Too Terrible


benji_icon.gif ingrid_icon.gif

Scene Title Too Terrible
Synopsis Benji is made aware of Calvin's surreptitious activities.
Date April 27, 2011

Hamilton Heights: Jolene and Ingrid's Apartment

Long stems of jasmine flowers tied with a blue ribbon — the colour of Benji's eyes — sits on the kitchen table, to be tucked under an arm and taken home, wherever home is. It isn't here, at any rate, though Ingrid sometimes wishes it was and wonders if things might have gone differently if she hadn't volunteered to take the internship at the Department of Evolved Affairs and gone to Pollepel Island with the others instead. She could have taken Howard's spot, she sometimes thinks, even if Howard couldn't have taken hers.

She's cutting the peaches she bought for Jolene so the fruit can be turned into a cobbler they can consume after dinner with the vanilla ice cream in the fridge. Her vegetable curry is already simmering in a shallow pot on the stove and filling the kitchen with the smell of coriander, cumin and the coconut milk she used to sweeten it. That she still has all her fingers is probably a matter of luck more than it is a testament to her skill in the kitchen, which isn't great by any stretch of the imagination.

She simply isn't paying attention. "You can put them in water," she's saying. "I don't think they'll start to turn brown for a few more days."

Curtains dragged open don't provide either future child much of anything by way of a view or even sunlight, at this later hour — this wall doesn't face the redder corner of sky, and the view of New York City has never been very good, as long as either of them remember. But there are people in the streets, and evidence of a living city, and it, like the scent of cooking spices, and flowers, and the fresh aroma of peaches, all together, is an alien luxury. It's nice to be away from Pollepel, which reminds Benji a little of the time she came from more so than these nice apartments, even the smaller one she's since found for herself and one other.

Although the food is being taken care of, there's a tupperware container lying open on the table in offer. Cupcakes of vanilla and more exciting kinds of frosting, somewhat messily applied, six in all. Moving back for the table, it's the flowers that Benji picks up, fussing through them in absent fidget, a mild smile on her mouth.

"They used to help me sleep at night," she says, head canted. "These days, it's tranquilisers, or pills. Benzodiazepines."

Playing with the ribbon, she glances for Ingrid's back, before attention drops again. Dressed down in boots, and dark jeans, and a thin sweater of blue not unlike the embellishment given to the flowers. Lighter touches of makeup are, much like the spices and the traffic and the baking, an alien luxury. "How are you?"

"Terrible," slips out before Ingrid realizes she was even thinking it. She dunks a peach pit into the trash and starts on the next piece of fruit. The recipe book she has open in front of her directs her to shave the skin off them before dividing them into portions, and this is the hardest part — fortunately, it's the fifth peach she's had to do it to, and through trial-and-error has been able to more or less figure out an efficient method. There's a pile of fuzzy skins stacked on the chopping board's corner, and between slices she steals morsels to pop into her mouth, like she does now, though it's more to keep her from saying anything else while she chews than it is about snacking before dinner.

Chewing gives her time to think. And to decide that she doesn't want to talk about her parents. "Have you seen Calvin lately?" she tries instead.

That gets a second of stony silence and a flip of black hair, reaching to put the flowers back where they were until such a time that they'll be taken away again. "No," Benji says, fingers moving on to pick at the cord of silver loose around her neck, the icon itself instinctively hidden to dip beneath the V of sweater neck. Terrible is what has a silence lingering between aunt and nephew after curt answer is delivered, Benji pondering the time it'll take for Ingrid to finish slicing a peach, and finding something else to do instead of—

Looking at her. Determined eye contact is made with the woman's back, in any case. "I've been thinking about visiting, but we haven't even dreamed together in a while. I think it offends him, sometimes, like Astor."

Ingrid's knife curves around the side of the peach, taking off more flesh than she'd probably like, and she knits her brow and pinches her mouth into an expression that she hopes disguises her distress as concentration. It helps that Benji is focused on her back rather than her face.

Astor's name causes the knife to slip, and for Ingrid to suck in a sharp breath of pain. A glance at her fingertips shows no blood — she didn't cut herself deep enough to draw it. Nevertheless, she closes her lips around her knuckles and shuts her eyes. It would be nice to be able to talk to Benji about Astor, and maybe one day she will, but talking about Astor is only what she desires to do.

Not what she needs to do. "I think you should," she murmurs thick around her finger. "He's not— doing good."

And now she's cutting herself! Benji's distress has her on her feet, but she doesn't flock to Ingrid to fuss, just drifts closer to see if the walls are now spattered in blood, dinner spoiled and a finger missing. Seeing this is not so doesn't stop her — in tidy steps, she makes for the kitchen, hands out to draw cutting board, knife and unfinished peach away to see to herself.

"I'm more worried about you," she says, skinning the peach with the caution of someone who hasn't just done four, but the confidence of someone who preps food regularly. Ingrid not talking about her parents has Benji not talking about parents either, for all that she might want to — they share family in common, a different conversation to the kinds she might have with Hannah. But her own sharp curiousity is what stays the conversation, turns asking into a selfish act. This topic, for now, will have to suffice. "What's wrong with Calvin?" is delivered crisply.

Ingrid surrenders knife, board and peaches without a fight, retreating to the kitchen sink where she squeaks on the faucet so she can wash her hands. "I don't know." The sound of the water splashing in the sink's basin threatens to overpower her voice, she says it so softly, the words delivered mouse-like and down at the floor. She tucks in her chin. Rubs her palms together under the lukewarm flow.

There's no need for soap. The peaches were sticky, but they weren't dirty, and she already squirted some of the antibacterial dish stuff into her hands during a much more elaborate process before she got started on the curry. She doesn't remember when that was, exactly — she hadn't looked at the clock on the microwave when she got home, and she didn't bother to check it when she rolled up her sleeves to start cooking either.

I don't know, she says, and it would be easiest for both of them to just leave it at that. "He's not himself, Bidj, and I'm scared."

A small frission of fear has knife pausing, Benji hesitating over the process with the knife sunk into fruit flesh before slowly paring off a larger sliver. It wouldn't have occurred to her before, despite everything, but now— "Has he hurt you?" Rarely, Benji raises her voice, and this would be called a normal conversational level by anyone's standards— except maybe Ingrid herself— but it carries some weight now, conveying worry rather than cynicism, and lacking any sharpness of accusation.

The knife clicks against the board as she brings the sharp edge down to slice off the last of the peach skin, sacrificing a chunk in the name of efficiency.

"You're right," she offers, as if in reward. "He hasn't— since we've been back. Here. Hasn't acted like I remember." But some of them have changed. Ingrid, without her mother, is not so much a different person, but has a chance to grow. Benji's changed too. Joshua and Jolene may never change, but that's beside the point.

Calvin has never laid a hand on Ingrid in a fashion that she would not have consented to, had he asked first, but she feels her heart go tight in her chest just the same. He does not need to have to struck her to have hurt her, or wrenched her wrists above her head, dug fingers into the softest part of her throat, or any other number of things that Ingrid sometimes has nightmares about (though Calvin is never the one responsible) — in this case, his words were enough. His intention was enough.

Yes, her silence says. He has.

"You should see him," she reiterates numbly. "Please. He said things— The last time he was here he said things, and I don't— I can't—" Betray his trust, she means. "You should see him."

"I don't want— "

To see him, but restraint, a little late, manifests as sharp silence, eyes hooding and mouth going firm, a hollow dipping above her jaw in the tension behind it. A pause, before Benji tears paper off a roll to wipe her hands of juice, trying to think. "He wants to do things different from us. He's— he's hurt people, since he's been here. On the news, the police convoy that got wrecked in the city a couple of months ago, that was him. He thinks I'm— a coward, or weak, and wrong. He can also manipulate metal. It's dangerous. He is, dangerous.

"There's something in his head that I can't get to. It might be the answer, but he stops me, and I don't like digging." Rather than try to cut the peaches, unsure how Ingrid wants them done, she simply drifts closer to Ingrid, leaning against the counter nearby and trying to catch her aunt's gaze. A hand sneaks out, to touch fingertips on Ingrid's wrist.

She doesn't like digging here, either, but— "Ingrid?"

Dangerous, Ingrid mouths, and it's not a word she would have ever applied to Calvin before now, or Joshua, or any of the people she's come to call her friends, but there it is. Dangerous. She becomes aware of the fact that she's crying again when she blinks and her lashes come away wet. Tears track down her cheeks and she turns off the faucet, not wanting to waste any water, which is a precious commodity where they come from, then drags the sleeve of her blouse across her face, fidgeting her wrist away from Benji's touch.

Against all odds, there's enough eyeshadow left on the corners of her lids that the sleeve comes away with a cheerful robin's egg blue smear on it. It was much more subtle on her skin than the white cotton. "I know," she whispers, her voice finally cracking. "It's so terrible I can't even say it."

Many can describe the feeling of 'dread' as icy. Benji can, and does, but can also attribute the same quality to her own temper, which is less about fire and reaction, but a slow chill that starts in her eyes, sneaks into her voice. The outward effects of anger don't come to be, here, however — Ingrid is not the cause.

"I didn't know— I should have. That he'd talk to— " If not Ingrid, but other people, and she lets in a sharp inhale at her own short-sightedness, a fretful sound, hands coming to fold together after touch is twitched from. Better than recoiling. Breath is let out again in a sigh, shaped brows knit together in worry, before adding, coaxing, "Some things are so terrible that they have to be said. But— " She breaks eye contact, glances for the bared window, shoulders curling in a little. "We could try and talk about it tonight. While we're asleep. If it's…"

Another broken sentence. Easier.


Only when Benji steers her gaze toward the window and the residual rainwater clinging to the glass on the other side does Ingrid look up again. She pulls in a shaky breath, lets it out. Pulls in another. Holds it. Her eyes follow the shape of Benji's profile — chin, jaw, nose, lips — and then the line created by the separation of hair and skin at her scalp. Freckles. Lashes. There's comfort in familiarity, and Benji's face is very familiar.

"It's the 'N10," and although the shakiness of her lip and jaw are rivaled only by the tremors quaking through her hands, she makes an extra effort to enunciate. "He made it so people like me can catch it too."

Disbelief is visible in the clear water rings in Benji's eyes — she believes better that Calvin would lie to scare Ingrid, than she does that he has the power to do something like that. But maybe there's something in Ingrid's eyes, in turn, that stops her from hasty reassurance. A pause, before she fusses out a clean handkerchief from the sleeve of her sweater, moving to fix and dab away the smear of blue that's stroked barely visible in a swipe from Ingrid's eyelid, a smooth smear to her ear like a streaking comet.

She swallows, blinking rapidly. Then: "How?"

"I don't know," Ingrid says, not for the first time today, and she isn't being less honest with each repetition. This time, though, there's a sort of strain pressing up beneath the words that makes her sound like they're causing her more physical pain than grazing her finger with the knife's edge did. Her eyes squeeze shut against the handkerchief — if she were a few years younger, she might twist her face away or brace hands against Benji's chest.

She doesn't. Her fingers form a clasp across her stomach and she bows her head. "He said something about—"

And this is the hardest part: "He said something about hurting the right people."

The cleaning is gentle, keeps away from her actual eye, and slows, gradually, with each grating syllable. Without Calvin there to say it in words, the reality feels like it's on a different orbit, but circling closer, as it must. Benji takes a step back from Ingrid, clutching makeup smeared handkerchief, mouth set into a line at this final confirmation. She hasn't even talked to Nick yet. Hasn't had the courage to do that, or to, as she promised Delia, approach the Ferry in free formality, even as information runs amok, as it must.

Courage suddenly doesn't matter. A former luxury. That Ingrid doesn't know, wasn't told, doesn't provide Benji the hope she expected it might. "The virus," she says. Abruptly distant, as if joining aforementioned orbit, she falls silent, before breaking away then to drift for the window, steps a little numb-footed, ever meandery. Fingertips rise, edge of her thumbnail set against bottom lip and a fraction away from habitual biting, but stops herself.

The fruit on the chopping block waits patiently for someone to return to it. No one does, and maybe its feelings would be hurt if peaches had feelings — this is the sort of thing Ingrid would be thinking about it if she wasn't so preoccupied with the emotions that she herself is experiencing, and the emotions communicated by Benji's body language.

Some things are too terrible to say. Others are so terrible that they have to be said. An apology for not having told Benji sooner does not fall under either of these categories, and she is utterly silent on this matter. Her anguish is quiet. Guilt smothers things like the bravery required to say I'm sorry, knowing that you might not be forgiven.

"What are you gonna do?"

That gets a sound — not unfamiliar, for anyone that knows Benji. A sort of mewl, quiet, wordless protest that she has to do something, and that Ingrid probably isn't talking about the meting out of nightmares.

That's an easy decision to make. "I…" A hand wanders out, gripping the back of a chair near the table, the one with the cupcakes and their liberal applications of frosting, the jasmine flowers. She drags it out an inch, but doesn't go to sit. "I have to tell them. I have to tell them about the virus, and about Calvin. About us, if they don't already know." And they do, mostly, so there is that. The breath she takes in next is shuddery. "We shouldn't have come back."

The chair is shoved back into place with a sudden judder, a wiry masculinity to it that belies gentle voice, the somewhat prissy folding of spindly arms that follows. "How long ago?"

"Twenty days." Accuracy is important when the only thing you're really good at is forging documents — not only because it's a requirement for the work, but because it's all that you have and everything that your reputation is based on. Ingrid is acutely aware of how she was perceived by most of the members of the community back home. One of the benefits of having a mother who used to work in politics is being made aware of these things from an early age.

It accounts for a lot, anyhow, including her hesitation. "Mr. Allegre," she says, then, and this goes back to perception too — hers. "Astor's mom. They'll want to kill him."

Are you going to let them? goes unspoken.

Twenty days is a pitiful excuse for the gun at the start of a race, but it does spur Benji into moving, as if minutes mattered, and as if she were intending to go anywhere important right away. She picks up her coat, and it flares in the movement it takes to swing it around her shoulders, push arms through the sleeves. It's kind of a disguise, flappy lapels doing some to hide the girly swoop of sweater and the tight hug of jeans at her hips, but a thoughtless one. She flashes a look to Ingrid, somewhat wet but holding, maintaining.

"My aunt— " The other one. "— is barely twenty-two. Mister Allegre— has Walter." That would have to do. People must take care of their own. "They have time, to be different."

So the answer is no, not exactly, but it's a low, low priority. "Ask Calvin Sheridan if he needs my protection," she adds, a little more severely. Chilly. Standing still. She has her coat. She doesn't care enough about tupperware to take the time to distribute cupcakes to a plate. But she does go to take her flowers, fingers trembling a little. "If you get sick," she says, quietly, "then I might want to do the same."

Seeing her mother's tear-stained face and the stern disapproval on her father's today has Ingrid wondering whether the people they knew are so different from the people they know now — whether there is time to change, or if the seeds have already been sown and there's no digging them out again.

No one, after all, is trying to convince Colonel Heller or Georgia Mayes to be a better person. "Okay," is all she says, neither disbelieving nor believing. Okay, and that's all.

As always, if Benji tells her to do something, then she will do it. "Astor will know if I get sick before I do," she reminds her gently, though she can feel her optimism faltering, because if Astor caught everything then he wouldn't be an orphan. More importantly: Calvin wouldn't have gotten as far as he already has.

She wipes at her face with both her hands, struggling to think of what else to say. What she comes up with is a simple, "I love you," which is as close to an apology and a goodbye as Benji is probably going to get.

And an I love you back sounds like forgiveness, and tastes bitter even before Benji can line up all three words. She didn't even hear the okay, busy trying not to drip vase water on the floor for all that there's a lot more important things to stress about than vase water. "Heart breaker," is said instead, facetiously coy and a little watery, kind of honest. "Please— be careful?" And that's that. Flowers tucked under arm, Benji turns, makes sharp steps for the door.

She's fleeing, more or less, from greasy tears and guilt — on both sides of the exchange — and only just manages not to catch the tail of her coat in closing door.

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