Red House


skye_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Red House
Synopsis Zachery accepts an invitation and arrives right on time.
Date March 7, 2019

Park Slope

The heavy rain churns up smells of earth in a way that is particular to Park Slope, and Zachery Miller finds himself having to pick his path carefully as puddles increasingly become less obvious as to exactly how deep they are. Moving down Tenth, finding where pavement is still whole and risen above the streams of rainwater that flow in odd directions, but also — unlikely ripples of tree roots that seem to have, at some point, violently erupted through asphalt, drawn up into even more unlikely trees that rise up between houses, through streets and sidewalks, creating a now heavily dripping sporadic canopy of green where none once existed.

Something happened here, that made Prospect Park's dense greenery even denser, and invade civilisation. Within the Safe Zone, it's a pocket of wild, untamed eastern seaboard jungle.

But not abandoned. Through the trees and shrubbery, Zachery can make out the occasional glow of a lamp, diffused through glass or peeking through boarded over windows. Occasionally, his path becomes easier where someone has made an effort to brick up a section of sidewalk. A strange animal noise pierces through the ongoing patter of heavy rain, and when it doesn't repeat itself, it's hard to know what it was.

Maybe he's considering just heading back when he sees it — a flash of red, painted upon wood, only visible thanks to a series of Christmas lights that jangle around a doorway. A house rises up two storeys, some windows dark, some lit low. Greenery tangles up around iron wrought fencing, but the wilderness hasn't reclaimed the stone steps that lead up to a white door.

One thing's for sure. In all this richness of gray overtaken by nature, Zachery looks… like a thing from the past, staring up at those steps. The shape of trees mirrored in the way he holds his umbrella — black, like the pea coat that paints the rest of his figure a dark shadow against the green and muted browns.

He stands, for a while, listening. To the raindrops hitting thin fabric overhead, to the unidentifiable noises, to… the nothing. Nearly unmoving, eyes blinking at his path ahead. Eyes, plural. He's made his way here without anything taped onto his face, leaving his left eye open to the world as a concave, pink bit of displaced muscle behind slightly droopy eyelid. The muscle twitches as his more functional eyeball calmly drifts from window to window, until… finally, he moves forward, his umbrella swaying forward along with the shadow he casts along the ground. He's got a delivery to make. Three knuckle-knocks into a door. Resolute, in its own way, but still barely louder than the sound of the sky falling down around him.

For a while, Zachery only has himself for company, and listens to rain water guttering through rusted pipes, the louder spatter where it leaks and comes streaming down one of the red-painted walls. This close, he can see that this bright crimson has been applied to these wooden walls only long after the fact, and haphazardly at that. It cracks and peels in places, and in others, it's slapped over blooms of lichen.

From the corner of his remaining eye, there is movement. A curtain flicking, going still again.

Now the door opens, to a stranger. He swings the door open wide, a young man with nice eyes, dressed in a fur coat. Colourful scarf. Boots with heels. It's a moment of double vision, gender-wise, even his voice riding a slightly ambiguous timbre as he asks, "Are you a cop?" And regardless as to whether Zachery is or isn't, he sounds bored about it already. Slightly too late, the young man looks sharply towards that missing eye — and then seems to relax a little, if still awaiting an answer.

Behind him, the house is dim, but not unpopulated that Zachery can tell, with the occasional creak of floorboard that only barely scrapes through the outer registers of his hearing.

"No, but I know a couple." Zachery rasps out almost immediately, sounding much like a man who hasn't spoken for days. He clears his throat as his head dips down and slightly to the side as if to rearrange his view of the stranger back into the center of his vision. Studying, for a moment, his welcome committee of one with visible scrutiny. Even these minute movements are a little tightly wound, almost theatrical. Rehearsed. Like he's about to launch into a sales pitch.

But fortunately for everyone involved, he doesn't. With the rain still coming down around him, he tightens his grasp on the umbrella's handle, and then… begins to lower the whole thing in a slow swerve forward and to the side. Immediately, the cascading drops find his shoulders and his head, largely bouncing off of the wool of his coat but sticking in his hair and on the skin of his face and neck. "That may not be the best answer, I realise." A smile- grin? It is forced and belies his actual feelings towards the matter, that much should be clear. His glance behind the young man should tell the stranger more. "Ah— Skye Archer, does she live here? I may or may not have been invited. It's honestly hard to tell." Here, there certainly is a grin. As if he'd find agreement on the subject from the person blocking his path, somehow.

And maybe he kind of does, door guardian giving him an appraising once over as if maybe, as far as visitors for Skye Archer go, Zachery is not of an expected quality. "I don't know where the fuck Skye lives," is not remotely hostile. Delivered more like relatable content. "But yeah, they're here. She, whatever." The stranger backs up, permitting entry. "Aurora, by the way. Nice coat. You should take it with you."

And not leave it by the door, he means, ostensibly. Inside, the air has a drafty quality to it, and there is the sound of wild running water, a leak tap-tap-tapping on warped wooden floors, but as far as old houses go, it could be much worse. It's warm, for one, and lit here and there. The living room is full of furniture, none of it dirty or aged into disrepair.

When the door closes, Aurora has to put his shoulder against it to seal it properly shut into the swollen wooden frame. "Upstairs. Attic, probably. I think you're the only one." And he starts away, back towards where Zachery might divine a kitchen to be, heels striking hardwood floor with resounding thumps.

There are several moments when Aurora's statements seem to cause a hiccup in Zachery's line of thinking, his stare and expression both sort of… emptying out into a blinky sort of cluelessness. Okay. Questions for later - maybe - are left ignored for now when he is able to enter, doing so in a lazy amble while his umbrella is compacted with a fzzssht of wet fabric, given two quick shakes before it enters with him.

Once inside, he scans the area as though he were temporarily displaced in time, like the brief mention of cops alone has brought him back to a mindset he adopted when he'd enter places like these to find a corpse. Or two. A mystery.

But it is a mystery, in a way. "— Thank you." This answer comes delayed, as Zachery looks rather belatedly in the direction of that supposed kitchen. His fingers tighten again around that umbrella handle, and after a brief glance cast over his shoulder… he opts to take it with him, mumbling idly to himself, "Attic. Attic attic attic." Forward. Resolutely. Surely, he's got enough sense to find an attic in an old house.

The staircase doesn't look too dubious — it only creaks on occasion, and the wood doesn't look through time has eaten through it, and the railing is still intact. Upstairs, then, and the hazy, rainy outside shines light through a round window at the far side of the hallway he emerges onto.

Here, Zachery gets the sense of life all around — a door that's closed down to a sliver has strains of music in the form of metal guitar strings and ragged fingernails. The occasional thump of a footstep. Another door suddenly opens, and a waifish, sleepy-eyed young woman emerges like she just woke up, sans pants but with an overly large sweater with its hem hitting mid-thight, and trailing the scent of nicotine as she pushes past Zachery without acknowledgment. She muffles a deep, chest-deep cough into her elbow.

Should he glance back after her, he'll note her watching from the next door for only a split second before she disappears behind it.

The attic is just here, where a narrow ladder is already folded out of the ceiling.

It shudders under his weight, and he only gets halfway up when the face he'd been expecting finally comes into view. Skye, blonde hair bundled up behind their head in a loose braid, reaches down a hand towards him. "The umbrella," they prompt, to take it off of him and make his immediate journey a little easier.

“The umbrella," comes an answer back, from the man seeming almost rejuvenated by the sights and sounds around him, then doubly so by the somewhat familiar voice. This is a rare treat for him, nowadays, this sort of atmosphere, and he's more than willing to play the observant part and soak it in. Said umbrella is offered up without question, Zachery's climb paused to loosely wrap the fingers of his other hands around the wet canopy so as to free the handle for the recipient above. Oop, there you go.

As he steadies himself on the ladder and peers upward, his expression once more pulls into one of idle amusement. There's a sense of… anticipation, there, an expectation of it. Even if he's trying to rell back the sound of it in his voice, it still shines through. "Is this a good time?"

"Yes," says Skye, distinct smile blooming once again — wide, fangs, sudden and fleeting. They take the umbrella and then disappear from sight, allowing Zachery room to make his way up without obstacle.

The attic is large but low ceilinged, a slightly musty spell lurking in its corners, and so too is the distinct, sweet-sour aroma of marijuana, if not particularly recent. Another circle window makes its presence known through a makeshift curtain nailed to the wall, and the place is lit from exposed lightbulbs that hang off their wires from the rafters. There's an armchair, as far as formal furniture goes, and a hammock, and a few crates that can be arranged for sitting, and two mattresses lying flat on the floor, pushed together, united with flung blankets.

After leaning Zachery's umbrella aside for it to dry, Skye takes their place at the end of one of the mattresses, not all the way relaxed into the environment — they're still wearing their boots, for instance, but their coat has been discarded, hung off a nail in the wall. On the ground is a modest spread — a heavy ceramic teapot, a few mismatched mugs, an ashtray, and a round tin that they are currently working open with their fingernails.

"It's still warm," they say, of the pot in front of them. "If you want any. Bitter, though."

Making his way up in a manner that betrays his unfamiliarity with attic abodes - all flat elbow again a floorboard and palm searching for stability that isn't there - Zachery's veneer of composure vaguely… seems to leave him upon entering this room. It's still there, but in snippets now, no longer a full book but a collection held together by gluey threads. Especially when he's fully up into the room, shoulders drawn up and head held low, a… discomfort at the space is clear enough. A displeasure he doesn't seem inclined to hide, brow crumpling. One that doesn't, however, show when he looks back to Skye, eyelids drawing narrow— on one side more than the other. Fascination is what drives him to look there, rather than anything else.

"No, thank you." He says of the tea, "I think I've got enough bitterness all by myself. You're not, ah—" A pause, a vague gesture of a hand up to his own face. "Should I cover this, or nah?"

"You should sit," was not an option, within Zachery's question, but the one that Skye offers anyway, finding uncomfortable his discomfort, a distracted look flicked up and down. The tin finally opens, and they set it down — inside? Cookies! "These are sweet."

Legs loosely folded, Skye leans to serve tea for themself. They are comfortable in cardigan and well-worn denim, no hint of jewelry, although an attentive eye can catch the sight of holes in their ears where earrings might live, or used to. "It's good you came today. Because of the rain, sometimes people don't come here. They go other places, so it's quieter. Less variation."

Zachery would make a terrible dog. Or, at the very least, one in need of training; he decidedly does not sit, at least not for a bit. But to his credit, he does… meander a little, in the direction of somewhere sitting might be done. In the way one meanders in a space that feels too cramped for them.

"What do you…" His voice trails off, head swiveling this way and that as he gives the room another look, before his attention settles on a crate. "What do you do, exactly, other than chat the ears off of people on the bus?" Again, his tone of voice is reminiscent of the one he took on at the end of their last meeting. Patronising, maybe, a little too slowly.

One of his legs kicks out to hook a foot behind a crate, and he angles it just ever so slightly more to his liking before settling down on it, hands coming to rest on his knees. Rapping out a quick little tappatap of fingers before his gaze finds the cookies. "I'll have your least favourite."

Skye leans over to inspect the cookies, reaching to shake the tin a little, before they pick it up and offer it over. "Raisins," they say. "Always a disappointing kind of surprise."

The tin is set back down a little carelessly, and they pick up their tea, which brings in a pleasant, herbal aroma to the air around them. Bitterness only translates at the back of the tongue, while the scent is fragrant, floral, warm. They tuck the cup close to them, savouring both its aroma and its warmth as they think about Zachery's question, eyes rising to the lightbulb dangling over them.

"I don't usually talk a lot," they say. "I don't usually need to. But I was curious."

They pause, sip their tea. Wrinkle their nose. Continue talking. "I find people who think that the world could be different, or they could be different in the world. I guess I didn't believe you, the first time."

The raisin cookie is taken with a look of withheld comment— like Zachery himself may not love raisins, but he has, at least, learned to eat them. Rather than bite into it, he first slowly cracks it in half. Carefully, the raggedly cracked edges upward so as to minimise crumb spillage.

"I wouldn't believe me, either." There's a surprise, in his voice, and on his face. Like he's hearing it aloud without first having formulated the question in his mind. Half of that cookie prompty makes the journey into his mouth, crushed to fill up the space more words might otherwise flow from unwanted.

Not that it stops him, apparently, because even through the halfchewed crumbs comes an addition of, "I'm not sure I even understand why I'm here, why I kept talking to you, or what in the hell you're on about." There's no anger. Amusement still reigns, even if it's tinged with something a little more frantic.

"Uncertainty," Skye says, like they understand. "A human condition. If you're groping around in the dark and you find another person, someone reaching back towards you, doesn't it make sense that you might hold on? At least for a little while."

They drag the edge of their thumb along the rim of the teacup. "You shook hands with me. Instinct. And then I saw it, as fast and jagged as lightning, the path you've taken to be on that bus. I saw the way you rattled through this world and I saw the way you've been hurt, and the way you hide. I saw where you might go next — because unless you find something to connect with, you're going to get lost in the dark."

They close their eyes, then, as if knowing they're being obscure, and are trying not to be. "This world," they say, a little slower, "doesn't want you to be special. They want people like us to be ordinary. They think that's what freedom is."

There's a turning point in Zachery's behaviour yet again, one that recognises when he hasn't just walked into instability - uncertainty - but when he's thrust futher into it. His fingers press into his knees. For a moment, he seems to become more compact, tense, folding in on himself in preparation for… something. What could be coming? Other than confusion. Any indication that he's still having a fun time slips from his face like a piece of tape that's slowly peeled away from him.

But then… with a slow inhale, he drops his shoulders back down, then rolls them back. His palms come down onto his legs, and he drags his hands toward him as he opens back up as the air fills his lungs.

Okay. He's good. Giving Skye an oblique look of utmost concern that deepens the lines of age on his face, but good. "… 'Us'." It's barely above a mumble, while he's still trying to get that raisin-littered cookie down his throat. After a dry swallow, he adds, "I had an inkling."

The rest of it? He seemingly finds no issue with that. Even if he is a bit… discomposed.

They open their eyes, and there's a return to the shining earnestness that had peered at him over the back of the bus seat. That same fixed study, too, as if Skye is trying to discern thought behind expression, and read a little deeper than just what's on the surface. They nod, slowly, drawing their posture straighter.

"I help," they say. "I help people find connection. I give certainty."

Which sounds like the dead-ass opposite of what they've been doing so far, but Skye reaches out a hand anyway. Palm open and lax, fingers reaching, the kind of gesture where the expectation for contact is telegraphed clear. "I can show you what that's like," they say.

The doubt is not gone, not entirely, from the person sitting opposite them. But he's here, isn't he? He's trusted his instincts so far, and he's still alive, isn't he? The things that have lead him here have proven, so far, to at the very least be interesting.

Still, there's something in his eye, in his face, of wanting more. Something almost greedy, though if he were asked, he'd say that was missing the point. Is pursuing a gold vein greedy? Or is letting it sit simply an act of ignorance?

Where their hand is gently hovering, his is unceremoniously landed down on top of it. Not the most elegant leap of faith, but one nonetheless.

As soon as Zachery's hand lands atop Skye's, he feels their fingers wrap around his knuckles in a firm grip.

It's the last thing he feels, when the sensation of gravity leaves him, the hard floor beneath him, the peculiar sensation of his gored eye socket and the twinge of headache of a mind still adapting to a new way of looking at the world. All of this leaves him, along with vision, save for that cool hand holding onto his.

Slowly, he wakes up. It's the slow coming to consciousness that follows a long night's rest. Skye's voice feels like a halo around his head, and he will be distantly aware of hands on his chest, trying to shake him awake. They're saying his name — Zachery — in a patiently repetitive manner. More information that might immediately register: noise from below assists, some, in waking up; the slamming of doors, of footsteps. The fact that he is lying on his back without remembering quite how he got there. The sunlight coming through the hazy windows, having not shifted since he last saw it.

And an odd sense of perfect calm that's beginning to turn into something else. Peace. Relief. Something.

Kneeling next to him, there is worry tense through Skye's brow — for more than just where Zachery is lying on the ground. "Are you okay?" they're saying. But even that seems fine. In his mind, he knows what's coming, hears it within his own skull before it comes echoing upwards through the house — the thundercrack of a pistol downstairs that he expects a scant few seconds before it happens. He anticipates Skye's flinch before they do.

This is not normal. And yet, maybe it is? When the time comes for Zachery to move, he does so in jerks— first at the anticipation of the gunshot, then at the actual thing. But it's not a twitch, rather a staggered movement to turn his head to Skye fully. Mouth half agape, eye unfocused until he finds their face.

"Are you okay?" His attention leaves them, then, though not visibly. There's a reaching of mind, clawing for points of interest nearby like a fishing net cast into a lake. His nose wrinkles. "We have to… go?" Certainly a question, though considering his next action is to try and push himself up to his feet, probably a rhetorical one.

It's a question, one with more answers than anticipated as Zachery climbs to his feet.

Shocking clarity that his brain processes in a limited amount of time that only later he might reflect feels like standing in a mirror room in a fun house. Mirrors that are door ways, reflections that are anticipations. They circle him, some dark, some bright. He looks to Skye and sees scarlet painting half their face and he looks to the trapdoor and the rickety ladder shaking beneath the weight of an intruder and he sees a perspective of the room as if he were lying on his stomach with unfamiliar, mudcaked boots prowling nearby, and a hoarse cry echoing through it.

It should be disorienting, but it isn't, as impulse drives him to the brightest of them all. When Zachery return to the present, he finds himself with his hands wrapped around the rope of the pull-down staircase and yanking it to fold up.

Somewhere, in another room, a crash as something is tipped and broken. Angry yelling.

The hazy noonday sun in the room shifts, as if someone had pulled open the curtain of the window, through which diffused light gleams through a gape without any glass. A glance, however, tells him that this hasn't happened at all. Skye, simply standing, watching him with wide eyes, as if absorbed in what Zachery is doing rather than whatever violence is being carried out below.

The look they get back is one of confusion, though unusually, for Zachery, not a confusion paired with near-crippling underlying panic. More akin to… something of days gone past. Days when he would stand with bloodied hands, contemplating uncounted ways in which things could go wrong and moving forward nonetheless. Because it mattered. This matters. So when he finds himself suddenly in that right light, with the right tools, he doesn't think to question why it bleeds, but how to stem the tide.

He might still muse on it, though.

"So, something happened." He almost singsongs in a low voice laced with newly acquired focus, then pauses for a few heartbeats, looking down to that now closed way up, and once more to the window. Then back to Skye, "Many things happened. But only some of them actually. I think maybe you died. We? Fight won't cut it. Will flight?"

All the focus in the world couldn't keep this one from rambling, but at least he's attempting to put it to good use.

That gets Skye's attention — a different kind of attention, granted, on account of Zachery already being a subject of interest. There's no visible struggle with doubt, skepticism, confusion, though shock briefly hardens Skye's face at the news of the possibility of their death, before they pivot, making for the window. Below, Zachery can hear the sound of footsteps, but with the door shut, it feels as though there are less fragmentations going on inside his brain. Less dark mirrors.

Variations, even.

The light changes in the attic in the way he foresaw as Skye yanks the curtain aside. Zachery feels more than sees the way he clips his shins on the edge of the open window, the cold rain that strikes him in the face, the rattle of the pipe as he climbs down—

"It's clear," Skye says. They're still in the attic, though his newest friend is already climbing outside, a flick of their cardigan trailing behind them. Zachery is alone for as long as he stands there. The teapot, as some point, was upset, upturned and a puddle of warm, bitter tea spread across the hard wood. Directly outside, he sees how the thick canopy of the strange overgrown world of tenth on Park Slope conceals the immediate path across the roof from the street below. Rain comes thick and fast, streaming over slanting roofing and tile.

Fortunately, he knows exactly where to put his feet to avoid slipping.

"Yeah it's clear." This sounds almost like annoyance, but infinitely more out of habit than anything else. For all of the things going on, his decision to make his way through that window is one of resolution, his movements mimicking familiar motions from but a moment ago. No fumbling, no stumbling, instead reaching an idle hand to hover it near Skye's shoulder once he makes his way out fully— not for his potential support, but another usually neglected instinct all together.

He presses past them, not-knowing-knowing the way though the splatter of rain on an unfamiliar-familiar rooftop path. Rain trickles down his forehead and what makes it into the healing hollow that is his left eye socket makes him squint it shut, the eyelids folding just this side of wrong without something to support it underneath.

That pipe may as well be a beacon, and once he makes his way around to it, he gives the ground below barely more than a glance— and then stops, steps aside, looks to Skye to says, simply and urgently. "Here. Down." Again, that hand comes out, should they need it. "Come on. Careful."

Skye is inclined towards trust, gripping onto Zachery's hand — and he sees Skye holding onto his hand in the bus, executing that awkward cramped shake, their hair wet with rain and cracks of dehydration in parted lips, and he also sees Skye touching his wrist, and they are dressed in eveningwear, a pristine white suit with a modern collar, their blonde hair left in a long mannish mane that nonetheless seems clean and styled such, and they both are surrounded by lamp light and finery and the blurred impressions of others dressed for the occasion — and spiders down the rickety pipe. The creak and groan of stressed, rusted metal under their weight is loud enough to potentially attract attention, but no one comes. Boots slide against wet brick, and Skye lands with a stumble, but lands all the same.

As Zachery makes his way down, he does so through the double vision of already feeling the broken concrete under his feet. Skye holds up their hands to help guide him down.

He feels, first, the sound of gunfire (one, two, three), and he knows they need to run now — and so too does Skye, grabbing his arm, launching them both down the narrow side street between houses, scampering into the wilds of Park Slope as three gunshots ring out from within the red house. Oddly, there is no fear in Zachery right now — something that is more like elation with each correct choice fires and snaps through synapses instead.

It has been a while, since everything went perfectly. A long time. Zachery's mind slotting all the right things in the right places, he's correct to be elated. And, admittedly, a bit out of shape when it comes to running, but adrenaline makes up for what he lacks there. He'll keep going, for as long as his lungs permit him, if he must. Looking, searching, occasionally for Skye as he does.

The terrain of a city gone feral is no home to him but despite his hampered vision he still manages to slip with relative speed through rain-damp trunks and into the break of some thicker foliage that lines the shadow underneath a concrete slab which had had its foundations worn away by time and everything else that has eaten at this place. There's enough space there for them to catch their breath, at least, and the check over his shoulder to see whether he's been abandoned yet comes with a question, "Did you-" hhhHH, pause to breathe, then breathe out what could pass as a laugh, "-know?" Know WHAT? All? Maybe.

Skye is breathing hard, their back against the thick trunk of an abnormally adult tree in the midst of New York neighbourhood. They do not share Zachery's elation, but doesn't begrudge him it either. Though not far away enough that they wouldn't hear further gunfire, there's no more of that. Strain, and you could potentially hear the occasional raised voice. A slam of a doorway. A raid, ongoing.

"I knew," they say, dragging their attention back to Zachery, "to keep my boots on."

And despite themself, a wide grin breaks across their face, the next breath out an almost-laugh of their own. "I see it like a pattern. Everyone's part in it. Just when I touch them, or move with them, otherwise it's all just." They shake their head, loosened braid almost entirely free of itself. They change course, blue eyes bright with adrenaline. "I didn't know where you'd fit. If you'd want to fit. But I knew you might."

Despite having stopped for a moment to speak, Zachery's movement does not halt for a second, even if it's to simply pace this way and that, canting his head upward at the wayward noises. Of which they are not part. "We keep going, right. We can't g—… we're… keep going." He says this almost as though he hadn't heard Skye's answer and elaboration, his face stuck with a grin of his own.

But he did hear. "Yeah. Of course I do, are you kidding me?" This leaves him with sort of a wild, breathless energy, cracking his voice as he briefly scans his arms as if for scrapes or injuries, then runs one hand along his side, pressed into the fabric his coat. Finding nothing for his concern to settle on, it lifts to Skye instead.

"You're okay." Clear-cut certainty, almost more celebration than confirmation. "We should get you… elsewhere. Out of the rain. Do you know anywhere nearby that's safe?" His gaze flits ahead of him, then, at nothing in particular, his grin giving a lopsided pull of his face. "Do I?"

Another crack of gunfire splits the air — and Zachery anticipates it a little closer to the moment, now. Maybe the rate of decay is quick. Maybe it's to do with proximity. The less likely that gun is aimed at him personally, the less he might anticipate it. That must be it, because he feels more than sees Skye grabbing his coat sleeve, pulling him into the momentum of a new unknown. Except he knows it. A rainy street, running through the trees. Rain water flooding down concrete steps as they enter an old abandoned subway, crawling with vines, following the light from a flashlight on a cellphone. Dark tunnels. Clambouring up another set of stairs, emerging on a street less ruined with wild overgrowth. Walking down the street in the rain, ducking under cover as oblivious pedestrians wander by with umbrellas, which makes Zachery remember he'd dropped his own back in the red house.

In the seconds prior, Skye pants out another breath, and shows him their teeth in a quick jackal grin. Whatever horrors are being wrought are left behind, for the moment, physically and spiritually — happy to ride the momentum of exaltation.

"Of course you do," they say, before they reach for Zachery's coat sleeve.

Though that second (first? Does it matter?) sound of gunfire still serves to tighten Zachery's shoulders, the pull at his sleeve seems to undo its effects all too easily. He's got a place to be! Many places, in fact. He leans his weight forward and launches into a quickened pace forward, feet finding the hard surfaces of tightly weaved root systems rather than the rain-saturated mush or traitorous, splintered crumble of the city.

He, too, seems— happy? It's probably the least familiar thing about this whole situation, and that's including the potential murders he and Skye are both moving steadily away from. "I understand now. On the bus, you not wanting— Okay. Yeah. Igetit." His words are barely words, breathed out with exhilaration lacing his voice, one hand reaching up to wipe the rain away from his brow— the bad one, fingertips more careful around the skin where something once was. "Do you do this often?" He turns his head, hand still on his face, palm now flat against his cheek as his expression scrunches into a mix of disbelief and a desperate attempt to process something currently outside of his scope of understanding - over a smiley grin that just won't quit, apparently.

It becomes clear that Skye is following Zachery as soon as they get moving, their steps less sure but what they lack in second by second certainty, they make up for with their own natural agility. Every now and then, they look back past their shoulder to ensure they aren't being chased.

"Often," they repeat, with half a breathless laugh in their voice. "Which part?"

Because there are a lot of moving parts and each one individually don't seem unlikely to be reoccurring in Skye's life, whatever that is. But maybe, too, Skye wants to hear Zachery put it into words.

"The— " And Zachery is eager to do so, but the words catch in his brain rather than his throat. He does not look back, but then, he has made a bit of a habit out of not doing so in many ways. So long as Skye's footsteps are near, his attention is a pointed ahead. "Take people for a ride, like this? I mean, you asked, you know, sort of." Maybe he's not quite sure which part he means, either, pushing past green-spattered trees as his hand lowers to scrub fingers along his jawline. "But this could get you in trouble. Wait— " Switching topics ALREADY, he chuckles to cut off an ill-timed inhalation. "What do you know about me, exactly?"

There's no judgement there. It's more akin to the tone of someone idly flipping through the rulebook of a boardgame than someone in a… much more serious situation.

"I've told you everything I know about you."

…doesn't sound wholly correct, and Skye amends this with, "The things that matter." They've slowed, by now, panting, arms wrapped around their frame where rain water sticks knit to lean muscle, sharp edged bones, dripping steadily where the fabric drags beneath its own weight. "I go on rides," they say, undeterred by changes of topic. It is all the same topic, in the end. "I pick the ones that will take me where I want to go. But with you— " They duck under the low, dripping bough of another unlikely tree.

"With you," they repeat, starting again, "I saw your path intersect with mine, and the others I've touched, and so I knew you were like me. Later, I saw you intersect later. I knew it would be better if it was sooner. I was worried," comes with a hint of laughter, "that it was too soon. Your mind was spinning. It could have landed on either side."

With Skye's slowing pace, Zachery's halts a little further up ahead. He looks ahead of them both, and to the sides, and then finally back, swinging a little too wildly on the heel of a foot. OKAY. Break. He reaches out to move an arm in front of Skye, across their shoulders, though not to touch— to motion them to stop entirely while he lifts his other hand to start to undo his coat. "Too soon? Oh no, no no. Nothing in my life comes too soon. Too late, always. Even the alarm rings after I've already sat up to kick the blankets off."

Two hands, now, make quick work of helping him shrug off his coat, and he wastes no time in offering it to Skye, nicely water-resistant wool side up. "This? This came exactly when it was needed." Fuck the rain. He's here, he's doing great, this is a fantastic time and the look of enjoyment on his face makes it seem like he may believe this could carry him into god damn invincibility at this rate.

Skye takes the coat — a little slowly, in the first instance, as if unsure for what the gesture means, before they sling it back and around over their shoulders. It's large on them, but they don't try to shove their cardiganed arms down the sleeves, content to let it hang secure like a cloak, hands clutching it in place.

There is a relief to them — confirmation as to the timing of the thing, an ease to the next smile that comes.

"Then you should come with me," they say, blinking through the rain. "And meet them."

That same feeling twinges again. That split, that infinite, dizzying variation, fractal patterns of possibility. It's a narrow door, this one, reflecting a light that is something different from pure survival. What it promises is this: more. More possibility, more patterns, more choices, more ways in which the correct thread can be picked up and navigated, if more abstracted from his comprehension then simple choices like turn left and out the window — but no less real.

The drops that make it through the canopy above and onto Zachery's lightly wrinkled dress shirt leave a dappled pattern on the white fabric. But he'll take a while to start noticing that, standing with his head angling slowly to one side, breathing still rapid and heartbeat even moreso.

But that, too, doesn't matter. That door has all of his attention. 'More', it seems, is tempting. Indefinitely so. Not because it's shiny, or new, or mesmerising, but because it's there. Right there. For once. It's a daunting thing that finally does take the grin off of his face, and with some haste.

"Sooner rather than later, you said, right?" He squares back his shoulders, and turns his half-eyed face back to Skye with resolution painting his expression something suddenly much more serious. "So. Let's make that sooner."

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