Who: Dahlia & Cotton What: First meetings, Cotton freaks with sadness OMG OWEN DOPPLEGANGER. Where: Bank of America. When: This morning? Warnings: None.
Dahlia arrived promptly on time at the Bank of America on Flamingo. She did not arrive early, in a show of punctuality. She did not arrive late, in a show of defiance. She arrived at precisely the moment the clock struck nine, and she pushed open the bank’s glass doors before the sixty seconds passed that would make her, officially, late.
She was dressed in khaki slacks and a utilitarian white shirt with buttons and sleeves to her wrists. Her badge was clipped at her waist, and her messy blonde hair was long and loose around her shoulders, little care given to unknotting it in the expectation that it would end up tucked away with a pencil once she arrived at the station. She wore no makeup, and she had no accessories of any kind on her person - no jewelry, nothing that glittered or gleamed or spoke of any kind of femininity. She smelled clean - soap and water and ennui, and a distinct lack of perfume or florals.
She approached the attendant at the safety deposit desk counter, and she informed him that she was meeting Cotton Kent for the procurement of a safety deposit box. Her tone was straightforward, direct, all law enforcement and more order than request. The only indication that it was, perhaps, a front was the way her fingers rucked at the labcoat at her hips nervously, rolling the fabric up, then down, then up, then down as she waited.
Cotton cleaned up well after what was becoming a rerun of rough nights. Maybe he didn't put his heart into it like the days when becoming District Attorney was still a pipedream, but as an office clerk, they didn't ask very much of him or his appearance. Some habits were too ingrained to die though, and even if his suits were now untailored monstrosities straight off the rack, they were still drycleaned regularly. Still kept crisp by the presence of sterling clasped suspenders, and still garnished with antique cufflinks that had been a graduation gift from a once upon a time father-in-law and mentor. Most of the mornings when Cotton got dressed and he put on these things that were still somehow soaked in so much memory, he feigned an ignorance to the weight it put on his heart. But half of these days he didn't even bother to shave, so who was he fooling really when it came to the illusion of holding it all together?
He sighed upon entering the bank, easily running some ten minutes late, but still caught up in the vaguest hangover haze from the night before to think it would matter. Part of him was beginning to resent this Dahlia G. and her lists, and getting rid of the journal felt like a blessing and one less thing to worry about. Not that he worried about much of anything anymore. His mouth was still warm from bitter coffee and the bank's chipper lighting made him cringe when he approached one of the tellers with inquiry over how to proceed for a safety deposit box.. She made some gesture in some direction with a plastic smile to seal the envelope of false pleasantries, but a glimmer of blond caught Cotton's attention from the other side of the bank and whatever instructions the teller was giving him were lost on a sudden flatline of blood pressure when he turned without any cognition or intention to give the girl a better look. Owen.
The world faltered and time warped into something surreal with just that one flicker of distant profile. There was blood pounding like a war drum in his ears and he ducked under the nylon rope for the teller's line without any memory of doing so. Compelled by that single glimpse of her, even if now all he could see was the back of pale waves. And maybe he should have realized it in the chaos of his approach, that Owen never wore her hair like that. That she never dressed like that. But it was her, and he had no other thought than proximity and touch and just anything, anything again. He felt lightheaded somehow, and maybe he'd forgotten to breathe since that first glimpse, when the world turned to mumbles and blurs. When he grabbed her arm, there was no intention for anything rough in the grip although he pulled for her to turn and face him. It was just the panicked ache of too many missing years without her, and now here she was. "Owen."
She was not anticipating his approach, too caught up in the security methods that were being employed by the tellers who were allowing other patrons access to their respective boxes. It was not that she was particularly concerned about the contents of the journal, nor was she particularly protective of the key to the door in Passages. But if she was going to put her trust in a banking organization, she wanted to ensure that all contractual requirements were being met in regards to safety. As such, she was engrossed in her visual assessment, and she did not anticipate the grab to her arm.
Dahlia had never been a survivor of any kind of sexual violence, but the training to avoid it had come at the hands of a childhood of fear, of her mother preparing her for just such an attack. It was an ingrained thing to react to the grab of her arm with an elbow to the neck of the assailant, even as he turned her. The name, Owen, was unfamiliar, and she did not know his face. Belatedly, however, she realized there was no violent intent there, no assault intended, and she stepped back and lowered her elbow apologetically, shaking her arm free of his grip in the process.
“I am afraid you are mistaken,” she told him, water-blue eyes focused on his face, this man she had never seen and did not yet associate with the man she intended to meet at this location. “My name is not Owen.” If doppelgangers existed, however, she surely was one. Different attire, the stance and demeanor of an officer layered over that same, familiar insecurity. But there was no dreaminess in her expression, and there was a world of distrust behind her eyes, the kind of thing that came from too many years at crime scenes to still believe that humanity was inherently anything but evil.
The elbow was unexpected, and just one more nail to secure what should have been a dawning realization. It wasn't her.. but he wanted it to be her so desperately that his fingers sought out the pale sleeve of her lab coat even when she shook her arm loose from his grip. Cotton was a man half dazed, haunted by something that was slipping through his fingers all over again - because with every moment he was noting the differences. It wasn't Owen, the voice was different, some flinch of uniformity in a barely noticeable accent. The look in her eyes was too hard, and even her eyes themselves.. there was something in the color that while pale didn't match the memory. These were not the eyes of young hope in a Christmas tree lot, and these were not the eyes of the woman who'd stared up at him with nothing but trust and love on so many late nights.
Cotton's expression collapsed slowly, the knit of dark brows betraying an unwillingness to believe what was now an undeniable truth. It wasn't her. Even something subtle in the bone structure, he could tell now. She wasn't quite pale enough to match the ghost of such glorious memory, and it made his mouth dry. That flare of hope died somewhere in his heart and slipped to rot in the pit of his stomach. His eyes were too readable then, a timberwolf gray that betrayed everything, nearly watering as he felt the loss all over again. The weight of his own stupidity in ever losing her, in ever thinking she'd let herself be found by him again. Cotton grit his teeth and shook his head, with the dream fully dead, and he stepped back with an apologetic drop of the hand that still lingered so desperately at her sleeve. "I'm sorry, you.." Closing his eyes, he worked out a self-deprecating laugh that became muffled by a swipe of his hand across the dark bristle of his jaw. "I made a call of poor judgement, assuming you were someone else.."
His attention dropped to the badge at her waist, all happenstance, and he noted the name immediately. Cotton took a quick step back, suddenly just as alarmed as when he'd first grabbed her arm. "You've got to be kidding.."
Dahlia watched all of this with a curious gaze. It was obvious she didn’t understand the level of emotion he was displaying. Even if he mistook her for someone else, it made little sense to her, this outpouring of hope, this crushing defeat and loss that transformed his features a moment later. These feelings, they made little sense to her. She had no point of reference, nothing to draw against. She had never felt anything like any of it, and her features were that of a confused automaton, one that was trying to process something without a reference point, without the proper wiring or software. It was like the bright colors in her apartment decor, the ones she suspected were supposed to bring her some kind of sense of pleasure from looking upon them, but which did nothing at all.
“A call of poor judgement?” she asked, that wonderment and confusion making it into the question. “Are you visually impaired?” she asked, not unkindly. She did not understand how it was possible to mistake someone at that level, unless emotions were involved. Clearly, they were here, and perhaps that caused some level of visual impairment? It was worth looking into, she decided, missing his glance down at her badge. The quick step back, therefore, was met with a lift of her head and concern on her features. “I do not intend to harm you. There is no need to retreat so violently,” she explained. She wasn’t an intimidating woman, she knew. The police academy had taught her that very early on.
That said, she had no idea what to say to continue the conversation. Her social skills were laughable, and that was on a good day. She rucked the labcoat at her thigh, and she stammered. “Are you here to bank?” she asked, the question sounding entirely ridiculous to her own ears, even as she asked it.
Cotton's eyes were gray with so many flecks of black shadow that it was like nitrogen swirling in a coal mine, and he searched her face desperately. It wasn't possible for someone to look so alike, they could have been fraternal twins, although Cotton found the idea of Owen with like-aged relatives extremely unlikely. Back and forth, his pupils flicked in the wild oscillation that it took to process this genetic impossibility. The fact that she was Dahlia was the furthest thing from his mind as he calculated the odds of Owen's father having some illegitimate child, but it was the nervous rucking of her lab coat that practically undid him. His gut clenched, and if his heart could just stop now, he wouldn't have minded in the least. Cotton crammed that hand against his mouth again, ink smart fingers roughing up the gristle of his jaw as he tried to swallow down the strange sensation of insanity that was overcoming him. How could this be possible, why..
She was talking to him, asking him something and Cotton took a sharp breath to focus. "No, no.. I.. I just can't.." He turned for the exit suddenly, no other explanation necessary, and that same teller glanced up at his escape with a frown. "Mr. Kent, your safety deposit box?"
She could tell he was trying to figure something out, the proverbial wheels turning behind those dark eyes. She did not interrupt. It was a habit born of being raised by a detective, by a woman with an obsession, one who spent hours pouring over case logs and forgetting everything from breakfast, to lunch, to dinner. Dahlia knew better than to interrupt someone while they were deep in thought, and she just watched him, wondering when she became a crime scene to be examined by a stranger in a banking institution. This, of course, was all the fault of Cotton Kent, with his exceptionally public banking choices. A smaller branch would have been better, a non-national chain would have offered more privacy. She was lost in her blaming of him, trying to quantify the shortcoming of his choice and determine which list to best place it in, when he spoke. “You can’t?” she asked, wondering if this man had an ailment that required immediate medical attention.
But the teller was speaking then, and Dahlia turned her attention to him with cornflower eyes. A blink, and then a look back at the visually impaired man. “You are Cotton?” she asked, and somehow she had not considered possible physical or mental deficits in their conversations - such as visual impairment and extreme emotional fluctuations. And perhaps her cheeks flushed, but even that was a watered-down thing, a soft pale nothing pink, something that aspired to being a blush but lacked the emotional understanding to bloom.
Her attention to detail had him exhaling harshly, and the discovery had him turning with a polished, almost smile. It was an expression accustomed to courtrooms, to police interrogations, to criminal bond hearings. "I am." Any sign of his previous deterioration was gone, replaced by a cool indifference that found its way to the surface. "And you are Dahlia Graves." He met her stare this time, painstakingly focused on the differences in those eyes. The absence of Owen in them, it was not easier to accept, but it was easier to breathe. Wasting her time had had been his intention, and getting out of this bank as quickly as possible was the new objective, so Cotton pushed aside the flank of his suit jacket. The shirt beneath was buttoned navy, black patterned suspenders from shoulder to hip. From inside his jacket pocket, he produced the wine-toned leather of that bound journal. "Are you still inclined to continue in the sake of your experiment?"
Her gaze slipped to his suspenders, as if they were a magnet. The men she knew wore holsters with guns. She had never been to a dance, never experienced a whirl of parties or life under suit jackets. She’d never seen suspenders on a man, and if she imagined them they certainly weren’t patterned and decorative. She reached a hand out for the gleam of silver there, along the elastic, but his question drew her hand back as surely as a touch would have done. “Oh- Yes, of course. Your mental state does not change the experiment.” And perhaps that was untrue, but she would attempt to account for it in all derived scientific information. It was a fault of science, not to reconsider then, but she merely reached into the leather bag she had hanging from her forearm, and she produced the sage green journal with the E engraved on the bottom corner. The key came next, and she held them both firmly. “After you.”
He didn't realize where her hand was reaching for, and thank all for it. If he had, he'd of gone even paler and stumbled his way out of the bank like a madman. But there was a flinch in his expression, it started as a thin line between his carbon smoke eyes. Like he wanted to consider it, but his brain just wouldn't let him. Some things were better left alone. A moment later, his brows skewed in derision, and his mouth pressed into a firm parallel. "My mental state? Please, examiner, elaborate." The teller watched them both with wide eyes that had difficulty maintaining their frozen politeness, and Cotton thrust the journal (his key was tucked behind the cover and onto the front page) at the woman. "A shared deposit box, if you will. One that requires both of our keys to reopen."
Dahlia followed suit, handing over her own journal and key, then crossing her arms, the hanging leather of the briefcase a strange kind of shield in this unexpected bank vault battlefield. “You are obviously experiencing some sort of acute emotional reaction to something. It caused visual impairment, along with obvious physical indicators of distress and confusion, followed by an increase in pulse, perspiration and respiration. It is a normal panicked reaction or, possibly, a reaction to unexpected stimuli. In short, something about my appearance distresses you. I do not pretend to believe that I am either attractive or unpleasant enough to cause this reaction without a similarity to another person. Namely, this Owen you mentioned, who I can only presume is a female, despite the unconventional name choice.” She looked at the poor, shocked teller a moment later. “If you would hurry, please. Mr. Kent was late for our appointment, and we should make up that lost time during the processing, if possible.”
"Take your time, ma'am," he corrected Dahlia in half interruption, and the teller paused with a glance between them as if unsure of what the hell was going on. She didn't ask, just smiled and wandered off. Cotton already decided that he was calling out of work today, and he loosened his dark tie with a rough tug of rorschach inkblot fingers(stained from too many recent entries in the journal). "First of all, officer," he started off with that courtroom snake charm, the kind that wooed Eve onto her preference for apple pie. "I'm hungover, so yes.. the incandescence of these environmentally friendly bulbs is giving me a bit of a headache. Although I appreciate their effort in salvaging energy, it is one of the key reasons I chose this bank. Visual impairment covered. Perhaps my distress and confusion comes from the fact that you crammed your elbow into my throat like a ninja. And as for the increase in pulse, respiration, and perspiration.. maybe I'm just aroused." He made no further mention of Owen, and finished with a pleasant, albeit haughty smile. Like any lawyer awaiting cross-examination.
Dahlia looked over when he corrected, not having anticipated the redirection of her order. She felt a moment’s outrage that the teller listened to his instructions over hers, and she blamed it on the sexism that was still so prevalent in society, but then he was pulling on the tie with those stained fingers, and she found herself staring openly. It was an intimate act, the loosening of articles of clothing, and even years in the police force had not made her entirely comfortable with men in different states of undress. “I am not an officer,” she argued, but the statement was far from forceful, and it had some of her mother’s disappointment touching the ends of the consonants. She glanced up at the overhead lights when he mentioned them, but the look she gave him when she looked down was one of knowing disbelief. “My elbow was a defensive move, caused by your original emotional outburst and manhandling of my arm. The overhead lights are within comfort range, and I recommend water and two Tylenol for the effects of drinking too much last evening.” As for him possibly being aroused, she had no personal knowledge of a man in that state and, so, she ignored it as a possibility - uncomfortably.
The tie unraveled into a long strand, and Cotton left it draped across the back of his neck like some skinny scarf. The jacket was the next to go because while the law office enjoyed his preference for a polished presentation, the Las Vegas heat did not make suits very comfortable. He would to have liked to of rolled up his sleeves, but that meant a great deal of work, considering the cufflinks. It could wait until he got to the car, or his apartment, or until he was high. Cotton wondered about her lab coat, how comfortable she could be wandering around with it on. Surely she had articles on beneath its bleached fabric, although the wonder on such things did not invest any further. Folding the jacket over his arm, Cotton glanced patiently in the direction that the teller had wandered off to. "My apologies, medical examiner.. your tactile defence brought me to assume some form of police training, but obviously you employ self defence at the YMCA in your spare time. My outburst was not emotional, I was confused and mistaken when I grabbed your arm. You looked like someone I once knew, and I should have assessed the situation more thoroughly before leaping to irrational conclusions. I know better, but my current state of dehydrated cognition lacking electrolytes left me momentarily disabled from rationality." His smile this time was smaller, baiting her to be displeased with his response. Before the discussion could escalate, not that he would mind, Cotton extracted his cellphone from the pocket of his jacket and made a quick call to the office. "Yes, Mary.. Its Cotton, I won't be coming in today, I'm feeling under the weather.." A hollow, almost laugh for the benefit of the woman on the phone. "Of course I will. Lots of fluids, theraflu, echinacea.. I'll see you tomorrow, won't I?" The married receptionists were always eager for lighthearted flirtation, and it in this case it worked to his advantage. "Good, until then." A moment later, he hung up.
She watched the process of tie and coat removal like it was something entirely foreign, possibly taboo and certainly inappropriate. She’d grown up with no father, and her unfamiliarity with the non-workplace behaviors of the male of the species were evident in the curious, birdlike tip of her head to the side. Her messy hair fighting with the white of her labcoat sleeve as it slid against it without finding purchase. “I am a member of the police force,” she clarified, because she was not a medical examiner, though she would have been better suited for that profession. "Crime Scene Investigator, if you require my official title, though Ms. Graves will do in this particular social situation.” She paused, regarded him carefully, attempting to determine if he was in earnest, or if he was intentionally misleading her. “Do you grab all people you once knew, that you encounter once more?” she asked, reaching out a hand and pinching light fingers along the back of his hand before he had a chance to realize what he was doing. She watched the skin there, and then she looked back up at his face. “I am sorry to inform you that my official opinion is that you are not currently dehydrated, and therefore your electrolytes are perfectly in balance.”
She would have continued on, but his phone call to Mary interrupted her intended continuation, and she tipped her head in that birdlike way again when he flirted with the woman on the phone. “You are being deceptive,” she stated, once he had pocketed the phone once more. There was a question there, a why? But there was no time for an answer before the teller returned with the open security box, the two items safely tucked within, and both of their keys in her hand for them to lock the box before it was placed in the vault.
Carbon etched eyes dropped to the pinch at the back of his hand, and while the touch was far from intimate, it put a crease in his brow. He was thinking of other things for a moment before that wry, almost-smile returned, and he gave her a new glance. The kind that worked its way up without an uptick of his chin, so that he was half regarding through upward eyes. All smoke and onyx, they were eyes that could be equally amused, and equally heartbreaking in alternating circumstances. "With all due respect, Investigator, you're not a doctor.. and therefore, I don't think you're qualified to judge my dehydration or electrolyte imbalance without a blood test." That doggish smirk quirked higher, playing false ignorance. "But I'm just an office clerk, so.."
The mention of his phone call had him settling into an expression of cool investigation. There was intelligence there and it managed to trace the perplexity weighing in her eyes without detailing the beautiful, eerie resemblance that was her facial structure. "Yes, I am being deceptive." Glancing up with the arrival of the box, Cotton slid his key into his portion of the lock without hesitation and he waited for her so that they could lock in synchronicity. "My job doesn't need me, so I lied, I evaded, and I do not require theraflu. I plan on getting stoned, and laid, and watching CNN for the rest of the day so.. can we hurry this up?" Expectant, stormcloud eyes flicked from Dahlia to the wide-eyed teller, as if he was asking them both.
“You are intentionally attempting to force me to lose my temper,” Dahlia countered, a tip of her chin and a spark of something like heat in the impossible paleness of her waterblue eyes. “I work with homicide detectives, Mr. Kent. It will take a lot more than your questioning of my medical knowledge to cause me to lose my temper,” she explained, but the physical indicators betrayed the fact that she was very close to that indeed, and that was before he admitted to deceit. His subsequent words, however, were not expected, and it was only the wide-eyed teller’s expression that kept Dahlia from allowing herself to have the same reaction. It would only give him what he wanted, and she refused to do that. So she calmly raised a brow, as if she was working with the most difficult detective on the force, and she turned to the poor teller after turning her own key in the lock. “I realize he just contradicted his previous instructions,” she explained, “but he is emotionally unstable. You have to excuse him. Additionally, he is attempting to shock me with his references to illegal drugs and sexual intercourse. He has failed, as there is very little I have not experienced on crime scenes.”
The speech left the poor teller even more confused, and Dahlia pointed to the now locked box. “You may put that away now, please, unless Mr. Kent would like to issue additional contradictory orders?” Here, she raised a brow at the aforementioned Mr. Kent.
"I sincerely doubt you have a temper to speak of, Ms. Graves. You have the function and emotional scale of an automaton." Another small smile at the teller was brought on by Dahlia's clean and concise, although one-sided discussion with the teller. He quirked a dark brow at the woman behind the counter when mention of substance abuse and coitus arose. "Ms. Graves is mistaken, I only made mention of my day's intentions with the hope that they coincide with yours," a glance at her name tag, "Karen." His smile could wilt a field of poppies under the right circumstances, and this Karen seemed uncertain of whether or not to take him serious. Too conflicted to blush, she collected the box and turned in direction of the bank's vault with one last, curious glance back toward the unusual pair. Cotton sighed, Karen was brunette and curvy in all the places his hands wouldn't remember. The idea was amusing, but nothing of true interest. Alone at last, Cotton turned his eyes to Dahlia. It was a mistake, his heart flinched automatically and horrified. He suppressed that with the tight press of a bristled mouth. "I was not trying to shock you, Ms. Graves. If I thought it was possible, I wouldn't even try."
The statement of her function and emotional scale, surprisingly, hurt. Perhaps there was no outward sign of it, no perceptible reaction to it, but it hurt all the same. It was something she knew, herself, to be true, but that made it no less sharp, the point of it no less tipped in poison. The world slowed, and she watched him flirt with Karen with a distanced gaze, attention not as pinpoint as it had been for the conversation that preceded his hard truth. She watched his gaze settle on the brunette’s curves, all the curves she did not possess herself, and she gave him a politely distant stare when he turned his attention to her once more. She would not admit she had been growing fond of their conversations, and she would not admit to disappointment in his opinion of her. Instead, she gave him a polite smile, one that did not reach the depths of her pale eyes. “I cannot be shocked. I must leave for work now. Should the journal and key be returned, as seems to be the case for some, I recommend we simply not open the parcel. Seven days seems sufficient time to see if the hallucinogenic effect has faded. We may retrieve our items at that time. Good day, Mr. Kent.”
At the conclusion of her speech, Cotton exhaled slowly. Part of him desired to ask her to join him, to skip work, to retire with him to whatever haven of forgotten memories he could uncover. But that would be a mistake, and even in his longing and his hangover, he knew that. The precision of her words and the pale sky of her eyes cleaved axes there every part of him and in this moment he knew that he should have done anything more than come to this bank. He couldn't help it if there was a prevalence of loss in his stare when he watched her. Owen. A thousand thoughts ran wild. If she had the baby or removed it, out of practicality. If she was teaching music. If she was playing with the hem of her dress with those ghost eyes on another man. If she blushed so hard it made the world itself cave with adoration. If she still played violin at all. If his child was born, the glimpse of a haunted memory with eyes so pale and hair so dark.. why didn't some higher power kill him, when he still had his dignity? The ache pervaded everything, and even so, he didn't know if he could stand to leave first. To turn his back on this alien that he hated because she was the reminder of everything that he'd lost. Part of him still associated her with Owen, and he couldn't turn.. he could only watch her silently. At least this time, he would get to see her leave rather than returning to an empty apartment. "Thank you for your time, Ms. Wol--" Choking, he corrected. "Graves."
She didn’t catch the correction, because she did not catch the mistake in the first place. She had removed herself from the situation, as she did all social situations where she felt inferior or inadequate. One of her hands rucked the labcoat at her hip, and the other rucked the fabric at her waist, where her arm rested with the leather briefcase slung over it, that protective armor between them. “Mr. Kent,” she said, without looking up at his face, wilted cornflower blue staying at shoulder level and going no higher. Without another word, she turned and left, looking forward to the anesthetizing horror of the crime scenes that awaited her. She already knew what she would be doing after work that evening. She’d been undecided about “handling” suspected murderer the officers from the Fifth were tracking, undecided as to whether to wait to see if they would catch him, or whether to handle him herself. Decision made, she stopped by the apartment for a vial and a syringe before heading to the station.