Less of Them


calvin_icon.gif ingrid_icon.gif

Scene Title Less of Them
Synopsis Calvin makes a confession.
Date April 9, 2011

Hamilton Heights: Jolene and Ingrid's Apartment

Nighttime is the worst time to vaccuum. Ingrid discovered this a few weeks after she and Jolene moved into their apartment at Hamilton Heights when one of their upstairs neighbors stormed down, banged on the door and threatened to have the building's manager throw them out onto the street — ever since, she's been careful not to make even a peep after nine o'clock, always padding around in socks instead of shoes, and keeping the television's volume turned down so low that it can't be heard from the next room, never mind one of the adjacent apartments.

Nevertheless, the young woman is a finicky creature of habit, and between her classes at Columbia and her internship with the Department of Evolved Affairs, the only time she does have to clean the apartment is after nine o'clock. Fortunately, brooms don't make any noise at all except from the whispery scratch of their bristles on the linoleum, and she's in the process of sweeping up the kitchen with the evening news on mute in the hour before she herself turns in for the night.

Keeping her body occupied keeps her mind occupied, and lately she's found that leaving her thoughts to their own devices takes her places she'd really rather not go.

Suffering from the same inconveniently oppressive drive for movement, purpose and distraction to keep his mind from settling into some of the darker recesses of his skull, Calvin is dressed down in a pair of scrappy blue jeans and an unbuttoned oxford beneath the long sweep of his coat. He is also quiet.

He is quiet because he was not invited and because he's not certain he should be here, watching Ingrid's turned back like he expects her spine or the bristles of her broom to sieze up and notice him at any second. But every second they don't is another second he hasn't taken advantage of by vanishing again without a trace. Five year old at the door of mum's bedroom hoping she'll wake up on her own at the change in light rather than him having to run up and tug on her pillow.

A can I sleep with you? twenty-three years delayed. He is twenty-eight, he realizes.

Also this is not the first stop he's made tonight. There's more than the usual metallic acidity on his breath. Like. Rum. Enough that he lists a bit to one side when he peers down to examine his boots for hints on what to do and finally reaches dimly aside to flip at the light switch. Off on off on.

It's not the most subtle way to announce his presence, but to his credit Ingrid doesn't scream or cry out — her back goes rigid and her fingers go snug around the handle of the broom, now hugged tight to her chest. A glance at Calvin's reflection in the kitchen window banishes the notion that it might be faulty wiring or something less rational like, oh, a poltergeist, and she lets out a thin, shaky breath that he can hear all the way from the other side of the room.

Someone else might get angry at this unexpected invasion of privacy. Not Ingrid. She forces a small smile that trembles because of still-ebbing fear rather than any secret feelings of resentment she might be (but isn't) harbouring.

"If you're looking for Lene or Josh," she says, turning with her broom to face him, "you're out've luck. S'just me. Hungry?"

"Sorry," says Calvin at the breath. Sorry. On the mumbly side. Genuine. Even if he does flip the light one more time for good measure. An even three. And then: "A bit."

He skips over the possibility that he might have been looking for Lene (stupid bitch) or Joshua (knows where he is), preferring instead to wind his way on into the kitchen to take up space there in a subdued kind of way that meshes better with gingery mane and dramatic application of makeup than it should. "Didn't mean to frighten you. Just…thought I'd drop in to see if you were still alive."

His brows hood after a beat, eyes veered intently aside.

"Awake." He means.

Alive. Awake. Ingrid seems more concerned about the way he's physically carrying himself than she does his choice of words, and her focus is on Calvin rather than her work as she sweeps the small pile of dirt, lint and grains of rice (spilled onto the kitchen floor the last time she tried to cook) into the dustpan, then dumps its contents into the trash. The broom she leans against the side of the fridge, to be put away later.

She's dressed in gray and powder blue sweatpants, and a matching hoodie with the words Columbia University on it, drawstrings a little frayed at the ends from too much nervous nibbling, which means that she did not plan on staying awake for very much longer. The tank top and panties she intends on wearing to bed are already on underneath, and have been since she dried off from the shower she took upon coming home early from work.

It's a Friday. "I wasn't scared," she lies and pops open the fridge, spilling white light out across the kitchen. "Well— I wasn't really scared. Maybe a little."

Calvin follows at a distance, not quite weaving. Not drunk. Drunks weave and he isn't, so. The indirectness of his path may instead be attributed to his tendency to sashay from A to B when no one is watching, and often when people are.

"I believe you," isn't quite as honest as his original apology, but it's nice that he says so. Nice of him too to watch carefully while she stirs at the refrigerator, raking around after any sign of offness until he's practically leaning in with her, right hand snaked up over the top edge of the open door, front at her side. He is warm and smells like a faulty radiator in a dive bar.

"What would you do if you were me?"

Ingrid locates a plastic container near the front of the fridge stacked on top of two paper boxes of Chinese take-out, which stands beside a bottle of overpriced organic orange juice that was purchased because it had a colourful, appealing label and uniquely-shaped container, not because it's supposedly healthier — though this is exactly what she told Jolene when they were reviewing the receipt.

A guilty frown tugs at the corners of her mouth at the memory. She straightens, then, holding the container with both hands so the lid stays on and she doesn't drop it onto the kitchen floor. Sweeping is easy enough. Taking out the mop requires her to fill the bucket under the sink with hot water and soap.

His question has her looking up at him, chin raised and blue eyes bright behind the fair weave of her lashes. "I don't know," she admits, and the guilt she experiences now has nothing to do with what she put in her shopping basket. "I guess— I guess that depends on what it's like to be you. Is something wrong?"

"Shitty," Calvin supplies punctiliously and without a filter, refrigerator door held open and proximity overstepped until she's collected what she has to collect and he can close it easy after her. Fomph. It says. "I get a lot've ass, though."

Looking on the bright side has never been a talent of his beyond a veneer that he can't muster while leaning sideways against Ingrid's refrigerator for support. He has patience enough to stare off consideringly into space for a while before he breathes at her. Long-suffering. Quiet. Ssssighhh. A steep spread of his ribs and then out again through the sinuses, tricking at the fall of his hair across his face on the way.

"I've done some things," he says finally, clearly accomodating ignorance he feels does not actually exist to accomodate, "that aren't very nice."

The container and its contents — deli chicken soup — are dropping in importance with every sentence that leaves Calvin's mouth. That it's for him and not for her is the only thing that stops Ingrid from abandoning her mission entirely. She's reluctant to take her eyes off his face, but does so only so she can see the numbers on microwave while setting the timer after removing the container's lid and putting it inside. One minute and fifteen seconds flashes green across the display.

This done, she puts her back to microwave and counter, arms folded across her chest with both her small hands gripping the opposite elbow. There's tension in her small frame that's a result of restraint. Her instinct is to go to him, but something keeps her riveted where she is.

She's on the verge of asking the kind of question that she's not sure she wants an answer to. Asks anyway. "What did you do?"

It's possible that Calvin didn't expect her to actually ask. He hesitates, anyway, mouth open and then closed again long enough for the inside to go dry. Peeling his tongue off of the roof of his mouth is a chore. And then he has to swallow. He looks ill.

Or extremely guilty.

Enough to drop his guts out through a trapdoor and drain the blood from his face until he can manage a nervous laugh, teeth bared flush to fridge. His breath fogs out in a cone ahead of him and at length, he lifts his left hand and pointed index finger enough to draw an emoticon that looks appropriately disconcerted about the situation it's in. "I asked first."

Seconds count down on the microwave. They're down to forty-five. Ingrid isn't paying attention; her hands form a knot above her belly and she wrings her fingers together, heart beating faster now than it was when he initially took her by surprise. She's suddenly wishing that either Jolene or Joshua was here to diffuse the situation by saying something funny or smart, neither of which she is. She finds herself wanting Benji, too, for his sensitivity, his talent for comforting other people—

"I'd try not to hurt anybody," she says, maybe because that's the truth, or maybe because it's what she suspects he's done. "Things are bad enough without people hurting each other. Do you want to sit down?" You don't look good.

Calvin, by contrast, is intensely relieved that neither Jolene or Joshua are here to witness him having a love affair with a refrigerator. Short-lived. As soon as he parses the offer of a seat, he peels himself away to take advantage of it, leaving a smudgy impression in the shape of his cheek and brow behind.

He's more subdued by the time he sits. Together again, knuckles wound round each other between his knees while his thoughts settle gradually over like an overloaded grocery sack. "No." Incorrect. "If you were me you'd recognize the practical impossibility of peaceful existence and know that hurting the right people may make everything better in the long run."

Thirty-five. Thirty. The next breath Ingrid lets out has a shaky quality to it, and now she does move, following the edge of the counter to where Calvin is sitting. She is aware of her feet on the floor but doesn't really feel them or the chill of the linoleum through her thin cotton socks. There's a reason she's dressed as she is — although there's a radiator clicking somewhere on the other side of the apartment, the air is cooler than it should be, as though someone left a window open in one of the bedrooms and forgot to close it.

That's probably true, and it was probably her. She stops within arm's reach of his chair. Extracts one hand from the other, then starts to lift it. Brushes the tips of her fingers over his arm.

Twenty-five. Twenty-four. Twenty-three. "Who—?"

'Who,' is a better question. It carries more emotional resonance, at least — an unanticipated direct hit that skews his brows into a decidedly unmanly twist and wavers in a catch at his breath. The touch helps or makes things worse, depending on — points of view — and he has to blink hard to remember himself and the ease with which he can escape the answer to her question by

answering her question.

Except that the answer to her question in the way she meant it, innocently, is not actually a much better answer. So he hesitates a second time. Slightly less emotionally. "I've successfully induced a strain of the five-ten that targets…humans." He says it slowly. Like that will somehow make it sound less stupid. Or dickish. To a human who he is petitioning for dinner and a place to sleep.

Disbelief comes first. Ingrid isn't sure if she's supposed to be laughing because there's no way this isn't a joke, no way Calvin— Cal could do something so terrible that it's impossible for her to even fathom.

She doesn't. Laugh. Doesn't tell him it isn't funny, either, because there's something ugly in his beat of hesitation that makes her realize around the eight second mark that it isn't a joke. The tips of her fingers curl in on themselves and her eyes go flat.

She isn't looking at Calvin anymore. Her focus is on a point somewhere past him, then fixates on the floor.

The microwave's timer goes off. So does the light inside it.

Calvin takes punishment where he recognizes it's due.

He endures her silence with a dip at the scruff of his chin, chilly eyes slanted up and then down after a bit of rice she missed eariler. Very quiet. Quiet time.

Any elaboration is likely a given, at this point: she's the first he's told. He hadn't intended to tell anyone.

Ingrid doesn't realize she's crying until her vision goes blurry around the edges and she can feel the wet heat on her cheeks. When she remembers to breathe, she sucks in her next breath with a hard, reedy sound; her hands go to her face and she wipes it with the heels of her palms, too horrified to be embarrassed by her body's reaction to what Calvin has just told her.

Her mind takes a few additional moments to catch up with the rest of her, and she discovers she suddenly lacks the conviction to look him in the eye. "I don't understand," is more of a plea than it is an explanation for what's happening.

That's okay. Calvin isn't keen on looking her in the eye either. There's a ringing in his ears and he and that spot of rice are becoming closely acquainted across the desolate expanse of her kitchen floor. Until, after one second too many, he fancies he sees it flinch in on itself. Like a maggot.

His guts do another turn, then, and he looks away, jaw rigged taut with tension for the span it takes him to swallow away at nausea. Not too long.

"Someone needed to do it."

Ingrid takes a step back and feels her shoulders and spine connect with the wall. It's all the incentive she needs to lean her weight the rest of the way into it and surrender to the weakness in her knees, sliding down until she's sitting on the floor with her legs stretched out in front of her, the soles of her feet angled sideways instead of flat on the linoleum.

She's soaking realization in like a sponge and does not speak again until she's completely sopping and saturated with it. "But all the people." Her voice is very small. Mouse-sized. "Calvin. The people."

"They'll die." She doesn't say it so Calvin does, as if only now deciding. He doesn't sound surprised, though. Or dismayed. Matter-of-fact, mostly.

Still facing forward away from her in his chair, knees set wide apart and shoulders slouched, he fidgets with the cuff of his coat sleeve. Tattier than it used to be. Suffering from overwear. Spring hasn't quite arrived.

"There will be less of them," he clarifies to his sleeve. Eventually.

She covers her mouth with her hand and pinches her eyes shut to squeeze off the flow of tears, shaking her head. Teeth find purchase in the skin around one bony knuckle; she bites her finger to keep from making any more noise than what she already is. Wet, haggard breathing through her nose. Something smothered at the back of her throat.

One of her hoodie's drawstrings is plastered to her cheeks along with strands of fair blonde hair made darker by what's sticking them there.

She doesn't know what to say.


Long silences often are.

Slouched increasingly off to the right as his shoulders etch down and aside (degree by heavy degree) Calvin seems likely to stay quiet, this time. The boozy wash of his breath through his teeth is even slow and subdued while he watches the rise and fall of his own ribs. And his tum.

"Anyway," he says after a long while, queerly conversational. "I'll understand if you'd like me to go."

If Ingrid was capable of feeling any more nauseous than she already is, then she'd be sick with guilt — Calvin makes his offer and her heart swells to bursting. She wants him gone and hates that she wants him gone. Hates that her chest and ribs feel too tight for what they contain, making it more and more difficult to draw breath. Hates that she's starting to choke.

"Please," she whispers, lips pressed together on the pl sound and falling too wide apart on what follows. The tears that had been filling the corners of her mouth dribble down to her chin, and she has the thought to clean them with her hoodie's sleeve but ends up burying her whole face in it instead. "I can't."

Do this. Talk to you right now. Be in the same room as you.

Alright. Doctor Agent Calvin Rosen finds his feet as promised, without protest or resentment or procrastination, even. His coat drags blackly uneven off the seat after him and he smooths it with an automatic sweep of his right arm. About the right amount of graceful for his blood alcohol balance — familiar gestures and chemical influence that ground his presence in stale reality rather than nightmare.

His exit is direct without slink or cower, but he does pause somewhere far in her periphery to make himself Look for a good long while before he vanishes through the door entirely.

Joshua and Jolene will find Ingrid in her bed with the lights off when they eventually return home. But for now, she curls into a ball on the kitchen floor and draws her limbs into her center. The smaller she makes herself, the less she'll be able to feel — or that's the theory, anyway.

Reality doesn't work like that.

If it did, then Calvin would do what she would do if she was him.

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