Safe Space


seren_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Safe Space
Synopsis Zachery's not used to having one, but Seren encourages him to give it a chance.
Date June 16, 2019

Raytech NYCSZ Branch Office

The last time Zachery left this building, it was because he was escorted out of it by. No such fuss this time, though as he exits through the front doors, he looks no less out of sorts for it. Not for lack of being in the same black slacks and white dress shirt, though they're certainly a little less perfectly pressed than usual, but more for the fact that he looks like he hasn't shaved since he was last seen on the property. And barely slept. The hand he shoves through his hair to try and get it to stop being a mess doesn't seem to have any real lasting effect, either.

A few people pass him by on their way out to lunch, while he's ambling slowly out and on his way elsewhere, casting a somewhat wary look over his shoulder as though he's expecting someone behind him, eyebrows arched upward.

It's been a strange day, okay. Many confusing things before noon.

Stranger still is when a creature almost as tall as Zachery bounds right past him with all the urgency of one would attribute to fleeing something.

The metal-grey stag with tall, many-pointed antlers settles, its rush ending with a prance that tapers into a stately stamping of its hooves on concrete. The metallic sheen of its coat shimmers as taut musculature — tendons of pistons — shift while it settles. The stag shakes its head roughly, not so much as looking back where its come from.

Freedom awaits, after all.

The sunlight that had caught on the chrome of its horns shimmers with an iridescent light— petals of color vibrantly shine before bleeding down its proud form in thin veins of color. Out in the light of day and fresh air, the beast takes in a deep, victorious breath only for its form to begin to visibly thin. The details in the machinery becomes less clear, and grey gives way to something richer. All the parts of it that were metal tighten and gnarl, looking so much like the branches of an old tree— and the coat covering its body tints a periwinkle color that retains its iridescence only in the faint pastel dapples near its haunches.

On the metal-turned-nature brow of the stag, the wooden spikes of horns growing there begin to bloom with white blossoms.

Only when the transformation is complete does it turn back to look at Zachery with soulful eyes, sharing its quiet victory with him.

Soulful eyes land on - considerably less soulful Zachery. He's frozen, but in a way one might be frozen in the line for a ride at Disney World after a long day of following the rest of the family around. Sort of just… slack jawed, slumped forward a little, brain half checked out. Eyelid twitching upward over the one eye he's got left.

"… Ah." He finally rasps, after a weak grin's manages to fight its way through to his expression. "Why not. Why not this? This can be a thing, I suppose." He straightens, clears his throat with a dip downward of his head, and starts in a slooow wander forward - aiming to circle around the stag rather than approach it directly. "You're quite pretty, I will say that."

An indignant snort of breath tears from the creature's nose, more like a horse than a deer, not like that nuance makes a lot of difference given it's neither to begin with. The stag gives another toss of its head, regarding Zachery with more skepticism than before.

"He says he's handsome, not pretty," a warm if amused voice intones near his side.

Seren is smiling, arms folded over their midsection. They're dressed in dark colors unbefitting the summer day, with narrow-legged black jeans and a black tank with a grey vest. A thread of gold chain through one ear sparkles in the light it catches when Seren tilts their head curiously at Zachery, shifting their weight from one combat-boot-clad foot to the other. "Though he is—" Seren admits, looking back to the pale beast, "pretty."

The stag stamps one of its spindly trunks into the ground haughtily, the peg hitting concrete with a distinctive click, behavior which only makes Seren toss their head back with a bright laugh.

Seren's appearance screws Zachery's muscles up tight again, and he stops in his tracks to pull ever so slightly away from the source of the new voice.

There is an immediate attempt to recompose himself, in pulling his shoulders back and curling his fingers into fists while he breathes all the way in. Little jumpy. It's fine. He's fine.

There's a somewhat belated nod in greeting, but the stamp has him turn his attention back to the stag, throwing it a clueless sort of quirk of his brow, wearing the look of a man who has ceased to try and understand anything. At least for today. He'll just need to let it happen. "Dashing, then." He offers, chipperly, "Seems only fitting. Is that better?"

A look is given the stag's way to observe its reaction, but there's nothing so satisfying as something clearly positive that happens. The forest-in-a-creature merely turns away, swiveling its head to peer across the parking lot. "Dashing suits him," Seren supposes, "but my bet is he'd rather be dashing off."

Not unlike what they imagine Zachery might prefer to be doing. Seren keeps a polite distance, hands firmly kept to themself. "Sorry if I startled you," is a very sincere apology, coupled with a bob of their head. "You doing all right?"

"Nnn-" Zachery begins to answer, almost immediately, but it drags out as though he changes his mind in the middle of the noise. "… Yes, actually." His voice trails upward in surprise at his own words.

He tears his attention away from the stag and back to Seren, his head turning more than enough before his eye finally darts to their face. "I think I just might be." He chuckles, lifting a hand to scrub at his somewhat scruffy jawline. "Or I'll get there. Either way. I should probably, ah - go home. To, I suppose, find out what in the world 'self care' is supposed to mean."

He leans forward to start walking toward the parking lot, steps heavy. But… his attention is drawn back to the stag, head turning as he moves to pass it by. "I'll be back, though, apparently."

Seren's brow ticks up at the clear conflict in Zachery's reply, however much they try to mute their reaction to it. Oh. It looked like he was having a hell of a day. Their arms come undone from their fold, hands coming down hesitantly by their side. The stag goes without attention given to it, head dropping to the asphalt as though there might be something to graze at that's remotely edible.

There's a flicker of concern in their gaze before it mellows, evening with a small smile. "Well, that's good." Seren opines, and they move along after him a moment after. For a moment, nothing but polite silence — maybe they're just meandering in the same direction. But then:

"You know, self-care is different for different people. There's plenty of ways to go about it— I wouldn't give up and scoff at it if you find something that doesn't seem like it'd work for you." They lift a shoulder in an easy-going shrug. "Internet, and all." is said with more understanding sympathy than the Internet sometimes deserves. Seren flits their eyes back over to Zachery, a hint of caution in how they angle themselves. "Would you want to get some coffee, maybe, and talk it through?"

He's listening, but Zachery's attention seems… sparse. Here and there, head angling to catch sight of this and that, before it settles back on Seren when he realises he hasn't quite left them behind just yet. Oh.

Having made it some of the way toward a suspiciously long black vehicle with flames painted on its sides, he comes to a stop. "… I want to be smug and make a joke about how I'd love to upset Devi with something or another, but," He shrugs one shoulder upward, "I actually genuinely would kill for some coffee right now. Car, or…?" He motions a thumb over at the hearse over his shoulder, but looks… questioningly toward the stag. Like he's wondering if it would fit.

(It probably would.)

Seren looks back and forth between Zachery and the grazing stag— which has somehow apparently found a bit of grass— and decides to give it a shot. "What do you say, up for a ride?" The beast looks up at being addressed, midchew. Rather than show any sign of acknowledging the speech directed its way, it simply freezes like a deer in headlight, and just as abruptly tears away from them both at the same canter it had first made its appearance.

Except this time, after only a second's worth of sprint, its being simply folds in on itself and winks out of sight, nothing left behind but a trail of falling petals.

Entirely unperturbed, even a little amused, Seren lets out a small huff and turns back to Zachery. "It looks like the car might be best," they admit, and their brow arches inquisitively after that. "Do you mind if Baird comes along, though?"

The patch of grass the stag had been grazing from fades away with a ripple, betraying itself as plain old parking lot the closer they both get to the vehicle.

Nope. Nothing makes sense anymore. Zachery blinks, offering the nothingness that remains a half-lidded stare, like his brain's just… short-circuited.

"What…" He wets his lips in idle thought, and just… shakes his head before moving to unlock his car, after tiredly clapping a hand onto its roof. An old 1967 Cadillac hearse, well taken care of, give or take a few scratches near the hood and a small dent in the passenger seat's door. "There's - room. I think. What is Baird, exactly?"

His tone makes it sound like he's asking what their favourite ice cream flavour is, rather than conveying the full scope of the bafflement his face is still more or less showing.

Thankfully, the question is one Seren has endured plenty of times, so it phases them far less than it used to. "Baird is whatever he wants to be," they explain after hoisting themself into the vehicle, very careful not to let their back touch the seat. "And he looks different pretty much any given day."

And it's probably a good thing Zachery agreed to let Baird come along, because he might've been there this whole time. A tiny lavender-blue nose twitches as a pale snout, equally small, nudges its way out from between Seren's vest and their shirt, helped along by them pulling aside their vest so the tiny can crawl from his hiding place. What appears to be a caracal kitten climbs it way out onto Seren's lap, impossibly colored like the dawn twilight— pastels of blue and pink, with hints of darker lavender and indigo in markings on his face and around the tufts of his ears. The kitten also… improbably has a ruffling of feathers along the back of his neck, and—

… and wings. Definitely has wings folded against its body. As one does, when not using them, presumably. His long tail is still curled back around behind Seren, but he peers up with interest to try and get a look over the dash where possible. Baird would like to know where we're going, too, please.

"He's my oldest friend. We've been together as long as I can remember," Seren explains, running their hand down the creature's back, careful to mind the fold of its sleek wings. Like one might expect of a cat having its back rubbed, his rump lifts up and reveals itself finally… to be covered over with tufts of feathers not unlike a turkey-tail. Seren merely pffts as they almost get a face full of tailfeather. "—and it's never a dull moment with him around, I can tell you that."

"I may need something stronger than coffee." Zachery, having slid into the driver's seat, has taken to a full-torso lean against the steering wheel, one arm braced against it so that he can rest his face on it, and one draped over both it and his head. He peers sideways at his two passengers, dry smirk pulling awkwardly to one side.

"So. It's an… expressive thing?" His nose wrinkles at something or another. "That explains. But he's physical. He exists in this space." A bit of an assumption. Still slumped against the steering wheel, his eye darts to fix itself on Seren's face. "… Can he be hurt?"

"Espresso," Seren ventures. Clearly the only thing that Zachery needs to drink is just a Stronger Class of Caffeine. Right? Right. "Might have to head south down to Elmhurst for better coffee… all the way to Red Hook for the best sort." If they have a limited amount of time for their lunch break, they seem wildly unperturbed about that potential drive.

Leaning back away from Baird as he swivels around to settle in a sit facing Zachery, Seren returns the smile with a smaller side one of their own. "He does exist," they enthuse, full of a proud energy— that turns confused at the question that follows. They blink slowly, and Baird himself eyes Zachery with a black stare.

"I-I mean…" Seren stammers, not really certain why that's important. "Yes, but…"

Lunch break shmunch break. Zachery's attention lingers on Seren, while he pulls slowly away from the steering wheel, and slides his hands into position on the curve of black.

If he is bothered by the reaction his question has earned, he's damn good at hiding it. In fact, he sounds a little bit more energised when he asks, with a cant of his head to recenter both Baird and Seren in his monocular vision, "Do you feel it when he does?"

Seren realizes it after that question, methodical in its breakdown of their ability as it is. It's clinical, even. "You know," they remark candidly, "No one has asked me questions that invasive since the Company was reviewing my ability." Grey eyes lift to look at Zachery, no accusation in it, just observation.

They're also disinclined to answer, either out of privacy or just discomfort, because they don't. Seren has recovered from their initial bout of confusion, returning to their state of being calm as a cucumber. The edges of their grey irises become limned as they wonder at that turn of phrase.

A silence washes over the interior of the car, as Zachery seems momentarily caught unaware, brow knitting. His stare into Seren's face hardens… before his gaze is quickly turned elsewhere, to start the car. "… Out of line. Understood."

The thrum of the vehicle all too easily takes over from the quiet, and Zachery's energy ebs from his face back into the practiced motions required to back the car out of the parking lot. A semblance of his grin still remains, but only in the idle curl of one corner of his mouth, while he busies himself with not hitting anyone or anything with the (admittedly, a little impractical) hearse. "I think it's probably best I go home, get some rest. Shall I drop you two off in Elmhurst, then?

Cucumber. Cool as a. Does it just sound satisfying to say? Cucumbers are satisfying to eat. Maybe even cooling… The vehicle smells abruptly of that light, indescribable fresh scent a well-stocked salad puts off, water and greenery. It definitely doesn't help that Seren is hungry.

"Mm." Seren bobs their head as Zachery says that thing trying to pass for an apology, unaffected. Cronch. comes from nowhere.

The satisfying, intracranial crunch of a certain vegetable.

Cool as a…

Baird is standing on his haunches, paws on Seren's chest. They look down at him, hand patting the creature's side, whose yellowed patch of sunlight on his chest is gradually shifting to a mint-green color. To better distract themself, Seren places their hand over one if Baird's wings, imagining and feeling the velvet and membrane as they rub the edge of the wing between thumb and forefinger.

With a sigh, Seren voices, "I mean, we could grab lunch in Elmhurst, that works." Maybe it'd even be a salad. "And rest is always good for you."

They glance sidelong back at Zachery. "Are you sure you don't need someone to sit with for a while, though?"

Something sends Zachery's fingers wrapping tighter around the steering wheel, and he looks like he may have almost dismissed the mystery presence of a new smell when the cronch happens.

On the move now, he only has time for a cursory glance sideways. Maybe surprisingly, he's turning out to be a responsible driver, eye on the road as the parking lot and Raytech building both is left behind. He opens his mouth to say something, but hesitates - like one thought is somewhat briskly pushed aside, making room for another to come rolling out.

"I'm sitting now," He answers them. "And you're sitting with me. I'm fine, I honestly am. And I'll be better than ever after a shower. Up until about twenty minutes ago, I thought I was going to be shipped up and off to jail again. Maybe. How about that. I'm fine." All of this spoken in a cheery tone. Like it's the weather. "Are you okay? You seem…" He thinks, then adds, "… crunchy."

Everything's fine. "Oh, me?" Seren asks, surprised. Their eyes are on Baird again. "I'm fine." And they are perhaps heading that way, making it only a white lie in the grand scheme of things. Certainly in the scheme of the conversation. There was a small increase in blood pressure associated with the stress of failing to control their ability, eased by how they're pouring that energy into Baird, and Baird is changing for it.

They let out a low chuckle as they realize Zachery has turned around the wordplay on them now, their stress relieved completely. Seren looks back up to him, eyes still ringed with that flash of silver though it all seems to be under control now. No unexpected, unexplained crunching. "Yeah," they agree gently. "Getting arrested would have put a damper on the day, wouldn't it."

The creature on their lap flicks his ear in interest for the conversation, settling slowly back into a sit with only one paw still on Seren's chest. The indigo at the edges of its form is edging toward a dark forest green in a slow, bleeding transition. "I heard about what happened the other day," is said somehow with even more care folded into it, delivered smoothly. "I'm sorry you had to go through that. Raytech's a safe space, you know? It's terrible something like that happened."

Seren settles back into the passenger seat, idly watching the construction efforts playing out on either side of the street with absent interest. Zachery is the holder of it, save for the little distractions.

"Mh." Zachery's interest, meanwhile, is somewhat divided. He leans back in his seat, tiredness pulling him down while extra effort is put in the occasional scrub at his face, fighting back yawns and forced tensing of the muscles in his arms as if in inward stretch.

Certainly, Seren's rudimentary signs of stress are noted, but in favour of really rather not wanting to crash this car and everyone in it, he refocuses his attention with a clearing of his throat. "You shouldn't be sorry," he finally manages, a little flatly, bordering on sounding uncaring. "You didn't do anything. Raytech is - it's nice," he admits with a raise of his eyebrows, adding in the middle of taking a right turn, in an airy and nonchalant tone of voice, "but it's not… safe. Nowhere is."

Zachery seems to be very intent on getting himself from point A to point B, Seren notes, but they also note the exhaustion plain in him. It's a little late to suggest an alternate course, but they harbor a silent worry about him driving like this. Had they known, they'd have suggested a calling a rideshare. It'd put him less in harm's way.

"Sure, I didn't, but it's just a phrase. I still feel bad it happened. There's just … not an easy-to-reach turn of phrase to describe it. I'm sorry is sort of… it." The observation is made calmly while still pulling their fingers down Baird's wings. The winged creature stays silent, taking it all in. For just a moment, the coloration on its tail is striped like so many of the construction barrels on the side of the road, but the lines fade back into a solid color before long.

"And as far as safe goes, this is the Safe Zone, isn't it?" Seren smiles along with that assertion. "As far as 'safe' goes, here is the safest one can get. At Raytech, especially, with all the security measures in place." after last year almost is said, but is caught and snipped off the statement at the last moment. No need to add unnecessary caveats like that. "And it's safe to be who you are, there, which is just as important as physical safety. There's little judgment, at least openly, I've found there. If there's misunderstandings, talking them though seems to get the matter resolved, or at least… better than they were before."

After a pause, Seren unwittingly echoes Zachery with a quiet, "It's nice."

Again, the sound of the engine is the only thing that's heard for a little while. He shows no interest in arguing with anything Seren has said, or like he's particularly taking issue with any of their opinions.

But there is something thoughtful in the way his eyebrows lower, his shoulders setting a little harder against the leather of his chair. Finally, after a shallow sigh that seems less frustration and more working up to something — he says, in a level voice, "It's something to get used to trusting."

Seren nods, letting those words linger for a moment longer. It was a huge step, to have trust where there was none before, or for it to be earned back. "It takes time," they note. "But it's worth it."

As the car rolls to a stop at a light, Seren pulls on the door handle and sweeps gracefully from the vehicle. Baird and his claws crawl along their arm and he perches on their shoulder by the time they stand, hand on the doorframe. "You got me most of the way— I'll get out of your hair so you can get home."

Smiling, Seren says, "Get some rest. Sounds like you deserve it." Their fingers lift off the door frame as they add lightly, "If you need help figuring out the self-care thing, let me know." They push themself back upright. "I'll see you soon."

There is a brief look of panic that crosses Zachery's face when he hears the door open, his head swiveling toward the sound with a start. "Ah-" He starts to say something, but whatever it was vanishes into thin air.

He ducks forward a little, peering out with his head turned sideways, elbow propped up against the steering wheel as he eyes Seren with a look of confusion still painting his expression. "Alright. Yes." So many of the things he's been told today have made absolutely no sense whatsoever.

But, "… I'll see you at work."

That's got to be good, right?

Seren's smile only brightens before they push the door shut, so maybe it is.

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