After leaving the cafe, Zoe had decided to wander the town alone for a while - there was somewhere she wanted to go for herself. The tavern had caught her eye when they'd been wandering around, but for whatever reason she hadn't felt like going in there at the time. Possibly because, all things considered, Zoe didn't want to drag anyone else into a fight. If she was being honest, the prospect of pissing someone off was half the reason she decided to go in, especially knowing this town weren't exactly keen on X's right now. It would be easy to get on somebody's nerves.
So she'd walked in with the arrogant, self-confident smile of someone that knew you didn't like them, and didn't really give a damn. Screw it, it wasn't like she went many places where people didn't give her a second glance, and this was no different. Entering the bar, she seated herself at one of the tables, leaning back in her chair and putting her feet up on it in a gesture that was at best blatantly distrespectful. Probably not the best way to get anyone wanting to serve her, but hey - not like she was here for the drinks.
Whoever hosted the tavern definitely had a taste for the nautical, with salvaged paintings and photos of ships and yachts hanging on the walls while a broken--and very poorly made--replica of an old-fashioned ship's wheel rested on a corner of the bar top. Most of the bar spigots were collecting dust from disuse and the one working tap served the kind of swill better used for washing hands than drinking. A heavyset woman with thick brown curls and dark skin eyed Zoe's neck as the girl approached, the white mark on her cheekbone practically shining against its olive backdrop."We don't serve your sort here. You lot either go crazy before or after the alcohol, but it's the same difference.""And here I thought this was a free country."
Perhaps ironic, coming from an imprisoned subnatural, but it wasn't like she was gonna concede the point. In fact, she just closed her eyes as though the woman wasn't worth wasting her time on. "Aren't we subs all in it together? I think it's better to give folks the benefit of the doubt. Even the ones who spend their time in shitty backwater towns running even shittier bars."
The expression on her face was taunting, her eyes opening to watch the woman's expression. Because the way Zoe saw it, what the hell was this lady gonna do about it? "But sure, don't serve me if it makes you feel better. I'm just resting my legs for a while.""Your sort never have anything new. Bravado sometimes. Anger the next. And some days someone has to die to make you feel better."
The woman's voice was bitter and she stepped away from the counter as she spoke. "This creaking shack isn't worth dying over, if you're here to start a fight."
She turned towards the back entrance, walking towards the back of the bar swiftly. "You want to break it down? Suit yourself."
Zoe watched, a self-satisfied smile on her face as the woman exited through the back door. Real brave 'til she actually had to do something, huh? Although she was slightly disappointed the barmaid had backed down, Zoe was happy enough to sit back and relax for now.
“Room for two?
Zoe had been the first of his teammates that Lawrence had caught sight of since leaving his room, and he had to admit there were worse options that he could have run into. Thankfully, instead of taking a turn where he might lose sight of her, she instead dipped into a... tavern? It seemed oddly appropriate, from what little he knew about her.
After catching the tail end of a short spat and letting Lizzy wander off to do her own thing, he took a seat next to the aberration, barely even acknowledging the retreating woman. He wasn't exactly here to be served anyway. While he hadn't quite caught on to the town's disdain to the easily pissed off x-mark students, he wasn't eactly surprised to see that Zoe had already started picking fights with the locals. It was a problem, but not exactly one he was looking to solve at the moment.
He just wanted to talk to somebody.
“Feels like it's been ten years since the last time we got to sit down together.
Zoe's eyes widened as he sat down next to her. She'd known he was alive, despite everything, but... she couldn't help being surprised to see the guy around. If nothing else, she was glad to see him looking okay. Lizzy too, she supposed, although it made sense to see the two of them together."It has been a while.
She smiled, but couldn't quite keep the concern out of her tone. "You been doing okay?"
That concern, admittedly, had caught him off guard. If she'd been so concerned why hadn't she tried to visit him in the week following his brush with death? Almost reflexively he tried to dismiss any worries she might have, but... He was trying to change, wasn't he? He couldn't really expect them to trust and accept him if he kept distancing himself as much as possible.
“I admit, I've been better. It's been a pretty stressful month, hasn't it?
Idly, he slipped a hand between the buttons on his shirt, where the hole that almost killed him once was.
“Still, alive, which is something. Hard to complain when that's the case. How about you? Been holding up okay since the library?
With a slightly bitter chuckle he closed his eyes and added;
“Guess that's a bit of a silly question with all that's happened since.
”"Wish I say so. I'm not as bad as I was, though. After Wisford, I--"
Zoe glanced towards where his hand was, frowning. It wouldn't be fair to admit she wasn't okay, right? Not if she was already getting better on her own, without anyone's help. When she was trying to be reliable, to seem strong in the face of danger, be the one to help when others were weak. Lawrence was his own person, not just a dumping ground for her problems.
But then, hadn't that annoyed him before? Saying that it wasn't fair to burden him with her issues? He'd told her not to do what she was doing right now - so maybe it was a point of pride rather than selflessness. Maybe she just needed to think things through first, talk about something that wasn't death and destruction."I finished that book. The anger management one."
A clumsy lie. Zoe laughed, but it was slightly hollow as she looked in the direction the barmaid had fled. "I'm not sure how much it helped, but at least you got me reading."
At the sound of Wisford Lawrence flinched in what seemed to have become a reflex, much to his annoyance- the arbiter didn't like the idea of being able to be read after so much time perfecting his calm. However, Zoe thankfully dodged the subject as quickly as she had brought it up, and he couldn't help but palm his face with his free hand in response to her change of subject.
“The book wasn't about anger management Zoe, it was about...
What? Being good? Being content with your life? Finding peace? Eliminating bad experiences?
“I guess it doesn't really matter if it didn't help. What's your next target going to be for this newfound hobby I've forced on you?
”"Eh, same difference, right? Whatever it was about."
Zoe shrugged, raising an eyebrow at the idea of it being classed as a new hobby. "I don't think I'm ever gonna be much of a bookworm, so don't get your hopes up on that front, but if you've got any recommendations, then shoot. Nothing too wordy, though."
“I think you should probably stick to your strengths then Zoe, like...
Slowly he removed his hand from his face, drumming his fingers on the table in thought.
He was drawing a serious blank on this one. Was it because...?
Then finally he threw back his head and laughed, far more genuinely than a few moments ago.
“Wow, come to think of it I don't really know anything about you Zoe. Guess we haven't really had many chances for smalltalk this past month.
”"Hobbies? Never really had much spare time for them, other than training. But I'm guessing you mean stuff other than working out and punching people."
Zoe frowned, trying to think things through. The two things she'd mentioned were kind of her main hobbies, but..."I sew sometimes, I guess. It's practical."
Did that count as a talent? For whatever reason, it felt strange to talk about. Zoe didn't tend to mention it to other people for whatever reason - maybe just because sewing wasn't exactly something that fit the whole tough-girl image. "And relaxing, once you get into it."
Now Lawrence was interested in the conversation for perhaps the first time. He certainly hadn't been expecting this revelation, although his voice betrayed no doubts about what Zoe had just told him. After all, she seemed much more liable to lie about not being able to sew rather than being able to.
“How good are you at it? I can only really do field stuff- you know, the medical kind- but it'd be a hell of a helpful thing to be able to get my clothes patched up. They tend to go to rags pretty quick with... Well, our line of work, and it's a pain in the ass to have to buy new ones so often. I tend to get attached to what I own.
With a quick frown, he added;
“I don't mean I want to shove all my maintenance on you- what I mean is could you teach me sometime? I'm sure the concept is similar to what I know so I shouldn't be too terrible of a student.
”"Pretty good. Sucked at first, like most things, but I've mended a fair amount of clothes in my time. They hold up pretty well now. Always wanted to try and make my own, but fabric's expensive. I'm not sure I'm the greatest teacher, but if you can deal with me being snappy..."
It did make more sense than just having to patch things up for him, anyway. "Sure, why not? Don't think it should be that hard to teach if you already know something."
Zoe looked at him, shrugging. "I'm happy to patch things up for you in the meantime, but try not to get everyone coming my way. There wouldn't be enough hours in the day to get it all done."
She was sure Lawrence would have figured that one out without her say-so, but it still seemed worth mentioning.
He cocked his head in response to that last bit before shrugging.
“I don't really spread other peoples' business without their permission, so no worries there.
Before adding with a bit of a smile;
“But thanks, I appreciate it. There's not really been anybody to ask before- at least that wasn't worse at it than I am. I mean, I'm sure they're around, but I'm not exactly the most social person on the planet. Kind of a random thing to ask a stranger, you know?
”"Yeah, I can imagine. Everyone's probably got a bunch of skills we don't know about around here. If you're gonna deal with my bullshit, least I can do is sew up a few shirts, right?"
Zoe laughed lightly, "Seriously, it's not been easy to deal with while you were holed up in your room."
That was an understatement. It almost felt like she was lying by not telling him what had happened since he went, but how was she supposed to begin there? There wasn't really any easy way to drop any of it into a conversation, even the parts she wasn't ashamed of. Her fists clenched briefly, worry crossing her face before she relaxed."No point being teammates if we can't at least help each other out, right? Not like the rest of the world's gonna bother."
She grinned despite the slightly bitter-sounding remark. That part didn't bother her - she had no intention of helping the rest of the world either. Feeling was mutual.
“You could have always knocked you know. I... wouldn't have minded the visitor.
It came out slightly more bitter than he intended, but not more than he felt. Still, it was ultimately his own fault for locking himself away, he couldn't expect anyone to be a mind reader- or at least most people when it came to USARILN East.
“But yeah, we're a team. Doesn't feel like we act like it all the time though- and I'm not sure if that's going to be good enough going forward. Since Wisford-
” Another wince. “Well, let's say death seems even closer than it did before, and we can't help each other at all if we're not alive. I'm just not sure what to do in order to solidify us.
”"You're not wrong; we don't."
Zoe felt like she spent half of her time covering for other people's mistakes, and the other half going too far and hurting them herself. "It's gonna come apart one way or another unless something changes. Hell, I'm... trying to be better, but I've still screwed up. When those rogues attacked--"
She paused, unsure whether she should talk about the events, before continuing. "I took off Callan's arm. Because time was running out, and no-one else was doing anything. I had to finish it myself, and it was the only way I could see to do that, because they weren't doing shit."
Because she thought he was going to die, and she didn't want to watch that happen."And then in D.C. they go and kill who knows how many regulars, when they're just supposed to be evacuating. Every fight, something goes wrong, because they can't prioritise shit."
Zoe looked tired, incredibly so. For what it was worth, she knew
how to fight, knew she could protect them, but they made it really damn difficult to do it. No matter how strong her resolve, it wouldn't change the fact that they didn't belong on a battlefield like she did. "I don't trust them to keep each other alive. And that scares me."
Lawrence didn't really speak for some time after Zoe finished, instead slipping his hand into his shirt once more and staring at his fingers drumming aimlessly on the surface in front of him. So, how was he supposed to respond to all of that? Again, a week or two ago and he would have just brushed it off or tried to reassure her, but that felt... wrong somehow now. It was really too massive of a problem to just brush aside with some words, and it actually needed to be discussed if a solution was going to be found. Besides, he was just like her if not moreso; A battlefield is a place he was familiar with, these others...
In the end, honesty won out as the best policy.
“Well, it scares me too. Partly because my own life depends on it, partly because their lives do- and honestly I don't want any more civilians to be killed, especially not by us. I don't want someone to lose a person they love- I've been there. If we cause that to someone whose innocent it's pretty much unforgivable.
Finally he looked over to her once more before continuing.
“But we can't exactly choose to keep them out of the next fight that happens, so we need to come up with something together- seems like we've managed to come up with fuck all of a solution on our own, you know?
Unforgivable? Not in her eyes. "There's only so many civilian deaths they can cover up."
It was callous that Zoe didn't really share Lawrence's concern for the regulars - all she cared about was how that action could affect their group. Either way, though, she didn't want them dying unnecessarily. What did the reasons matter, when the end results they wanted were the same? She sighed. "Everyone needs to know where they should be, what the priorities are."
It wasn't the same as having a representative, was it? "I'd say we need a leader, someone to make sure everyone knows all that, but--"
She shrugged. "No-one here's leader material, really. And even if someone starts trying to take charge, they still need everyone else to listen. It's a bust."
People needed to trust that they knew what they were doing, to respect them enough not to completely screw it up.
She shrugged, frowning. "And that's just thinking about when we're in combat, never mind outside it."
“That's the thing, it's easy to give orders, it's a lot more difficult to have someone listen to them. Sometimes this feels like babysitting- and I'm not particularly fond of children.
It essentially was
babysitting of course. Hadn't Rosa mentioned something to that effect a couple days ago? He still
hadn't looked at his phone since tossing it away. A bit more immature than he was used to being, but then again he was trying
to be different, wasn't he?
Life could be a pain in the ass sometimes whether it was outside of battle or not.
“I bet you could probably intimidate at least half of them into listening to you. I know I wouldn't want to be the one to tell you no halfway through getting our asses blown off.
The last bit was added with a confident smirk that practically challenged her test it. It'd been awhile since he'd had the chance to actually dig at an aberration without worrying they'd immediately try to bite his head off- some in very literal fashion."You're not dumb. Well,"
she grinned, "not that dumb, anyway. But no,"
The possibility of her
as a leader hadn't even crossed Zoe's mind. "Having me as the leader is a no-go. Might work in the field, but combat's about the only place where I know what I'm doing."
And there was the matter of public image to think about. Anything that could get more aggression directed towards their little group wasn't a good thing, and even though she hadn't taken part in any mass murders - for all the public knew, she was a rabid dog that needed chained up. Considering that the rest of them had been heralded as heroes in comparison... it was a terrible idea.
More selfishly, she couldn't in good conscience destroy herself if there were people actually relying on her."Fact is, I'm screwing up more often than not."
Zoe sighed. It was worrying, almost, that there were people coming to see her as dependable, because she was so
far from it. "Plus, in case you've forgotten, I'm unstable. Bad idea all round."
“I'm not exactly disagreeing with you, but I also don't think you're screwing up any more than the rest of us. Give yourself the credit that's due at least.
With that Lawrence propped his elbow onto the table and rested his head on it, fingers parting his unkempt hair.
“Though you're right in that you don't exactly scream '
PR Success Story' Marcus would, maybe, but you know...
With that he removed his free hand from his shirt and gave it a wave.
“Blood on his hands too. I need to check in with him sometime about that, see how he's holding up. Really I need to lecture just about everybody here on top of that but it's a pain in the ass when they're either feeling like a 10 or a 0 and rarely in between.
Zoe nodded. He did. And he wasn't the only one - at least her victims hadn't been relatively harmless regulars."There aren't many of us that don't. I think a lot of them are trying to forget about it."
Zoe frowned, unsure how she felt about that. On the one hand, maybe it felt better to let yourself forget, but surely you could use it to fuel you, motivate you, make sure it never happened again. "I don't think they should. That's how you repeat mistakes."
Mistakes were dangerous. Mistakes got people killed. You couldn't just forget, and push everything to the side, you had to face
your actions. Accepting them, or rejecting them - either seemed better to her than denial. "We're lucky they were able to cover up what happened this time - it happens again, that might not be possible."
“Well if I have to be the one to remind them- sad day for me I guess. Not exactly the kind of job I'm looking forward to- but if they're planning on forgetting it they have another thing coming-
Lawrence was interrupted by a short buzz from Zoe's phone. Glancing at the text, she frowned. Emma? Yeah, a chat, it looked like... something about a beach party--Fuck no.
Party was fine. Hanging around the others was... uncomfortable in some cases, but she could probably avoid those people easily enough unless they wanted to pick a fight. The beach
part on the other hand? No. No way. Not happening. Beaches meant ocean, ocean meant water, water meant drowning and panic and helplessness and--
She'd zoned out a little, a worried expression on her face.
“- Zoe! We moving out or something? What the hell is wrong?
At this point Lawrence was standing and trying to get a look at the woman's phone screen, far beyond thinking it was any sort of personal message. Lizzy, for her part, had returned and was sticking her head into the doorway of the tavern, flicking her gaze between both Lawrence and Zoe, hairs raised in aggitation."Huh?"
Zoe snapped back to reality, looking at Lawrence with a frown. Had she been that caught up in her thoughts? Trying to dismiss the thoughts that had sprung to mind, she spoke a little too hastily and nervously for the seemingly mundane subject matter. "It's nothing, just an invitation to some kinda beach party. Class thing. Don't think I'll bother going."
Forcing a smile, she looked back down at her phone and started to type, deciding it would be easier to just say as much and keep anyone else from bothering her about it.
He frowned in response to that. That's
what had gotten her so worked up? It could be possible that he had suddenly become terrible at reading people, but she had looked worried sick. Still did. And her reply wasn't exactly a convincing one.
“And... Why not? Parties in general aren't really my thing, but... Didn't we just say that we need to start coming up with ways to bond closer as a team? This seems like a pretty perfect opportunity for that Zoe.
Zoe paused in her typing. Okay, he wasn't wrong
, but that really didn't balance things out for her in the slightest. "I can go to the next one, can't I? Won't be the last time we all get together."
It was a weak justification, she knew that, but part of her hoped it'd be enough.
"You can also go to this one, can't you Zoe? 'Don't think I'll bother going.' Isn't exactly a concrete reason for you to skip it.
Grasping for a better explanation that never came. Damn it, why did she suck so much at lying? Zoe's shoulders slumped slightly, and she looked almost embarrassed as she mumbled, "I'm scared of water."
Lawrence left it at that for a few moments- partly out of thought, and partly trying not to snicker. For one, it'd be extremely rude after this revelation, and two he wanted to keep from getting a second hole melted into his chest. It shouldn't have really surprised him that even Zoe was afraid of something, but the reveal was not
something he'd expected today.
“Is it because you can't swim? How long do we have until this beach thing? I could always try teaching you before it gets here- you're going to teach me to sew after all. Until you get the hang of it I kinda have the ability to take away fear you know.
”"No, I can't swim, but that's not why."
Zoe frowned. "Bad memories, that's all, makes me feel helpless. You don't need to pay me back for the sewing lessons anyway, so don't worry about it."
She wasn't sure how much being able to swim would help matters, either, so she just looked at Lawrence with a grimace."It's on Sunday, if you want to go for yourself."
It wasn't as if Lawrence didn't have his fair share of bad memories, so he decided to drop the swimming angle there. Still, he had no
desire to go to this thing either, and they had just
agreed that they needed to build up the team as best they could. He was not going to be budging.
“It's a beach Zoe. Like 80% of what people actually use is sand. Nobody would probably even notice if you didn't get into the water- just distract them by beating their heads in during volleyball or something.
”"But it's still... there."
Zoe's discomfort was still obvious. Shit, she knew it wasn't rational, but the whole thing unnerved her. Saying that, the prospect of actually relaxing with everyone didn't seem that bad, and with everything they'd discussed... after a long moment's thought, she scowled. "Fine. Only because I want to make this team work one way or another."
There was one other thing which seemed important about this. "But let's be clear, anyone puts me in the water, I'll probably kill them. So just keep an eye out. That happens, or is about to happen, you have my permission to zap me back to calm."
Lawrence had told her before he didn't like doing it without permission, so even if Zoe figured he'd have the sense anyway, it seemed better to say so. Hopefully it wouldn't be necessary.
Throwing his hands up like he was the one giving in during this exchange, Lawrence finalized it with a;
“Conditions accepted. Just call out my name dramatically if that starts to happen and I'm not paying attention. Although I kinda suspect you could kick anybody's ass who even tried.
More seriously, he added;
“So what time is this happening so I can swing by and get you? Not that I don't trust you not to change your mind and skip out- but I totally don't trust you not to change your mind and skip out.
”"Thanks for the vote of confidence."
Scowling, partly because she would've at least considered
doing exactly that, Zoe glanced back down at the screen. "We've to be at the beach at one o'clock on Sunday, then."
At least he agreed to the condition she'd asked for, even if he was being slightly annoying about the whole thing. Plus, the acknowledgement that she could kick most people's asses was
a nice boost for the redhead's ego, intentional or not - an easy way to soothe some of the irritation she felt towards this whole scenario.
“Sounds like a plan to me then.
With that he turned away, noticing Lizzy poking her head in for the first time, although the latter had since relaxed the hairs on her back and fixed Zoe with the same sort of glare she had given the aberration at their first meeting.
“Oh knock it off, I'll feed you in a bit.
When he finished crossing the room he gave the dog a scratch behind her ears before turning to Zoe a final time.
“See you Sunday then, if not before.
Zoe laughed lightly at the dog's approach. Supposed she couldn't keep Lizzy waiting, huh? If Lawrence was gonna be around more, she'd have to start carrying snacks again. Not that she was gonna find any around here, considering the state of the place. Raising a hand in goodbye, she nodded. "Sure thing. See you around, I guess."
And despite her irritation, despite the fact that she'd just agreed to spend a day by the ocean of all places, she smiled at the thought that crossed her mind as she watched the arbiter leave the bar. Not that she'd ever admit it to the asshole's face, but... I'm glad you're okay, Doc.