The Wizard King


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Also Featuring:

ames_icon.gif marthe_icon.gif

Scene Title The Wizard King
Synopsis Merlyn seeks out Wright for a gauge of Elliot's sincerity.
Date April 24, 2021

Cooking was never a skill that Barbara Tracy ever put much time into, and as such Wright never learned either. If she had to guess, the only food- and drink-based skill she ever truly inherited from her mother was alcoholism. As such, now two years sober, Wright experiences an immense pulse of satisfaction when she successfully flips a comically large pancake over the stove. Learned from streaming Elliot, but the practice and muscle memory are all hers.

"Aww, man," Ames says from her seat atop the folding step stool. "I like it when they splatter everywhere."

"Do you like it enough to clean it off of the stove and floor?" her mother asks. "Because I can just pour some pancake batter everywhere."


"Absolutely not," her other mother says.

Wright shrugs, to Ames. Tiny Mom's call, too bad. "How about instead you have to eat this entire pancake yourself in one sitting?"


"Also no."


Wright shrugs again. "I would not actually let you have this whole pancake," she says regretfully. "Maybe one day, when you are as tall as me and work out all the time, you'll be able to eat a pancake this big. But this one's mine."

"I'm gonna be even taller."

"Oh Christ no," Marthe says. "That much mass with your coordination? Come sit at the table."

Wright considers transferring the pancake to the stack on the plate beside the stove, but the structural stability would be worrisome at best. She upturns the pan over an empty plate, depositing the perfectly golden-brown monstrosity to her own plate.

"Can I carry the plate of pancakes to the table?"

"No," her mothers say.

Wright's phone chimes as she sets down the plates, though she doesn't check it immediately. The rest of the pancake fixings follow, maple syrup (real, locally made), fruit (real, from the greenhouse), and semi-sweet chocolate chips (Hershey's). Marthe has already seen to serving their daughter by the time she returns, and together they argue about the best ratios of cake to toppings.

Wright taps her phone only after they've all eaten more pancakes than they probably ought to have. The name on the notification is not one she expected, or even one that she remembers entering into her contacts as it is displayed, but she knows who it is immediately. "Well, well, well," she mutters.

Jilted Wizard King
Saturday, April 24 ᛫ 09:32
Is this still your number? It's Merlyn.

“Who is it?” Ames scream-whispers.

“It is a wizard,” Wright replies, swiping at her screen without looking at the keyboard.

Ames, incredulous: “Like a magician?”

“No,” Wright says. “Like a wizard.”

“Wait,” Marthe interjects, “Like, a wizard wizard?”

“The wizardest wizard,” Wright confirms, sending.


Please tell me you don’t already need me to kick the shit out of him for you.
Oh no, we're good. I just wanted to meet up and talk before Elliot does the whole extended-contract-thing.
Especially because he's relaying stuff through you and I figured it'd be way less awkward to talk a bit. Sorry if it sounds awkward anyway.
Not awkward at all.
When were you hoping to meet up? (Elliot and I have the same schedule (which he’s probably already explained to you))
Anytime you're free. My schedule is incredibly flexible.
Probably sooner rather than later, I really have no idea how much time's left before he's off doing things.
OK. I need to wash some dishes and duct-tape the baby to a wall and I think my day is fairly open after that. Where would you like to meet? I have a car if this helps.
Why do I have a feeling the duct-tape to the wall thing would be fun for her?
Anyway, a car is great, I can give you an address of where to pick me up, we could have coffee or other beverages of your choice?
Yeah, I can’t actually do that because she’d enjoy it too much and demand it regularly and it would fuck up the sheetrock. I can work with the winging it thing. I’ll let you know when I’m done and have an idea of when I can leave the house.
Gotcha. I'll send the address and see you later today.

Beans ‘N’ Bagels
Sheepshead Bay

1:15 PM

“Tall, hot, touch of honey,” Wright says, setting her drink down on the table farthest from the counter. “Do you think there’s a clever joke about me in this order? I’ve been trying to think of one to use in moments like this, but the punchline is eluding me.” There’s a steady stream of customers, though none she can’t discourage from standing too close with a glare.

“Mm, the low hanging fruit is a joke about who you’re attracted to, but that one’s so overdone, I feel,” Merlyn replies, settling into a seat. Her own drink was something mocha with all kinds of things added in—a sweet tooth above all else. “Honestly, I think it just reads as you like a little less bite but not too sweet and lots of caffeine doesn’t make you jittery. It’s a good combo.” She tests the temperature of her mocha by taking a small sip, then decides it’s a bit too hot and lets it rest on the table in front of her.

“So it’s not too weird of me wanting to meet up, is it? I know you’ll be the line of contact to reach him for obvious reasons, but it just seems kinda rude of me to not to at least have a chat in person. Also I want to thank you in advance, mostly because it means a lot knowing he’s okay. Beyond that, being able to communicate at least a little bit is also a big deal for me.”

"Not weird at all," Wright says, tamping down her impulse to add 'I recently met *Rue* for coffee when she started dating Elliot' because it seems fairly unhelpful here. "Wanting to meet to talk about it, that is. I understand that the method of communication is actually kind of weird, and I will be happy to address any concerns you have about it."

She takes a sip of her coffee despite the heat, which she regrets. "Also, do you want to get something to eat? Or a snack? I kinda just blew through the line because I ate a late breakfast, but if you want anything it's my treat." She isn't in a rush, and pulls a menu from a wire rack on the table just in case something looks too good to pass up.

“I don’t really have concerns,” Merlyn adds, glancing at the menu briefly before looking back over. “I usually wouldn't pass up an offer for free food, but I’m actually alright at the moment. That’s an incredibly rare opportunity, it probably won’t ever happen in modern history.” She glances at her mocha but doesn’t make the mistake of sipping from it. She’s learned that letting it sit for a moment or two would be wiser. “But, like I said, it’s not really concerns.”

“I just wanted things to be comfortable,” Merlyn continues, “Plus you’ve got insight into things better than anyone else in the entire world. Probably the universe, but I can’t say as I haven’t met denizens of another planet. Yet.” She briefly glances at her mocha and then back up. “I don’t mind the translation service. I don’t think I’d have any sort of message for him at any point in time that would be weird to go through you. You’d have to deal with both of us being awkward people, but you’re used to Elliot so I doubt that’s a big change.”

"I am unnaturally insightful," Wright agrees cheekily before continuing in a more serious tone. "And Elliot is awkward as fuck sometimes, your not wrong. But I assure you that I am totally comfortable being your switchboard. That's not going to be a problem for me. You'll have my full discretion for anything you want to communicate. Are you sure you're comfortable with that?"

“You’ve had Elliot’s back for forever, there’s no one I’d actually trust more playing switchboard. Even if it’s not a problem, this is me thanking you. Being able to check in on him at all is a relief and I know it’s not a problem for you, but you’re still doing me a big favor,” Merlyn says, venturing to take a sip of the mocha. This time she doesn’t nearly burn her lip, so she decides it’s finally cool enough. “Aside from that, you do have insight into Elliot’s behavior and past that no one else does. You also have enough of a front row seat to what happened between him and I in the past.”

She taps one finger on the side of her cup, perhaps a nervous gesture. Most likely, because she genuinely is a bit nervous. “In your opinion, do you think he’s sincere?” She pauses only for a second as she feels the need to elaborate. “I’m not saying I don’t trust him or think he’s lying to me, not in the slightest. But if anyone’s seen him change, it’s you. The two of you have been through a lot. So mostly I’m just asking you how much you think he’s changed.”

She clears her throat slightly. “Timing is really weird right now because of the whole assignment thing and I don’t know when he’s going to leave and how much time we have. I’d do the whole ‘protect my heart and see how things develop over time’ quite a bit more given what happened, but there’s a limited time frame. I think it’s too important to me to not jump in and take a chance, but I’d really like to know from someone who’s watched him how you think he’s changed.”

Merlyn does seem a little awkward asking, but the sincerity in both her tone and her eyes as she looks over across the table is impossible to mistake. She glances away briefly to take a sip and make herself more comfortable in her chair while waiting for the response.

Wright smiles warmly at the thought of Merlyn taking a leap of faith. She doesn't lose the smile, but looks away as she gives the other woman's question serious consideration. She finds the balance between what Merlyn needs to hear and the fact that Elliot doesn't like to draw attention to how much he's changed.

"All we ever do is change," she says, tone suggesting she's repeating something she's heard elsewhere. Hey eyes return to the table to pick up her drink, then to Merlyn to continue. "Elliot— we both put a lot of work into changing. I definitely wouldn't have become sober without him agreeing to as well. And we both have a lot to make up for, still."

She reflects further, testing and then drinking her coffee to give her a moment. "I can tell you with certainty that he's not the man he used to be. And that he never really forgave himself for how he treated you. But he's not making the same mistakes anymore. Not to say he doesn't make any, but he is a lot better at considering the moral implications of his actions. Maintaining the agency of others is immensely important to him. He was pretty manipulative back then."

The coffee is returned to the table so she can touch her chest above her heart. "But in here? I can feel everything he's felt since he ran into you, and it has been distracting, but in a good way. Powerful. Because he was ashamed and terrified, then surprised and excited but still so afraid."

"But now?" Wright closes her eyes, actually playing attention to the emotions that aren't hers. "He's nervous, but he's also so determined, and hopeful. And you gave him that hope. It isn't something he normally feels; he has a lot of trauma from before the war that's hard to reconcile with hope. I honestly believe he'll do everything he can to hold onto that hope. Onto you." It's hard to hide, or even quantify, her own excitement at this development. It's been years since she crafted her first Lock, but hope is powerfully Relevant.

Merlyn finds that she can’t quite look away as Wright answers her question in detail. While she’s normally got a mask to protect herself from showing emotional vulnerability, with Elliot she didn’t have to hide. In a way, for her, some of that vulnerability remains open. It’s very clear as she listens that Wright hit the nail on the head. She looks excited, relieved, happy. The hope is there for her too, her expression unable to quite hide it even if she wanted to.

“Talking to you is exactly what I needed,” Merlyn replies, only looking away briefly to make sure she doesn’t actually spill the mocha she’s drinking as she takes a sip. “I didn’t really think about the fact that you’d feel what it feels like for him. Mostly I was counting on hearing what you had seen from him.” She flashes a warm smile before continuing.

“I love that you can feel it, really see and understand how he feels. I love that you have that perspective.” Just as with her emotion from before, she doesn’t (or perhaps can’t) close off. “I know he’s not perfect, but I like him better that way. Losing him was a blow to bits of me I didn’t even realize I had. I never got over it, not just because it hurt, but because I wasn’t interested in letting that feeling go.”

“I trust him, I do, but there’s always that part of my head that worries what would happen to me if I was hurt by him again the same way,” Merlyn continues. “I thought about what that would be like and I don’t like the person that I’d be, but the person I am now, with him here again, it feels… safe.” She looks down at her cup, her expression thoughtful. “Hot damn it’s a leap of faith much sooner than I’d expected but I don’t want to miss this chance. I want to hold onto what time we can have together to fuel that hope for when he leaves.”

“Because he’s going to come back,” Merlyn finishes. “I have no doubts about that, even if it might take a while.”

Seeing Merlyn so bright and hopeful makes Wright’s heart flutter in sympathy with Elliot. She doesn’t list off all of the ways that Elliot feels for Merlyn; some of those are his alone to reveal, and only when he’s ready. “I’m so glad I could help,” she says, setting her hand on the table between them to provide solidarity of purpose. “And not just because it feels good when Elliot feels good. I’m so glad that you’re happy. And here.”

Wright marshalls her own fear of Elliot not coming back. Or worse, having their link severed even if the trip between universes is successful. It would be torture for both of them. “He’s going to be working with a team of skilled professionals,” she says. And Eve, she thinks. Honestly it’s more of a rag-tag crew, but there is a lot of skill divided between them. “And I’ll be helping coordinate, probably from Fort Jay, if I had to guess. So we may be able to organize face-to-face meetings while he’s deployed. In a manner of speaking.”

Merlyn's smile is bright, much more relaxed now that she's feeling confident in the situation. "He mentioned that the people he's working with are some of the best he's ever worked with, so I'm trusting him on that. I know he mentioned that there's no current plan for extraction, he was upfront about that. I won't lie and say it's not a worrisome thing. I'm going to worry either way. It's harder to make up stories in my head about him doing well when I know things are dangerous. I think in this case, it's better to be realistic but still hopeful."

She sets her hand on the table as well, her thoughts running through scenarios of dangerous things, vague because she doesn't exactly have details. "I really would like the face-to-face, it might help morale. He mentioned liking the sound of my voice so if there's actually something I can do to help from here, I can babble awkwardly if it makes him feel better." She grins, even in spite of the worry about the future. "If there's actually some kind of Karma in the world, it owes me and I'm going to make it pay up. Not that I think there is, but there's a slim possibility and every positive possibility helps."

"I'm glad you're going to coordinate," Merlyn continues. "You're capable and I feel like it's a good move." There's only a tiny pause before she speaks again. "And if you need someone to talk to about this and stress related to it and worry about Elliot, I'm pretty easy to get a hold of. We may not have the same relationship with Elliot, but we both care and will both worry. Sometimes you need to just get that shit out verbally to deal with it."

“I’d really like that,” Wright says fondly. “Most of the coordination is probably going to be just sitting around and worrying, so it would be nice to not have to do that alone all the time. I can probably get out of the fort proper, there’s other stuff on the island too, in case you don’t want to be in a federal regulatory agency’s headquarters for some reason.” She really doesn’t have anyone to talk to about the stress of this, Marthe only hears what she wants to hear on topics concerning Elliot.

"I mean, so long as I don't talk about anything illicit I'm sure it'll be fine to be around there, I'm sure they've got much more to deal with than a small fry like me," Merlyn grins, then she nods her approval. "Good, I think having someone to talk to about it all would be a good thing. I know it's some kind of long assignment and it sounded like it was possibly dangerous, so it might be nice to sit around and worry together. Misery loves company, right?"

"Misery loves company so much," Wright agrees emphatically. She smiles away the hyperbole but the smile doesn't fade. "Having someone to talk to about it is a big deal for me. Even if I'm legally prohibited from revealing a lot of details." She sips her coffee, finally at the perfect drinking temperature.

"I gotta say, I am honestly so glad you two found each other again," she says, setting down her drink and combing her hair back behind one ear, longer now than she's traditionally kept it. "And I don't wanna brag but I told him that dumping you was the biggest mistake of his life and I was correct." Maybe not as big of a mistake as going off-script in the Ark, but these are totally different spheres of life choices.

"You don't have to reveal details, honestly. If it's so top secret it's probably wise if I don't anyway. Doesn't change the fact that there are emotions and stressors behind it that are universal and only as top secret as you make them to be," Merlyn replies, going for another sip of her own. Wright's praise only serves to make her a little sheepish. She's grinning, but embarrassed about the compliments. "You were always clearly the one who knows better," she replies. "I dunno if I'd go so far as to call it the biggest mistake of his life, but I'm glad he recognized that it was a mistake. The apology went a long way. If he hadn't, I'd probably have walked off and never seen him again."

The thought, it seems, does make her a bit melancholy, but her smile doesn't fade immediately. "I never really got over him. It hurt a hell of a lot, but every time it hurt I remember how much the things we did together meant to me. Even just talking, especially just talking. That wound never fully closed because I didn't want it to. You don't stop caring about someone overnight. Sometimes you don't even come close to it for several years. He seems to be happy so far, and it's a whole whirlwind of everything coming at once, but it's like making up for lost time."

Merlyn glances at Wright, her smile broadening. "Which I don't mind. It's exhilarating. I'm happy and I don't have to put any sort of mask up around him. It's just me and that's not really something almost anyone ever gets. I'm glad we found each other too. It'd be really hard to just watch him walk away again."

“Oh, he’s happy,” Wright says. Her chuckle implies an understatement. “And I am very happy that you are happy. In the interest of your continued happinesses, can I suggest that you make sure you let Elliot know if he fucks up? Not just like, catastrophically, which is where I come in swinging. But it’s okay to address little things that don’t work for you.”

“I only say it because it’s definitely a whirlwind,” she continues. There’s definitely a seriousness to it, though she tries to keep it light. “For both of you. The metaphor there is that people get swept up in those. Elliot is going to try to get it all right, but you need to tell him when he doesn’t, so he can try to make it right.”

“He used to get so mad if he got caught up in something and had to suddenly reset himself when he was wrong,” she explains. “But you probably know that as well as anybody. He’s worked on that a lot, so don’t let him off the hook. Don’t make excuses for him if he does something wrong, okay? He will fuck up from time to time; like you said, he isn’t perfect. But I guarantee you he’ll honestly examine it.”

“I feel that,” Merlyn agrees. “Trust me, if he fucks up I plan on letting him know. Not necessarily being a bitch about it, but being open with my communication. He seems so willing to make things right. I don’t know if I’ve felt this kind of sincerity any other time in my life. It’s a lot, mostly because I’m used to distrusting people. The honesty and the happiness and the care is so overwhelmingly good, so much feeling right in this world. I guess it’s scary because it’s fast, it’s strong, and I want to just go with it.”

She taps her fingers lightly on her cup in thought. “I didn’t have someone like you looking out for me growing up. I’ve always been envious of having that kind of connection with someone. Trusting is so hard, I’ve gotten as far as I am because I didn’t trust anyone else. The leaps of faith I’ve done have been so small. He’s been one of the only ones in my entire life that I’ve trusted to this degree.”

“You know, even when he left there was such a lingering feeling of trust that stuck around. My head never really let that go, like it wouldn’t let me wall up again. Not with him at least,” Merlyn says softly. “The funny thing is, I’m less afraid of being hurt than I am of losing this opportunity. It’s a lot all at once, I’m just hoping he doesn’t regret trying again. I don’t regret it.”

Wright doesn’t have to move her hand far to cover Merlyn’s. “He doesn’t,” she says, just as softly. “And you have me looking out for you now, if you want me to. Not just to fist-fight my life partner since we were toddlers. I don’t have Elliot’s street contacts, but I do have a lot of guns and a bad attitude.”

She leans back a bit, shrugging like it’s no big deal. “Also a car,” she says. “Which Elliot does not have. So if you need a ride somewhere that isn’t clutching his torso while he drives his Mantis badly, let me know.”

Merlyn dips her head for a moment, touched by the offer before she raises her gaze back to Wright with an amused look accompanied by a warm smile. “I hope I don’t get into a situation where I need to ask you to bring out the big guns, but it honestly means a lot for you to have my back. Pretty sure it means a lot to him too. I think he kinda likes me, but one can never be sure.” She grins again. “Thanks, I couldn’t have asked for a better life partner for him than you.”

I can be sure,” Wright disagrees cheerfully, taking a drink without breaking eye contact. “I am.”

Merlyn laughs, her smile broadening at the words. “Yes, I suppose no one would know better than you.”

“You will too,” Wright assures her. “Even if some of it is put on hold until he gets back, he’ll let you in.”

“I might not know the way you do, but he’s doing a pretty good job of letting me in so far. I’m not worried. I know I’ll get there,” Merlyn says in reply.

Wright’s response is an exhalation of satisfaction. “Good,” she says. “Good.” She pats Merlyn’s hand before leaning back in her chair and drinking her coffee, already below the perfect drinking temperature.

“So how the fuck have you been?” she asks. “Just realized we’re here talking about a guy. Alison Bechdel would be furious.”

“Bah, he’s clearly a side character in our drama,” Merlyn says with a wink. She takes another sip and given the lowered temperature takes a larger one before answering. “I’ve been doing okay though. Still being a degenerate who doesn’t work a nine-to-five, but I don’t know if I’d be cut out for a life like that anyway. I’d still be out marking safe places to sleep and sympathetic businesses after work if I even did that whole ‘actual job’ thing that people seem to think is super important.”

She grins. “But I haven’t been screwed over lately, I don’t owe any debts, and I’m working on some harmless side jobs. I guess you could say I haven’t changed much but just getting better at everything I am and smoothing out the rough edges where I need to. I suppose that’s a good thing, but it also means I haven’t put down roots anywhere. It’s kind of something I wonder about; is it worth sinking yourself down somewhere? Dunno, given this thing kind of a lot of thought lately.”

“I’m glad you’ve been successful,” Wright says. “Self improvement and no enemies is a solid combo.”

“Putting down roots was weird after the war,” she continues, swirling the coffee in her mug absently as she recalls the days. “It was good, don’t get me wrong. Needed stability for the Tiny Baby Ames. But we still had stashes, caches we buried during the war. We only just dug the last one up a year ago.”

“That is to say we were still ready to bolt until recently,” she says before taking a long sip. “Even with the roots. But it’s good to have a base of operations that you can fortify, I think. A place to keep your stuff where it’s unlikely to get klept by opportunists. There’s taxes, of course that come with stability and a nine-to-five, but I don’t mind helping society function.”

"I imagine having stability for Ames was important. Having a kid anytime after the bomb has no real guidebook for all the shit everyone's had to deal with. Add the war on top of that, it's all a bunch of chaos. I'm glad you've found something, though," Merlyn agrees, cracking a smile. "A base of operations is a benefit, something I kind of miss having from time to time. It gets tiring after a while, but I've had a mostly long-term crash pad for a while now. It's just not mine. Help with the rent though, so I guess that counts some."

She shrugs her shoulders. "I can't imagine what I'd even do if I wasn't doing what I do now. Which is good, because there's job security in this kind of thing, so long as you don't cross the wrong people. I'm usually pretty good at that." The last bit earns a grin.

“Yeah, Ames is an okay roommate, though she doesn’t do shit to help with the bills, which is rough.” She runs a hand through her uncooperative hair again as she chuckles. “Are your roommates tolerable?”

“Also, please reach out if you do cross the wrong people,” she says, friendly but serious. “Even if you only feel like something’s wrong, it would be better to address the situation with backup. Getting people out of bad spots is my job and I will do it for free because I like you.”

"Oh yeah, she's my best friend and wouldn't throw me under the bus unless she was rolling under there with me. She's good, works on jobs with me sometimes, but she's got more of a legitimate situation than I do," Merlyn replies with a grin. "Pays taxes and stuff."

The offer of help gets a genuine look of gratitude from Merlyn. "Means a lot to have backup, honestly. I can usually talk my way out of anything, so I'm not too worried. There's always someone greedy or territorial or just plain crazy in this sort of thing, so there are the rare opportunities I have to get over my head. I usually figure out who and where to steer clear from. I'll make sure you're on my emergency to-call list at the very least. I doubt there's anything I do that would be particularly useful to call on for, but if there was, know I've got your back there."

Wright nods, trusting Merlyn to know her own capabilities and strengths. “You never know,” she says in regard to making use of Merlyn’s services. “What do you deliver these days?” She’s less subtle about it than Elliot, but she’s clearly aware of the pair’s parlance.

"I don't do as much delivery as I do networking. Hooking contacts with other contacts to find things. Pretty good at organizing people and who has what. Otherwise, some of it's salvage, some of it is…" Merlyn pauses as she seems to think of her phrasing. "… works of art. Not always legitimate, but usually expensive. I keep a little black book in my head of all the people I know and it's pretty extensive at this point. Someone needs something, I find a way to get the magic done."

“I greatly admire that you have branding baked into your name,” Wright says with a wide smile. “I may have led Ames to the mistaken belief that wizards are real this morning. She probably wouldn’t remember you, only being 5 now, but she is full of surprises. And bad ideas.”

“And it’s always good to know someone who knows someone,” she adds. “Don’t sell yourself short, that’s fucking invaluable.”

Merlyn grins. "No one said I'm not a real wizard. As far as Ames knows, I very much am. A five-year-old's idea of magic is probably very different from anything the rest of us can think up, though. But 5… fuck. I think it's easiest to tell the passage of time when you see a kid get older. Makes it painfully obvious that time marches onward." She laughs, then takes a longer drink of her mocha, which is cool enough now that she's keen on finishing it.

"Well, consider me fucking invaluable then, because if you ever need something and can't acquire it above-board, I could probably find someone. Or find someone who knows someone else. A real estate broker for…" She pauses, struggling to come up with the proper comparison or metaphor and then she just shrugs, leaving it open ended.

“I do consider you fucking invaluable,” Wright says, her playfully antagonistic expression suggesting and how dare you think otherwise. She taps through the security on her phone, browsing her camera roll. The image she expands and presents to Merlyn is of a sulking girl in overalls standing next to a toppled dining chair beside a small hole in the kitchen wall.

"Oh god she's a terror," Merlyn says with unceasing amounts of joy. "I love that she'll keep you on your toes. I should buy her some kind of present that would be incredibly obnoxious to have around the house. Think of the magic she'd create with that." She genuinely sounds thrilled, resting an elbow on the table and her head against the hand there. "Definitely makes it feel like it's been forever in the blink of an eye. Somewhere along the line I lost track of a couple of years of my life."

She grins. "Which is fine by me, I like the me I am now. Pretty badass, even though she swears like a sailor. Might have to work on that around a more diverse group of individuals."

Wright waves away any need to stop swearing. “We don’t censor ourselves around Ames,” she says. “I mean, we don’t talk about things she doesn’t need to be hearing at her age but we all swear. She does too, which is hilarious. We’re still waiting for her to work up the courage to drop her first f-bomb. I’m thinking of starting a betting pool.”

“And I agree that the current you is likable, even if she does threaten to give my maniac child a way to wage psychological warfare on her mothers.” It’s not a don’t, more of a please, dear god no. She appraises Merlyn again, then nods with a quick hum of approval. “I’m excited to see what you can do.”

"I like your maniac child. I like you too, so I'll only make it mildly obnoxious," Merlyn smiles like a kid in a candy shop who's already stolen something. "I might not be able to scare the shit out of people, but words have won wars before. I like to think I'm good with words when I need to be. Maybe I'll broaden my horizons on what I'm capable of. Not even the sky's the limit these days." She finishes the last of her mocha, managing not to make a face at the temperature before she sets her cup down.

"Been through shit, but I keep looking for things that aren't total garbage in the world. The stuff that persists even when the world tries to ruin things. It's probably the thing that keeps me going the most," Merlyn says, her expression a touch softer. "Don't tell people that, though, it ruins my street cred. I'm clearly very tough."

“Merlyn, you’ve made a life for yourself after a civil war and all sorts of other hellish conditions and you still have hope,” Wright says. “You’re tough as fuck, and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. I’ll fight you on this one.”

"Okay," Merlyn finally caves. "I'll give you that one only because I don't want to fight you myself. I'll admit that I've got some strength. I'm still here and that takes something. The hope, though, that's mostly because I hate when shit isn't fair to people and I just want to see something good happen. Maybe it doesn't happen everywhere, but sometimes you get to see good in the world and I keep holding out that I get to see some."

She gestures towards Wright's phone. "Having a hole in the kitchen wall is surprisingly a great thing. You've got something, someone, good attached to it."

“Yeah,” Wright says dreamily as she stares at the hole she had to fix herself. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s the good in my world, for sure. And I’ll fight for it. The rest of the world, we do what we can to make it fair for the people who normally get overlooked. Or unbearable for the bastards at the top who need to be brought down a peg.”

"Fuck, I hope you keep bringing them down a peg whenever you can," Merlyn chuckles. "I don't think I knock so many pegs down as I make them ready to be knocked. I was definitely one of those people who got overlooked. I fell through the cracks. I don't like seeing that happen to other people, so I do what I can when I can. I look out for myself, sure, but you take a little and you're supposed to give a little back. Some people in the world, though, have all the luck and don't deserve it."

“One of my absolute favorite parts of my job back in the day was when some army officer who bombed a residential area realized he was going to make that court date at Albany after all,” Wright says. “And we got a lot of those motherfuckers. My adoptive dad ratted his way out of doing any serious jail time.” You win some, you lose some.

“Elliot feels like he fell through the cracks in high school when I got shipped off to military boarding school,” she says, It’s an observation she wouldn’t normally have the occasion to voice, but Merlyn offered and knows some of what it’s like. “But it was way earlier than that. I knocked a lot of teeth loose keeping kids away from him, but the adults in the system just gave up on him. When I got adopted it got worse for him so I fought harder. Then boarding school because of all the fighting, and things got harder.” She wonders what would have happened if the Bomb hadn’t motivated her to abandon her career path in the army, leading to her eventual reunitement with Elliot.

“I knock out teeth until the sun goes down,” she says, turning back to Merlyn with a smile that tries to take some of the old dread out of her tone.

"I'm glad you looked out for him. He gave you something to fight for too, which is sometimes just as important. I kinda wonder how I would have turned out if things were different. If I got adopted, if I hadn't just got the fuck out when I did, if I had someone I was close to. I wouldn't go back and change it, fuck dealing with that, but I'm sure I would've been different," Merlyn muses over the possibilities of what things could have been like, but she returns the smile in Wright's direction.

"I learned how to deal with things, I think I'm just sort of slowly learning how to accept that I can rely on people from time to time. Harder lesson to learn than I thought, but I'm getting there," she continues. "I'm learning trust and I'm kinda starting to like it a bit. I'm not perfect at it, but I'm learning where the good bits come in. Some of them are really good too." She clears her throat a bit, mostly as a conversation change.

"If you ever need a sitter for Ames, I'm totally available at all kinds of weird times, and I promise not to teach her things like picking locks," Merlyn's grinning again.

“Holy Christ, I can’t even imagine what she could get up to with a set of lockpicks,” Wright says, eyes focused in the middle distance of hypothetical horror. “I will let you know if the babysitter who’s teaching her how to run a three-card Monte scam out of the laundry room isn’t available.”

She shakes her head to dispel whatever scenarios she envisioned. “I know what you mean, though,” she says in a more serious retrospect. “What happened made me who I am, and I wouldn’t change it, despite…” she gestures in the air over and around her head, All this. “Things were complicated, and scary, and bad, but I would do it all over again on purpose to be the me who is the mother of Ames and the wife of Marthe. And I’m glad you’re this you, and Elliot is this Elliot. Despite the hard parts, I think we’re getting it correct now.”

Merlyn's grin at the lockpicking and other sundry terrors Ames could get up to doesn't fade, but it eventually levels into more of a pleasant smile even if there's still a bit of mirth hidden in there. "Yeah, I'm glad I'm at where I'm at for more than one reason. Don't try to get it correct though, try to get it better. People try too hard for perfect and perfect is unattainable and boring as fuck. As long as I'm still working on a better me, it's okay if I've got some rough edges. I can smooth those and find something else to work on."

She pauses for a moment. "I am glad to see him again. I mean, obviously, but it's just… regardless of anything, anything that happens in the future, it's patched up a wound I wasn't even aware needed patching. So it's good, and I'm all the better for it." While this would be where she'd normally throw a quip at the end to prevent any sort of vulnerability in that statement, she simply doesn't and lets it be.

Wright smiles, thankful for the reminder to do better, happy to see Merlyn’s comfortableness in her vulnerability. “Fuck I’m happy for you,” she exclaims.

She drinks more, then bobbles her head for a moment, considering a possibility. “I like my coffee like I like myself. Tall, hot, touch of honey,” she says, only grimacing a little. There are worse jokes.

Merlyn grins, nodding her head in approval. “Not bad, actually. I’d say it’s an accurate assessment. Maybe not a funny one, but it’s cute all the same. Maybe workshop that one a little.” She can’t quite hide the laugh she’s trying to contain. “You know, I’m not entirely sure you can actually make a joke from that. I don’t mean you you, I just think it may be one of those rare opportunities that it’s a compliment to yourself and not a joke at all. I like you tall, hot, and with a touch of honey.”

Thank you,” Wright preens. “I like you short, hot… Mocha? Yeah, one third of that one doesn’t work but you’re great and I’m happy that I get to see you again. I’m rooting for you.”

“Short, hot, and incredibly appealing?” Merlyn’s grin is back. Seems it never disappears for very long in company she’s comfortable with. “Short, hot, and sweeter than it should be? The possibilities are endless but require me to be far too flattering to myself than I’m probably comfortable with.” She taps her fingers on the side of her empty mocha cup. “Metaphors are tricky anyway. You either sound poetic or like you’re practicing cheesy pick-up lines in a bar. Although one of those tends to work better than the others.”

Wright chuckles. “Short, hot, sweeter than you should be is pretty spot-on,” she says, polishing off the last of her drink. “You should flatter yourself more often, otherwise I’m going to have to and I am certainly not much of a poet.”

“Oh god. I’m almost tempted to let you,” Merlyn replies. “But I’ll let Elliot do it. He can be either really sweet or really awkward and I’m a fan of both. Besides, no one likes an ego. There’s a very fine line between ego and confidence and I’m not sure I can pull off the latter instead of the former.”

“Yeah,” Wright says dreamily, “he’s kinda precious like that. But you can always reach out if you need an auxiliary flattering. I got your back.”

“That’s a relief, it never hurts to have a backup for flattery. Never had that before, so it’s a new thing. Careful, I might take you up on that,” Merlyn says, “and then we’ll both have to learn poetry. Bad poetry.”

Wright smiles, rising. “That works for me, let’s get out of here and do something fun.”

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