Work-Related Stress


bella_icon.gif deckard_icon.gif

Scene Title Work-Related Stress
Synopsis Bella and Deckard are faced with potentially violent unemployment and all associated unpleasantness at the realization that they are the diet coke of evil. Just one calorie, not evil enough. Uncomfortable conversation ensues. Also touching.
Date September 2, 2010

Bella and Deckard's Apartment

Let's be clear: Bella did not intend to snoop.

It's just that, with all the dust Flint has been tracking inside, there is surely an aggregate gathering behind his door and the more Bella tries not to think about it, the more visions of a slowly rising dune of post-atomic ash plague her minds eye, a grayish desert spanning the length and breadth of Flint's room, which is his space, she knows but… but…

It's just driving her crazy.

So it's only with the intention of improving Flint's own living conditions that Bella crosses a boundary she, for reasons of basic courtesy and respect, has not yet transgressed. With dust buster in hand, she scoots open Flint's door as little as possible and slips on inside through the barest space that will permit her passage, as if maybe this makes her intrusion less… intrusive? Somehow? Rationalization reaches its peak just as it loses all possible meaning or application.

And once she's inside, that fact that the worst of what she sees is dirty laundry tossed about in a manner she herself is not unaccustomed to employ, well, really, it's almost a disappointment. Plus it automatically invalidates the very basis for her intrusion. But hey, in for a penny, in for a pound. And like he hasn't peered into her space with his creepy power God knows how many times.

Armed with a whole new set of justifications, Bella starts to cruise around, occasionally spotting a bit of grit or a fault in the grain of the wood floor that looks like grit, and either vacuums up or tries to vacuum up the offending imperfection. Her search for dirt may just happen to require her to check every corner of the room, but that's perfectly normal - you need to be thorough when cleaning.

Bella was just shifting the duffle bag, trying to see if there was any dust behind it. Her first attempt to move it, with her foot, doesn't get much done - whatever is in there is heavy. And when she sets aside the dust buster and grabs onto the bag with both hands, bending over to drag it, the clatter inside strikes her as just a little too… metallic. A quick investigative prod is followed by a really proper grope, and then, suspicion rising towards an absolute need for confirmation, next thing she knows she is tugging the zipper open and… there they are.


Bella's first thought is more or less 'what the fuck'. Her second thought: 'Men'.

There was likely some anger, some plot to ambush Flint on his return home, some careful consideration of what to say, followed by a feeling that maybe she should just act like it never happened, maybe even find a way to put the dust back… where she… found it? But no, no, that would be a breach of the trust she's already breached by nosing into his personal space and what the fuck does anyone need all those guns for and…

But it's all moot, because Flint doesn't come home. Which isn't totally surprising or unexpected (and she tells herself not to worry, but she does) but it really steals her thunder. Which having too much time to think can do. In the end, she keeps the dust she's claimed, leaves the bag open, and just waits.

It's late when Deckard gets home. Late the next day, that is. The day after he left to go to work and didn't come back. It's another four hours before he actually drags himself up the stairs and down the relevant hallway, every bristle tuned to sketchy alert. The split over his cheekbone is healing up black; he's clean. Some fresh abrasions at his knuckles and brown stains blotted through the side of his suit leg aside, he looks okay.

The dove grey of his suit's a different matter. It's dirty; water-stained and blotted with the usual ash and grime around the torso and down one side. His tie is missing and the seams are split at one shoulder — the right leg tattered across the same calf that looks to have sprung a leak at some point in the last 24 hours.

Key to lock, shoulder to door once he's raked one last scan wall to wall across the apartment's interior, he flicks his sunglasses down onto the usual crate and bumps everything closed after him. Bolt and chain. Like that'll make a difference. Keys clatter after glasses and he adjusts the sit of his holster at the small of his back, leather gone all salty stiff with old sweat. "Hello?"

He can see before entering, of course, that Bella is sitting on the couch in what has become her preferred spot, the halogen lamp bouncing light down off the ceiling and onto the pages of her book (On a moonlit night a traveller…, if you're interested). Flint's entry has her immediately folding the book over her thumb and peeking up over the back of the coach, in time to see him locking up. The disarray of his person is noted twice, first as familiar, then, on closer inspection, as unfamiliar.

"I'm here," Bella answers, with a simplicity and abruptness that betrays her instant concerns. Is he adjusting his weapon? Wait, isn't he not allowed to have a weapon? Italo Calvino is swiftly forgotten, the book sliding out of her grasp, her place lost, as she rises onto her knees, hands pressed to the coach's backrest. "Something the matter? Are you all right?"

"Something happened at work." Ever questing for the next great understatement of the century, Flint scuffs non-existent dust out've his hair and adjusts himself again. This time on his way over to the windows. So that he can — close the blinds. Curtains. Whichever they have. That's what they do in the movies, right? So they don't get sniped? He doesn't look all that sure once he stands back, Chelsea's outline still dimly visible on the far side.

"Has anyone been by?" doesn't wait for an answer — he's already turning to pace for his bedroom as he asks, discovery of rummaged belongings abruptly imminent.

Yes, that is exactly what they do in the movies, and Bella has seen enough of them to recognize this particular precaution. In fact, this whole train of occurrences seems rather horrible familiar. return home - lock door - inquiry - inadequate response - drawing of curtains - going for weap- oh shit.

It's maybe not so much to Bella's credit that her personal guilt overcomes her immediate and growing fear at the implications of Deckard's behavior. But the very cinematic nature of Deckard's actions makes it unreal to Bella, whereas the many-times rehearsed handling of his discover of her discovery gives that concern way more cranial space. She up off the couch in an instant, next to his bedroom doorway in another.

"I found the guns while…" I was cleaning was the rest of that statement, but that is a line from another movie entirely, and she manages to cut herself off and instead splice in, "I'm sorry. But that doesn't matter now, does it? Tell me what happened." Really, this other crisis is, on further thought, maybe quite convenient and… dear Lord, is that dried blood? Bella's eyes find the dark brown stain, and her brows shoot up. Her gaze lifts to Flint. "What's happened?" she reiterates, and this time she has no real thought of distraction-ploy on her mind. She is seeking information without ulterior motive, for once in a blue moon.

"I dunno. There was a speech. Nobody's answering their phones; I had to ditch mine." Promisingly (promisingly?) Deckard leaves The Guns that Bella found where they are rather than spill the bag helter skelter to sort shotguns and .40s out into every available space. Just checking to see that they're still there. The fact that the zipper is open catches his attention before Bella's confession sinks in and he immediately swivels his head to give her an oddly adrenaline-charged blank look in the doorway next to him. Surprise. Or skepticism. Both.

How often has she been going through his stuff?

He comes down off his high a little after that, scruffy head shook to further demonstrate his ignorance of what the fuck is happening. "Does anyone on your end know we're living together?"

It was just this once!

The stranded hurt in her face communicates this quite clearly, in fact, though of course he isn't by any means required to believe her expression any more than her words, both being quite easily faked with enough practice, and practice she's had. Still, she seems to trust in her tactic defense, though there may be a touch of beseeching in way she reaches out to catch his sleeve.

"My end?" Bella echos, "what do you? You mean my employers?" never named, "I… no. No, not that I'm aware of. But that son of a bitch, Cardinal, he might know, one way or another. Why?"

"…Cardinal?" Baffled state of ignorance squared there, Flint is late to glance after the catch she has on his sleeve, like he isn't sure what to do with it anymore than he's sure about the look on her face. Once he's turned his eyes off and raked around the room once or twice with monkeyvision, anyway.

"I think I'm wanted again." Short and honest and sweet. Chest puffed around a long breath that does little to ease the tension wired stiff under his sleeve, he glances to kitchen and finally back to Bella. Who's been through his stuff. But only just this once.

He doesn't look like he's entirely sure he believes himself for believing her.

"I'm going to have a drink."

Bella's grip on Flint's sleeve grows tighter by two degrees, the first upon his admission that he's wanted - again - which maybe that's better since he knows what to do, having been through the experience before only just how did that end exactly? And a second degree when he mentions drinking. That wounded look lasts for a handful more seconds before Bella suddenly puffs up, lips pursing, brow creasing.

"Like hell!" Bella declares, like a rowdy member of a Temperance union, "you tell me what the fuck is going on to the best of your limited knowledge and you tell me right away, you understand? I will not be left in the dark about this. This effects me! What happens to you effects me!" She gives his arm a good firm shake, showing that maybe she can effect him too?

Deckard's had a rough week.

Escalation of physical contact by a matter of degrees is reflected rather than absorbed; tension latent in his posture shaves off sheer into the hardened angles of his face. He's worn ragged and unusually unhappy, even for being who he is — enough so that there's immediately chop at the surface, any illusion of outward calm slipshod at best. His teeth show. His brow knits. He leans in, personal bubbles of space tweaking under the sudden strain.

"I don't know what's happening," he says. Slowly. So that there's no misunderstanding. "I was chased. I hid in Midtown. I don't know where the others are."

How it is that this satisfies Bella, she herself could not say. It's no answer at all. The only new information was 'chased' and 'hid', which neatly compliment each other as actions, but only add to the relevant questions she would have liked answered such as 'who chased you?' and 'why were they chasing you?'. Maybe it's the upset that finally shows, a demonstration of emotion beyond the range she's accustomed to. That, perhaps, answers the most pressing question she has on her mind: 'how serious is it?'.

Implied answer: 'very'.

Which leads to a follow-up question that leaves her lips only heartbeats after his inadequate answer: "What do we do?"

"I was thinking," says Flint, who has had a lot of time to think over the last twenty-four hours, "of getting drunk and robbing a bank." He says it quietly (earnestly, even), exasperation showing like thin-cracked glass at the corners of his eyes. "We could have sex in the getaway car and then drive to Mexico." There are crazy people in Mexico for her to talk to. There are crazy people everywhere.

In much the same way that it's just like Flint to seriously consider liquor and heist, it's just like Bella to, when confronted with an escape across the border, check her mental day planner. Making sure her schedule is clear, that life on the lam won't someone conflict with her dentist's appointment the week after next. As it happens, Bella does think of something relevant. It comes to her in a small gasp.

"Oh shit," Bella says, hand rising to her mouth, "I just got told by one of my shithead bosses or shithead bosses' seneschals or whatever he is that I had to report to… fuck… to an attorney's office," she searches the lines of Flint's face for some sign that maybe she's on to something that maybe this pertains or, better yet, that it has nothing to do with it at all, "he didn't say why."

"What?" is about on par with the intelligence of most every other vaguely human reaction Deckard's had so far this evening. Genuinely baffled, he's nudged away from muffled melodrama enough to knit his brows at her in dumb confusion rather than slightly malicious salaciousness.
"…Are you going to go?" He has no idea whether or not it pertains. The fact that it might is clearly some cause for concern, though.

"I… I don't know yet," Bella says, thinking out the answer in the pause between first person pronouns. Asking herself the question 'am I?' 'am I?' a few times at the speed of synapse. "I don't know what it's about, even. Just that…" The woman closes her eyes, biting her lip, brows creasing as she briefly flagellates for the sin she holds in deepest contempt - stupidity.

"Fuck. Fuck, I should have figured this out," is the confession that must follow. She releases Flint's sleeves and lifts her hands to her face, rubbing up and down, words muffled by palms. "They told me to stay away from Fort Hero. They knew it was going to happen, whatever happened," she looks up from her hands, up at him, "that's what you mean when you say 'everyone', right? Our mutual employers. The… 'Company' or whatever?"

"Yeah." Her hands come away grittier than before, ash, grime and glittery glass dust all ground deep into the previously fine fabric of Flint's jacket. Meanwhile breathes out through his nose while he watches her, patience straining to keep a thready sigh subdued into subtlety. The variables have changed; he hadn't anticipated that he would have to maneuver her around New York while being a wanted fugitive himself.

The way he looks at her has changed too — measuring not for honesty or intent but hardiness. The same way ranchers look at horses to suss whether or not they should take any particular one out into open territory for days and days and days. That is to say, he's never looked at her ass quite like that. Doubtfully. "I'm now a liability," is what he says in the end, coarsely reasonable. "Riskier than before. If you go with them you may still be okay."

Bella's reaction is immediate. She makes a face like she just ate something unpleasant and Flint is the chef on duty. "What the fuck are you talking about? I'm not 'going' with them," she says, tone pretty well in line with her expression. The worst of the disgust fades, though the furrow of her brow remains, its creases turning thoughtful. "They could just bag me at work if they wanted me. I figure this attorney is supposed to… I don't know, clear my file or something," is that the term? Or is it 'shred my file'? Or 'ghost my file'? Bella's not up to date with the latest skullduggery terms. "So I can keep working for those shitheads. That or they'll use my involvement as blackmail."

Her eyes lift to Flint's again, struck by inspiration, or maybe just inspiration's hippyish younger sibling, hope. "I could bargain for you as well. I'm pretty valuable to them. I could maybe get them to… fix your file as well."

"They won't want me." Homicidal history, friendly fire on his first mission back, medicated, mindwiped more times than is strictly recommended by OSHA, stripped of his right to carry and shuffled into a filing room. Deckard is likely pretty low on their list of ideal transfer material. His eyes stay flatly skeptical — he looks more tired now than he did five minutes ago. "Or my paperwork. At best they're just going to wonder why you're sticking your neck out for the enemy."

She's crestfallen. For a moment she thought maybe she had had something there. An easy solution - rare enough, and worth excitement. But short lived. Bella purses her lips, hands lowering to her sides, then slowly balling up. When knuckles reach whiteness, she lifts her leg and stomps.

Which turns out to be a bad idea. The leg wobbles on the impact and then briefly gives out, causing Bella to stumble, hands going to grasp at the nearest hold, which happens to be Flint's jacket. Grime further coats her fingers as she tries to find purchase on his lapels, an expletive, portmanteau'd into nonsense, spluttering at her lips.

Reflexes on the dull side now that adrenaline's had time to soak away from the stringy tension in his arms, Flint doesn't reach for her until she's already all up in his grill. He's awkward when he does, steadying left hand braced maybe a little too carefully at her side as opposed to any other number of more convenient places to grab. The right hooks around her back under her arm, taking whatever extra weight there is to balance.

His bristlebrush chin tucks down after her leg on that side near immediately, inevitably checking to see if it's the one he and his BFF put bullet holes in not so long ago. His breath smells like — whiskey. So that maybe his earlier kingdom for a drink should've actually been for 'another drink' if she's keeping score. He probably isn't. "Sorry," he says. Grunts. Presumably for well-intentioned manhandling.

That'd be it, if heavily altered memory serves. The bad leg. It's been quite a while, and she doesn't look like she's in pain - the tension in her muscles is all wrong for that. Just a sudden case of dead-leg. She makes a face, embarrassed, rueful, other words that mean genteel shades of shame, and rights herself, gingerly returning weight to the treacherous limb. She glances down at her hands as she feels the grim, and quickly brushes them clear on her pant legs. "Sorry," she echoes, the sound offered not in exchange for his grunt, but almost in indifference to it. As if he hadn't said it at all. Ignoring his apology in favor of offering her own.

She sets herself evenly on both feet, and her back straightens, her full but not particularly considerable height on display. "I'm staying with you," she declares, and in a manner that makes that fact of its declaration clear, words stated broadly, as if to an official person, before an audience. Like, say, a judge and a court room. The way you'd say 'Not Guilty'. "I don't know if we should run or if I should stay and you should just lay low, but I am staying with you."

"Okay," says Flint, too slow to unwind from her despite all that initial, deliberate care forced into not making abrupt close contact weird. Distracted for the same reason, he jags an odd look after her once what she actually said has a chance to sink in. His right arm is still hooked, to make it worse. His left hand hovers uncertainly between their sides while she brushes hers off.

"I shot you," he reminds, in case it slipped her mind. "We're even." Or something. If that's how it works. "I should try to make contact with…" The Ferry. That group he used to hang out with who doesn't know he was apparently a double agent spying on them for all that time and now that's what he's wanted for. So. He's left to look a little blank again. "I think we're okay here."

"I told you already I don't care about that," Bella says, sounding maybe a little cranky, waving a hand to dismiss the whole 'him shooting her' thing. Like it's over and she really doesn't want to talk about it. "I'm staying with you because that is my choice," dammit, and nothing he says can make her give up on the weird pseudo-virtue of that fact, her choosing.

She watches the idea of the Ferry, an organization members of whom would quite probably kill her on sight, flash into being and, thankfully for her, vanish into impossibility. "Are you quite sure? If it's too dangerous I… I mean, I guess I could go. I would… want a… a few days," her faltering comes as she bombards herself with her own skepticism (and common sense), "maybe just a day, you know. But I could. If I had to."

Cranky handwaving for better or for worse is enough to nip Flint into disengaging the rest of the way, all parts of him sloughed back into his personal space rather than hers. Insistent emphasis on her choice finally earns a queer look, but it's short-lived. As ever, judgment is hard to pin under this roof. Especially when it comes to relatively low-key flickers of dubious sanity.

"We're close to Midtown," is reassurance for him as much as it is for her once he's angled a look back at the window he blinded earlier. "If we can get out we'll be okay."

Whether or not she ever really noticed the lingering limbs, Bella gave no sign. This is not duplicity. Retreat into her head is not totally unusual, the disappearance of things as ideas are focused upon, clustering together, however much in vain, into plans. Deckard's own contribution fills a gap in one such cluster, making it whole. Returning Bella to the here and now. Too late to properly notice what is now no longer.

"If the situation changes," she says, seeing him very clearly, her eyes narrowing in on him, "you tell me at once. And no more staying out, or not coming home. I need to know that if you don't make it back… well, that something has gone wrong. I can't be left guessing, understand?"

The scalpel nick of her stare doesn't go unregistered in its intensity — Flint draws up and back further still, jaw lifted out've its accommodating tilt in time with a pull of lean cording through the back of his neck. Not quite promising disobedience. More alluding to it.
If he doesn't stay out he'll get bored. If he gets bored —

"I'll pick up a new phone."

"Please do," Bella replies, some smartness left over from her last demands, spent liberally, perhaps too liberally. Even she realizes its excess and, after a moment, clasps her hands before her, forming a picture of contrition. "I'm sorry. I don't want to… restrict your freedom. Okay… that's not quite true," which is maybe why she wasn't looking him in the eyes when she says it. She corrects this error. "I want you to understand why I would want you to restrict your freedom, for my sake. I worry, Flint. I honestly do. And I don't think that's unreasonable of me. Self preservation hasn't seemed to be your highest priority for a while but… but it very much matters to me what happens to you. So, yes… for my sake. If not your own."

Very honest, very earnest, very open. Maybe she's getting a head start on inducing boredom?

Deckard has a way of not being convinced but not arguing either. It's a belligerent form of apathy, cromagnon through the hood of his brow and the slow funnel of cooling breath through his sinuses while he watches her list from thorny chide to gentler persuasion like a three-legged giraffe who isn't sure where she's going.

He nods, though. He usually does in the end.

That would more or less be the end of it. This is the point where she disengages, taking with her some sense of ground gained, his nod concession enough to satisfy her. Fresh laurels Bella can rest her head upon, earned in the ongoing campaign of Flint Deckard. Not that she would couch it in these terms, at least not without incredible irony.

But she doesn't look particularly ironic right now. More puzzled, or simple consternated. Bella regards her cohabitant along the upward angle their heights demand and then, defying that difference, she steps up and rises on tiptoes, slipping her arms under his and drawing herself into a hug where he serves as the center of gravity. He gets three seconds of this, before she turns her head towards his, says, "Thank you," at a volume courtesy at that proximity and places a very quick kiss on his cheek, not far from the jut of his jawline.

Quick enough again, she seems to be drawing back, her own disengagement, but one that she delays only enough not to make it seemed rushed.

Prone to misjudgments and bad decisions as he is, Flint is easily influenced by his environment. His experiences and post-apocalyptic setting of New York have made him what he is rather than any one pitfall or natural personality flaw. Not that the personality flaws haven't helped.

A lot.

Anyway. The point is that he's tired and there's been a lot of touching. When she rises to hug him, tension through his core doesn't hold for more than the first beat. Before the second second has ebbed itself out, his focus fuzzes and he settles in, passive in a pleasantly inconspicuous kind of way. "Welcome." More than simple tolerance.

Which may not make complete sense until she kisses him and he reciprocates in more involved kind — not anything that could be easily dismissed as a return peck for all that he goes after the same region. The hand he's touching tentatively to her hip should serve as confirmation in the event there's any doubt what he's decided what he's after.

There's an involuntary wince, not at the kiss per se, however fatigued and boozy, but at the abrasive brush of his stubble, something that can look ruggedly charming on him, but has practical upshots what with giving his skin sandpaper tactility. Bella could well permit that slim doubt, a willful sort of 'benefit of the', but then she's got a hand on her hip, which is prep for a whole other sequence of actions she didn't have in mind when she set about to show her gratitude.

Then again, if he takes dinner as confusable with Intimacy, the confusion of actual intimacy for Intimacy is sort of understandable. Or at least predictable. And now Bella has only so many options, and only so much time to run through them.

The first and most obvious problem is that he's drunk. Contraction expanded, he has drunk. Considering his regularity of intake, whether or not he is drunk is something that's a little harder to pin down. But such a reasoning, however true, can't help but sound like reproach, and she's done enough of that tonight.

So she does something else. She lift a hand, fingers alighting very gently on his lips and chin. The other comes to rest on his hand, the confirming one. The one on her hip. "Please," she says, as gently as she can, "not like this. Not-" not what, "not in the shadow of desperation," more florid that she intended, so she adds the simpler, "okay?"

Frustration is as uncomprehending and immediate as it is ill-subdued. His jaw clamps hollow and his teeth show slivered through the spaces between her fingers. There's a ghost of a turn and push, even, unflatteringly reminiscent of a horse being denied direct access to his oats via a similar deflection of the muzzle for no decent reason. Like maybe she's teasing him.

The worst of it's spent out in a snorted breath that heats warm and flat at her knuckles, tension behind his sternum pushed out all at once so that he can set to twisting uncomfortably away into real retreat. The doorway to his room is right there for him to angle for, conveniently, the touchier of his two hands retracted up and out so that she can see he isn't still trying to touch with it. "Okay."

And maybe she is. Teasing. Or close enough. She's have to be stupid, after all, willfully or otherwise, not to know how he'd be likely to take a hug followed by a kiss which is certainly a step further than she's taken before. Then again, is it unreasonable for her to progress at her own pace? Should he not take comfort in that there is some sort of progression, some unspoken motion towards meeting midway?

Given, that only holds if he trusts that she's not going to cut and run at some point, making any dearly bought patience for naught. Something which she seems to be insisting she won't do but, as always, and with good reasons all its own, her motives remain constantly doubtful.

All of which is to say, she lets him go, and not without a certain air of apology, begun in her words, transferred to her bearing. She stays in place, though, not making motion yet towards her own room, nor even the couch where her book lies, her place lost but easy enough to reclaim. "It's just that I don't want to fuck this up," she adds, trying to keep her words from sounding hasty, like 'fine print' on the radio, "and it seems like it might be easy to. And I… honestly am not entirely sure what I'd do if that happened."

The pit of Deckard's personal quarters tends to be dark, which is probably to be expected for someone who only infrequently utilizes visible light to see. His progress inward is more easily followed by the bump and scrape of his boots than it is the one eerily lambent glance he glasses back over his shouler at her still standing there. The bag of guns is shoved with one foot so that he can sink stiffly down onto his cot. Better angle to examine the bits of whatever stuck in his leg.

"I believe you," is a dickish thing to say, maybe, depending upon how deeply she cares to think into it if she opts not to take him at his gravelly word. Technically it excuses her from further explanation.

Her words were delivered with a complimentary expression, not exactly pleading but certainly a sort of honest appeal. When she believes he is not looking (though she knows that part of why she does what she does is because she knows he might be looking) her face transforms into a scowl of ill temper and Bella lifts a hand, middle finger extended, flipping Flint off through the wall.

This must serve as 'goodnight', then, since immediately after she turns, circling the couch to catcher her book in passing with low-flying fingertips, before making her way to her room. Through a door that closes behind her, the living space become a no-man's land partitioning space.

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