to Wright with a touch of care given for what they say and how they say it, but the words come out anyway. "I know… it can be hard to subvert everyone else's expectation of you. But who gets hurt more by that?" Seren arches their brows. "It's you. It's you every time. I… you know, I dealt with that at home. I dealt with that with the Company."

"But then I came out." A smile turns the corner of their mouth as they look to Baird. "Both times, a different version of me. And the second time, with Baird, too." Their smile fades as they think back to how big of a moment that was for them. "It felt like the world was gonna end. I was told that being me could end the world as we knew it." Seren sets aside their plate to set their feet on the ground. "That… acknowledging Baird and letting other people know about him would be ruinous. I was threatened into silence and to hiding for a really long time."

"It wasn't worth it," they say on the edge of laugh. Baird lets out another whuffle of animal sound that devolves into a purr, kneading his paws and claws into the bed proudly. "Not when it came to gender, not when it came to my ability. Being afraid that people wouldn't understand– I hurt myself more than they could have ever hurt me."

"But it's not wrong to be afraid," Seren is sure to note. "Transitioning– from the way others view you more to yourself, it's still a big deal. It's scary, too, in its own right, letting go of who you were and embracing who you want to be instead. It's not even something you'd have to do all at once." They cant their head to the side for a moment, and the single earring threaded through their ear dangles on its silver string. "Maybe just in front of one or two people you trust to start. Or maybe a person and a dæmon, as it were," Seren concedes with a knowing glance to Baird.

Wright smiles sadly for Seren; sad for their past, smiling for their present authentic self. “I'm glad you became this you,” she says quietly.

She's barely touched her pizza, and works again at her drink while she considers the offer with gratitude. Her attention rests for a moment on the resplendent magic of the dæmon. Mustering the courage to talk is nearly insurmountable; she wonders if she'd even be able to if the Lock was still in place. “You're one of surprisingly few people who knows that I've been telepathically linked to a man for a decade,” she begins; man because Elliot isn't the point.

“Any time, day or night,” she explains, “I can experience the full range of his sensory perception as though I'm the one standing in his body. I can't affect his actions or thoughts, but I feel everything. Ten years of knowing exactly what it feels like to be a man, whenever I want.”

“Well, not ten years,” she clarifies. “Things have felt fluid for a while for both of us. The concept of gender just doesn't have the same kick that it used to.” She doesn't worry about speaking for Elliot in this; his trust in her is absolute.

“Fuck,” she scoffs, “I think we used to be straight.”

It's not funny, but Seren laughs commiseratively. Because that's a mood, honestly, when dealing with questions of gender and defying the one you were handed at birth. "If you're living both at the same time, I imagine not," Seren agrees regarding gender losing its hard and fast boundaries. "And if things are fluid, I bet it's even harder to want to jump into being seen different if it changes from day to day."

The memory of how Seren learned of Wright has brought back additional memories too that weren't immediately in forefront of mind before. The knowledge that Wright has a child, that she has a wife. They lean their arm against the table they sit beside, thinking.

"Right now," they acknowledge instead. "I bet it feels even more fluid if you're spending a lot of time not as yourself. I'm not sure I'd even see me after a while in those shoes, and it'd be hard to find just me again. After ten years?" It's not ten, but it's close enough. "I don't know how I'd be anything but both."

They give it a moment, pausing, and then wonder, "How do you think you'd better present as you? Is it just letting others know your situation, or do you want to change in another way? Appearance, or even pronouns?"

“I'm not sure, really,” Wright says, then makes an effort to speed-chew a bite of pizza while she thinks. “I've only started giving it serious consideration recently, and I feel weird about bringing it up to most people. Like, ‘Sorry, my gender issues are telepathic, does that even count?’ On top of not knowing where I stand, I feel like I don't even have ground to stand on.”

“But our link is permanent,” she continues, “so it's not like it'll become less prevalent in the future. Pronouns could at least indicate that I don't want to be addressed by a gender signifier. My personhood comes before that. I know I don't feel like I need to change my body beyond becoming more muscular to intimidate insecure men. And the masculine clothing slash elaborate makeup combo already sends a message.”

She eats distractedly again, trying to put the ideas into a useful order. “Talking to you about it is very nice though,” she says. “Brainstorming with Elliot about it nets nothing when all we can agree on about it is…” She shrugs theatrically.

Seren snorts another sympathetic breath out as they dig into their second slice of pizza. It gives them enough time to work back around to, "And, well, no offense to anybody who doesn't know it yet– but the world being about to fucking end hangs perpetually in the back of my mind for everything going forward. It has for a while." They adjust their one-handed grip on the pepperoni slice, glancing half-down at the excuse it makes for them to avoid looking at anything in particular while doing it. "I can't remember if I mentioned it earlier," the anxiety surrounding that moment might play a part in it, "But it's part of the reason I made up with Rue and I'm just… accepting things as they are. Yeah, they're not perfect, and I might not be comfortable with everything– but if the world goes out tomorrow, do I want it to have happened while avoiding making amends with her on principle? Because I was waiting for our mutual situations to be more agreeable? Would I rather her and I both die 'alone'—" in air quotes with their other hand while they squint because they know Rue wasn't exactly alone, but please just roll with them here, "or maybe to have that bit of solace in each other while we face down the end?"

They shake their head once, and in that time, Baird takes flight from the nest he's made for himself– which goes perfectly away once abandoned– and goes to land on the loveseat next to Wright. Moral support for her situation, clearly. And it does the trick of getting Seren's attention back to Wright and the present.

"My point is, if now isn't a time to begin experimenting with finding yourself, there isn't one. Now's our last chance. It might not be tomorrow all this starts kicking off, but…" They look rattled for a moment and then lay aside the drop associated with really focusing on that reality in favor of just acknowledging the fact it is. "It's soon enough we're doing all this, yeah?" It's their turn to shrug in a way that encompasses both of their current situations.

Swallowing, Seren proposes, "I've also met a couple of people who prefer to be addressed with no pronouns, for exactly the reasons you described: personhood first, rather than identity. Though in one case it was that language doesn't well-compensate or describe the abstract that makes up their identity … and rather than struggle with neopronouns which could confuse more than help, and people could just ignore at will … they pushed for no pronouns at all. Gender not as a negative, but just as a thing that they made peace with others not ever understanding."

"For me, I felt like I could cry when I realized that they was catching on as a singular third-person pronoun. It's always been there, it just… others accepting it, too, really helped." Their eyes narrow for a moment, trying again to repress the deep wave of emotion that wants to breach the surface there. They're mostly successful, in that they spend a moment looking merely pensive instead. "There's something to be said for not having to fight to be understood. For what you are to be less weird– even if there's only certain people who get it and support it, even then."

Well into her second slice of Pizza, Wright smiles for the acceptance Seren was able to find. They're right, there's not a lot of time left. Elliot and the others are all going to die soon, sooner even than the end of the world. She'll be alone then, or dead herself. With any luck, Zero won't jump to her when the Palace collapses, she isn't Foundational; she'd just be the first in a new line of sacrifices to its appetite. Assuming it doesn't, who will she be without Elliot? “The timetable could be more forgiving,” she says. “But if this is all we have, you're right. No time to waste.”

She sets down her plate. “How is one even addressed without pronouns?” she wonders. “Do you just say their na… just say the name of the person every time? That could get confusing; my name already sounds like you're just agreeing with somebody. Singular third would probably be more in my wheelhouse.”

She has a strong urge to scratch behind Baird’s ears, but controls herself. He gets his own happy smile instead.

Whether or not he's aware of Wright's urge is left to mystery, but Baird responds anyway by waddling closer through awkward sidesteps to sandwich himself down against her side, with all the pressure and warmth a small furry and feathered creature as he could carry with him.

"I'm glad we became this we, too," Seren admits with a flicker of a smile. "Back when we had to hide, Baird would live in my shadow. He'd be able to signal to me that way… and sometimes we'd test our luck. But a lot of people had an easier time writing off a trick of shadow than…" Their grin grows and they cant their head as they look at Baird, indicatively saying, "Well." all while he snuggles into Wright's leg and lies down, head over crossed pigeon claws.

"And as for pronouns– yeah, it's hard. Adjusting the way you think to accommodate new ways of reference is hard. I have some trouble with nonstandard pronouns myself." Their grin weakens and they confess in a low, unproud voice, "Imagination is my superpower and I still struggle with that stuff sometimes. If even I need practice, I can't fault anybody else for messing up on occasion, you know?"

"But for a singular third, you've got they– which I'm unsurprisingly partial to–" Seren asides knowingly, then they look off, thoughtful. "Then you've got like… xe, hir, zie, ey… fae if you're feeling particularly unknowable and whimsical."

Wright wiggles happily when Baird settles in, even if it means that her pizza is now lost forever on the coffee table. He's much more approachable than the shadow Baird that she witnessed through Elliot in another world, and she appreciates that about him. That Seren seemed nice as well, though their interactions were limited to being escorted on a summons from the crime lord of New Chicago.

“Neo pronouns definitely seem less approachable from a cultural perspective,” she agrees. “Not that people shouldn't be able to use them and have the choice respected. Language is malleable, adapt or get slapped. The singular they just has like seven hundred years of history already.”

She thinks about it while she considers how to ask permission to pet Baird. Does she ask the summoner or the dæmon? “I could…potentially get behind being a they,” she says, flexing her fingers in the air above Baird's head. “Also what's the ahhh…protocol here on head scritches? How do we feel about those, hypothetically speaking?”

Adapt or get slapped sees Seren nearly choke on their drink as they let out a startled laugh, holding onto their glass while they press their knuckles against their mouth to better brace against a potential bout of spume. Baird keeps his eyes up expectantly on Wright's hand, slowly leaning up to her regardless of patience for his summoner sorting out their breathing problems.

"He, ah–" Seren finally manages with some strain, then clears their throat. "Just be gentle with him. Advice that's better suited for when dealing with kids, but also the excitable adult, too. Pats are okay– let him tell you if he wants to be held or not."

"The reverse goes too, Baird," they tell him in warning tones. "Not everybody's signed up to be jumped on." They lean back in their seat again, pizza abandoned on their knee in solidarity with Wright's new plight. "He did that to Marlowe Terrell a few days ago and we'd known her for maybe a collective three hours before that," they relay to her with an exasperated sigh. "He had good intentions, but just because we're all in the same boat now, it doesn't mean everyone automatically consents to being that friendly with each other."

Whether or not Baird is listening is anyone's guess. He's now sniffing Wright's hand, cat nose crimping, whiskers twitching. He decides she is, as he knew to be true, in fact good people and offers his forehead to bump against her palm.

Wright giggles with near sinister satisfaction, gently exploring behind Baird's ears with her fingernails. “Excellent form, sir,” she tells him. “Truly magical. You are welcome to sit on my lap if the mood descends, just know I'm gonna lunge for my dinner at some point.”

She studies the sensations of the contact, wondering about the science behind it. Is he made of light? Does he have mass? Is her brain just being fed false sensory information? If the perception of Baird is telepathic in some way, could he back-feed through her link to Elliot, causing him to experience the contact as well? She doesn't ask, as she fears making him less real by defining him, which could be a danger. They tried to change the minotaur by removing the capital M to make it less important; while it's true that it didn't help at all, they can't capitalize the M in direct reference to the beast anymore. It's irRelevant.

“So,” she asks Seren when she remembers there's more than one guest in the room, “how does one, like, in your experience, do a new pronoun?”

The soft feel of Baird provides no strong peek behind the curtain. He is kitten-soft, and feels solid and warm and– thrumming, too, as he begins to purr. His head turns to better receive those scritches, and his fur parts purrfectly around her fingertips. There's a strange moment, and it's only a moment, where perhaps he leans a little too vigorously into the pets and starts to feel less solid and more soft, but then he's shaking his head, and with it comes the tinkle of a collar's bell– red-banded and gold-belled was definitely not there a moment before.

Elbow perched on the table next to them, fingers cradling the side of their face, Seren looks at him with impossible fondness and also a touch of being done with his antics. "You're such a ham," they lambast him in a mutter without any real weight behind it, and with a soft shake of their own head, glance up to Wright once more with silver glimmering in the grey of their eyes.

"Informing others is the important first step," they answer her more clearly. "And then from there… some experimentation, either on your own, or with help from some friends…"

Seren takes a moment to think, and it's apparently too long for Baird, as he lets out an eye-closed mrow of protest as he looks to them. Offended, they turn their hand away from their face, elbow unmoving from its seat. "I want to make sure I'm giving them good advice, Baird," they balk chastisingly at him. "This is a big deal for Wright, after all."

Wright sighs. Informing others is contrary to her nature. She considers falling back on the time trusted habit of lying about everything and suppressing the truth where it arises, but they've already discussed the impact of the end of all human life.

“Experiments, you say,” she muses while staring away from them both. Her history with experimentation isn't great either. Amazing what a few months in the Commonwealth Institute Arcology can do to one's tolerance for unknown experiments. “Like we see whether or not it feels weird to be referred to by others using new pronouns in conversation?”

"Exactly," Seren answers with a nod that sends their earring glimmering. "So, like… say I'm…" They begin to look off, too, and the silvery sheen of their eyes begins to shimmer brighter. "Talking with a friend."

How convenient it is that at that exact moment, sitting cross-pawed similarly to Baird, an entire lion manifests itself on the bed. "Dandy," Seren addresses him, and the greenfaced lion yawns, face framed by an unorganized shock of yellowed petals for a mane. On the bed, a white poof of a tail twitches up from the covers in captured interest. The lion's yellow eyes open to regard his summoner properly. "I want you to meet my other friend, Wright. I came to visit them while I'm in KC. They've been here a while for work, and they were kind enough to have both lunch and dinner with me while I'm in town. Will you say hello?"

Dandy turns to Wright and unfolds his paws, head and flowery mane dipping in a greeting that shows off the greenery also weaving itself along his shoulders and back.

Seren looks back to Wright for their response with expectance nearly akin to hope, the silver limning their irises unabated and adding additional gleam in their eyes.

Wright, in her shock, forgets to keep scratching at Baird. The first natural reaction to an enormous predator between oneself and the exit is typically fuck shit fuck, but she soldiers past it as she takes in the fantastical plumage and manages a polite wave.

She turns slowly back to Seren, eyes wide. This is the first non-Baird friend of Seren's that she's ever seen, or even known about. “When you said that you like talking about your friends,” she manages, “I thought you meant like, buddies. Work pals. People you go to brunch with.”

Wright is clearly awed, but she blinks as she runs the rest of Seren's conversation back until she’s caught up. “Oh,” they say, returning to petting the dæmon snuggled up against their leg. “That wasn't so bad.”

Seren's shoulders peak upward as they try to maintain a certain look of innocence all while their shit-eating grin can't contain itself over Wright's reaction. "Dandy loves brunch," they manage to say with a mostly-straight face. "Mimosas are acceptable for his tastes."

After that, they cover their mouth with one hand and finally let out the long chuckle they've been suppressing, ending up pulling their other hand up too to try and contain it from getting out of hand. Their eyes sting as they laugh into their palms in fits, and they shake their head in apology after.

"Baird was my first friend," they say into the shield of their hands before slowly lowering them, deeming it to be safe enough. "And he changes on his whim. Most of the other friends I've picked up have more consistent forms, but they've come and gone over time. Dandy and I have been friends for something over a year now, I think." They smile at him, and he chuffs quietly in reply before primly going to groom one of his solid, white-tipped paws. "It was nice to have a new face around, after… a lot of the old ones went away."

Looking back to Wright, they breeze right into, "I'm glad it didn't feel too weird. Would you want me to try using those pronouns for you in front of other people going forward? Or is there someone you see more frequently that I could talk to– with you– about making that change?" Their eyes go distant for a moment, voice fond as they recall, "My best friend Axel, he did that for me early on. It helped me get over my fear of bringing it up, somehow. It was– Real. Made it more Real than if I had done it the first time for myself, even though it was something I wanted."

Wright doesn't begrudge Seren their mischief, smiling along to lesser degrees as the topics become less jovial. They allow Seren to breeze past their sadness. They're curious about how imaginary friends go away, the implications are very intriguing. It isn't their business, however, and they're not one to pry. They smile welcomingly back at Dandy and switch to scratching beneath Baird's chin.

The bestie with the mean haymaker, Wright thinks through their smile, though now isn't the time to get into that. Seren doesn't need to be angry at their best friend at the moment, and Rue technically consented to being hit. At least now they know his name.

“I could use help,” they admit nervously. “I honestly have no idea how Marthe will react.”

"Yeah," Seren acknowledges in a low tone, the sound of it long and drawn out. They rock to their feet in thought and cross over to the bed to take Dandy's very large head between both hands to ruffle it back and forth so as to not leave him out of the attention-giving. Baird meanwhile arches his chin up and closes his eyes, intensely pleased with his lot.

"Have you talked with her at all before about it? Not the shift, but just the way you feel?" they wonder, care in their tone.

“Kind of,” Wright says, betting on Baird being unable to scratch between those wings and moving over his head and down his back.

Marthe is taking deep, staggering breaths. Ragged and painful. She's dizzy from being unable to control them; is aware on some level that she's having a panic attack. Panic doesn't cover it, something is very wrong. “What was that!?” she manages between marathon breaths. “Who was I? What are you!?

The terrified, crying thing that is not her wife smiles euphorically. Says, “I'm the—

“I'll be honest,” they continue, “exploratory forays into the topic did not receive a warm reception. Big ‘you're not the woman I married’ vibes. And she's not wrong, I've come a long way since we got married in the field during a civil war. I'd like to think I've changed for the better. I'm sober, less reactive, happier. Need to be my best self if we're going to make it, you know?”

“Honestly,” they admit, “maybe I ought to work my way up to my wife?”

"I'm sorry she wasn't immediately supportive," Seren notes softly, all while Baird begins to wriggle against and away from Wright's scritches. Something about that spot does not jive as much as the others, and he's done now, thanks. He slips across her lap like a non-Newtonian liquid and then leaps low toward the bed. His wings snap open at the last second to help him regain clearance, and his claws reach out to snag just the edge of the bed. "It can be really hard for the people closest to someone to adjust to the new reality of them if it happens– for them– all of a sudden. If they don't have… insights and hints that might help make the leap easier."

They pause to hold Dandy's entire face between both hands and murmur down to him, "You have been a great help. You made this whole thing very fancy for us. Thank you." before planting their face against his, forehead to forehead before the lion closes his eyes and explodes in a poof of dandelion fluff, leaving behind drifts of white that float down to the bed and disappear into it like snowflakes on ground that's just too warm. Seren claps their hands once before them to try and get rid of any clingers to their skin, then turns one hand palm up to blow gently across the plane of it and send the remaining flufts soaring.

"I know that when I was trying to work up to it with my dad… I kept dropping hints. Things like, 'Hey, da, you know how I never have really enjoyed being roped off as 'one of the girls'…' and such." Seren shakes their head as they turn back to Wright, and completely ignore Baird's antics as he paws at one of the dandelion flufts gently before grabbing hold of Seren's nearest arm with both paws afterward, overly energetic. Play isn't on his summoner's mind right now, though. "Things that worked up to it, in the end, even if it felt kind of forced. Reminders along the way that who I was before and who I am now are different."

"The support of the people you care about most is really important to making it all work in the end," they have to acknowledge gently. "I… wouldn't hide it from her. Even if it's hard at first."

With Baird’s sudden escape, Wright is finally able to grab the last of their pizza. They stuff it unceremoniously into their mouth only to lament their glass being empty. Standing, they lurch at the sudden explosion of the second summons, but gather themself enough to walk through the fluff back toward the counter.

It really would be nice if little clues helped at all. Even getting close to the topic again last Halloween nearly derailed them entirely. Because the truth is itself the problem; Marthe already knows, but it's tangled up in an unexpected overlay with the Aquifer. There's a reason they have to close their eyes when cutting through the Aquifer Overlook, and that's just the barest facsimile of the real thing. It isn't meant to be comprehended.

Marthe has changed recently though, hasn't she? She's been more supportive to both of them since her conversation with Rue. Does it matter that it's all based on her denial of what really happened during the overlay? Their Epiphany was her personal horror.

They pour themself another glass of sparkling water and load their plate with a slice of pepperoni. “That makes sense,” they say. “Though it's complicated. When things got bad with us, they got extra fucking bad and in unexpected ways. I feel like I'm kind of on probation right now.” They don't move to collect their glass and plate, eyes unfocused but looking neither here nor there.

Seren winces sympathetically and swings their free arm up to the side of their head, running their fingers through the growing lengths of their short-shorn hair. They look off for a moment, too, and then refocus on Wright after that beat has passed. "Nothing can ever be simple, can it?" they commiserate, and offer a small flicker of a smile accordingly.

"I can't solve that for you, and if things are that complicated… do what you've got to, okay? You knowing in your heart, for yourself, is the most important thing. Everything else gets you closer to you living your truth, but you knowing who you are is the most paramount. The rest will land well in its own time, eventually." Never mind the planet-killing event on the horizon.

Their eyes unfocus again as a new thought hits them, and it propels them forward back to the kitchenette to take Wright by their hand. "There's one more thing I could do to help you experiment, though. To see if something feels right or if it doesn't." With excitement fluttering under their skin, they pull gently to coax them in the direction of the hotel room's mirror.

Wright is happy to be led away from dark thoughts, happier still to be touched again by someone who's safe. Happy enough to not even think about safety and the cause of the lack of it. Happy that Seren is their friend and a Relevant prospect.

They let themself be led, unsure this time what the experiment might involve. The first one seemed obvious enough, but they're quite familiar with what they look like. “Are we summoning Bloody Mary?” they hazard a guess. “I love a little catoptromancy but I knew this one girl in school who did that and her whole face fell off.” It's said with the ridiculous gravitas of a middle schooler.

"Okay," Seren prefaces it, letting go of Wright and putting their hands out before them in the way someone presents something great– or asks someone to hold still. "Remember how I said I can help bring others' imaginations to life? I want you to close your eyes." The movement of their arms brings Baird to grumble and shift from clinging to arm to crawling his way up Seren's back to peek over their shoulder instead, tiny cat chin resting on his creator's shoulder to peer at Wright.

"Thinking about who you want to be… you said you wanted to maybe consider looking slightly different. Maybe not much, but– if you had the option to realize it…"

They look toward the mirror and wonder as their eyes begin to shimmer once more, "How do you see yourself? Who is the ideal you?" Seren poses the question very carefully, aware of the potential grenade they place in Wright's hand. Only a moment passes before they gently tag on, "If you open your eyes and realize that isn't it… you can close them again, and reimagine. It's less often that a first draft is a final than someone goes through a lot of thought and rethinking."

Wright has conditioned themself enough this evening to not automatically start thinking of the parts of their existence that need to stay partitioned for safety reasons. They're still nervous because they have no idea how to quantify their perception of their ideal self. They need to understand this facet of Seren's ability though, and proceed carefully.

What would I look like, they wonder, concentrating. They turn to the mirror and close their eyes as instructed. They imagine a character creation screen from a video game, but it's too logical and they've never been good at making characters look human from scratch. That's abandoned, eyes still closed, sending lines of sidebar menus bleeding out of focus unbeknownst to them. The lines of options boxes skew like the image on a CRT television, like curtains of auroral light.

They're so used to manipulating specific facets of ideas that it is difficult now to just let their mind loose. They open their eyes to see themself in the mirror as they are now, confused momentarily by the fading aurora. “I was born during a solar storm,” they say softly, looking at the light in the mirror as it turns blood red and heavy again. “Elliot too, though his was a different and less awesome one,” they add, and the colors are pink and green like the stitching on the shoulder of the hoodie Merlyn never returned.

“I feel like I'm doing this wrong,” they laugh, closing their eyes again to try to dispel it.

"I did put you on the spot," Seren grants goodnaturedly, grinning themself as they gently put a hand to Wright's shoulder. "And I can't say there's a right way to go about this, either."

"If you decide you like being you as you are, that's fine too," they assure them. "But I figured that while I'm here, I would at least offer. I can't do this from far away, after all." Baird chitters on Seren's shoulder with commentary of his own on the situation, contents beknownst only to them.

"Don't think too hard about it," they say, perhaps echoing Baird. "Just be you, if you feel you didn't have to hide it."

Wright chuckles, as the room darkens, focusing on them alone. “On the spotlight,” they joke. It isn't a spotlight that surrounds them, just a cone where it doesn't become darker. Not the opposite of a spotlight, just some of the Relevant features of one. Not oppressive or unwelcoming, just borrowing night from outside.

The aurora returns in a ripple from the center of the mirror outward, resurges to the center like wet paint that dries and cracks even though it's been stored in a garbage bag in a hole in an unbroken and sheltered wall. Even though they returned to the castle and recovered it in secret. Elliot-made-of-paint walks into the light in the reflection and through paint-made-of-Wright. They overlap, the paint spreads and solidifies, side by side and simultaneous.

Wright opens their eyes to view the painting mounted on the wall, lit from above in the light of the once-not spotlight. “I used to get so mad at Eve for knowing what was going to happen to Elliot and being unable to do anything about it,” they say.

A second painting sits in weaker light in the alcove to the left of the display. A circle of eight mechanical black boxes radiating away from each other, faces through windows indistinct in the lower-watt bulb of actual glass. A shadowy man in a lab coat looking on from inside the ring. “I know it's not her fault that prophecy is largely useless,” they continue as the night from outside covers the second painting again.

The first painting fades, leaving Elliot in the mirror where Wright should be, and they sigh. Not Elliot in truth, simply the idea of him. “These are the only faces I’m familiar with,” they concede, Elliot solemn and silent. There's a lie in it; in the room full of shifting shadows of the forms of other people. Too many people of many shapes and sizes, the idea of being crowded. Not shadowy, but shrouded in matte black armor and the fading afterimage of six white eyes each; all dismissed with a sudden snap snap snap of their fingers.

“Sorry,” they say, terrified, backing away from the mirror. “Lot of war trauma still bouncing around.” It's the first thing that comes to them, the best they can do in the moment. Elliot doesn't ask permission to stream their perception for threats, then recedes to remember what just happened instead.

“Sorry,” they repeat.

As much time is given for the reflection and introspection is needed. The moment that Wright seems like it's too much for them, stepping back, they don't need to worry about putting it all back into its own box– it all falls away on its own as Seren closes their hand around their extension of their ability, leaving them with the reality they both expect.

"You're okay, you're just fine," Seren assures them, and it's hard to imagine anything but them taking a little responsibility for what happened. They can't filter or preview what comes out when they do this, it just… it just does. At least their nose isn't bleeding. Did Wright hear them earlier and avoid hyperrealism for their sake? Or was her inward view just that dreamlike?

Why had there been six eyes on the other selves or representations in the background? Not quite like a spider, but almost?

Seren puts all that aside to hug Wright tightly. "I'm sorry, too. I just… get excited. And I should know better by now than to do things like this on the drop of a hat with people. Because it's a lot, and unfettered, and if I can't control even myself, how can I expect that others might not have the same problem?" They pull back from the hug to smile and the corners of their eyes glisten for just a moment before no they don't, they're just fine.

"It's easier with kids– they just live in the moment," they ramble. As they step back to give Wright space, Baird slips from Seren's shoulder to theirs, and his creator makes no fuss over it this time. He's light as a pygmy owl on Wright's shoulder, hardly a thing of weight even though his claws can be felt, harmless but definitely present in their sharpness against clothes. "Us, we… we've got too many moments we've lived that could pull us in their direction at any time if we're not careful," Seren explains of their situations. "Good or bad or other. We've just got a lot on our minds at all times."

The hug centers Wright to such an extent that they feel Elliot relax without having the context to know why. As usual, they don't overstay their welcome when the hug ends, focusing on making sure they didn't frighten Seren. The near-imperceptible weight of Baird across their shoulders makes them think of the Flooded Elliot's amphisbaena tattoo of all things.

“I understand,” they assure Seren. Calm now, they sigh, attention returning to the mirror. Trying not to focus on how Relevant the summoner would be in the Palace, Wright chooses wonder and lets themself feel it. “As you can see, my own thoughts kind of have the run of the place.” One of many reasons to be grateful that thought can't be transmitted through the ability that they tell people is called telepathic networking.

“It's difficult to put boundaries on imagination,” they guess. “Would kind of defeat the infinite nature of it, probably.”

Can they get Seren's help without telling them the truth first? If months in the Ark taught them anything, it's that consent can be circumvented when there's a gun to a child's head. When you don't tell people that they could be trapped in the network forever and being in it only ever feels better than it did the moment before. Would Seren forgive them for the lies they've told them already? They can only hope, but hope is Relevant.

“You're always welcome to feel things in technicolor around me,” Wright says finally, tilting her head to lightly nuzzle against Baird for a moment. “If you need to be your absolute self in front of somebody, I honestly don't believe you could show me something that would make me appreciate you less. I'm used to thinking in fantastical ways, imagining impossible things. You're a truly kind person, so even the things that hurt wouldn't be too much. I don't think you're capable of malice.” They lean back against the wall, slouching forward to make sure the dæmon has enough room.

Wright guessing at the infinite nature of things brings Seren to grin lopsidedly, some relief to be found in that understanding. Their own posture eases then, glad that they've found another person who understands– for now– that there is danger to be found in 'yes, but' when it comes to their ability. "Thanks," they're sure to reply to her offer. "The world in anything but is a pretty boring place."

But they hesitate on the subject of kindness, smiling politely. "Not intentionally, usually, anyway," Seren says delicately, and they look to where Baird has butted his head up against Wright's jaw, then walked behind her shoulders, one to the other, his downy wing pressing to ear and back of head as he almost impossibly goes. His summoner gives him a balking look and loosely holds both arms open before them. "Come here, you big ham," they drawl, and Baird looks their way before leaping off of Wright's shoulder with minimal pressure down into it.

Seren catches him, hand to belly, and flips him over to cradle him like a baby while his tail flicks and his eyes blink owlishly up at them.

"For my own part, it… I don't know," they say as they look down at him. "It's hard for me to imagine myself being any one thing in particular. I look how I look, but I don't know if there's a … more me me to be found anywhere under all that. I know for sure that I'm comfortable how I am now, and it took me a long time to feel that way, but even so…" Their nose wrinkles as they look back up, admitting, "Some days I experiment with hair color? Once or twice with tattoos. But I don't dislike me just as I am, you know? Sometimes I lament my limited color of wardrobe some days," said with the hints of another grin. "But that's about it, I think."

Wright rests their head against the wall once Baird has taken off, seeming satisfied to have temporarily been a furniture. “I get that,” they say, motioning toward their own failed attempts at seeing themself differently. “But you're definitely in a unique position.”

They stand up from the wall, looking and then gesturing around the room. “You're already authentic, there doesn't need to be more of you specifically on the inside when you exist to the edges of your sphere of influence,” they imagine. “The rest of you might be out here, waiting to be painted onto the world.”

“Not to say you don't contain multitudes,” they say with a pointed finger and a bit of forced seriousness. “Not trying to imply there's nothing more going on beneath the cosmetic changes to your physical self when whimsy strikes. Just that, if you wanted us to be having this conversation from within a whirlpool of impossible colors and abstract concepts, I'd be down for that. Some people show their emotions on their face, some in their body. You have a lot more canvas to work with.”

Possibly an impossibly endless expanse of it. Seren has already intuited some of the dream logic-like qualities of Aquifer manipulation, it seems as good a time as any to lay the groundwork of them understanding more. Worst case, Wright will learn that they're wrong and that's important to know too.

Seren's grin turns sheepish, only one corner of their mouth still showing it. "Yeah," they admit with a bit of forced humor or seriousness or both. "Who's not fantasized at one point or another about just being a celestial body of swirling color and light, rather than anything most people would understand?" It's a joke, see? Ha ha. Definitely not them. They've put all the overemphasis on what they've said, so it's obvious for anyone looking in.

Their hand on Baird's belly as it's pet smooths over the white fur and like a sequined cushion, the opposite lay of the fur goes back to being just as celestial black and white as when he first flew in in the room. He trills curiously at something.

There's being yourself and then there's being yourself, after all.

"I don't know," they try to segue, just as awkward as before. "I, um… try not to overextend myself. But it usually takes being really relaxed for the furniture and stuff to just… alter. Usually have to be at home for that. And it's another one of those things that if you force, it's probably not going to be the same. Or as cool, for that matter."

The corner of their mouth twitches as they recall, "One of the more fun recent transformations, though… a coworker brought by his stepdaughter on her birthday. He may have lied to her and told her that he knew someone who knows a unicorn." Seren's nose wrinkles in chastisement and fondness both as their eyes go distant. "But she was so excited, and I didn't want to let her down. So I let myself imagine that the door to my office was really a door to somewhere else instead– the middle of a forest that overlooked rolling hills where magical creatures roamed. And I promised her that if she was patient, something might happen."

"She was… so excited. So pure. She waited and waited, and when it appeared, I had to tell her we could only watch. But… that was enough. And it was meaningful." Seren comes back to the present and looks up to Wright sheepishly. "A lot cooler than when I lose track of the remote because fog rolls into the room during a streaming binge, you know? But– being able to make the inside into nighttime has its charms on other days, too, especially when insomnia strikes."

Wright smiles for all the parts of what Seren's just said that are important. Existing in a form beyond normal understanding. Creating a door that goes to the wrong place. Convincing a child that magic is real. All they need now is a grain of sand from the Childlike Empress and they could confront the minotaur safely. They'll need to get them a copy of the book, alterations in the moment will need to be intuitive, near-automatic. Gavriila is already Relevant to this role but, without much opportunity to develop that prospect in the world of matter, it's good to have a wildcard.

“Dang,” they say wistfully. “Right in the childhood magic. Must have been the coolest kid in school for a while.” Or maybe she got violent about it on the playground when kids called her a liar, though that feels like projection. They track the dæmon across the room just in case he stumbles across a book full of worrisome evidence.

“If Elliot was here, we could distribute the effort load across other network users if you ever want to see how much you can do without having to worry about difficulty.” A random musing, as they don't want to dwell on the possibility of his never returning. They have to implement all the plans just in case he does. “We don't get to do that as much as we would have guessed. Overclocking other mental abilities, that is.”

"Wait, what?" Seren full stops in what they're doing, completely surprised. "You can… what?"

Wright seems a little satisfied to have surprised Seren, smiling a touch deviously. “Yeah,” they say. “Aside from sharing memories and purely cognitive skills, hosts can also willingly cede cognitive capacity to other hosts in order to boost mental actions.”

Making their way back to the counter, they finally get at the sparkling water they'd abandoned. “This includes making it easier for other hosts to use network abilities,” they continue. “So if you were linked and you needed to know a useless amount of military history, you could stream my knowledge in that area but it would take effort for you to continuously stream it. I could then cede my cognition to you, and you could then know what I know effortlessly until I stop overclocking and you stop streaming.” They pause for a moment to enjoy the spicy water.

“On top of that,” they add, “if a host has a mental ability, everyone can take on the effort of its use for them. This can make it easier for them to use the ability, or use it more frequently than normal, or, hypothetically, let them go beyond what their ability is normally capable of, like it's being amplified by a meta. We haven't had a lot of opportunities to see what we can really do in that regard.” Not that they can currently remember, anyway.

It's not like Seren's eyes are shimmering, at least not any more than normal, but they're certainly wide as they consider this information and begin to try to catalogue it. Baird trills curiously, feathery antennae that have sprouted from his forehead at some point twitching inquisitively. Seren abandons the rhythmic flipping of soft kitten fur over to celestial starscape on his belly, their gaze drawn up and distant.

"Well, today I learned," they finally say to sum up their reaction, however lamely, however filled with awe it is. They force out a short laugh and try to come back to the present. "That sounds intense. I'm not even sure what would happen if my ability was amplified. I feel like the wall between imagination and reality would like, start breaking apart or something." They let out another faint laugh, part-intrigued, part-terrified by the very concept.

"Maybe someday," they concede with a flicker of a smile, coming back to Wright and sounding more confident at last. "I think we might need a lot of space, if we do it."

“I wouldn't worry too much about breaking the wall between imagination and reality,” Wright says, taking a moment to eat a bite of cheese pizza straight from the box since their plate is all the way over there. “If there is such a type of space, it's as old as time itself. Or, at the very least, as old as thinking minds. Something needs to serve as the scaffolding that allows for the transference of thoughts outside of the physical parameters of a brain, after all. The place where dreamscapes exist as impermanent islands.” Or even permanent ones, if properly Founded. What would the Aquifer have been before there were thoughts to project against it? Do the entities that possibly originate from there exist due to human thought, or independent of it?

“Either way, I don't think we'd have much to worry about other than privacy,” they agree. “Open field maybe? Aircraft hangar? I would love to see what you could do without limitations or worry of burnout.”

Seren's smile eases. "It'd be nice, wouldn't it?" they reply easily, and when Baird coos softly from the curl in their arms, blinking owlishly up at them, they look down with a grin. "It could be like the old days, you're right. Maybe even better. We could have such a picnic." His feathery tail swishes with lazy interest before he begins to try to climb out of arms, clawed hands first and seeking purchase on shirt.

"Hey, hey," his summoner hisses to encourage his caution, and then lets him continue his climb up to their shoulder. He turns his head back, though– turning around at a severe angle to peer at Wright with curiosity. He ekks a question, which Seren translates first with an, "Oh," of surprise, followed by, "He wants to know if it looks like Elliot might be back any time soon so we could give that a shot."

Baird still looks ready to leap off to wherever he's intending, but waits to hear that very critical answer.

“Can't say, unfortunately,” Wright grimaces. “Operation ongoing, as it is. Kenneth gets so cranky about treason. I'm certain Elliot'll be happy to provide you with a purple pancake picnic upon return, though.” It weighs on them. This is the longest they've gone without resting their forehead against his in a decade. That centering has always been a critical intimacy. They turn, abandoning the slice of pizza in the box.

Seren nods in sympathy as Baird lets out a noise of mysterious origin that still somehow could only describe as disappointed. Definitely over the tardiness, given its timing, though his mood doesn't much improve. He turns and leaps off their shoulder, twisting out of sight entirely… seeming to leave the two others properly alone for the time being.

For their part, Seren clasps their hands together before them and wanders back to the kitchenette. "It'll be done before you know it," they say with a note of hopeful optimism. "And then we can… picnic and plenty of other things. Whatever we want, time permitting."

Their head tilts back toward the television and they wonder, "What do you think? Anything interesting on the pay-per-view?"

“There's bound to be something,” Wright responds with a cheer they actually feel. Seren's company continues to be a balm. They like them honestly, which makes what might have to happen easier despite the treachery involved. It's not exactly the same as Elliot being here in the room with them; obviously Seren isn't Elliot.

But maybe, some day, they will be.

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