Not The Absence of Fear


astor_icon.gif benji_icon.gif emily3_icon.gif

Scene Title Not The Absence of Fear
Synopsis Astor comes through on his end on a promise, enlisting the help of his dream-walking cousin to help Emily find her missing friend.
Date August 5, 2019

Bay Ridge, NYC Safezone: The Nite Owl

The Nite Owl is a survivor from ages past - one of those ancient diners with huge plate glass windows, checkerboard linoleum floor, and a neon owl over the entrance that blinks at those entering. Inside, there's an L-shaped main counter, complete with vintage soda fountain and worn steel stools. All of the cooking is done on the ranges ranked against the rear wall. The outer wall is lined with booths upholstered in cracked scarlet vinyl, tables trimmed with polished chrome. Despite its age, it's been lovingly maintained. The air is redolent with the scent of fresh coffee, vanilla, and frying food.

When Emily Epstein pushes through the doors of the Nite Owl Diner, it's at an off-hour in the evening where activity is not bustling, but there's enough business to have the kitchen echo clamours from the back and the occasional spill over of conversation from various tables and booths to colour up the ambiance.

Not really from their table, though. Of the distinct adjectives one might associate with Benji Ryans, 'quiet' probably ranks high, and her attention is set dreamily through the window rather than directly at the man sitting opposite. In front of her is a white ceramic cup, half-empty of cooling chowder, a small plate of crumbs that once accommodated some slices of crusty bread. A recent coffee refill sends ribbons of steam up into the stagnant air.

Neither of them are terribly inconspicuous, but Benji has given up her favoured severe blacks in surrender to the summer heat. A soft denim jacket swamps her frame, and a long skirt of paisley takes care of the rest. She is not very attentive to her selections, more preoccupied with picking her nails, watching the foot traffic outside idle by. She also doesn't know the young woman they are waiting for, so leaves Astor on lookout duty, though her senses key into this most recent sound of the door opening.

There's only so many lanky, brooding dark-haired men in New York, so there can in turn only be so many of them in the restaurant. Even if she didn't acutely remember what Astor looked like, Emily would be able to pick him out in an instant on those characteristics alone. She has a bag on a long strap secured to her side with one hand, the other holding the phone she's practically inseparable from. She's dressed in a loosely-fitting peach tee, the hem of a white undershirt visible at the bottom. Long khaki shorts are complemented with light grey canvas shoes.

"Astor?" she asks when she approaches the table, like he might need the reminder who she is and what she looks like, despite the assured lack of it. Emily looks at him for a moment before her gaze slides to the person with him, her brow not furrowing, but her look turning inquisitive as she wonders at her. "And…?"

Compared to his lady companions, Astor is dressed as drably as ever. He purchased a chocolate croissant which he has taken very little real interest in. One of the ends is missing. He's looking at nothing in particular at the moment; previously, he was looking at Benji, observing with surprise that his cousin was wearing a skirt, managed not to stare and came up short on compliments. Emily's arrival is not marked with special oracle tells; he doesn't look up early, forgets or fails to impart a riddle that would imply foreknowledge.

He waves at her.

And when Emily asks her very reasonable question, Astor abruptly finds himself at another awkward, recent baby ally crossroads.

He should use his superpowers more often. But instead, Astor takes an impulsive plunge, the likes of which his parents would probably have been either extremely proud of or mildly confused by. "This is my cousin Jasmine," he says. It comes off profoundly unceremonious, mostly because his presentation stats are poor. No one should choose Astor in a performance battle. "Do you want the rest of my croissant?" is his followup, as he pushes the plate toward her. "I can cut off the part that I bit."

Eating is a lot easier when you're close to starving and badly strung out, Astor has found. No one should ever solicit diet advice from him.

The subtle smile that Benji readies to greet Emily with— sort of fixes a little as she casts a look towards her cousin, not quite managing to roll along without surprise as croissants are offered for consumption, dissection and perhaps, hopefully!!, distraction. She recovers well enough, shoulders rolled forward beneath her jacket, hands linking together. More than surprise, she tries not to, at least, come across as abstractly apologetic.

"How do you do," is offered. It feels like yesterday she was playfully and tolerantly deleting Benjamin from Astor's phone contacts, replacing it with something shorter and self-styled.

They don't look terribly related, save for the jet colour of their hair, but whatever makes them stand out comes from separate directions of the family tree.

What is profoundly unceremonious to one is casual and accepting to another. The uncertain flick of Emily's eyes over Jasmine's form becomes a tad more understanding. Identity slides right into place. She lacks the history to know this is a new thing for him, or for either of them.

So, simply, Jasmine it is.

"I'm Emily," she clarifies— "in case he forgot to mention. Saying 'come on, we're going to meet someone' and failing to mention who seems like something he'd do." There's not even a beat before she kindly appends, "On accident." to the end of the statement.

The offer of his food to her is taken much less in stride than her acceptance of Jasmine being Jasmine. It takes her a second, a blink to wipe away the confusion from her face. "Sure?" she answers without confidence. "I'll take half?"

Better off than he used to be or not, he still looks like he could use the rest of it, but she doesn't want to be rude. Additionally, Emily has very little insight into that 'before' state.

"Sorry if I kept you waiting. Work, and the bus…" The excuse-apology dies before it's fully voiced. She looks at the seating arrangement and in a split-second decision opts to sit next to the new stranger instead of the half-familiar one, adjusting the lay of her bag so it rests in her lap. When a waitress passes by, she glances up and makes her order for coffee in a quiet voice, afterward looking between the other two at the table.

She wonders if Jasmine is also from where Astor and Lene come from. She decides to pass on voicing it.

"So what's up?" the teen asks instead.

Astor assesses the situation with the two women for a short moment. There doesn't seem to be any fallout. That's not a prescience thing, that's an it's difficult to judge human expressions when people are feeling cagey thing. But it's probably fine.

"I said I'd help with your kidnapped friend," is what Astor chooses to say, because he has not had enough practice talking to people to realize that that automatically sounds defensive. But by now, they're probably accustomed to him, his queer alliance efforts and bad manners. Astor picks up the fork and knife and attempts to saw the croissant into two. He does a terrible job, fraying one pastry stump, the other emerging significantly smaller than half, but it was always going to be a form of maiming. "Jasmine has special skills that can help with that.

"Before anything else, I believe you need information. Right?" Clank, click, grinding sounds. By the end of his question, Astor has successfully bifurcated the food that had never hurt anyone in its whole life. He sets down his silverware in triumph and presents Emily with her butchered portion.

Benji thinks, also, of managed expectations, picking up the little plastic stirrer and fidgeting with her coffee in that manner, summoning up the sweeter dregs that have fallen to the bottom of her cup. Watching dry flaky pastry crack and crumble under Astor's efforts, deciding not to peck at him again for ordering a pastry at dinner time, because, you know.

The conversation has turned to kidnapped people.

And there's a lot of that going around.

"I can, maybe," she says. "Help. He means I have an ability."

In case Emily took one look at her and still managed to interpret Astor's recommendation as some kind of hyper-competent detective. "Dream walking," she says, running the stirrer against the edge of the cup, taptap, sets it aside. The configuration of seating suits her fine, giving her some excuse to be evasive with eye contact, but she does settle a little back into her corner as she picks up the cup, and looks to Emily.

With sympathy, yes, but of a remote kind. "But it's harder with strangers."

Emily sits up a little straighter when Squeaks and the promised help to find her is broached, watching Astor cut up the pastry with more intensity than any person should — even if they are a person receiving half of the butchered confection in question. When it’s revealed that Jasmine’s presence is directly tied to that, her brow arches and she swivels to look at the woman by her side, eyes meeting.

Dream walking, she says.

“How… How can I help?” Emily asks, as if somehow she’ll be able to provide some missing piece of context that might make it easier. “I—I have photos of her, different than the one on the missing poster. I could bring something that belonged to her. I can tell you what she sounds like, what she acts like, I…”

Overall, she’s not sure any of that is helpful. But she knows this possibly could be: “I think she’s further West than Kansas City.” Which is an uncomfortable admission. “Unless the last … trick I tried to help find her was somehow wrong. I’m worried that something bad happened, that any number of things could have happened if she is that far West.” After all, there wasn’t much else out that way aside from the Dead Zone.

Huh. Astor looks between the girls (women) and bites a bit of pastry that came off on his fingers. Is this how this works! You agree to help someone, and they accept it when you turn up. For some reason, he had assumed that a great deal more rejection and sarcasm would be involved. He should stop projecting his personality flaws onto other people, probably.

"How did you find out about her latitude?"

That's a confusing sentence, but Emily probably knows what he means. Astor doesn't think to say more. He's worked often enough, for long enough with Benji's (Jasmine's) ability that he cedes her the floor when it comes to the procedural instructions on how to engage her powers. Also, she is definitely way better at talking to people than he did. And kind of a detective. She's found people. They're nearly all dead now but… "What was the 'trick?'"

Benji glances to Astor, sharing in the query as she idles blunt nails against ceramic. There'd been some encouraging nodding at Emily's offers of help, of actionable data, but what Benji isn't saying out loud is that the best way she can locate someone's mind is through the information that… she is being tasked with obtaining. Where they are, exactly.

Not impossible. Few things seem to be, these days.

"My coverage is about 3000 miles," she assures, as far as Emily's friends whereabouts go, and her own limitations. "Or so. And as long as I can take you with me, as someone who knows her well…"

She trails off, looking, then, to Astor. Her cousin's choices in friends and focus continue to read as erratic, to her, but she'd already asked her questions — to mixed results. "…you'd be like a homing device," she finishes, looking to Emily.

Astor's question makes Emily shake her head in discomfort. It's a long story she's sure will end up being a distraction to the topic at hand; the realization rescuing Squeaks is a two-birds-one-stone endeavor. Nonetheless, she tries. "There's… this woman, she's Expressive. Her power deals with ink." So far, so good. "She's currently separated into different parts, which all ties back to a journal Squeaks used to carry. Part of her lives with Squeaks directly." Uh.

She keeps her expression even-keeled, shoulders straight, head held high. "We tried using the journal to track her. Out here, the journal kept reading west, southwest. I took a flight to KC. Out there it read … more west, but… it's just a page. It was hard to tell." Emily makes a face for a moment. "And she's weak, she was split into all these different pieces to begin with. So who knows how accurate she might be. Could Squeaks really be that far from home?"

She reconsiders. So much time has passed, now, after all.

Emily lets out a slow breath sounding like a sigh. "I don't know for sure, but…" She lets her gaze track back to Benji, brow lifting. "With your help, maybe we'll know for sure."

Abruptly, she's looking back to Astor, the hope that had started to emerge in her expression wiped away. It's replaced with something more serious. "So then that just leaves my end of the bargain," Emily says, hands folding in her lap. She doesn't glance up when her coffee is brought and placed, though when the waitress moves away, she pulls the saucer with her bit of croissant closer. "I've been— practicing." But for one reason or another it doesn't sit right with her, so she qualifies it with, "Some."

Astor feels his own power shift in his head like a snake leaning into warmth. This person that Emily describes sounds interesting, to say the least. It's tempting, to look into her future, find where this ink woman's paths might cross with Emily's again, see where the stranger's path — or paths, by the sounds of it, up to four of them — might break off to after that. It's an intriguing concept.

But also a bad idea, for more reasons than one. His brow furrows slightly. But Astor always looks testy.

"If she's in Hawaii, that will be out of Jasmine's range," Astor says. It is not: the most sensitive thing he could have said. Yet the Emily he knew had never turned from the truth, even when it made her flinch or stagger. The fact that this Emily is smaller doesn't feel like something that should change this reliable, fundamental truth. Likewise, that she would think immediately of what she owes him. It's very considerate, very responsible. But he low-key doesn't necessarily want Jasmine to know about his other machinations. In this moment, Astor is

a little smoother a liar than he usually is.

"Thanks. We should talk about those details after." So smooth. Astor doesn't even look at his cousin, doesn't seem furtive or cagey at all. Or, more characteristically, rude and snide, projecting years of anger and frustration about his own life, his history, his family onto petty backlash on others. "You should know what to expect with someone in your head, even if you have no idea what Squeaks is going to show you."

Smooth enough of a lie that Benji does not quite pick up on a lie being in existence, but the omission of information regardless is the sort of thing a meddling time travelling dreamwalking agent of mystery is sensitive to. Her attention had idled lazily towards the centre of the table but flicks up to study Astor's inscrutable face, as if to prompt him with eye contact.

She doesn't get it, and it doesn't happen. In fact, Benji is the one who is prompted, and she hesitates over it. Mouth pressing into a line. Sets her coffee cup back down.

"You," she says, looking to Emily, "may not even realise I'm there. Not at first. You'll dream of— " An uncertain glance to Astor, then back to Emily. "— Squeaks? Memories, mainly. They might stay with you, later. It will take me a little time to gather enough information, and go looking. Um, but, when it comes to communicating, I can get you to dream lucidly. Stabilise things, bring your consciousness forwards."

She fans her fingers out from where they are curled around her coffee. "That way, you can talk to her. When we find her."

Hawaii, Astor says. But Squeaks might be beyond even that. The determination in Emily’s expression goes a touch solemn. Her brow begins to furrow when she picks up on the fact that he’s not clued his cousin in on the nature of their arrangement, but she very wisely decides to not pick this moment to make a show of that fact. Later might be a different story, but for now, she needed Jasmine’s help, and as soon as possible. No time for distractions, like bringing up Astor’s vigilanteisms.

Instead, she looks up to Jasmine and offers her a small nod. “A woman named Delia Ryans fucked with my dreams once or twice. It took me a second to catch on then, but I didn’t wake up until she kicked me out.” Emily blanches, glancing away as she lifts up her coffee. “And that’s even when I was being attacked by a lion.” She sips tenderly, taste-testing how much doctoring the coffee needs.

It’s instant, so.

She fishes out a few sugar packets, lines two in her palm, and shakes them to clear a good spot to tear a line off the top of the packet before tapping it into her cup. “So if history’s any indication, I won’t freak out and wake up, no matter what we find.” And Emily was hoping for the best, but… also, preparing for the worst. She blinks twice while she stirs the mixture, not bothering with pouring in any creamer, because half-and-half is as good as water in her mind. “When do you think we can try this? Statistically speaking, her chances aren’t good if she’s been gone for this long. She’d already been targeted last year by human traffickers. If they managed to grab her again, every second counts. And I don’t know what else could have happened to her, if she hasn’t somehow made it to a phone by now, to reach out to any of us.”

Realizing her anxieties about the situation are manifesting aloud, all she can do is shake her head, drop her attention to her cup. “There’s no reason she’d have run away,” Emily insists stoically, trying to keep emotion out of it. “She finally had family. She had friends. She had— things to look forward to.” Her brow crumples in on itself as she forcibly amends what she’d said, realizing the tense. “She has things to still look forward to.”

Minimal success, on that keeping emotions out of it front. She takes another drink of the coffee rather than address it.

This feels like a 'people skills' kind of moment. Astor glances at his cousin in the midst of Emily's brief dissolution into coffee. He is honestly just not in the habit of worrying about others enough to really have experience with neurotic catastrophization. And there's probably a fortune-teller aspect to his relationship with catastrophization. Complicated. He already gave Emily sweets, he isn't sure what other kind of comfort would be human to perform. Maybe,

"It's probably fine."

would work? Does that work. Jasmine. Does that work. Astor purses his lips, not unkindly, and staves off the temptation to push into his power for a more detailed insight. The reality is, he knows enough. But I have a good feeling about it is an awfully loaded thing for a clairvoyant to say, when transacting services of superpowers. He suspects that the best, most comforting thing to Emily now would be a practical plan, and that, he cedes to Benji.

Before Emily's coffee cup lifts off the table again, Benji reaches out with the same mannerly invasion of personal space that a housecat might give, landing a very gentle touch on Emily's wrist. It could be something like comfort, but then she also applies slight pressure, to urge her to set the item down.

"Tonight," she says, as she withdraws her hand. Deciding tonight, too, in the moment she says it. "But you might want to avoid more caffeine."

At a woman named Delia Ryans, Benji had been conspicuously quiet. In a similar move, where Emily had avoided topics that could lead to distraction from the goal at hand, Benji doesn't raise the subject of degrees of separation — not right now. "It probably feels a little like being told to go to sleep and hope the Tooth Fairy will come by and leave something shiny," she adds, a twist of sympathy through her voice. "And it may take a few tries, a few evenings. But I've done this before. I've found people in bad places. Worse places, probably, than wherever Squeaks could possibly be, in this world." She looks to Astor, then, as if maybe seeking something like approval or satisfaction.

And asks him, "Did you want to come?"

At first at Jasmine’s touch, Emily stops, almost fights against it, gaze darting to her in something like offense. It’s a kneejerk reaction to someone getting in the way between her and coffee, between her and the object she’s currently reaching to for comfort. She acquiesces to the reasonable request only after she’s taken another — small — sip simply to get the taste on her tongue before she places the cup gently back onto the saucer it came from.

“All right,” is all she manages to say for the moment. It’s in reply to Astor’s attempt to comfort her just as much as Jasmine’s. She doesn’t trust herself to keep that strong undercurrent of emotion from her voice, but she has no problem shooting them both a nearly poker-perfect look, nothing readable in it save for her readiness for whatever comes next.

Astor considers this. "No." That seems like somewhere he might make a mistake, one that will cost either Emily a crucial piece of information with her friend, or his own Plans, big P.

It should occur to him that the girl might want more of his help later. But some twist in Astor's gut, be it surly self-interest or the lizard-brained inklings of his precognitive power, puts such possibilities out of his thoughts. His mind is further afield. Plans, big P. His leg is itchy. Whether or not Delia asked him to bring home peaches today or if that was last week, which he definitely did not do. Hmm.

"But if Emily's okay with it, I'd like to hear about what you find." Look. Astor is participating in the culture; the culture of participating at all.

Benji — or Jasmine, in the minds of acquaintances, old and new — tips her head in evaluation of Emily's show of stoicism, and seems to quietly approve of it. Then, she just gives Astor a subtle nod at his refusal, equal parts understanding as it is acknowledgment.

By the time they were separated, Benji had yet to manifest her power, but she didn't need it then to remember fitful dreams, the way he might kick her when they shared a bed, the garbled language. It's likely not these memories that inform Astor's decision, now, but it's what drifts up from Benji's hazier memories, and how she was always hesitant to grace her cousin's mind in the night. She deals in memories, not futures.


There's then an awkward pause, so she says, "It was nice meeting you."

Emily’s not one to linger if she can help it, always eager to find an exit from a situation, or a way to sit quietly at its edges. Seeing as the latter is not possible given their shared space, she merely comes to her feet, palming her half of the pastry from the table. “Nice meeting you,” she echoes back at Jasmine, and her gaze turns hesitant when it falls to Astor next. She has no parting words prepared for him, and none come easily to mind.

There is plenty she would want to discuss with him, details she’d like to press him for. Questions about him, questions about her — questions about what he’s seen and just how she fits into that slice of the future he wants to prevent. But now, like before, doesn’t seem to be the right time. Next time for sure.

So she looks back to Jasmine with a tender nod. “See you tonight,” is all Emily says before she turns away from the table, her graceful beeline for the door much more even-paced and sure than the last time she bolted out of this particular establishment. Not requiring the use of crutches to help make her escape certainly helps with her speed.

She leaves behind nothing for the unfinished coffee. Apparently, forbidding drinking of it means taking ownership of its payment.

Astor doesn't notice that he should've said good-bye, which is probably why he doesn't take offense that Emily leaves so abruptly, not waiting for him to do so. She's halfway out the door by the time he thinks to look down at her abandoned cup o' joe. Well, 'tis abandoned. He reaches over to drag it nearer himself. Extensive experience with homelessness has rendered Astor quite immune to squeamishness about germs.

"I'm going to eat vegetables at dinner."

He smiles at Benji. Jasmine. Draining the coffee in one go, Astor then takes out his wallet and puts down some money, which would seem generous if you did not know he was recently in the possession of priceless historical Irish artefacts. Maybe it's generous anyway; he's like that more, these days, with the people that he cares about. He's new to that, too. It's nice, that she doesn't make a production out of it. It affords him both the polite illusion of privacy, as well as a tactical advantage in doing what he has convinced himself that he needs to do, for the betterment of

someone. A lot of someones. He thinks so, anyway. "Thanks," is a thing he does remember to say, in all sincerity.

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