Favors For Favors


astor_icon.gif berlin_icon.gif delia_icon.gif nick_icon.gif

Scene Title Favors For Favors
Synopsis Berlin comes to Delia's to fulfill a promise. It goes well.
Date January 6, 2019

Delia's Place

It’s been a month since his auntie scraped him off the pavement, and Astor has proved to be a spectacularly underwhelming houseguest. He got through the worst of his physical withdrawal symptoms at the hospital, most of that time spent in a medically-induced benzodiazapine sleep; since getting into the room that Delia keeps for her daughter, he’s made dubious progress in terms of health.

Astor is still so thin. His bird-like appetite seems to be fed mostly with mustard greens, cereal, unseasoned chicken breast, protein drinks that you probably need a formal fucking prescription for, handfuls of vitamins, and eggs that he doesn't eat the yolk of. One time, when Delia made a logical persuasive argument regarding the health benefits of eating yolks, he made a dour attempt to finish one. Only to end up vomiting his entire breakfast up quietly, politely back into his bowl. They have not revisited it since.

Now and then, they go on walks together, with Nick or without; he likes her garden, which she could only tell because he said so while looking like he was chewing on a lemon wedge, he never disturbs her when she sleeps. He spends a lot of time watching television without looking at it, not even the news. He does crossword puzzles, Sudoku. He broadly ignores Nick. Periodically, he goes through fits of complaining; Nick should fix the squeaky floorboard and where the kitchen tiles have started peeling up, Delia’s conditioner smells too much like flowers, the weather is garbage, where the fuck is the sun. Delia has come to see, in part through his dreams, that this is his way of trying to be present.

After she bought him a new coat, he hasn’t stopped wearing it except to shower or to wash it. Indoors, outdoors, in bed, at the dining table. Which is where they are now, this cold, bright afternoon. He’s drinking his horrific beverage of choice, coffee grounds dissolved right into water; she has her tea.

And there’s a knock on the door. Possibly the worst precognitive in the history of ever, he doesn’t even look up after it happens.

Delia doesn’t bother Astor to answer the door. He’s her guest, no matter how long he stays, and (oddly) she doesn’t seem bothered by the constant complaints. Perhaps because she’s reminded of the part of his family that she’s closest to…. his uncle. Nick doesn’t complain often, or even out loudly, but there’s a resemblance between them that she can’t quite put a finger on.

Leaving her tea on the table, she stalks over to the door and peeks through the window before opening it. The woman on the other side is greeted not only with a smile, but a tight hug that seems to go on forever. And ever. And ever.

“Come in, come in, come in!” It’s a good thing she’s not singing it, her tone deafness would certainly send both the young woman and her nephew into tears. But the new arrival is ushered, in from the cold and the door is quickly closed against the chill. Not that inside of the house is much better, if the fire isn’t going, Delia is loathe to waste too much money on gas for heat. This might be another reason why she doesn’t mind a bit of grumbling, there’s a lot he has to put up with when it comes to his aunt’s hospitality.

This is not the Ryans that Nathalie is very familiar with. A few of them, sure. Not this one. Still, this is the door her search has led her to, so here she is. The hug— is not expected. And it's clear that she's not very good with this sort of thing because she just sort of… endures it. And pats Delia on the back.

"Hello." She speaks somewhat uncertainly, and steps through the door as if she might be thinking about going the other way any moment. But when the door closes behind her, she lets out a quiet sigh and turns back to Delia. "Sorry to interrupt your day," she says, keeping her coat tucked around her, "but I was hoping you'd know how to find Astor Loukas." There's a glance toward the man in the room, but no assumptions made. She doesn't have a picture, just a name and an address that wasn't entirely accurate anymore.

The low rumble of truck can be heard below the questions Nathalie asks, followed by the slam of a door. A few moments later, the door squeaks open again, Nick’s tall and lean frame filling the door frame for a moment; his arms are full of two bags of groceries purchased on his errands. “Oh, hey, Becket- er, Berlin,” he tells the Wolfhound, realizing a second later maybe last names are not appropriate in the intimate confines of the house. “You know Del?”

He moves past her to drop a kiss on Delia’s red hair. “They didn’t have that dressing you like but I got like three others to make up for it, so hopefully one will work,” Nick says, moving past Delia toward the kitchen, giving Astor a nod. “For god’s sake, let me teach you to use the coffee pot,” he says with a shake of his head for the newest roommate.

He recently saw the man’s mother but hadn’t mentioned that the man was sleeping in Delia’s home. His jaw twitches as he thinks about this, but he ignores it as he begins to put away the groceries in the kitchen, a glance over his shoulder toward the entryway to listen in.

Astor doesn't look up, but he knows that Berlin is here. Something about the disgusting coffee beverage or possibly the television, barely audible, or maybe just the middle distance— has his attention rapt. His behavior is not entirely unlike a child, minding himself while the adults are adulting.

Conversely, his attitude is the opposite; ignoring the children at play.

Either way, it's not a particularly flattering look, unless you entirely forgive him with his gross drink. He bangs his spoon around the porcelain walls of his cup a bit, then seems to incidentally finish this pointless endeavor around the same time that Delia leaves off, Nathalie voices her intentions, and Nick starts dropping his eaves around the carton of eggs and milk. Finally then, he turns his head toward the two women, just a few precise degrees, not quite closing the last couple to make anything like eye contact.

"When you're done," Astor says, "I need to ask you to do a few things for me."

A beat.

"Please," Astor adds, perfunctorily.

“She doesn’t,” Delia fills in for Nick, her eyes not leaving Nathalie/Berlin, her smile not waning in the least. “But Lu told me everything about her.” That is all the explanation that she feels is needed. The dressing(s) are fine. Not her favorite, but she’s also not sure if Astor would like them or if an attempt to have him try them would result in the same kerfuffle as the egg yolk.

Dishes weren’t pleasant that day.

When he pipes up, Delia’s hand waves toward Astor as though she was presenting him as a prize for a game show. “He’s here,” she says and then turns to look at him. “Meet Astor,” she doesn’t say his last name, not quite understanding the need for an alias so many years after all of their children came forward. Her eyebrows suddenly twitch together in concern as she turns her focus to the man, “anything you need, Astor.”

"Hopefully not everything," Nathalie says with a glance downward. But it's just in passing, as she looks over to Nick a moment later. "Good to see you," she says to him, avoiding both first and last name for the moment.

Somewhere in Wolfhound HQ there is a whiteboard of objectification that currently ranks Nick Ruskin as the only 10/10 on a rating of handsomeness and butts worth gazing at. Lucille declined to weigh in on that one, which might be why Berlin insisted on him being included. But in the here and now, the memory of that particular artifact makes it difficult not to look a little sheepish.

So she is grateful when Astor is pointed out to her. She looks at him, then at Delia, giving her a nod of thanks before she moves over to the man in question. "Mind if I sit? I'm afraid I'm here on semi-official business. And also to repay a favor." What any of that has to do with him, she seems to be waiting for his okay before explaining.

“When you consider all the things Delia learns between her sister and myself, she’s probably more informed than half of SESA and most of HomeSec,” Nick says with a smirk over his shoulder as he continues to put all of the groceries in no doubt all of the wrong places, which Delia will have to rearrange later on. But he tries.
“Can I get you some coffee?” he asks Berlin over his shoulder as he pours himself a cup, apparently not at all bothered by the lack of response on Astor’s part on the offer to teach the man to make a decent pot of coffee. His brow arches at the ‘official business’ part, giving a glance over to Astor like the other man might explain why a woman in the business of hunting war criminals might be looking for his nephew.

What if eye contact is a factor in the proper sequence of human interaction? Astor finally looks properly at his aunt when she reassures him, his eyebrow twitching for the moment. Not particularly negative affect; not by his measure, anyway. And then Berlin is coming to sit by him, with an offer of (an improperly brewed) beverage from Nick, and Astor Loukas looks at the Wolfhound woman for a long moment. He doesn't blink, but it seems to take him a moment for his pupils to focus on Berlin's face.

"When you're done, I need to ask you to do a few things for me. Please." With one rehearsal under his belt, he manages to say these lines with considerably greater fluency— and this time, apparently to the right person.

He then offers Nathalie his hand, which seems— permissive in any number of ways. "And if you try the Turkish coffee, you won't like it, but you'll be glad you tried it. It's common across the Middle East and Southeast Europe. The grounds are finer than what Nick and Delia use the pot for—" He seems to acknowledge Nick and his offer finally, if only in retrospect, glancing back across the room. It's more to the man than Nathalie herself that he notes, "I grind them myself. They're in the cupboard above the sink." A plastic jar labeled: ASTOR. His handwriting is a gangling hybrid of actual cursive and freely joined letters, not unlike his nigh unplaceable accent.

He gestures back at Delia, in what passes for apology. It seems unlikely that he doesn't have a separate set of demands for his auntie to humor, but possibly the timing was supposed to be different.

"Nick's exaggerating," Delia says easily enough, "I'm sure I don't know that much… it's not my fault people talk in their sleep." Dreams, she means dreams, but it's not what she says.

The lack of demands is waved off, no apology necessary. She is happy that her nephew remembered his manners immediately on the second go around though, Nick is the one to see that when she points a small smile in his direction. Delia rearranges the groceries while he fiddles with the grinds and the pot, both of them within easy distance but not in their guests faces.

She doesn't help Nick with the coffee, that's his area of expertise. Hers is anything not in the kitchen. "If this is official, did you want me," she gives her partner a somewhat uneasy look, "or us to leave?" It's quite clear that she doesn't want to, if Astor is caught up in something dangerous or just plain not good, she wants to be available to help.

"Nobody needs to leave," Nathalie says with a gentle smile in Delia's direction, "it's only semi-official." She takes the spot next to Astor, and seems to have no problem looking him in the eye. But also, doesn't seem to mind that he needs a few moments. His words make her blink, but she takes his hand when he reaches his hand toward her.

Then, she looks at Nick.

"I'd love some coffee," she says, her smile crooked. She doesn't request the Turkish option, not specifically, but there is a dryness to her tone that suggests she wouldn't mind it. Even if she doesn't end up liking it. "It'll help."

When she turns back to Astor, her eyes close while she assesses exactly what work there is to be done. Samson didn't give her any specifics, after all. "I'll consider doing a few things. If you'll answer a few questions." She opens her eyes, which were brown a few moments before but now blaze a bright blue as she looks at the man. Resignation hangs in her gaze. It's always been her fear, the endless string of requests that have followed people finding out the truth. But. She'll consider.

After. For now, she focuses on Astor and fixing what's wrong with him. Physically, at least.

“It’s not my fault you’re nosy in your sleep,” Nick says with a grin to Delia, but he bends to kiss her lightly. In some ways, having someone else in the house helps to chase away the remnants of melancholy that cling to the man in the best of times. Or at least, he does a better job of hiding them.

Behind their guests’ backs, he tips his head in their direction, lifting his brows as if to ask ‘what’s up?’ even as he goes to pour another cup of coffee. “You want cream or sugar?” he asks — fixing it however Berlin likes, before bringing it to her and setting it on the table beside her.

“I think that’s as many syllables as I’ve heard you say at once in my presence, mate,” Nick says jovially enough to his sort-of nephew. “Don’t worry, I won’t expect you to keep it up for long.” He gives his sometimes coworker a smirk, raising his brow at the sudden shift in eye color, one that reminds him of more than a couple of people, before his smile slides away, hidden by a quick gulp of hot black coffee.

Astor regards the young woman across from him. Her future— their future, unwinds in his brain like the vaporous trails of fog, and fog, by definition, is remarkably difficult to see through, never mind to identify the shapes taking place inside of it. He's never explained how his power works to anyone, and he isn't about to start now. But he can tell that that isn't what she's going to ask him, and even if it were, he has a fairly strategic grasp of his options today.


It's fortunate that Nick doesn't expect any more words, properly addressed, and that Delia keeps minimal standards for his behavior. Their nephew is doing the thing again. At least this time, they have a guest and apparently, important topics of discussion to broach. He doesn't disagree with Berlin, when she says that the two others can stay; he doesn't voice his agreement, either. (And this time, it's not because his player completely forgot to address sentences that she read with her eyeballs.)

The colloqualism sounds blocky, almost ironic, and foreign in his mouth: "Fire away." His long, olive fingers relax. She can see smudges on his arm, permanent stains and interruptions in his skin. You fuck yourself up with needles for long enough.

After the groceries are put away, Delia moves around the kitchen to pull a few snacks out on a plate. The moment the first package crinkles, cookies, the soft click of nails on linoleum. A red and blue bloodhound in its gangly adolescent stage pads around the corner. Lazy from recent nap wakings, perhaps on Astor’s bed, he snuffles the floor around Berlin’s feet, tail wagging. Then he’s off to where the crinkle happened, the kitchen. He sits politely as the snacks are piled, waiting for his scraps to be tossed and when it doesn’t happen, he whines and paws at Nick’s leg.

He knows where the good are.

Cheese, crackers, celery and carrot sticks, and a separate plate for a few cookies, are set on the table for the guests and then Delia retreats back into the kitchen. The kettle is filled and placed on the stove to heat up for tea.

"Samson Gray asked me to come heal you," Berlin says, bluntly. But it is a side effect of talking and working at the same time. His system seems to need plenty of attention, because she's not letting him go. Instead, her hand tightens and her head tips to the side as she begins with pushing the toxins out of his body. It isn't gentle, either, but rather akin to a sledgehammer. As much as a healer can be.

That isn't her being cruel, but rather being unpracticed.

"Who is he to you? Do you know how to find him?" The official-ish part of this visit, broken up only by her looking over to Nick with a grateful expression for the coffee. She doesn't drink it right away, but she reaches for it almost the moment it's set down. "He isn't exactly the usual Wolfhound target, but I don't think anyone would object if there was a way to track him down."

The dog’s ears are rubbed for a moment before Nick goes to a canister full of dog treats, getting a few and busying himself with breaking them and making the dog go through his regiment of tricks — sit, lie, shake — for the milkbone pieces. He keeps an eye on the discussion in the other room, brows drawing together when the name Samson Gray is mentioned.
There’s a look thrown at Delia that speaks volumes, that says without words that their extended family is a trainwreck.

“Thatcher might know,” Nick offers after a moment, looking down at the hound to avoid any sets of eyes on him — especially those belonging to his nephew or his girlfriend. “Ray-Sumter, I mean.” These people and their everchanging last names, the spy thinks, unaware of the irony, that he has a half a dozen different passports with different names on them in his briefcase.

Isn't healing supposed to feel good? —no it's fine, he's not really being picky, not really. Astor stares at Berlin as she works, a slight furrow appearing in his brow. He feels his heart kick up a notch, heat flush across the nape of his neck. Cells powering into overdrive on a cellular level, liver enzymes, the rest of it, trying to purge what shouldn't be there, knit what used to be. His vision slips out of focus for an instant, then back again, Berlin's fair face into sharp, nearly heightened definition.

"He's someone who I can rely on unreliably to help me," Astor answers. "I know how you can find him next week. I'd appreciate if you give him something for me. Appreciate it if you don't. 'Target' him, Wolfhound style, before it's done." A glance sideways at Nick, briefly, for the mention of Kaylee. No comment to that, but he acknowledges the possibility that the blonde woman might be helpful with a shrug of one rangy shoulder. Not a look for the dog, of course.

Astor is obviously a cat person.

His expression is flat as a day-old Coke abandoned open on the counter. "You could give him your number when you see him." From a fortune-teller, it's hard to say whether that's him being an ass or a sincere attempt to help.

Their family? Samson Grey is a name that Delia knows only as a campfire horror story, her personal experience with the man was short and only eventful insofar that he was trying to give information when all hell broke loose. Through no actual fault of his own. It was a case where the boogeyman just didn’t live up to expectation and his story was struck from her nightmare repertoire. But Samson Grey, she never considered him family, extended or otherwise. Her look back to Nick is a raised eyebrow and pressed lips to hide the smirk of nuh uh, all you.

When the kettle whistles, she prepares herself a cup. Everyone else is for coffee, so as a hostess, she doesn’t feel obligated to offer. Nudging Nick, she tips her head in the direction of the table. They should sit, they should be polite.

"I certainly wouldn't be targeting him alone," Berlin says in a noncommittal reply. She wouldn't go alone, but then, she never implied that she would in the first place. She peels her hand away from Astor, letting out a heavy sigh when it's done. And she reaches for the coffee. It's just a test, really, to see if the caffeine actually helps her bounce back or not. She's still working out the details of her ability, now that she's open to using it with more frequency.

"Why would I give him my number?" she asks, an eyebrow lifted from behind her mug. It's an earnest enough question, but comes with the distinct impression that she has no intention of doing so.

Instead, she turns her attention to Nick, at his addition. "I'm not sure where her alliance lies on this particular issue." The Rays, in this at least, seem split.

“Me neither,” Nick tells Berlin with a single-shouldered shrug. “She’s got a soft spot for assholes, though, and he fits the bill.” Blue eyes slide over to Astor and he gives the other man a sorrynotsorry sort of look. They have a lot of assholes in their extended family. “Me included.”

Delia’s nudge and look move Nick’s feet in the direction of their guests, and he takes a seat catty-corner to Astor. Wrapping his hand around his coffee mug, Nick studies the man, a brow lifting a bit at the signs of relative health and vigor in his nephew’s face.

“Instant face lift. Impressive,” he says, with a nod for Berlin that might be a bit of thanks on Astor’s behalf.

Extreme credit to Berlin, Astor does look better. Remarkably so. The lines softer under his eyes, the blear cut in half on the surface of his corneas, and the uneven balance of his shoulders settled to something less obtrusively tense. He barely moves when Nick adds to the combination of people at the table. His face is empty for a moment, turned inward, checking on himself with the unease of someone who's been in poor health for so long that he doesn't trust the feeling of wellbeing.

Then he blinks his eyes, and as sudden as a cat, he's back.

"I'll give you a burner phone and tell him the number," he revises, with the same tedious attitude of of a beleaguered DMV employee moving miniscule details of paperwork around to make a logistic fit. But he lifts his eyebrows at Berlin expectantly, that this is in fact his form of negotiation; of thanks. Nick isn't wrong to thank her on Astor's behalf; that much seems to have slipped entirely out of his mind. "No GPS. You can bury it in a shoebox somewhere and check it for bugs once a day. Whatever's clever. It's not a bad idea for you two to be in touch, if I'm going to ask you both for favors."

He shifts in his seat, picking up his ass off the chair. Sticks his fingers into the back pocket of his trousers, extricating a few scraps of paper. One appears to be a very tattered business card, the edges worried soft from the years. McCarney's Bowling Alley. It isn't even open anymore. There's writing on the back— Astor's hideous, near-incomprehensible scrawl in blue Biro ink— and this, he proffers to Nick. If he's offended by the name-calling!!!, all he says is—

"Would an asshole get you and Auntie Lia a dinner reservation?"


Because she was busy studying her tea leaves for signs from the future, sorry Astor, Delia wasn’t paying too much attention to the rest of the conversation. There was talk of Samson, Kaylee, assholes, and someone getting her dinner reservations. That is the thing that brought her out.

“Who got us dinner reservations?” she pipes up, “And where?” Because that’s the most important bit. McDonalds hasn’t been a regular thing for her for years, literally, and some days she could kill for a little cheeseburger. It’s most probable that the reservations aren’t at McDonalds. Turning to Nick, she smiles widely, “You’re paying.”

"Why are we talking about favors I can do for you?" Berlin asks, her tone more flat that it was before. Her hand pushes through her hair and she looks over at Astor, then pushes herself up to her feet. She has a false start, though, and drops back down before she can actually get up. "I just did my favor. And I think I'll go home." Her steps toward the door are hardly stable, but she heads that way all the same. "Delia, thank you for letting me into your home. Ruskin— I'll see you around."

Nick’s about to answer both Astor and then Delia when Berlin’s mood shifts, and his blue eyes cant back toward Astor, one brow lifting. The probably-rhetorical question has been answered, as far as Nick sees it, by Berlin.

“Of course,” he says to Delia. “I don’t know what he’s got in mind, though. A place requiring reservations probably doesn’t have cheeseburgers the way you like, with little tiny chopped up onions mixed with the ketchup and mustard.” They’d had his fill and more than of it of McDonalds back in the old days.

He’s up on his feet, though, to make sure Berlin stays on hers, giving her an odd glance. “I’ll see you out. You’re sure you’re okay to drive?” he asks the Hound, moving ahead of her to get the door and giving Astor another ‘look what you did!’ sort of look. “You definitely take after your father. And your mother.”

Astor doesn't seem to notice Nick giving him the look, as he's somewhat preoccupied in that moment, looking at Berlin like he's trying to read tiny letters that are written on her face. (In a sense, that might even be true.) (But it's hard to tell, just from the look on his shitty face, which does probably!! take a little after his father, and his mother, what the nature is of his uncertainty.) (Difficulty with empathetic perspective-taking? Reading the future? Does Berlin have an adorable dimple that only shows up when she's frowning?)

"That's rude," he ends up saying, turning his head to Nick; Astor is the least valid source of that particular criticism in the entire city, probably. Evidently, he did hear. He puts down McCarney's business card on Nick's edge of the table, place and time. And then for Delia, appropos of nothing, "They'll have a burger. Safe to eat medium rare."

The rhetorical nature of the other woman's question does not seem lost on him; Astor doesn’t answer. Which probably makes it even weirder when the two other scraps of paper, Astor leaves beside Berlin's cup of coffee. One says B., the other SAMSON, Astor's bulky script. It seems profoundly unlikely that he fails to notice that the woman is on her way out, along with her assistant, but one of them is surely to be back. "What else do you like to eat?" he asks Delia, a dark eyebrow lofting on his forehead.

“Stop by anytime,” Delia calls after Berlin, not wanting to hamper her progress to the door or get in the way of either her or Nick. She stays with Astor and with a smile and a shrug, takes advantage of the conversation he’s starting. “Your uncle got me into curry, I think that’s his holdover from England though. I like chicken the best out of that… Naan though, I could eat that with anything. It doesn’t even need curry as an excuse.” Her eyebrows twitch, just a bit and her eyes drift off to that corner of remembrance as the smile slowly fades from her face. “My mom used to make the best corned beef and cabbage. My family’s Irish Catholic, did I ever tell you that? When I was little we had the best St Patty’s Day parties… the whole block did. Our neighborhood was famous for them.”

She shakes her head and waves off the thought, “Foodwise… I’m not fussy, though. I just really liked McDonald’s cheeseburgers back in the day. Say what you want about them, they always got the pickle ratio just right.”

"If I can drive after getting shot, I can drive like this," Berlin says, giving Nick a nod. She's fine, obviously. When she reaches the door, she only hesitates to turn back to Delia, giving her a nod as well. But then she starts out the door. Luckily there's a wall to brace against. Chances are, she isn't actually going to drive until after she's had time to rest, but she doesn't seem inclined to explain that to anyone.

She'll at least get to the car she's using. Even if she passes out as soon as she gets inside.

“It could be a compliment,” says Nick with a shrug at the man before he opens the door for Berlin, who he casts a skeptical glance at.

“Sounds a bit like ‘if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball,’ and I’m not sure either statements are true,” he says, closing the door behind them. Once they’re out of earshot of the others, though, he drops his voice to continue.

“At least have a cat nap before you drive off. I have a sleeping bag in my trunk you can use as a blanket. It’s a bit cold out here.” He moves toward the truck to grab it and offer it — whether she takes it or not, he’ll take her at her word that she’s fine, and head back inside.


He’s not in an eager mood to rejoin the taciturn company Delia has inside.

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