emily_icon.gif huruma_icon.gif

Scene Title Ukhozi
Synopsis Something like fate sees to it that Huruma encounters Emily when she needs it.
Date March 13, 2019

A café in Red Hook

Emily Epstein doesn't have as much time as she used to to settle in at a café for the entire day, between her internship, classes, and other "extracurriculars", so she takes these moments to herself where she can. She'd much rather be plugged in deeply and losing herself in some unreal world, but unfortunately, classwork needs addressed.

Sitting well-entrenched at a table with an outlet underneath it, her ears are soundly covered over by the headphones of her headset, electric tones pulsing through while she works through the latest writing assignment for her English class. Hands come to rub her eyes, her thoughts wandering against her will despite the music that's supposed to drown out all other thoughts. Trying to get back on track proves to be a challenge, one that causes more and more distress to her until she tears her attention away so she can pick up a warm mug, cupping it between both hands and sipping. It's no longer scalding hot, and yet she holds it so.

It was more for the sensation of warmth, of going through the motions and deriving pleasure from having the coffee rather than drinking from it. Her gaze slides unfocused as she leaves the mug pressed to her lips, losing track of proofreading what she's written so far. Her eyes keep sliding to the date they refuse to now not notice, hiding in the corner of her screen.

She hates what she's written anyway.

Red Hook's tendency to not suffer the same blackout issues makes it all the better for businesses like this one; unfortunately for some, that means it attracts all kinds equally. Huruma isn't here for the weak coffee, though. The tea always ends up better suited. Before she passes through the door, she pauses there at the threshold, head tipping as she enters.

The tall woman heads for the counter first, blithely holding familiar minds at bay until she can actually take a short look past her shoulder. Huruma hasn't seen or felt Emily for a long time, but that face tells her all she needs to know, and all she needs reminded of. While she waits there at the counter she turns to lean a hip against it and watch Emily more blatantly. Though no bright colors — olive and black, mostly — Huruma still stands out by virtue of being herself.

And oblivious Emily remains, lost in herself and her stressors, heavy as they are. Externally, she could pass as any other tense, tired college student with how she keeps herself together, holding herself with a certain poise despite the weight on her chest.

Huruma, however, has insight far greater than most. She can sense the cloud of grief that threatens to suffocate her today, one whose grasp on her worsens when her gaze wanders from its intended path.

Abruptly, Emily sets aside her mug and refocuses her gaze on the laptop intensely. From the edge of the notebook opened next to it, she tears a corner of paper away, fixing it so it's in the bottom right corner of her screen, blocking the details there from sight. It brings minimal relief, but enough that she goes back to editing her already-written work without the threat of drowning.

The shape and feel of the sky around Emily's head is familiar, filled with those black-blue, sorrow-laden clouds. Headset cuts Emily off from the cafe, and the bleary look she is giving the laptop allows Huruma her watchtime. At least until the barista at her left chimes in to pass along the tea.

Huruma picks it up with a murmur of thank you before gliding closer to where Emily sits. No use announcing herself, though— the girl won't hear it. So she sliiides into a chair at the next table over, fixing a stare from caddy-corner to the laptop screen. She can wait.

Someone entering her space, or close enough to it, does attract her attention. There's an initial glance, followed by an actual darting look over to Huruma, Emily's posture lifting. It has been a while, but Huruma's a hard woman to forget. One hand lifts from the keys to scoop the headphones away from her ears, letting the headset rest around her neck instead.

After that, Emily shoots a glance around the café, to the door in particular, seeing if there are other familiar faces to be seen. The suspicious flit of her gaze tires out by the time she looks back to Huruma herself, brow furrowing. "What are you doing here?" There's no accusation to the question, and similarly no indication that here means either the coffee shop or the Safe Zone entirely.

Comfortable where she is, Huruma keeps one hand around her tea and the other idle on the tabletop; she is content to wait for the doubletake from Emily to run its course before offering the young woman a sliver of a smile. It isn't too wide and it isn't too overbearing, just the right amount of pleasing. It is her eyes that hold more to them, passive in their prying light. She notes the look towards the door as Emily's surprise simmers.

"…I do not have anybody with me, if that's what you're wondering." Huruma straightens and gives a knowing look to the door and back to Emily. You know, like your Dad or Delia or something. As to what she's doing here:

"I am patronizing this cafe." Punctuated by the fixing of a bit of sweetener into her tea. Her eyes flick up again, studying the backside of the girl's laptop over a sip of tea to taste. "You seem quite frustrated with whatever is on the other side of that lid." Discounting her other troubles.

Head beginning to shake, Emily replies tangentially, "I'm glad you're all right. After…"

Maybe not so tangentially, after all, with the way she regards the screen before shutting it entirely. She turns to the side to face Huruma better once that's done, her elbow against the lid like it'll keep the inanimate object from springing open to remind her of what she's trying not to be reminded of.

"You've been well?" she asks, trying hard to shift the subject away from herself. On the offchance that's not enough to do it, she adds, "I saw…" but what to call him? "Benjamin, the other day." Emily's never been an exceedingly formal person, no sense starting now. 'Mr. Ryans' would sit odd on her tongue.

"He mentioned he saw a healer. I was glad to hear it. Hopefully that's a weight off your minds and theirs." Emily even manages a small smile as she says it, implying she hopes there's less family therapy attempts occurring by dream since then.

Ah, yes. That. The finer details of Delia's incursion and accidental dragging of Emily into it come fluttering back again. Huruma clenches her teeth a little between sips, brows arched at the blonde.

"Well enough, barring recent injuries." Her hand traces along a score in the table, voice unhurried. "He did." Huruma, outside of the dreamscape, seems far more affected by the topic. Her mouth twitches into a curve, expression softening in a clear show of relief. "I wish he'd said something, but… perhaps it was better that way. I would have just been worrying even more, and he's always been reticent about help. And… everything else, too." Someone private like Ryans and someone prying like Huruma may seem like a strange duo to someone like Emily.

"I'd not have him any other way, though. How do you know him? And Delia, I suppose, but— I get the feeling that you and she do not see eye to eye." Huruma's voice is somewhere between a chuckle and a gentle coaxing. What could ever give her that idea?

"I didn't know him, until then. But he and I work together now — if you can call being an intern 'working'." Emily shifts her weight, letting out a soft laugh under her breath. "So I guess maybe I'll be seeing more of him." she looks off past Huruma's shoulder at the thought of Delia, and the two not getting along well. She can't really think of anything positive to say there, so she opts not to, for the sake of keeping conversation polite.

The process of that, the distraction of thought slowly diminishes the intensity of those other cloying feelings. It allows for Emily to smile again, a little more earnestly. "He seems like a good person, one you wouldn't want to lose. I can understand, though, not wanting help. While dealing with it, or while working through the hope that maybe something can change for the better." she pauses to reflect on it briefly: too much of herself in what she says next: "Why bother telling others, if it doesn't work? Why risk letting them hope, if everything ends up staying the same?"

Her gaze shifts off and then back to Huruma, something pained in her smile. A thin veneer of guilt, slick with smatters of embarrassment and regret, settles around her gut. "I did the same thing to my cousin, except…" Well, she disappeared for almost a week, on top of having kept the impending affair a secret.

But she shakes her head, trying to steer herself out of that oily emotional state. "I bet you took it better than she did— finding out." Emily suggests with a faint chuckle.

"He has retired twice already. I wonder if the third time will be the charm." Huruma purses her lips a moment, listening intently. The slow, floating touch of her mental ribbons circles the girl like a bloom of jellyfish. Almost no touch at all.

"I can tell that you understand." is what the dark woman answers with first. It is that knowing stare which expands on it, the pale eyes peering straight through. "I probably did. I didn't want to lose that and I was about to do anything. But as it turns out, he is still the clear headed one."

Hff. She does not actually sound resentful. Her huff edges into a smirk. "Hope was hard when he told us that he was sick. Not to say that hope is worthless. I still give it a chance, now and again."

"All of that aside… you having something in common with Ben," Huruma lifts a hand at Emily, gesturing up and down slowly. "I am curious but I will not ask who did it, either. I will ask, though… What was it? That had you so weakened?"

There's a short huff of amusement in reply to all that, Emily remembering Ryans' suggestion to ask his daughters about his ability to stick to retirement. She doesn't say it, but she harbors doubt the third time will be the charm. Anything she might have said is lost when Huruma looks right through her, taking a moment instead to consider how deeply she is able to peer, and then finally… having to address the question Huruma poses her.

Emily forgets sometimes just how obvious it is that she's different now. How her hands listen, not needing hidden beneath the table to hide any tremble in them. How smooth her speech is, at least when she's not flustered. She looks away at Huruma's question, reflecting on herself, before she returns her gaze back to the woman.

"I've had MS since I was a child. I still don't know if this is… permanent. I don't understand how it all worked, if it simply undid the damage or the entire disease." Emily's smile falters, brow crumbling in on itself as she admits, "For a few weeks I thought to myself, was sure that anything medically bad that had ever happened to me would be gone. That I'd have a clean slate. But the truth is, I never asked about the rest, so I couldn't say. Assuming is different than hoping." She adds more gently, "So I'll hope. But who knows, you know?"

Emily reaches for her mug again, the warmth less strong than before, so she takes a longer sip to compensate. She closes her eyes, hands still cupped around the ceramic as she asks suddenly, "Is it different, without him there? Do you feel his loss?"

The grief settles around her like she wears it, trying to tame it instead of letting it control her even though it certainly still colors her.

Even on first explanation — simply the name of what she suffered — Huruma seems to sharpen her understanding. It says more than a long, tedious explanation would. She knows what it is and what it does, and does not ask how bad it was. It was a part of her life, is all. Still is, perhaps.

The look the older woman gives her says 'ask', much like any stern sort of relative. Auntie Stork, et cetera. Emily should find out where she stands, or else she'll not be ready for anything coming down the pipe. With the girl's next words, Huruma eases that look back, replacing it with a subtle straightening of her posture and hooded eyes studying Emily's cloak of despair. It tastes familiar.

"Of course it is." Huruma's voice rounds low and velvet. Passively soothing, a melancholy-tinged hush. "Of course I do." And you do too.

The stern, directing look almost rolls off of Emily. For the few interactions they've had, she holds Huruma in a positive regard, but not to that level. She only shrugs her shoulders, the movement hollow. When Huruma answers her, her posture droops, the words washing away most of her emotions. Relief comes with it — either the cause or the effect of the wave. Emily, at least, couldn't say.

"I'm glad it's not just me," she murmurs, voice almost a whisper. "I… I don't know." Her gaze lowers, head shaking uncertainly. She draws in a heavy breath before admitting, "Today makes two months since I learned. Today exactly."

Emily swallows hard. The passage of time has done very little to numb the shock, the feeling of wrongness. To say little else of all the other emotions that intrude at will.

"Of course it is not just you." Huruma murmurs back, shifting up to pull her chair over to the side of Emily's table, inviting herself closer. With her comes a faint aura of something subdued, an invisible, steadying hand pressed flush to Emily's chest.

"I know that whatever I say won't be enough. Or wrong. Nothing can be a consolation prize." This sounds like something which she may have said before. It's difficult to tell, even as Huruma settles to the girl's left, hands on the table and tea nearby. This near, her voice still has that dark quality, yet it envelops her words like a warm bath. Those eyes rest easily on Emily. "I could say something about saving lives, or fighting 'bad guys', or 'he knew what he was doing', but none of those things are going to make you feel any better."

"They certainly do not for me, even if my inner compass says that they should."

Even with Huruma's words wrapped around her like a comforting blanket, the warmth is absorbed … and ultimately doesn't change her state. Emily meets Huruma's gaze, the corners of her eyes stinging. What soothing the empath provides does pry back the walls that make up the young woman's usual attempts to disregard how she feels.

"No words change the reality. He's gone. Who gives a damn about the why." Throat tight, the words come out sure-spoken regardless. "He…"

It takes a moment for her to regain control of her inflection, to make sure she doesn't cry. That's not conducive to conversation, and certainly not acceptable public behavior. "He said he was going to come back to me. He lied. Again." She attempts an ironic smile with her harshly-worded humor. "I never should have…"

But she can't bring herself to complete the selfish thought, brow pinching together. Her eyes close. "I don't know if he—" she starts, voice sharp.

But she does know. Devon had accepted her, sharp edges and all, was able to read into her better than she was at times. If nothing else, he knew she cared by just how deeply he'd hurt her.

Emily exhales forcefully, her heart trembling in her chest. It's to the point she has to lift a hand to rub her fingers against her sternum. "Huruma, whatever you're doing, could you stop?" She can't put a name to it, but she recognizes the foreign comfort, identifies it as foreign as it so vastly differs from everything else she feels.


Of course nobody gives a damn about the Why. That's exactly what Huruma knew she'd say, but it obviously doesn't come with any feelings of self-satisfaction. The last words out of Emily seem to puzzle Huruma for a moment, the edges of her eyes narrowing. She sits straighter, stare breaking with a hard blink. Mnn.

"Samahani," She starts, tone apologetic. "I hadn't meant to upset." A pause. Letting herself leak out into others is rare, except in certain headspaces. "I do not always realize my passivity," comes as an explanation.

Despite being an empath, she is no psychologist, just an outside force wanting change. Sometimes so badly that she needs reminded to step back. Especially when she is feeling some sort of… protectiveness.

"I knew him as an earnest man." Not intended as a consolation but a confirmation of unspoken thoughts in response to her words.

"You meant well." Emily acknowledges, unable to help but feel relieved when the conflict in emotions lessens as the comfort Huruma tried to impart recedes, or at least doesn't lay on her as noticeably as before. She closes her eyes again briefly before her hand falls from her chest, trembling before she clasps it around the other in her lap. Her eyes remain red from the struggle moments before, but her gaze is unerring on Huruma's as she works past it.

"He wanted to make amends, to have a real relationship," is easier said when she feels as hollow as she does without the warmth the empath had tried to impart. "Part of me wishes he hadn't been so insistent on clearing the air before he left, but … at least I know the last time he saw me, he had the opportunity to say everything he needed to. He didn't go with that unresolved, wondering."

But her, though? She has nightmares about it. Things she wishes she'd have done differently— ways she wishes she wouldn't have wasted their last moments together.

They are things that matter and don't matter at the same time.

Huruma does not yank it all back like a fishing reel; it ebbs like a tide, gradual as she considers trying to pull out some of that negative emotion with it. No, no. She has to stop herself from doing it, mentally reprimanding the thought. Emily didn't want the first, she wouldn't want the second.

"There is always time to make amends." Venturing words, as Huruma refocuses on drinking her tea. Her frame leans light against the table, head canted as she takes more care in what she responds with. "I could see that something was on his shoulders. I did not ask."

"Regret can be a devouring thing. Guilt, too. It will color every thing you do. It is doing just that right now." If Emily wasn't certain what Huruma did before, this alludes to it somewhat. Reading a person. Subconsciously trying to help. "If he hadn't tried to fix it, you know it will have been even worse. There is no win. Just compromise."

Coming to terms, in a sense.

"Is that what you do, with Wolfhound?" Emily asks with a sudden laugh. Her tone shifts, all too serious in a way that it provides some levity. "You just drink and know things." To borrow a phrase from a certain show she'd streamed.

The smile accompanying it is mostly held in her eyes. She tries to hold onto it, but it fades. As it starts to, she shifts again and shakes her head, straightening her posture. Bit by bit, putting herself back together. "Like I said … I'm just glad I'm not the only one that misses him. I'm not sure he appreciated the impact he made on others' lives." Her hands clasp together more tightly as she looks off. "I'm fine, most days. Just today, I noticed and… it won't let go."

After a pause, she ventures, "I'm keeping busy. I'm… doing what I should be doing, I think. I'm not trying to do anything like hope for the impossible, at least."

"Drink, know things, sneak up on people…" Huruma’s shoulder rolls in a shrug. She is otherwise quiet as Emily goes on, eyes partly stuck watching her own hands on the table.

"Although my life is a series of impossible things, I try to not hope for them either." Despite the conversation being about someone of importance, Huruma does try to lighten it, saying all of this with a jump of brows and an amused curve of mouth. "They take a lot of energy and I am not getting younger." She isn't old, but sometimes a person ages in the head much, much more quickly.

"No right way to mourn. Doing it your own way is all you can do, I see that in you now." It serves as another apology for earlier. The tall woman shifts in her chair, one hand moving to alight fingers in a brief touch to the closed laptop. "Looks like 'keeping busy' has an uncanny resemblance to writer's block."

"We've already established today is an off day." Emily replies in a tone far sharper than before, one she doesn't regret after realizing it shifted so. She does try to remove the edge from it as she keeps speaking. "I meant in general — school, work, friends. That's what you're supposed to be doing, right? Not stopping living life just because you feel terrible and are caught up in the 'what ifs'?"

It might as well be rhetorical, because there's not any validation sought that time. Emily has more or less resumed her default state: very still with a side of defensiveness. The cardhouse can't fall in on itself if nothing moves to disturb it. If she doesn't take it apart, emotion by emotion, and face them.

Save for one, as when she was in the process of putting everything back in order, this card was replaced face up.

"As far as hoping for impossible things… I guess I've been doing plenty of that, actually. Hoping other people get their happy endings. Trying to help them become a reality, if I can." she admits as though she were distant from it all. Her gaze refocuses with a tick of her brow. "I've tried adjusting course there. Doing something more realistic, instead. Trying to not make problems worse; being there to help when things go wrong instead. Things like that."

Even that one thing is just heavy to hold and acknowledge, and she drops it before it causes the ache in her chest to start throbbing.

"If it gets too much," she concedes. "I'll handle it. Reach out to…" to someone, clearly. Maybe no one. Maybe Huruma. No promises.

Huruma doesn't seem offended by the sharpening of Emily's tone or demeanor; in fact, she seems all the more ready to absorb it. She doesn't answer the question of what Emily should be doing simply because she's already got it right. At least, to someone like Huruma it is.

"It appears," Huruma finishes the last of her tea. "We may have a little more in common than I'd thought." Her voice is a touch more sober. Emily shoving herself into working on other people sounds familiar.

"It can be good to refocus your energy when it gets too much." With how Emily seems to get when someone starts to pick at her moods, maybe another technique is in order. Part of it can be helping those people she's helping. "The Benchmark has your usual therapy, but it's stunning how many people choose to come to one of my classes instead. Or, you know, in addition to. If you ever feel like doing some, ahh… punching, et cetera."

Something about offering to show Emily proper ways to beat someone up is extremely tickling for her. Avi would not like it— probably. Maybe that's why.

"The Kids know how to find me too. I know that you are their friend." Joe said 'Stork is Hooms', so maybe the mention is enlightening. Stork has a proper Identity now. "And in terms of loss… they know it well. They will be there for you. No need to trust a stranger like me."

Even if they seem to connect…somewhere.

And the ways they overlap, both in personality and acquaintance, provides as much comfort as it does spark in Emily a desire for distance.

"The Benchmark?" Emily asks, brow furrowing. She's heard of it only in passing, never considered it as a place to actually go. When she shifts to look back toward Huruma, it's not fully, her overall demeanor wary. Her eyes flit up and down the other woman as she skeptically considers the concept, giving an eventual nod to at least acknowledge the offer that's made.

"Of course you know them," she mutters about the other teens. "Everyone knows everyone, somehow." The grumbling gives her enough mental and physical ground to stand on as she concedes, "I don't know, maybe self-defense classes wouldn't be a bad idea."

Her thumb brushes across the top of her other hand, both still tightly clasped together. "I appreciate it, Huruma." Tilting her head toward the door, Emily adds, "Don't let me keep you from anything, though. I'm sure you've got plenty to do." It's not meant as a dismissal as much as an acknowledgement that she surely has better things to be doing than dealing with her.

Huruma nods in return as Emily confirms she's tucked away that offer with her own. A flash of ivory is there for her mutterings about the other teenagers, a grin for the six degrees of separation, and the familiarity it gives.

"I've known them since they were as high as my knees. They have become better people than I could have imagined, back then." You picked some good people to have as friends, Emily Epstein. "And I do not appreciate kismet when it slaps me in the nose, though I listen." Stumbling into Emily as she did is probably some cosmic thing telling her to hang around for a spell. Huruma is glad that she did, by the by.

"You have not kept me long. I was going to meet someone when she finished her shift, and I had some time to spare." So she came in for a cup of tea, which has emptied since. Huruma uncurls from her chair, hooking it with her fingers to return it to its table. "But I will leave you to your work."

"You're pretty tall — I'm not sure that's the best judge for age," Emily manages with a wan smile.

She's trying to do better. She'll continue to try. Her heart may be heavy for a long time yet, but she'll try to do better each day.

"I still haven't figured out if that painting is actually prophetic or not," she remarks as she starts to reach for her headphones. "But if something weird happens that looks like it, I'll be sure to get in touch."

Weak or not, Huruma gives the quip a new flash of a smile, nodding and shrugging a shoulder. You've got her there, Em.

"Perhaps it is more metaphor. I am glad to hear you haven't pawned it." There's a pleased little laugh, soft in her chest as she gathers her mug to return. "If you do ever need to, let me know. I'll buy it back. I know how much textbooks cost." Huruma gives the young woman a departing wink. And all that fun stuff.

"Take care, ukhozi." is Huruma's earnest farewell as she moves to go.

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