benji_icon.gif ingrid_icon.gif

Scene Title Bidjie
Synopsis Benji demonstrates that he is as good a friend as he is a shoulder to cry on.
Date February 3, 2011

Brooklyn: New York Aquarium

The entire wall is blue and glass, and feeding time's approach has the creatures behind it going a little crazy. The sleek water-faring otters weave agile patterns around each other, and scrabble their paws up against the wall, and squeaky mewling can be heard even on this side. The cavernous, subterranean viewing area is lit with subdued lighting and rippled with patterns coming through the water, gleaming off the tiled walls and floor. Benji Foster isn't alone down here, obviously, but he might as well be for all the attention he winds up paying to those sparsely scattered around him. He's dressed in winter layers, a blue scarf, snow-scuffed boots, woolen gloves with the fingers removed.

Introspective, he's within his own head as he watches more the dance of the creatures on the other side of the glass than the otters themselves. The blue light of the place glances off black hair he's managed to clean and comb before heading out for the day, and it doesn't quite obscure the still healing gash working on its scar going diagonal above an eyebrow, Abby's careful stitches inflicting as little excess damage as possible.

He has something in his hand. Old world, well-used, and opened, it's, for all intents and purposes, a compass. In his palm, it spins actively, mesmerising. He keeps expecting it to fall in the direction of the Dome.

It never does. Benji doubts this is the item's malfunction, or even his own.

"Boo," says a voice behind Benji.

It isn't a very scary voice, or even a very loud one, but Ingrid Raines is neither very scary nor very loud, and the arms that encircle his waist a moment later are gentle. Small, gloved hands twist into a loose knot at his stomach, and he feels her face press into his back in a hug. This would be awkward if she had the wrong person — she's positive, though, that she doesn't. She recognizes the scarf looped around his neck, and the reflection of his face in the aquarium's dark glass. "Mm," she murmurs into the denseness of his coat. This probably translates to something like I missed you so much, but what she says next is: "Bidjie. You're so warm."

Which means that Ingrid is cold. Nylon stockings and a short black skirt aren't a wise combination this time of year. Typical, though, for women who work at an office like the one at 26 Federal Plaza. Her heels are red to match her own coat, and the rose-shaped earrings she wears beneath the tangle of her windswept blonde curls. She's either come straight from work or is on her way to it — her schedule shifts around so much that she can barely keep track of it herself. To expect anyone else except for her employers to do the same would be ridiculous.

Benji gives a vaguely guilty, full-bodied twitch at boo despite all those unscary variables. His hands compulsively spider around the compass he holds once snapping it closed, as her arms lock around his narrow waist; he looks over one shoulder, than the other.

Despite himself, that weird feeling of being caught somehow, Benji smiles at the words muttered into his coat, warm even through thick wool and cotton layers. "Iggy," sounds like the kind of thing that would fall a little unnatural from his mouth, but it's spoken as naturally and affectionately as taking someone's hand, as if it were her name. "I don't feel very warm," he replies, quiet if not quite as mousily, his hands locking sealed closed around the compass rather than try to sneak it into a pocket.

Which makes it difficult to hug her back. Humm.

"Wally says they're feeding you up at Pollepel, but I don't believe it. I could play piano up and down your ribs." Ingrid holds the hug for a few seconds longer before reluctantly releasing the clasp of her hands and, with it, Benji. She reaches up to toy with the end of his scarf, both allowing and encouraging him to turn and face her, though chances are she wouldn't mind holding a conversation with his reflection.

"I'm so glad you like it," she says of the scarf. "Otherwise I'd feel really stupid for bringing you these." These are, apparently, a matching set of wool socks in the same shade with threads of what looks like periwinkle woven through it. She produces them from her pocket and holds them up for him to take. "For your feet."

In case he couldn't tell.

By the time he's being tugged to turn and being offered socks, irrational clandestinity feels about as silly as being offered socks. Benji hesitates before allowing for a loose limbed pivot on a heel, clunking to a halt and writing a bright smile across freckled and only mildly abused face. The iconic little guiding device is visible between the claws of his fingers bracketing around it, othe rhand going out to take wooly socks, flopping them over in a hand to inspect with the beginnings of lines deepening at his eyes.

And then he draws her into a hug — one that tightens around her with more exuberance and cling than simple greeting, even a greeting with some time spent away before it. An exhale whines through nasal passages, in a sort of self-deprecating sound, and he explains in too simplistic terms: "It's nice to see you again."

"Mwah," says Ingrid, to punctuate the kiss she pecks against the tip of Benji's nose. "You're only saying that because you had to put up with grumpy old Howard for so long." Blue eyes squint at his face, and she makes a little oh with her mouth. "Sorry," she adds before using the sleeve of her coat to wipe the smear of lipstick left behind on his nose. "I— um. Keep forgetting it does that."

A glance downward in embarrassment would have her gaze catching on the compass if it wasn't her turn to have arms around her. She rests her cheek against his chest. "Everything is still so new." Softer now. "I wish I could've gone too — it's a little scary without you here. I don't really know what I'm supposed to be doing.

"Delia made me French toast." These sentences are related, somehow.

Benji tucks his chin against Ingrid's skull once his nose is rubbed clean, keeping her sealed to him until maybe anxiety thinks about leaking away. The exhale flutters loose gold strands, and he gives a soft, velvety chuckle at this news. "I found some otters for you," he murmurs, as if to one-up this breakfast deal after minor hesitation. Maybe wistful for excessive breakfast — Pollepel Island only has so much to offer. Squeeze, then he lets go, stuffing socks into his pocket and shying back a step or two.

"I wish you were there too. Sometimes." Not all the time, considering. "You could meet my kitty. Have you seen Howard? He, um." Awkwardly, Benji introduces the compass into Ingrid's vision. "He's on his own again."

"I haven't seen him," Ingrid says, and Benji knows she's telling the truth because her voice doesn't get any shriller, "but maybe I can look." With great care, she removes Benji's fingers from the compass, one at a time, so she can cradle it between her own palms. She watches its face, fair brows knit, perplexed, as if expecting something.

Whatever that something is, it doesn't happen. Nothing happens. A wistful thumb curves along its edge. "I haven't seen Astor, either. Maybe they're looking out for each other, or—" The or isn't something she wants to consider, and the corners of her mouth turn down into a worried frown. "I have pills for him. Astor, I mean. And a library card. If I give them to you, will you make sure he gets them?"

Pills for Astor get a reflectively small, sad smile from Benji, his eyes caught on watching the compass's lack of movement — unlike her, he isn't very surprised, but flicks a confused glance to her face when she seems to be instead. Gently, he takes the compass back from her, his fingers long and nails still bitten in long developed habitual nibbles, and he regards the needle that begins to rotate once it's back in his hands. The item is hurriedly pushed into a pocket, once and for all, as if he'd rather forget about it.

"I can try," he says, with vague uncertainty. "He moves around. Like a magic trick." His voice takes on a sardonic note there. Yeah, fucking wizardry.

"I wanted to talk to him about— something." It sounds like she might leave it there, but a look twitched up at Benji has her eyes making a shameful effort to meet his gaze and hold it. "It happened a few weeks ago. I wanted to make something move, Bidjie, and then it did. By itself."

She glances down again, focusing on her hands as she laces her fingers together, maybe to keep them from roaming. They do that when she's nervous. "I thought he might be able to tell me about it. Even if it's just a coincidence, that's better than not knowing. Not spending all my time wondering whether not I've—" Ingrid presses out a long, slow breath to steady her nerves. "I haven't told anybody about it. Not even Lene."

Benji manages not to say: you too?

And swallows, instead, looking vaguely uneasy and smile wiped from his mouth. He tries to sound kind, and mostly succeeds, when he goes to take her laced together hands with one of his own. "They sell the tests, here. In— in pharmacies. And I'm sure your— " His mouth twitches into a slightly ironic, mirthless smile, eyes unfocusing in a glance passed her. "— workplace has some lying around you could sneak away. They're generally accurate?"

He hesitates. Then, "What did you— what moved?"

"It was a fire alarm," Ingrid says. "The handle. I was scared of cutting my fingers on the glass, so I just— started banging on the side, hoping I could set it off that way. Then it flipped." Her hands tighten under his touch, and she wraps hers around his without looking up. "I thought about it. The test. But I'm scared. It's not like back home where nobody knows, where everybody's the same, where you just gotta wait. Hope. Here it's either a yes or a no and then there's no going back. Not ever."

She tries to force a smile, but it doesn't get very far. She looks past Benji to the otters on the other side of the glass, studying their dark shapes carving effortlessly through the water, the bubbles coming off their fur, and wonders why the exhibit isn't frozen too. "I didn't mind not knowing when there wasn't a way to know. All I can think about now is if I'm like Daddy, or if I'm like my mom, and if I'm a coward for not— for not—"

Stepping back to stand with her, Benji listens, adjusting the sit of his scarf, fussing a little as he studies his reflection in the glass as opposed to the animals beyond it, fingers raking through dark locks before switching his focus to study her reflection. His hands slow, fall, and then he inches back towards her to hug arms around her waist. "There is no one braver," he tells her reflection, voice warm. "And it's— it's not meant to matter, what you are.

"I know that's rich of me to say, but— it mattering is the problem. Don't you think? And, I mean— your dad…"

"I was always jealous of them for knowing him better than me." Ingrid's eyes squeeze shut. "Never for what they could do. Even you got more time with him than I did, and your mom let you go outside. Have friends. Real ones. Not the pretend kind who smile at you and you know there's nothing mean in their mouth but there's nothing really sincere either because they don't know you, and they'll never know you because you're just some crazy old recluse's daughter who's trying to make herself useful because she's only good at one thing."

She sucks in a deep, shuddering breath, not realizing how fast she's been talking until she isn't. Tears leak down her cheeks and gather in the corners of her mouth when she opens it again. "Joshua's brave," she says, "Astor's brave. You're brave. I know I'm not because she said I wasn't. It was the last thing. The last thing. Only a coward would leave her mother alone with all that. And then I did."

Benji takes a breath, as if pulling in a temper that he isn't really known for. She'd have to see through tears, the evidence of it in ghostly reflection, before he schools a smile back onto his face. It isn't, after all, for her. His temper, that is. His arms tighten a little, angling so she can lean into him. "You have real friends now, don't you? Me. Astor. Joshua. Jolene, too. We'd be lost without you, Iggy." A hand goes up, fingers and palm clothed in wool, to smooth back blonde locks, care and admiration in the loose curls he makes sure not to tug.

"And Delia made you French toast," he adds. Statements related. "Don't cry, honey."

"I'm trying," Ingrid bleats in between sputtering tears, but the hand in her hair is more effective than words, and she swallows back the taste of them in her mouth, making her throat ache. "It's just hard." She doesn't say anything else right away, unable to trust her voice unless she expects it to crack — and she does. Her focus is on her breathing and establishing a pattern that doesn't hurt or fuel the anxiety pressing against her ribcage and trying to escape her body that way.

When she finally does speak again, it's in a short, tissue paper thin whisper that crinkles with quiet anguish. Nasal. "Did you know— did you know that sea otters— ? Did you know that sea otters have one million hairs per square inch of skin? Their claws are retract— retractable. I read it in one of my books."

When there's no doing but waiting it out, Benji stays silent, eyelids drooped some as he takes a step back, retracting embrace and steering blue-eyed gaze off towards the animals in question. His hands clasp together. "I didn't know," he says, with a shake of his head and a smile reflected at her through the glass, before looking through it, studying the animals with a degree of removed fascination. Probably not just for their dense fur and claws.

"They float together in groups called rafts," Ingrid continues, "and wrap themselves in kelp when they sleep. Sometimes they use rocks to crack open the shells of the things they eat. Mussels. Clams. Crabs. Sea urchins." She wipes her face with her hands. Opens her eyes. Reciting facts helps her remove herself from her emotions, and the more she talks, the stronger her voice becomes, though its volume does not increase more than a fraction.

"I had a sea urchin once. They call it oo-nee. The roe. It tasted like what the ocean should taste like. The waitress said it's supposed to be an aphrodisiac, but I didn't feel any different. Not like when I'm around—"

She stops there, realizing that this has probably gone far enough. Her tears are under control. "Sorry," she says. "Sorry. Can I show you? Their deep-fried tofu is amazing, and they do this thing with the ginger— little flowers—"

Raised eyebrows say no, go on when Benji chooses not to in so many words, a tiny smile playing out as he twists a glance sidelong from the waist, settling once more. There is a reason that he doesn't usually blush around Ingrid. Her question is answered non-verbal — a hand goes out for the taking, bare fingers spread. "But I'm only eating sea urchin if you tell me who the aphrodisiac is," he teases, cheerily, a smile that shows teeth this time before dimming again, his own brand of shyness.

"Nnn," isn't a no and it isn't a yes. Ingrid makes a defenseless gesture with her hands before taking his. "I shouldn't," she says, clicking her bright red heels together. She looks back over her shoulder in the direction that she came from. An afternoon at the aquarium and an early dinner at her favourite sushi restaurant. It's shaping up to be a very fishy kind of day.

She squeezes his hand. "Don't pretend you couldn't know if you really wanted to." This is how she teases him, not even an ounce of reproach in her tone as she begins leading him toward the next exhibit. "Come on, I want to show you the walruses before we go. They remind me of Daddy in a bad mood."

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