New, and a Bit Alarming


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Scene Title New, and a Bit Alarming
Synopsis Tension is the something there that wasn't there before when Wes sees Peyton about an apartment in the Redbird building.
Date September 3, 2010

Redbird Security

There's nothing really to be done ten minutes before the end of any business day except surf blogs and check e-mail - all those time-waster, time-stealing things that supervisors don't want you to do. But Peyton is part-owner of Redbird Security Solutions, and the firm is barely off the ground. This axiom doesn't really apply to her.

All the same, when the doors open at ten minutes until six on a Friday, it's usually not a good sign.

Wes Smedley looks a little worse for wear, but he's still intact after four days of mandatory registration enforcement. That's saying something, even if that something is unclear.

His dark t-shirt, jeans, boots, and sport coat might as well be a uniform, but he walks with his thumbs tucked into his belt, making it clear that his usual sidearms are absent. He moseys up to the reception desk, where he readjusts his posture to folds his arms and lean on the desk, watching her finish up whatever it is she happens to be working on. "Howdy," he says after a moment, his voice quiet, with only a hint the usual glimmer of as grin.

Peyton looks very much the 'uptown girl' today in a cream linen sheath and taupe heels, except for the ink on her neck, visible today since her hair is up in a loose french twist. She glances at the opening of the door, the polite, 'Can I help you?' about to fall from her lips when she sees that it is Wes gracing her doorstep with his presence.

"Well, howdy yourself, stranger," she says, nodding to the extra chair on her side of the desk.

"I haven't seen you for a few days," she adds, highlighting the obvious — that she hasn't seen him since he asked her to leave the room so he could tell Cardinal why he needed a fake ID. Or more accurately, since he fled from Cardinal's office just after that, refusing to look at her.

"Still recovering from your drinking with Felix?" she asks, a smirk as she studies his face.

"More like bein' woken up by your goon Liz," Smedley says with a soft-edged scowl. He moves along the edge of the desk and settles into the chair, leaning back to look across the lobby at the Brill print on the wall. He doesn't hide his face from Peyton, but neither does he make it easy to see. The lines in it look just a bit deeper, and their are the beginnings of bags beneath his eyes. "S'mightly blow to the ego," he continues, looking thoughtful. "But she rooted my ass out, and that's reason enough to want to lay low with a new name."

He stops short with that, his jaw and the skin around his eyes tightening. "Anyway. You still open for a bit'uh business, or do I have to come back across the Narrows tomorrow?"

The brunette chuckles a little to hear Liz being likened to a goon, though she does lean across the gap between them, despite his bringing up doing business, a glance toward the doors to be sure no one is walking into the lobby, and brushes her lips against his in a chaste kiss. There's something in his tension and the way he won't look qt her that keeps her from making the kiss any deeper. That, and the fact they're in Redbird.

"Sure, if I can…" the words lilt into a question, since she's not Liz or Card or Alia or Monica or Jessica — all she can do is look stuff out and file paperwork and cash checks, except for the recon she does with her power.

If anything, the kiss causes just a bit more tension in the man's face rather than do the intended, opposite effect. But he does smile a bit more, even if he keeps his eyes on Peyton's desk rather than Peyton.

"Card said somethin' about y'all rentin' the rooms up top," he says, reaching out to grab Peyton's Swingline, working the hinge and spring idly, clacking it open and shut over and over again. Schwing-pop. Schwing-pop. "Wanted t'know if you're full-up yet."

When she notices the tension, Peyton sits back a little, widening that gap between them and turning more professional in demeanor. It's an easy enough mask to put on and it helps to cover the confusion. "Sure," she says, reaching to her computer mouse to close out a few files, then telling the system to shut down.

She opens the top drawer and pulls out a key ring, then stands, smoothing her skirt as she does so. "They're furnished. I'll show you what we have available, and you can take your pick," she says cheerfully, as polite and distant as an office manager of an apartment complex. She moves toward the stairs to lead him up, giving a nod to indicate, "This way," without saying as much.

It's only when Peyton returns the relatively coldness that Wes becomes aware of his own actions. He blinks as he clacks the stapler shut one more time before replacing it on the desk. And when he rises to follow Peyton, it isn't long before he moves to slip a hand around her waist.

"Sorry," is all he offers, his face turned so that his lips brush the word against her hair, muffling it. "Ain't no reason for a man t'act like a pig."

Her brows knit and she brings her arms around him, one hand slipping up into his hair at the back of his neck. "You're not acting badly at all, Wes. There's no reason to apologize. You didn't do anything wrong," she murmurs, and the words are true. He isn't doing anything she can complain about, not really.

Peyton steps out of the near-embrace and moves up the steps, glancing over her shoulder after a couple of steps to be sure he is following. "You want neighbors above or below?"

Follow he does, his thumbs going back to his belt and his shoulders hunching slightly. Wes lets her assumption stand rather than contradict it, but there's a sheepish sort of look in his face when she turns to look back at him - a look he quickly attempts to hide.

"Just an easy way out, if that's possible." His mouth twitches into a one-sided smile and he shrugs. "Old habits die hard, y'could say."

"All right. Lower then, so you can get down the fire escape quicker, and out in the alley instead of the front street?" she suggests, jangling the keys as she turns off the landing onto the next floor, glancing down the hall, pointing toward one wall, then the other to orient herself, then nodding, and heading into the corner apartment.

It's simply furnished but comfortably enough, a couch and a chair making up a living room, a kitchenette, a bathroom, a bedroom. Peyton glances at him and moves toward the window that opens to the fire escape, nodding out to the alley below. "How's this?"

The way he walks around the place would suggest that he isn't used to the standard real-estate game. He looks at very little, save for the escape route Peyton picked the space for. But he nods without even seeing the other rooms. "It'll do fine," he says with finality.

"S'gotta go on your books, I suppose. You think you can wait to make me official until I've got my squeaky clean card for yuh?" Wes clears his throat almost immediately after the words spill out, as if he were trying to choke off the flow at the last minute.

"I don't know if we're putting the apartments on the books or not, to be honest, but I suppose I should find out," Peyton answers, as she pulls a key off the ring to hand to him. "I'll find out, but of course it can wait. You know this business — it's not really about making money and being a business, right? At least not for me. It's just a way for us to do the other stuff a little easier, a little more on the level without having to hide so much," she explains.

She watches him carefully as she holds the key for him to take. "So it's fine if you stay here a few without being on some contract or rental agreement. Or for that matter, the cash for it. I'll cover it. It's not a big deal."

"That may be so," Wes says as he gives Peyton a level stare, "but it ain't no excuse for me not t'pay what's owed." He straightens when he speaks, as if the pride that echoes in the words reverberated down his spine. He reaches out to pluck the key from Peyton's fingers, only to then take her hand in his and tug her closer.

But when he looks down at her, he's once again only looking at the parts of her face rather than actually at her. "You okay?" The question is filled with insecurity as well as concern, with just a dash of male interpersonal ignorance.

"Me?" Peyton asks a little too innocently — as if to say, 'why wouldn't I be?' when the reasons far outweigh the reasons to be okay, even without Wes in the picture. "I'm fine."

She doesn't reach to smooth the tension away from his rugged jawline as she peers up at him, tipping her head just a little so that her eyes fall in line with his. "Hey, do you know a John Logan or Kain Zarek? They mentioned you the other day and you might wanna … be careful not to piss them off."

Trapped, Wes's eyes do not stay on Peyton's for more than a second or two at a time. His brows furrow upward a bit more, and he eventually breaks his gaze from hers to press a kiss on her forehead. "Who doesn't," he says with a stifled chuckle. "John Logan is one of the greatest criminal minds to step foot on Staten Island and manage to step back //off/ again without havin' his wrists in a set'uh cuffs."

Zarek, on the other hand…I ain't done much work with'im, but I know men who have." He muses, pressing his lips against Peyton's forehead once again, but keeping them there rather than making it a proper kiss. He shrugs then, pulling his head away and looking off to one side. "Maybe they got work for me. Can't be anythin' too bad."

She lets go of his hand and shifts the key ring from one hand to the other, stepping toward the door. "I don't know. Kain said something to John about his contacts dealing with someone new, and that he wanted to find out who's stealing his business, and your name came up apparently as the most likely suspect, so he was asking John to talk to you about it or… or whatever, I don't know, talk might not be the right verb there, I'm not sure how your world works."

She turns toward the door, glancing over her shoulder at him, her dark eyes a little sad. "Kain's … well. Don't piss him off, he's important for Cardinal's plans, I think, not that you should mention knowing that. Just … if you are dealing with his contacts, or taking his business… we might need you guys to make nice."

Wes squints thoughtfully at that bit of information, his mouth turning in a frown. "If he's losin' business, aint' nobody's fault but his own." And if Wes is gaining that business, then it would seem Zarek's contacts aren't pleased with the Southerner's way of things. With a shake of his head, he shrugs again. "I'll play nice," he concedes before walking toward her and opening the door so they can go back into the hall.

She does have a shop to close, after all.

"You mad at me or somethin'?" he asks as he tests the key in the lock to secure the door. Not that he has much to protect inside the walls of the apartment yet. Still, figuring out the subtleties of a lock are important, and it makes it so he doesn't have to look at Peyton when he poses the question.

"Mad?" Peyton says, frowning genuinely to look at him — or his back as he locks the door. She moves toward the stairs shaking her head. "No. There's nothing to be mad at you for. You have a lot on your mind, and we're doing business, and I get that." She chuckles lightly as she moves down the steps. "I'm new at this business thing. That's all." She peeks a glance up at him through her lashes. "Sorry."

"What'd I tell you about apologizin'?" Wes counters with a one-sided smile as he follows after her. "Not that that sorry look on yer'face ain't adorable, but you ain't got nothin' to be sorry about." After all, for all that Wes has on his mind, Peyton's own worries trump them. She's seen her demise - Wes is just afraid of justice.

"Now that I think about it," he muses as he tromps down the steps, "this might just be the first time that you've kept it pretty strictly business." He looks over at her, or rather the sweep of her hair. "S'an accomplishment, but I ain't sure I like it."

The mixed signals are confusing, and Peyton pauses on the stairwell to look back up at him, brows knitting together, her face perturbed as she tries to figure him out. Men, to this point in her life, before Wes, before Cardinal, have been simple: she likes them. They like her. They sleep together. Or, she likes them and they don't like her, and they don't sleep together. Or, they like her, and she doesn't like them, and they might or might not sleep together, depending on her level of intoxication and self-esteem.

The men in her life now are not like the men she used to know.

"I don't know what you want from me, but if you find fault in my service, I suggest you fill out a report with my employer— oh wait, I'm part owner. Too bad. No recourse for shoddy service," she says, a self-preserving quip.

If she had said it while she walked, Wes would have probably taken the remark as humorous. As it is, when she stops on the steps to look back up at him and deliver the barbed retort, it stings him. He blinks back at her, then narrows his eyes. It takes him a moment to formulate a response, whereas, if it had been a joke, he would have laughed it off and been done with it.

What does this mean? Did Cardinal break his word? He hadn't expressly given it, after all, but Cardinal wasn't the sort of man to sell a fellow short. Then again, maybe he resented the attention Smedley was giving his business partner. Maybe this was some form of punishment, some sort of penance to prove he'd changed. Or maybe, just maybe, Peyton resented being asked to leave the room, and she heard it all for herself.

Neither scenario sits well with Wes.

The tension comes flooding back, but rather than awkwardness, it is fueled by a suspicious discontent. His mouth, held in a tight line, twists to keep a verbal reply in. Instead, the man grunts once in acquiescence before he continues his descent, passing Peyton with his longer stride.

"I was kidding," Peyton says with querulous exasperation, a moment after he passes her with that tension evident once more in his jaw and eyes. She shakes her head, her heels clicking on the lobby floor now that they're back down to the first level and she makes for her desk, tossing the keys into the drawer and grabbing her own purse, rummaging for her own key ring.

With that in her palm, she heads to the door. "There's an entrance to the stairwell from the alley, your key will open that, so when the lobby's locked up, you're not locked out," she says, returning to business, and nodding him toward the lobby doors so she can lock up. She opens the door and holds it for him. "I don't know what's wrong, Wes, but I'm just trying to give you your space. If I messed up by bringing you in… I'm sorry," Peyton says, voice now softer, letting him step out and then locking the doors behind him. As she turns the key in the lock, she adds, "I only asked you in because I trust you, you know."

Without looking up at him, she drops the keys into her purse and pulls out her subway card as she starts the half-block walk to the station.

Once again, Smedley is left dumbfounded for a moment as he watches Peyton walk away from him. A battle rages in his head. Does he run after her, or retreat in the opposite direction to lick his wounds? He exhales, the air grating along his vocal chords in a breathy grunt. "Shit." It's not a loud oath, but it's clear enough to be heard despite the distance Peyton has put between them.

But in another second, he's jogging to catch up with her. "You didn't," he offers once he's matched his stride to hers, but he tucks his thumbs into his belt again, his eyes on the sidewalk that passes beneath his boots. "You didn't mess up." Her trust means a lot, even if Wes doesn't have a way to easily express that fact. "Look, I know that… that you've shared a lot with me about yourself, but… but there's things about me that nobody ought'a know if they can help it. And you just gotta believe that and let it alone. Ain't meant in no offense t'you, but… hell, Card's better off not knowin', and I wouldn't'uh told him if he've made it easy t'feed him a lie."

When he is beside her again, Peyton turns hurt-looking eyes up to his face, though once more his eyes are out of reach of her gaze. She stops and listens, her hair ruffling a little in the artificial wind caused by cars driving by. "Let it alone? I wasn't… I'm not pushing you or trying to get me to tell you anything, am I?" It's not spoken accusingly, but softly, her hand reaching up to touch his cheek. "Look, I don't care about your past, and I get not wanting to let people know things — for their safety or whatever else. You don't have to tell me. I don't expect you to."

She drops her hand and nods to the subway. "So are you going to come have dinner with me, or do you need to get Carson from wherever he is?"

Even with a meager three hours to round up Carson and what few personal posessions he hangs on to that are stowed away in What Jenny Thought, the choice between finishing his errands before curfew and spending time with Peyton is a difficult one, and that registers in the gray-blue eyes Wes lifts to meet Peyton's. They linger for only slightly longer than normal before he turns them back down the street, away from the subway station.

"Raincheck," he says with a nod, turning his head back to Peyton, though his eyes scan the side of her face. "We'll go someplace nice. Hell, maybe I'll even buy a tie, just for you. Somethin' respectable. Sound like a plan?"

"Sounds like a plan," Peyton agrees, stepping closer and tipping her head to brush her lips against his cheek. A night in by herself is probably healthy to do, but with her death looming like a shadow over her, she isn't all that worried about mental health and personal progress these days. "Be careful."

He tilts his head against the kiss and Peyton's cheek in turn, letting his eyelids slide closed for a moment. "I will if you will," he murmurs, the words rubbing his rougher skin against hers before he steps away to move down the street and away from the subway. While Peyton has a fear of cabs, Wes is far from comfortable being underground for any extended period of time.

He looks back over his shoulder once, but by then Peyton is already lost in the evening bustle of the city street.

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