Think Outside The Box


alexander_icon.gif ben_icon.gif helena_icon.gif

Scene Title Think Outside The Box
Synopsis Helena and Ben encounter each other at Alley Cat; things go a little better. Later, Alex joins them.
Date November 25, 2008

Alley Cat Courier Service

What was once a small warehouse now serves a completely different purpose. From before dawn until after dark, bikes pass in and out the open doors, couriers off to pick up and deliver mail, returning to take on another task.

Although the warehouse should be rather spacious, it mostly manages to feel crowded. At the very least, busy. A row of lockers, stacked two high, covers one long wall. Bike racks for those who prefer to keep their bicycles here - or need someplace to leave them while on break - line the opposite side of the building. There are always people moving about - rummaging in their lockers, little knots of chitchat, trading experiences and advice on routes (or just the latest gossip) beneath the shouted calls for messengers to deliver this package there or go pick up something from somewhere else. There are usually two people tasked with coordinating the chaos of the Alley Cats, a receptionist who takes called-in orders and the manager who sees to the fair dispersal of jobs; a corner of the warehouse near the main doors has been partitioned off to create their offices.

So whether or not she's expected, the facts are these: Helena is or was technically an employee here, and the reason she's waltzing back in is because hey, she'd like her job back and get her bike, which is technically hers either way. She's greeted with a few familiar shouts from the vets of the group, new faces naturally wouldn't recognize her. When Rey sees her he snorts, and is promptly singing the tune of, "Think you can just swagger back in here, Dean?" To which Helena replies, "And how many other couriers do you have willing to make runs through the Midtown Ruins?" The answer - a scowl.

Well, one new guy. They have one new guy, who is presently dismounting from his bike - not the best - and heading for the counter. Bundled up against the cold, Ben's looking a little better - no more wrist brace, and the bruising on his face continues to fade. He shoots Helena a curious glance.

"You taking runs tonight?" Rey asks finally from behind the counter. "I'll let you know." Helena replies, turning to look around the room. She blinks a little when she sees Ben, but it's her only betrayal of surprise. He may have told her he's working at Alley Cat these days, but she doesn't remember if he did. Shrugging her hands into her jacket, she starts to walk toward him.

Ben glances toward the counter, then at Helena. He unsnaps his bike helmet, letting the ties dangle. "Hey," he greets, tone pretty neutral.

"Hey." she replies, her own town casual. Then, "Thank you. For helping Teo and Abby. He told me." A careful shrug of her shoulder, neither dismissive nor grudging, more her equivalent of stepping back across an invisble line of not wanting to presume too much.

Ben blinks, nods, and gives a little shrug. "No problem. Happy to help." He raises an eyebrow, glances from side to side. "You work here?"

Helena grins a little bit. "Kind of. Well, in the sense that I sort of took an unexpected extended vacation, but I need cash, so," she shrugs. "Night runs and delivery routes through the ruins can get you some really good money. How long you been here?"

Ben seesaws a hand from side to side. "Maybe a week," he tells her, flexing the fingers of the hand still on his bike's handlebars. "It's a pretty good job; I like it. It'd be nice working with you."

"It's not bad." she agrees. "Your courier pass will get a lot of doors open for you and you get to know the city." She seems surprised at this statement, but nods. "Likewise." she says, and then blinking down at his bike, she bends a little and squeezes the rubber. "Straightening, she looks over her and yells, "Rey! What do you expect him to ride on, rainbows and your gas after you eat Taco Hell?" She rolls her eyes and gestures come-hither to ben. "C'mere. Your front tire needs a little more air. Was it riding rough for you?"

"That's exactly what I was thinking when I applied," Ben says of the pass. He looks down at the tire and walks the bike toward her. "A little? I didn't think to check."

"Your bike's your best friend on this job." Helena says, as if she's reciting something that got drilled into her. "You have to take care of it." She strides over to a cylindrical object with lots of tubes draping on it, and squats down, opening her arms and flicking her fingers again, so he rolls his front tire between her knees. Reaching behind her, flicks a switch and grabs the tube, which promptly starts exhausting air.

Ben crouches down next to her, watching her actions attentively. "Mostly, I hope it doesn't get stolen," he informs her without looking at her.

Helena seems to realize he's watching to learn, so she uncaps the little hole on the tire carefully, and lines up the nozzle of the pump before securing it. "You want the tire to feel tight and smooth, no flexing under your fingers when you pinch it. If it feels too taut, like it's stretching? You've added to much air. Good idea to give your gears and chain a little greasing every couple of months." She pops the nozzle and recaps the tire. "Try it now." she says, as she moves to put the tube back on the pump and switch it off.

Ben leans over to take the tire's width between his fingers, giving it an experimental series of gentle squeezes. "It feels better," he admits. "Much better. I guess sometimes you don't really notice how crappy your air is 'til you get it refilled and notice the difference. Thanks."

Helena offers another shoulder shrug. "You're welcome." she says, and sticks her hands in her pockets. "Look…so you know, I wasn't trying to be all…divatastic or anything with you." She flicks her gaze to the side. "I've been kind of on my own with this whole thing. Cam used to be in charge, you know?" Her words are innocuous and vague, but she's sure he'll know what she's talking about.

Ben tilts his head to the left, nodding a little. "I figured. I wonder how it came down to you instead of someone else." One eyebrow goes up. It is a serious eyebrow.

"I'm not alone with it anymore. Teo's running things with me now. I'm glad for it." She looks over at the clock. "If you're on break, we could hoof over to Nite Owl and talk if you like. I don't want to keep you." Absently, she muses on the possibilities of the mating of Ben and Sylar's eyebrows. Frightening.

Ben's are sharper and more agile. "Yeah, I can take break. One sec, I'll dump my gear and put the bike away." He straightens up with a thin sort of smile, nods, and wheels the bike toward the locker area.

Helena pads over to Rey while Ben gets his stuff taken care of. "Ben's going on break." she informs Rey. "Well that's just great!" the nebbish of a man whinges. "I've got hot runs coming in from all over, and not only are you Princess Maybe I'll Work, but you're taking one of the newbies off the clock!" "Get bent, Rey." says Helena. "Think of it as me giving him the orientation which you probably massively failed to offer." Rey is reduced some quietly peeved grumbling. By the time Ben is ready, Helena will be positively beaming - she loves peeving Rey. Which is okay, because many of the couriers do. "Ready?" She tries to tone down her grin.

Ben has divested himself of his extra gear; he looks almost normal now, having traded his helmet for his customary knit cap. "Uh huh," he verifies. As they walk away, he notes, "They had me talk to a girl named Ygraine for orientation."
"Yggy's nice." Helena says as they walk out. "Her girlfriend works with us." Hooray for vaguing it up. The Nite Owl's not far, and Helena goes quiet as they move through the street. Her eyes do a scan of the area, along the street, briefly behind, even up above before they head in.

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.

"Yggy and a guy named Brian," Ben says, pausing to open the door to the diner for Helena. He's just that kind of guy. "Who was also nice."

Helena actually pauses a second before proceeding through. She goes for a booth tucked back in a corner so they can keep voices low and talk about shoes, ships, sealing wax, cabbages, and civil disobedience. "One of ours, too." she says. "You may see a lot of Brian. He's kind of everywhere."

"Huh. Interesting," Ben says, giving her a curious look as he slides into a seat in the booth. Little comments can mean so much more when talking about Phoenix members. Or maybe Brian's really just everywhere, he doesn't know. "Did the rest of the activities go off as planned?"

Helena nods. "They did." she says, pleased. "A lot of people were helped. Hopefully there'll be recognition of the difference now." The pleasure drains a good bit. "The thing with the school…" she shakes her head.

Ben's eyebrows go up again; he reaches for the sugar packet container, fusses with it. Starts arranging the packets so they're all facing the same way. "You said there was a split. What possible motive could they have had to do that?"

"I don't know." she says, distressed. "I don't even know that it was them. Part of our issue with them was attacking civilians. It may have been someone else." She hopes it was someone else.

Ben's fingers flicker through the packets. "Did they have reasons for attacking civilians, however… convoluted? They're just kids," he protests, looking across the table at her, agitated. "If it's someone else, then who? Someone against that group specifically, or in general?"

"Any target that'll bring them attention." Helena admits, but pauses, looking thoughtful. "They haven't claimed responsibility, though. And knowing Karl, they would. But there are anti groups out there too, and they're willing to do violence. A bunch of them stormed a library in Brooklyn not long ago, demanded registration cards, and were setting up to execute anyone who had them."

Ben replaces the last packet and nudges the holder back in place. "I don't suppose they had a club name, too, huh?"

Helena grins a bit wryly. "PARIAH." she says softly. "Didn't your Boston bunch have a name?"

"PARIAH were the ones who stormed the library?" Ben asks quietly, seeming surprised. "Really? And no. We didn't. It was just a group at the community center."

Helena blinks. "Oh, no no. Sorry, I misunderstood you. I wasn't at the library, so I don't know if they claimed an identity or not. I could ask others that I knew were there if you're that curious." She cocks her head, and fires off a question of her own. "Was losing your friend the main reason why you left Boston?" She orders cheese fries and a slice of pie from the waitress when she comes by. Obviously she has healthy eating habits.

Ben orders himself a sandwich. Obviously, his eating habits are slightly healthier than hers, which means he's like a health nut. In comparison, of course. "That was the main reason, yeah. Things just kind of… fell apart. I didn't want to be there anymore. I decided to start fresh somewhere else."

Helena nods a little bit. "Same reason I came here." she says. "Of course, you seem a lot more put together than I was. I had barely turned eighteen."

Ben blinks twice. "I'm twenty-seven," he tells her. "Are you legal drinking age?" He sounds doubtful.

Helena gives him a beatific smile. "My ID says I am." she replies cheerfully. But then a touch wryly, "I used to be the youngest member, before the split. Cameron was like the big brother I never had. He always used to keep me out of the center of the action. He said it was because of what I do, but I think it was more him not wanting me to get hurt."

Ben winces faintly, looking out toward the nearest window. "You find people listen to you?"

Helena's smile is still wry. "Now." she admits. "Not so much before. But part of it is - you know, I guess some people, when it's in the moment and you need someone to make the call? I guess that's me. Though when it's more a planning sort of thing? Flaaail." she makes a vague 'T-rex big body tiny arms' motion. "I'm getting better at it, though. I have good teachers."

Ben waits as the waitress delivers drinks. He asked for orange juice. He gets orange juice. It's magical. "Like Teo?" he suggests, picking up his glass for a small sip. It's not as though he's tense, but he's not really amiable, either.

"Teo's more like a partner." Helena says, studying him. She's slowly starting to relax, though it's hard to read him. "We have another group that we're tied to. There's older people, with more experience. I'm working mainly with them. One's ex-Mossad." Helena shakes her head. "She's amazing. And not just because of what she can do."

"Ex-Mossad?" Ben's eyebrows go up again; that was unexpected. He looks impressed. "Huh. Go figure. What's the other group - no names or anything - do? Seems like there's a lot of groups." He pauses. "Or, you know. Three, anyway."

"Their main focus is moving people that the government doesn't want out from under their eye…out from under their eye. We're actually kind of like their proactive wing." Helena sticks to water, but a few moments later and at a brief hush in the conversation, there is pie and cheese fries.

Ben picks up his sandwich for an eager bite. The bike courier thing, it works up an appetite. "Huh," he says around a mouthful of ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and bread. "Alright. If they have need of a medic, feel free to share my number with them, too."

"There's this girl," Helena begins tenatively, "She can duplicate things." She absently snags the salt shaker and dumps some on her fries. "So if you need supplies, and you have at least one of what you need…let us know."
Ben chews, swallows. "Seriously? I'll have to keep that in mind. And the duplicates, do they expire after a while or anything?"

Helena shakes her head. "Nope. I think there might be issues with objects that have multiple parts, but I don't know for sure." Snagging a fry and wagging it briefly before chomping, "I'm afraid what I do wouldn't be of much help to you."

Ben nods slightly. "I won't ask." He rubs behind one ear with a squint before returning his attention to his sandwich. Well, and the conversation. "I always find that interesting. The different things people are capable of, the limitations, the practical uses."

"You have to think outside the box." Something she new, but also something she learned from Claude. "A lot of people seem to think that what they're capable of is insignificant. It's really just a matter of figuring out the application."

Ben smiles faintly. "You say that, yet you just told me you thought what you can do wouldn't be much help to me."

Helena grins. "Point." she says, and offers him a fry. "And actually, maybe there could be now that I think about it, but it'd be for a very specific situation."

"I knew a girl who could turn things purple," Ben tells Helena with a bit of amusement.

If Ben does not take the fry, Helena withdraws it! "Really?" she asks, and then eyes him sidelong. "You're pulling my leg."

Ben hesitates, then takes the fry. The pulling away of the fry made him want it, perhaps. Or he didn't quite notice it before. "I'm not kidding. She could turn things purple. She used to joke she'd track down Prince and offer her services."

Helena surrenders the fry. She laughs a bit. "Well, if the concerts were outdoors, I could be of service." She snags her fork and goes for pie. "Why did you get involved in all this? If you don't mind my asking. Do you have family, someone you care about who's," she circles the fork a little, "You know?"

Ben takes the fry and eats it; and it is good. His smile fades a little, but doesn't entirely disappear. "Nate. Originally, anyway. I met others I liked, but I wasn't involved at all until Nate needed someone who knew medical basics. So he called me up. We were roommates in college. He's responsible for encouraging what social graces I have."

Helena smirks. "So any of your charm is owed totally to him?" she asks. She's seated way in the back at a booth with Ben. They're getting along, and it's not a sign of the Apocalypse.

Ben goes for his orange juice. "Pretty much. I didn't so much speak before, so… I suppose whatever comes out of my yap, he's to blame for that, too."

"What did you ever manage as to girls," she mock-tsks, adding, "Or boys, my side of the booth is a non-judgey side, mmkay?"

Speaking of that….in slouches Al, in army parka, watchcap, and fatigues, though he's pulling off the cap to expose a scalp buzzed nearly back to the skin. He's shaved his head again, and all that's left is that copper shaving stubble.

Ben clears his throat gently, has another sip of orange juice. "I had a steady girlfriend for a while," he admits, raising an eyebrow at her. "Medical school takes up a lot of time, though."

Helena mms in sympathy. "So does all of this." she says quietly. Someone at the entrance catches her eye. "There's Alex. Do you mind if I invite him over?"

"I remember him," Ben says, glancing over; he nods to the guy, then to Helena. "Feel free. No objections here."

Just what Al's been waiting for. His hesitation evaporates, and he strides confidently over to them, that fox grin beginning to appear on his face. "Hey, kids," he says. "What's the news?"

"I went back to Alley Cat to see if I could get my job back," Helena says, "And guess who I bumped into?" she indicates Ben. She's got two plates in front of her: cheese fries and cherry pie. Strange girl.

"I was at Alley Cat," Ben confirms for Alex in dry tones. "Now I have a sandwich. Hi."

"Good to see you again, man," Al says, with good cheer, dropping into a free seat, and then eyeing first Helena, then the food, then Helena again.

Helena rolls her eyes, and plucks three of her cheese fries off the plate to hand to Alexander. "And now he has a sandwich."

"And orange juice," Ben supplies, holding up his glass. Cheers.

Alexander devours the offered fries in neat bites, before mumbling his thanks. "Congratulations on your sandwich and your juice," he says to Ben, after a hasty swallow.

"I mustn't forget the oj. Very important." Helena provides. "We're sharing deep dark secrets. Ben was just telling me about how and his girlfriend used to flash Harvard Square."

Ben blinks twice. "…Only not," he tells Alexander. "She liked performance art, but there was no flashing. As far as I know. I wasn't involved in it, in any case."

Alexander notes, cheerfully, "I been to Boston. Nice town. Small and clean by comparison to here." He fishes a menu out of the rack at the end of the table, the better to run his eyes over it. Presumably he intends to buy himself food of his own.
Helena tsks. "Don't diss. I heart New York." She slices the crust off her pie and nudges it toward Alex. Because she's generous. "Performance art, huh? But med school made you break up? Or your other stuff?"

"Mostly film," Ben supplies, picking up his sandwich again. "It was time, and we just kind of got s… why are we talking about my past relationships?"

"Because she's nosy like that," Al explains, as the waitress darts by, and pours him coffee. "And I wasn't dissing. No place like New York, but yo know Boston," he says, matter of fact about it all.

"I am." Helena admits. "But how are you liking New York, anyway?" She prods Alex in the ribs, her air very younger sister-ish.

Ben shakes his head a little. Right. He has another bite of sandwich, shrugs a bit. "It's a city. It's big. It's… kind of amazing, kind of horrifying, all at once."

Alexander takes the offered pie crust, and wolfs it down. "I once started out to walk around the world but ended up in Brooklyn. That Bridge was too much for me," he quotes, gravely, blue eyes rather dreamy. He gives Helena a doggish grin at the elbow prodding.

This leaves Hel with nothing but pie, a prospect she is pleased with. She starts to attack it in earnest and says, "Folks come from all over, though. I seem to attrack Italian boys like a magnet. I think it's the blonde hair." She's not entirely joking. To Ben, "Depending on how curious you are, I can show you around. Some of Staten Island is pretty interesting."

"I've been doing some poking, though I imagine it's safer with company," Ben tells Helena, finishing his sandwich. He looks to Alex. "Where are you from originally, if you don't mind my asking?"

"Outside Savannah, Georgia," Al says, lazily, leaning back and draping his arm along the top of the booth back. "Lived there until I moved up here, never really been anywhere else 'cept Iraq." It comes out 'Eye Rack', as if he were exaggerating the drawl, just a little.

"Depends on what you're looking for." Helena reaches out and idly rubs Alex's head, like she's curious about its texture now that he's shaved it all off.

"Military, huh?" Ben asks of Alex, going for his orange juice again. "What brought you to New York?" Helena's given a sort of half-shrug. He doesn't know what he's looking for.

It's the usual velvety nap of stubble. "You rubbin' that for luck?" al wonders, but he doesn't seem to mind. "All the remaining family I had in Georgia died, so I came up here to live with my kin, and so I did until the bomb killed them. I was. I was Army for a few years."

"It feels funny." Helena observes absently, tracing her finger briefly in a swirl pattern before she goes back to her food. She can be bizarrely tactile. "We've got a few ex-military." she remarks between bites of pie.

"So did we," Ben tells them, leaning back in his seat. "It was pretty useful. They taught most of us basic self-defense, that sort of thing."

It provokes a stifled shiver, though Al affects to ignore it. "I like to think Ah have mah uses," he says, lips quirking in one of those sphinx grins. The waitress reappears, like a rather frazzled looking genie. "I'll have the matzoh soup, and a ham sandwich," he requests, before noting, "You should take a break, doll. You look about wore out."

Helena looks over at Alex amused. "Matzoh soup and a ham sandwich? There's nothing ironic about that at all." She nods to Ben. "That's how I got most of my initial training. That and just thrashing and scratching and biting and doing just about anything to not let someone get their hands on me, when I first got to the city. I'm a little less girl slapfighty now, thank goodness."

Ben's eyebrows go up again. "You guys get into scuffles often?"

'Not as often as we once did, considering." He slants Helena an impish look. "I know. cover your eyes, darlin'." Al sits up again, resting his weight against the edge of the table to doctor his coffee heavily.

Helena gives a mild shrug. "We're going to need it." she says. There's a reason why Hana's on board to train them.

Ben checks his watch and starts digging his wallet out of one of his jacket's pockets. "Break time's over five minutes ago, I think —- I gotta run if I wanna eat this week. You guys take care."

"You, too," Alex says, spooning a last fraction of sugar into his coffee, and nodding sleepily.

Helena blinks at Ben a moment and then says, "Sure. See you. If you're ever inclined, maybe we can partner up on a run sometime." With that, she seems content to remain with Alex. She nudges him again. "Drink more coffee."

Ben adjusts his knit cap and nods. "Maybe," he tells Helena. He hauls himself out of the booth, having left some money, and heads for the exit.

Alexander takes a generous mouthful of the coffee, though it's mostly sugar and cream, right now. "Working on it, angel," he says, amiably.

Any additional notes fall to the bottom.

November 25th: Expletive Deleted

Previously in this storyline…

Next in this storyline…

November 25th: Knitting Needle Stab Wounds
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