Always On Call


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Scene Title Always On Call
Synopsis Asami Tetsuzan takes a moment to lament the state of her work-life balance out loud in line for coffee, an imbalance Zachery Miller also knows well and offers comment on.
Date October 8, 2020

Lower Manhattan

A long, suffering sigh escapes Asami Tetsuzan when she looks up from her spot in line at the coffee shop across from the New York Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital. Charming as it is, with two stories of comfortable seating that services an expectedly high number of medical professionals working across the way, it still— like many places these days— sold advertising space to anyone who was willing to pay.

And the wall to the right of the barista station features spreads so prolifically large it seems like they should be hanging up at a bus stop, or painted on a bus directly.

And Isaac Faulkner's charming smile is not fifteen feet away from her even on this day where she's out of the office; on her way to a cybersecurity conference being hosted at a conference center just down the way. The Linderman enterprise is a difficult one to escape in New York City, but it's never so hard to escape sight of during election season for the last four years.

Her eyes flutter closed, hand on the strap of the messenger bag slung across her body. The slouchy, knee-length cardigan she wears with a crisply-pressed blouse shifts in a messy ripple while she shifts her weight from one foot to the other. "You ever get the feeling work just… follows you no matter what you do?" Asami poses this to absolutely no one at all, if not to herself. "The very few fucking hours you get to yourself littered with constant reminders of it?"

"Middle finger from the universe, honestly." The glass fishbowl of her corner office has clear walls that seem to expand to follow her wherever she goes, lately. She needs a break, before it breaks her. Who knows if she'll take it.

Maybe she'll just keep talking to herself in coffee shop lines, wistful and wishing without ever changing her situation. Perpetually internally cringing— waiting yet prepared for a proverbial fingersnap sent to her company-provided cell that will call her back to the next issue needing her attention.

Always on-call, even on her days off. Maybe it's something better appreciated by the patrons here more than most. Slaves to the next emergency they're called for.

Zachery Miller, in off-duty navy blue sweatshirt and jeans, standing in line behind Asami, looks up from his phone and floats a glance over to a stranger reading a magazine while seated at a long table on his far left. No?

He looks to his right, at a few others, similarly occupied.

No one?

Well, Asami can't very well be ignored by everyone in here, can she? That would just be rude. With amusement plucking at one corner of his mouth, he entertains the thought and answers, "I think work and I have been joined at the hip long enough that it's less feeling and more fact."

He clicks his tongue, tacking on almost immediately, "What are you, innn…" The shop, as well as what he can see of Asami gets a cursory look over. "Put together. Pragmatic. You've not got the desiccated look and sound of a dead-end desk job worker. Advertising?"

Oh. Someone took pity on her and answered her grousing to herself.

Asami turns back to look to— up at Zachery with mild surprise. Well, at least he's sympathetic to her trouble. His attempt to identify her, though, brings an arid laugh to rise from her. "No, and no. I'm in tech. Cybersecurity, and I'm good at hiding how soul-sucking my desk job can be." She sighs, looking down at her flats before back up again.

She puts on her best my job hasn't eradicated my will to live smile she can. "I work for the Linderman Group as a direct report to Isaac Faulkner. Can't escape his face even on my off days, recently."

Now comes Zachery's turn to laugh, heartily, with an appraising angling of his head. "Oh!"

He looks up, at a menu and scrawled specials, as if he hadn't previously already decided what to get - like he'll leave it at that, let these ships pass silently in the night. They are strangers, after all.

But coincidences, they have this funny thing of sticking. So, leaning back on his heels and letting his eyes find Asami again, he says airily, "Busy days as well, I imagine— or, well." His smile pulls a little wider, "I don't strictly have to imagine, or I'd see my wife more often. I suspect you two might be familiar."

After having figured it'd be left at what it was, Asami, too, returned to a more normal closed-off state. Self-consciously, she'd retreated. After all, how silly of her to have said anything at all. She stepped ahead when she was meant to, kept her gaze forward. She contemplated the menu. Then Zachery's voice sounds again.

His words bring her to turn her head back slightly. "Does she work for his campaign?" she wonders. She's interested, but not invested. A name hasn't been named, even if curiosity keeps her engaged for now.

"Mmh." A noise of confirmation is the only thing Zachery offers for a few seconds, thumb pressed against the volume slider of his phone to check its level before he slips it into a pocket and turns his half-lidded gaze on Asami again, adding easily, "She's even met him once or twice, I believe."

He takes a deep breath as if it's required for pulling his attention back into the moment properly now that he's focusing on people and not what work his phone holds. With a glimmer of amusement still playing on his face, he asks with a forced air of nonchalance, "What do you think, then, any insight into how things are going? Any juicy rumours trickle down the… electrical pipelines?"

Because that's clearly how things go.

Asami lets out a tired breath that attempts to pass itself off as laughter. "To my delight, segregation of duties between the Linderman Group and Mr. Faulkner's other day job maintain steady. I have… enough on my plate with the Group." She looks off, dithering over additional thoughts. "From what I understand, he's polling well. Maybe the stress leading into the election will fade into a honeymoon period after."

Or maybe it won't. But she doesn't say that.

"I've been to a few of his events, mostly fundraisers. Maybe I've run into her? What's her name?"

There's a dip of Zachery's head at the mention of stress, but after a redirection of his attention toward the front of the line again, whatever worries might have plagued him are pushed back along with the squaring of his shoulders in an idle stretch.

There's fun to be had, after all. A rare thing between shifts. "You might've seen her around," he answers, accordingly. "Average height, brunette, fantastically reliable, walks around like she owns the place when she gets a goal properly in sight. Eyes that look a little troubled, but always focused."

He floats a lazy look back over to Asami, watching what he can see of her face. "Answers to the name Nicole Miller?"

Asami's casual regard of the conversation continues up until that point. Now, though, the line has moved up a person again and she's not shifted to follow in the sheer double-take she's undertaking. She blinks, then almost of its own accord one hand lifts and points vaguely at him, the slack in it only firming once she voices her realization. "You're Zachery Miller."

She's heard the story, of course, of Nicole's romance. She sent a wedding gift, even though she felt too out of place to have attended herself. God, had she said anything too out of place? Too derogatory to the Group or its leadership?

Asami forces a laugh, even though there's an upward furrow to her brow— like an animal cornered and aware danger lurks so near. She shakes her head to dismiss her own behavior, her own incredulousness. "Small world, am I right?"

The hand she'd been pointing with quickly comes out in a shake, trying to restore a level of politesse to the situation it has sorely lacked. "I don't suppose Nicole's ever had reason to bring up my name, but I'm Asami. Tetsuzan."

And she's talking with the husband of the woman who still technically controls the Linderman Group even though Isaac Faulkner sits in its leadership. Hers is the hand which garners final say on many topics.

Such as Asami's continued employment, if her husband happened to remark on running into a disparaging executive in the organization.

"Nicole speaks so highly of you. It's a pleasure to meet you," Asami says with that same humbled, strained smile she started wearing sometime after her shock wore off.

"Oh," Zachery replies with a widening smile, sincerely and obviously very pleased with the way this last minute or so has turned out. He accepts the handshake, and firmly, holding it as he continues on to say, "I'm pretty sure she has brought you up, if you're any good at your job at all." His eyebrows pop up in the tiny pause that follows.

Asami's hand is released, if only so that both of his own can go lifted up and out by his sides in a halfhearted shrug, his smile losing some of its edge, even if crow's feet stay deepened. "Alas. One can only reserve so much memory for people they haven't even met, can't they. Then again, fate's conspired to change that on my twenty-two minute break spent almost entirely in this line, hasn't it?"

This does not leave him, strictly, in the voice one might assign a rhetorical question.

Jesus fucking Christ, he's as much as a shark as she can be. Nicole, that is. No wonder they married.

Asami's smile is strained but restrained as she's held captive in the handshake, then in the conversation. She forces a polite laugh as he reflects on the current state of their purgatory together in this caffeine rush hour they're currently victim to. "Like I was saying…" she segues back. "I'm sure Nicole must feel the same way, that work follows her everywhere, too. I'm not sure how she and Mr. Faulkner manage, carrying so many responsibilities at once."

She realizes the line's slipped forward two people now and slinks ahead to close the gap before looking back to Zachery again. "I'm attending a conference nearby this morning and had thought I'd manage most of my day free of work affairs. I answered a handful of emails on the train this morning, though, and now, between being loomed over by physical reminders, certain people have decided the out of office message means nothing to them."

"Something I'm sure you're familiar with, too," Asami concedes with another forced chuckle.

Zachery moves forward as soon as he's got the space to, nodding with a deep sigh at the mention of both Nicole and Faulkner's responsibilities.

As for his own experiences… "Abundantly familiar, yes." He answers with the weight of empathy hanging from his words. Some of it carries into the next sentence, warping slowly into a note of apology. "And here I am, bringing work right back into the forefront. Sorry about that."

"No, no—" Asami tries to counter, more calmly than before. Her feet are better under her now. "I was the one who started this little lament, after all." Her smile is a more self-aware thing now. It lapses entirely before she turns back to Zachery, where it returns, but smaller, seemingly more at-ease. "Let me buy your coffee. Least I can do for derailing your break."

She speaks with a tinge of wry self-deprecation. Never mind they'd have both been stuck in the same line together regardless of her having spoken up at all.

It might be for that reason that Zachery does not immediately respond, stunned briefly into silence.

It's broken by a glad sort of laugh, before he answers, "Sure, why not? Next time I see you, though," he pauses, casting a very serious look of raised eyebrows in Asami's direction, "I'm returning the favour. Honestly, on days like this, where I'm mostly running around for minor case check-ups and trying to avoid doing paperwork to fill the extra minutes, a spot of derailing is more than welcome every now and then."

As in on cue, the phone in his pocket dings a tiny gong noise. He fishes it out to look at the screen, proceeding to thumb a quick message back while adding through the flat affect of distraction, "Besides, you already knowing my name made me feel a little bit like I was a celebrity or something, how can I be upset after that?"

Asami lets out a quiet chuckle, a look of relief passing over her. Zachery's distracted with his phone, but she looks forward anyway to make sure it's well-hidden. It feels as though any potential black marks against her person may be washing themselves out already, before the stain had a chance to sink in. All's well that ends well, right?

And besides— it's their turn now. She steps forward, glancing one last time up at the menu. "I'll, ah, try a large of your fall special— the maple latte? With a croissant, warmed, please." Asami looks back toward Zachery, gesturing a hand for him to step up to the counter as well. "And for you?"

"Just— black," Zachery mutters an answer, frowning down at his phone while he finishes up another message. "Whatever it's called, here. I'm easy."

When Asi is done with their order he looks up, his words sharper again the moment he puts the phone back where it came from, and his keen smile returning with it. "Here's a question for you. What's got one head, what must be upward of a hundred eyes at least on any given day - but not enough of a brain to figure out how to turn off the call light on floor twelve?"

He pauses, too short for an answer, but long enough to be dramatic. "Because apparently, it's the surgeon's department."

In the middle of swiping her card to pay for the joint order, Asami doesn't laugh, but she does let out a sigh. A commiserative one, possibly. "Maybe there's more in common between IT and the medical practice than I first thought," she comments as she slips down the counter toward the drink pickup. After slipping her card away, she folds her arms over her chest with poise, one hand hooked around opposite elbow in a trunk-strengthening gesture.

"Did they try the tried and true method of unplugging it and putting it back in to reset it?" she wonders dryly. "Because if they didn't at least do that before calling someone not even in the building…"

Though now she has a sinking feeling at the back of her mind. There aren't any strange fires like that on her end, are there? Now Asami, too, is slipping her phone free to check her email and texts.

"This doctor might get turned off and not on again at this rate," Zachery replies with a wry smirk, moving along to the other side of the counter but keeping an arm's length away. "Since he basically just pinged everyone with a message on a channel generally used for emergencies - for a technical issue. Some people don't hold anything sacred."

His smirk is pulled back into a smile before long, Asi eyed with amusement lifting his tone of voice. "It's a shame it's a hardware issue and not a software one, or I'd walk you back with me."

At that, Asami lifts her brow. She's found her line, apparently, and amusement enters her own tone as well. "Didn't you hear, Mr. Miller? Today's my day off." The corner of her mouth tugs in a small smile. "And besides, it's not the hospital paying my bills."

Tough luck for the many-eyed surgeon's department.

His drink is up first by the nature of simplicity, and she nods to it even though it's her name that's called. "I wish you all the best of luck with it, though."

"I'll have to bump into you again here, then," Zachery concludes. Just for a moment, there is something more calculating to his stare, eyes narrowing. "If only because the thought of a favour owed, self-imposed or not, will quietly eat at me until I do."

Not that it terribly seems to be bothering him as he lifts his drink in a wordess thank you, then turns and adds with carefully maintained airiness, "Do enjoy the rest of your day off, Ms. Tetsuzan!"

Asami quirks her head to the side at the thought of any favors being owed, but manages to bite back a smile and instead nod graciously. "May the rest of your day be all down from here, Mr. Miller," she says in return, her arms still folded in front of her.

After Zachery heads for the door, she closes her eyes and presses a long sigh out carefully through her nose. Well, at least that ended well.

She really ought to take better care with what she says, and where.

You never know who is listening.

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