Near Miss


caspian_icon.gif cesar_icon.gif des2_icon.gif huruma_icon.gif

lynette_icon.gif mateo3_icon.gif nicole_icon.gif samson_icon.gif veronica_icon.gif

Scene Title Near Miss
Synopsis The Benchmark opens its doors to the community and the community gets a few surprises.
Date April 16, 2018

The Benchmark Center

Benchmark is a tall, red brick building renovated into a rehab facility. The first floor holds doctors' offices, reception, waiting areas and conference rooms. The lobby is warm and inviting, with a rust-colored design scheme and paintings of calm oceans and pristine beaches. The common areas follow this design, but each doctor has designed their own offices to their own tastes. The upper floors holds dorm-style rooms, split for two occupants per room. Each floor has a communal shower/bathroom. Very dorm-like. Freshman dorms. There is one room on each floor for an employee assigned to that floor, as a communication point for the clients and semi-guard for them, too. This room is more self-contained and the employees are not expected to use the same facilities as the clients.

The top floor is different, set up more like an apartment building, where people come to live. These are typically ex-Ferrymen or the like who need a place to stay and are willing to exchange room and board for some work maintaining the building. They do not interact with the clients. The doctors are also welcome to stay in these apartments, but most choose not to.

The Benchmark's front doors are open today. Inside, the main lobby has been converted into an open space with long tables lining either side. Seating fills the center, folding chairs at folding tables. The buffet tables at just that, filled with potluck style dishes, drinks, plates, utensils, napkins, the lot. Some of the staff is here, chatting with people who have come by to see the place. Or for the meal. Many of the dishes have been throw together by several different people's contributions. Some of them arrived already made, by those who could afford to do so. Some people have arrived with nothing, but have been welcomed in all the same.

Lynette herself is hanging back, an iced tea in hand, looking over the room and trying to look welcoming. She's dressed down, possible since the last time many of these people saw her was her TV appearance which was very nice. But here she aims to be one of the crowd.

As someone who has lived here for the last few months as the boss' husband, Mateo wouldn't have missed the get together for the life of him. To support Lynette, to meet people, all of those things. He has also dressed down, but that's more natural for him. A flannel shirt, buttoned up most the way, long sleeves cover his arms, and a normal pair of jeans. Nothing that special going on with him, as he sits stands near Lynette, no tea in his hands, keeping them free for the moment.

"This'll be fine, mi vida." Even better than the television, cause he highly doubts that the Oscar guy will be showing up. Nor anyone like him, hopefully.

A day of work transitions into an evening of meeting with the community. As someone who's wanting to become more involved, Caspian makes it a point to arrive to things like this so his face gets known and, more helpfully, pass out a few business cards to people who look like they might be able to use some electrical work. He arrives after a brief amount of time at his apartment for showering, changing into a clean shirt and trousers, and grabbing a few things for donation from his storeroom to donate to the potluck.

Entering through the front doors, a cloth bag slung over one shoulder, he approaches the table for donations, leaving several cans of vegetables, two bags of pinto beans, and one large bag of rice. Hopefully it'll all be taken care of to the right places. "No problem." he tells the person manning the table, going to claim something to drink for himself. A tea would be amazing, but he can handle cold water.

The familiar face of Veronica Sawyer (sometimes Chevailier-Sawyer) enters, a little distracted as she's on the phone. "The drawer next to the dishwasher. No, the other side." Her brown eyes roll at whatever the person on the other line is saying. "Right. Okay, gotta go. Give Livvie a kiss for- well, you could have come." Because really, Brian has no excuse not to go somewhere with his wife unless he's sick, because he can literally divide himself to come along to functions like this when he chooses to.

"That's it. Love you, too," she murmurs

She's still dressed in what amounts to her work uniform — blazer, pencil pants, and on days she doesn't have to chase bad guys, high heels. She carries a casserole of something in her free hand, eyes skimming the area for where to set it down as she manages to slip her phone into her purse, done with the conversation. When she catches sight of Lynette and then Mateo, her expression flickers somewhere between the two, from happy to a bit of confusion, before settling on something like her "work face" — polite, pleasant, but a bit of a mask. Vee moves to put the casserole on the table, taking a moment to look at what's already been set there, before turning to look around at the facility itself — not rushing over to Lynette just yet.

Considering the promise of free food, it is unsurprising that Huruma mentally notes many of those that come filtering into the Center. Not that she intends to do anything about it. It's simply a good idea to gather notes. Some of these people she has seen in passing in the market, or in the neighborhoods. It's truly a small world now.

Hands behind her back, dressed in a powder blue pencil skirt and a plain white cotton shirt, the dark blue blazer gives Huruma an air of purpose; what they lack in rent-a-cops they make up for with occupants.

The tall woman's shoes, for once, are relatively low. There is no added vaulting height as she surveys things, eyes alighting on Mateo and his reassuring bubble around Lynette.

A pair of green Converse high-top sneakers is the closest Des gets to ostentatious these days. They match the band of the new watch on her wrist, so she's allowed herself this indulgence. They might clash a little bit with the grey wool skirt, but it's marbled with stray threads of warm, earthy colors. A lighter grey turtleneck, oversized, sort of frumpy, hangs lower than the high waistband of the skirt. It's a little warm for the conditions, but Desdemona's always run a little cold.

Currently, she's being a wallflower, watching people file in and wishing she was sitting at the piano and playing Chopin or Debussy. Maybe Radiohead, just to see if anyone stops and looks. But drawing attention to herself is the antithesis of the game tonight. She's on her best behavior, and here to support her family. Already, she's spotting familiar faces and wondering if she's made the right decision. But if anyone can slip out of here unnoticed… It'd be her.

Lynette tips her head toward Mateo when he speaks and she chuckles gently. "Do I look that nervous?" She doesn't, not to anyone but him. And Huruma, of course. She doesn't make any moves to engage with the crowd— it isn't really about her, more the facility itself and the staff— but when she sees Veronica and her sharp suit, her expression breaks into a smile.

"Darling, there's someone you have to meet." She takes his hand to guide him through the room and toward the agent. She seems to have missed that moment of confusion from her friend. And the only warning Veronica has is a few stops while Lynette makes small talk with neighbors or staff.

"I don't think anyone else would notice," Mateo responds with an offered grin that touches his eyes slightly, one eyebrow raised ever so slightly more than the other. His eyes pass over Veronica in a way that doesn't seem to focus on her at all. Which is a big difference from the nod and smile he offers Huruma, who he'd just recently met, and then another one at the wallflower that— yes he had noticed. But he won't draw too much attention to her if he can avoid it.

He doesn't know exactly what she might be hiding from or for, but he doesn't want to make it moot, either.

"Another old friend?" He's gotten used to meeting friends of hers, since— this had been her home many years before. The city, at least.

And he'd be worried if they met his old friends.

The problem with places like this is the lack of familiar faces. Sure, New York was a city of millions now distilled into a city of what, tens of thousands? So meeting and knowing everyone is kind of a difficult thing. Only movie stars, authors, or politicians have that kind of recognition. Caspian? He just gets to go introduce himself to people. A small stack of business cards was left on the table for such things, his name, number, and hours of operation with emergency hours, as well as the offerings of solar and electrical installations. Not a bad thing when you deal with brownouts constantly.

There's a nimbus of space around Lynette and Mateo, so that leads Caspian to believe that these are people he should talk to at some point in the evening but, as of now, he's watching the crowd and waiting for something interesting to happen.

Veronica turns away from the table, clearly only here to donate and not take. This puts her at eye level with the couple moving her way. On Mateo first; her brows drawing together slightly again, before turning to focus on Lynette; her friend's face draws a smile to her own, her dimples suddenly appearing in both cheeks. She steps forward purposely, reaching out with both hands to take those of her childhood friend.

"Oh, my, God, it's been too long. Look at this place — it's fabulous," she says, her signature husky voice warm and sincere. "And you rocked the interview the other day — some of us were catching up on it today at work. That guy, what an asshole, right? You definitely won that round. Bigoted piece of shit." Apparently she's not going to filter herself for Mateo's presence, before she cants her head a little curiously his way. "We've met, yes?" It's a cautious prompt.

If there are any people here that tickle Hurumas's headspace, she hasn't said a word. Her gaze skips over several more people, tentatively watching Lynette and Veronica before moving on. A heartfelt reunion, right? There is that lick of confusion in there, but Huruma attributes it to not knowing Mateo. Sounds viable.

Rather than linger to the side, Huruma moves further towards the tables set out, stopping to check the heat of an electric kettle amidst the cups. The cards left behind by Caspian draw an eye, and likely much to his delight, picks one up, inspects it, and slides it away inside her blazer.

Rather than hear or see it, Lynette feels Nicole's arrival. This sense is what allows her to easily weave her way through the gathering and spot her former squadron leader. Being as she's busy with the ever delightful Agent Sawyer (not sarcasm, these two actually get along swimmingly), Nicole settles for a wiggle wave of her fingers in her direction and a wink at Mateo. Friendly, rather than flirtatious.

Instead, it's Huruma that gets Nicole's attention. The electrokinetic slides up to the taller woman's side and flashes her a broad smile. "Fancy seeing you here," she teases.

Okay. So Veronica and Lynette know each other. That… Well, that figures. Somehow. She files that away to bring up with Mateo later. For now, she's keeping the wall up and wishing she had a glass of wine. It's only one glass if she drinks directly from a bottle, right?

"Ronnie," Lynette greets with a smile. She gives Veronica's hands a warm squeeze. "I'm so glad to see you! How's the family?" At mention of the interview, Lynette chuckles and shakes her head. "I have little doubt he'll arrange a round two. But he was definitely a bigoted piece of shit. But I can't just hit him, alas, all the fighting has to be so wordy these days." As if to say boring. Although the interview certainly was not.

When she addresses Mateo, Lynette's smile turns crooked, "No, you haven't." She chuckles a little before gesturing to Mateo. "It's a whole complicated mess. Ronnie, this is Mateo Ruiz. My husband. Darling, this is Veronica Sawyer. She was a double agent in the Arcology. And my oldest friend. Which, by the way, Dad wants you to know that you're welcome to bring the family for vacation anytime."

Feeling Nicole arrive, Lynette turns to look that direction even before the woman makes her way in. She returns the wave, but turns back to Veronica and Mateo a beat later.

Through the open doors of the Benchmark, a blast of brass and rhythmic instruments interrupts conversations and pierces the atmosphere as Cesar Diaz arrives with hands full - one arm is hefting a large, catering size aluminum pan full of what smells like rice and beans with a spiced twist. The other is the source of the music, a hybridization of rumba and reggaeton in the style of the Carribbean country whose flag he wears plastered as a design on his tee-shirt - Cuba. The man calls out sharply, "Eyyy! AzĂșcar! Someone said there was a party tonight, right?" Sorry Lynette, Mateo, everybody expecting something classy.

From his nodnod Mateo agrees that his wife definitely won that debate. He had been so proud. But then she looks at him in a way that— Have they met? "I think I'd remember meeting someone as pretty as you." It comes off as the friendly kind of flirt that men sometimes do to pretty ladies, even if he seriously only has eyes for the blonde woman as his side who happens to be his wife. Though he does wonder about her question…

It's just not the time or place to ask about other otters, as Eve had called them.

Until his beloved finishes her introduction. "In the Arcology?" That otter, then. "I'm glad to meet you, Ronnie. I apologize for the confusion, but anyone you met before he might have looked like me wasn't me, I can assure that." But explaining the situation might be… too wordy for a casual meeting in front of people. "Actually I think I remember seeing you. In the news reels." Now that he thinks about it. He'd never watched it live, of course, but he'd seen it far more recently. "But any friend of Lynette's is a friend of mine by marriage."

And then. Cesar enters, and he raises an eyebrow in his direction. He's not one of his invites, he assures his wife with a glance.

As the crowds start to build, Caspian starts to look for any kind of familiarity. There are interesting people, sure, but no-one that's any sort of familiar. And then, thankfully, he notices someone that he /does/ recognize. Briefly. A man that came for a non-holiday dinner at his place with his daughter and a few other gathered people. Mateo.

Pushing away from the wall, Caspian makes his way over to Mateo and Lynette, waiting for any sign of recognition and, once he's seen, he simply smiles. "Mr. Ruiz. It's nice to see you. Your scrawl on my wall is still there - a little covered up in places, due to other visitors, but still there. And Miss Rowan, from the meeting. This is your place?" Yes, conversation. Oooh, he's tryin'!

Somewhere after Cuban Pete's rumba beat and the clink of glasses somewhere in her periphery, there's a coarse voice that creeps up behind Veronica, "Have you tried the cheese plate?" The smell of stale cigarettes and the musty odor of old paper and ointment makes a heady bouquet. Chin up and brows furrowed, the wiry old man dragging an oxygen tank behind himself with a breathing tube at his nose smiles a yellow-toothed grin at Agent Sawyer. He has a paper plate in one hand, with several slices of cheese and crackers on them.

"The asiago's really… it's special," Samson Gray stands but three feet from Veronica Sawyer, fifty pounds thinner than the last time she saw him, significantly more gray, and judging from the dark circles around his eyes and the way he can't keep his right hand steady… considerably nearer to death.

He raises his brows, invitingly, then motions with a look over to where the cheese is on the buffet table. "Martin," he introduces, his free and tremoring hand offered out to her. "Martin Cresswell." He's not, and he recognizes Veronica. But there's something about his placement, something about his wheezing posture, that belies the nightmare of smoke and fire that nearly scoured her off of a freighter on the Hudson River a decade ago.

"It's a pleasure to make acquaintance of you SESA folks," Archie urges his trembling hand out just a little further. "Making our communities safe. Protecting people like me." There's something Veronica didn't see in his eyes near a decade ago.


"Well, that's good, because that one may have tried to kill me," Veronica says with an actual laugh, offering her hand to Mateo. "Veronica or Vee, please," she says. "Your wife gets a pass because she used to…" babysit her? is probably not the polite thing to say now that they're basically contemporaries and not that far apart in age, so she amends to, "braid my hair and give me her hand me downs."

She shares a smirk with Lynette, adding, "Family's good. Tell your dad I'd love to see the ponies." The sound of Cuban music makes her turn, and her eyes widen just a bit at the sight of CesarĂ­n.

She turns back, stepping aside as Caspian introduces himself, which is just about when Samson Gray speaks; she turns around, not quite able to keep that professional ask in place as he introduces himself. "Martin," she repeats, dark eyes appraising him — for threat, for danger. "Veronica Sawyer," is all she says, offering a hand for him to shake — buying time, maybe, as her mind darts through the boxes of mental flow chart of causes and effects, but all of them seem to come up with disastrous results.

Huruma is partway through pouring the kettle out over a plain tea bag in a foam cup when she feels Nicole's presence come up beside her. She answers the smile with one of her own and a lift of one brow, free hand sliding behind Nicole's shoulders in a comforted greeting.

"Oh, it's not like I'm staying upstairs or anything…" Huruma takes the tease in stride, eyes roving over Nicole head to toe. "How are you doing?" Despite waiting for an answer to that, Cesar's entrance pulls her gaze up and away— but of course. Huruma narrows her eyes when she examines him. "I feel like I have seen that one around…" She would remember the shirt and the stereo, though.

Another feeling licks at her senses when the tall woman recenters her attention fully on Nicole; it's across the room, swimming somewhere near Veronica, passively familiar. But Huruma always knows fear when she smells it.

"Doing well, doing well, all things considered." You know. Because shit might have hit the fan once or twice, but what's new? She's alive and that's enough some days. Nicole slides an arm around Huruma's waist to give her a squeeze.

The moment is interrupted by Cesar's entrance, which causes Nicole to start laughing into the back of her hand. Helpless little giggles. They're not on duty, so she's not about to lecture anyone about professionalism. Especially not at a function that she figures Lynette would rather skew festive over stuffy.

Because her eyes were already on Veronica, Des doesn't miss when she's approached. Her eyes grow wide and her breath catches in her throat. Casually as she can manage - which isn't terribly, her movements are stiff - she makes her way toward Mateo, hoping to catch his attention before then and signal him to meet her halfway.

"That one was fiesty. This one is mild mannered and charming, promise." Lynette smiles at Veronica, although when Mateo uses the nickname, Lynette opens her mouth. But then doesn't need to explain, since Veronica gets it. But that explanation gets a chuckle.

"Can you believe that guy doesn't know the difference between horses and ponies? Talk about alienating an audience." She's offended. Probably more than most people.

She turns when she hears Cesar's entrance. It gets a laugh and she turns to Mateo to explain, "That's Agent Diaz. He's volunteered to do a cooking class." One of her invites, then. But it's clear Nicole is right, Lynette doesn't mind a livelier atmosphere.

She nods a hello to Caspian, but gets distracted when Samson approaches. Lynette takes her turn to take the old man's hand between hers. "Mister Cresswell," she says warmly, "I'm so glad you decided to join us. Do you need anything?" What else is clear: Lynette has no idea that this man is anyone but who he's told her he is.

It's a boombox that's blasting the tunes, but that gets set down in a corner so as to not be in the way of the food. It just happens to be loud enough to provide some atmosphere for the party. "Moros y Cristianos," Cesar says as he sets down the platter he's brought along, thus answering any questions what it might be. The man peels back the aluminum foil cover, revealing the steaming rice and black beans dish interwoven with other fragrant and aromatic ingredients. And a hint of salt pork. "You're gonna love it, promise, one bite and you'll want to dance." He extracts a long serving spoon from his back pocket, waving people nearby to dig in before sliding the spoon in to fluff up the first servings.

After he's made sure at least a few people have tried it, Cesar makes his way around to greet some others. First Caspian, who he recognizes out of the gala. "Hey man! You came around too huh? Don't forget to try my dish, 'kay? Tell me what you think, and be honest. Not too honest though, that's my mom's recipe and you don't want to break her heart, do you."

He pushes on, sweeping over to Huruma and Nicole, casting a wide grin for the women. He's unaware, at present, of Nicole's surprise in seeing just who's by Veronica. "'Ey, Varlane! You're here too! Make sure you try the dish I brought. But oh hang on, is that?" And it is, "Sawyer!" He gestures to Huruma and Nicole that he'll be back, and then steps off to go on with greetings.

Which brings him thus to Lynette's side, nearest Samson (ahem, Martin) and Veronica. "Ms. Ruiz, great turnout so far," he says, smiling. And then there's Samson, who he reaches out to offer a hand to. "Good evening to you, sir. Finding everything alright?"

Other him had tried to— oh. "Well he also probably didn't know you were a double agent," Mateo offers, as if that would help explain why the other him might have done such a thing. Maybe he tried to kill all the ones who helpd him! But— yeah, this one, not so much going to do that. As the woman gets distracted by the nice old man who sometimes listens to him play piano, he glances away— to look at Caspian. The man who was friends with his teenager daughter— who he'd been mildly protective about. At one point.

"Caspian. Nice to see you again," he responds with a smile, "Yes, I live here. Silvia's mom runs the place." He glances a proud smile at his wife and then back at the young man. "I think Silvia snuck away upstairs after getting a plate, if you were looking for her." He says it as an apology.

He spots Nicole and smiles warmly, ready to go wave to her, but then something catches the corner of his eye and— he looks back at Caspian, "Please, enjoy the food. But I see someone who's trying to beckon me."

With that, he slips away toward Des, waiting until he's close enough before he says, "Something the matter?"

And now the familiar has gone away. Lynette gets a respectful nod, Caspian stepping back to give the older man some room to talk to the lady of the hour, giving Cesar a wave. Another person he recognizes from the community meeting and a SESA agent. He remains where he is, just listening, watching, and otherwise being inobtrusive.

Samson's handshake isn't particularly strong and it certainly isn't lingering either. There's a twitch of his mouth in a hesitant smile as he looks past Veronica to Lynette. "Mrs. Ruiz has been very good to me," he notes, looking back up to Veronica. "She's— this place helps me with my addiction." Pointed, clear. "Alcohol," is the lie. "I'm… living testament to recovery. Why… if I didn't have this place, I'd probably be back out." Samson's brows twitch together. "Back out on the street. Doing what I do… backsliding." Wheezing, Samson reaches down with one hand not cradling a cheese plate and turns up the oxygen from his tank.

As Cesar addresses him, Samson fires a look at him that is first wary, then humbler. "Yes, yes I think so. I'm… it's just nice to see people, to have someone to talk to. I— spend a lot of time alone with my thoughts. Days like this…" Samson looks back to Veronica. "They keep me stable."

Veronica's eyes flicker from left to right, as if she could read Samson's truth within his, faded and aged as they are. Once he lets go of her hand, she slides it in her pocket of her blazer — inside of which is a syringe in its own tiny little holster. "That's good to hear. I think these sort of days are good for all of us," she says, and there's sincerity there, but she glances at Lynette, with a little worry, then back to Martin. "I'm sure there's nothing more you need from her than that sort of support. She's a good friend."

She knows he already has electrokinesis, after all.

"Diaz," she says, a little louder for Cesar's greeting, but she doesn't take her eyes off of Samson for the moment.

Having people unafraid to come in for affection has done wonders for Huruma's mood over the years, and today is no different. She gives Nicole a small squint for her giggling, but it's clear why that is when Cesar comes over as peppy as he is to greet her.

"Well, isn't he cheerful?" Huruma asides to Nicole when he pings away from them again like a bouncing pinball, lips curved in an amused look. Social butterfly Diaz. "You know him, then?" She looks after Cesar's path, finally spying just who seems to be hanging around; Veronica's nerves speak for her, in a way. Samson is recognized only as the old man she's spotted here— and once, at an interesting auction.

"That man," Des stammers in a soft voice, pointedly glancing in the direction of the person she knows as Samson Gray, "I know him." Briefly, she sweeps her dark bangs away from her forehead, almost a casual gesture, but it's so he can see the scar there. Then she reaches out to take his hand and fix him with a fearful look. She doesn't elaborate further, knowing there are people around and she doesn't want to cause any panic. Plus, something is off. And that means it's a mystery to solve.

"We could all use a little cheerful, right?" Nicole nudges Huruma gently. "Yeah," she knows Cesar. "Work." She follows Huruma's line of sight a moment, and something pings uncertain within her, and she squints a moment. "I'm gonna sneak away to the ladies'." Because one doesn't just slink away from the empathetic woman after a shot of anxiety like that without an explanation. And she flashes a smile. Whatever it is that bothered her, it's not clinging.

"Agent Diaz, thank you for coming," Lynette says, her hand coming to rest on his arm for a moment in greeting. "You promised me something good," she reminds, a playful chiding in her voice. Don't disappoint her on the food, Cesar.

She turns back to Samson, her smile gentle. Proud, maybe, of his progress. "We all live in danger of that," she says, as far as backsliding, "that's why having a support group is so important. We're all glad you've found it here." She doesn't miss Veronica's worry, though, and it brings out a puzzled look. She doesn't ask, but it's clear the pair have a lot to explain to one another soon. But she turns back to Samson, bringing her smile up again. "Are you enjoying the food?"

After shaking hands, his own firm but warm, Cesar waves off the title from Lynette with a short smirk. "Please, tonight let's go wtih Cesar. I won't even hold you to Chef, honest."

The man turns back to Veronica, head dipping a quick nod to the other agent, noting, "Yeah, you all need to try my food. Didn't spend hours slaving over a hot stove to just let things cool." He side steps, beckoning the whole group to move towards a table. Let's all have a nice sit down meal… "And at least one of you's gonna dance, I hope. I got a whole playlist." A quick glance goes to Samson, and a smile. "Betcha abuelito had some smooth moves back in his day."

"Well he's pretty old, so you may have seen him before— I think he's from this area, too. He sounds like it, would talk about certain things like he'd seen them," Mateo responds, not understanding her anxiety toward the man. After all, he's old. And looks pretty harmless, half because he can barely breathe half the time and looks as if he needs help up and down stairs— and half the time does.

Now if only they could get him to quit smoking, especially around his oxygen tanks.

"Next time we play the piano we can make sure he is in the audience. Music soothes." As they both know. It quiets the noise inside their heads, after all.

Smiling wearing after a noisy clear of his throat, Samson nods in agreement to Lynette. "It's… she's telling the truth," Samson notes to Veronica with the gentle empathy of a tired grandfather. "When I was younger, my addiction cost me my wife and son. Now she's gone, and my son won't even talk to me anymore…" Samson looks down at the floor, then away and over to where Des is standing. There's brief eye contact, and he says nothing, before turning back to Veronica.

"But I mean, I'm just one tired old man with a problem. This place does so much good for the community." Samson's tired eyes narrow as though he were weary, though Veronica can see it as something subtly more threatening. "I'm glad it's here, that it can… y'know, help folks. I don't know what we'd do if it wasn't. Or if the Ruiz's weren't around." His smile now is a chapped one, as broken as his body is.

The threat is a subtle one. Veronica's smile doesn't falter, but her eyes narrow very slightly at the veiled threat. "They're a wonderful resource for the community," she says; outwardly she doesn't show it, but there's a small surge of adrenaline in her body, her emotions swelling with it. Fear. Anger. No more hint of sympathy but fight or flight.

She battens it down, managing to widen her smile, bringing out the dimples. "I certainly hope that you continue to fight your demons. I know it can be difficult. I'm sorry to hear about your losses." She dips her head slightly in withdrawal. "I shouldn't monopolize you and should say hello to el cubano, among others. It was nice making your acquaintance. Properly, I suppose." Since they've 'met' before.

Nice is a lie.

She steps away, keeping him in her peripheral, however.

"Yes, we could." Hearing that Mister Cheerful is a coworker seems to pique Huruma's interest a tad more. Nicole's exit seems a natural thing— a touch of the appropriate emotions. Huruma just gives the other woman a tiny smile and a nod, hands folding around her foam cup of tea. She will be around.

For the time being, she watches the crowd, briefly giving Mateo and the young lady he is with a suspicious sort of look. What is all that about? Such a bundle of nerves, though she hasn't forgotten how Richard reacted to the same man. Veronica now. Des too. The others do not seem to feel anything more than casual sympathy.

But of course, it is just enough for Huruma to stare down the back of Samson's shoulders, warm tea at her lips. Mm.

There's a quiet gasp when Samson's eyes meet Des', and she clutches Mateo's hand tighter. Her heart is pounding and she closes her eyes against the memory of being pinned to a hospital wall as he began to split her head open. Her voice is quiet still. "He lives here?"


Big blue eyes and a small smile are what Mateo gets when Des looks at him again. "You're right. I'm probably just being extra paranoid. Why don't you introduce us?" For all that she's playing at giving the older man a chance, the fear is still rolling off of her in waves. The sound inside of her head is cacophonous, which makes her grateful Kaylee isn't here to have to bear it. Still, she wonders what it must sound like in her brother's mind, and if there's a correlation. An enduring mystery for another time.

"Cesar, then," Lynette says, he smile broader for her guest. "I promise, I'll have a plateful." No promise that it'll still be warm by the time she gets there. The notion of dancing gets a chuckle, she might even be game for it, but she's not jumping to volunteer for the same reason she's not rushing for the food. Hostessing duties.

Samson's story has her attention, though, a sympathetic expression, an understanding nod. She doesn't comment, not wanting to press him in an open forum like this. Lynette laughs lightly at the compliment. "I just pay the bills. Everyone else does the real work."

When Veronica makes her break off toward Cesar, Lynette looks her way. "See me again before you go." Where we'll have a drink used to go, there's nothing but an implied promise of company.

"See, first steps towards recovery," Cesar notes, nodding to Samson's story understandingly. What makes him pause, if anything, is seeing Veronica smile. But then he shrugs with a roll of his shoulders, loosening them up. Someone just might try to get people to dance before the party's over. When Veronica comes over to him, Cesar is moving to scoop out some of his rice and beans for another guest. He really can't help it. "Yo Sawyer, you want some of this." He points to the dish, words more of a suggestion than a question.

"I suppose that's an understandable question— it's an open house, but yeah, he's lived here longer than we have." Meaning Lynette and him. Since they only moved up from Mexico a few months ago and the building had been set up and ready a little longer than that. Mateo can feel the tension in the way she's holding his hand, that sound in his own head a soft beachy sound, with a hint of wind in the distance, but he doesn't know why she's so…

"Oh, of course. He probably wouldn't mind meeting a nice beautiful woman," he teases her, as he leads her over. "Good evening, sir. Mr. Cresswell. I hope you're enjoying yourself. I'd like you to meet a good friend of mine, Des."

As Veronica moves away, Samson's brows rise and he discreetly sets the cheese plate he'd taken down onto another buffet table. Though he does quickly palm a few pieces of cheese and stuff them into his mouth all at once (the asiago really is amazing). Free hand gripped around the handle of his oxygen tank, Samson is quick to slide away as he notices Des' approach. Another moment of eye contact, and he's wheeling for the lobby exit and the interior halls right up until Mateo calls his name.

"Good… good afternoon Mr. Ruiz," Samson's eyes flick to Des and then back to her taller counterpart. He looks at Des again, smiling a yellow smile. "The pleasure's all mine, I'm sure of it. I— I'm just feeling a bit under the weather. Your gathering's been… it's been lovely, but I maybe taxed these old bones a bit too hard and… maybe had some slice of cheese too many."

Samson wheezes and tries to laugh, but breaks out into a fitful and clearly painful cough.

When Mateo and Des approach Samson, Veronica's brows draw together in confusion yet again. "I should probably go," says Veronica with a murmur to Lynette. "You're busy, and…" and her professional life won't stay out of her private life, it seems.

Cesar gets a chuckle, and a shake of her head. "It looks amazing, but I'm low-carbing it. Post-baby weight. It's a beast." Not that she looks like she weighs any more than she did before Olivia was born — not that Cesar knew her then.

Listening to the man cough in the hallway, Vee gets out her phone to send a text — unknowingly to a woman already in the building. Samson Gray spotting. Not safe to detain and arrest. Will need to talk tomorrow.

There is only so much surveying that one woman can do; it feels like things are dissipating, even if the tension lingers behind. Huruma is content to move on and file away face and feel in the back of her head for now. Especially once she is approached by a short, slight woman asking about the class she's starting. Time to play nice with the other denizens of Benchmark.

Veronica receives a response to her message rather quickly.


Des smiles with a sweetness that doesn't quite meet her eyes behind the big, red glasses. "Charmed," she offers in greeting, a tip of her head. "Sorry to hear you aren't feeling so well, Mister… Cresswell, was it? I've seen you around. I'm sure I'll bump into you again. I'm here quite a bit, actually. I play the piano often."

Around Mateo's hand, it's like each of Des' fingers tighten in turn, never all at once. Her free hand rubs worries the side seam of her skirt between thumb and forefinger.

Lynette finds herself suddenly alone, and really, it seems to give her some relief. Her gaze shifts to follow Veronica first, then over to Samson. Mateo and Des are taken in. Something's wrong and she's not sure if it's real or just in her own head. But she's doing her best not to let herself panic. Mostly she just succeeds in not letting the panic show. She moves herself off to a quiet part of the room. Not to retreat, but to stand guard.

"Bah, really? Not that you need to," Cesar makes of mild protest to Veronica's refusal, but he won't press. The event is for fun and festivities after all. And so to make sure that's going to happen, the agent moves off to find himself a dance partner, gathering any willing and unwitting volunteers to hold an impromptu salsa class near the boombox. They'll all be working off the calories eventually.

"Oh, of course. Do you need help getting up to your room?" Mateo offers, even letting go of his sister's hand as he asks that so that he could be more capable to physically assist the poor man who's on his last years. And really, who wouldn't offer to help an old man up to his room? Not this man, apparently. "And yes, Des is wonderful at playing the piano. You should definitely come and listen sometime— but for now, let's get you up to your room."

"No," Samson wheezes in response to Mateo, "thank you though. I've managed this far, I'll… manage fine on my own a little more." Samson is timid in the way a cornered mouse can be, Samson slinks away from Des and Mateo with a nervous smile and an even more nervous — though rapsing — laugh. The wheels of his oxygen tank squeak as he departs, one last look over his shoulder to the pair, and though he's smiling it isn't reaching his eyes. There's dread in them instead, dread and hopelessness. "I'm… sure her piano playing is quite lovely."

For the man wearing the name of one Martin Cresswell, there is little comfort to be found in this open house. The isolation is what made it a safe haven. But now, at least he knows why his danger sense was ringing in the back of his mind. The danger was at his doorstep, and so very real.

Come morning, Martin Cresswell will be gone. A politely worded but curt thank you note on his dresser just inside the door to his room, a window open to the cold, and nary a trace of the man himself save for an ashtray full of cigarette butts and an and a spiral-bound notebook with a To Do list on it with only one item:

1) Apologize.

Nothing else.

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