(Seeking) A Friend For The End Of The World


everleigh_icon.gif seren3_icon.gif wright_icon.gif

Scene Title (Seeking) A Friend For The End Of The World
Synopsis Seren immediately begins to struggle with the news presented to them about the impending end of the world, but thankfully they have friends to help them get through things.
Date June 20, 2021

Raytech Industries Campus

For all they showed a brave face inside the auditorium where the Raytech-Yamagato employees were exposed to life-altering information, Seren is shaking when they leave the room. They had wanted to stay glued to everything, to immediately shift their life's focus and never look back, but there was only so much information to review right then. Tomorrow would bring more details, news, opportunities. Until then…

Until then—

"Shit," Seren whispers under their breath, wiping at the corners of their eyes when they realize what time it is. "Shit, I'd promised…"

Everleigh. They'd planned to have lunch with Everleigh, after this sudden weekend project meeting. They'd already signaled they might be late owing to the unexpected, last-minute calling of this, so they shouldn't… keep her waiting, right? Still they're rooted to the ground in the hallway, world gradually beginning to spin.

Time-telling phone still clasped in hand, they lift their mostly-closed fist and press it to their forehead. "Fuck," they whisper, aware Baird is at their shoulder, nuzzling his tiny pink nose and his whitened face against their cheek. The pale ermine with tawny wings wrapped around Seren's shoulder show signs of their distress, greys creeping up through the snow white in unnatural veining of color that shifts as they fight to force down their feelings. One of Baird's tawny-colored wings unfolds across their back like an embrace as they try to get themself together.

Leaning against the hallway wall dressed in her standard Wolfhound business-tactical clothing, Wright hasn’t been worried about any external threats. She’s shouting distance from several OEI agents after all, and she has a gun. There’s been a low-grade paranoia since Elliot’s deployment that somebody might make a move for her. She wasn’t expecting to see very understandable signs of the pre-panic distress of her partner’s girlfriend’s paramour.

She pushes herself up from her slouch against the wall, feeling guilty about having known about this present apocalypse for the past six months. She quickly cycles through the many possible introductions she needs to make before offering solace to an arm of this polycule, one she hasn’t met in the real world yet. Experience clearly speaks against Hey I think I had a dream about you.

“Seren?” she asks not out of unsurety but as a means of getting their attention. “I’m Wright. Can I offer some kind of support or assistance?”

The sound of their name from someone unfamiliar brings Seren to look up first, which is unusual because Baird is usually the one who leads in those situations. But like a fingersnap, it's Seren who quickly puts themself back together visibly, holding everything at bay with tightly held breath, and Baird who continues to stay skinclose to help with that. Their eyes are lacking the silver shine at the edge of the grey of them, looking Wright over without recognition.

The name, maybe, should trigger recognition. But not yet, given her appearance. Security? Not Raytech, though. She wasn't wearing—

Hey Seren, you should probably say something out loud.

"—I'm fine," they answer suddenly and seriously. The tears at the corners of their eyes recede, or at least, they appear to be gone. "Sorry, didn't mean to cause any alarm. There's nothing to worry about." The bells clearly aren't ringing for them yet that this Wright isn't a stranger.

"I'm just— ah," Seren glances down at their phone. "I need to text a friend."

“Sorry,” Wright says, trying not to grimace or force Seren any further back into their shell. “We haven’t technically met yet. I’m Elliot Hitchens’s partner, Wright Tracy. You don’t need to worry about alarming me, I…” Her eyes stray past Seren back toward the auditorium where the news broke. “I’m already alarmed.”

She crosses her arms, seeming to recede a bit into herself, fearing she’s overstepped a boundary at exactly the wrong time. “If you want, there’s some surprisingly comfortable chairs just down here,” she nods back toward chairs she decided not to get too comfortable in while waiting for the agents to finish up. “Great for texting people from. No obligation to talk to me, a storied nervous rambler.” She looks to Baird next, smiling to try to allay some of the worry for at least one of the linked pair.

There it goes. While Seren is still processing in their own way, Baird's head whips in Wright's direction, lifting up in interest as he begins to sniff. Elliot is someone they both like well enough, after all. "You're—"

Baird shifts and relaxes, and in a way, so too does Seren. Their shoulders sink slowly, exhaling away their defensiveness. "Yeah," they suppose, more tired now. World-weary exhausted, rather than physically. "That might be… a good idea." The winged stoat on their shoulder takes off in that direction, signalling willingness to move even if Seren's body lags in following. The phone is loose in their hands still, the typing slow.

"I know…" they think aloud, slow, "how all of this feels. To know it's sooner. To know it— that they…"

"I'm sorry," Seren says as they sink down into the seat they don't actually remember nearing, like this twist doesn't affect them personally too. "For your loss. That all this is happening." Their eyes are dim, back to reflecting the light from their phone without containing any of their own, presently.

Seren: 12:10 pm
Hey, sorry, I know I'm running late. Can you meet me in the main building instead of my place?

Wright isn’t immediately sure what Seren means by sorry for your loss, but doesn’t know how to ask for clarification. Sorry that Elliot was deployed? Sorry that if the world ends, her wife and daughter end with it? She settles into her own chair, keeping herself oriented toward the auditorium in case her chaperones come looking for her.

“This is actually the first end of the world I’ve had clearance to know about in advance,” Wright says. “I’m told I missed a bunch, but I’m here now. We’re doing everything we can with the time and abilities we have.”

Everleigh: 12:10 pm
It's not a problem at all, no need to apologize. I'll be over there shortly.

"Fuck, there's been more of them?" Seren lets out a laugh verging on hysterical for how cynical and unlike them in tone it is. They sniff once, rubbing the ridges of their knuckles under their nose as they blink hard and attempt to properly banish their red-ringed eyes rather than just pretend. "Though… of course there has been. The world we live in…"

Now they sound rueful, clicking the screen of their phone off and holding onto it tightly. Baird lands on the endtable stationed between the chairs, front legs lengthening some to help him better peer up toward Wright and sniff the air around her curiously. He seems, behaviorally, unbothered by the terribleness of the situation hanging over them all.

"I'm one of those people now, doing everything they can with the time and abilities we have," they acknowledge in a smaller voice. "And now that we're here, I— I don't feel like after this I can just go back to my day. My life. Because if the mission those two went on— if it failed— I…" Seren struggles for a moment, and Baird visibly greys for it. Their knuckles pale in tandem with how hard they fight to keep their voice from breaking. "What is there left to live for except to make sure they didn't come back for nothing?"

Involuntary tears precede the puzzling out of what loss. Wright rubs a knuckle into her eyes one after the other, feeling embarrassed in the brief period of not understanding their origin. Despite never being allowed to acknowledge it, she feels Elliot’s loss of Rue just as keenly as he does.

She wastes time that could be spent responding trying to figure out what to say instead of merely throwing out some reflexive emotional deflection. She holds a hand in the vicinity of Baird, wondering if he has a sense of smell and if so, what it’s like and is it streamable. She clears her throat quietly. “It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing for the right reason,” she says hoarsely. “Regardless of what it costs us.”

Baird indeed leans into sniff better, tiny nose cold and wet as it glances off her skin. It's a short-lived thing, though, head turning in the direction of doorstep coming from the front of the building. He trills excitedly and scampers off the edge of the table, leaping and spreading wings to meet the newcomer head on.

From the front of the building comes Everleigh, tucking her phone away into a pocket (!) of her dress as she heads inward. With Baird being the first she encounters, she smiles widely, a hand extended in his direction in a greeting. "Well, someone's happy to see me," she says, "and don't worry Baird, the feeling is mutual." Her warm smile, however, dims slightly at the fog of something in the mood of the room. Her expression switches to something a bit more serious but equally as calm and she offers Baird a last tiny smile before she moves on towards where Seren and Wright are talking.

"I'm not going to ask what happened right now, but I am going to ask if you're okay," she says, though her gaze goes between both Seren and Wright. It's extended to both of them, a blanket offer of comfort.

Baird swims in the air in a loose circle around Everleigh before gently coming to land on her shoulder and peer intently back in Seren's direction. His amber eyes almost expectantly settle on them, and their brow knits at this seeming betrayal, but they let out an uncomfortable sigh and laugh with a very small smile.

"Yeah," they say, and swipe their fingers under their eyes to make sure they're as dry as they hope they are. "Yeah, I'll be okay." Their hands smear down their jeans as they come to their feet. Their smile comes back, forced in that their eyes have still yet to return to their usual, wondrous gleam. "Everleigh, this is Wright, my friend Elliot's partner. And Wright, this is my friend Everleigh. We had a lunch date planned before all this kind of…"

Seren lets out a short laugh at their own expense, wondering how to explain it. Moreover, how honest they can be while explaining precisely nothing. "We, um, got some personal news. It sucks. A lot. I don't know that things will get better, but I also know I've got too many things I'm— looking forward to," is how they carefully couch that. "so I'm going to get some catharsis out of work, starting tomorrow."

Baird persists in his meaningful look until Seren snaps under his insistence they be honest with themself.

"Today, though," they continue, and now their voice trembles a little. "Today might be rough."

Wright comes to her feet slowly, letting Seren greet their friend, feeling slightly out of place. Baird’s reaction to the newcomer calms her more than anything for some reason, though she’s never seen him with her own eyes before today. It’s relaxing to see such simple happiness.

“Hi,” she says, waving after the introduction awkwardly. “Nice to meet you, it’s certainly been a day.” She realizes she looks like she’s a security contractor who’s been lounging in a hallway while the world ends. She straightens out her polo shirt, but she can’t do anything about the tactical cargo pants. One thing she does not do is extend a hand for a handshake, which strikes her as incorrect at the moment.

"I'm sorry I showed up at a bad time," Everleigh's smile is sympathetic, and she gives a small nod in Wright's direction. "Wish we could have met under better circumstances, it's a pleasure anyway." Her gaze darts between both Wright and Seren for a moment before settling on the latter. "I'm also sorry that whatever happened is causing such grief. I'm not entirely sure if there's anything I can do, but I've been told I'm a good listener if either of you need to talk."

A tiny hint of a grin comes out at the joke, an attempt at levity in the midst of what is clearly something not great.

A laugh bubbles up from Seren that somehow manages to not sound hysterical, and Baird warms on Everleigh's shoulder. His summoner swipes a thumb under their eye again, smudged eyeliner well and truly smudged now. "Trust me, I intend to talk about it as much as I can at lunch. Bottling this up, it's, uh— not something that'll help."

It's then that Baird carefully disentangles himself, leaping almost weightlessly from Everleigh's shoulder to seek Seren once more. They lift up one arm, forearm leveled out as a perch for the winged stoat to crawl up.

"Honestly, I really wish it were a better situation to meet Wright finally, too," they admit with a smaller, more pained laugh as they look back her way. "All I know about her is her great wit under stressful circumstances. We shared a group chat once."

“Not one to abide a sassy dream child,” Wright deflects. “Zero-tolerance policy. But I’d like to think we met in spirit on the bus the day Elliot sent Ames a picture of Baird.” She hopes to ride a wave of comedic deflection, but finds her heart isn’t fully in it. It’s hard to pretend to be happy in the face of the end of the world, especially when you’re meeting it without the people closest to you. She tucks her hands into her pants pockets, wishing she had stopped by Elliot’s house to steal a hoodie, an article of clothing better suited to hiding hands.

“Baird certainly makes a fantastic first impression,” Everleigh says with a smile. “I find that he often brightens things. I know that things seem rough right now, but you have him. You’ll always have that friend there for you.” She looks to Wright. “I’m sorry you don’t have as majestic a creature as Baird perpetually keeping you company, but I can attest that Seren is a friend worth having.”

While she still smiles, her expression is serious. “If there is anything at all I can do, consider me at your disposal. If Seren doesn’t mind, I’m sure you can join us for lunch.”

Seren blinks at that suggestion, finding it a surprise, but not an unwelcome one. They turn to Wright with their brows lifted in a silent echo of that extension of the offer. "If you're not still busy with work-related things, we'd be more than happy to…"

Baird trills on their shoulder like a cat.

"Yes, exactly," Seren says with relief.

Wright grimaces like she’s intruding, but tries to work her emotions into something closer to gratitude. “I’m here with the DOE,” she says as though the others might need a reason to retract the offer. “I’d have to un-escape my SESA security detail probably, so I won’t be offended if you two want to keep your lunch date sans third wheel.”

She’s managed an expression closer to chagrin by the end of it, though it’s hard for her to hide that she does want to take them up on the offer. Wright has always been a far more social creature than Elliot, and he better at hiding his true feelings and vanishing from social interactions.

There’s a tiny laugh from Everleigh. “It’s not the kind of date a third wheel wouldn’t be welcome at,” she notes. “I don’t really go on those kinds of dates anymore.” She offers Wright a kind smile. “Good thing I’m a doctor cleared to assess people experiencing traumatic events. I’ve even got a surprising amount of clearance. I won’t tell them it’s a relaxing lunch and not a critical psychological assessment if you don’t.”

She glances over at Baird and Seren with a smile. “Despite being someone people talk to professionally, I really enjoy helping friends. It’s kind of more satisfying when someone cares back.”

Seren looks over Wright's shoulder momentarily, Baird's nose lifting to sniff the air for trouble, danger, or complication. He's not given enough time to finish that sniff before his summoner is leaning forward to hook an arm around Wright's elbow. "I'm emotionally distraught," they say in a perfectly level voice. "And I'm kidnapping you."

Very serious.

"And Everleigh, of course," they tack on graciously, slipping forward and tucking their other arm around Everleigh's with the full intention of slipping off as quickly as possible before they all can be noted. They're sure someone else will take care of putting their notes they left behind in the auditorium somewhere safe.

Wright smiles graciously before donning a serious expression of her own as the group is now off to see the wizard. "Now that you mention it," she says as a matter of fact, "I'm sure they can figure out how to find me when it's important to do so." Happy to step away with the pair, she doesn't register the fact that she didn't cringe away from Seren's touch.

"Oh no, a kidnapping is taking place," Everleigh says with half a smile. As her arm is hooked, she's easily led away. "Getting away and clearing heads after some rough news is important, and I'd love to make sure you're both able to. They'll find you both if you're needed. Right now, you need to do the important things to care for yourself."

She pauses in her dialogue as they move, looking to Seren. "If you ever need… a bit of a calming aura, let me know. I can help." She does her best not to seem awkward in the phrasing and flashes a smile.

Seren returns Everleigh's smile, and Baird crawls across their shoulder to curl around hers. They squeeze the arms of their two kidnappees in encouragement and step their pace up to something slightly more brisk. "Before they notice, then!"

The Cork Tavern

Jackson Heights

An Irish pub isn't far from Raytech's campus, and it's a comfortable enough environment that they can slip into one of the depths of the deep-green vinyl booths and the sconce lighting to hide away from the world for a little while. For a Sunday afternoon, it's moderately filled— post-churchgoers finding a drink and chatter for the afternoon. The wood-panel walls have a sheen to their dark, and a Guinness light hangs over the bar. It's a well-kept establishment, and it's even a place Seren is known by name.

"Hey— Shooting Stars," the bartender on staff says in greeting with a bit of an endeared smile. Seren's a little more flustered and quiet given the day they've had, and they've really not detached from Everleigh even though they gave Wright her own space eventually on the walk over. Self-conscious about the clinging, given they've known each other in person for so very little. They lift a hand with three fingers to indicate the party size and are nodded to take a seat anywhere. The rounded corner booth at the back is absolutely the best place.

Baird jumps over the table, paws clattering on the end of it and making it wobble slightly before he takes his seat first. With a huff of a chuckle and a shake of their head, they follow— and quickly order a round of appetizers as soon as the bartender comes over so that way the three (well, four) of them can achieve privacy again quickly.

"I come here for trivia night," Seren explains, still flustered. Unresolved nerves from earlier color their expression now that their initial bout of bravery is fading. "It's nice. They, um— don't mind if it's just me and Baird."

Wright has used her freedom to huddle back in on herself. She takes a series of centering breaths when they arrive, trying to anchor herself in happier places to avoid letting her anxiety medicate itself with thoughts of alcohol. The place feels bright and clean, more like a breakfast diner. Only barely so, but she allows the characterisation to take root to keep from associating the space with a glass of whiskey.

Damn it, she thinks, flustered, bringing herself back to center as she takes a seat in the booth. "I feel I'm enough on edge right now that I should let you know that I'm a recovering alcoholic," she says with a touch of embarrassment. "So if I try to order booze or lunge across the table for your drinks feel free to chase me away with a broom."

"But also if they ever have a military history trivia night I'm your girl." The last said as a clear deflection from the need for further talk about drinking.

If Everleigh minded the slight clinginess, there wasn’t a hint of it. “I’d come to trivia night, it sounds like fun. I don’t exactly… get out much,” she admits as she slides into her seat. The mention of drinks has her nodding almost clinically. “Noted,” she says, then leaves the topic entirely alone.

“I’m not sure what kind of trivia I’d be best at. Star Trek or obscure movie references? Maybe Shakespeare…” She pauses. “Psychology, obviously, but I don’t think that would come up in trivia much.” There’s a long pause where she fiddles with the napkin in front of her before she continues.

“I’ll babble on forever if you don’t stop me, I tend to when I’m not at work. Please feel free to change the subject whenever you feel you’re ready or wanting to talk about something. Otherwise I’ll fill the silence so no one will feel awkward.” She offers a kind smile.

"Trivia is a super great distraction from everything," Seren is more than happy to direct the flow of conversation away from the potentially poor choice in kidnapping locale. They resolve not to order the drink they'd been longing for. There'll be plenty of time for that later– and besides, breathing a word of the heart of what had them distressed would be unforgivable. Best to keep a clear head.

"But, um… anyway, the, ah– stuff that happened." They look down toward the table, oblivious to the way Baird's paws darken as he stands leaned against the table. "Time feels like a blur right now, so if I've said any of this before, just– forgive me for repeating it. But my girlfriend, Rue, she works for Wolfhound, right? So she's– she does this contract stuff. And we've been together as much as we've been apart at this point since we've known each other, but she– went on this job a few months ago. I don't know where. She just…"

Seren lifts one hand and passes their thumb in a scratch along the side of their forehead. "I-I got news today that she's not coming home," passes from them so easily, but they look haunted, robbed of breath and life once it's said. "And the whole time these last few months, we knew that this dangerous job was coming up for her, and we kind of– we kind of made peace with it. I– I had to make peace with it anyway. The chance that she might not get lucky this time, after the last big mission she went on, she came home and she was in the hospital for weeks. I knew the possibility was there."

"It's real now, though," they acknowledge, the words distant even if they don't falter. "Not just a hypothetical. And I know– I know it's going to feel different and worse tomorrow, because that's how these things work, but right now sucks pretty fucking bad, too." They let out a broken laugh after that, their hand coming to their mouth to touch the back of their knuckles to their lips to steady themself before they lower it back to their lap.

"So anyway," Seren supposes gamely.

Wright's momentary discomfort at having to make her admission is brief, she directs a small, grateful smile to Everleigh. As Seren recounts their story she sits up straighter, looks like she's juggling the desire to make an interjection while trying to find the words to interject.

"Rue is missing in action," she says in a way that includes not dead. "I know that she missed a scheduled check-in, but that's all anyone knows. There are so many reasons that could happen with this job. I was incredibly annoying to the director and he intimated that there are plans to investigate and re-establish contact." And she didn't even tell him to eat shit. The fact that Eve has foreseen Rue's death isn't uttered; this close to the end of the world, hope matters more than ever.

“Jumping to conclusions is probably one of the worst things you can do. Catastrophizing. You cause yourself anxiety by thinking of all the bad things that could go wrong and only focusing on that,” Everleigh pipes in in her agreement. “Instinctually, it’s natural to think the worst before finding out all the details. But Wright is correct: there are several facts and you should cling to those.”

Seren pulls a face and exhales carefully, looking up to Wright when she lays out details even they didn't know. Baird flicks his tail and looks in their direction eagerly, looking– hoping– these prior-unknown facts will budge them. But all they say is, "She warned before she left that this…"

Their tongue presses to the roof of their mouth and they look down. "It's more likely that she's not coming back than she is," they explain thinly, the sharpness of that brutal reality cutting them. "I'm an optimist, or at least I count myself as one. If she comes home, I'll be overjoyed. I'll never let her go again. I'm– if she does…" They close their eyes hard as they flare silver, letting out a huff of incredulous breath as they fight their imagination beginning to run. Shoulders straightening, Seren goes on, "But I can't let the more likely truth come to wreck me if it proves to be true, you know? I have to– I have to acknowledge both possibilities."

"And it's more likely she's not coming back," Seren points out, eyes opening and lifting to Wright's to wait to be challenged on that.

Wright has the urge to contradict Seren in some constructive way, but the odds were always long, and they all knew that going in. Anything she could say feels too much like separation anxiety Olympics. Elliot's op never had a return trip planned, because in all likelihood he's never coming home. He'll die in the Root while she experiences the excruciating fallout of the collapse of the network from within a half-constructed ark in the Pacific Northwest. She probably won't even be trapped in what appears to be a catatonic state; she isn't Relevant. At least Marthe has something to look forward to there.

"Rue is a career infiltrator," Wright hears herself saying. Her train of thought catches up to her mouth in time to not totally bungle it there. "Having worked with her for years, I'm confident that she can make it through this." Even if ‘this’ is the crushing hand of Mazdak torturers. In her life she's met so few people able to persevere out of spite alone as Rue can.

She reaches her hand part way across the table, though doesn't attempt to take Seren's hand. "I really do believe that. And Rue was always a fatalist, so you might need to pad her odds with the fact that she underestimates herself with astounding regularity."

Everleigh's attention drifts between the two, her eyes focusing on first Seren, then to Wright. There's something unsaid hanging in the air, but if it bothers her it only seems to come across as curiosity. "Entertaining the possibility is alright, but it doesn't mean you have to come to a conclusion," she notes, her eyes resting on Seren. "There's nothing wrong with strengthening yourself in the face of adversity. I'm not going to try and tell you everything is okay, but you are an optimist. You want her to come home, don't let that hope fail."

"Yeah," Seren agrees in the same thin tone as before, but even so, the coloration of Baird's paws darken. "Yeah, I'm…" Their eyes shift toward their familiar, who tilts his head at them. A small smile presses its way out in reply.

Seemingly soothed, they look back with a settling-in of that smile. "Anyway, I'm just glad I'm not entirely alone after learning all that, you know?" They look to Everleigh first and then back to Wright. "No matter the outcome, the present alone is still… a lot."

"Is…" They hesitate before pressing on to wonder, "Is Elliot…? I mean–" The subject clearly feels as though its a touchy one. One they're not fully sure how to phrase. "Have you heard anything about his situation at all, either?"

Wright lowers her gaze and scratches at one eyebrow to hide the way her eyes lose focus for a moment. He’s threading his way through a market in a repurposed oil tanker to meet the sherpa for the next leg of their quest. “Yeah,” she says, tone conveying that she knows, and that it is what it is. There’s a soft chuckle as she looks back up. “He’s doing well, operation ongoing. Resources are limited where he is, but we lived rough together long enough that I know he can make the best of it.”

“He says Hi,” she adds. “If there’s anything you’d like to tell him, I can see to that for you. Communication is easier with his operation.” Which is odd to consider, being simultaneously so close and yet infinitely distant.

“There is something about being with friends that makes even the most difficult of situations tolerable,” Everleigh says, glancing between them. “I’ve started to value that a lot more lately.” She inclines her head in Seren’s direction. “They’ve been pretty good at reminding me to get out and socialize in situations that aren’t work.”

There is the mention of another person, not someone with whom Everleigh had a connection with, so she falls into silence to let the two chatter.

Seren lifts their head in return to Everleigh's acknowledgement, giving a half-smile. "I try," they say. "I need the encouragement as much myself, so…" With a cock of their head, they swivel their eyes back to Baird, seeking his advice on what could be said to Elliot.

What would they want to say to him? Their jaw sets and then relaxes before they take in a breath and note with faux-cheer, "I just…" Baird lets out a keen whine when the cheer dies in Seren's voice. "Hope he's okay, too, you know?" The worry works its way back in. "That he comes back."

Even if that makes and keeps things complicated for them, if Rue returns home after all. They're not the type to hope for something terrible on anyone, no matter the stakes.

"I'm not sure there's anything I could do or offer," they go on to say. "But if there's ever the chance, please don't hesitate to ask. And I guess– tell him the weird dreams stopped for now." They nod to themself, satisfied with that much, then lift their arms when Baird crawls into their lap and sets his head on the tabletop.

Wright smiles as she feels Elliot’s gratitude. “I will. Did he tell you I got roped into one of those dreams too?” she asks with a laugh, setting aside the fact that it was more of a ‘kicking him off the swing so she could use it instead’ affair. “Statuary angel slash haunted victorian child was not amused by my appearance.” Her attention turns to Everleigh, simultaneously feeling apologetic for doing the same to her in regard to this conversation.

“Sorry,” she says, nervously tapping her fingers against the table, “I realize nobody likes it when a stranger starts describing their weird dreams on top of usurping their lunch dates.”

“Oh no, not at all, this is lovely,” Everleigh replies, a soft smile forming. “Seren is a good date to usurp, they deserve to be shared with the world. We can all do with a little more Seren in our lives.”

She leans forward a bit, her smile turning into a bit of a grin. “Besides, shared dreams are always interesting. I have heard some stories that you wouldn’t believe.”

Seren snorts without meaning to when Everleigh innocently insists they deserve to be shared. They avoid looking at either Everleigh nor Wright for a moment, a hand smoothing down Baird's back as they wrestle down utterly irrelevant feelings of not wanting to be shared and not wanting to share. They clear their throat before explaining in a more level, pleasant voice, "Oh, this one's for the ages. And… relevant to an actual active criminal case, as far as any of us can tell. My chalk is that the dreamer is being kept against her will, she's lost either bits of her memory on purpose or in a strained agreement with her captor, and that she's not actually in the country."

Their brow furrows for a moment before they admit, "It's been a bit sad, actually. I don't know why of any of the people in the world, Angel found us and dragged us from our nightmares into hers. She seemed to be trying to do good for us, but…"

Wright doesn't need to stream Elliot's familiarity with body language to read Seren's discomfort. She saw it often enough in Elliot years ago. Years before the rules, before the effort, before the changes. Her sending to Elliot is short, and answered with a soft hum of agreement.

"My theory is that she's the dislocated consciousness of a sleeping dreamwalker that can't return to her body because she's being actively nullified by ne'er-do-wells," Wright says. Not knowing Everleigh's familiarity with classified information, she leaves out the 'which could explain why her copied android self has no memories of being a dreamwalker but not why she was such an asshole' details. "Honestly the weirdest part to me is the obsession with Edna St Vincent Millay, who in all fairness is a historic bisexual badass." What's not to love?

Everleigh can’t help but crack a smile. "Sounds like a wild ride," she comments, a quick look between the two of them. "Perhaps she's a ghost of this historical badass you mentioned? The obsession may be because she's linked to her or perhaps is her. I'm afraid I can't give you a lot of insight without seeing any of what's gone on."

She does pause, flashing an apologetic smile to Seren even if she doesn't voice the apology.

Seren returns the apologetic smile for entirely different reasons. "I feel a lot the same way, but we know she's… recent. I don't know. She was wrapped up in something to do with the … Vanguard." The distaste of that word manifests in a disappointed pull of mouth.

Their eyes lower again, wandering without purpose. "I don't know. At any rate, even talking about all this is just a… distraction." Yet again, another emotion. Baird's colors blend, unnatural green and yellow tye-dying its way across him until it paisleys. Seren puts on another small smile. "How about we order some finger food?"

Wright feels as though she's being watched, not just because she's paranoid, but because her handler has tracked her down at last. The man darkens the front entrance, not moving into the room but giving Wright a shrug in the neighborhood of what the hell, man? "You'll have to enjoy lunch for me," she says with a sigh. "The feds are onto me."

She gives the poor guy (Kenneth? Chauncey? Chauncey.) a one moment finger as she digs out a thin wallet to produce a short stack of business cards. Fanning through them she then picks one that has her cell number written on the back and slides it across the table to Seren. "In case you need to talk to someone with clearance about," she says, gesturing vaguely around the room. "Or whatever else you may want to chat about." Not feeling great about polyamory, what have you.

"The feds need to learn to let up and live a little," Everleigh replies, leaning her head so she can take a gander at the gentleman by the door. "Please join us next time, though, it's been really lovely meeting you, Wright." She wiggles her fingers in some kind of greeting towards the guy in the doorway before she looks back to Wright, and then Seren.

"My clearance is all tied up with my patients, so I suppose I'm not great to talk to in that aspect… but I'd rather have friends than patients when it comes to things being really rough. I'm glad I can be a friend for you, Seren, even if my professional capacity can be useful for things." Her gaze shifts to Wright for a moment. "I'm serious about the joining us, pretty sure we could all use more friends for the rough times."

When the jig is at last up and Wright is at last found, Seren has the grace to look at least a little sheepish about having kidnapped her away from things clearly important. Sobered, their expression is more reserved when Wright is digging through her cards, then turns surprised when it's offered out to them. A faint laugh leaves them as they turn it over, owing to an emotion they can't quite place. "I… appreciate it. We'll have to lunch proper sometime before everything–"

They, too, gesture blithely at everything around them, trying to hold back from wincing as they've nearly said too much. The weight of knowing about the upcoming end of the world was going to prove to be a tough burden to carry after all.

"I'm sure the four of us could find significantly more trouble to get into if we try hard enough," Seren tags on with another earnest if weak smile. "Take care, Wright."

They look back to Everleigh then, not bothering with trying to smile anymore, but a contentedness comes over them nonetheless. There's a soft gladness for having the kinds of friends you can be around without having to put on airs that everything's fine. "They've got all sorts here– you want to grab a menu or just wing it?"

Wright smiles warmly and honestly to both people at the table as she stands. “Thank you both,” she says, depositing her cards in their pocket. “I needed this. Look me up if you’re in K.C., or message me whenever for whatever reason, I’m serious about that. Take care of yourselves.”

The last is delivered over her shoulder as her handler looks increasingly impatient or embarrassed about having been had. As she slips out the door, Elliot realizes what’s seemed weird and says, “You let them touch you.”

“…Huh,” her response.

“Wing it. I could go with some comfort food. Grilled cheese and tomato soup? That sort of thing. Maybe we can talk about something distracting to keep things calm. I mean, I’ve got my own ways to keep things calm, but I’ve always preferred talking,” Everleigh smiles in Seren’s direction as she states the obvious. That might be exactly the point.

"Comfort food… sounds great," Seren admits, folding their arms against the side of the table. "And to be honest, I'd… invite that special way of keeping calm." They even sound relieved that it seems to have been offered, having forgotten in this moment that was even a possibility. "There's only so much I can otherwise be distracted from this news, yeah?"

Baird finally stops watching the door to return a look at Everleigh, letting out a quiet, foxlike chirp in her direction as his form of contribution to the conversation. Seren huffs quietly in amusement.

Everleigh laughs just slightly, offering them a serious look. "I know it's weird, but any time you need some extra calm in your life, I'm pretty flexible with my schedule when it comes to friends. I don't have a lot, so I make time for them. I find that important." She shoots a smile in Baird's direction before she looks back to Seren. "One calming aura, coming up." She leans against the table a bit more, though it doesn't look as if she's doing much of anything.

If Seren didn't know what it was or expect it coming, they might not have even realized it was there other than the light hint of lavender in the air as things begin to calm. "It makes me feel good to be useful. I know that sounds a little strange given my whole job is to be useful to people, but there's something to be said about being able to help people you really want to help."

The imposition of calm reflects in Baird's colouring– mellowing out slowly. It also reflects in unexpected ways on Seren themself. Their eyes water. "No, I– I get it," they promise. Taking in a deep breath, they hold onto the feeling working its way in and embrace it.

They find tears streaking down their cheek before long, a result of the tension of the terrible news easing its way away to simply let them react to it. The feeling is made peace with, and Seren lowers their eyes as they pet down Baird's back once, sniffing. "I know that feeling pretty well. And I definitely know what it's like to feel like you want to be useful in all kinds of ways."

"I really wish I could have done more for Rue, on my end," they say. "Even though I did my best."

Everleigh extends a hand forward, resting it on the table in case they might need an extra bit of comfort. "Your best is all anyone can ask of anyone else. Honestly? You try incredibly hard. Your best is worth a lot, so don't discount yourself. I know it doesn't make you feel less like you wanted to do more for her, but it's a good reminder that you are trying and that you should be happy knowing you did as much as you could."

Seren forces a smile, not having or knowing what else to say on that front except to offer a nod. After a moment, they breathe in deep to clear their nose and straighten their posture. One hand comes up to swipe at the corners of their eye before taking care of the eyeliner-tinged streak going down their face. "Well," they surmise, and then nod over to the bar. "At any rate, let's see if they have your order." Lifting a hand, they wave to the bartender.

"I'll do my best to take things one step at a time with all this, too," they promise, looking back to Everleigh.

Everleigh looks from Seren to the direction of the bartender, then back. “All you can do is take things one step at a time. We’re currently living in this present, right now, and if we think too hard beyond that we lose what we could be doing now.” The smile she offers is warm in their direction.

“Just know you aren’t alone in this. You’ve got friends.”

Seren smiles, but a voice whispers to them in silence: For now.

The thought of the events on the horizon weasel their way into Seren's ability to do just what Everleigh suggested… to live in the here and now.

But at least for now… they whisper back to that anxiety. I do have these friends. And I have something worth protecting, in them.

And with that, Baird's darkening coat grey-washes itself once more.

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