What Do Trees Dream


avi_icon.gif devon5_icon.gif emilyt_icon.gif kaylee3_icon.gif

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Scene Title What Do Trees Dream
Synopsis When visited by familiar faces and guardian angels, at least they dream well.
Date April 2, 2020

A lone house in the Ruins of Queens

It's like a maze in this house, condemned and partly falling in on itself like it is. The structure will certainly be taken down as soon as resources can be dedicated to it, but for now, it endures. It's technically still a crime scene.

And its point of weakness is definitely only being propped up by the thick, hundred foot tall tulip tree that grows in the ruins of one of the bedrooms.

The room is lit only on one side by natural light, the other shadowed by the roof that sags against the trunk. The tree doesn't seem to be bothered by it at all. In fact, the tree doesn't appear to be bothered by anything at all. The mind inside is at peace, thoughts drifting slow just like a passing breeze through its leaves high above.

Emily is dreaming; lulls of light, warm colors and emotions prevailing over anything else. Occasionally images form, but her mind doesn't cling to them for long.

It's easier that way, to not focus on any one thing too hard.

Hands gently rest on the trunk of the tree, it pulls at her still healing ribs, making the corner of Kaylee’s eye twitch. Not that she can hide it from the severe looking Bob, standing just to the side of her. Arms cross, but he doesn’t say anything. Knowing what this tree is, he knows better than to try and stop the telepath from helping.

Bob would do the same thing in her place.

Kaylee glances at the others and offers a subdued, slightly nervous smile. “She’s not in any pain and seems to be at peace,” she quietly reassures them, even if they want it or not.

“But, before we go in there you need to know a few things.” Kaylee looks up into the wide branches thoughtfully. “When we get in there don’t push her about what happened too much, if she wants to share, that is her choice.” The telepath really didn’t want a repeat of the other tree. “If there is a door with the tree on it, ignore it and for god sake do not…. I repeat, do not attempt to open it.”

Turning to Bob, Kaylee says, “You’re watching after us, while we’re in.” Bob only gives a sound that could be an agreement.

Devon hangs back, watching the tree and Kaylee with an anxious concern. He's even shot a couple of looks to Bob, particularly during the trek out when his indecision about seeing the scene had become really apparent. It's less so, now that he's arrived, now that he's actually seen what had happened.

He starts forward as Kaylee lays out her requirements for the endeavor, apprehensions pushed aside for the sake of showing a strong front. Emily might be at peace now, but she may need that strength anyway. There's time later to unbottle the negative emotions.

“What's beyond the door?” Devon flicks a look to the telepath as he asks the question. But as he listens to the answer, he reaches to the tree and gently places his fingertips against the trunk.

“Don’t fucking think too hard about it,” comes from behind Devon. Avi had been slow to enter the house, slow to come here, slow to accept that this happened to his daughter. The fact that he stinks of alcohol and cigarettes is proof that his coping mechanism is soundly intact. This isn’t his first day of full drinking, and the dark sunglasses he wears hides the tally indicating that day of hangover he’s on.

“She’s an expert,” Avi says of Kaylee, “just do what she says unless you wanna end up even more fuckin’ brain-scrambled.” Avi leans one shoulder against the wall, cigarette hanging off his bottom lip, a wisp of smoke twisting off of a dying ember.

The tree, as it stands, hears nor sees nothing of the exchange nor who approaches. The mind kept inside remains calm, following the same lulls as before they all arrived.

The gentle touch of Kaylee's ability is wormed away from, like oil receding from water. But even then, there's nowhere to go. The mind involved is still very much bound to a single place, a single being, a single point. All it will take is a gentle stir to break through the ripple that's already formed at the barrier of her being.

If Emily recalls any of the training Kaylee herself gave her in defending herself from intrusion, none of it comes to mind now. Not in this state.

She just delves all the more deeply into warmer thoughts, focusing on them instead.

“More like you’ll make her relive that moment when she was turned into a tree….” Kaylee swallows and pales at the memory. She glances at Avi over her shoulder and out of the corner of her eye. As a parent, she knows she wouldn’t want to know details so she settles for a simpler, “It’s not fun for either party,” and leaves it at that.

There is a grimace from her, “You know… it’s been ten years and I swear when I’m around you, Avi, I almost still feel that connection.” Kaylee shakes her head, cause that’s crazy. Just a lingering memory. “Now put out the cigarette. Last thing we need is to burn down your daughter.” It’s blunt, but then again… she really didn’t want something to happen to Emily. She might also be disappointed he’s there drunk.

Tendrils of her ability reach out for the mind encased within the tree. There is no escaping these as they curl around the sleepy mind and create a pathway. “When y’all are ready, place a hand on my shoulder,” Kaylee says, sounding distracted. “And I’ll guide you there.”

Head half turning, Devon slants a look to Avi. It falls somewhere between apologetic and sympathy, with creases forming between knitted brows. The coarse answer from the older man is taken without argument. Guilt that he hadn't somehow prevented his girlfriend from being transformed into a tree had made him both reluctant and wanting to do this. He can't grasp the level of difficulty it's got to be for Avi as Emily's father.

He drops the look to the ground as Kaylee elaborates, stricken and sickened that there's worse. He'd rather suffer further brain-scramble than cause Emily more pain. With a measured exhale, Devon lifts his eyes to the tree, following the trunk up to the branches overhead. His hand flattens so his palm rests gently against the trunk. The other lifts, hesitates and hovers for a second, then settles on Kaylee’s shoulder.

Avi grunts drunkenly, plucking the cigarette out of his mouth and snubbing it out on the wall. He palms the butt and stuff it in his shirt pocket for lack of a good place to put it. “Stay out’f my head,” Avi grumbles to Kaylee, laying a hand on her shoulder, “for all you know m’thinking about what you look like nnnn— ”

Clearing his throat, Avi leans a bit more on Kaylee than is necessary, because the room is spinning. Or at least, Avi’s perception of the room is. “Nevermind.” Avi grouses. “Just fucking do it.”

“No you’re not,” Kaylee comments with certainty at his attempt at ruffling her feathers, which clearly doesn’t work. She wasn’t that same girl.

“And too bad, I’m already there.” In his mind that is. “How else am I gonna get you where you need to go?” With that he and Devon suddenly feel her ability curled around their minds, when did she manage to get in there without them noticing? The woman, clearly, has had a lot of practice over the years.

«Hold on you your butts.»

Kaylee’s voice echoes in their heads. They only get a moment to process what is happening before it feels like they are falling; their minds trying desperately to make sense of what she's doing.

It would help if they had solid ground to land on, but it's a tenuous thing. The color is slightly different from the other surroundings, at least, but there's a lack of distinct scenery in their immediate area.

At first, there's not even an Emily.

But shadow creeps into color off in one direction, and color turns into shapes. Brown-black bleeds under their feet and away in that direction, giving them a firm root into the rest of what there is to see here. Devon may be the one best equipped to interpret the impressionist painting they come face to face with, of pastel colors bleeding one into the next without clear distinction between them.

It almost looks, judging by the blurs of color, they might be in a recreation of the townhome she shares with Teo— as if they were standing in the front hall and she were in the living room. There's no context afforded to them by the sun-dappled black surrounding the vignette to give them strong indications of what else might be around here, but…

Sunlight bathes through the shape of what must be a window, though, landing on Emily's hair and shoulders. She, and the black kitten seated before her, are the only things with proper definition in the indistinct vignette of Somewhere.

She looks younger as she sits in repose, one leg folded under her on some kind of seating while the other drapes to the floor. Her hair is longer than she's kept it in years, a yellow-white ring of light framing her crown thanks to the sunlight from … above? Outside. From outside. Emily's smiling, the kitten's face cupped between her hands before she strokes his back after he mewls in protest.

"Sorry, Ket," she apologizes to him softly. The sound of it is crisp in the absence of any others.

Warmth pervades here, and peace. She's calm, and everything is fine, therefore everything should be fine.

The fuzziness of her surroundings shifts like a camera lens out of focus as she leans to one side, arm bracing along the back of— it must be a couch?— as she sets her chin on her hand and strokes the kitten's back with her other hand. He bucks up into her hand, back arching to meet her fingertips, and she lets out a soft hum at his antics as he spins back about for another pass. At once, she's in a sweater yet a tee; in socks and barefoot. In bright colors, yet dark. Nothing here is particularly stable.

The only thing absent from the palette is anything the color green.

Emily doesn't notice their appearance at first, lost in a thousand yard stare at the color of the couch while she sits in the warmth of the sun and basks in the imagined, innocent company she's created for herself. She focuses on the peace of this moment just as much as she enjoys it.

The world goes topsy turvy before Devon has a chance to protest at the intrusion. There were reasons he tended to keep his distance from telepaths — yes, even the ones who came highly recommended and regarded, such as Kaylee. Of course this field trip had been requested, and Kaylee had agreed to help. Any thoughts about complaining over the abruptness are dismissed.

Or forgotten as Emily's mindscape begins to manifest. “I know this place,” he murmurs as form begins overtaking the colors, transforming the figurative paints into recognizable shapes. He's seen the townhome enough times to know it even before details become obvious.

His attention shifts from surroundings to the creator, even before she speaks. Dev’s focus pulls to Emily's presence the way a compass is drawn to true north. He takes a step forward, disregarding any possible consequences. There's no door, no tree, just, “Emily.”

Whatever exists in the periphery of memory in the shape of Avi Epstein isn’t the man Devon expected to see. He looks younger, less gray in his hair, less world-worn and weary. There’s laugh lines creased in the corners of his mouth, but the worry lines on his brow aren’t nearly as pronounced. He looks maybe two decades younger, but little else about him is distinct, his clothes are dark and… clothes. But he is, much like Emily, a vignette of a person.

Avi says nothing, making it hard to tell if he exists as a part of the mindscape backdrop or is himself. But the look he gives Devon with a rise of darker and thicker eyebrows is telling enough. Talk to her, it implies. Avi doesn’t suspect he’s the first person she wants to see.

There is a sound like a snap of giant bird wings, before Kaylee appears at the older man’s elbow, with a lowered voice so as not to interrupt the lovebirds, “And so should you, Avi, since… you know… you’re her father, she'll want to see you. Mine avoided me like the plague til the day he died… in this same kind of place. But… I still wanted to see him more than anything. Upside, is I know for a fact, you’re a better man than him.” She gives him a lop-sides smile, taps the side of her nose, and shoves hands into the pockets of her tan leather jacket, but that’s the only thing that’s the same from the outside world.

Out of the corners of everyone’s eyes, they might catch a glimpse of angelic wings sprouting from her back, but looking straight at her, they're not there. Only the telepath with her wild unkempt hair, her leather jacket, ripped jeans, and an old worn tee shirt with the words ‘Monster Inside.’

Not waiting for him to cuss her out, Kaylee closes her eyes and turns her attention to sharpening the memory, creating a safe space for Emily to talk to her family. Drawing upon memories to find things that comfort her, even the cat under her hands feels real. As the scenery sharpens and focuses, the telepath slowly fades away into the background, giving them a semblance of privacy. Though Avi gets a private nudge of encouragement.

«You got this.»

The sound of someone else's voice takes Emily partly by surprise. Things are still indistinct, and at first, she can't make out just who it is. "Nat?" she asks in return, lifting her head and shifting her posture so she's sitting properly upright. The colors around her shift, flexible scenery changing to other places, other times, save for the fact the kitten doesn't leave.##

Then everything comes into focus, like an optometrist finally dropping just the right lens over the mindspace. With the sharpening occuring, the blurs become shapes, the amalgamation of spaces forced as one. In the corner of the living room space, under the TV, a rounded table with Too Many Chinese food boxes sits, utensils stuck in food and left. The wall by the end of the couch, near to Devon's position, should have a bookcase that Kettle likes to jump onto, but instead it's the blind-covered sliding glass door from her apartment with Julie. At the other end of the couch is a maroon armchair from Rachel's that she'd spent years curled up in.

Forced to take form, years of glimpses of comfortable space visualize at once. And somehow, anyone else didn't make up part of that cycle.

So it's perplexing when Emily sees Devon on the periphery suddenly. "Dev?" she wonders, brow creasing in concern. Her tone implies he shouldn't be here. "Dev, are you…?"

A nightmare? Dead? Real? Not real? She stays fixed to her spot, either from fear, or because she simply can't move. Her hand stays rooted to the furry back of the kitten that, were this reality, would have long since leapt away at the extensive amount of attention he's receiving.

“Visiting,” Devon supplies, a touch hesitant on leading in with anything negative. Visiting isn't negative, it implies good times for happy memories — usually. And that's the angle he's going for. Now that he's been noticed, he approaches Emily with a little more confidence. As he crosses the mismatched intersection of rooms, glance ticks back to Kaylee and Avi, the latter of which is given a slight nod of invitation.

“I'm alright. Your dad’s here. Kaylee, too.” Dev explains as he wanders closer. Maybe including the telepath will help Emily understand the how of their presence. That they're neither nightmare nor dead. For all his desire to rush forward, gather Emily into a hug, he keeps a slow pace. Even right up until he's within reach, he opts to sit on the floor across from her.

“You cut this shit out right now,” is the first thing Avi says, looming over Devon’s shoulder. “Stop— being— a— fucking tree this instant.” He is at once incredibly unhelpful and extremely bad at all of this. He feels ten feet tall and five inches high all at once and in spite of his barking tone sounds like he’s down a long hallway.

Avi limps out from behind Devon, knee-brace over his right leg and an eyepatch over his missing eye. “We’re all fucking worried out of our minds.

Emily's proclivity toward assuming the worst is headed off with the simple word of intercession from Devon. Her shoulders begin to settle where she sits as she makes her peace with what he says, her eyes only on him. There's so much wrapped up in the look she gives him, her brow slowly creeping into a furrow the closer he gets. It spikes suddenly into anxiety when he's close, too much at once, but he sits— gives her her space to process the situation.

It's belated that she remembers at all others are here, too, and when she finally tears her gaze away from Devon, it's with reluctant hope.

She shrinks with Avi's snap.

The distance of his voice doesn't change the shape of them as they hit her, demanding something she has no power to change. One small hand curls around the fabric of her hospital gown, blue eyes piercing as she looks up at her father. She had eyes older than her as a child, but this is different. They carry so much more weight behind them now.

Emily opens her mouth to speak, but overlaying tones of voice and words come out all at once. She's thinking more than one thing at once, and they don't resolve. Even though the content of them is unclear, the feeling behind them still gets across. A hard, emotional shove floods across the mental space, and the young girl on the couch doesn't even lift a hand.

Her one foot hanging off the side somehow still remains flat on the floor, even for the shift in her height. The rug on the floor grows up into her, spiderwebbing veins of roots lashing her to the ground. The curve of her jawline shifts with tension from the words she can't decide on, and veins along the side of her neck become more pronounced. Green. The color of it curves around to her cheek, small for now. Not overcoming her, her humanity.

"Maybe you should try not being an asshole for five fucking minutes," hits particularly hard. It comes from a child's mouth, until a blur of a moment later she's practically her age again, one hand curled tightly around the handle of a purple crutch. "You might hurt the fucking tree's feelings and lose her forever." It hits with the raw force of her ability, a suggestion laden with knowing just how he's made her feel.

Objectively, though, the belief behind that position doesn't feel far-fetched at all. While the work done to reinforce this mental space keeps her from withdrawing entirely from the shock sent to her, the colors streaming in from outside lose definition— if they had them in the first place.

Kettle's gone by Emily's side, now, and she brings her hands together in her lap, clasping them tightly to help steel herself. "I don't know what Kaylee's doing, but I also don't know how long it'll work. It's hard to hold onto concrete things, Dev. It's hard to—" With a forceful close of her eyes, she tries to resist sighing, wasting time with that. When her eyes open again, she stresses, "Everything's hard."

She wants to reach out. It's impossible not to see that. But she's afraid, too.

"Is this… are we— supposed to say goodbye? Is this our only chance for that?" Despite Devon's assurance this was a visit rather than that, that's where her mind takes her. It's an opportunity she'd rather take than let slip through her fingers, as it's one she never thought she'd get. "Because I wanted to say I'm sorry. I'm sorry I fucked up this badly."

Devon is on his feet, without haste but purposeful, and still a presence planted between Emily and Avi. He holds a hand out to Emily as if that could keep her from leaving in anger, and lifts the other toward Avi in a gesture for the older man to dial it back just a bit.

“We’re working on this tree nonsense,” he states for the benefit of both. Kaylee, too, if she's listening. And anyone else who might be lurking. His hands drift to his sides. The look he gives Avi hopes the man will follow his lead and find more encouraging things to say. “Your friends, family. Me.”

Dev’s attention returns to Emily and he sits on his knees in front of her. “This isn't the end and…” He breathes a laugh in a weak attempt to lighten the mood. This time he does offer a hand. “Yeah, you fucked up. But this isn’t any ending, it's just a fucked up chapter in the book.”

Avi has long hair when he steps into Devon’s peripheral vision, practically down to his shoulders. Emily had only seen the photograph once, wasn’t sure how old he was when it was taken or when it his life it had been, but he was young. Maybe younger than them both. There he is now, flannel shirt and loose jeans, putting a hand on Emily’s shoulder. It’s like he hadn’t even heard what she said a moment ago.

“It’ll be alright.” Avi says in the kindest tone of voice either of them have ever heard come from him. “We’re gonna figure this out, and we’re gonna fix this. You’re allowed to screw up, it’s natural. It’s how we learn.”

But in a blink of the eye Avi’s gone, like a trick of the light. Or, not gone, but more like he was never there there at all. Instead he’s standing beside Devon in a crisp shark-gray suit, hair neatly coiffed and mirrored aviator sunglasses hiding his eyes. “I’m gonna find the stupid bitch that did this to you, make her change you back, and then I’m gonna cut out her fucking eyes and leave her rolled up in a rug in the woods, screaming for help until she fucking bleeds to death.”

Having already taken Devon's hand is the only thing that keeps Emily from reacting more visibly to the whiplash of Avi's sides showing themselves. She laces her fingers around his so tightly her knuckles turn white, her hand at once tiny and just the way Devon would expect it to be. The knife of Avi's support cuts deep— but in the process shears away some anxiety.

She doesn't know how, it just does. He somehow sounds ridiculous even for how deadly serious he is. Like an overwrought mafia enforcer on a soap.

Emily looks back to Devon with watering eyes, lifting her other hand to cup his cheek. SESA tried for months to figure out if reversing the state of the trees was possible, she knows, and the chances of them finding Ali to somehow reverse this feels so slim. "I want to believe you'll find a way. I want to fucking believe." Smiling weakly, her hand falls back to her lap. "I'll try to hope." Looking past Devon, her hand lifts again on second thought, offered to Avi. "For both of you, I'll try."

Trying might be as far as she gets. Her expression is so sad, even for her attempts to smile. "But just in case— know I love you, okay? Both of you."

"A-and Mom. And Julie, and—"

Her shoulders begin to curve inward and down, her grip slacking. The tears she'd been trying to hold back struggle forward. Rain pelts the glass of the windows, angry and restless. "Ali said she was going to leave after me. And even if you do find her, what promise do we have I won't be like this forever? I just—" Emily's eyes close hard. "I'm afraid to hope."

"I want so bad to see you both again. I miss you so fucking much." The sob that comes from her is small, her posture shrinking as she begins to collapse down— before she impossibly snaps back to how she was before, all in the space of a blink. She has to be strong.

“It's okay to be afraid,” Devon says, his hand tightening around Emily's as her grip loosens. “But… that's how it works. Having hope that your friends, the people you love are going to pull you out of whatever shitty hole you've fallen into. There's a lot of unknowns, but…”

But he moves instead of finishing that thought. Hesitant, with a worried look toward Avi, he shifts from his knees to sit beside Emily. An arm wraps around her shoulders protectively, comforting. “We're going to get you out of this.” Devon remains firm on that, refusing to acknowledge that she may be right. The idea is unfathomable. It chills him to even consider the possibility.

“You'll see us again, I promise. You can believe that, trust us… your dad and me.” Dev ticks another look to Avi, then back to Emily. He musters a crooked grin. “I mean. I promised I'd come back home from California.” Sure it took him a bit to make it, but the point is he kept his promise.

The tired old man that takes Emily’s hand is most familiar to her. The slower, more patient Avi than any other iteration she’s known through the curving arc of his life. “We blew up a pyramid and I’m pretty sure Richard killed God while you’ve been out of the loop or something so…” he wobbles his head from side to side, “I think we can handle breaking whatever fucking witch’s curse this is.”

Though, it’s then that Avi makes something of a guilty face and grimaces. “I uh, suppose…” he exhales a deep breath, “I should probably tell your mother about this.”

Because he hasn’t.

Told her.

Devon's reassurances fall on Emily comfortingly. His arm around her shoulder even makes her forget she's rooted in place— the one constant in all her variations. She lets out a laugh that clearly is on the verge of tears. Yeah, he came back… but he died first to do it.

"No repeats of last time," Emily makes him promise.

Her eyes lift back to Avi when he takes her hand, listening through the headlines of missed events with an upward tic of one eyebrow. She lets out a fainter laugh still, wildly misinterpreting the events that happened. "You went and fucked up Mazdak?" she asks, her mood brightening. "That's fucking incredible. I'm glad. I'm really glad."

Emily squeezes her father's hand in a gesture of support, her smile thin but sincere in the face of his awkward admission. "I don't envy you," she confides wryly. Her expression softens with the beginnings of a nod. "But yeah, please don't let her just… wonder. She probably thinks I'm just dodging her calls, and…" Brows furrowing down, she says carefully, "Somehow— somehow that's worse than the reality."

"Lie for me, would you?" Emily asks, looking up at Avi. "Tell her I'm doing just fine. Not Bob-Ross-happy-little-tree fine, but— I'm not suffering." Whether that's the lie he's supposed to tell, or the truth, she doesn't elaborate. "Tell her you're working on it, and you're going to fix it. You're going to fix me."

She'll let herself hope the same, too.

“Nothing like last time,” Devon reaffirms. It's a promise he made, he meant to make, and a promise he will continue to keep. No mention of the last trip to California comes from him, Avi can field that subject. Instead, he gives Emily’s shoulders a squeeze, forehead pressing to her temple. It isn't the same as it would be outside the mindscape, but he takes and gives what comfort he can.

After a beat, he lifts his head, looks from Emily to Avi. His mouth twitches, one corner tugging after a grin, but he refrains from voicing the tease about happy little trees. Instead he just gives Em’s shoulders another little squeeze, keeping himself quiet while she and her dad have a moment.

“Praxis.” Avi corrects, gently. “Mazdak’s…” he trails off, shaking his head. “You can worry about it when you come out of this. SESA’s got agents across the country working with the FBI and Homeland Security, they’re gonna find her and then we’re— it’s gonna be fine.”

Avi is avoiding asking questions, about trying to pry too deeply into how she’s faring. But it’s seeing her interface with Devon here, in a place where consciousness and memory are so intimately intertwined, that makes him relent some. “You… two deserve a minute. Alone.” Avi admits in a quiet tone of voice, slowly disengaging from Emily in that withering way he always does when he’s convinced himself he doesn’t belong somewhere.

Even as Avi starts to back-up, he feels a hand against his back, preventing him from walking away. If he looks there will be no one there, even though the gentle pressure on his back remains. Then only he hears a quiet voice, whispering in his ear. “Avi… from one parents to another and as a daughter, this might be the only chance you have. Please… Don’t waste this chance. Tomorrow is never guaranteed…” Then the voice and the sensation of the hand on his back are gone again, giving him leave to do as he wishes.

"Oh," Emily intones quietly to the correction in entities Wolfhound has assaulted recently. "That's…" For a moment, she looks older for it, more tired. Rather than approach the topic of revenge for her sister, she supposes he's right— the information will do her no good when she can't even react to it.

Avi's self-invitation out of the conversation is met with a hesitant silence. Almost like she hadn't heard, she nods once, her attention splitting between Devon and Avi both. "Did… did they already figure out they got the wrong guy? That it wasn't the professor after all— that it was a student?"

Rain pelts against the windows more harshly, and Emily swallows hard, but steels herself to make it through.

A small frown tugs at Devon’s brow as Avi dismisses himself. A protest forms, insistence that the older man get a chance to spend a few moments with Emily while there's the chance. But it's Emily's following question that keeps him from airing those thoughts immediately.

“We've had some leads,” he allows. It wasn't a topic he'd anticipated talking about, however it's a small, tangible measure of hope he and Avi can offer. A quick look angles to Avi, then returns to Emily.

“It's been narrowed down to one or two.” Devon glances at Avi. “I think we're close though. Once we have our suspect, it's just a matter of us finding them and then you'll be back as you should be.”

As for Avi, Kaylee might be right. It might be his last chance. But when has being wrong ever stopped him? Only Kaylee knows how bad this hurts and how much he wants to stay. And yet. Avi’s tired, old projection into Emily’s mental space flickers with a static dissonance and then, like smoke on the wind, is gone.

«You stubborn old….» If Kaylee was a bird, her feathers would be fluffed as she fades back into view. Though at the moment only her cheeks puff out in a huff of indigent and wings fold tightly against her back. ##FFFF80«He is lucky I don’t come out swinging when we’re done here and slap him silly.»##

«I thought you were supposed to get wiser with old age!» He might have heard that in the waking word too. Kaylee might know how much it hurts, but she also knows when a parent needs to put that aside and talk to their damn kids. It takes a lot not to chase after him and go momma bear on his stubborn ass, but it wasn’t just them.

Kaylee makes a sound in the back of her throat, but then forces out a calming breath and gives Emily and Devon a tight lipped smile. «Sorry. I’m going to work on strengthening your safe space, Emily. Carry on.» Kaylee murmurs as she fades away again, though Emily can feel the sharpening of her mental hideaway.

As soon as Avi fades from view, the effect on Emily is instant. The yearning for more time is palpable, the 'world' outside the small den growing dark, and Kaylee's additions of stability much-needed. The blotch of green on her neck spreads, discoloring spreading down slowly— but mostly up, curling around her ear, her cheek. Her fingers lace tightly around Devon's as her gaze goes distant. "Hit him for me, actually. Would you?" she asks of Kaylee. "Pin the blame on me if you have to."

When Kaylee fades again, though, it's as much a cue as any for Emily to turn into Devon, burying her head into his shoulder. It might not be real, but she can imagine it is, and it's the thought of it that carries comfort. He knows well just how rare, how fleeting of a moment this would be were she herself, but in this space her embrace lasts longer than that. She curls into him even if one foot never leaves the ground, still rooted.

It's only through sheer will she doesn't cry— and if this weren't all in her mind, doubtless she would be, hating every second of weakness of it. "It was Ali all along. A friend from school— Ali Underwood. She…" That's as far as she makes it with any explanation, though, the entire set of scenery flickering like the lights on it might go out. Emily quickly retreats from those thoughts, clinging to Devon more tightly.

"I— I can't." The words are part plea, part apology, the veiny green on her cheek spreading. Her eyes are tightly shut, an additional attempt to keep from slipping further away. "I'm sorry— I love you."

Then, more quietly, in nearly a murmur, she asks, "Do you really think we're going to be able to fix this?"

Ali Underwood. The name is filed away as Devon holds Emily firmly against his chest. One hand touches the back of her head, brushes her hair back from her face. He walls off a thickening knot of fear when he finds the spreading growth of green, even squeezing his eyes shut to keep it from being seen there. A tilt of his head brings his cheek to rest against Emily's temple and he makes a gentle hushing sound.

“Yes,” he answers, not immediately after her asking nor as firmly as before. But his conviction remains unchanged even in the quietness of his voice. He's seen soldiers suffer worse and come out the other side, they're not losing Emily to this. “Just hang on, okay?” His arms tighten, and for an instant the fear of being wrong, of losing her, teases him. “Don't give up. I love you.” His eyes open, and he sits back to catch Emily's eyes with his. “I'll bring you back, I promise. Whatever it takes, whatever I have to do. I love you, Emily.”

With a faint laugh, unsmiling, Emily is nonetheless relieved by Devon's presence. Her hand finds the curve of his cheek, thumb brushing over it. If he thinks for a second his fearlessness fools her, he's sorely mistaken… but it's comforting to see he's not blind to the odds, to the discomfort, to the sheer scariness of this situation.

It's one not even she has gotten used to, spending most of her aware time doing everything she can to avoid thinking about it.

It takes its toll to do so just as much to hide from it.

Now she finally smiles, the corner of her mouth curving up just slightly as she meets his eyes. "I love you, too, Dev." she repeats in a whisper. Emily closes her eyes again to lean her forehead against his, savoring this moment for as long as it'll last.

But it doesn't.

She abruptly inhales sharply, eyes halfway open even though she doesn't seem to see. Her eyes, iris and pupil both, have turned vibrant shades of electric and dark green that—

A heavy breeze passes through the canopy above, tousling leaves high above the dilapidated home. In that blink of time, the mindscape falters, the last of its foreign occupants deposited on solid ground once more. It's Kaylee who can sense the confused kick of energy from the overwhelmed Emily, distracted by stimuli she's still not accustomed to. There's a shudder through her mental being with the passing of the cool breeze.

And then that stills, too, settling into something quieter and more passive still.

The sharp breath and change of eye color is unexpected, and Devon stiffens in alarm. Has something happened? “Emily?” He doesn't immediately parse the sound of the wind through the leaves for what it is, what it means. “Emily!” Eyes still closed, he clings to the memory of the mindscape as if his will alone can disbelieve reality and bring back the realm where Emily isn’t locked away inside a tree.

The cool breeze that sweeps through the branches tousles his hair and denies all of his wishes. There was no wind in the mindscape, no solid ground.

“No.” Devon, shaking his head, opens his eyes to look at the tree. “No, Emily.” His expression withers. His hand goes from Kaylee’s shoulder to touch the trunk. A longing, pleading look turns from the boughs stretching overhead to Kaylee and Avi.

Unlike the others, Kaylee is quiet for a few moments more, a crease in her brow as she finishes her work. «Sleep now, Emily. Rest until they can free you. Your safe space is yours forever.» Emily won’t see her, but she can feel the weight of her exhaustion as her mind follows the command it’s given and when she dreams; it’s something pleasant, a memory that Kaylee strengthened.

When Kaylee’s eyes open, tears that had been trapped in her lashes move to slide down her cheeks. She gives a sniff and brushes her sleeve under her nose. “She’ll be fine,” she tells the two men waiting for her. “She’ll sleep and hopefully, dream pleasantly.” Maybe she could ask Hokuto or Delia to watch over her dreams. That young girl had enough torture.

The tree is given one more reassuring pat and Devon’s arm a squeeze. However, Avi finds himself hugged by the telepath. “Should slap you, you stubborn man… but, I don’t know how I would react if that happened to my kids. I can’t even begin to understand and I’ve been in your head,” she says quietly in his ear. “I have faith you are gonna fix this, Avi, even if you don’t feel it. And I’m always around to talk if you need an ear or a friend.”

“Catch up with me when all your kids are dead too,” Avi says turning his back to Kaylee, shoulders slouched forward, already making his way out. He can’t deal with this anymore, can’t deal with the twisted knot of wood that was once his daughter, can’t deal with the ghosts of two other children haunting every single moment he spends here.

Worst of all, he can’t deal with all this sympathy.

Devon’s fingers curl against the bark, like the pressure alone would find a way through wood and pulp to Emily. It's impossible, the tree that keeps Emily imprisoned is as impenetrable as any Epstein once they've engaged their innate stubbornness. Not that it keeps him from trying, at least while Kaylee has her moment of trying to talk sense into Avi.

When he hears the older man stalk away, he gives up too. Dev takes a step back, swings a look in the direction Avi left, then turns a troubled face to Kaylee.

“Let's head back too.” They can return again, tomorrow or the next day, better prepared. Devon’s eyes flick toward the tulip tree but remain focused on Kaylee. “Thank you, for making this possible.”

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