So Much Better Than Twelve Dogs


emily5_icon.gif finch_icon.gif

Scene Title So Much Better Than Twelve Dogs
Synopsis It's a day so nice, it's almost like a dream.
Date September 25, 2020


Emily Epstein is laughing brightly in the last of the summer warmth, sitting beside Finch with a frozen yogurt cupped between both hands while they sit in the grass in the last warmth of summer. Some leaves have begun to yellow on the trees, but otherwise, it's hard to tell it should be fall already.

Is fall? Was fall.

Whenever it is, the weather is lovely and Emily's mood is as bright as the sunshine, in a rare way that Finch sees only on glimmers of occasions.

"I'm so glad we got to do this, El," she says with genuine warmth, spoon digging in the paper bowl of her melting frozen treat. "I can't begin to tell you how great this is."

"Right?!" Comes her friend's voice brightly from off to the side, where Finch sits with her legs folded underneath her, a big smile on her face, and both her hands around a big paper bowl as full as it could possibly be of brightly coloured scoops of ice cream - red, purple, orange, blue - all topped with perfectly swirled whipped cream and too-bright rainbow sprinkles.

Which is kind of weird because they're both sitting at the edge of what looks like a small village of humble, blocky cottages. They dot the green and brown landscape behind them in a large circle around a large, dark wooden church sticking up in the middle like a beacon.

But even though it might seem hard to find a place around here from which the church can't be seen, that's not where Finch is looking. She scoops up a spoonful of the mess and shoves it into her mouth while staring ahead at the blue, blue sky ahead and the slowly rusting forest, which is wild and thick and healthy in the way that nature reclaims things on its own. It's almost tall enough to completely obscure the massive, concrete wall that stretches out beyond it, continuing on either side in a way neither she nor Emily can spot the end of.

"I was really worried, but!" She bounces restlessly where she sits, jamming her spoon back into her ice cream. "Gosh, you're here, and we've got ice cream, and I'm still kinda worried, but also oh my gosh Em Em Em. Oh my gosh. This is so much better than twelve dogs. And seeing twelve dogs in one day is pretty good."

Emily chuckles fondly at Finch's enthusiasm, taking another bite of vanilla swirl, brownie, and strawberry chunks and sauce. "Wow," she says around the bite. "I didn't realize I ranked so highly, El. Thanks."

She's wearing the thin yellow scarf she'd once been gifted to hide over the scar on the side of her neck; in a white shirt with set of streamering lines of gradient pink and blue music notes to pair with her jeans and a pair of red converse. No green, not anywhere. Not a chance. It's carefully that she avoids dropping chocolate or strawberry onto the white of her shirt.

"So, what do you want to get up to?" Emily asks after she swallows her bite. She sets aside the ice cream entirely. "We can do anything you want."

"I'm still kinda, like…" Confused, Finch's awkward facescrunch suggests as she fidgets with her ice cream. But! All of a sudden the ice cream just blinks out of existence entirely right as she she bolts upright with newfound energy - the treat forgotten, scrambling to her feet. "I'll show you home!" She decides cheerfully, offering a hand out to Emily so enthusiastically it knocks one of her overalls' straps off of her shoulder.

"You've never been here!" Her voice near cracks with excitement. "Oh my gosh you've never been there, no one's been here, you'll be the first!"

The hand offered out glows, ever so slightly, before the rest of Finch follows suit. Like an old lightbulb heating up now that she's found a positive thing to focus on.

So it's forgotten, so it shall be. Ice cream takes a back seat to this adventure.

And Finch is just so excited about it.

Emily as always looks a little overwhelmed by the sheer glow that Finch puts off, but it's only a little reluctantly that she takes hold of the other girl's hand, feeling the warmth her soul puts off in that grasp. Her own hand, for a moment, is rough yet soft— like moss over ridged bark—

But then it's just a hand again, squeezing fondly.

"I'm here!" Emily echoes back with a chuckle. Then, with a note of surprise, her thoughts come aloud of their own accord as she looks at their surroundings a bit more closely. "No one's ever been here?"

Oh. They're—

"Home!" Finch provides, waving an arm out behind her at the home behind them, and the others beyond that, and the looming dark figure of the bell-tower topped church beyond that. Though, truth be told, the buildings are all a little fuzzy. Like someone's turned the focus down on all but their immediate surroundings.

But it's nice and bright out, the sun still warming skin, the breeze still blowing the occasional leaf out from the blur into clarity before it goes tumbling back out of sight.

"We're in Mrs. Mabel's backyard right now," Finch explains as she starts moving with Emily's hand still in hers, her grip loose as she leads the way over a barely visible path in wilder grass than the kind they were sitting on. She wanders into the shade the small home provides and back out the other side before long, her sights set on the dirt road ahead, which is wide enough for vehicles but lacking telltale tire tracks. "She's away during the day! I think she, mmh, in summer and fall, she's out in the orchard, I think! She makes the best apple sauce."

Everyone else might be out too, it seems like. The town is as quiet as the sun is bright, and as unbothered as Finch is by it all.

Man, even in dreams this place put off a certain vibe.

Don't, Emily thinks to herself, tell her it looks like that creepy village from the start of Resident Evil 4. … God, she could go for some video games.

"She nice when she's around?" Emily wonders aloud, head turning this way in that to take in the sights, even through the blur that occurs just outside of sight. Finch knows where they're going, and that's the most important part. With a sudden rush of a skip-step forward, she catches back up, creating slack between their joined arms. Turning to Finch, she asks with a small tug of a knowing smile, "Or does she just have a great yard to hang out and be alone in?"

"I used to spend a lot of time by myself when I was growing up," she goes on to explain, reducing any potential thought of judgment for hiding away. "I went to public school for a while, but kids were assholes. I had to use crutches to get around. It took a long time for me not to want to be alone whenever there were other people around."

Suddenly self-conscious, Emily realizes she's overspoken. The slightest bit of color filters into her cheeks. "Sorry— this isn't about me."

Finch's answer is delayed, but there is a sort of comfort in the way she huffs a breath out past her smile - comfort, maybe, in the knowledge that Emily might understand a thing or two about the subject of alone versus loneliness.

As they step out onto the dirt road properly, a worn and chalky white picket fence materialises behind them, Finch lingering to swing its newly appeared gate closed without even thinking about it.

"It is now!" She decides of the topic, looking at Emily again with the best encouraging smile before she starts walking again. "Mrs. Mabel's nice, but she's just— Mrs. Mabel. Did you get—"

Finch swallows the rest of her sentence down, considering her words as the village slowly seems to come into focus around them. Complete with the semblance of a man who stands at the base of the church, his features and clothing indistinct, before he turns and walks in movements that seem to echo themselves toward the tall entrance of the building.

"What happened?" Finch says, instead, guiding them further along the circular path.

Get…? Emily supposes this is a side-effect of the dream. It moves at the pace of Finch's mind and memory, and Finch knows how that sentence should have ended. It leaves the thin blonde wondering if she was supposed to have gotten over it or simply gotten them back for being mean to her, or…

Well, if it's important, she supposes they'll circle back. It's more important to keep them flowing— to have the dream carry on as long as possible.

The question of what happened is vague, but yet enough to go off of. "I was diagnosed with MS when I was very young. I grew up differently than most kids. I would tire easily, I'd have issues getting around. Headaches, tremors…" Emily gives a small smile, not entirely sure of it's source. It's not sad. It's just who she was. Or maybe, she's smiling at the ironic, cruel universe.

"Then before I turned ten, they found out I had leukemia. As if it wasn't already fucking hard enough, right? It… it was a struggle for a while. And then right after I'd gone into remission, it was 2011, and the war started." She lets out a slow breath. "We had to move from New York. We went to my grandfather's home in Rhode Island, in Providence. It was so boring most of the time— I didn't really appreciate at the time how lucky I was."

"People were fighting and dying, and I was complaining that I didn't have enough to do hidden away in the house like I was. My grandfather had a car he'd been working on before he passed away, and I tinkered with that, until there was no more I knew how to do."

Blinking back to the moment, Emily refocuses her gaze on the figure that's appeared near the church. Her path does not deviate from Finch's. "Anyway, after the war ended, I got into an argument with my mom and I moved back to New York, and I was lucky enough to meet a healer. She— she was powerful. And kind. And…" So much more than just a healer.

"I miss her, Finch."

Finch listens, and as she does, the world ripples more and more into view. They pass the sides of several small homes and yards while Emily talks, the latter piled with firewood and trellises still bearing late summer vegetables and fruit. A somewhat more robust, grey home follows after that, stretching much further along the path than its siblings prior.

"But do you know how good that is?" Finch asks, after a brief glance to the wall beside them when they don't pass the building as quickly as she anticipates. When she looks back at Emily again, it's with excitement illuminating her again. "To get to know people that are worth missing? That mean so much? You're one of those to— ah!"

The toe of her shoe bumps against something solid instead of lifting for another step and she comes to a clumsy and abrupt halt, her dark eyebrows lifting when she turns her attention downwards at the sight of the solid tiles that start making up the path ahead. "Careful, don't trip." Her hand slips from Emily's until she can tug gently at her friend's arm instead, stepping up and over a ridge with a laugh, smile at half force by the end of it.

As soon as Finch stumbles, Emily reaches out to steady her in case she does more than just trip. Her blue eyes are sharp and wide, full of a protective energy. For just a moment, a sheathed rapier hovers by her side, a manifestation of that intent. But then in a blink it's just as soon gone, and everything is normal again.

As normal as Emily being in her hometown is, anyway. Which is perfectly so.

"It's good to have people worth knowing. Worth missing." The agreement comes from her quietly, and she links her arm around Finch's at the elbow, reaching across her torso to rub at her friend's bicep affectionately. "Even if… sometimes it means their sadness becomes your sadness, too. Even if sometimes… you miss them a lot."

Her grip around Finch's arm tightens in a firm squeeze before resuming something more comfortable, Emily's eyes on the ground. "They say shared sadness makes it diminished, though. And shared happiness makes it… bigger."

Pulling back from the thoughtful reverie, she nudges Finch's side with a small tug of a smile. "Especially when there's people who just glow involved."

Finch laughs again - an unburdened tumble of a laugh in spite of the subject, throwing her free arm wide. "Well, yeah! I…"

She stops and looks around herself, realising the road behind them has turned to pavement. The church still stands, but though the faded greenery - both carefully tended and not - still lines the vaguery of buildings around them, something is different about them.

They're taller now. Less wood, more stone and brick, some of them in out-of-focus disrepair, standing close enough together to where alleyways have formed where there weren't ones before. The humongous walls remain beyond it all, but so too does the comfort of the sun and the breeze, even if the latter no longer carries leaves past where they stand.

It makes it less home, and it causes a moment of trepidation in Finch when she continues walking with Emily's arm hooked into her own. But only for a step or two, until she continues to say, "I might not be slice," the awkward and self-conscious way in which that last word leaves her has her smile widen again, a smidge bashful, "but I can still do my best to do that! At least here. And also with words out in the… you know, out there. Or… here?"

She swallows, her glance at Emily glad and a little apologetic both at once. "Missing is complicated."

The closing in of the buildings feel more like New York, Emily can't help but notice, all the blur and vagueness of the constructions aside. The details that start to take shape are noticed, where they make themselves available.

She keeps her calm when Finch comes dangerously close to realizing they're in a dream, in making things potentially unstable here with that realization. Instead, she only scoffs and looks to her very seriously despite the ghost of a smile that plays out at the corner of her mouth. "You're amazing as you are," Emily reassures her, unaware how her own voice is changing, layering with her own gift. "There are plenty of slice people in the world who are terrible people, and you put them all to shame. You don't need a superpower to be a great person, Finch. And you definitely don't need one to be a good friend."

She finally looks away, self-conscious and her cheeks coloring.

"Missing people is complicated," she agrees distractedly, but honestly. "It's hard sometimes to not just… want to shut everyone out. You can't get hurt if you don't give yourself the chance, right?" Emily kicks at a rock on the pavement. "People won't let you down, or leave you. But it also means they won't be there for you, sometimes when you least expect it."

The rock skips, rattles back to the ground, and she kicks it a few more paces forward.

"We should play some more video games sometime," Emily decides abruptly.

Where there were hints of doubt before, Finch now shows none. She leaves them behind as if she simply decides to move forward without them, Emily's words adding an extra bounce to her quickening steps.

"Yeah," she agrees, then adds much more enthusiastically, "Yeah! Y'know what, a lotta things are complicated. Missing and being afraid to stick around for the bad and the good and, like, home too, right?" As evidenced by the fact that home has turned to what looks like an amalgamation of several different neighbourhoods around the New York Safe Zone, give or take some potholes in the asphalt that's sprouted up in the space between them and the still persisting church.

"But," Finch continues undeterred - or oblivious - or both - anticipatory excitement lifting her voice. "But we're gonna play videogames. And I'm gonna figure out what the buttons on the back of the controller do this time or— or so help me!"

The laugh that comes from Emily is unbidden, filled with surprise as much as amusement. Her hand parts from Finch's only so she can cup both hands around her face to try and stifle her reaction, tears forming at the corner of her eyes from her endearment. She finally pronounces between her palms, "We gotta get you a fighting game you can try, I swear. Like— Smash Brothers, not Mortal Kombat."

Her hands fall, bypassing an explanation of why she feels the gory option is best passed on and instead stressing, "I think you'd kick my ass at those out of sheer enthusiasm."

Emily was more an RPG fan herself, but there was nothing wrong with exceptions for the sake of friends.

Around her, the impossibly clear-skies version of the Safe Zone filters further into clarity, parked vehicles and defunct traffic lights and all. More and more, the environment warps into a street Emily has walked many times before, between a bus stop and - closer still - The Lanthorn.

Finch turns to walk backwards when she ends up walking a little faster than her friend, the colours of her clothing and purple hair pulsing into a more vibrant shade as she catches sight of what she's wrought.

"Ah! Finally, a chance to kick yourrrah—!" She catches herself in the middle of two words, and now it's her turn to gasp and to smack her hands over her mouth. "I didn't say it!" She argues hastily from between her fingers, playing up feigned indignation with her shoulders jutting up and hands balled into fists. "Butt! I was gonna say butt! I'm gonna kick your butt!"

In a way, Emily wishes that the scenery had remained abstract. That they wouldn't wind up somewhere more familiar. It's hard to be so near and yet so far from home and still keep a brave face. She wants so badly to believe that if they make it all the way to the Lanthorn, everything will be real. Doodle will come to the door and nose her hand, sniffing all the other places she's been, scenting Kettle. Joe will be there with his goddamned peanut butter. Geneva with Idiot glued to her warmth. Lance coming in late with his crooked tie, somehow late even though they both came from the same job…

She forces a small smile, even as she can't entirely hide the sadness in her eyes as she has to remind herself that's not her reality anymore.

A faint laugh comes from Emily as Finch barely catches herself. "Oh no," she laments in an overwrought melodrama. "Whatever would you have done if you'd used foul language to tell me how soundly you're gonna beat me at video games?" Her smile comes a little more easily after the teasing, her eyes on Finch rather than the looming scenery.

Finch huffs as she comes to a stop, puffing out her chest in a showy demonstration of exactly how insulted she is. Not that she can keep her own smile off her face, even in the face of that slowly emerging heartache.

She inhales deeply, but before she can get any words out, some of her glow recedes - it flickers until it clings tighter to her body than before, like a candle reaching the end of its wick.

"You were one of the first people to help me, after I arrived," she eventually says, as if it leaves her without thinking, her eyes still bright with warmth. Though she may not know exactly why, the mere sight of Emily conjures a smile so fervent she has to pause before she can continue to add, "People don't always take me seriously, like - a lot, actually. But you did."

A quick glance sideways betrays some uncertainty, a mostly rejected suspicion. Enough of it lingers to be noticeable when she meets Emily's gaze again. "I think I have to go, but… I wanted to say thank you."

Emily nods, solemnly, from where she is. From where she remains. If this is where they had to part ways, she'd do her best to make her peace with that. She seems lost for words, at first, but then she straightens her posture. "You brought me back from the brink when I was ready to give up on humanity entirely. I'm not sure I've ever said thank you for that— or that you know that's what you did. So…"

Thanks goes unspoken even now, and the last of Emily's smiles have gone. She doesn't, though, look as miserable as one might expect for the parting.

She's decided to hold onto hope it won't be their last.

"One last hug before you do?" she asks, her voice lifting.

She doesn't really have to ask, of course, and Finch's arms are wrapped around Emily before she realistically should have been able to close the distance. Her hug is tight, and she almost manages not to sniffle before saying, "We'll see each other again soon!"

Logic doesn't drive her words so much as her heart does.

For a second it looks like that alone might be returning Finch to her former shining glory, until — the whole world goes bright, as if the sun's light joins them in their embrace.

And then


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