seren_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Regenesis
Synopsis When Seren's ability continues to deteriorate, they approach Raytech as a patient in the hopes of restoring what's been lost.
Date April 2020

Raytech Industries Campus

April 9, 2020

In the lobby of the floor Seren's only been in a strictly visiting capacity before, they sit with their elbows on their knees, looking down at their hands. Baird, today a pygmy owl with the body of a brownish tabby kitten, sits patiently beside them while they hone their focus and question their resolve.

Maybe they didn't need this. Everything could end up fine. Right?

They spread their fingers and imagine thread running between them like a cat's cradle. A blue light shimmers where it begins to draw itself into existence. But almost as soon as they look away, the apparition fades in and out of reality. Still they persist, lifting their hands slightly to dip their middle finger and try to twine the glowing yarn from one spot to another.

All it takes is a blink to lose track, and then the strings of light collapse apart into their palms, not being any of the things they hoped to see. Seren swallows hard, trying to convince themself maybe they were just trying too hard. That they were doing something too complicated. They pick up the strands from their palms and flatten one out, fingers of the other hand making a sprinkling gesture to let wetted blue sand trickle to their palm. The driplike sandcastle starts out okay enough, but then it too starts to come apart. It shifts apart like grains in an hourglass, slipping through their fingers despite their best effort to direct their energy with effort.

Baird lets out a tiny screech while he watches, noises surely not meant for waiting rooms. "Yeah, I know," they murmur. "I had to try anyway. I needed the—"

"Seren Evans?" the woman seated at the reception desk calls, and they lift their head. "If you come get your chart, you can head back to room 2."

Two, they think to themself. Like a second chance. Seren smiles and rises, and with a flap of his tiny wings, Baird affixes himself to the side of their sleeve with kitten claws. They calmly wait while the receptionist does a double take at the catbird, same as always, then take the clipboard given to them. The woman recovers with a smile, "There's a basket next to the door, just put this in there and someone will be back with you shortly."

Slipping into the back hall, they prepare themself yet again for how this consultation is likely to go. They steel themself for having to make this explanation to someone they know. They mentally walk through explaining to Bella their sincerity in wanting to pursue the treatment, emphasis that they understand the risks, and—

Baird nibbles on their shoulder to keep them from getting too far into their own head. "Right," Seren murmurs, slipping the clipboard where it should outside the door, then stepping into the consultation room and shutting the door behind them. They slip into a seat and peer at the sparse decor, and when Baird starts to disengage to explore they hush him and encourage him to keep close.

Not staring at the door while they wait, counting the seconds, is a difficult task, but somehow they manage. Their heel bounces almost invisibly on the short-haired office carpet under their seat.

Suddenly, the door swings open as if to reward the lack of attention given to it by double the enthusiasm it usually sees.

"Goood— … somethingoranother," comes a voice that is cheerful, but distinctly male, with the heavy shadow of a British accent yet clinging. "Dr. Sheridan couldn't make it, so you're getting me."

It's a white-clad Dr. Zachery Miller who comes practically barreling through the doorway, his eye not on Seren but instead on the chart he's plucked from its cradle. "I'm just getting caught up— I'm usually here in a more… assistant capacity, believe it or not, but I am more than capable of…"

He stops in his tracks just as he's about to round an unassuming desk on the far end of the room, turning on a heel to look at the person he's just passed by. A polite smile is washed largely away by confusion, "Seren." Then, added only a long second later and somewhat more reluctantly as he lowers the clipboard, "Baird."

Seren tenses, expectations rapidly shifting when it's not the sound of Bella Sheridan's softer step and quieter, firmer demeanor entering the room. They're about halfway through with accepting their new reality— more people worked in this department, after all!— when they realize something new still.

They recognize that voice.

Partly turned to Zachery, they're frozen and can't manage to summon words at all before he in turn recognizes them. Seren's face clouds with shades of flustered pink, grey eyes dancing back and forth between Zachery's (such as they are), like they'll find answers in him. "Uh, I—" they start to stammer, but cut themself off as they silently remind themself they don't need to apologize for being here.

Baird peers up at Zachery with narrowing amber eyes, trying to decide if this is clinically overbearing Zachery or friends with pixies at his wedding Zachery. He only likes one of them well, after all. He makes up his mind quickly enough; much faster than Seren, at any rate. His tiny pygmy wingspan opens up again as he flutters up, clinging to the side of Zachery's jacket. Baird's paws-come-talons cinch down with pressure but no sharpness verging near pain, his site of perch blurring as he— or Seren— can't keep a single mind as to his form there. Regardless, Baird lowers his head, beak nibbling at Zachery's shoulder briefly in silent hello.

It helps Seren know what tack they in turn want to take. "Good to see you again, Z," they say with a smile, face still warm with embarrassment. "I, um— I came in because I've been having some issues. So, and— um— the work you all have been working on, I uh…" Their hand comes to the side of their neck, fingertips idly rubbing over the ink and the scar it disguises while they try to keep their thoughts on track. "I know it helps people whose abilities, um…"

As ever, they can't bring themself to fully say it. It feels like it makes it real in ways they can otherwise pretend it's not.

For a moment, Zachery doesn't quite seem to know who to be, either. He eyes Seren in a sharp, cold way they might find all too familiar, in a way that sees more than it should.

This is a process that is promptly abandoned when Baird moves and Zachery decides to retire his smile with a flinch, lifting his arm as if to swat the owlcat creature away with the clipboard— but he stops the gesture just short of it ever becoming a threat, freezing awkwardly.

"Calm your heart," is what he chooses to say, in a steady and calm voice, his eye lingering on Baird's grip before he turns it back on Seren with a half formed, uncertain grin to accompany slanted brow. "Or at least your nerves." His tone is patient, now, whether forced or not. "Please."

Their heart? Seren seems unsure what's clued him in to its wounded-insect fluttering aside from the fact they can't get a goddamned complete sentence out to save their life, but at once is eager to comply. They'd tear that heart right out of their chest to cause it to calm, yes sir, in a heartbeat.

Such things are not possible.

Instead, they take in a deep breath without comically advertising they're doing so. They hold it for several seconds, and let it out at a measured pace. Their nerves seem to be doing better for it, even if their heart is slow to respond there. "Sorry," they offer up in a more even voice, hands in their lap, adjusting the lay of their black cotton cardigan idly.

"I've, um, had problems with my ability for a few years now," Seren says in a calm, slow pace. They have to prove this isn't an act of panic, but something that's been on their mind for some time. "I used to be able to do a lot… more than I can now. Things used to come easier. I've had a lot of emotions, a lot of reconciliations I've had to come through to make my peace with slowly losing my touch. It didn't seem fair that right as soon as I had the chance to start being me in public, I started also to lose it, too. I, uh—"

They force a small smile, and Baird turns his head to preen under one wing that opens up away from Zachery's side. "It feels like death," they state plainly without particular emotion, even if admitting it lights up their system with fear. "And some of the things I took for granted and hoped would never change, they're starting to. I'm worried if I don't do something now, I might lose the chance forever. I've talked off and on with Bella before about— the research here, how it can help people who've had degeneration happen— burnout and so on— and…"

Seren closes their eyes to breathe again, realizing their pace started to get more rapid than they meant. Their heart finally begins to slow. "I don't want to lose Baird, or any more friends," they plead calmly. They open up their eyes again directly into Zachery's, the silver ring around their grey irises thin. "So please, can I— can we seriously talk about this? I don't care if the re-creation of the treatment is still somewhat experimental, I have to do something. I can't lose him, okay? I…"

They can only shake their head, the hair on their forearms standing on end. "I can't."

Clipboard still in hand, Zachery's arm lowers, his full attention on his assigned task. His head dips in thought, the grin dissipating as something more sincere creases his brow.

"… Of course," he relents, sliding the chart onto the desk before beginning to move again, casting a wary glance at Baird. But with every step, some of the previously shown energy returns to him, and by the time he's seated behind the desk to flick on a computer monitor, he looks almost like he's forgotten about his discomfort entirely.

His thumb idly pressed against the wedding ring he's still not quite used to wearing might have something to do with the fact that he's been a little more agreeable lately.

"I assume, of course," he continues with a dismissive wave of one hand, as the other scrolls past a screen unseen. "That you've already explored more conventional routes. Regular therapy."

Baird decides to leave Zachery to his work when he decides to sit down, leaping from his bicep to come back to Seren. Claws scrabble the edge of the desk as he bounces off of it and settles down in his summoner's lap. He receives a frown for his antics but a hand rests on his back nonetheless.

"When things first started, and I first got scared, I saw someone at the university. In the end nothing helped, so it switched to a kind of… grief counseling. It helped me pack things away. Got me to accept that sometimes things change, and maybe my ability was just going to be part of that change." Their hand makes a pass down Baird's downy back as they give a small shake of their head. "But it's been so long, I'm not sure I believe that anymore. Because my ability does— has changed. I found out in Detroit I could do something I never knew about. I found that strength, right when it was needed."

Seren presses their lips into a line momentarily. "But my ability never really is… off, either, you know? Maybe that's on me, for losing control, but maybe it's just burnout. Or trying to do things with it it's not meant to so much it's just fragile now."

They look pointedly down at Baird as they admit, "… but as for recently, to unpack any of the things that happened recently…" Delicately, they answer regarding their stressors of 2020, "No. No, I've not gone and seen anyone."

While reading something off the monitor, Zachery suppresses what looks like it might have been a sneer, and rolls a shoulder as if Baird vacating it should call for such a thing. He taps the fingers of his free hand in some idle rhythm on the clinically sterile desk as he does so. This stops upon mention of Detroit.

"Detroit was—" He scrolls down whatever list he's browsing, tension in his jaw building before he sighs it back out and says, "It was complicated. All around. And most other companies would probably force you to explore processing that first, but, well."

He leans back in his chair and fixes Seren with a half-lidded stare and an anticipatory grin he can't seem to fully fight back, his attention shifting fully back to the topic at hand. "I don't work for them, do I?"

Seren would like to argue they had to do their own processing regarding that already, that it's been done, but it seems they won't need to. They flicker a small smile and let relief flow through them. "We engage in unusual methods here, but they're no less valid," they posit. "And besides, Detroit proved I'm both capable of growth all while my fine control is… slipping."

A beat passes.

"Okay, fine control is a bit of a stretch because sometimes things just happen, and I can't get the image out of my head, so I…" They try and fail to come up with a concrete descriptor, but the grain of the desk begins to warp closer to their side. The lines in the pale wood thicken, change color— waves becoming river and hill, knots of circles coloring dark like mountains. A map draws itself in a band across the desk, a single tiny dot of a horse galloping down the belt of green. Seren lets out an exhale, uncertain if they should intervene in their imagination bringing simple patterns to life like this.

The fine details blur in portions, spots like eye tiredness appearing before long. They note one and a look of panic comes over them, the thin layer of landscape sinking back into wood and becoming mundane again.

"My point is, it's not— me. I'm almost positive it's not. It's hurt, maybe, worse than normal because of, um— of…" Their brow knits and they summarize quickly, "something that happened last month, but this is something I've been dealing with for years, even when things were going great."

Though his eyebrows popping up give away surprise when the desk begins to change, Zachery crosses his arms over one another and eyes the desk much as someone might a television unexpectedly filtering in an undesired channel's image. It's not with wonder, but criticism.

When it begins to return to normal, he turns that look of judgement up at Seren. "You don't have to convince me— although, I suppose all of this might be good to have on record for when…"

One of his own thoughts seems to interrupt him, but with a sharp intake of breath, he straightens and continues in a much more clean and rehearsed tone of voice. "Experimental as it is, volunteers for the project actually prove quite useful regardless of how much of the SLC gene they are able to consciously express— and regardless of whether they benefit from it."

He pauses, but only for a beat, before asking, "What's the sickest you've ever been?"

Well, that's a question.

Seren shifts their hold around Baird, fingers burrowing into the plumes across his soft chest in an absent gesture of comfort for them both. "I almost needed hospitalized once after a bad case of bronchitis as a kid," they recall. "Decided even though I was sick with a cold it was a great time to go sledding with friends, made it much worse than it already had been."

But it's odd, they think, the point in which Zachery switched back to formality. "For when what?" they try to venture back, even if he continues to brush ahead anyway.

"For when you get much, much sicker than that," Zachery replies in the same doctor-to-patient way, otherwise unmoving. "Psychological struggles as well as genealogical might serve as an interesting reference point somewhere along the way, whether for proving or disproving."

He shifts his focus to the screen again, fingers tightening against his sleeves before he reaches for the keyboard which is awkwardly shoved into the corner of the desk and hits tab a few times. Then a few times more. "What I'm saying is— as far as I'm concerned, if you think you're up for the task, you're in. To say the treatment is extremely unpleasant is… an understatement."

Tab. Tab. Tab. His eye scans the screen, but somewhat distractedly. "But you are well. And this degradation is…" He considers. The tabbing stops, even if his gaze holds where it is. "Part of you."

Said weighted with some importance.

The brusqueness of pointing out they'll get sick from this endeavor brings Seren to blink. Unpleasant was an expectation, but they realize now they don't know what they expected. Pain, maybe, for a while. Physical illness, but for a short period.

But there's warning in Zachery's words, even where he invites them in if they think they're ready. Ready may be a stretch, but they're determined, at least. They turn their head down to Baird as he tilts his back up at them in return. He lets out a quiet 'ek ek ekk' in a distinctly catlike fashion.

The choice of wording Zachery used there, that this degradation was part of them, isn't something they expected to hear. They can't make up their mind about it. Is it simply who they were? Or was it a cancer needing cleared, helping to chart a better path forward?

"When can we start?" they ask. "I know the treatment takes a little while to complete. I have PTO saved— thankfully— so just tell me how much time I need to take off, and…" Seren takes in a breath as they look back up. "I'll make it happen. Miss Valerie will understand. Richard would understand."

"Why don't we start with a week?" Zachery asks, lifting his head. "You may need more, but— well, who's to say? You'll start to know more once the whole thing's off and rolling and we can estimate physical response."

He pushes back from the desk, adopting a smile as practiced as the way he straightens and stands as if to signal a successful patient chat which is now oh so sadly at its natural end. "I know you meant to meet with Dr. Sheridan." He scoops the chart back up from the desk. "I can set you up with an appointment with her in… I'll have to check when she's free, but I can let you know once I do. Unless you'd rather have… you know."

His eyes (such as they, indeed, are) narrow. "Someone else assigned."

Seren thumbs Baird's haunch absently, their eyes distant. "No," they decide. "No, if— if it's all right, I'd rather not have to start from scratch with someone else. With someone I don't know." Coming back to the moment is done with a sense of peace rather than nerves, their heart calmed to a steady rhythm.

"Is that all right?" they wonder. Zachery had said he normally was here only in an assisting capacity. And he's already got his Professional face back on, far better than the one Seren is ever able to summon for themself. After the creature in their lap trills softly, they add, "Baird thinks it'd be great. So long as you don't try to take him apart or cause him pain."

They smile a little, because they're teasing. It's a joke. They're almost sure.

Meanwhile, Zachery grins again, this time with all the certainty in the fucking world. It's not an unkind expression, but certainly glib in the sharpness and sincerity of it, and the abrupt way he grabs his chair to spin it back into place behind the desk is far more like the Zachery they've seen outside of office hours.

He turns his face upward as if he needs a second to cherish something, then relaxes his shoulders and sits right back down again, leaning back and swinging his legs right onto the desk so he can announce at Seren past the soles of his shoes, "Wonderful!"

He puts a hand up in a gesture of pause, though apparently there's no stopping him as he adds quickly and cheerfully, "Please don't tell Yeh, I'd like to be the one to tell her. We can get started as soon as you like." Provided he can swing the approval to lead this, but he certainly looks like he's sure he can, with all this newfound investment. "I just need to ask you a few questions."

Honestly, they can't tell that person even if they wanted to. They don't have the foggiest who that is, at this point.

Seren blinks at perceiving what they believe to be such enthusiasm on Zachery's part. Baird reacts by taking part in interacting with the office furniture, hopping daintily back up onto the desk to peer up at him. For their part, Seren only shakes their head. "Well, that shouldn't be a problem at all. Go on." They even invite him forward with a lift of their hand.

Which is all Zachery needs to continue speaking, glancing once toward Baird before his eye locks on Seren's face, fascination painting his stare ever keener. "How are you doing what you're doing? Let's start small," he proposes, moving quickly on. "It has to be a two way affair, because for all intents and purposes…"

He sticks his hand out at the desk, gesturing at the smaller of his two visitors without looking away, "Baird exists. Or… is it…. Baird exists?" He tries the different emphasis out with a cant of his head, but then shakes it as if neither quite sit right.

That insistence upon Baird's realness makes things easier. Seren folds their hands in their lap and settles, looking to Baird as he in turn peers back at them. "Baird exists," they affirm. "He's my oldest, best friend, but my ability allows others to see him aside from me. It's been that way ever since I was a kid, but we had to hide him away back then. The world wasn't ready for abilities yet, supposedly."

"My ability acts as a conduit for his visibility and capacity to interact with others, so in that sense, he's a part of me. I can summon him at will, like a familiar, and I can do that with any creature I put my mind to. That being said, it's harder if I try to summon up something that's already real. Baird's so easy maybe because he never wants to be just one thing. Usually a gryphon— birds and felines— but he'll mix it up other days. Usually has wings, unless we're feeling down. Sometimes he likes being Pokémon, and I just don't argue with him."

They smile ever so slightly. "We affect each other. I hear him through our pact, and sometimes he reacts to my emotions, too. Usually only in color, but sometimes in form." They pause before admitting, smile breaking, "Especially if he's being defensive of me."

"It's classed as a mental ability," Seren thinks to add. "I've met a few people who can't see him, even though he can be seen on camera. Some people just can't register his being there, if their minds are closed off to wonder in the world, I guess."

A few seconds of silence pass after Seren's stopped talking before Zachery seems to notice the lack of chatter in the room. He blinks before he says, pleasantly, "Well— allow me a moment of gratitude I'm not in that camp, then. Although I think you've more than suspected being able to see but not sense him has set off a…"

Some thought sets his jaw, and he moves quickly on, halfheartedly waving the last sentiment away with one hand and a glance at Baird, "So! Back to the point for a moment," his voice is dragged back down to somewhere more like himself, "If this has any chance of helping, I'd say it's worth a shot. And if not, we'll know it's not, right? Either way, you can help me prove to the people in charge that I can, in fact, follow procedures."

Because this is clearly about him.

"So long as it's about proving it to them, and not about proving it to yourself," Seren counters without malice, in the same plain open way as when they first questioned his intense interest in Baird's nature of existence. Years have passed, and that part of them hasn't changed. "Because this has the ability to save no less than two lives, and the chance to ruin or end just as many."

Baird snaps his tiny beak in a quick chatter, adjusting his paws— they're definitely paws now— on the desk. Beans knead unyielding surface. Whatever that's supposed to mean.

"Should we trust you with this? Or should we ask for someone else?"

Zachery opens his mouth to answer, but again, there is no immediate reply.

Instead, his expression fades to neutrality as he searches Seren's face. He swallows dryly, a corner of his mouth twitching as he thinks.

"I think you should." The decision leaves him resolutely, and he holds still as his eye lifts to Seren's again. "I think I'm in a better position now than ever to not want to balls this up. Any of it." He lowers his voice, wincing and looking sharply off to the side as if some part of this sincerity physically pains him. "Besides, I'm a terrible liar. What would I tell Pippa if you were down for the count and she wanted to know how that unicorn of yours was doing?"

The returned simple scrutiny from Seren cracks with a small smile of their own. "Ah, I'm truly safe, then. Having to explain to a child you murdered their ability to meet a unicorn is a fate worse than death. You wouldn't willingly bring that on yourself."

They take in a deep breath and look down at their lap before coming to their feet. Baird leaps onto the side of their arm, simply defying gravity as he crawls up and behind them to peek over their shoulder. "Then let's do this," Seren decides, striking a hand out as though this were an engagement that actually requires a handshake to begin.

"Somehow I knew you'd understand," Zachery replies, now all too quickly pulling himself back from the desk and landing both feet on the floor again. "See? I can be… nice."

Once close enough to Seren, he reaches out as if to accept their handshake, but only just pauses the action to look just slightly off to the side, at Baird. "You're not getting a handshake, though. I'm using your name already," said in a tone and a matching lingering stare that implies this is somehow hard work at progress. "One thing at a time."

And with a practised handshake performed in many offices of days past, the pact is sealed.

Two Weeks Later

So far, Seren thinks, things haven't been painful. Inconveniencing, sure, with the immunosuppressants they've started taking in preparation for today. Today is the treatment, and a change in the types of suppressants taken. Today is when things get rough, and they will need to stay in their Raytech apartment no longer just out of precaution, but necessity.

Make or break time. First, lots of breaking. Down to the genetic level. Then, hopefully, the chances of remaking once that breakdown is complete.

They're already wearing a mask to guard their health when they come in, one sleeve of their cardigan doffed to expose their arm bare for the injection, infusion, or whatever this looks like. They somehow doubt it's a pill, but they're ready for whatever comes.

Baird sits small and curled in their lap, a pale white ermine with tawny-tipped wings primly folded down his back. He waits too, seeking comfort for Seren as much as he derives comfort from being this close. He minds how their heel bounces on the footrest of the examination table they sit on the edge of, letting out a quiet hiss to remind them it's okay.

From there things blur. Another aide comes in to administer the treatment, and Seren smiles through it even though things immediately begin to feel wrong. They were warned, jokingly, it's like heroin— inasmuch that the effects set on pretty quickly. The pain is worse than expected, causing them to feel weak, disoriented.

Zachery's name leaves them at some point, an ask for his involvement even though they came in at a time he wasn't yet in for the day. Time warps together until somehow they're at home again, turned into the corner of their L-shaped couch in the apartment, shaking from fever as their body suffers through the "decluttering" phase of their genetics being rewritten. Scraping up all the trash is having its effects.

Bright ones, little spinners of fireworks up and down their entire being from a certain someone's point of view. The burning out of the physical remnants of burnout is at least interesting to see in person.

Baird is little more than a soothing shade of purple laid along the back of the couch, paintstroke head lying along Seren's forearm as it rests there. "Is it doing what it's supposed to?" they ask Zachery thinly.

"… That's an interesting question." Zachery, stony-faced and still, sits in a chair facing the couch, leaned forward with his fingers laced together as he stares across at Seren with his head ever so slightly turned.

He blinks for what might be the first time in minutes, and takes a deep breath. "Have you ever heard about how in some remote places, like Alaska, for example, old cars just get left by the side of the road? Or driven off a cliff. Left there. Entire fields of the things."

Seren's grey eyes shift back and forth while they think. "No?" they answer uncertainly. Having grown up in more of a city than anywhere remote, it's hard to come to mind an example. They try to imagine based on the description provided, their gaze slowly dragging back to him. "Why? Have you?"

Zachery shakes his head. "I haven't seen it. Not with my own—" He stops, the corners of his mouth twitching uncomfortably outward before he lowers his head and scrubs a palm over his brow. By the time he looks back up again a second later, his stare and focus have softened somewhat.

As if to compensate, his words leave him a little more sharply as he straightens to try and recompose himself. "Sometimes they try to clean these places up, but I often wonder about the process. Huge machines treading ground, clawing, dragging cars up from the mud and from below fallen trees. In removing the debris, they often leave more destruction in their wake. Not to mention, because humans are creatures of habit, the cars may not stay gone. I'm suddenly reminded of Nicole telling me I natter on when I'm—"

He waves a hand dismissively, cutting himself off again. "Sorry," he says, with no hint of genuine apology in his voice, "my point was, recovery is not as simple as just excising."

"Oh," Seren notes, their voice thin and uncertain. They try to imagine with the best of them what that must look like, and the images so helpfully provided by Zachery's description turn fluid and string and slip through their proverbial fingers in their feverish state. "That…"

"That makes sense," they decide. Baird shifts his head over their forearm and they barely feel it— don't note at the moment how he's beginning to grow even more transparent from the sheer blob he's regressed to.

"That… um…" Seren blinks once, twice, then mumbles "Sorry." as a wave of hair-raising discomfort rolls over them, jarring their thoughts.

"No," Zachery replies simply, eyes narrowing as he looks Seren and their companion over. He smiles, but it's clearly born out of polite workplace habits rather than anything else, and is gone by the time he adds, "I'm afraid apologies are not allowed at this time."

He points lazily toward them. "That is what it's supposed to do. There's metaphorical tire tracks all over you, mind and body. I can't see it as such, but…" He offers a half shrug, looking away with a straight face before shifting in his seat and suddenly adding, instead of finishing his sentence, "How about some… tea? Or something else. I'm told I make a dreadful coffee, if you have it and you're up for a challenge."

Seren seems distracted through most of what Zachery's saying, their brow beginning to knit. They shift one hand slowly to their forearm, fingers fading through Baird's transparent existence. Their eyes drift shut, though, and they imagine his comforting presence, brow knitting with the effort.

Right as he fades from existence, without sound or fanfare. The ability to conjure even him slips through their fingers in a painfully literal sense.

"Tea," Seren answers with that same uncertainty. Everything's begun to feel wrong, so they keep their eyes closed, lids fluttering before they surrender to it. The pain just keeps getting worse. It's doing what it should, Zachery says though, so they try to cling to that. To avoid whimpering now, even if it requires keeping very still in general.

"Tea… might be nice."

Their expression slacks suddenly, even as their hand closes tightly, fighting to stay awake. "Chamo.. Chamomile by the sink," they offer helpfully.

Zachery rises slowly to his feet, but only looks directly at the spot where Baird used to be when Seren's eyes are unable to see him doing so. "You know," he starts, slowly, the way someone starts a sentence when its only purpose is to keep a thread of conversation going, "I'm not really…"

Even then, his words trail off as he looks around while he walks, navigating the largely unfamiliar home like a zoo animal that's somehow wandered into the wrong cage. What's that? Oh, a table. Right. He knows that one.

He makes it to the kitchen unscathed, wonder of wonders. Just out of sight, his voice sounds again, someone strained with his best impression of someone personable. "Do you have any friends who could… stay here? The sort you'd trust."

There's a silence, then the running of water before he adds, "Don't suppose there's a b—" Again, he pauses. "G—…" Another pause. The water stops. Quieter still, "Part… ner?"

It's such a simple question. Is there anyone Seren trusts enough to let them see hurting? Still, their brow furrows against their forearm more intensely. "No," they answer quietly in a voice that nonetheless carries. "Not anymore."

The stress of losing Rue had been one of the motivators causing them to lose what they'd been tightly clinging to in terms of their ability to create. Tears sting the corner of their eyes at the mere mention and memory of her, fingers curling through Baird's—

Fur?— but—

Their eyes open as they realize the sensation is like swimming through air, not remotely how it should be. The plain grey of them are filled with pain, followed in short order by panic. "No— no." They're pushing themself into an upright sit, feeling like they're unable to breathe. Like their heart's stopped.

"Z— Zachery, he's g— Zachery, please!"

They don't remember what happens next. The awkwardness of human consolation. The suggestion to take something with their tea. The promise that there's a tomorrow after this, one where there's a new foundation to build on. The medication for pain numbs away physical ails, lulls them more toward sleep.

Tire tracks and scrapes would be smoothed over. But would Baird come back to them?

Axel doesn't respond to a text, sent at some point. Seren doesn't say what's happening, either, what's happened, but he doesn't answer. Rue would have. And she'd have understood their pain so well, known how badly they were hurting and hollow. They almost reach out. But they don't. They want to, though, face stained with what feels like more tears than their frail body should possess.

It's dark. Then light. Then dark again.

"I miss you," they whisper as they curl up in the couch's corner, shoulder to intersection of cushions as though it were a hug. Their existence has become less burn and more pin-prickles between periods of numbness. "I miss you so much. Why couldn't we just… why couldn't we…"

Zachery was right. This would have been easier with a partner to share it with.

Seren holds onto that wish for companionship as they drift off to sleep again, practically mid-sob. They awake a short time later to the feeling of something soft running over the top of their head. Warmth curls against their side. Their eyes flicker open, seeing a vision of who they hoped their partner would become, the proud and resurrected person they wanted her to be.

"… Nix?" they murmur, and the blurry face lingering above them smiles, comes into better focus. "Phoenix?"

"I'm here," Nix promises them softly, and they relax back into her side, drifting back off to sleep in the comfort of a loved one's arms.

April 30

The pale flicker of silver around Seren's eyes from before the procedure is gone, and in its place is a shining metallic brilliance. It's the first thing Zachery notices when they open the apartment door in on him.

The second thing is that the apartment itself contains excessive greenery compared to before. Unnatural plants with colorful flowers bloom all around. Grass grows directly from hardwood floor. Seren is smiling warmly. "I'm doing a lot better," they tell him confidently, a far cry from the sobbing, desperate thing they were… however many days ago.

"Sere," Nix calls from the couch, visible from the door as she turns her head back. Whatever she is, it is distinctly not human, as much as she is humanoid. Her green eyes are too wide. Her face is too sharp. Skin just off of healthy in color, more grey than pink. "You forgot to pause the movie."

And she, like Baird, pings as something to Zachery's senses… but is as hollow as he was.

Despite being off work and technically free, Zachery lingers a clear step back from the door, as per usual. Wouldn't want to communicate a wish to enter the residence by accident.

He narrows his eyes, the functional one locking onto Nix's form. "… Yes," he replies a little distractedly, failing to look away from the false positive inside. "Sorry for interrupting. The, ah— wife suggested I check up on you here before I left for the weekend, rather than call you into an office on Monday. I can see there have been some… developments," he says with the suggestion of warmth summoned, even if there is none on his face. "They look like improvements."

He finally tears his gaze away and looks at Seren directly, leaning - shoulder first - closer to them and asking in a lowered and flat tone of voice, "Are they improvements."

Seren smiles sheepishly on hearing that Nicole's been worried about them, a hand running back through their lengthening hair in embarrassment. "I'm doing okay," they insist, stepping back to let him see the apartment, including the fantastic improvements to it. "Everything's almost back to normal around here, it feels like. Except…"

Nix lolls her head back. "Seeeere," she calls out, ending with a chuckle. "Who's at the door?" she wonders in sing-song.

All the while Seren's saying, "Baird's… not…" before they turn in the sound of Nix's voice, perking up some. Perfect out for not responding immediately. "It's Zachery," they call softly in return. "Doctor Miller?"

Then the pinkish-haired harpy seated on the couch scrambles to her feet, claws on the wooden flooring. "Oh my gosh!" She throws aside the blanket she'd been sitting under and comes jogging down the hall toward them both, in pajamas much the same as Seren is, save for their lighter, warmer coloring. "Seren told me about you! How you're helping them and Baird. You've been a real godsend, to hear them tell it." Her too-wide smile ends with one hand snaking around Seren's waist, the other winged arm striking out for a handshake. "I'm Nix. Glad to meet you."

It's with Nix's reassuring presence close by that Seren finally finishes what they meant to say earlier, murmuring as an aside, "Baird still hasn't come back yet." A gentle, reassuring squeeze at their side brings them to smile at the taller harpy woman standing next to them. "But Nix came by and has been keeping me company."

And whether or not she's just an extension of their imagination, it's something Seren clearly seems deeply relieved for.

Something more alert enters Zachery's posture, straightening his spine the moment Nix leaves the couch. He briefly clasps his hands together behind his back before pulling them apart again, as if not quite knowing what to do with them. At least until there is an offered handshake, and habit takes over in spite of the winged arm offering it.

"… Of course," he finally replies while shaking the strange hand, darting a quick look at Seren once he hears his own unsteady voice and probably realises how obvious his surprise is. Raised eyebrows and all.

But perhaps there is something comforting about his being taken aback being already out in the open, and he clears his throat with a lopsided grin before adding quickly, "Well, remember what I said about clearing the fields. What can come or grow back is…" He looks back over to Nix, the hand he used to shake hers still hovering halfway to being properly retracted in the midst of his obvious intrigue. "Sometimes unexpected."

Nix is smiling at Zachery, Zachery's grinning the odd grin he tends to, but Seren's perfectly serious now. "He's coming back," they state clearly, with a quiet firmness that's unshakeable. "Baird's… part of me. He's been there my whole life, the one constant. He's coming back. I know he is." Their certainty trending toward severe or overbearing, Nix takes a moment to ruffle the back of Seren's shirt and looks down at them with a smaller smile of her own to try and defuse the weight they carry with them.

"He will. Best to just let things happen as they will, not force it," she reminds them, and Seren nods. Their arm snakes around her waist in return, shoulder to bicep to garner comfort and strength from that closeness.

"Anyway," Seren inputs, their eyes still shimmering with those silver edges as they look back to Zachery, "I promise we're doing okay here. I'm planning on heading back to work next week, but doing a work-from-home setup while stepping down off the medications I'm taking. My energy's good, just trying to not get sick and muck everything up." With more warmth to it, they admit, "It's been a great opportunity to use that SPOT delivery service they just launched."

Any wayward sincerity still on Zachery's face dissipates slowly, as he listens and watches, eye scanning both of the people (?) in front of him as his posture is reined in to one Seren knows to be strictly reserved for a strictly controlled At Work mode. Careful and calculated, even starker in contrast to what he's facing towards.

"You really do seem to be doing well," he notes. "I'm—" Just for a second, he pauses on a decision, and on a thing waiting to be let through a filter: "Glad."

Before he can so much as see or hear any response to it, he turns on a heel and walks promptly away, lifting a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose as his head dips down with a quick addition of, "Enjoy your weekend, Evans."

"You too," Seren calls with hope that whatever is causing his headache ceases to all him. They look vaguely confused, but a nudge from Nix brings them back to the moment and to grin warmly at them before closing the door behind Zachery.

Two days later

And for a while, that was that.

But Sunday afternoon, Zachery's phone buzzes with a new text.

S. Evans 4:29 pm
Emergency update
Tap to open MMS

It isn't long before the phone's owner's footsteps can be heard in the Miller apartment, coming to reclaim it from where it lies abandoned on the dining table next to a pile of books. "Pippa," sounds Zachery's voice as he rounds a doorway with his wife's daughter right behind him, "I will bet you a hundred qu— dollars, that butterflies know exactly how to shi—"

But when Zachery picks up the phone and sees the notification, his thoughts halt and he adds in a tone Pippa knows to mean it's serious time now, "Give me just a second. Work."

A tap sees the message open, though it takes a moment longer for the image attached to the second message to load.

S. Evans 4:29 pm

The photograph is a selfie, Seren Evans side by side with their new 'friend' Nix, both beaming brightly. In their lap, a small catlike creature with the face of a barn owl also has its face turned up to the camera, eyes closed, beak open, feathers of its wings ruffled on its back.

Baird looks just as happy as they are, curled up against Seren as he is.

Staring at the screen, Zachery's brow suddenly knits with concern. He rolls his jaw forward for a moment before turning his head to sweep the girl now at his side back into his limited vision. "Pip, what do I say to someone when I don't fully understand their situation but I'm pleased it turned out the way it did?"

"Hmmm…" Pippa squints at Zachery for a moment. There's a difference between what he's glad for and, "Did it turn out well for them?"

She pulls a face, but she's sure she's not looking at Zachery when she does it, but she's not hiding it, either. The face is not about him. "Or is it like when I don't understand what's got Paulina all upset, because I don't speak jerkbag," definitely not a term her mother taught her or encourages the use of, "but I'm super glad she's upset?"

Pippa already has Zachery's number, but at least it seems they're both petty together.

The last question has Zachery raise his eyebrows, and he chokes back a poorly stifled chuckle, even if his amusement fades quickly. "No, it definitely turned out good. Who's this Paulina?" He asks, her name spoken like it was a synonym for rot.

But he's off track again, and quickly shakes his head. "Hold on, you can tell me about it once I've finished this up. First—" Then, he turns the phone, showing Pippa the selfie. "Remember Seren?"

Their phone, in turn, buzzes with a new message shortly after.

Z. Miller 4:31 pm
Pippa says you look very happy.
I agree.

Turning their head into Nix's shoulder halfway across the city, Seren can only agree. They leave their hand draped over Baird's back, keeping him snug and close. They smile quietly to themself as they let their eyes drift shut.

By no means was this household collectively out of the woods yet. There was plenty to look out for to safeguard their health yet, but they weren't going to have to go through that recovery alone. Their regenesis, for all the pain it had caused them in the way it tore them down, was bearing this new and beautiful dawn of salvaged growth.

There were happier days ahead, rather than ones filled with grief.

S. Evans 4:41 pm
All thanks to you.


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