Piss Poor


astor_icon.gif benji_icon.gif walter_icon.gif

Scene Title Piss-Poor
Synopsis Astor appears to be. It's also an adjective that can be used to describe Walter's handling of a recent injury.
Date January 14, 2011


Astor isn't here.

The apartment is empty even beside that. The door doesn't have a proper lock, as Walter hadn't expected it to, but there's an empty rectangle in the dust of the floor where a television was moved, and the bedroom door is laid into a plain frame and a wall that is decorated by nothing but scudded dirt marks. There's frost clawing up the pane, and it's probably no more than three degrees warmer in here than it is from the monochromatic city that sits damp and bristling rusting metal just outside.

Martial law is less present here than it is closer to the heart of the city, the cleaner burbs and commercial centers, but the whole block feels it when a patrolman duo swings by in an armored vehicle. The weight of that many stares, listening quiet, flickering curtains, a rippling flux of a pattern no less tangible than the draw of magnetic lines.

Still, life goes on. Downstairs, a man's dragging supplies that have come four hours late along, cursing and rasping metal as he fights the cart through rumpled drifts of stained snow. There's so little to the constitution of the walls or to even intercept the movement of wintry chill between hallway, stairs, and street outside that Walter can nearly make out the syllables of the fucks, shits, and cunts.

The thump of feet ascending the stairs, too.

Walter leans his shoulder — the good one — against the door frame, resting his head on the wood. Tired eyes survey the apartment's empty interior, their corners creased with worry, and he presses out a long, thin exhale that tapers off and ends with something like a whimper but scratchier. It's the sort of sound someone makes when they're not sure if what he's predominately feeling is pain or irritation.

Irritation because Astor isn't here. Pain because he thinks his shoulder is infected judging by the smell it excretes when he peels the bandage away from the skin, and that's annoying too. Cologne doesn't cover it and the antibiotics he lifted from Bannerman's infirmary aren't working.

"'m gonna put a fucking tracking collar on that kid," he mutters of the grown man only a few years his junior, and scrubs his hand across his face in an attempt to find focus, steering a look over his shoulder toward the stairwell at his back.

There's a flicker of a familiar shape out of the corner of the time-traveler's eye, and then Astor inking into view. Dour brow, long hair. A long hand reaching to tug him by the wrist. This way, this way. And hurry the fuck up, judging from the glower making dilation in his pupils, the expressive flick of dark eyes back toward the stairway. To be avoided, apparently, and Astor being the gracious and expansive personality that Astor is, he's willing to make their way away without relying on his friend's super duper awesome mutant ability. They can use their legs.

Will. With very little recognition for his friend's state of dishevelment/discouragement/whatever, he tows the other man around the corner of the hallway and stops in the cramped wall that smells like mothballs and cat piss. The footfalls that had been ascending the stairs slow audibly. Grow sluggish, like water running over mud and taking on its physical properties as it does, leaking to a bleary halt at the top of the steps.

It takes Walter a few awkward moments of stalling silence to process what he just glimpsed. The hair was right for Jolene but the build was wrong, and anyway he wouldn't blame Astor for hiding from her. The corner of his mouth ticks into something that resembles a smile, and maybe he's about to tease him because suddenly he's showing his teeth.

"Okay," is what he says, and while there's nothing deliberately insulting about the words, there's something malicious about his tone. Fortunately, it's the sandcastle-stomping, frog-down-the-back-of-your-shirt kind. Juvenile.

She might not be a pretty girl, but she is a girl. "Did you sleep with her?" he wants to know, following Astor down the stairs.

"Don't be stupid," probably isn't completely fair or logical-sounding to the average person, but it's Astor's choice of retort. He stamps his way out into the flattened snow of the open doorway, glancing indifferently over the buckling grooves that the deli man's supply cart left. He doesn't step further out into the sidewalk, hanging his shoulder against the back wall. Though he deliberately avoids glancing up at where Lin's window set, he doesn't make much effort to hide his interest in scrutinizing: everything else. Traffic, a curbside brawl, the flutter of laundry hanging out the apartment sprawl across the street, a closed-circuit camera watching them out of its hazey grayscale peripheral. A group of women moving by, careful not to look at them, the two disreputable young men loitering by the ugliest building you've ever seen, in turn.

Then Walter, with avian suddenness. "You came looking for me," he says, sounding vaguely pleased about something, if not exactly surprised. He pulls thin gloves out of his pocket to put them on his hands. It's a minor miracle his fingers are still attached at all, given the permeating chill of the air. It's like trying to move around inside the furred volume of an ice block out here.

"I did," says Walter. "Assstor." Because now they're both downstairs and outside, and he can use his name without breaking a promise he only sort of made. Vapour curls from his nose and mouth. A leather jacket worn over a sweater and long-sleeved shirt provide him with not-quite-adequate protection from the cold, but the cold also keeps him awake and alert, and freezing to death doesn't rank very high on his list of concerns.

Blood poisoning and septic shock on the other hand, do. "I wanted t'see you," isn't a lie, and not the full truth either, though the full truth isn't something he withholds for very long. Can't, and not because Astor sees right through him. "Also I got shot. Thought I could fix it myself but I guess not. It reeks.

"If you didn't sleep with her, who is she?"

Astor looks more irritated, which is probably concern. He stares at the other boy for a long moment, and maybe there's discomfiture in there, too, but he only shakes his head. "She's someone's kid I check in on sometimes. We were friends. Come on. My new place isn't too far. That sounds really terrible," he adds, visibly quelling the urge to reach over and peel Walter apart of his clothes and look for himself. "You should know better. You do know better. All of us know better. That newspaper man knows better.

"That box of kittens knows better." There's a jut of his olive-skinned jaw at the greasy heap of newspaper and markered box sitting silent as a grave at the mouth of an alley. He finally does glance up at the apartments above, before stepping forward, putting out a hand briefly to tug the other man's sleeve. There's stiffness to his own arms, too. Cold, cold. It's just too fucking cold.

Oh, hey. Kittens. Walter's stride falters and wobbles, and he stops as if to stoop and start shoveling mewling balls of ginger fur into his coat pockets, but then his mouth turns down and the tip of his tongue darts out to moisten his lips. That the boxes of kittens to which Astor refers isn't making any adorable squeak-sounds supports the whole too fucking cold thing, and Delilah's son scuffs at the icy pavement with the toe of his boot.

Who puts a box of kittens out on the curb in this weather? "You make it sound like I got shot on purpose." He protests this but not the tugging, allowing himself to be led like a large, ungainly dog at the end of a leash. His hair is not as long as Astor's yet, though it's getting there.

It does not occur to him that maybe he is being reprimanded for not seeking the proper medical attention. "You're looking after somebody's kid. How d'you know I wasn't looking after somebody's mother?"

"I didn't remember that being your taste," the dark-haired man answers, archly. Meaningfully, maybe, but it's hard to tell sometimes what's just throwaway shit-talk and a reference to reality wherever young men their age are concerned. Anyway, Astor gives the box of frighteningly silent death as much acknowledgment as he might a loogie mark left on the sidewalk by some uncouth Chinese immigrant, or something equally lovely like that. "And we aren't supposed to be messing around with anything that should be too emotionally compromising. Same as for doctors and cops.

"Why," he pauses to a drunkard stagger past, and closes the distance with a sidestep. "why did you get shot?" He puts his hands in his pockets, deep, and watches the road ahead a little more intently than it strictly requires for a second or three, before they twitch back at the redhead, and follow the set of his shoulders.

Huddled in layers of black, blue and grey, but mostly black, is someone else of startling familiarity. Moving a little with a customarily loose meander, one foot almost in front of the other and pale eyes observing the busy Harlem street more so than what is right in front of him, Benji isn't expecting to run into anyone, especially with teeth set at the corner of his nail at ring finger and working away a sliver without thought, knuckles sheathed in wool with fingers left bare. Clasped in that same hand is whatever is on the end of a silver chain strung thinly about his neck.

It's cold but he barely perceives the sting of it against his face, pinching skin pink and pale in patches. Any combing raven hair went through that morning has been undone by the boat ride over, and by the time two naggingly familiar shapes in his periphery are gaining his attention—

Hand goes down and Benji stops, vaguely and automatically guilty, whether for nail biting or being here. Necklace is distributed back under his collar as he shifts one pale eyed, sharp stare from Walter to Astor.

Walter straightens upon seeing Benji. Those shoulders Astor is watching draw back, and he lifts his chin in an attempt to look sharper than he feels, which is a little fuzzy around the edges. There are dark circles under his eyes, his lips are pink and chapped, and his skin is paler than is probably healthy. Even his freckles are looking wan. "I was helping some Ferryfolk," he answers Astor first. "Military ambushed them at a checkpoint a few miles from the Garden. If I hadn't done anything, they'd probably have ended up with their hands fastened together behind their backs and holes in their heads. Emotions don't have to be compromising, you know. Try feeling something sometime."

It's a joke, and probably not a very funny one. Astor feels. Walter knows. "Ben," he says with a short nod to the newcomer, and his eyes hook on that brief glimmer of silver visible between his fingers. "What brings you out this way?"

"That's a piss-poor example considering," Astor starts to answer, but then he stops short upon seeing Benji. Or maybe he'd seen him a few moments earlier, was distracted by temper, or isn't surprised, has forgotten how to be surprised— there's different kinds of raw to people's nerves, around here. His stride slows, slithering only a fraction of an inch or two forward, shifting his weight to compensate for the give of meltwater and mixed in sand. His eyes flicker down briefly to follow the grasp of Benji's fingers.

"We're going to my new apartment. Do you want to come? I have some tea there." A beat. "And coffee," he adds, a little mirthlessly. There's a lot of that going around lately, too. He lifts his head and nods down the sidewalk. There's at least a day's beard accumulated on his cheeks, and the wind pulls ink whorls into his hair. Then, "And excessive moralizing. I didn't grow up with too much of that at home, so you don't have to worry, or anything." His tone could be nastier, probably. He starts forward again. Despite that he's better-dressed than Walter, there's no visible condensation for the wind to snatch from his mouth.

Hi. Is hi so difficult, in this day and age. Then again, needling silence wasn't a good opener either. Benji allows a smile for Walter, and doesn't even bother correcting what preferred shortening of his name in favour of straightening the sit of his coat as the two approach, and he steps aside so as to better walk with them. "Please. I know what you grew up with." Quietly delivered, this point, almost chastisement and a deliberate, glossier smile for Walter, and said with enough head toss to get hair out of his eyes from when the wind pushed it back in that direction.

"I was hoping to speak to Astor," he says, walking at Walter's elbow instead of the other dark-haired man of the trio. Snagging glimpses for necklace reveal nothing — it sinks hidden under black wool and the drape of fuzzy blue scarf. "But it can wait. Are you alright?"

"No," Walter says, truthfully enough, but does not offer an explanation more elaborate than the one Benji has already heard. "I need antibiotics, and not the kind Nurse Young keeps in storage. They're not working." He likes being in the middle. The men aren't walking close enough together for their body heat to radiate significant warmth, but the camaraderie — if you can even call it that (he does) — is comforting in its own way. "Maybe someone t'look, see how bad it is. I can't twist my head 'round so easy and mirrors are shit."

He wipes his nose with his sleeve. It's running, but that also isn't unusual, especially not this time of year. "You should'a brought him with you t'Pollepel instead of Howard," he says. "He'd be happier." And maybe he means Astor, or maybe he means Howard. Both. "It's not too late."

Astor's face doesn't change, probably because he's wearing about as much annoyance and exasperation as he feels in combination, and the minute modifications of balance don't really change the overal total that thunderclouds characteristically on his sculpted brow. Anyway, he herds the bedraggled and unhappy-looking youths toward his home without having much to say about either of their comments, which rather lends him the air of thinking them catty snide girls except that he's rather like that himself, so, well.

Well they've been friends a long while now. They're used to this.

The new apartment is slightly better than the old. The door, at least, shuts without glaring gaps at the seams, and there's a lock, even a deadbolt, however insufficient to stop any burglar who really knows his way around Harlem. The television has been moved here, the same one Benji recalls: an outdated affair crouching gremlin-like on top of another dead cathode-ray tube Goliath, presumably nonfunctioning but too heavy to get out of the way. There's a table, refreshingly, and even a couch, though it reeks alarmingly (or reassuringly) of bleach. The bed is in the same room, sheets recently untangled judging from the creases on top of it. Peeling paint in the ceiling, hopefully no asbestos. Stove.

The first coil Astor tries doesn't work, so he turns on the second, under an expectantly placed kettle. It is perhaps twenty degrees warmer in here than it is outside; nearly enough to make taking their jackets off a real temptation. "Make yourselves at home," he says, entirely without irony.

Benji is at least unwinding his scarf in the relative warmth, peering around with the same feline inquisitiveness with which he'd poked around the last place a stone's throw away. Jacket unbuttoned to over long sweater, ill-fitting jeans with damp cuffs over boots. It's the ill and injured redhead that must have priority when it comes to make himself at home, and Benji makes himself useful by standing out of the way and hovering awkward towards the corner of the space.

Drifts, then, for the windows that face out to the street, fingers delicately picking at the edges and pushing them apart by half a foot. The window is dewy, even more so with the presence of three warm bodies. He cleans it off with his sleeve, mouth pinched small.

Walter sinks down onto the couch with a wince and tugs gingerly at the collar of his jacket. He's not looking forward to taking it off, never mind his sweater or the shirt beneath, neither of which have zippers. The mere thought of him having to raise both arms above his head makes him cringe in morbid anticipation. Wind-chapped fingers grab at the zipper and ease it slowly down.

This is making himself at home. "For fuck's sake," he says, "turn on the heat. Your radiator does work, doesn't it?" He sniffs at the couch. Recoils fractionally. Most of the bluster at his surface is indignation on Astor's behalf. He shouldn't have to live like this.

Doesn't have to live like this, and that's the worst part, though he knows better than to keep flogging a dead horse. He'd been serious about his Pollepel suggestion, one he's only going to make once. He looks then to Benji by the windows. His sweater makes it difficult to find the tension he believes is lurking in the muscles of his back, so he gets right to the point. "Something wrong? More'n usual, I mean."

"I guess," Astor says, glancing at the radiator. He seems to take a moment to finish that sentence, then, "It does." He goes toward it, flips open the small paint-scarred panel with his fingers, pulls and pries at the knobs. There's a rust-edged clank somewhere deep in the machine, and then a grumble, a coughy thrum starting through the unit. It'll be long minutes yet before the apartment warms properly, but it's a start. Astor glances at Benjamin with the same appraising glance, then frowns.

"Tea first," he says. He drifts back toward the kitchen area, and flaps an expectant hand at Walter's upper-body. "Or if you could help him get that off, it'd probably make you feel better to have your hands busy." The cups come out, one made of disposable paper, and two chipped mugs, a carton of tea afterward— Earl Grey.

A first aid kit summoned at a brief crouch, out of God knows where last, though its contents seem to be scavenged from a variety of representatives of its kind. Two bottles of alcohol that doesn't seem to have come from the same brand, iodine in a bottle with a label blotched like it's a dozen times older than the pristine condition of the box. Over-stuffed, three different spols of black thread, and none of them the same size.

Shoulders shrug in seesaw rhythm, and then go still at suggestions towards making him feel better, but no one is immediately out the window to make note of frosty glare. But it's not like Benji will say no. Plucking gloves off his hands and shoving them into a back pocket, he pivots on a heel once done with the window, and moves towards Walter. A hand makes a brief and matter of fact detour to press his cold palm to Walter's warmer brow in assessment, concern and accusation mingled together in the stare tipped downwards. It doesn't take a lot of guesswork to figure out which shoulder Walter is favouring.

"Yes," is as truthful as Walter's no had been. There is something wrong. And if it concerned the health and safety of others, it would have probably been laid out frantically on the street, or spoken over Nora's radio channel. Benji's hands go to help shift fabric, forcing Walter's healthier arm to do more of the work, so that cloth can be gathered in careful hands and negotiated around injury.

There's a small, hitched exhale of sympathy, before he clears his throat. "Howard won't be lasting on Pollepel. That isn't what's— I mean. That isn't the end of the world." A wry raise of an eyebrow. "If you weren't doing anything…" This is humour. A shot up shoulder = doing things, generally.

Walter hisses out an unhappy breath through his teeth. "You want me t'look after him?" Ow ow ow. The sweater slips off over his head, leaving red hair mussed and strangely tacky with sweat.

It's freezing outside, and he's sweating. His shirt, at least, is made of flimsier fabric and is loosened a little less like the rind off a scaly fruit, exposing bare chest and bandaged shoulder. Although the gauze is clean, the wound it hides isn't; when he peels back an edge with his fingers, medical tape caught under his short nails, Benji's nose catches a whiff of something worse than the couch's bleach stench. When he told Astor that it reeked, he hadn't been exaggerating.

He tears off the bandage the rest of the way and places it in his lap but refuses to lower his eyes to the injury, which looks as infected as it smells, and is held together with a poor set of stitches already beginning to come loose. Chances are he used a knife to dig the bullet out without disinfecting it properly first. "Can do, boss."

There's a feline quality to Astor's sniff as he pours out tea, and then something weirdly akin to haste when he washes his hands afterward, a slow acceleration of disrupted perception, smudgey emotional processing, but emotions in motion. "Howard has issues," he says without sounding like he cares a lot or thinks that's inappropriate for one Astor Loukas to say. Funnily enough, he dumps out one of the mugs right then and there, fills it instead out of a bottle of whisky he digs out of the refrigerator, the amber liquid burning the air with its own pungent scent. The first aid kit huddles up under his armpit, and he carries only the whisky mug around to the other two men— it doesn't take a genius to figure Benji won't be in any kind of mood for tea for the moment— only to scowl at the fact he doesn't have any surfaces to put it on. It goes to Walter's hand directly, then.

"I have some antibiotics," he mutters, eyes casting up and around the bullet wound, the slimy ring of proud flesh massing around its opening, the telltale notches that the knife left ripping in its edges. "You should have done something about this days ago," he says, his voice uncharacteristically loud and seemingly harsher because of it. "Do you want to lose your arm? Do you think you'd be more useful without your arm? Happier? Probably if you did and little Lucia asked what happened to it, you'd make an exercise out of making a paper-mache replacement and that would be hilarious. Who cares? It's just an arm. You're strong enough without it.

"Maybe you'll be stronger. Fucking hilarious." The curse word sounds off in his voice somehow. Astor stares at Walter with a dead-cold affront in his eyes, the bones of his jaw standing out like the spiny edges of a lionfish puffed out in aggression. "But now we'll fix it. 'Don't be dramatic,' you'll tell Nora and maybe you'll throw in a flex just to see which girl delicately dogpiles your elbow first to get you to stop. You're an idiot because you're smarter than this!" Exclamation marks sound wrong in his voice too, but there's no remorse in it, no acknowledgment of the wrong fit.

There's a nightmaring sleeper's fitfulness to the snatch of his hand into the medikit. "Would you drink that already?"

The rotten, mistreated wound gets reaction from Benji too, and it may surprise no one to know that it's the opposite in that he is quiet. Whatever silence there would be is getting filled and he is in no hurry to stop that whether by saying anything himself or snapping at Astor for Walter. Not that he would, judging by his own mute staring, from shoulder to profile and back again. Maybe Walter's arm won't be the first. Maybe the next month, few months, twenty four hours will be a procession of people peeling bloodied bandages to show what they've been hiding.

And he's meant to be the telepath. Or 'boss'. Shoulders dip, hands clutched prim around cloth that Benji then sets about folding for. Wont of something to do with his hands, chin tucked in.

Walter hides behind the rim of the cup, his lips pressed against the rim for the duration of Astor's admonishment, except admonishment is too gentle a word to describe what that just was. Cowed, he squeezes his eyes shut, and downs the cup's contents with a groan that echoes in its bottom. "You don't have t'shout," he mutters, sounding tiny, and clicks his teeth against the porcelain. His tongue grazes across a chip, and when his eyes open again he's directing a plaintive look at Benji that's also vaguely nauseous.

His stomach churns, and not in a good way. (Is there ever a good way?) "'m sorry, okay." His voice doesn't go up at the end like it should, to make it sound like a question. It's a statement, softly-spoken, uncharacteristically subdued and maybe a little concerned. Either for Astor's blood pressure or himself, because losing the arm is not something that he'd considered until now.

Amputation is something that happens to other people.

"WONDERFUL." Astor's voice finally cracks a little. But he stops shouting after that, his mouth in a line, his eyebrows in lines, his whole face shaped into parallel lines upon lines, stark, and he turns to walk into the bathroom. It smells like something different when he opens the door a moment, but he only sticks his arm in far enough to grab a towel that looks entirely out of place here, fluffy and thick and wide, and apparently to be wasted on covering up the chemical stench of the couch, flung with a nearly disdainful hand. Only to have to be straightened the next moment.

Walter's good shoulder is nudged (pushed) (jabbed) until he's properly flush to the couch, whisky cup hopefully balanced in a hand. He gets a knife out, thin. Scalpel, really. Where did he get a scalpel? It's freshness-sealed and everything, laid on top, in easy reach, while he begins a cotton-wool assault sodden with iodine and topical anesthesia. Despite the care implied by the towel, the disused bits of wool are unceremoniously dropped on the couch next to Walter's hip

Was… this a bad time?

Benji's white teeth are already set against bottom lip at this notion, but there isn't much going back. His hand seeks out Walter's forearm in a gentle squeeze of reassurance, maybe for the chemicals wrecking havoc in neglected wound more than getting shouted at. Hands withdraw and he takes a few steps back to semi-clumsily set hip against couch arm. Nonchalantly slings rickety arms around his own narrow torso as Astor works. Astor is on. it.

With the room smelling like a triage centre, the sweetest scent mingled in being the whiskey. It isn't a bad time to harness his skills as a professional wallflower, with Astor busily working and Walter busily enduring.

"Talk," Walter implores Benji through gritted teeth, his jaw set, and his fingers flex, curl in on themselves as he physically and mentally readies himself for something that's inevitably going to be very painful even through the haze of hard liquor and the application of Astor's topical anesthetic. The iodine alone has his breath shuddering in and out, and it's only going to get worse from here.

"Say something." The silence makes him almost as uncomfortable as the scratch of the cotton does. He spreads his feet apart on the floor to brace himself. "Please."

Blood spurts from between Astor's fingers, paving color across his knuckles, but the scalpel doesn't stop. A strip of foul flesh is laid aside. Not a strip; an awkward hunk, small, short. He's being shy with his knife, even if the ironclad neutrality of his face denies any explanation for that, bar the line of displeasure across the middle of his forehead. He should be better at this, he thinks. He's thinking about it too much is why he isn't better at it. Fucking, Walter.

His voice is even, too, when he corroborates the redhead's request, if rather tight. "Please." He pauses to wipe a smear of an eerily telling shape on the terrycloth behind Walter's shoulder, and then grasps pale skin again, adjusting the angle of his other wrist, pressing in.

That's two pleases and still words die on Benji's tongue even after he opens his mouth. He'd done well with minor cuts and bruises and picking slivers glass out from Nora's wounds with the precision of a beautician holding a set of tweezers, but this operation is outside his scope enough for him to traitorously wander his stare across a wall and wish he had more trivial things to say. Nervously, a hand goes up to toy with silver chain. Takes a breath.

"I had a nightmare." The sentiment echoed by children universally, who might make as big of a deal as he is, in his own quiet way. His voice isn't wavering or anything, but it's low, even for him. "Twice. It had too much texture to be my own." He makes a sound like other words were about follow, but uncertainty closes his throat so it's more of a squeak.

He hasn't told Nora, or Howard, or even Hannah this, apparently. Maybe he might not have told Walter either.

Walter's mother taught him that it's okay to cry. Still, he doesn't often do it, especially not in the company of others, and when the first tears slide down his cheeks and gather in the scruff of what is starting to look like a beard, he pretends it isn't happening, not because he's afraid of showing weakness but because he doesn't want Astor to think he's hurting him.

Which is in itself ridiculous. Because there's no way this doesn't hurt. His teeth press together and his eyes close. Roll back into his head. He's unable to suppress the noise that the creature housed in the pit of his chest wants to make: a low howl that would be much louder if he were to open his mouth, which he does, but only to ask, "Wh— What ab—?"

Those words mean enough to Astor that he doesn't look at Walter to check if he's hurting him. He would've, otherwise. The quake to his friend's voice is making things hard anyway but most things about muscle-memory tend to be conversational in an odd way, and chopping up your friends is one of those things.

It doesn't hurt, of course, that he instinctively retreats into himself from the words that are coming. That's easier to do than to recoil from now-ness, sometimes. Only at the wrong times, naturally.

"'Texture?'" he repeats, neutrally. One more wad of flesh comes away, leaving a sheen of severed pustules and cross-sectioned microbiology before blood begins to fill it in, and then he's moving in with another clean wipe, then a fat square of gauze, tamping down as hard as he can with his hands, one palm over the back of the other, applying pressure.

"Mhm, texture. Realness. Feeling."

— are two things Benji as no right to complain about right now, and sympathy finally keels over squeamishness around when Walter is stammering out his question. There's a slide of fabric as dark haired dreamwalker settles to sit at Walter's other side, and offers a hand, bird-light, by placing it on the redhead's. "The way dreamers feel when I bring them in, but I didn't invite this one. She— " Benji blinks rapidly, a wrinkle developed at his brow, still not really looking at anyone or anything.

What about. "The first one was her house. After it had been torn apart, after they died. And after you were taken, Astor, when you were a boy." He uses his name in favour of meaningful glances. "And she was there, demanding to know where 'the boy' had gone. She attacked me when I didn't have an answer, or one she believed it. And the second dream was at my house, and she— " A huff of a breath, that isn't laughter because there isn't any mirth in it. "She used my own memories against me."

Like I do sometimes. Stolen shtick and own medicine mixed together in creepy unpleasantness that seems to echo hollow when he says it out loud, and suffering of the physical, flesh-having nature goes on one set of broad shoulders away.

Walter resists the temptation to twist his fingers around Benji's and squeeze, passing on some of his pain to the dreamwalker, but that would be unkind, and Benji has emphasized that they shouldn't be. His hand twitches under the touch instead, then relaxes again — as much as it is capable of — in a wordless display of what is probably gratitude.

He wishes Astor had given him something to bite down on.

He strains to listen to what Benji is saying, near defeaened by the roar of blood pounding in his ears. It does not mean as much to him as it might mean to the man tending to his wound, though he's peripherally aware of his own grief, remerging like a groundhog poking its nose out of the snow and scening the air for sunshine before it retreats back into its burrow.

His parents are still alive.

Astor forgets to blink for a little bit. He cleans up the wound as it bleeds, and then wonders hazily if he cut too deep despite knowing he hadn't, pressing the bandage in tightly. There's red all over his hands in messy smears. He notices it with a flustered line of irritation between his brows.

Snags Benji's hand off Walter's, brings it up to keep the flow staunched there. He stands up then, and leaves them without saying anything, walking abruptly to the bathroom to rinse his fingers and palms off. Somewhere through the pounding drumroll adrenaline of shittastic news, Walter might be able to make out a faint rasp and squeak of something 'round about the bathtub's sunken level, but Astor doesn't acknowledge it, simply comes right out again with half-dried moisture on his hands.

Yeah maybe he would have left Walter out of this, too, but it's late for that now. He is digging antibiotics and painkillers out of his precious box, and counts out pills, grasps Walter's cup of whisky with one hand and pries at his jaw with the other, determined to put the drugs in before the redhead passes out or starts throwing up. He did that backwards, a little. Well not really. You're supposed to be able to provide a patient with localized anesthesia for surgery, then they eat stuff afterward. He just didn't have the localized anesthesia. He's not God, you know?

(They know.) "She just needs a new body?" Astor's voice plays traitor. Cracked as a pubescent boy's.

Drifty meanders and light fingers aside, Benji applies pressure to wound as needed after only a twitch of initial, squeamish resistance for having no desire to help hurting Walter. His posture is poised and tense, instinct having him place space between his body and Walter's despite closeness, save only for his hand through bandages. His eyes hood, overtired — dreamwalkers lacking sleep is a depressing sight, but who would go back to sleep? Given a choice, anyway.

But he is alert, and severe in stare, when Astor asks that question. Of all questions. Most of the time, Benji doesn't mean meanness, and having it like a hidden blade is something of a genetic thing. This is mostly just a what?, at least, and softens some when he registers after the tone of Astor's voice.

"There shouldn't even be a 'she'," he intones at a near whisper, after a while, going back to drowsily studying Walter's profile.

"Stress," is Walter's explanation for it, curt and to the point by necessity. He lets out a soft, strangled bark of protest when the pills are forced into his mouth, and his jaw snaps shut a moment later. There's nothing left in the cup for him to wash them down with. When he swallows, they're squeezed down his throat and activate his gag reflex, and while Astor's fears aren't realized and he doesn't throw up, he makes a sound like he's going to, shuddering.

This would have been much less miserable if he'd come to Astor or even Calvin in the first place. If he hadn't conceded that before, then he does now. "Since he was twelve. Doesn't make sense."

Anger flashes across Astor's face like lightning raking the earth. He doesn't say anything for what is probably many thundering heartbeats of barely quelled rage, his hands methodical in their gentleness, tugging Benji's hand aside to see. Needle and thread, next, wielded with his mother's dexterity. He pulls at the waist of Walter's pants to level his torso out a little. "Lean back," sounds wrong still. The noise of steel popping through rubbery severed skin is quiet, but there's probably a kinesthetic effect that's practically like a sound, wince-worthy, to anybody watching or waiting for it.

He's sewing Walter up again rather abruptly. Drawing the halves of skin shut, keeping his nose down as he does so, unmindful of the stink, of the blood, which has made its way onto his sweater despite that he probably doesn't own too many of those. Orderly stitches, black against the white of Walter's skin, marching like mad little soldiers up the line of his shoulder. The welling of blood slows, and his needle slips once, but even Walter can barely feel that now under the permeating roar of agony.

Through his teeth, daring them to call him. Optimistic. Irrational? Daring— "And mine would be the only family legacy that wouldn't have Evolved members unexpectedly recover from having their body broken or murdered, why?"

Despite the reek of blood and chemicals, Benji breathes in through his nose sharply. He isn't sure what annoys him more — the implication that these are nightmares of his own design, or Astor's audacity to get mad at him. "No. Not stress," he says, shortly, syllables clipped and with a steely kind of certainty that doesn't really convince anyone, usually, especially when it's muttered. "And that wasn't what I meant, Astor. Why would I come to you with this and tell you about it if that was what I meant."

Benji doesn't know. He stands, then, veers off a few shuffling steps with his arms folding, shoulders up. "But I don't know why, or why she would— " Do that to him sounds egotistical and maybe not the point, like Astor implying legacy and narrative logic competes with thirty years of time travel (although to his credit, clearly something can). "She felt undead, and restless."

"Another dreamwalker, then," Walter suggests. "Like you. Using your own memories against you, like y'said. Hokuto, maybe. Or. Somebody else." He thinks he's the only one looking at this objectively, and experiences a pang of guilt a moment later. He would be the only person in the room looking at this objectively.

"Not our timeline," he says, cracking his eyes open to watch Astor work through his tears, which are already beginning to run thinner, cheeks growing more tacky than they are wet. "This one. No way it's her. Only one and she's still alive."

Astor almost can't believe the words coming out of his own mouth: "There isn't even supposed to be one of Benjamin yet, and he's here. You know how much garbage he's carrying around in his head— why not another wom—" and then his mouth snaps shut. He realizes at once how foolish that sounds, and obscurely also, that that was cruel, not a dig he'd even intended. Not really. It just came out that way and he can't bring himself to apologize, without retreading the train(wreck) of logic that had led him to hope for the possibility…

He finishes the last stitch but can't find the composure to tie it off. Goes still as one of Medusa's little vicks from his pretend-home-culture, suddenly, his hands resting on Walter's shoulder, jaw working, his hair plastered to the back of his neck from a terrible sweat. The heater can not account for it, even if it's still filling his apartment with that horrible clanking din. "And you would know the 'texture' of the 'undead,'" isn't even intended to come out snide. But he's trying to be rational again. Trying. Failing. He can't look at his cousin.

Still and withdrawn, Benji can at least bring himself to stare at the quarter he can see of Astor's profile, before he drops his attention groundwards, tinged pink flushing as high as his ears and hoping Walter is too pain-wrecked to notice and then feeling a little guilty for wishing that at all. "I don't— "

He tries again when his voice comes out in anything other than neutral. "I don't know if it was another dreamwalker. But if you're very sure that there's no other way…" As if he'd gone to see Walter about this after all, and not Astor, and it's just coincidence his cousin is here at all. Dreadful uncertainty lurks in his voice gone subdued, when it sure didn't during flying from the castle to the docks to board the last boat out in the morning in impulsive and desperate need to talk to Astor. He isn't looking forward to the dreary two hour boat ride back.

"I have been a little preoccupied," he admits, his syllables deliberate.

Maybe Walter can sense this is a conversation that should be had between relatives, because he quiets again, disconcerted by Benji's tone. He can't meet Astor's eyes, either — this is normally the part where he'd be scissoring a look in his friend's direction, a silent reprimand for his accidental cruelty, but it's hard to tell someone to shut the fuck up with your eyes when you're talking about his dead mother.

Benji's dead aunt. "Fuck," he says finally, and he feels that's a good summary for everything.

Maybe Astor didn't even want to know. It occurs to him to say this, to fling that line at Benji, let them both off the hook with a little characteristically brusqueness and.

And. But he decides he doesn't want to hear his own voice about that anymore. He finally ties off the thread and snips it off. Cleans it with a few economic swipes. Applies bandage. He is so quick he almost seems like he's hurrying, but he isn't really. Not on purpose. He just knows if he tries to work faster he will concentrate on it more, and Walter's a little out of it now. He finishes it up. It's still streaky and gross, a little, but at least the blood drying on Walter's skin ran clean red and he's going to be drugged out of his mind as soon as he finishes metabolizing the stuff. It isn't going to heal with the smallest, tidiest scar ever visited upon a surgically closed bullet wound, but it should heal okay.

"We all have," he offers, finally. Olive branch. Wilted and brown. He knows Benji will take it. Not because he's family, but because he's Benji. Better about that kind of thing than most of them, you know.

And he also knows better not to take any concession from Astor for granted, and so Benji summons an encouraging 'mm' in response and lets the corner of his mouth tick up in a small and gentle smile. Fidgety hands grip onto the loose drape of his scarf, and it's a difficult place to be in, a room with a cynic and someone you're still quite mad at. So he says— asks, nearly— "excuse me," with the tick up of index finger that he will only be one minute and turns for the door.

He hasn't decided if he'll only be 'one minute', or more, but Benji does sweep for out either way and if unimpeded will click front door quietly shut behind him. The air will be frosty and unkind, but somehow more reassuring than whatever artificially warmed air is circulating in the room, and the smell of blood. Cleaner, and clearer.

Blearily, Walter looks between Astor and the door. An experimental lift of his wounded shoulder after the bandage has been applied has him wishing he hadn't. The empty cup rests between his legs on the couch. There are tears drying on his face, blood drying on his chest, and the combination of alcohol and adrenaline is doing strange things to his body that aren't entirely unfamiliar.

"'m gonna rest for awhile," he tells him, leaning his head back against the couch. He can't smell the bleach anymore. Sensory adaptation. Something. "Be fine, but maybe he won't. You should— check."

"I got you guys kittens," Astor answers. Which is kind of a 'Right, I guess,' and kind of a 'Whatever,' and kind of a 'Stop worrying, you're all messed up.' He stands up and shuts his box, leaves it to go to the radiator and turn it up. Clack-clack-clank. It will be even warmer soon and it's already too warm for him. He is therefore going outside, as a personal decision that has nothing in particular to do with anybody who might be standing outside or leaving or about to hit his face. He doesn't put his jacket back on as he grasps the knob, leaving the redhead to doze, with a backward glance. He isn't the one who has difficulty remembering who's dead and who's alive. Next time, he'll have more drugs.

It's darker out there too. Balcony space looming over freezing air and the rust-eaten circuitry of Harlem, clouds stacked for miles. Astor is a dark thing against a darkening world before he yanks the door shut behind him.

Benji, not so different, a slim silhouette at the divide between balcony and open air, paused to fuss with his gloves, poking fingers through scissored gaps and his elbows tucked in against his sides to retain heat. His scarf is already bundled anaconda-like to protect his throat and his back is to Astor by the time his ears prick at the sound of someone following, whether or not Astor means to. Vapour is thin in the air when he breathes out, twitching a glance back, then back down at his hands.

They come up to scrub at palely freckled face to work out some of the tension and wind-nipped itchiness on his skin, and wool-clad palms come to rest on the bar of the ledge. "Is it upsetting, when people don't believe your prophecies?" he asks, his voice innocently quizzical, as pure as a penned question mark in defiance of the fact that it's basically a rhetorical query.

Astor stares at him for a little while, thinking about punching him in the face, but his impulse control is maybe a little better than his parents'. Maybe. Besides, he doesn't want to have to explain anything. He hates explaining himself. But it makes him feel a little righteous, even if lacking the effulgence and magnitude of his real anger— too recently exhausted, buys him some room for magnanimity. "I got you guys kittens," he repeats. "Four. Almost cats. They're nearly dead but they'll be okay if you and Walter take them. Maybe Ingrid would have friends who would want some. Maybe you have friends who want some."

He glances away. Back again. His hands aren't cooling fast enough, still feel like sweat in the creases. "They're good luck against ghosts, and everything." He leans his hip against the balcony, keeping himself a safe distance away. Two yardsssish. There's nothing on his olive-skinned face to indicate he doesn't think kittens should be adequate compensation for refusing to acknowledge, and insulting through that refusal, the identity and traumatic concerns of one of his own flesh and kine; possibly because Astor Ruskin-Gray doesn't now how to operate his face properly. Possibly because he's just really that much of a dick.

Possibly because he's a stunted stupid half-frozen kitten in his head, too. He blinks. Stiffer than the buckled outline of fingers shaped by rigor-motis, he adds, "I'll tell you which one's going to die and you can prove me wrong.

"It'll be like a game, like the ones the others used to think I let them win or knew they'd lose before they figured out it doesn't work that way." His fingers move erratically up the sides of his pants, then into his pockets, and his eyes are as opaque and limitless as black glass. "You can tell her you're taking care of me."

"Schroedinger's fortune telling. How droll." Benji's rocks his weight back, to catch it on his heels and where his hands grip ice-cold bar. His expression is a little rigid by now, and so when he manages a half-smile, it comes across like a surgical slice and doesn't reach his eyes in the glance he sends his cousin's way. "She thinks I'm a liar already, so why should I prove her correct? But then, she also comes across demented with grief. Vengeful like a spirit."

This isn't exactly maybe I'm just preoccupied, but doubt, once lodged, isn't so easily discarded again — but he can entertain notions. However, unquestioning certainty only works until questions happen, after all. "I'll take the kitten that dies so you won't repeat that nonsense to someone else, thank you." This is almost facetiously prim as opposed to the usual kind, voice lifting on the last syllable and chin going up as he looks out at a Harlem view.

Always a little depressing. Less green than what he's grown accustomed to.

Prophet stares at dreamwalker for another long moment or two, then closes his eyes. Shakes his head before he says anything else, and then turns to follow the swerve of his own ragged mop of black hair. His feet shuffle audibly back to the door. Wheeze of hinges, a momentary dissipation of heat against the back of Benji's neck, light falling gently around the edges of his shadow. Astor is a few minutes returning, a socially-awkward length of time to be keeping somebody out in the freezing asshole of winter, but when he comes back he didn't apparently take the time to put on his jacket. It's remarkable, how rude he can be on accident.

Indifferent to the lull, Astor picks up the thread of conversation that had been left dangling into the winter: "I don't know. You tell me." A lidded cardboard box of feline is transferred over. Rounded-oblong holes punched on the short ends, you know the kind— where typically people would hook their fingers in to carry the great stack of manila folders and files stacked inside. Maybe a bad idea in this instance unless Benji wants to ruin his precious manic sustain injury from a stray animal of unknown temperament and disposition, but his arms would fit okay around the box's corners anyway. "You could tell her where I am and be honest, but you don't do that either. But I don't understand why you do half the things you do or who you're proving it to, anyway.

"That probably doesn't say anything bad about you." Cardboard packs gently into Benji's bicep. Take this. Away.

There's a huff of a breath as box is nudged at him, irritation setting Benji's jaw — if it wasn't already setting during Astor's abrupt and prolonged departure. But like olive branches, he is forced to take dying kitten, arms hugging around the box. "Oh, probably," he bitters out between his teeth. There is no precious manicure to ruin, actually — nails bitten in bad habit ragged edges, and that's probably true of them even before and after closeting. There is an imploring look cast over Astor's features.

It's a good family member, arguably, who knows to try and look for indications that you're not a total asshole despite all evidence to the contrary. "I was wondering if we might try something, actually," he says, gently. "I have to go back to the island tonight. I would tell her where to find you if I thought she even could, and if I knew she wouldn't— hurt you. Despite herself."

His hands clutch uneasily on cardboard edges. Bends them slightly. He can feel the tiny being inside shift around within its confines, but ignores it out of necessity. "But perhaps if we dreamed together?"

"Maybe later." Astor glances away too suddenly for it to be a twitch to his neck-muscles or a. What. Coincidence? There's nothing over there to see. Pigeons roosting in the gutted rectangle where somebody had their AC unit before, snow clotted on the roof over there. He tightens his fingers in his pockets and straightens very abruptly, sucking air into his chest, ribs bending outward. His stomach seems to be too far in underneath the sweater, in that instant, or maybe! Benji's just being a worry-wort.

"I'll call you," he adds to soften that, maybe. Kind of like rubbing a hole through paper softens a pen mark. "About that and Walter.

"Who knows? Maybe the cat will work." An uncharacteristic thread of hope winds itself brightly through those syllables, quicksilver, with a sidelong flash of a glance, retreat. His eyes used to seem greener, too, but Benji can read that anyway. He doesn't want to have to dream together to make 'her' go away, but he does want to make 'her' go away. He'll try if he has to, but he outright refuses to think any of it is for him, now.

Addition of softening comes a little late, though in fairness, it would have been a little late even on the flash tail of the first part; Benji looks vaguely nauseous at unenthusiasm, almost visibly wilting when that sharing this weird burden isn't taken very easily, when it, like leadership~, isn't even wanted — not even by other people. Even with the promise of a call. His eyes unfocus and his stare drops to the lid of the box in his arms. Maybe the cat will work. There is a dim twang of regret for requesting the one that dies, but. That's a little misdirected.

Superstitious. He blinks, eyelashes feeling tangled. "Is it a girl cat or a boy cat?"

A shrug seesaws through Astor's shoulders. He doesn't know. Doesn't care? Does it make a difference? If it's a girl she'll be dead before she starts getting periods? At least he doesn't say anything. He doesn't seem to notice the sag to his cousin's frame, offering him an ill-timed blink a few seconds later. "I have to go see what Walter is doing," he informs Benji. "I'll check in soon. Don't forget to. Eat." He basically doesn't know how to have conversations ever. Condensation unravels translucently from his mouth, exhale, and he pushes the door in with his shoulder.

"Safe boat home." His tall figure flickers back toward the light of his apartment, with a half-turn of his head to watch his cousin's face. Or his hands.

It makes a difference what you name it, would have been Benji's answer. He'll figure it out on the safe boat home, a well wishing he doesn't acknowledge nor bother to return before peeling off from conversational distance. His walk hurried only for virtue of the quickening night, the presence of military men, and a docked fishing boat all the way in Red Hook. Or maybe for the kitten's sake, his arms held steady, protective.

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