Third Degree Rats


bella_icon.gif deckard_icon.gif

Scene Title Third Degree Rats
Synopsis Why do bad things happen to bad people?
Date September 13, 2010

A Park

Fall's already arrived in New York. Late afternoon cools early into evening, soft grass stirred around stale pond water made prettier by its flawed reflection of the sky, like candlelight makes people prettier by virtue of its elimination of sharp detail.

Too much bread drifts in the spaces between a trio of ducks because Deckard is bad at feeding them. No single one can slow itself down enough to target any specific bit of flaccid dough; they dive and snip and shiver their zipper-lined beaks after whichever one it seems like one of their brothers want most and nobody gets away with much of anything.

Some four or five feet away on shore, Flint continues to break off increasingly overlarge chunks of Subway crust, no longer attempting to feed so much as trying to actively bounce bread particles off of duck heads. He's in his usual jacket, jeans and boots, clean and fed and in the process of turning his attention down after the ground around his feet. It's possible that the thought has crossed his mind that there must be rocks around.

Luckily, Deckard does not get as far as outright animal cruelty (one imagines the ducks don't mind being bombarded, directly, as long as its food), by the time Bella arrives. She might have expressed shock, and it may or may not have been real, but in any case, seeing a reconditioned serial killer torment animals just doesn't tend to put one at ease. Though it's entirely possible that this is only a sign of him being a jerk. Which is not exactly a development.

Autumn's descent has Bella in her big black beret, again, as well as her duffle coat, complete with real horn buttons. The coat is a crosshatched grey, and Bella's hair is rendered the only real mark of color on her person. She walks high on her feet, in the manner of one looking, and when she spots the familiar stoop of her roomie.

Her pace quicks briefly, crossing the distance quickly until she believes she's risking him hearing her footfalls, and then she slows down, not wanting to be caught rushing. Bella coasts up to Flint, hands in her pockets. She stops next to him, separated by less than a foot, before speaking. "You shouldn't encourage them. Greedy little bastards." Speaking of the ducks, one would guess.

Flint stiffens upright at the sound of Bella's voice so near, spine ramrod straight and Subway wrapper crinkled abruptly in his left fist. If he'd managed to find anything remotely pebble sized, weighted or shaped it's slipped through his fingers by the time he's 6'2" again. Presumably operating off pretty much the same drive dogs use to make stolen food vanish more quickly when they hear familiar footsteps.

He has a similar look in his eye too, indirectly direct when his focus flickers over long enough to take in hat and coat and hair. Out in the water, one duck gets flustered after a fifth piece of bread is stolen out from under its snout and snips at another's wing. There is some harried thrashing.

Deckard looks the other way.

The only color about him is in his eyes and his jeans. His jacket's black. The shirt he has on is grey. So's most of his hair, even if the onset of longer evening shadows is doing him some aforementioned favors in that department. "They're ducks," he says. Because they are.

"Yes," Bella agrees, "they are," forced to concede that point, "And in the city that means they are basically a kind of pigeon which is like a kind of rat. So they're third degree rats. Don't encourage them. They'll think they own the place." She turns towards Flint, away from his feathered friends. She genuinely doesn't like most birds. Something about their reptilian heritage, she things, gives her a mild case of the fantods.

"I spoke with my asshole boss," is the update over which she asked him to meet her here. Why here and not at home, well… "He hit me up for information about you. Had a… mugshot, or whatever, and everything. They are going to try and hit your known associates, too," maybe a little bit because she told them to, but she was just trying to get them off his trail. Slash their trail. Details. "I don't think they know, unless that have some particularly elaborate scheme in play, but I don't know that they will trust me enough not to follow me or bug me more… something."

Attributing the status of 'third degree rat' to the feathery turds still lashing around in circles after a sloppily rotten nebula of bread is enough to make Flint look at them again. Maybe with slightly more respect this time, or at least interest, which is just about — to be expected.

Subway wrapper balled up the rest of the way between both of his hands, he sketches another glance over at her and her legs, like maybe he expects them to balance out the way irritation's hardening into the hollow clamp of his jaw at the tidings she brings. Of his 'known associates' being 'hit.' "What do you want me to do?"

"To stay safe," Bella answers, delivering the words with a tense irritation of her own which neatly neutralizes any sentimentality the words alone might convey. Which is a very convenient side effect. "But I don't know how. I really don't… know what to do. I'm sorry. I'm sort of fucking useless with things like this. Things you can't talk your way out of."

This sombre if somewhat self pitying and (let's be honest) self indulgent little reflection is directed, of course, to the darkening mirror of the duck pond. Only called a darkening mirror, note, because of the nature of Bella's reflection. She's got a little drama in her, despite herself. Only child complex.

But now her eyes cut back to Flint. "I don't know how much time we have, basically. They might never find out, though that somehow seems absurd to hope. But I don't know if it'll be a year or a day 'til then."

"So 'how' is a little outside of your realm of experience. Do you know why?" There's a grousy bristle to the way Flint's teeth show when he rounds on her, abrasively unhappy without underlying threat. The kind of unhappy it's okay to be when you're in the park and there are other people milling around with dogs and strollers and frappucinos. And iPhones. With cameras in them.

"They're going to find out. We live together. Bella." The rarity with which he actually uses her name carries added weight, somehow. The italics help. So does the fact that he's looming. A little. A restrained, socially acceptable loom.

"I have places to hide. You're the one rolling the dice, here."

Even Bella feels the added heft addressing her by name lends his words. She feels momentarily pinioned. Unable to duck or dodge, conversationally. Which, for her, is a pretty grim experience. Her mouth opens and nothing comes out, which is a rare enough occurrence. She doesn't leave it open to catch flies, though. She closes it the moment she notices, the moment she goes from listening to thinking of how to answer.

This part takes her an unusually long time as well.

"I'm thinking of you here, as well," is the first point Bella wants to raise, though the way she says it makes it sound like she has more - or at least thinks she does. "Your living with me gives them the drop on you." As if he'd accused her of self preservation. Which he didn't actually, at all. But the words from looming figures tend to have a sort of Dickensian-Scroogish accusatory feel to them, regardless of the thing said.

Despite her vocal cues, she has no second point to offer. Not that there was a point to that point, much. Instead she switches over to a question which, proving she's not completely shaken apart, does have some reference to things he actually said. "Could I hide in these places as well?"

"I know," says Deckard, who hasn't blinked, or hasn't blinked enough to reduce the overall impression of himself as a six-foot osprey. All descended from reptiles and everything. "I asked why."

He gives her room to actually answer this time, if she so chooses, brow hooded and scruffy jaw at a hard-carved jut to match the poke of his overlarge ears. He is impressively sober, for being himself. Therein probably lies a fair portion of the problem here.

"You could. You'd just be miserable."

"Why what?" Bella asks, sounding genuinely confused now, "I can't answer the question if I don't know what you're asking." Like it's his fault. Turns out stress has a deleterious effect on the mood. Looks like the honeymoon's over, guys. She's wrapped her arms around herself again. That non-existant cold she sometimes feels. Or maybe just a self hug, which is way more pathetic.

And Deckard — doesn't say anything.

She's seen frustration cinched into the lines around his long face a lot lately and she's likely to see it in there again now if she cares to look. While she's hugging herself.

Regret or unease or something rakes his glare off to the side and takes some of the confrontation out've his posture with it. There are still ducks. They are still eating. He looks at them instead.

They stand like that for a while, Bella's own gaze returning to the avians she thinks so little of. Any amount of time spent like this seems like much, much longer than it is. It feels, in fact, not like time, but just that impression of time - longer than it is, whatever it is. Such moments cannot be over long, or else they lose that tension, restlessness sets in.

Before that unknown breaking point, at least in Bella's phenomenological universe, the redhead moves. She steps up beside Flint, and puts her arms about him, sidelong, a little awkward, shoulders still angled to favor the ducks with her gaze.

It is awkward. Flint is more tolerant of people spontaneously touching him for reasons other than sex or violence than he used to be, but his only real contribution is to not pull away. A lot of his friends are touchy. Teo. Joseph. Abby.

'A lot' used liberally, here. Obviously.

He's tense, but less so once he's sighed and shifted his weight somewhat. The ducks are finally starting to run out of bread, greedy squabbling given up now that they have room to circle around and pick off the last sodden clumps.

They can keep this up for a bit as well. Bella's position is not particularly tiring for her, and the rapacity of the ducks provides sufficient excuse for delay. But, again, this can't last, and awkwardness elected is better than awkwardness suffered passively, at least by Bella's measure. She breaks the silences before it stretches any thinner.

"Do you want to go home?"

"Okay," manages to be agreement without being a 'Yes, I want to go home to the place they're eventually going to smoke me out of like a badger.' Or any number of less flattering mammals that live in holes and are federally wanted for ignorance (but mainly treason.)

She's still holding onto him though, so he's still standing there once he's answered, chin tipped up and then eventually down. Duck skeletons and drifting bits of translucent detritus replace the 6:00 sun.

'Okay' seems to be the open sesame that, after a moment's delay, Flint from Bella's grasp. At least for a brief interval. Then she's taking his hand in hers, which is less contact, at least by square inch, but, as a touch overall, not so much 'less' as just different. She tugs at his arm, mostly gently, though there is a hint of shepherding. "Let's go, then," and now her voice is mostly tired, and softer for it. Resignation may drift somewhere between the peaks and valleys of her pitch, though, if so, it's one more out of fatigue than despair. Despair takes a work all its own. She hasn't got it in her.

The wind of her hand and the tug meet mild resistance in the uncooperative lock of Flint's shoulder that tips too slow into progress behind and then alongside her. He's less enthusiastic about literal hand-holding than he is about other more generalized nearnesses in public. Even looks to see if anyone else is looking to see him led along like a mutt on a leash.

Nobody is. They're in a park.

Two buses with one brief wait to transfer in between find Bella and Flint back within blocks of their home. It's only when recalcitrance on his part demands it that Bella finds occasion to renew her tugging. Otherwise she keeps pace with Flint, her hand keeping hold of his, all the way into their building, all the way to where the number 9 hangs. Through the door, keys jingling as they're tossed onto the dining table, Bella releases Deckard so she can stow her hat and her coat, pulling each off and taking a moment to hang them in the front closet. This achieved, she turns back to Deckard, visible now in a dark green blouse and charcoal slacks. "I have a favor to ask," Bella states, a little odd in her forthrightness, just a shade too abrupt, "two, actually."

Feeling vaguely like a rolling ice chest or a kid being dragged to the principal's office by the time they're all the way back inside, Flint waits until she's occupied with hanging her stuff up to scuff clammy sweat off his palm down the side of his pant leg. Vestigial manners.

Nose rankled into a sniff against slightly warmer air, he looks first to the kitchen and then to the couch. Calculating the effort required to move food from one to the other when Bella turns back and starts talking at him about favors. A blank look later, his own jacket still intact, he rolls his shoulder and sutures the end of his last dangling, 'okay,' with another "Okay."

When one wonders what precisely Bella gets from living with Deckard, the obvious answer should be 'a fantastic conversationalist'. Of course, it's not like Bella didn't know going in. And she has the decency not to look bothered at all by his verbosity, her affect remaining one appropriate to the asking of favors. Pre-emptively contrite.

"I'd like to learn how to use a gun," is apparently the first favor Bella requests. And she waits for a response, an affirmation or denial, before proceeding.

Point and click, isn't it? Out've his comfort zone somehow in the wake of walks in and out of the park complete with ducks and hand-holding, Flint's retreated back into the usual sort of inscrutible reticence, now with a faintly dubious cast to the cant of his brows for favor #1. He nods anyway. No reason for argument. Just surprised she doesn't already know how, maybe.

"I have one you can use."

Understatement. One which earns Deckard a gaze leveled beneath elevated brows. One? Just one? Really? "Does it have training wheels, this singular gun you're speaking of?" Bella asks, "I've never shot a gun before." No strictly true. She's fired a gun-like thing just once before - a taser. At a certain pastor. Which, for pretty obvious reasons, she chooses to forego mentioning.

Favor #2 is postponed in its revelation for the time being. Apparently #1 requires further discussion, development, pinning down.

"It's double-action only," says Deckard. Reasonably. He used to sell them. Back in one of his past lives that he isn't sure is real. "No additional safety. The first trigger pull cocks the gun. All you have to do is aim and shoot." More or less.

What's the second favor? is the obvious question resolution of the gun issue leads into. Rather than ask, Flint keeps standing there in a way that may be construed as 'expectant.'

"I don't know what 'double action' means," Bella replies, also reasonable, but on the somewhat strained, persuasive side of reason. She feels its necessary to convey just how not a gun person she is. As the New Yorker magazines collecting in her old mailbox attest to. She really needs to send them a change of address, have it sent to work.

"Guns frighten me. They're noisy and dangerous. I said, I'd like you to teach me how to use a gun." This is also not true, though the falsity is not deliberate. She said 'I'd like to learn', but she meant 'I'd like you to teach me'.

"It means you — only have to pull the trigger. You don't have to mess with the hammer first. There's no external hammer. The first pull is harder and then every shot after that, the gun cocks itself." They're talking about guns now, still standing in the entry, which means Deckard misses subtleties in rephrasing that might otherwise prick at his ears.

"You can just keep shooting until you run out." At which point you're either a scatter shot or going up against so many people you're fucked anyway, if you're alone. He stops there.

"Fine," isn't a lie so much as an idiomatic equivalent to 'whatever'. By the end of Flint's explanation, Bella thinks she knows what he's saying. She also thinks that he might be purposefully stonewalling her on the matter of being taught, which suspicion brings out lines of irritation around her eyes and mouth, lines that, a decade hence, may start settling in and raising little wrinkles of their own, if she's not careful. But since Bella has not interest in trying to batter at Deckard's (presumed) obtuseness this evening, and since the matter of age is a nice segue, finally favor numero dos slides to the front of the topical queue.

"I never celebrated my birthday," Bella says, with little in the way of resentment. The timing was really bad, no one's fault save people she hates already, "I'd like to do something for it," then, trying to leave no room for further (perceived) obtusery, "I'd like us to do something for it."

Little alarm bells tingle at the word fine. Aware that he's missed something now that he's missed it, Flint stirs restlessly up out of his natural slouch, jacket rustling where the rest of him marinates in uneasy quiet. They've gone from semi-automatics to birthdays in a single subject change and are now us instead of I, with little audible room for question or argument.

Deckard isn't big into birthdays. He's old. Also not sure exactly how old. Old enough to stop being interested in birthdays. Especially if 'something' is another affair that entails him sitting at a table and eating dinner off a placemat with wine and everything.

Still, he's aware enough to stifle an automatic suggestion and says, "What kind of something?" instead.

Bella's eyes narrow, though the marks of frustration have ebbed, meaning that this is a peer of a searching sort, not yet certain of what it's found. "That depends," she replies, "on how much I'll regret it if I ask you to surprise me."

There's a queer span where Deckard's eyes bleed colorless and then refocus, quick and slick as the passage of a nictating membrane. Trying to suss out whether or not she's serious, perhaps, according to the pump and squeeze of her heart and the ridged stack of her spine. Really? says a tilt of his brows and a slanty tilt at the angle of his skull. The only things he can think of that she likes are insensitive, so his mouth says nothing.

Not very comforting, Bella will have to admit. Assessment answers assessment, as she tries to make meaning out of silence, a task that she's had plenty of practice at, though it's hard to say how much good that's done her. There is a temptation to prod him, goad him, or maybe just upset him into making some reply. But really… that tactic has worn itself out. Effective or not, Bella's bored with it. The results are too predictable.

So she takes things in another direction. Bella steps up to Flint, lifting her hands and setting them very lightly against his cheeks. She tilts his head back to a proper upright, and looks him right in the eye. "Be nice to me, and I'll be nice to you," Bella states, somewhere between offer and pledge, "that's how this sort of thing works," her own brows lift, expectant, "Okay?"

Her hands are thus in perfect position to feel a roll and knot of lean muscle into a clamp through the hollow sculpt of cheekbone and bristly mandible, loose skin cool closer to his neck. That the implied ultimatum and threat of her 'not being nice' should induce resistance is probably also predictable. It's just usually less tangible.

Up close, his breath smells more like coffee than liquor for the first time in a while and his eyes are cut clear. Lucid. Mostly.

"You tease me like your grandma's pet pekingese," is more statement of fact than accusation, but it isn't an 'okay,' either. "People food. Bark collar. Bows in my hair."

Bella's head tilts and she frowns just a little, peering into Flint's features. Some distant drawer of her mental files is clatter, its contents aflutter with as of yet uncertain relevance. Why? Why is a proverbial bell ringing?

Oh yes. Now she recalls.

Realization produces visible effects, the righting of her head, then clearing of her brow. Bella purses her lips, hanging in some last moment of indecision. In knowing, what to do? She takes a simple route, tilting his head down in spite of his tension, making sure he's looking at her when she says this: "I do not think of you as a dog," she says, with a clarity and earnestness that seem maybe a little out of place with her words which, void of referent, are sort of ridiculous. Not a dog? What a kind thing to say!

But there is a referent. Just one he may not remember. And this further realization spurs on a somewhat less cryptic response. Bella gets on tiptoes and kisses Flint on the lips. It's quick, and maybe not the best way to convince someone that you're not teasing them, but with her hands still clasped to his face, it carries a certain weight. It's very purposeful. Unshy. Her eyes reopen quickly as she moves to catch his gaze again.

"Be nice to me," remains her request.

Void of specific referent as Flint's much-abused brain is, reassurance in that vein makes sense given the context of his irritation. He understands enough to look mulishly, even resentfully doubtful, either of her intent or of her ability, the difference between which is an unflattering matter of degrees.

The kiss isn't bad. A more resilient twitch of tension pulls along the flanks of his ribs but he doesn't try to turn his head or otherwise draw out of reach away from her before or after it's over. He just doesn't try to kiss her back, or touch or otherwise lean in, allowing his long face to be lightly smushed as it will.


"Thank you," Bella says, hands falling to his shoulders, lingering just a moment before returning to her sides, "this weekend, maybe? You decide on the date. But please, before September's out?" Bella brushes some of her hair behind her ear, and half turns from Flint before pausing, head turning back towards him.

"I'm going to put a pot of water on. Do you want something to eat? I think there's enough tortellini left for both of us," she inquires, this being the consideration that stopped her, apparently. "I'll be making some coffee as well, so if you wanted to join me for that, too," she gives a slight shrug, "up to you."

Tortellini sounds like a painter or a ninja turtle. Flint fails to look interested in either. He fails to do much of anything other than shuffle in one of his pockets once she's drawn away, actually, box of cigarettes palmed out and then the usual cheap lighter after it.

"I'm going to go smoke," is a negative in the usual manner of answering without answering. It's something he can do outside. Maybe a homeless person will fight him and he will get a new scar. For the short term, his keys scuff and rattle familiar off their usual crate and he jimmies the lock on his way out, making sure it's closed safe-like behind himself.

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