Little Less Conversation


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Scene Title Little Less Conversation
Synopsis An attempt of two men to battle their recent body dysmorphia in probably the only way they know how.
Date July 6, 2021

The Stoop, Elmhurst

Late in the evening

The television is on, but the volume of the local news is turned down to levels that aren’t disruptive of the activity in the Stoop’s rec room. That activity at this time of night is exercise, because there was pizza. Pizza and no progress on solving their dilemma means Cesar needs both a moment to think and a reason to absolutely not dwell on the fact that he has been having a little inner crisis.

Not necessarily because Kara, who his body plays host to currently, has disappeared to whereabouts unknown, although that is a part of it. But additionally, he’s still coming to grips with having to change up everything he knows about, well, living. He’s since changed out of the stifling work outfit from earlier and found appropriately sized standard athletic sweats and t-shirt provided by SESA. Now, though, Cesar finds himself struggling with the weight stand in the rec room’s home gym set up. He hasn’t been so bold as to try the bench press. Perhaps not for lack of trying, but that embarrassing shortlived moment has already passed hopefully without witnesses.

At present, Cesar tries out the different dumbbells, lifting and arm curling, lowering and setting them back. A look of dissatisfaction creases the otherwise soft and feminine face of Liza Messer, still searching for the right feeling, the right set, calculating for reps. It shouldn’t be this hard. He flops upon the bench press, legs even dangling on either side of the end and blows out a frustrated sigh.

Carver strides into the rec room and comes to a dead stop, the scowl on his face deepening at the sight of Agent Diaz laying on the bench. The bench that is the bench part of bench press, which is typically intended for bench pressing. Carver crosses his arms. "You planning on using that?" he asks.

"I was," Cesar shoots back without looking at Carver directly, still lying on the bench with an even messier state of hair now that it's been squashed against the cushion. It's really something else akin to a not quite state of bedhead, but it's getting there. But the snark doesn't have quite the same bite as he levers up to a sit, turning a discontent look upon Carver that shifts slightly to an even less harsh expression. It's brief, physical recognition of a familiar coworker rather than Carver.

Then he remembers. Cesar shakes his head, scoots off the bench to side step back towards the dumbbell stand, and lays a delicate looking hand on the large 30 lbs. weight. "I was," he repeats before adding, "but it's dangerous to do without a spotter." He removes his hand and turns to look back at the other man. A brow arches up in anticipation of a gruff retort.

Carver grunts in agreement; his scowl remains unlessened, but he nods once. "Damn straight," he says, moving to stand behind the bench in a spotter's position. "How much you thinking?"

Cesar wasn't expecting that. Carver moving to being a spotter and asking him what weight to put on the bar catches him in surprise, but Cesar recovers in a few blinks. "Coño, hell if I know," he replies with a shake of that messy head. Messy enough he pushes the blonde locks away from his face. He moves back to the bench, though, giving Carver another wary sort of look before turning around and seating himself again upon it. "Hundred twenty-five?" muses Cesar as he looks down to Liza's arms and… chest. "Maybe… Start with eighty."

"Smarter," Carver agrees, eying the weights. "Start low, work up." It's the same process he'd advise for a soldier working back to fighting fitness from an injury — granted, this isn't quite a conventional injury, but similar procedures are applicable.

It doesn't take him long to get them set up, forty on each side of the bar, collared in place. "When you're ready," he says, watching. Waiting for if or when he's needed.

Right. Start low, work up, that's the plan. Cesar lays back on the bench, adjusting position of body and hands on the bar, and then looking past the bar up at Dirk's face. "Dios me protege," he mutters, and pushes to lift up the bar with the eighty pounds weighted on either side.

To his utter surprise, Liza's frame handles it better than him. He nearly looks like he's going to drop the barbell at first, but then Cesar manages to refocus and keeps it together. Arms locked, holding, he remembers to breathe. One rep, down, up.

"Shit," Cesar swears, a tight smile formed, "guess Messer's got it all. Beauty, brains, and brawn." One more rep.

Carver nods, critically appraising the way Diaz is lifting. "Could probably handle more weight," he says after a moment. "Depends on why you're lifting, I guess. Trying to work off frustration, or keep up routine?" The scowl on Dirk's face might suggest the former, for Carver… but then, he's always scowling.

Cesar doesn't answer straightaway, keeping his focus on the act of lowering the bar to an appropriate level that challenges the body before pushing it back up and racking it again. "Maybe another ten," he responds first, using the moment of weight change to let the shoulders loosen and stretch.

As for his reasons, he grimaces back up at the scowling face of Dirk. "Bit of both. Don't know what's going with—" He pauses a beat. "Clara. And the agents." Concern for the state of current events evident, Cesar inhales deeper, seeking inner calm, finding little of it. So he deflects, trying for distraction by means of asking Carver, "How about you? For what it's worth, Liza is probably the one who's going to be the most responsible with you."

"Me neither," Carver admits, on the subject of Clara, his scowl deepening. "But whatever Clara's up to, she has a chaperone." The emphasis there is deliberate.

"Frustration. Don't have equipment like this out in the boonies. Seemed like I might as well put it to use," is Carver's answer to Diaz's deflection. His scowl softens a bit at the praise for Liza, though. "She went through my morning calisthenics with me. Point in her favor. I'm just glad it wasn't the french fry who got my body."

Cesar lets out a loose chuckle as he pushes a couple of reps with the weights. “Just hope French Fry doesn’t screw up Cooper’s relationship with this night out,” he says, brow furrowing both in concentration and a surface worry. “Guy’s shy enough as it is, even if his HR file doesn’t reflect it.” He pushes a couple more reps before racking the barbell and breathing out in cooldown and sitting up. Cesar rolls his shoulders, testing them in the aftermath of the exercise. The faint sheen of sweat starting to form makes his pale forehead glisten a little in the bright lights of the rec room. “You’re up,” he says, sliding off the bench and grabbing a towel to wipe it down.

Carver offers a slight nod of thanks as Diaz wipes down the bench — point in his favor, even if Carver's still rankled about the french fry situation.

But he didn't come here to bitch and moan about unprofessional behavior or lack of integrity, he came here to pump iron.

The question is how much. Despite his annoyance, Carver intends to return this body in roughly the same shape he got it in, plus or minus fatigue and soreness; lingering injuries are not in the cards. Carver has a new life goal — to outlive Dirk Dickson — but he's not going to make it easy on himself.

In the end, he decides on ninety pounds as a starting point for assessment; while Diaz is wiping the bench, he adjusts the weights; once the bench is clear he lays back on it, taking a few moments to work his shoulders before laying his hands on the bar, waiting for Diaz to get in position.

Without further delay, Cesar hangs his towel back behind his neck and takes up the spotter position, nodding when ready. If he were to truly consider it, Cesar hasn’t really ever seen Dirk exercising anything more than his rights to being, well, Dirk. That thought brings a slight, serious frown that forms cutely on pouty lips, though the expression is anything but pleasant. It’s the thought of Dirk being out and about in public again, and the collection of warnings and protests from the other swapees earlier, that have the man minding Liza Messer’s body thinking. Precisely what he’d hoped to avoid, but it’s back.

“You got family?” he asks, seemingly out of the blue.

The weight's enough that Carver has to work to press it; it's probably been a long time since Dirk's pumped iron. Carver remembers, though. He raises the bar, holds it, then lowers it. Raise, hold, lower. The world draws in around him, collapsing to the burn in his arms, the feel of the weight overhead, and the determination within him, pushing through.

Diaz's question draws a grunt. "Never married," he growls, focused on keeping the bar moving back up. "Never had time." Lock arms, hold, lower.

Cesar shakes his head slowly, making the wisps of blonde swing to and fro. It's not that he's not paying attention to the job of being a spotter. He's ready to receive the bar any time Carver wants to be done with it. But, seeing Dirk doing the bench press? That's just kind of weird.

Weirder still, Carver's reply to the question of family. Cesar looks genuinely surprised, but shakes the expression off to something more composed, more casual. Maybe too casual. "No me diga. You? Never married? With your winning personality and morning calisthenics?" But the excuse for the bachelorhood pulls away a layer of the good-natured ribbing to something more serious. "Never had the time?" echoes Cesar, quieter. "Or, never found someone worth the time?" Now that's a thought that bothers him more, or rather, makes him self-reflect.

"Never had the time," Carver repeats as he lifts again; he's feeling the burn now. His lips pull back from his teeth in a snarl as he finds the strength to push the bar back up one last time… and set it on the hooks. He sits up, taking a moment to breathe before looking back to Diaz.

"'Winning personality'," he repeats, with more than a little side-eye. Carver is entirely certain that that's Diaz's way of saying asshole… but it is pretty funny. The more serious question prompts him to consider for a moment as he catches his breath. "I had a job, I was good at it. It was good work. Necessary work." Carver's mouth tightens, but he doesn't let himself doubt that. "Some had a family outside the job. I never did. Never wanted anything long term. Always thought I'd die in the field," he says, getting up and moving to get a towel of his own. "Didn't want to leave anyone behind to mourn."

Carver wipes the bench down before looking over at Diaz again, his eyes sharp and canny behind the mask of Dirk's face as he notes that look of self-reflection. "But is it me we're talking about here?"

Cesar snaps back to attention, caught by his own easier to read, earnest face. "What was the job?" he asks, avoidant and redirecting his question in place of answering the man's inquiry. "Still the one you're doing out in Providence?" The way Cesar looks at Carver, head tipped at a slight angle, definitely feels more investigative. Possibly, overreaching in familiarity. He seems to recognize it, pulling back with a short cough and forcing his gaze elsewhere to the dumbbells stand. “My mother, she’s always on me about marriage, family,” he mutters and shrugs once. “‘Life’s too short and boring enough as it is, so don’t die alone. ‘At least one grandchild to see me off, Cesar.’ That’s Ma.” Glancing back to Carver, he shakes his head slowly and smiling, it’s clear that the burden of those matriarchal words is borne with fondness.

"Army," is Carver's answer, blunt and simple… and that's all he says. He knows evasion when he smells it, and he's perfectly content to wait in silence. When Diaz relents, he nods. "My Ma died a long time back. Never knew my father. Never got along with my sibs. The Army was more family than my family ever was." For all that he says that, though, there's a certain bitterness writ plain across Carver's face.

"Damn. Sorry about that, man," Cesar sympathizes quickly having spotted the bitter tint in Carver's expression. It's not something he's used to seeing on Dirk's features, for sure, and that seems to unnerve Cesar enough that he decides to push to another subject.

That subject happens to be that which they're both currently engaged in, for the sake of common ground. "So," he says, looking Carver up and down, "what are you planning on doing to this french fry in the meantime? I'm sure he won't appreciate it, but I'm game if you are. You wanna show me what the army's got that police academy didn't?"

It's then that Cesar grins a bit wickedly and challengingly to the man in the spirit of a mostly friendly competition.

The expression of sympathy sees Carver glance to Diaz out of the corner of his eye with wary surprise; it takes him a moment to follow back the chain of assumptions Diaz must have made, but then he shakes his head slightly. The sympathies are appreciated, but misplaced.

The challenge, on the other hand, sees Carver grin back, definitely more than a little wickedly. "It's a day that ends in 'y', isn't it? Then I'm game." Carver lets out a low and distinctly evil sounding chuckle. "By the time I'm through with french fry, he's gonna be in the best shape of his life since Academy." Carver's still gonna outlive him — mostly out of spite at this point — but he doesn't plan to make it easy on himself.

"Oh man, that just sounds wrong coming out. Que malo," Cesar wrinkles his nose at the register of that chuckle emitted from Dirk's mouth. He can't help the slight shudder, but recovers with a short, mildly violent shake of his head and shoulders to loosen up the tightness he feels. It gets him moving, finally, in the direction of the rec room door to clean up and start a bed time routine. "I'll be heading up to get some shut eye, but," he says before abandoning the man to free use of the exercise equipment, "sounds like I'll be seein' you at first light."

Cesar pauses, hand on the door handle, glancing back over. Whatever it is he was going to say as a parting shot, he ultimately decides to save it, perhaps for the morning, perhaps never. He merely inclines his head in departing.

"Sleep well when you do."

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