ali_icon.gif avi_icon.gif corbin2_icon.gif devon5_icon.gif emilyt_icon.gif julie_icon.gif

Scene Title Timber
Synopsis Two weeks after her capture, Ali Underwood is brought in to bring a conclusion to the tale of a tulip tree.
Date October 14, 2020

Ruins of Queens

The leaves are yellowed now, brilliant shades all from light to nearly orange, the colors of them varying even on a single leaf. A chill pervades the air, one that's heavy with the morning that's slowly being left behind. The rising sun casts beams of light through the shade of a giant tulip tree that stands alone in a clearing between dilapidated homes that once made up a respectable neighborhood. The last of the dew is drying up from the ground and the leaves that have already fallen.

Between the fallen leaves, on ground tilled bare after the house that had formerly surrounded the tulip tree was taken away, fallen tree fruit hides among the other colors.

It'll be warmer later, but for now, a crisp morning breeze breathes a sigh through the tree's tall limbs, rustling the canopy. The tree known as Emily sheds a few more leaves in the process, the breeze carrying them toward the lone visitors who grace her presence today— ones who've come with a purpose. Ones who intend on not leaving this place without her.

Today's been a long time coming. And patience— testing— proved their hopes are more than just a pipe dream…

They're possible.

Three tests (two animal, one human) had proven that Ali was capable of it, and that the victim would survive the change back without the need of an immediate ambulance on the site— which was important because the roads to the house in the ruins of Queens were not as easily accessible as many of the other victims. They’d had the ambulance on site for the first one, and discovered it wasn’t necessary, that the young woman did not require emergency treatments or a quick trip to one of the two close hospitals.

She just needed time. And therapy.

Corbin looked toward the older man from Wolfhound, the girl’s father, and nodded. Ali stood between them, in a simple jumpsuit, with wrists bound in front of her so that she couldn’t reach out and grab anyone easily. No skin contact had been important, they had discovered, so she wore gloves, and they avoided letting her touch them in any way— just in case. So far she had cooperated, as she limped on the still damaged leg. She should have had some support, a crutch or a cane or something, but she had neither, forcing her to keep most of her weight on one leg, and to move long distances only when someone grabbed her arms and helped her forward.

“So are you planning to remove the gloves again, or do you want me to kiss her?” she says with a grin, not sounding like a defeated woman who was in pain for the moment, as she holds up those gloved hands in offer.

Striding forward, Devon walks past the older men and their prisoner. Moving helps in keeping him from taking the bait, even if it does little to cool his temper or boost his patience. What he wouldn't give to mete out some justice of his own; not that they need another incident like the night they'd finally found the woman.

He moves closer to the tulip tree, and places a hand briefly against the trunk. The immediate anger that had flared with Ali’s words is dampened. He's still mad, but he contains it, locked like the lid on a pressure cooker.

For a beat it looks like Devon might say something. If only he could tell Emily what they were about to do. But instead he exhales a steady breath and looks back to Avi and Corbin.

Avi looks uncomfortable, mostly because he wasn’t allowed to bring a gun this time. His posture is tense and awkward, arms hanging limply down at his side for lack of knowing what to do with them. He looks at the tree like it doesn’t mean anything to him, he’s been woefully unable to parse that this is actually Emily, he’d never come out here on his own to visit, never offered so much as a kind word to the bark. It was only under the duress of Kaylee and Devon and the aftermath of a night of drinking that he was willing to enter her mindscape. Right now, Avi looks like he just wants this over with.

For Julie, it’s much the opposite, even if there is overlap. She couldn’t bring herself to come out here either, not knowing what she knows and being able to see what she sees. That a tree has the SLC-Expressive aura familiar as her cousin is distressing. Even now it’s making her throat tighten up and her eyes to become glassy. Emily stands beside Devon, acting as a calm and otherwise stable anchor, even if she’s a jumbled fucking mess inside.

The guard who had come with Ali from Rikers sees where he's needed and leaves his position at the flank of the group. When she turns, offering up her hands, he answers her smile with some unamused side-eye.

He himself is wearing long sleeves, paired with leather gloves of his own. He steps only as close as is needed to undo the handcuffs around the stiff cuffs of the gloves she wears, pulling them off. When he steps back to the side, holding both, the guns holstered at his side shift with each step.

If she tried to run, between her leg and his taser— not to mention the family members who had tracked her down in the first place— she'd not make it far.

“One would think you didn’t trust me very much,” Ali jokes as she shuffles closer to the tree a little bit, but she doesn’t need to get that close really. Within arms length is the most they’re allowing her to get, with her leg in the state it is. “Can’t say I’m sad you guys tore down my old house,” she continues to talk, as her fingertips touch the cool bark of the tulip tree.

Corbin shakes his head, “Stop talking and just do it.” He had a small bag with blankets and clothes at his feet, to go along with the rest of the medical supplies in case they needed anything. They had restricted the site to family and necessary personnel because of privacy purposes, but even then, he knew that should Ali even attempt to run, she likely would not get very far. They had plans for that.

Hopefully none that would ever be necessary.

With her fingers on the tree, Ali’s eyes start to change, a greenish glow, as she spreads her fingers onto the bark. Corbin, at least, has witnessed it before, and warned the others of what would happen, but even then, seeing it…

The tree starts to glow. Some of the leaves that had not yet fallen break off and fall, others glow like the branches and trunk. The air starts to smell of moss, of pollen, of broken leaves, and growing mold. It lasts a few minutes, with Ali just staring at the tree in silence.

And then the canopy of the tulip tree disintegrates into motes of light. The excess matter that had made up the tree, that which hadn’t been Emily, starts to spread out around them into a patch of moss that continues outward into a circle, with small white flowers sprouting up in their midsts. In the middle of it, in front of them, laid Emily, cradled in a moss covered divet of earth where the roots had been.


Ali's ability would almost be beautiful if it hadn’t been so horrible. Her hands drop away from where she’s now only touching air.

Corbin, having bent down and grabbed the blanket, tosses it toward Devon, assuming he’s going to reach Emily before anyone.

Devon’s eyes track to the movement of the guards. His brows knit when the cuffs are removed and his weight shifts when Ali, more or less released to do her witchery, moves toward the tulip tree. Fingers curl into palms, fists clenching into white-knuckled knots at the ends of his wrists, and every fiber of him screams warnings of possible foul play. He wasn't a witness to the others that were released from their arbory prisons. It’s on good faith with SESA, Corbin’s promises that it will work, that he’s watching now.

As the glow intensifies and suffuses the shape and structure of the tree, he turns his eyes from the prisoner to the transformation she’s causing. It’s impressive. He stares, watching the glowing motes settle lazily on the ground, squinting against the afterimage of the tree. It has to work.

Anticipation overrides everything else, so much that the blanket tossed to him thumps against his shoulder. An arm almost absently curls to keep it from dropping onto the ground. It has to work. Once the light has faded enough that he can begin making out Emily’s shape, Devon is moving. He lightly nudges Julie to move with him, but he doesn’t wait for her.

Hasty steps, not quite running, close the distance while the blanket is further unfolded and shaken of any errant leaves or other forest offerings. At her side, he drops wordlessly onto his knees, draws the blankets around Emily’s form. His manner had long been to approach with a slowness, feeling out their relationship as if exploring a new place in absolute darkness. There’s no such reservations or hesitancy in his actions today. Dev tucks arms and blanket around Emily, gathering her from the roots and mossy growth to hold her protectively. He then looks up, the worry and fear he’d wall off anywhere else, in any other situation, now shows as he seeks out Julie, then Avi.

“Photosynthetic cellular energy phosphorizing as heat and light,” Julie says under her breath, looking up to where the tree was rather than where Emily is now. Avi offers her a side eye and a squint, expressing a wordless not now to her as he walks past and toward where his daughter and Devon are.

Julie lingers somewhere beyond, letting Avi take this lead.

“Is she?” Avi asks, unwilling to finish his sentence as he takes a knee in the moss beside Devon. He reaches up to thread a lock of Emily’s hair behind one ear, firing a look up to Ali, then back to his daughter. He can’t lose them both, he can’t.

Julie, meanwhile, observes Emily’s condition with a clinical detachment that makes the emotional content of this entire reunion easier to swallow. She is tense, visible in a clenching of her jaw and her arms around herself. None of the last few months had been easy, but knowing this — witnessing this — was the most challenging of all. Especially for what had to come next.

Emily is still even as Devon draws her into his arms. Still, but warm, with color in her cheeks. Up until the moment Avi brushes her hair from her face, Emily's expression goes unchanging, but the touch to her face brings her eyes to flutter, her brow knitting together.

She feels numb, sleeping limbs and sleeping mind coming back from a long hiatus. It's a waking that's harried forward when the involuntary blink she performed brings light into her senses. She lets out a start of a breath, tasting the air. The roughness of the blanket she feels only in parts, but she's generally aware that something surrounds her.

It's all too belatedly sounds are processed, Avi's familiar voice reaching her ears and bringing her eyes to flutter again. It's so bright and she sees so little, one arm numbly shifting inside the blanket to attempt to lift a hand toward her eyes to shield them. She doesn't make it that far, heart beginning to race regardless. "Is this real?" Emily asks, her voice wispy and breaking.

She's dreamed of freedom before, and is likewise too afraid to hope that this is anything but. But she can feel her limbs moving. She can scent fall in the air. She feels—

disconnected from the sturdy growth that had formed part of her these long months. Disconnected from the trunk, from the branches, from the leaves, from the

"What—" Emily's arm works free of the blanket to find the earth beneath her body, the moss she's being pulled from. Her fingers close halfway around a fallen treefruit, no more dexterity coming to her. It feels a part of her, but it's not. It's separate, and so is she now, free to move on her own again. No roots. Nothing left to hold her down.

Her eyes blink hard open, remaining so this time. The sheer amount of visual stimuli is overwhelming, wide blue eyes sharply going from one face to another while she curls her hand more completely around the fallen bit of tree on the ground. "You're… you—!"

No more words come, giving way for tears that stream down her face. Emily tries to say each of their names one by one, but only the beginnings of each sound form.

She starts to smile anyway. They did it. They found her, they found—

Emily's eyes find Ali in her prison jumpsuit, finally, and her smile wilts despite all the strength it'd had a moment before.

With a breath of relief, Corbin straightens to his feet, looking toward Emily for a long time until her eyes find Ali and her smile wilts away. That is when he remembers and turns toward the guard, nodding his head toward the prisoner, “Get her out of here.” At least they knew from experience that she shouldn’t be capable of using her ability to any major extent for a while, at least not without risking her own physical health. That was the hope, at least, but the guard didn’t take any changes on actually touching her skin either way.

“What, am I not allowed to say hi to my old friend?” Ali says, with a too-sweet smile that looks too much like it had when Emily and her had first met so long ago, but she wasn’t allowed to continue because the guard turned her physically around and started to move her toward the van, eliciting a grunt of pain as she takes the first few slow steps away.

With a shake of his head, Corbin looks toward the family of the girl who had just been turned back, “Do you want some privacy before we take her back to town?” he offers, knowing that they may want some time alone, just the four of them. And he could go ahead and get Ali away from here. Emily didn’t need to deal with that right now.

“She’s…” is as far as Devon gets with his own visual examination. His eyes stare hard at Emily’s face, every muscle taught with anticipation. As if his further movement would somehow mask any signs of life. So worried with not moving, with listening for breath or heartbeat, he almost misses when Emily first moves.

His breath catches when she responds to Avi’s touch, but he finds himself nodding in response to Emily's questions and to encourage her to continue rousing.

“Yeah.” Devon’s voice cracks and he angles a look to Avi and Julie, then looks down at Emily again. “We figured it out. We…” He wasn't going to bring up the part about Ali and, in his own avalanche of emotions, had also forgotten about the psycho woman’s presence until Emily spots her in her orange jumpsuit and shackles.

“She can't hurt you again,” Dev states firmly but softly. A cold promise rides in his eyes as watches the guard escort Ali away. “She won't.”

Avi is visibly tense in this moment, jaw muscles flexing for all that he’s clenching his teeth. He looks at Emily with a mixture of relief and guilt in his eyes, then reaches down for his sunglasses tucked into the collar of his shirt and slides them on slowly. It’s clear there’s a distance, a barrier coming up in a way only Epsteins excel at. There’s too many people here, too many voices and perspectives.

“I’ll keep an eye on her,” Avi says, but he doesn’t mean Emily. Swallowing tightly, he turns away from his daughter and Devon, motioning with his chin in Ali’s direction. In some ways it’s depressing that Avi hasn’t changed, but also reassuring that in some ways no matter how much time has passed some things remain the same. “If she screams she had it comin’.”

Julie watches Avi turn to leave, not moving to stop him. Instead, she slips past Corbin and approaches Emily and Devon, taking a knee by their side. Julie lays a hand down on Emily’s shoulder, brows knit together and worry in her eyes, but also relief and certainty. She doesn’t overload her cousin with unnecessary words, when that hand on her shoulder should — and does — say so much more. She’s here, she’s real.

It hurts, once again, when Avi turns away, but this time it just adds to another layer of being overwhelmed. Even if he's off keeping away the devil that hurt her, it still stings that as soon as she's back is the time he decides he should retreat. Emily doesn't have the false composure she did the last time this happened, laying her head against Devon's chest. But in Devon's embrace and Julie's reassurance, she finds something better than were her father able to change his stripes after all.

It gives her the strength to overcome her tears, to still the shaking in her shoulders even if it's only done by holding her breath. Devon gets warning by the way she shifts she means to try to stand, muscles aching as she tries her weight on them. The first attempt to come to her feet ends in a stumble, support needed to keep her from ending up back in the moss again.

For a moment, panic reflects in her eyes. Panic she might not be able to leave, coupled with panic that the way she felt now would be representative of the way she'd feel forever. Her eyes cinch closed, hand holding tightly onto Julie's.

"Privacy," she airs agreement, her voice hoarse.

Emily was going to need a lot of that until she felt herself again.

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