The Places You'd Rather Be


astor_icon.gif benji_icon.gif

Scene Title The Places You'd Rather Be
Synopsis Benji checks in on Astor; who needs whose help is up for debate.
Date November 24, 2010


The ceiling over Harlem looks like a block of ice, overcast in that textureless white way. The view out of any given window out here is like someone bleached out the glass or frosted it, or would if the buildings weren't crammed together like too many snaggled teeth in a dirty mouth, geometric shadows, lights, and noise pressing up against graffitied facades and making patterns in the stinks that whirl gentle orbits in the gutters. On the upside, this means roach season's fading out.

There's a knife-hole in the hallway wall outside, cat piss on the peeling plastic of the bannister, and the door of the apartment in question doesn't actually lock. It used to. The bathroom one doesn't either, but someone thoughtful put a bolt as big as a man's finger on it.

One could argue that it wouldn't really reduce the number of break-ins that occur if it didn't. Milk crates serve as furniture, and there are cans of tuna sitting on the counter of the merged kitchen and the sole token decor is the brassy rivets on the edges of the armchair in the corner, still bright despite that someone once gutted the top and bottom of the leather with a knife. Astor is watching a cartoon in it, peering at a television that's trailed drag-marks from the bedroom. Presumably, the one room here that does have a lock.

The man that enters the building and picks his way around like he's lost likely looks out of place. Milky skinned and glossy haired, not exactly a difficult mark for a mugging, for all that Benji looks like he wouldn't be worth the effort in his charity-given clothing of unflattering fitting. However, he doesn't move like he's out of place, unshy of placing a hand against gritty doorframe as he peers a look past a corner, retracts like a shadow and moves down a hallway, passed where a knife long ago impacted plaster. He doesn't try to hide the sound of his own steps, more creak than thud.

He is tired, too. Tired of walking. Digits bare from gloves with the fingers shredded off them, Benji hooks a hold onto the door handle, twists it— opens the portal two inches before shutting sharply again.

Knock knock.

Then he opens the door once this warning has been delivered.

Long legs in the two-inch slot of Benji's vision, an uncharacteristically relaxed, boneless sprawl that isn't bound to last through that warning. Dust-edged boots, an elbow on the armrest. Tom and Jerry are going around mayhem on the screen a few yards away, hammers and slippery kitchen tiles, in front of a yellow wall that seems to stretch hundreds of featureless yards through the inside of an Escherian recursive house. Sound is on low, though. It doesn't smell of much in here, maybe pasta sauce, maybe must.

The dark-haired youth gets his gun out, but it takes him awhile, where 'a few seconds' is awhile in this neighborhood, claims his feet, and is there to greet the other one when he steps in. Handsome kid. Classically, stronger-featured if not as uniquely so than the ambitious sculpture of Benji's head, and that remains true despite the wear of shadow around his eyes. Wearing a lot of layers— the solution of the impoverished for chill weather and no heating. The Glock is angled into the wind-chill for awhile, too, going on the same definition that had betrayed him a minute or two ago.

"Jesus," he says, letting his arm fall. No safety yet. He frowns too soon to have been particularly surprised to see his visitor. "That's cold. Will you get in?"

There's a small sound from Benji, realisation that yes, that's cold, and yes, it is vaguely warmer in here than out there. Was. He turns and pushes the door two-handedly, one set of fingers seeking out a lock that isn't there. Flutters away awkwardly, before stepping aside to get Astor back in his sights — Astor and his gun, which seems to set some tension in Benji's shoulders. He loosens a scarf looped thrice around his neck, pacing in a little further as he spares the rest of his visual scope around the room.

"Not exactly the Hilton, is it?" he says, voice measuring a fraction above a whisper. Not unusual, but it does have to compete with the sounds of ACME explosions and whistles coming tinny from the television.

After a moment spent in somewhat resentful-looking contemplation about the new arrival by the door, Astor decides he will concede to turn off the television. The gun does get safetied then, and he turns to pad over to the television. Turns it off with a push of forefinger on the chipped square of the power button, and the image of fictional nemeses implodes into a white spark and vanishes into the neutral gray of Off. Astor straightens again, a little slowly, and glances at the bedroom for a moment. Turns around again.

"You don't need the exact Hilton for some coffee," he says. "It'll be Greek style, of course," a wry shrug of his shoulders. "But it'll warm you up if you want some. Yes or no?" He's already on the drift to the kitchen before the answer comes through in familiar shades of whisper, too distracted to appear deliberately rude.

Fingertips following the swoop of black hair, fussing it out of his eyes, Benji lingers in the main room before he's following. He appears in the frame of portal between kitchen and living area, shedding his gloves and pushing them into the pockets of his woolen coat, and then linking bare hands together in a cradle, arms loose.

"Thank you," he says, in belated permission to have coffee made for him, Greek style or no. His clear, blue eyed stare tracks the path of a crack in the ceiling, following where it terminates where the light fixture is set in the centre of the ceiling. He studies the floor in much the same way, but upon the absence of dead roaches, it's then Astor's turn to receive the same analytical once over. "But you know, it's only going to get colder. How are you?"

"Yeah. I might have to move." Astor shuffles his brows up on his olive-colored face, like Yikes, but the gesture's a little hollow, partly from lack of conviction and partly because.

Not exactly the Hilton. That hollow space is large enough to enhouse a small but noticeable quantity of acid. The other question invites a glance over his shoulder even as he manipulates coffee-making paraphernelia, a water-boiler, grounds, a strainer his one acknowledgment of American sensibilities. The glance is topped with a slight downward dig of his brows. Evidently, the question annoys him, despite that Benji had been very good about phrasing it. "I'm fine." He finds a spoon and two mugs, and from the glimpse in the cupboard, two is all he has. "No regrets so far. How about," he chooses out of the available options and settles, stiffly, for, "You?"

And into the kitchen, finding two crates stacked that Benji has to take a second to consider the purpose before he chooses to sit. One leg folds over the other, blue-grey denim with damp ridden half-way up his calf and practical sneakers probably cold on his feet from where they've crushed through urban slush and icy puddles. He is all blues and greens, asphalt-coloured coat, and despite the bulk of his winter layers, small and out of place seeming. But that, too, is usual.

"Keeping busy," is a choosy answer to make, but then he offers a smile.

The draw of dark eyes across the other man's expression, and then the darkening of Astor's expression imply that smile is at some risk of being taken for something else. No stinging remark on it, though. The crates that Benji has deposited him on are twist-tied together so he's at no immediate risk of toppling over amid dislocate Lego-parts of makeshift furniture. "Me too," sounds sour enough. He scratches the inside of his left arm through the fabric of his shirt, and looks up when the water boiler ticks its light to orange.

Two steaming cups of water, and then the coffee grounds go straight in. There's minimal doctoring to his own drink— he takes a sip before the fragments of oily bean could possibly have been fully settled, but doesn't flinch at either the bitterness or the heat. Benji's, he does the courtesy of straining out with the tiny wire net and a mashing spoon. "Have any money?"

Wow that is— Benji's eyebrows go up as he watches this coffee methodology. Still, once he judges Astor to be done, he holds out a hand for it without stepping down off his perch, rolling ankle in an absent fidget. Doesn't ask for sugar or for milk. "Not really," he says, words on the exhale. "But the network's been accommodating. It— " He ticks an uncertain glance towards Astor's face, abruptly shy about stepping over lines despite this little visit of social terrorism. "It could be arranged, I'm certain. If you— "

A shrug is designed to complete that sentence, Benji going to a sip of gritty coffee, eyes squinching shut past the first sip. It does warn him — Astor wasn't wrong. Even takes a second on the back of the first. "Mm." It sounds neutral.

"I have money," sounds like the words could have been drawn out in a steel stencil, though Astor could probably add more bite to it if he thought to. He straightens enough to underline and circle and highlight the disparity of their heights, not the threat of a swelling cat, but an automatic reminder that while Benji may have fractional seniority, Astor can take care of himself. It doesn't actually have anything to do with the fact that he's bigger. All the while, his fingers don't move from their fixed curl around the handle of his mug.

"I can give you a few hundred, unless the network's accommodations are enough for you." He drains half of his coffee by way of punctuation, and then steps past the younger man with the steaming beverage in hand, returning to the battered and scarred armchair that had held him up moments ago.

The coffee is doing good, warming him from the inside. There is some new heat, now, feeling like it's simmering somewhere between skin and bone at Benji's face, and he remains in the kitchen until he's sure that he won't be a lobster by the time he's following. Mouth twists, tips his head to the side a little along with an eyebrow raise— for no one, Astor's back already turned— that might communicate mock-impressed feelings at the fact Astor can spare him a few~ hundred~. "Oh, so kind.

"Thank you." Spoken as demurely as he'd accepted the coffee. Benji hops lightly back onto his feet, drifts with the same pattern as a butterfly's meandering path after Astor. "I didn't actually come here for money. The others were worried. Are worried. I wasn't going to come by— " But then he did.

A beat. Then; "We found them." There is a direct quality in fleeting glance.

Astor sits on his scraggly wreck of a throne and adopts the same sprawl that he'd been in when Benji had first cracked the door. There's a flattened bit on the lefthand armrest that's just wide enough to make settling his coffee mug there a bit less than guaranteed for a scalding accident. He stuffs his gun into the holster inside his soft jacket— the thin material doesn't do a damn thing to conceal webbing or bulk, but in here or, Hell, out here, there's no real point in that. "The others are," but before he can deliver an appropriate package of adjectives, Benji cuts him off with the carrot.

When Astor blinks, there seems to be the threat of some awful entanglement of eyelashes that will lead to temporary blindness, but they don't; he stares. His shoulders go up like hackles, and the muscles in the back of his neck knot up so sharply Benji can almost hear them. "Of course you did," he says, somewhat too insistently unphased to have been entirely unphased. He picks up his mug and looks into it like it owes him something more than gritty coffee. "They're not hiding from the likes of you. Authority doesn't mean crap if nobody knows about it.

"Did you you talk to them?"

Another mm, also neutral, Benji occupied with coffee as he wanders to find a place to sit, and opts for another perch on more makeshift furniture, this time with the wall to support his back where he leans at a knocked tilt. "Not really," he states, evasively, tones remaining smooth, velvet-quiet. "But you know me. I'm not the world's most bestest conversationalist. I've just been…" He splays a hand, meaninglessly, as if willing away tension or a cramp, before curling it back around the mug. "Present."

He twists a glance back to the blind eye of the television, judging the shapes their reflections make in the funhouse bend of glass, and asks, "Can I stay here tonight?" Maybe he has more needs than he assumed Astor would have — at least, it's certainly coming out that way. "I can stay out of your hair during the daylight."

"I already have someone staying here." News. Unexpected, probably, given Astor's proclivities and the fact that he's living in a barren hole in the wall, but he's at that age when doing surprising things occasionally get done. "I'll have to check with her. She's kind of skittish." He looks at the other man a moment, and seems to make the conscious decision to smile, but it isn't insincere; a shade to it, like some cat he'd tucked a bag over just stuck its paw out. He cants his head at the bedroom door. "And prob'ly either asleep or trying to listen right now, but the area heater is kind of loud.

"Up to you." If he were trying to be challenging he'd probably just say No. Or Why? Or make another pointed remark about the network and its apparent accommodations. Instead, he merely peers at Benji with deliberate neutrality through eyes like coals in the shadowed pits of his skull.

Benji's can't quite keep surprise off his face — or rather, he keeps his expression schooled, even keeps that flush from rising beneath his freckles, but it shows in the ring of blue around his eyes, in contrast to the level, darker stare he's getting. That fades, in favour of allowing the corner of his mouth to show a smile, obscured by the time he's taking a more draining sip of black coffee, bitter and hot. "Oh, I see. Then I have no need to stay, Mister Loukas." Little tiny facetiousness in his tone, before he shakes his head.

More seriously; "That's fine. I never ask for a favour without a plan B." He sets his coffee aside, for the loose dregs that slipped through the cracks to settle at the bottom of porcelain mug, pushing himself up to stand.

The younger man glares. It doesn't exfoliate Benji's face off, but it's still pre-tty irritated, and that could be for any dozen inscrutable personal reasons, the least of which would be differences of personality and conduct. His attention shifts briefly to the apparently unfinished coffee at the other man's hand, and then he straightens. "I have two beds. It really is fine with me, if you want to stay." The insistence doesn't exactly have the feel of warmth and invitation to it, admittedly, and the fact that Astor doesn't get up seems less because he doesn't want to show Benji the door than because Benji can self-evidently get himself there on his own power.

Still, he wouldn't ask if he didn't want to know: "What's plan B?"

"Roosevelt Island." Spoken with soft amusement, and then a shrug. And then, Benji sits back down — with the air of understated victory, maybe, and goes back to nursing his coffee, running the pad of his thumb along its rim as he crosses his ankles. "But thank you. I'll owe you." Benji braves the last sip and a half of coffee, before he glances for the television set. Reaches, then, and thumbs down the power button. Image flickers, grainy, and then clearing on the aging screen.

Because, you know. These refugees don't have television. That, or Benji is interested in restoring the equilibrium.

So kind of him. Not getting out, then. Astor's mouth goes into a line. Tenses briefly. Relaxes again, and he gets up in a faintly uncoordinated jostle of joints and long, swinging limbs, as if they'd already started to fall asleep though he'd only been sitting for a few minutes at best. His coffee is abandoned, probably temporarily, on the armrest. He pulls at his jacket and the sweater underneath, trying to get them to sit more comfortably under the twisted webwork of his shoulder sling, to no discernible difference.

When Astor opens the bedroom door, there's darkness beyond it, a dim glow through the gray translucency of window blinds, two or three of the plastic strips missing like punched-out teeth in a fucked up grin. There's the foot of a bed— more of a cot, really, rumpled blankets. Someone small. Astor doesn't bother shutting the door when he steps in far enough to speak to his guest. A low conversation, his long fingers scraping down the doorjamb on a curl of utilitarian short-shorn fingernails. There's more stuff inside the bedroom, boxed up. A door leaning against the handle of the fire exit.

And then his step is weaving out again, with a weary blink. "Lin says you're welcome to stay. But give us an hour to clean up?"

Suffice to say Benji doesn't watch the television anyway, but does listen to the staticy sounds fill the room rather than strain to pick out the voices beyond. By the time Astor is out, the younger man is already watching the bedroom door for movement, heel of his boot set against milk crate edge with his arms hugging around his knee, locked fingers around wrist. "Sure," he permits easily, without actually standing up just yet. He hesitates instead, slight lines at his eyes in a judging squint up at Astor.

His voice doesn't communicate the same scrutiny when he asks, "Who is she?" Too quiet to be filled with anything other than curiousity, and also too quiet to carry for the bedroom and the people inside of it. Still. There is a mistrustful edge that replaces what could have stood to be a more conversational tone.

"Little girl," Astor answers in a similar tone of voice, wiping his fingers on the front of his shirt as if it's warm enough in here for there to be sweat, or as if he were conceding to be perturbed enough to sweat. But he isn't. Has never liked showing it, anyway. He'd sooner wear grime or blood than let Benji see that, or worse, see him admit to it. "Well, she's seventeen or something. You don't have to worry about her. Unregistered Evolved, but she's harmless." And I'm not spilling my guts. He doesn't look defensive, or at least— not like an adolescent with a secret.

Maybe like a cat staring over the peed line. It would probably be worse if the mistrust was a different shade of doubt, and refined to a blinky arrow that pointed at Astor himself. Probably. Maybe. Benji's subtlety might carry. "I'm assuming you need somewhere to stay tonight," he adds bluntly. He lets go of the doorknob. There's an insulated snick of metal pins and tumblers rolling back into place

"I do." Benji stands, now, picking up coffee cup and moving for the kitchen. Zero amount of judgment one way or another, regarding this latest stray — the notion that Astor needs his permission or approval is ridiculous. Disappears past the door, and then the rush of water through pipes as he rinses the grounds-lined inside of the chipped porcelain. "And you have two beds. That's just simple mathematics. If you have something to say, Astor, please do."

And back into the door of the kitchen, cleaning off his hands on opposite coat sleeves before he takes out his gloves, poking fingers through the scissors holes. "I would have called first," he adds, with a quirk of a smile, gaze lowered on his task.

Astor's eyes cut toward him, and his mouth does something twisty that suspiciously resembles a frown. He doesn't bitch, though, no sideswipe of retort, merely tension knotted in the shape of his shoulders, his neck. Fingernails marched briefly up the cut of his jaw. "She needs taking care of," says the most reliable source on the planet. He watches Benji's hands go into the gloves, listens to the words, and is reminded enough put his own in his pockets. There is the faintest stiffness to the fold of his elbows when he has to bend his arms to do this, the disjointed numbness of cold.

"We'll get a couple chickens and salads for dinner," he says, perhaps making an effort; he pulls out a phone, simple fat little flip thing. "They have chickens and salads in the supermarkets here, and not just for the tourists. Laziest bastards. It's almost funny." No smile, though.

There might have been one if the doorknob weren't moving, metal rocking against metal, and a dark stripe working its way down when the girl on the other side opens up the room. She's white as dough and a little fleshy around the face, timid like a salamander that's had its tail kicked off too many times. Her hair is red as wrath and she has a nice smile when it finally works its way up. She lifts a hand.

At first, Benji is uncertain in his silence, bright eyes trying to pick out something familiar about the woman— girl, really— and there is something reading in his stare, before that smile already fixed softens into something genuine. "How do you do?" is gently delivered in return of that hand-raise, a slightly girly slant to his shoulders in shy and wholly unthreatening greeting before his gaze ticks judgementally— suddenly— back to Astor. Meanwhile, he says and means it when he does, "Ooh, dinner plans. Sounds wonderful.

"An hour, you said?" For all that he can specialise in stares that could potentially prick skin if he tried hard enough, a soft voice comes with an innate and honest shyness.

Something about her reception surprises the girl in a good way. She straightens a little, without coming out of the gloom of her room, and looks at Astor with something like expectation. He refuses to acknowledge it, naturally, despite the baseline courtesy he'd shown her asking if she'd mind another man living in here with them. He occupies himself, instead, with calling up his Contacts menu, inputting 'BEN.' Holding the phone out toward the older man. "Hint taken," is his caption.

"Oh, really good, thanks," 'Lin' says, a jolt belatedly, as if realizing that Benji didn't mean that rhetorically, or just to be polite. "I'm great. Rotisserie chicken and fried chicken are both okay with me. My mom didn't let me have fried much, though, so— um," a dimple makes a brief appearance. "Whatever you want."

Benji occupies himself with entering his number into keypad after his mouth twitches a frown, mostly letting his eyebrows doing the replying to Lin. Up like 'oh?' and then going neutral again. He brings up the phone's own number, dials it into his own, the usual ritual of exchanged details until Astor is given back his own.

The 'JI' has been added to his name. "I'll let you know if it changes," he adds, which translates to: it probably will. And the thank you is mouthed slightly, shaped during exchange, before he retracts a step.

"Then I'll be back tonight," Benji hears himself say, more wondering what Lin thinks about her new friend's gun and holster and Greek coffee and other friends than setting a date. Her smile has him smiling back, though, purely genuine for all that her presence makes him awkward. "And have plenty of time to catch up." A wink traded to Astor and a brighter smile, before Benji is headed for the door at such a deliberate clip that it would be hard to stop him short of a physical grab.

No such claim is made by either the red-haired girl or her new friend. Tom caves in the kitchen cabinets, hot on Jerry's trail— or so it seems; when the gray cat sits up, wearing a new pot for a hat, the mouse pops up from the sink and their peculiarly long-lashed eyes meet across the yellow linoleum of the counter. Lin smiles a bit, and the cartoon helps her get the look over her face right, but her eyes are on Benji. She wants to smile for him, anyway. It's just hard when you're that young.

Well, maybe not if you were Benji. The ironic inverse of her, Astor concedes a twitch of his mouth when Benji winks at him. Yeah, yeah. He blips his phone out of the Contacts list without having bothered to verify that the other man had corrected the spelling of his name. "Great," he says. He lifts his chin, and it's as casual as Later, Seeya, Cheers if you're British, not even a little condescending, verbal habit ingrained enough to have become inculcated. "Careful out there. Do you want to come out here?" The latter question, of course, is angled off at Lin. Her answer is tactlessly audible even past the whistle of a dumpster being moved at the wrong time of day outside.

"Sure. Do all your friends look like that?"

No laughter, though no doubt, Astor finds that funny. "No," you could raise an Eden of cacti on that tone of voice, it's so confidently dry and light, "only if your government paid for the nose-job."

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