Just Plain Cantankerous


bolivar_icon.gif kayla_icon.gif

Scene Title Just Plain Cantankerous
Synopsis Two survivors, each damaged in their own way, have an unfriendly conversation.
Date January 27, 2009

Central Park

Central Park has been, and remains, a key attraction in New York City, both for tourists and local residents. Though slightly smaller, approximately 100 acres at its southern end scarred by and still recovering from the explosion, the vast northern regions of the park remain intact.

An array of paths and tracks wind their way through stands of trees and swathes of grass, frequented by joggers, bikers, dog-walkers, and horsemen alike. Flowerbeds, tended gardens, and sheltered conservatories provide a wide array of colorful plants; the sheer size of the park, along with a designated wildlife sanctuary add a wide variety of fauna to the park's visitor list. Several ponds and lakes, as well as the massive Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, break up the expanses of green and growing things. There are roads, for those who prefer to drive through; numerous playgrounds for children dot the landscape.

Many are the people who come to the Park - painters, birdwatchers, musicians, and rock climbers. Others come for the shows; the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Delacorte Theater, the annual outdoor concert of the New York Philharmonic on the Great Lawn, the summer performances of the Metropolitan Opera, and many other smaller performing groups besides. They come to ice-skate on the rink, to ride on the Central Park Carousel, to view the many, many statues scattered about the park.

Some of the southern end of the park remains buried beneath rubble. Some of it still looks worn and torn, struggling to come back from the edge of destruction despite everything the crews of landscapers can do. The Wollman Rink has not been rebuilt; the Central Park Wildlife Center remains very much a work in progress, but is not wholly a loss. Someday, this portion of Central Park just might be restored fully to its prior state.

Central Park is popular in the afternoon. People like to go out jogging. Spending time with the kids. Or just get out of the office and other stultifying city buildings. Even in the middle of winter. Kayla isn't any of these. The one requires an interest in exercise. The second requires having children. The last requires a job. Not being a member of any of these categories, Kayla just sits on a park bench, looking upon a stretch of thin woodland with an artfully maintained bit of creek meandering through it. The gray concrete line that snakes by a few feet in front of the bench makes a poor emulation of the water feature. The young woman is bundled up in clothes that are just about as bland as the artificial stone, with neither style nor fit nor indeed anything resembling taste to their name. Or hers. She looks the part of a vagrant ensconced on her bench, watching other people play in the afternoon, expression inscrutable — but negatively so.

A burned man is coming up along the path. He has two dogs with him, one big and one little. Their leads dangle from one hand, his brown glove a rough match with the khaki-colored trenchcoat garbing the rest of him. The garment's heavy panels slam into his knees and each other as he trudges through snow, the heavy-toothed soles of his boots squashing through the cold white powder with a sound like rubber on rubber.

It is an uncomfortable afternoon. Physically speaking. Then again, Bolivar Rodriguez-Smith is rarely not uncomfortable.

He is late today. Insofar as that he usually tends to get his walk out of the way at an ungodly hour of morning, when there are fewer people around to stare at him, and those who are there are timed to habit enough to have long since learned better. Hence his toffee-colored features are cut into an expression that is anything but sweet, quick to rebuke the most casual glance with a glare that could almost melt somebody's face into… Yes. Exactly.

Amongst the relative crowd that throngs this corner of the park — the two teens exchanging opinions on music as they ramble over the green, the woman with her frisbee and black lab, the duckling string of family out on their afternoon jaunt for health — it's Bolivar's approach that garners the most attention from Kayla. The scarred, seared policeman with his spaniel and shepherd stands out for many reasons, of course, but she'd be able to find him in any mob with a blindfold on.

He hurts.

Closing her eyes, Kayla ducks her head, shoulders drawing inward as Bolivar passes into range, though the K-9 officer himself is still a substantial distance away. Far enough for the posture change to be practically meaningless. It takes time to remember that the ache isn't hers, the unceasing complaint of a body once pushed to the very edge of its limits and now clinging there by tenacious will. Time to box it, shove it aside in desperate attempt to not be overwhelmed.

To not reach out and touch.

When Kayla finally reaches the point of acclimation that is an unsteady equilibrium, it's far too late for her to get up and move away to any good effect. He's practically right here. So she settles for treating Bolivar with a mirror image of his own glare, resentment sour and defensive.

Go away.

The teens have shitty taste in music, the woman's black lab smells like offal and is disorderly, and that flyer about the new youth group over there is the same shade of yellow as a jaundiced Asian. Bolivar has a lot to complain about inside his head, and he's doing it. His dogs are used to that, the smell of residual agony in the pores that were not lost to the encroachment of keloid tissue and transplant damage, bile and sweat. Nothing a human would notice. Most humans, anyway.

Kayla is being terribly obvious, though. Little Rosie notices it first, the intimately familiar reek finding a new point of origin, feminized and flavored by the undertones of a different personality and standard living. She turns her head to look, curly ears banging against the underside of her chin, whimpers once with concern. Nina looks too. And last but not least, their master uses his discerning intuition and professional paranoia to turn on his new spectator and—

Scowl. Harder. "Your eyes are stuck, senorita."

Keratin crescents bite into the skin of her palms, white knuckles masked by the layers of sleeve they're hidden beneath. Crossed arms are kept close to the young woman's chest; her gaze doesn't waver from Bolivar except to note the perked-ear interest of his dogs, the external focus providing an anchor that Kayla clings to as the proverbial drowning man might a buoyant spar.

Pain fuels spiteful, pointless anger, and her lips twitch in a half-born sneer. "So are all six of yours." Counting the dogs as an extension of their master; most canines ignore her in favor of more affectionate prey. Their inquisitive doggy stares are almost as bothersome as their keeper. "What're you looking at?" is the final part of her unhappy rejoinder, too grumble-growly to hold the snap that those words rightfully shape.

"A nasty-tempered little girl who has the attention of two police dogs," Bolivar answers with careful syllabic clarity to make sure that none of the words are lost to the wind. He borrows a moment to articulate his disagreement with her earlier statement by rolling his eyes slightly toward the sterile snow-white of the sky, before sourly squeezing a blink of eyes at the woman's equally colorless and humorless face.

His knees aren't doing well today and the wind scores on the membranes of his windpipe and lungs as if it were choked by infinitessimal grains of razor-edged ice. The inside of his body doesn't feel like it holds enough warmth to melt them before they open red lines inside the husk of his body. "What are you doing here?"

The ice is foreign to Kayla; just as the root cause of everything wrong is beyond her perception, so too are the proximal causes. But it burns. Eyes only a few smokey shades dissimilar from the cloud-masked heavens slide unceremoniously closed, angular jaw set in a rigid line. "I'm not a little girl," is said girl's peevish answer, the protest as futile and meaningless as it is automatic.

She looks ill. It's an impression that seems only to strengthen as time goes on, snarly anger fraying and fracturing under the weight of poorly masked strain. "Sitting," Kayla informs the man and his police dogs, eyelids cracking open to resume their prior fuming glower. "Alone." If only looks could kill.

Her expression twitches; an impulse, smothered, but not quite quickly enough. "Why are you—" asking, bothering me, walking police dogs, here, scarred, even still alive. So many ways to end that question. Kayla doesn't use a single one of them, teeth slamming shut on whatever didn't make it out.

'Menacing' somebody is a crime here in the Big Apple. The Big Apple can go fuck itself with a cartoon worm for all Bolivar cares. Also, he's super short, and even in front of a seated girl he doesn't loom very effectively anyway.

Peevishness and peevishness does not resolution make. Also she looks rather like she's about to hook over and dump the contents of her stomach on his shoes or, worse, his dogs. His eyes narrow nearly to nothing before he realizes he can't see very well out of slits that small.

Is forced to widen his gaze for that reason, if nothing else. The minute twitch of muscle does not much improve the cast of his ruined features. "You look more like you're dying alone out here," he answers, with all the tact of a shotgun discharge to the face. "Which would carry some more weight with the general public if you were a little girl, I guess, but since you're just pissing vinegar like one you're stuck with me.

"What's wrong with you?" To protect and serve. Bolivar knows the PD's motto by heart. The finest of altruism motivates him t— yeah.

They say like things repel — but there seems to be very little actual repulsion going on. Two souls linked in their bitter taint circling one another at a wary remove, neither closing nor widening the gap. "Isn't their damned business," Kayla retorts, huddling back in her corner of the bench. "Or yours."

Dying. No, it isn't quite like that. But it's close enough. Bolivar doesn't need to loom; his damaged body has sufficient weight of presence independent of stature. Gray eyes narrow, Kayla's lips twisting. She'd walk away if she knew she could trust her knees. Which she can, but… reality is subjective and the mind a powerful thing, especially when informed by pain. "I was fine until you came over and jammed your nose into my face." Even if that isn't really exactly what happened. "So why don't you just keep right on walking?" And take your ruination with you.

"It's like you're drunk." Bolivar refuses to abate. Not immediately, anyway. Her refusal to explain is both intriguing and alarming, appealing to disparate parts of his psyche which aren't exactly a polarized dichotomy — given they're both facets of the generously-endowed cop proportion of his brain, but different enough. "Which you're not supposed to slouch around doing in public. There are children and white people around here. The tourist trade inches further down the toilet every second you spend out here.

"Could you walk in a straight line if I asked you?" Nothing about his manner, of course, indicates that a whole lot of 'asking' would be involved should he choose that avenue of action. His fist curls tighter around the leads of his dogs, subconscious reaction to Rosie's furtive approach to the woman's knee, nose-first, quivering, inquisitive.

Brittle laughter; drunk. Yeah… no. Maybe another day. Maybe later. "Can you walk in a straight line?" If he can, she can. He's standing now, was walking earlier; she can. It's not her pain.

The hand that pushes the spaniel's questing nose away moves with a gentleness at striking odds to Kayla's verbal and physical demeanor. Her climb to her feet is anything but gentle, the sharp, tense ascent of someone who isn't truly convinced that her legs will stay under her. That any given motion won't result in a sudden flare of agony.

Marionette's movement, uncannily reminiscent of Bolivar's own physical state.

The woman walks, and if her steps are unsteady, they are stubbornly determined, in the way of gritted teeth. She walks in a straight line. "See?" Kayla says over her shoulder, the edged triumph of what might as well be an empty success. He's still there.

Which is why she hugs her arms close after that moment of in-your-faceness and resumes walking.

They are Bolivar's saving graces, his dogs. It's better that she doesn't strike at them. Not merely for the retribution that might bring— they are, after all, professionals in their own right and perfectly capable of handling themselves— but Bolivar doesn't have much grace. God knows what he'd be like with less.

He's on something. Pharmeceutical. His pain is less than hers. Still, he recognizes something in the hitch of her stride, and it's the strangest, most backward thing: that sympathy invites sympathy, reverse-engineered from secondhand pain, even as she courts his temper with pointless jabs like a mouse on a bell. Ding ding. He's shot mice before. Couldn't very well outmaneuver them.

He stares at her back, steepled stiffly around its departing shuffle. Nina's ears swivel up. Rose, grumbling fretfully at her dismissal, lapses into inquisitive silence.

"Well congratu-fucking-lations, senorita," he manages, finally, addressing her back with what sounds suspiciously like reluctant sincerity.

Distance brings nothing. Not surcease; not grace. Not yet. Now that she's started, Kayla is determined not to stop; no telling what might change, worsen, fail if she did. She can't run; won't run. Is too bitterly proud for that, never mind the uncertain balance between intellectual (I can do this) and emotional (I can't do this) knowledge. The woman walks, seeking that invisible, intangible divide between pain and relief, where she will stop being certain every step is the last.

Kayla doesn't turn around.

Sympathy doesn't do much either. It isn't graceful and it certainly brings no relief. Contrary to popular opinion, shared pain is not half pain. Still, Bolivar finds himself standing in the cold and watching her go with less belligerence that had previously held sway over his charred features. The dogs, also. Not that they were charred or particularly belligerent before.

"My name is Bolivar," he tells her, in a loud voice, in case her rapidly retreating back is stubbornly covering its ears. Then, as unabashedly honest as he is blatantly redundant: "I was hit by the Bomb."

She can stop. Her eyes close, but the stiffly held plane of her back hides the expression from Bolivar — the flicker of vulnerability normally masked by brittle pride and aimless anger. "I know." The words are quiet, perhaps too quiet to carry clearly; they don't refer to his name, which Kayla fails to offer a reply in kind for. It's a big city. She may never see him again.

Never wants to see him again.

But she knows the touch of radiation, even if she's thankfully never felt it so strongly before. She resumes walking, somehow doesn't fall.

For once, 'home' seems a better place to be than out here. Everything's relative.

Later: Kayla's Journal entry, Small Blessings

January 27th: I Will Find You
January 27th: Felix Ivanov is Stuart Redman
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