Working On It


dumortier_icon.gif merlyn_icon.gif

Scene Title Working On It
Synopsis Just a little coffee between new old pals.
Date May 6, 2021

Red Hook Market

Long tunnels and brick walls always give a feeling of something truly underground, and it's a feeling that Dumortier always loves, just as he loves the dark feeling of an old growth forest, sky blacked out. Maybe it's something akin to liminal space. He may not sell much these days, but he still has a rapport with one of the many shop stalls- - and it makes him a little extra with little effort. Hard to completely shun old habits.

At least, the legal tomfoolery abides. Rene has had to shine his shoes and keep his hands clean for a time now. The rest he has mostly… gone by the seat of his pants. It'll work itself out in the meanwhile.

That said, he can never account for someone else's thoughts - - or actions- - in regard to him. One more tricky thing.

Dumortier hasn't been able to clearly determine who it is that is tailing his path around the market, but he's fairly certain someone is. Visuals have given him just color and shape as he makes his way through the stalls and fronts, eventually ending up on a short stretch of corridor consisting of foot traffic.

The good thing about Red Hook is that it's a place full of corridors and corners, which also ends up being the bad thing about Red Hook. It's just as easy to lose someone as it is to tail someone, but the more familiar someone is with an area, the easier it is to follow patterns of people and paths.

Whoever is following him seems a little less familiar with the general layout of the area, eventually making it easier for her to be spotted eventually when she slips up. The short, petite blonde doesn't look particularly menacing, nor does she seem to walk with particular purpose. She seems almost as interested in window shopping as she is in tailing him, almost distracted enough by a stall not to catch when he's headed somewhere it'll be a little more obvious he's being tailed.

Merlyn stops, seeming unsure about following at this point. Especially because she's probably already been made.

The dawdling helps to more identify who it is; first impression gives him the feeling of familiarity, and a few moments more of sidling past strangers and their packs allows Rene to crane his head for a distinctly better view before she turns in time to have seen him. Two playing at this game, et cetera- - made on both sides, but all it takes is another distraction to be sure he's not a target just an interest.

Next stall over, one of the display carts buckles and tips sidelong, pitching flatware and utensils clumsily onto the ground.

With the buckle of the cart, Merlyn's on the move. The blonde darts forward, but instead of going anywhere else, she's there at the cart. "Shit, is everything okay?" She asks the vendor as she moves to quickly begin to clean up the mess that wasn't hers in the first place. Right place, right time. Her gaze is low, and if Rene left now, he'd have more than an easy chance to get away. It's so low, in fact, that she's not using it as an excuse to get a closer look.

She's genuinely just helping.

Incidentally, what Merlyn does see is something dark and slim snaking its way out from under the mess of the cart. The stallkeeper seems suitably flustered, murmuring thank yous to those who stop and help to tip the wagon back into place. All in all, a quaint little scene, for what it's worth- - even if a manufactured one.

"I thought that button nose looked familiar," comes the greeting from just beyond her peripheral vision, its source leant up against the corner of a plastic-faced display case. Dumortier looks much the same(though everyone has that tint of post-war life these days), well-dressed with platinum hair carefully drawn over one shoulder, and that little charmer's smile.

Merlyn brushes her hands off on her jeans, a quick double-check given to the display simply to determine all had been righted there before she folds her arms over her chest. "No one's got a nose like I do, it's my one curse," she says, turning fully towards the sound of the voice. "I mean, I don't normally follow people around like a creeper either, so I suppose my curse just works well for me in being memorable. You've either got to be a ghost or make an impression and I'm fine with being the latter."

"You'd make a darling ghost, though." Dumortier laughs softly, giving the young woman a closer inspection now that they're face to face. "I feel like you used to be shorter." Possibly. He's not very big to begin with- - it's one of his own curses, clearly, though as with her it doesn't seem to get to him.

He just makes impressions in other ways, dig?

"If you're not normally a creeper, should I feel flattered?"

Merlyn puffs herself up, giving herself maybe another half-inch of height before she replies. "Perhaps I've grown in stature, who knows?" She shrugs her shoulders as if it were, indeed, a possibility she'd somehow added to her height and it really was a mystery. She tips her head in his direction before breaking out into a grin.

"I suppose that entirely depends on your point of view. If you're looking at it from the angle that you are getting a special treatment that few others ever get, certainly flattery is the correct response. However," she pauses for dramatic effect. "If you look at it from the angle of someone stalking you, I think concern would be the proper reaction. Unless you like people stalking you… but I won't judge if you're into that."

"I'm an either-or kind of guy, so I'll take it," The roll of a shoulder in a shrug accompanies a sidestep, easing out of the way of oncoming traffic while he engages with Merlyn. "I like being special anyway."

"You turned into a ghost when shit came down, but you look like you haven't done half bad since." Rene spares a serious expression for this, a moment of criticality that can follow along when anyone brings up what happened during wartime. In this case, Merlyn was certainly still what many would call a kid back then- - yet more of an adult in the eyes of the street. You've got to grow up fast, just like he did.

“Consider me your number one stalker then,” Merlyn replies, grin still on her face. It fades to something different at the mention of when “shit came down”, because she very much knows what he means. “People didn’t particularly want to throw aid in the direction of people like me, but I managed to make it work. I passed along my luck to others when I could. Safe places to eat and sleep, making sure if I found them that I wasn’t the only one who did.”

While her expression changed with the shift to war talk, it’s not sad, it’s hardened and accompanied by an equally hardened smile. Not unfriendly, but a secure wall that prevents any actual vulnerability from showing through. “I am much less of a ghost now, sorry to break your ghostly mental image of me. I kept my head low and attention elsewhere and I liked it. I’m still not always liking the attention, but having a name and contacts has kept my head above water.”

Her hardened smile turns back to the playful grin from before. “My name’s out there enough that people come to me for things. Way better than looking for jobs and scrambling to get to them first. I’m no professional, but I’ve got a lifeline or two and a little black book in my head of hundreds of contacts. Less of a ghost, more the one who can work magic.”

She gives him a once over. “You’re looking good too. Well-dressed, clean kept, you’re doing better than I am.”

As Merlyn shares what she lets herself share, Rene accepts what he gets with a quiet nod along with her words. He understands in a lot of ways where she's coming from, even if not directly.

"Glad to hear you're getting by. I've kept a few contacts since, but… Found a collective out west, followed them back a few years ago. Been weird as hell since, but I like it." Or at least, he can't say that he's hated it. Some parts. Like the dying. The not-dying. It's a complicated feeling.

Dumortier laughs quietly for her assessment of him, shrugging and opening his hands at his sides. "Believe it or not, I've got a government gig. Not that I had trouble before with looking good, but the steady paycheck helps."

“Aw, you’ve got to pay taxes then. That’s the downside to a regular paycheck. You look good and pay taxes. It’s a shame, really,” Merlyn says with a chuckle. “I don’t know that I could ever handle a regular job like that. Mostly because I’m not skilled in anything useful, just the kinda stuff you use to get by on the streets.”

She pauses. “You aren’t gonna like… turn me in or something, right? Because that would suck.”

"Not that kind of gig, I'm afraid," Dumortier reassures her with his best crooked grin. "I'm sure you know a thing or two about a thing or two… it's all about marketing." He's giving off the vibe that it's basically what he's done too. In a manner of speaking. One hand lifts to drag fingers through his hair, smoothing through it while he nurses his grin.

"Anyhow, no, you don't need to worry about me. SESA has more, ah, specific priorities. Not to say you aren't worth catching, chere."

“I figured, but it never hurts to ask,” Merlyn flashes one of her signature grins. “I like to sail just under the radar enough to keep from garnering too much attention, but just high enough for people to know who to come to when they need something. Besides, I don’t usually get my hands dirty for the most part. I’ve always been a lover, not a fighter.”

She gives a nod in his direction. “I’d be more worried if I became a specific concern. For both of us, really, because if I ever did something stupid enough to bring that kind of shit down on my head, I probably deserve to be caught. Or, most likely, someone’s trying to make me take the fall for something. A girl’s gotta have her backup plans for these kinds of things. Besides, I’m always gonna be a small fish, not a big fish. You ever hear my name getting too big, you yell at me for being an idiot.”

"Like I said… priorities." Dumortier waves a hand dismissively. No reason to worry, really. "Sure thing, Keep your hopes and dreams low, I think you'll be perfectly fine." He teases lightly. "The notion of 'keep your expectations low and you'll always be surprised', hm?"

"You shopping, or could I buy you a coffee?" Rene angles his head with the question; hopefully the exchange was enough to curtail any more following but also keep himself accessible. He remembers her being as much of a peach as she is now, so maybe this could work in everyone's favor.

"You've got me in a nutshell," Merlyn winks in his direction. "The expectations are forever low, I'm afraid." She inclines her head in a bit of a nod. "I could go for a coffee. I really wasn't actually shopping, I'm sure you're entirely surprised. I was, however, checking the area to see if there was anything interesting. Anyone as the case seems to be." She grins at him. "And were you shopping, or just leading me on a merry chase?"

"I was just checking in on a merchant friend. They come in from Providence, outside of the Zone. That's where I'm from, I guess you could say?" Rene laughs, tipping his head onward and holding a hovering hand at Merlyn's back to herd her. "Eileen's is just down the way. She has the market cornered- - so to speak."

Merlyn lets herself be carefully herded in the proper direction, glancing sidelong at Rene as they walk. “I’d never survive out there, it’s not my vibe, but more power to you. I hear it’s nice.” She looks ahead to make sure she doesn’t trip as they walk (an entirely valid possibility), then casually asks, “So what exactly is it that you do for SESA? Do they have you running about for coffee or do you actually get to do things?”

"Ah, both?" Rene responds somewhat sheepishly, though he doesn't seem terribly bothered by his own admission. "Getting coffee is a good way to get around and eavesdrop. Plus, people like you more. It's an easy In, actually." Gophering is good sometimes.

"As for getting to 'do things'," He chuckles, a bit dry at the edges. "I get assignments, if that's what you mean. Sometimes it's just busywork at the outreach building. Sometimes it's punching robots in the dick. I'm a renaissance man."

"Smart. Make them like you, learn their habits, you've got a whole bunch of people who'd be more than happy to help you out. Friends in good places make a damn bit of difference," Merlyn says, grinning. "But yes, by 'do things' I mean field assignments. I feel like that's the whole part of the job that I ever see anyone doing or that I ever hear anything about." She lets out a little laugh as she seems to linger on the idea of punching robots in the dick.

"You certainly are a renaissance man," she agrees. "Perhaps one with a broken hand if you go around doing that though." She pauses for a half second to glance over at a nearby stall before she looks back at him. "Do you like doing that kind of stuff? I mean, punching a robot sounds like a grand old time but… what's it like? Is it any good as a job?"

"There are a lot of moving parts, that's for sure." Well enough herded, Rene slides his hands to trouser pockets, jacket hiked just so. "And Ihave a secret to a great left hook." He doesn't have any demonstration up his sleeve, though. Thankfully.

"It's a little like… procedurals. You only ever get to see the detectives, so that's what people think of. I'm in the field if they pull me. Usually investigation or, ah, for my ability. I'm decent behind the curtain though." Dumortier stops short of overexplaining; despite his welcoming of her stalking there is still a part of him testing the footing. "I'm a rookie, so… learning curve yet. I'll figure it out. Or I won't. But the salvage life? Getting stale."

“I can respect that,” Merlyn says, only the slightest downturn of her mouth betraying something more on her mind. She looks back over, shaking her head. “Salvage is hard work, I steer away from doing any of the dirty work for most things most days. I’m not sure I could ever leave this sort of life even if I wanted to. How do you throw out an entire way of life and… I dunno, pay bills?”

Her smile returns promptly. “Maybe some of us are better at being investigators and bringing coffee. I don’t have an ability, so I’ve not got that inroad for something either. I guess I’m just impressed you got out of this sort of thing and now you’re ‘respectable’. Having a permanent home, the same place you go to every day for a job? How does that not get stale?”

"It's been hard getting used to it, I haven't done the regular joe thing since college. Worth giving it a shot again." If he doesn't like it, well- - always something to fall back on. "If I need to give it up, I will." Rene's breath puffs out with a laugh; He sounds accepting of it, at least. "It's different. An adventure in self-control, too. You know how I love challenges."

"I had a taste of greatness…?" Dumortier ventures this, searching for a way of summarizing it up. "And a taste of what fresh hells people can come up with after a fucking civil war. If I can do something about that, why not?"

“Oof, self-control. Can’t say I have delved much into that territory,” Merlyn jokes. She watches him as he tries to sum it up before she glances elsewhere idly. “You’re a better person than I am, in any case. I might want to help, but know I’m just helping on a small individual level.” It’s a knowing smile that she flashes him. “One step at a time, right?”

"Small things add up." He agrees, giving a commiserating smile. "Same goes for being a little shit. It adds up. Luckily I would always keep it from spilling." There is definitely a lesson to be learned when it comes to doing just enough in either direction. "Respect feels good no matter how you slice it."

Up around the bend lingers the smell of freshly percolated coffee, crooking like a beckoning finger in a cartoon. This and the lighted signage is immediately welcoming.

“Respect does feel good,” Merlyn agrees. “I like to foster it where I can. It’s nice to feel like you’re doing something good… people just aren’t gonna see the secret magic hands doing it behind the scenes.” She grins, glancing at the sign before looking back to him.

“Oh yeah, I’m definitely craving that coffee now.”

As they arrive, Dumortier offers the space for Merlyn to sidle inside first.

"I love my magic hands. And these days I love showing them to everyone." More than before, anyway. Rene laughs brightly, indulging himself in some brief chest puffing. "Like those robots." Moving on, however; "Have you caught up with many more old faces? You did mention still having your rolodex."

“I do my best to make sure to check in with all the contacts I can. Got to keep good relationships if you ever need something in a pinch,” Merlyn says as she moves to settle herself. “Not everyone is quite as fun to catch up with as you, though. Nor is everyone doing things quite as exciting as you. Some people barely move from their places in life.”

As he settles in across from Merlyn, Dumortier lets a closed smile rest on his features. "We've hardly had fun yet, hn?" It's just coffee, honey~. "So you're saying I'm one of a kind? Flattering. And true." His hand pats against his chest, laugh quietly following. "I'm glad I'm fitting your 'cool' metric. Sounds like a prize. Any interesting plans for you, anytime soon?"

“As if anything I do is uninteresting,” Merlyn smirks, leaning on the table a bit. “I’ve got a few things I’m trying out, sales wise. Haven’t been doing as much with the scrap unless I’m bored. Jobs have been about average… I did run into an old face not long ago, so I’ve been catching up, but really my future plans are exactly the same as my past ones, which I’ve just filled you in on.”

She grins. “I clearly have the most interesting uninteresting plans.”

"Nothing wrong with staying comfortable, so you do you." Comfortable isn't always his style, but there's still something nice about it. Providence was comfortable for a long time. Sedro too. Still adventurous, in an odd way. "I've got a couple of numbers I should give you, actually… I can't do much with them now, but you…" Rene slides his phone from the inside pocket of his jacket, wagging it her way. "Not a ploy to get yours, promise."

Pulling out her phone, Merlyn offers a grin. “It’s obviously not a ploy,” she explains, “because I think you’d be bold enough to just ask if you wanted it.” She looks in his direction. “I will happily take any contacts you might decide are worth throwing my way. I’ll make very good use of them, I can assure you. I’ve got a way with words and the more contacts I have, the more everyone wins.”

"Oh, yes, of course." Rene raises his brows before he gets her number and tests it at the little cafe table just for the purpose of teasing. "Good, no tricks." Lest he be lowered to 'fake number', oof. That done, he swipes through compiling a shortlist to send Merlyn.

"Plus, you can namedrop me. Maybe get a friends 'n family discount or two." He grins. "What are you feeling? I'll buy." A gesture to the menu, and the angle of his hips to indicate he's ready to head up to order.

"As if I would trick you," Merlyn says with a charming smile. "And I would certainly namedrop you to your contacts. Any chance at getting a little discount or more information is absolutely useful to me." She seems to be in thought for a moment. "I'm a big fan of anything chocolate, so… a mocha, if you don't mind? I very much appreciate your kindness in getting a girl a drink."

"Mocha it is." Dumortier gives a sidelong smile as he sways to his feet, letting a look linger on Merlyn before he makes his way to the order counter. On the way he seems distracted by something on his phone, muttering wordlessly before sliding it away.

He seems comfortable here, as usual; no signs of apprehension as he charms up the person behind the register. Keeping it simple, it's not long before he's back and sliding a steaming drink onto the table under her nose.

"Cheers?" Rene chimes on his return, easing back to his seat with his own drink in hand. It smells like a stronger coffee, dolloped in cream.

Merlyn herself seems just as at ease—he’s a friendly face and someone she can connect with in a positive way. “Cheers,” she agrees, slightly raising her cup as if to toast before trying a sip. “I do think my choice of drink is telling. Usually it’s at a bar, though, and I can read the room to see how people are and what they might respond well to. Alcoholic beverages are much easier to tailor than custom caffeinated beverages.”

Most of this sounds like Merlyn just talking distractedly about drinks. “Bartenders know all these drinks by certain names, you don’t have to stand there and describe it. I’ve never found a barista who has so many coffee names. Usually it’s boring.”

"Bars require a lot less words." Rene has seen his share of people rattling off long, complicated cafe orders. He lets his drink cool some on the table, smirking past the listing of steam. "Been bar hopping yet? There are a couple hangs that aren't entirely lame. I stay away from most things out there on Staten Island, though…" He winces noticeably. His old employer is out there and he'd rather avoid any possible mucking up. "I know where to not go in particular."

"I've been to a few places, booze tends to get people to open up and agree to business deals they might have thought twice about," Merlyn winks, taking a small sip of her drink to gauge temperature before she decides it's too hot and sets it back down. "Staten Island can be a dangerous place, I've been to a few areas I probably shouldn't have been. Business can be good as long as you're careful." She rests her elbows on the table. "Any places I should avoid? I like keeping my head. It's pretty."

"Rossignol, it's Gideon's pet nightlife." Dumortier is quick to answer for his old employer, mouth firming into a small line. "If you don't care about the Triad detritus, the casino is alright if you find yourself there." Rene rolls out a shrug. "But a lot of the societal spaces are touch and go. Better to hang around at the middle man's, you know? If you really want the cash, though, skirting the big ones could be worth it. Have a point guy."

Merlyn nods a bit, making a face herself at the mention of D'Sarthe. "Yeah, I tend to avoid places that might screw me over too hard. Never directly with D'Sarthe and making sure I'm not somehow pissing him off or being in his line of sight. Never worth the risk when someone's got enforcers and I'm sure I'm quite a bit smaller than the whole lot of them. Especially if there's more than one." She winces at the thought. "Yeah, definitely avoiding Rossignol and other places he's got his claws in. I try to be the middleman of the middleman, kind of get enough of an address book in my head that I can hook people up with anything and everything if necessary. Kind of nice not always having to get my hands dirty. I prefer it, actually. Kind of safer."

"Can always scope out some of the moneybags over here, as much as that might mean. Yamagato has plenty of people looking for gains. The new guy is a capitalist's capitalist, so it makes sense that the rest have a taste for it." Dumortier knows they must have their own people in it for the good, but he also knows corporations.

"Maybe if you play your cards right you could make some friends in slick places. Personally I was tempted that way, but I kind of- - died, briefly, so that definitely didn't work out. I can send you some information on those low level people, later, if you like."

Merlyn opens her mouth to speak, but nothing comes out as she blinks for a few moments before she covers up the awkwardness by lifting her cup up to drink some of the hot beverage before regaining focus. "I'm sorry, you died briefly? How the fuck did you die? And how the fuck are you back? And how the fuck was it only briefly?" While her questions aren't loud or angry, they're curious and disbelieving. Mostly because she doesn't think she's known anyone who came back from the dead, at least not like that.

"Remember those robots I was on about?" Dumortier starts, mulling the heat of his drink before sipping. In his other hand he takes out his phone again. "When these fires got close, there was an attempted break west of here. It was a fucking mess." Navigating his phone as he speaks, it's not long before he slides it over so that Merlyn can see a local article about a fire. No outward mention of robots, however.

"Several dead, more injured," A sad memory crosses his expression before being nudged aside. "I got into it with some- - metal monstrosity- - that torched me into the swamp. Nobody found a body, so they just thought I was gone."

"I don't remember much between that and crawling out of the bog a couple of months later looking like a wet log." Going by what she knew him to be able to do, it's a far cry from that. The world has gotten crazier over time, though- - "Rating has to be zero out of ten. I can't recommend it."

"Christ on a cracker," Merlyn murmurs, a comforting hand placed on the table, regardless of if he decides to use it or not. "That's some shit. It's times like this I'm glad some people actually have things that make it so they can come back from that. Pretty sure I've got no second chances, so I'll be sure not to offend any robots by looking at them the wrong way." She frowns, just thinking about those lost and the experience he must have felt. It's a bit hard to make a joke, even to give levity to the situation, so she doesn't, instead remaining compassionate. "Physically that's shit, but… are you coping mentally? That had to have taken a lot of recovery." That's also something that a SLC ability doesn't just hand to you.

"Knowing you, you have nine lives anyway." Dumortier murmurs, a sidelong smile on his lips. He seems ready to skim over the rest, however her concern is very real.

"I'm …working on it. For now I'm walking and talking, and that's more than I can say for most." That's a cop out and he knows it. She surely knows it. "I don't have many people to talk about it with, it's a bit of an exclusive group." Does it count as wounded in action? "My friends are still friends but I'm not about to dump my shit on them. People have other things to worry about."

“Bullshit. You aren’t even giving them a chance to help and assume whatever they’ve got going on is more important than you, you’re choosing that for them,” Merlyn’s tone is positive but slightly chiding. “Walking and talking is a good step, but I’m pretty sure that’s a very low metric.” She takes a sip, mostly to give him a chance to take in what she’s said before she continues.

“I’m not in the club. I don’t even have some kind of ability, but I can tell you that I’ve been through not great shit in my life so I understand how shit works,” she notes. “You should talk to someone. I’d be a crying shaking mess and want to talk to someone if I were in your shoes. I’d also want a hug. Please for the love of everything good in this world tell me someone hugged you.”

Although she doesn't get a purely remorseful reaction out of him, Rene still gives her a guarded twist of mouth, mostly avoidant, placating. "Yeah, a bit, I guess. One I was hoping for never happened, but that's my fault for being a dickhead, so I deserve that. It's not… I just hate feeling weak about shit." He sips more readily at his drink, muffling thoughts for a moment.

"Besides, my whole life has had a low metric. Less room to be let down, maybe?"

"The whole dickhead thing does kinda fuck things up, but let me tell you a secret, Rene," Merlyn leans close conspiratorially. "People will give you hugs if you ask them. Especially if you look over at them and you legitimately need one. Especially if you pretty much died or did something close to that, I'm no scientist." She settles back, looking at her coffee before flashing a smile. "If you need a very low impact hug that will register a point-zero-one on the scale and therefore not kill your metrics, I'm around. I'll try not to put too much power into it, just for you."

A sip is taken before her tone sobers just a touch. "No one likes feeling weak. No one likes admitting that they feel weak either, so you're already a step up there. You can get stronger, though, it's not like being weak is a permanent status. Besides, life gets boring if you don't occasionally try for something more than the weak end of the scale. You went through some shit, you're totally entitled to be an asshole and buy something expensive from Yamagato. Just once, though the asshole ticket isn't permanent."

Despite what he guesses is coming, her leaning cues his folding his arms on the edge of the table to lean in to listen, brows lifted and eyes shaded, a silent beg for her to get it out of her system.

"Maybe a point-one when we part." Dumortier compromises, a smirk loose on his expression. It doesn't last terribly long. "I'm only around because I've sucked it up since the day I was born, Mer. Not sure if that means I'm strong or just a cardboard house prop that got stood back up." He does laugh to himself at this, hands spread.

"I love the asshole ticket, it gets me places most of the time; and I'm not sure I want to drop a stack for something fancy right now. I've had to be kind of a good boy with my ticket. It is not as lucrative."

“Just cause the lot of us have had to suck it up doesn’t mean we don’t deserve good things. Plus even a cardboard prop still has to stand,” Merlyn notes, relaxing a bit as she does move towards a realm of honesty and less deflecting or lightening things with humor. “Seriously, though, be kind to yourself a little. I know that shit is hard but you died, give yourself some leeway, that’s big.”

It’s still gonna take a while to process that dead thing for her at least.

"Day one back in my world and you're already being so aggressive." Merlyn may be over cutting it all with a line of humor, but not him just yet. Rene looks to his hand on the table, fingers spreading out and tracing some worn grooves in the wood.

"I say died but… just makes it a lot easier to explain. Honestly I also like to say it because it sure felt like dying. Napalm and fire and pressure and smoke- - Ugh…" Like he said, zero outta ten. Where his touch aligns with the table, fingertips seem to disappear without even a pucker in the surface underneath. That's… new. Rene's expression tends further into a small frown, stuck between memory and the tickling feeling of showing off.

Hardness creeps up Rene's palm, dead-pale and knotted, free of the dark stain of the dining table. It is small, but a practice in clarity. Even at the expense of the cafe.

“For you? It was dying. Might have been in some way,” Merlyn seems certain of her words. Rene’s effect on the table is enough to have her lean forward, wide-eyed. It’s not fear or anger or confusion, just a pure, genuine curiosity. Her eyes fix on his hand, then on him. “Maybe it wasn’t you dying, then, but you still felt it.”

She clears her throat, then lifts her mug to her lips for a small sip. “Sorry if I’m coming on a little aggressively. I know you didn’t necessarily mean like that, but it is. The people who stick around or come back after years tend to be the people I actually give a damn about. Friends are few and far between some days.”

Dumortier turns his palm up, examining the whorls of knuckles and the faint blush of new brown against tan. While it is small, it still gets a whiff of life from another time and place. In the end it doesn't last for long, his show and tell ending as he flattens his hand once more on the table and eases back. What is left on the surface is a slight landscape on an otherwise smooth plane. Can buff that right out.

"I know that." Rene offers a small reassurance, although troubled. "When I came back I found a few myself. One of which was curious to see me but would never say so." The lingering negativity fades somewhat as he laughs quietly. "Only takes one trip to make a pal for life, honestly."

“True,” Merlyn agrees. “There’s a lot to be said for shared experiences forming bonds, especially if there’s some kind of relying on each other. I keep the good ones as long as I can. A lot of the time the good ones get screwed though, cause that’s just the world we live in. I tend to expect the worst so I’m never fully disappointed.”

"I think I said something to that effect, so I can't argue. The expectations." Rene snorts once, nursing his coffee. "Hard enough to shake that 'good guys finish last', huh? I mean, I'll take second place if there's at least three. Buuut, too early to tell if I'm losing right now or not." Tch. Maybe he's enough in between to not get horribly botched.

"Assholes finish first," Merlyn says, her tone a little tired. "Life's not fair. Good guys finish last, people who deserve nice things get screwed over, life does not pull punches and there's a lot of people out there that just don't care. I don't think I'd even rank in a placement of winning. I don't ever expect good things to happen. I wish they would, I keep looking for hope that they do, but it always seems like things just go well for people who don't deserve it and the rest of us kind of deal with the leftovers."

She takes a sip of her coffee, a little bitterly. It's bitter, but there's realism there.

"Amen to that. Best I can do is my best, hm?" Dumortier lifts his drink in a mock cheers, mouth tugged in a smirk. "If it'll make you feel any better about being good, I can tell you all about the fucked up shit I helped with before I actually signed on with SESA." Now that it's over it's a little more… palpable, even though the memories are quite vivid in his mind. "Consulting wasn't enough for me, clearly."

The cheers motion is echoed before Merlyn takes another sip, then she chuckles. “Listen, I don’t really see myself as good, just less of an asshole than a lot of other people. Low on the asshole scale but high on the ‘gets screwed anyway’ meter.” She swirls the mocha around in her mug like she’s getting ready to taste a fine wine, then looks back over at him.

“You gotta stop getting yourself into fucked up shit, Rene. Consulting. That’s the good gig. I try not to get my hands dirty as much as possible. I know sometimes it’s not unavoidable though. I take jobs a little messier than others sometimes.” She tips her head in his direction. “Okay, how screwed over did you get?”

"Not me, actually." Rene leans back in his seat, eyes wandering across the room before roaming back to Merlyn. "I was called to consult with SESA on a case- -"

"A serial criminal turning multiple people into amalgamated trees." There is a moment spared here to let that sink in. "Went in to more or less confirm what was happening after a crew discovered a bleeding tree while doing timber work." Another thing to …sink in.

"The tree was her but… still a tree. Thankfully I was also able to repair it, so when they caught the woman and had her turn people back, she wasn't… chainsawed in half. I kept the others in good health while they investigated.." Dumortier grows serious, even though the story itself has been gone over in his head so much that he doesn't have a difficult time telling it. What Ali did to them, however, only the pair can properly gauge that. He shakes his head. The fucked part, "She turned them into something… profane. Twisted together."

"In the spirit of levity, somewhere between Harlan Ellison and Junji Ito, if you know them." Fucked up, like he said.

"Holy fuck," Merlyn leans in against the table, silent as she listens, just taking it in. When he pauses for the levity, she glances at him. "God, you're getting into so much shit. And that was even before you did the actual job thing." She shakes her head a little bit. "I shouldn't be surprised at how awful people are sometimes, but the whole level of an ability on top of that is its own special breed of fucked up that I couldn't have even fathomed." She takes a long sip of her mocha, then nods at him to continue. She's hoping there's more to the story because a serial killer turning people into trees is terrifying.

"I could have never thought of it either." Dumortier murmurs, mouth in a line. "At one point she turned another SESA employee, they got into it harder after that. Poor girl was stuck for months like that. They caught up to her eventually."

"There was a chase and a truck wreck, she turned more people before they did pin her." His pause here is heavy consideration. "She was taken around to bring them back to normal. For the most part they were healthy, physically. The rest…" Rene shakes his head. "Being stuck like that. It had to be hell on earth, God save them. I'm wondering where they're at now, to be honest."

"Oh god, them surviving…" Merlyn can barely fathom the idea of being in a tree, much less that way for months. "Fuck, that's got to be a mess. I don't know if that's the kind of thing my mind would be strong enough to survive through. I'd like to think I would but that's the sort of thing that I think really tests you." She shakes her head. "I'm glad you helped. That's… helping in that sort of thing is honestly heroic. Don't protest, it is. That's the kind of shit I need to hear about. People giving a fuck and helping because we all know how shitty the world is otherwise. It might have taken a while, but you didn't give up and you all got those people out."

"I sure hope they're getting therapy, cause that was just. Too much." Dumortier agrees, volume at a calm mutter. "I don't know how they'll prosecute but for now I'm just glad they have her under lock and key."

"What you said, that's the thing that had me in the mind for applying to work with them. I'd like to deal with the street level and people down here with me. Somehow I do keep getting pulled into big shit anyhow. There are more people down here than they know, who need a leg up. Keep them from going sour and bitter, keep others from hating and using them. The outreach center is important."

“It’s true. People fall through the cracks so easily. I was definitely one of them. I’m pretty bitter myself. Good things feel like a trick or a trap… but I’m slowly getting used to the fact that good things do still happen.” Merlyn offers him a genuine smile. “It’s good we have someone who gets it trying to remind the rest of the world how much we’ve been screwed.”

"Exactly. We're all in the same sinkhole." Rene snorts softly, his laugh muffled by his drink. "Definitely hard to break that habit of expecting good things to turn bad. The whole 'when the other shoe drops' idea. It really does make you bitter. I'm still struggling with it too."

Merlyn smiles, but it’s a bit of a sad one. “I want to be hopeful, but also realistic. Being the former has certainly burned me more than once. It’s just… hard, trying to believe that something good is just that. I think I just don’t want to deal with the disappointment if something goes wrong and I don’t expect it. It’s a whole learning process. I’m getting better at it though, I so desperately want to see at least one thing be right in this world.”

'Well, then here's to trying." Rene lifts his coffee again, brows raising. "Even if it's only in spirit, hm?"

She lifts her mug in a toast, and Merlyn smiles back at him. "Even if only in spirit," she agrees.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License