Date: Not Tuesday
Location: Sonoma Valley, CA
Personnel: Cait 'n' Pepper
Purpose: Situational Analysis. And coffee.
Cait could fit in, if she wanted to. Not that she did, but she could at least manage "weird college kid, probably" and not "occultist field agent." She was in what was more or less standard for her - short sleeved black silk shirt with an imperial collar over a long-sleeved lace bodysuit, black ripped jeans, black combat boots with hot pink laces. She was wearing a pentagram necklace on a neon yellow shoestring that definitely looked like the sort of junk sold at any cheap "magic" store - and knowing Cait, it probably was, and that didn't stop it from working.
She'd arranged to meet with Pepper at a coffee shop to see how she was getting on with the Cody situation, and also the whole having a god in her headspace. And, also, to get a coffee that hadn't been made by the Foundation. Cait had grown up in a tourist town, after all, and had a weakness for overpriced cappuccino with little designs drawn in the cream.
Once, she had tried getting a fancy coffee maker and doing it herself, but after she'd drawn a few sigils into the cream and summoned a black-scaled antidimensional Platonic idEel into the depths of the noma y conta nme t f ndat mug she'd been using, Cait had been forbidden from making coffee any more.
Of course, she'd still done it a few more times, and then she'd figured out how to Unmake coffee, and that was a lot more entertaining. Also, she had an excuse to go out and get coffee sometimes - usually with Brian, sure, but she was willing to make an exception for Pepper.
The coffee shop area was devoid of gloop and eyeballs. Cait had taken the bus, like a normal person. Currently, she was seated at a little table by the window overlooking the beautiful valley scenery and wondering if she should try making coffee interesting again.
Pepper wasn’t necessarily running late, but she wasn’t going to be as early as she liked. She jogged her way through the Dark Dimension– Ira’s Dimension– and waved hello to Mikulass and his two sons as she passed by. The priest gave her a nod with his faceless head and his two sons chirped adorably as she passed by. Normally, she’d stop and chat, but today she had a coffee date. She peeked out of the doorway as she approached it and found that she had landed it perfectly down a side alley. She hopped out. For some reason, everyone else who came out of the dimension smelled awful, except for pepper. She still smelled like her vanilla and amber perfume oil.
She dusted off her embroidered overalls and her rainbow crop top before stepping out of the alleyway. It was a short walk to the coffee shop that Cait had chosen as their meeting point. Pepper was actually excited to see the woman again. They were roughly the same age, chronologically speaking, and not many people at L-14 were that age. More people were showing up who were, but most of her interns had been carefully foisted off onto other people for the upcoming week.
To be honest, the meetings she was supposed to be having that next week were keeping her on edge, so she was ready for some girl time with Cait. She had an idea of what questions Cait might ask her, and the thought of one made her blush. She needed someone to talk to about it, so it worked out. After all, as she had recently learned, bottling your emotions up until they burst wasn’t very healthy.
She saw Cait through the window of the cafe as she turned the corner. Her face broke into a smile, and she jogged across the street, her heeled boots making a soft clattering sound as she did. She entered the cafe and was immediately greeted by a member of the staff. Pepper waved before walking over to the table Cait had picked. “Cait! Hi, it’s so good to see you again! What are you drinking?”
"Pepper! Hi!" Cait returned the wave cheerfully. "Trip here go all right? Not too much traffic?" Traffic could be anything from there's an accidental god in my dimension to oh no an anomaly just tried to eat me, but it was a public cafe and it was probably better not to phrase things that way. Cait could get away with it, because people took one look at her and assumed she was just weird, but Pepper looked adorably normal, as usual.
"This is just a cappuccino." For everything else that was weird about Cait, people usually assumed her coffee order was going to be something purple, with twenty-seven pumps of various flavors, and possibly on fire. She enjoyed the double takes she tended to get about having an extremely simple coffee order way too much. "It's pretty good though! And they drew an Oddish in the foam for me, so that's fun." Whether or not Pepper was up to date on her Pokemon was anyone's guess, but Cait was a nerd, and completely unashamed of it.
"Feel free to order whatever you want, I just wanted to get something when I got here so I wasn't taking up people's table space without placing an order." It was one of the Mockingbird sins of the cafe industry, or something to that effect. There had certainly been birds involved, anyway.
“Traffic wasn’t too bad. Green lights all the way here.” Normal people talk for I wasn’t accosted by a giant sandworm with hands this time. She smiled as Cait mentioned them drawing an Oddish in her cup, and gave a small laugh. “Let’s see how good their art skills are when I ask for something Zelda related, yeah?”
Very few people assumed that Pepper was a gaming nerd, but there were only so many movies to watch, only so much to sew, and you had to fill your time with something at night or you went crazy. Pepper preferred not to be crazy. So she had picked up a switch one month and a few games and had been having fun ever since. She knew about Pokémon, and she very much enjoyed the Diamond remaster, and she had become a fanatic Legend of Zelda fan. Something about the simplicity of games like Stardew Valley really called to her. Maybe it was that part of her that idealized the idea of living in the country and having her own garden.
“I’ll grab a drink and be right back.” The line ended up actually being rather quick, and Pepper returned with her hot white chocolate mocha with an extra shot and a lovely sword drawn in the foam before too long. Normally anything more than a single cup of coffee would send her into the shakes, but with how little sleep the woman had been getting, she figured she could afford the extra caffeine. She sat down across from Cait and pushed her short blonde hair back, adjusting her barrettes. “Alright, I have my sweet caffeine fix and you have yours. So where should we start?”
She leveled a grin at Cait that couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than the suppressant of barely concealed good news. It all depended on whether Cait wanted to talk shop first, or her date first. Either way, Pepper was ready with her answers.
So, Pepper knew her Zelda. That was great. Cait always appreciated having another person to be nerdy about things with. She wondered where Pepper fell on the best Zelda game chart, but that was just going to be something she had to find out. She sipped her drink and waited for Pepper to get herself situated.
Pepper's grin was a good sign, too, when she returned. It wasn't a fake smile, and Cait didn't think it was the I am covering up everything by being chipper because that is socially acceptable sort of smile, either, although she wouldn't put it past Pepper to have that one on lockdown. Maybe in Pepper's case it was more of an I'm being cheerful because I don't want anyone to trouble themselves about me or maybe it wasn't - Cait was still getting the measure of the other woman. And there was a god in the mix, too - that always complicated things. They tended to get in the way, a bit like an overly eager labrador.
Well, she supposed they could debate the nature of dog later. Maybe that was more of a three tequila conversation than a coffee conversation, but Cait wouldn't know. She'd gotten tipsy once. Things had been contained, eventually, and her team had made sure she didn't get into anything she couldn't get out of. It wasn't something she wanted to repeat - certainly not after Gail had pointed out that if she did it again, she was likely to end up agreeing to something she shouldn't. The first time, they'd been there to stop her. Cait wasn't about to make it a habit.
She'd stick to ice cream. It tasted better, anyway.
"I mean, obviously we're going to start with the most important things first," Cait answered the question, as it was asked. That was the best way to do it - you never knew when something would come up, after all. You could be sitting there talking about how to make a better office supply slingshot and then all of a sudden you were having a conversation about dead gods and alternate dimensions, just to give a completely random example.
"So..." Cait leaned forward, propping her arms against the table. "How was the date?"
Pepper leaned back in her chair and smiled wide. That had been, in truth, the question that she had wanted to hear the most. They could talk about the god in her head after they had a good and lovely conversation about her date with Cody.
“He figured out it was a date without me telling him. He also likes me. He, well, I won’t go into all the details, but he kissed me. I had a mini meltdown, not a big one, just a small one. A little panic attack, maybe. Before he kissed me, not after.” The look on Pepper’s face was one of pure joy as she recounted the details to Cait. It was clear to anyone and everyone who looked at her just how over the moon she was.
“We started off with roller skating, and boy is he fast. I think he’s done some kind of skating before because what he lacked in skill he made up for in speed and mobility. I think that was the moment I realized that not only did he like me, but he had to know it was a date, right? After, we went out for ice cream and had some important conversations. I don’t want to say a lot about that, because, well, he told me some personal things.”
She giggled a little as she leaned back forward, cutting herself off. She wasn’t a rambler anymore. She had decided that years ago. Though when she got excited, like right then, it was hard for her to remember that. Her natural mode of communication was the equivalent of an information dump. Maybe that was the part of her brain that felt like every last fact was needed in a conversation, or maybe it was the part of her that was just overjoyed at everything. Whichever part it was, she needed it to calm down. So she took a deep breath, in and out, and a long sip of her mocha, giving the other woman time to reply.
"Oh my chaotic-goodness you two are so cute." Absolutely adorable. "I'm happy for you though. It sounds like you had a good time." Cait didn't press about personal things. That wasn't really her style. External chaos, absolutely. Internal stuff? No thanks. Besides, her team already had someone else for that.
"So... what ice cream flavors did you get?" Important questions for an important situation. Ice cream was also important. Cait might have also been using this information to attempt to sus out information about Pepper's dimension via correlation with the ice cream list, but there wasn't any proof that it actually made any difference and it could have totally just been down to personal preference. Or maybe it wasn't, but the truth was, Cait didn't really care. She wasn't a researcher and neither was Nic - it wasn't about actually trying to figure something out, it was about having an excuse to have ice cream and wind down after something that had been.
They had definitely been in a lot of things that had been.
“Thank you! I’m just, I’m kind of blissed out, you know? Like, even though this next week is going to be stressful, I feel like I can do it just fine now.” She set her drink back down, remembering the second half of their date when everything had been out in the open. She didn’t think that she would ever forget that Friday, no matter how long she lived.
“As for ice cream, we actually both got the same thing- it’s called an Eaton Mess, and it’s strawberry with meringue. It’s one of the sweetest things you’ll ever eat in your life.” She laughed a little at that and smiled over at Cait. She gave her a little nod of her head as she raised her drink once more. “What’s your ice cream of choice, then? I’m a sucker for a good strawberry of any kind.”
She wondered, briefly, why Cait wanted to know what flavor ice cream they had gotten. Of all the things she could have asked, that was a strange one. But then, Cait was strange, and Pepper was already well on her way to accepting that fact. She would have to, since she hoped to be good friends with the other woman.
"Me? Oh, anything new. Anything I haven't tried before, especially if it's weird. There's a place that does one with pop rocks, that's fun. And I like bubble gum, the kind with the gumballs in it. But the best flavor is always the one you've never had. Even if it's awful! Sometimes, especially if it's awful." Cait laughed, she had definitely had some very weird ice cream flavors here and there. Not knowing what she was getting into was half the fun, though, and it was only that small of a percentage because Cait really liked ice cream.
It was also good that Pepper sounded confident about the upcoming week, because it was likely to be an [expletive] of a week, what with all the interconnected dimensional deity nonsense. That sort of week was right up Cait's alley, of course, but she was the sort of person who thrived at L-9. Most people weren't like that, even in the ACF.
Cait suspected that if Pepper were worried about anything in the week coming up, it had less to do with the Dark Dimension and the possible interconnection of cults and related deities and more to do with the visit of SV-3. Councilmen didn't tend to spend a whole lot of time at level 2 and 3 locations, so they weren't as common to bump into. Pepper definitely had the vibe of someone who would panic way too much when faced with an authority figure.
Maybe she just needed to get in more trouble. The concern with authority figures tended to evaporate when all they could do was shake their head in despair and say 'What did you do this time, Caitlynn?'
Cait had experienced this for the first time at the age of six, in the school principal's office, when she'd poured a bottle of lavender essential oil into a boy's backpack, and had gotten out of it by insisting that she had only done it because her mother said lavender was calming and he had seemed mad and she was trying to help. He had put a slug in her hair the next day at recess, which she had considered a win until the teacher made her put it back down and not keep it as an ornament.
Was she feeling ready? That was, of course, the question. Was she ready to dive into this interdimensional hole and pull until they found the knot at the center? Could she unweave it? Was she ready to deal with everything that doing that entailed? She felt confident on that end. She would roll up her sleeves and throw herself into work. The two things she wasn’t sure about? They both had names.
“I’m not so sure about Godbait and Jupiter. The rest of it? I’m ready to figure it out. But Godbait and I didn’t exactly see eye to eye before. And meeting Jupiter– that I’m not ready for, but I doubt I ever will be. So I kind of just have to be ready, right?”
If you were never going to be ready for a thing, then it was just better to consider yourself already ready. At least, that’s what Pepper thought every time something like this came up. It rarely worked in practice, as she had a tendency to ramble in front of higher-ups. She remembered the first time she and Cody had ever met, and how she had rambled his ears right off. She would have to try to control that when she was in front of Jupiter.
As for Ira- god, as for Ira. That little girl needed friends, not researchers. Pepper had already given up any thoughts of trying to do experiments with her. Instead, her new goal was to become best friends with the child. Was that a little weird? Maybe. But they were apparently both shards of bigger gods, so surely they could find something to do together.
"Sure, I guess 'ready as I'm gonna get' works. But, also, you don't have to be ready, yeah? That's all right too." Cait sipped her drink, then added, very quietly, "And if Jupiter is mean to you, I have a spell that unknits a person's socks, while they're wearing them. I will seek vengeance, Pepper. My wrath is swift and full of bees. Occasionally full of bees. There could be bees. I'll think about that one."
Cait was not entirely serious about that, but she was also entirely willing to be serious about that if she needed to. Or wanted to. Or thought it would be funny. The fact that Jupiter was a councilman didn't dissuade her - Strings would have been disappointed if she didn't get in trouble while he was out. The last thing she wanted was to disappoint him.
"Anyway. The other one's not so bad. She's just a kid, on the outside." Usually the phrase was just a kid on the inside, but this was 1003 they were talking about. Cait gave Pepper a look across the table, then added, pertly: "So, you know, she's probably the closest thing for you to see eye to eye with." It was very rare that Cait had an opportunity to tease someone else about being short, and she intended to make full use of this novel idea.
The comment about bees made Pepper laugh so hard, she almost knocked over her drink. “I don’t think Jupiter will be that troublesome. I’m almost positive it won’t be bad enough for bees.” But then, Pepper had never met a councilman before, so she had no idea what to expect. All of the stories she had heard had never been about Jupiter, but rather about Butterfly. She had no idea what Jupiter was like.
She thought about that for a moment. The uncertainty was really what was making her so nervous. If she had any idea what the man was like, then that would change things a bit. Maybe she should ask Cody about that when she saw him again. Certainly, taking the uncertainty out of a situation would be a reassuring thing. She nodded to herself and decided she’d do exactly that.
And then the joke about her height. Pepper giggled a little at it and then said, “Yeah, yeah, get it out. I know you have to have some more jokes stashed away in your head. Everyone always does the first casual conversation we have. Especially the first time they see me without these boots on.” She gestured with her free hand to the boots she was wearing, which had thick platforms of roughly four and a half inches.
“You’re right though. She is just a child. And that makes it harder. I’m good with kids, but she. She doesn’t want me to be good with her, I think.”
"I think if you just focus on the fact that bees are an option, you'll find that Jupiter's a lot less worrisome all of a sudden," Cait offered. Was this actually a suggestion that was at all useful? Who knew! Would bees actually help the situation at all? Not likely - unless they were anomalous bees, in which case maybe Jupiter would be distracted by collecting them for long enough that Pepper could run away and find something to be very busy with by the time he remembered she existed.
Did they have anomalous bees? They had to have anomalous bees somewhere, right? This was ACF, if they didn't have anomalous bees, what had they even been doing all these years?
Pepper's response to the height comment earned the privilege of having Cait stick her tongue out in what was undoubtedly a very mature and dignified manner. "And of course I'm going to take shots at your height, Pepper - I'm usually the short one! This is my only chance!" Of course, with Pepper's heels, they were probably about equivalent. Maybe Cait could start wearing heels some time... but they just weren't practical for field work or for running away from whatever you'd just accidentally summoned up. Best to stick with sensible shoes, regrettably.
"Godbait's... got a lot going on. And sometimes when kids have a lot going on, they act out. Sometimes, they act out more with people they think are safe." Cait stared at her coffee for a moment, the swirly cream remains of what had once been Oddish. "So, maybe it's tough for you, but sometimes it's important for kids to have an outlet, even if they'll never admit they need one."
Pepper thought for a long moment about what Cait was saying to her. It was true, that sometimes kids needed an outlet. If it came down to it, Pepper would rather that outlet be her than trying to escape containment. At least inside the walls, Ira was safe. Outside– who knew what could wait outside? And the only other option for an outlet would be Cody, and Pepper could tell, now knew, just how much Ira meant to Cody. She wouldn’t let Cody be the target of Ira’s anger. So she could be the target for that until Ira was ready to trust her.
“You’re right. I guess she probably doesn’t have a lot of outlets for anger or fear. She probably has a lot going on in that little head of hers. I don’t mind being her outlet. Pepper gave a genuine smile at that, her mouth crooked up at the side. She took a long drink of her mocha now that it had cooled down enough for her to do so. “But, really, I don’t think bees will be needed, haha.”
She smiled warmly at the older woman sitting across from her. It was weird to think of the woman as “older” than her, given they were the same age chronologically. But then, she supposed that made Cody much older than her than their originally close ages would have been. God, he was going to get so much older than her, without her– That made her frown a bit, but it was quickly replaced by another smile. She didn’t want to worry Cait at all. She could worry about that some other day. Maybe when she was scheduled to see that psychiatrist. That was surely going to be fun.
Cait nodded at Pepper's reaction. Sure, 1003 was a divine being of potentially limitless power, but she was also a kid. That was the thing about anomalies - you started thinking about them as one thing or another, and you missed all the other things that they were or could have been. Councilman Strings was generally pretty exhaustive in his research, but a lot of people just didn't take things that far for one reason or another, and things got missed, or things just got filed into neat little boxes and that was that - but anomalies didn't fit into neat little boxes. Anomalies were messy, and sometimes it was important to let the mess stick around, because little things were growing under the piles of detritus like mushrooms, and if you picked up too quickly, you'd never know what might have been.
There had been something there for a moment, a fragment where Pepper had been a little off. Something that faded the smile, for just an instant. Cait had noticed, but sometimes noticing things didn't mean it was best to pry immediately. She was trying to be a friend, not a researcher - she didn't have to ask all the questions. If Pepper wanted to talk about it... well, the important thing was that she knew she could, not that she had to. So, better to continue the original conversation, and if Pepper wanted to bring up whatever it was, that was fine, and if Pepper wanted to just have some coffee and not deal with whatever it was for the time being, that was also fine.
"I think if you just keep it in mind that's what's going on, it'll be a little easier on you," Cait offered, "And, hey, if it gets to be too much, just remember that she's still very easy to distract. Joshua kept her out of trouble for a whole transport ride looking at pictures of cows. I mean, not what I'd have chosen, but hey, it kept her busy. Memorize a few weird facts to have on hand when you need a distraction and it's pretty easy to go from I don't want you to be good with me to okay but did you know there are sea slugs that breathe through their butts?"
That was one of Nic's favorites, anyway, and Nic was a lot better with kids than Cait was. She could imagine Pepper was probably the same way. If those two were ever in the same room... who knew, they'd probably end up staging an anomalous rendition of Charlotte's Web. Maybe 1003 could get into anatomical pig drawings for a while.
"On thing I noticed about her, though... she seems like more of a creator than a destroyer. I bet she likes arts and crafts. That said, though... if she's a creator, there's usually a destroyer somewhere in the mythos. Annie was definitely a destruction aspect, but it wasn't the origin. So that's probably something you'll need to look into at some point. Let me know if you need some support on that one. Whether that's more coffee dates or something more... professional."
“Those are all good ideas. And you’re right, she does seem to love arts and crafts. I actually bought her some jewel-toned markers for my next visit with her. I hope she likes them. I noticed that she uses a lot of dark colors in her drawings.”
She smiled a little softer as Cait brought up the potential of her godspark being that of a god of destruction. That was something that she had been considering for a while. She didn’t feel like she was drawn to destruction or to death. If anything, she had always felt she chased after life. She had always wanted to create things, to build things up, not to tear them down. She had already done all her worrying about that. But maybe to worry out loud would do her some good.
“I think that… I think that I’m worried it means I’ll eventually bring ruin to things I care about. I’m worried about a lot of things, actually, when it comes to that. If you don’t mind me rambling for a bit?”
And truly, there was so much she’d been worrying about. With Ira and the truth coming out, for sure. But also with her standing at the Foundation, what the Jupiter visit might mean for her, what being a godling would do to her relationships, especially if she was the host of a god of destruction. How would that destruction take form? Would it be mass destruction, a mass slaughtering of life? Would it be a slow and insidious change, where she slowly brought ruin to everything around her? Or maybe it wouldn’t change her at all. Maybe she’d always just be Pepper, gentle and kind. Was it conceited to think of yourself as gentle and kind?
"Destruction isn't a bad thing, Pepper," Cait stated, rather firmly. "You flush the toilet, don't you? That's an inherently destructive act. Destruction is necessary - it's a balancing force. Rampant creation is just as apocalyptic as rampant destruction. So I wouldn't sweat it. If you are an incarnation of a life-sucking god of death, just remember that you're still totally valid and you're still totally you. And if you're not, the same thing goes. Besides! There could absolutely be a different death god down there in your little dimension, or a fragment of one that got left behind. Gods get broken up a lot, or they get shunted into other gods. Mythology doesn't have to make sense. If it did, it'd be science."
Of course, there was the argument that science itself was just a very strict mythos, but maybe this wasn't the time to bring it up. If there were an incarnation of the scientific mythos, it was... probably at L-6 or something. God of science, technology, and refusing to let anyone have any fun.
"Anyway. Tangent." Cait waved it off, as if it were nothing. "Go ahead and ramble. I do it all the time, and I don't even ask permission - and I bet you've got a lot of stuff you'd like to get out." Sure, there were probably people Pepper could talk to at L-14, but Cait thought that might be part of the problem. Sometimes it was easier to talk to people you didn't have to work with every day. That didn't really fit the Locusts, because they were constantly all up in each other's business, but that was more of a team thing. It was different when you were a researcher, Cait thought.
And maybe it was especially true if one of those things you needed to talk about happened to be everyone else's boss. Oof. Cait was lucky everyone thought Strings was insane. No one had any misplaced expectations about his behavior, for sure.
A song played softly in the background as she looked around. Then, Pepper looked down at her coffee cup for a long time before she spoke up. “He’s going to die. Cody, I mean. Cody’s going to die. He’s going to grow old and die. Dr. Kallie is going to get older and older and she’ll die before he does. You’ll die too, Cait. Everyone is going to die.”
She paused, her hands turning the cup in circles. Her smile had long since grown sad as she spoke. Her voice was hushed, her eyes downcast. She swallowed against the emotions that threatened to drag her down. “I haven’t told anyone that I realized this yet. But everyone is going to die before me. Long before me, unless I did something stupid, but even then with the rate my cells regenerate, who knows what would actually happen? I could already have regeneration abilities and not know it, you know? I’m too afraid to find out. I haven’t hurt myself in years. I’m very careful in the lab, Dr. Kallie preaches lab safety like it's the Bible.”
She shifted in her seat, drawing her feet up and to the side of the chair, tucking them under her hip. She leaned forward and let her hair hang like a curtain, separating her face from the crowd of people in the café. There was an air about her, then, a solemn air. “Everyone I love will die, and at the end of it all, it’s just going to be me and Ira, isn’t it? We’re going to be the only ones left. Everyone I love will die, and I can’t stop it. And because I’m human, I’ll just keep falling in love with people who will die and leave me alone. And when I finally see the heat death of the universe, I’ll be just like Ira in her world– lonely enough to try and recreate life. But if I’m the incarnation of a death god, I won’t be able to do that. Maybe I’ll travel dimensions until I find one that still has life, or until I find other gods.”
She looked up at Cait with wide, far-seeing eyes. She was shaking slightly as she put her hands on the table. Her mouth opened and shut, and she swallowed again against the choking sensation that gripped her throat. Her eyes got shiny. “I just keep circling back to it. Everyone is going to die. And I, I can’t do anything about it. I can’t stop it. I can only sit and watch as everyone I love dies. I can only watch them die. How do I watch them die?”
It wasn't anything Cait hadn't thought of, sure - but Pepper had probably thought about that sort of thing at some point, too. It was pretty high on the list of weird things ACF people are likely to think about after they encounter their first immortal anomaly. The thing was, though, there was a big difference between thinking about something in the hypothetical what if sense and actually living it, or preparing to live your life that way, whatever your life was going to end up being.
Cait didn't interrupt, just listened, for as long as Pepper needed her to. When she wound down after a while, Cait set her coffee cup down on the table, stood up, and walked over to the other side and wrapped her arms around the other woman.
Sometimes, ACF people were too weird about giving people hugs. They got all into don't touch the anomaly, it's made of fire, and it was all research and professionalism, and sometimes things got lost. Sure, maybe Pepper was some sort of god-incarnate, but she was also a person, and from the sounds of it, a person who very much needed a hug right now.
"Close your eyes," she said, softly, wrapping her leg through the empty chair beside Pepper and pulling it close enough that she could sit down without letting go. "And just breathe." Sometimes, that was the only advice there was. Cait breathed too, a soft sigh, and loosed the barrette from Pepper's hair, brushing the wayward strands back into place before clipping it securely again.
"Shh. You're asking the wrong question, aren't you? It's not how do I watch them die, it's how can I not? Because you love them. Him, Dr. Kallie, all of them. You love people. And so you will choose to touch their lives, again and again, and yes, you will watch the seeds you've planted wither and die, but there will always be another garden. Maybe some day there will be little Peppers. And you will love them. Because that's what you do, isn't it?"
Cait hid her smile behind Pepper's hair, because it was far too bittersweet to show. "Because love is the most destructive force of them all."
Pepper leaned into the hug. She could feel her throat seizing up. Her shaking hands wrapped around Cait’s neck and held the woman close. As she listened to her talk, the tears in her eyes began to burn and spill over. She couldn’t help it. There was no stopping the dam now that it had cracked. The water leaked through the crack, putting pressure on it until it broke apart, letting a flood loose. She gasped in a sharp sob.
And she cried. She cried, because there was nothing else she could do, not then. There was no other action she possibly could have taken. She wrapped her arms around Cait’s neck and she cried openly, ignoring the feeling of eyes on her as she did so. She cried for everything that she could not prevent and everything that was surely to come. She cried at the idea of having children who would die. She cried at the idea of loving so many people who would die.
But she also cried at the thought of loving so much. She cried at the idea of green-eyed, auburn-haired children running around, at the idea of Cody holding her hand for years to come. She cried at the idea of having a loving family, at having friends that spanned lifetimes. She cried as she realized that Cait was right.
She would love again. When Dr. Kallie died, she wouldn’t stop loving. When Cody died, she wouldn’t stop loving. She would just find new people to love, and when they died, she would do it all over again. She would do it, because at her core, she was just a human woman, and humans loved. Humans loved each other and they moved on when people died. They befriended everything and everyone. Pepper was no exception to this.
Would she ever love someone and see in them a maternal figure the way she did Dr. Kallie Reed? Never. No one would ever take that spot in her heart. Would she ever love anyone as deeply and completely as she loved Cody Redd? She couldn’t imagine it now. Not when she loved him so deeply. There was always a chance that she would move on and love after him, though. Cait was right– she would love any little Peppers that came into the world, even if they weren’t born with a divine spark, even if they died.
So Pepper cried for everything. Everything good, everything bad. There was nothing that she could do to stop the flow of time. And finally, when she had cried herself out, she just held on to her new friend, her arms tired and her eyes wet.