The Promise of Presence


devon2_icon.gif emily_icon.gif

Scene Title The Promise of Presence
Synopsis Emily demands an explanation after Devon's surprise trip to Antarctica.
Date December 24, 2019

Laudani-Epstein Townhome, Sheepshead Bay

For all Emily said to herself she was going to give Devon the cold shoulder for disappearing off the map like he did, she forgets every intent to do just that when she sees him safe and whole standing on her front porch. It's a fucking Christmas miracle and she'll fucking take it.

She leaps from the threshold of the townhome, throwing her arms around his neck and drawing him into as crushing an embrace as she can muster. A small note comes from the back of her throat in lieu of actual speech as she hangs there for a good moment, one hand snarled in his growing mane of hair. Then she untangles herself, drops back down to her toes, and looks up at him with red-rimmed eyes.

… Then she hits him, fist balled as it collides where shoulder and arm meet on his left side.

"You fucking lied to me," comes away from her, trying to sound as angry as she had been in the weeks he'd been absent. It's softened intensely by her relief at seeing him here, the sharp angles in her features already easing.

Accompanied with a soft oof and a chuckle, Devon welcomes the embrace. His arms wrap around Emily tightly. He presses his cheek to the top of her head and holds her close, as though he can permanently imprint the moment on his memory.

Then, with some reluctance, his arms relax so that Emily can stand normally.

The accusation draws more of a wince than the fist striking his shoulder. That still hurts, but the words sting a little more. He’s unaware of having lied at all. “I don't think so?” Dev’s tone reflects his confusion about it. “I told you I'd be back by Christmas. And I texted as often as I could.”

“You said you were going to California,” Emily says, striking like a viper with her words rather than her hands. “Flights to California don’t take more than six hours. The highways are broken and shitty these days, not the skyways.” For all that she’s unhappy about those facts, she doesn’t want to use them as a reason to shove him away, even temporarily. One could argue that’s progress, even if hitting him isn’t.

“So— spill it.” she demands, brows arching.

She takes his hand and pulls him across the threshold so she can close the door and not let any more of the heat out than they already have, or potentially let Kettle outside. It’s too cold for that. Emily turns the deadbolt in silence before letting her gaze flit up to Devon. They could talk by the door or find somewhere to sit, it seems, and she trusts him either way to lead her by the hand through his explanation.

“I said I was going to California.” That much Devon can agree on as he’s pulled along through the doorway and into the house. “Because that’s where I was told we were going.” He meets her look, his own eyebrows raised in question. Whatever it is he’s wondering, he neither voices it nor waits for it to be figured out. With his hand still entwined with Emily’s, he opts for the latter of possibilities and leads the way to the sofa.

“I had no idea we were actually going to Antarctica.”

This is clearly a story you need to be sitting for, and he waits for her to sit before he joins her and continues.

He chews on his lower lip for moment, eyes angled to watch Emily. “They really kept me in the dark about everything until we finally got to Colonbanth. Richard didn’t say two words about where we were headed. Michelle Cranston and… that scientist from SESA, Dana? She was there along with Robyn.” Devon lifts a shoulder slightly, like he’s sure there’s a reason for them but he hasn’t landed on what that reason is yet. “Geneva was taken along too and knew even less than I did.”

Antarctica, he says.

Emily sinks down into the couch, at first speechless. But then he goes on with names she doesn't know as well as names she does. Her hand pulls back only do she can make an emphatic wait gesture as she tries to wrap her mind about all this.

It doesn't take long, but she skips straight to anger. "So it wasn't just you he duped, he fucking dragged—?" She can't even finish the accusation, teeth wanting to grit. Emily has a giant, irrational blind spot of protectiveness when it comes to Geneva being put anywhere near harm's way. Her hands close into fists, eyes shutting as she works on saving that anger for who rightly needs punched about it.

"I assume," she says a little too hotly, despite her attempts to calm, "there was a good reason for dragging you to fucking Antarctica and lying to you about it."

“They were looking for something that was left behind before the war.” What specifically Devon can only speculate. He didn't ask either. “We found someone… a replicator named Tyler Case. There were several of him before, but only two left when we got there.”

There's more, is what his expression implies when he pauses. “Pretty sure Richard told me we were going to Praxia as a ruse, but not for me.” He points to his head, the invisible connection between himself and his twin something to consider.

But that doesn't seem to be quite the whole story either. Just a tangent to give insight to why he'd been told one thing and been taken along to something entirely different.

“So we find the place, and the two Tylers, and they all talk.” Boring stuff, mostly. “I guess Richard and Teo had a love affair at one point though.” Dev grins faintly. Richard is never going to live down that River Styx tryst. “Tyler eventually started going on about this noise and thing we had to see over a ridge, probably a couple miles from the base.”

Something left behind. Before the war. Emily's eyes narrow, not immediately understanding what a dead continent might have to offer. Then she arches an eyebrow. Found someone out there? There's no time to ask, though, because there's that insinuation made to Devon's literal other half.

Her expression falls, shoulders settling. That possibility never would have occurred to her. Devon as a weapon against himself.

Her look flattens further at the mention of the River Styx reference. She fails to see the relevance. "Okay, so in the middle of nowhere Antarctica there was this thing you had to go see…" Emily leads him, hoping to keep him on track.

Devon nods as he's nudged along to continue the story. There's no relevance, but the reference to River Styx is likely to come up again in the future. “Yeah, so Tyler said this weird thing happened. Told us about a noise, thunder, then led us on this mini-expedition.”

He leans forward, hands clasping in front of his face while his elbows brace on his knees. Whatever he'd seen, it's still unbelievable. He should've taken pictures. There's no way he could possibly describe it.

The lapse in explanation lingers. Dev lowers his head slightly, presses his knuckles against his lips.

“I don't even know what to call it.” His words are murmured against his fingers. Eventually he angles a look to Emily. “It's… like… I can imagine what Pangaea must’ve looked like. Just… green and warm, plants I've never seen before.”

She thinks Devon must still be off-track. Was this a subplot on Styx now? It's so sudden, the transition. But she blinks, sees him genuinely struggling with it…

genuinely using green and warm as descriptors of a site on Antarctica.

Emily blinks, shoulders settling as she looks at him. "Jesus Christ," she murmurs to fill the silence while she processes. Thinking Devon might be spinning a tall tale to make up for ghosting her isn't a thought she has in that moment. Because… Antarctica, after all.

"What else did you see?" she finds herself asking. "Were there people? Who did that?" Because it must have been a who. Now Emily's mind is racing, because this sounds like something that should be making international news by now.

Maybe the same way arrival of refugees from another reality should have.

As he shakes his head slowly, Devon’s gaze remains far off. Like he's recalling what he'd seen, trying to dredge up every fine detail and transport himself back to that place. “Just us,” he answers quietly, “just our team and one of the Tylers.”

For a moment longer, he sits silently with his thoughts. He hasn't forgotten where he is, but the impossibility of the discovery is something he's still trying to compartmentalize. Like Pangaea, with all the plants and flowering things, trees and life he'd never seen before.

“All of it just… hidden. Cloaked by harsh winds and blowing snow that… just stops when you enter.”

The words are spoken almost absent sounding. If he hadn't seen it, he wouldn't believe it himself. Devon turns his head, cheek resting against his knuckles, and looks up at Emily. He couldn't blame her if she called him a liar, although he's hopeful her questions imply some belief in the tale.

“Dev,” Emily sounds out slowly, watching him go through his thoughts while she similarly sits with hers. Her thoughts rush while his deepen, her arms coming to a fold to keep her from otherwise fidgeting. “That… I don’t know what to say.”

Her eyes flit back and forth before finally settling back on him, expression tightening. “What happened after you found it?” she asks carefully.

A small breath escapes, relief loosens a knot of worry from his shoulders. Devon's eyes drop to some point on the floor, his head still propped against his hands. “We left.” There wasn't much else to do, really. “We packed up some junk from the lab the Tyler's were living in, and came home.”

His brow creases slightly, and he angles another look to Emily. “I'm fairly sure this isn't supposed to be public knowledge.” That clearly hasn't stopped him from talking to her about it, though, and brings the unspoken request that she refrains from sharing it, too. “None of us knows what it means. I'm sure the scientists have ideas but… I don't know.”

Emily frowns. Her expression is inscrutable, save for that she finds something concerning in the topic overall. "Someone made an eden at the very edge of the world. Some powerful Expressive, surely." She lets out some of the breath that holds her stiffly up, shoulders sloping. "To be honest, if SESA knows, I'm worried what they'd do with the information. I mean, they covered up like dozens of people crossing the borders of reality, and if they're trying to cover this up, too…"

Just what else was there? And was SESA trying to preserve the image of a normal-as-possible world, or was there something else to all of this?

She looks off as her thoughts take her away, still lost on the path they send her down. It takes her a moment to come back, gaze tracking through the space until she looks at Devon again. "You know," she ventures with a tinge of irony. "What a fucking set of circumstance where I'm happier you ended up in Antarctica rather than California. I spent all that time worried that you were going west… and you ended up going about as far away from there as possible." Emily allows herself a faint chuckle. "And you came home safe. No near-death experiences required for that either."

She pauses a beat, stopping herself from asking Right? Maybe she didn't want to know if there had been any.

“I mean, Robyn was there.” Which says something about Devon's trust in her without opening any cans of worms. There's some history behind it, but he skirts the topic for another time. No sense dredging into topics of SESA and ancient conspiracies, especially since there's so much mystery shrouded by the face of the one government agency that's for the evolved.

It takes him a second to catch up to the unspoken question. He sits up, flexes his arms and fingers, takes one of her hands to press it against his forehead.

Safe and healthy.

“Except for being cold. And the couple of fueling stops in territories that aren't exactly friendly toward expressives.” Dev grins slightly, a vague uncertainty about the expression. “It was actually boring otherwise. Not that boring is bad or whatever. I should've quadrupled the number of songs on my iPod.”

There’s tension that comes from Emily in the form of stillness when Devon reaches for her hand. It feels like he’s on the verge of telling her maybe there was something, but that she needed to be calm about it. It takes a moment for it to be breathed away after he reassures her. She hears how close it was to not being okay, sees it in his expression, gaze flitting away and then back as she controls away the urge to frown.

Instead, she eases her expression into a smile. “Yeah, I was going to block you if you sent me the lyrics to On The Road Again one more fucking time,” she teases him.

A grin spreads in response to the feigned threat. Devon shakes his head and sighs like he's realized Emily will never understand. “Oh, Emily.” He fakes a long suffering expression, ruined only by his amusement. “I guess not all of us can appreciate Willie Nelson. Good thing your questionable taste in music isn't why I love you.”

In reply to that, Emily's brow ticks upward. "Oh?" she poses airily, daringly. A self-deprecating comment wants to follow and it almost does, but reforms itself into an exhale that becomes a sigh.

The jibes are forgotten like they hadn't happened— along with the intrigues before it— due to the relief that takes hold as she accepts that he's really here, really safe. It's visible as it sinks in, her form abruptly curling in to his as she leans her forehead against his. Her hand curls around Devon's shoulder. "Same goes to you, bud." The tease lacks any bite at all. Emily closes her eyes and shakes her head as she fails to find any other words. Her feet slide off the ground, bridging over his thighs as she lays against him.

"As far as Christmas presents go," she supposes in a soft aside. "This is passable."

“Good thing I already got your real gift then.” That's the closest to teasing that Devon manages as he drapes an arm around Emily's shoulders. He sinks backward, finally, a slow sigh escaping as he relaxes into the sofa. “But you can't have it until tomorrow for it.” He smiles faintly, his other arm wrapped around her middle.

He lifts his head slightly after a moment, presses a kiss to Emily's forehead. “I missed you,” he points out quietly, indulging in the moment. Dev hugs her tightly, as if to never let go again. Being home safe, Emily safe and well, that's all he could want for.

A purring mrow interrupts Emily's reply— but moreso the lanky kitten that goes bounding with it. Kettle leaps up in what little space there is in her lap as she's curled where she is, with Devon hugging her how he is, then he proceeds to weasel his way up to bound over their shoulders to find a perch on the back of the couch. Excuse you, you're in his spot.

"Always gotta be the center of attention, don't you," Emily remarks at him with a narrowing of her eyes. Intentional or not, he narrows his golden ones at her in return, tail mooning around his paws and body. "Scamp." she teases the cat.

Looking back to Devon, she smiles at him, fond but small. "So are you, for that matter. You didn't even tell me you were getting anything." And given how long he's been gone, there's been thought put into it.

Kettle is given a look of fond annoyance. Really? I was here first. For all that he's not a fan of dogs, cats are apparently acceptable in Devon’s book. He briefly drops a hand so he can scritch the kitten’s shoulders.

His feigned irritation at the cat turns casual innocence when Emily calls him on his secret. “I was going to surprise you with it,” he explains. No big deal. “Just something I found over in Red Hook. Made me think of you when I saw it.” No big deal. He smiles, raises a shoulder in a shrug.

Emily turns her head to the side like it will better help her to divine just what it is she has to look forward to, but she resigns herself to the simple fact she's only got a day to wait before the answer makes itself apparent. "Moment of truth, I guess," she quips. "Get to see what reminds you of me."

She turns toward Kettle as he arches his back in reply to Devon's scritches. He stretches and ambles along the back of the couch, leaning against his hand and nuzzling his face against Emily's cheek. She chuckles softly. "But to be honest…" she voices more softly. "I think the better gift will be when the seventh comes and goes and you're still here."

Her eyes half-lid, still turned toward the cat. She lifts her hand to let Kettle butt up against her knuckles.

Fingers trail down the kitten’s back then curl loosely around his tail. Dev grins at the quip, lays his head back against the couch. “That’s it,” he admits, as if that’s the whole point of even bringing up the gift and the reason for it in the first place. He watches Kettle for a moment, then lets his eyes drift to Emily.

His expression sobers, worry putting a small crease between his brows. It’s been almost a year since Sunstone. “I’m not going anywhere,” he says aloud, as much for his benefit as for hers.

There isn’t a mission on the books, those contracts have been fulfilled and he personally has no plans to be anywhere but home.

Dev watches Emily for a moment longer, studying her face, the way her hair falls just so, the curve of her eyes and nose. His arms tighten around her, scritching for Kettle ending to do so. “This isn’t going to be like last year,” he murmurs, a firm and earnest promise.

It's clear in an instant Emily trusts that very little. People make promises, and then the universe conspires to see them broken. That's just the way things work; accepting anything at face value and not being prepared for the worst could lead only to worse heartbreak when things do go wrong. Her expression grows guarded, and the small smile she manages is barely convincing.

"It better not be," she murmurs in reply, cautious and tepid. The deepset fear lurking in her keeps her from being more earnest.

But she smiles a touch wider. "It won't." Emily says, and this time she sounds convincing. "Hopefully it'll be better."

And that's all you can do sometimes— just hope for the best. Whether it be about the state the world is heading in, or the path a loved one walks down.

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