|MJ's a little (flirty) wrote in doorslogs,|
@ 2013-05-29 15:38:00
|Entry tags:||cassandra cain, cheshire cat|
Who: Thea Wells & Lin Alesi
What: Thea returns from the beyond, Lin is unprecedentedly domestic, there are snugs
Where: Lin’s place
When: Recently, after this
Warnings/Rating: Some swears, eggs.
Passion Pit was stuck on repeat. Lin didn’t notice. The Captain pulled into its usual spot in front of Meridian’s solid, middle-class buildings clustered close and the boy driving the beast stared at the dark brown dashboard, at the nicks and dust on it, for a good two minutes without cutting the engine or the lights. His eyes were unseeing, though they seemed to consider the poor state of his car. Magical, impassioned keyboarding was happening at a high volume, enough to shake the laminated safety glass of closed windows, and still Lin didn’t notice. He was busy sucking his bottom lip.
Finally, as the song reached its crescendo and there was a lot of ‘do-do-do-do-do’-ing happening, he blinked. That did the trick. His mind seemed to settle back into the skinny body propped in the driver’s seat after that and palms felt at the combed cotton corduroy of his maroon trousers with a sense of remembering. Right. The seatbelt unclicked with a dull metal-on-metal denture snap. Teeth of the keys scraped clean of the ignition. The music died. The car died. The lights went down.
Lin slapped a hand over his eyes in an attempt to, you know, groan and hate life, but instead, he ended up hitting himself in the face with a fist-sized wad of not-so-thin serrated brass, jingly dangling baubles of plastic and rubber gleaned from gas stations around the country, and a lanyard boasting the name of Stanford in red and evergreen that whipped into his ear. It hurt. But at least his eye hadn’t gone the way of an olive in a martini glass. What do we say to martini’d eyeballs, Arya? Not today.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” swore the boy with the tired vehemence of a long night followed by a long day. He’d gone straight from the hotel to work, where he’d had to stay late, and he was ready to be home and not in pain because of his fucking keys. He rubbed at his injured cheek with his free palm and the door swung open with the metal creak of grandparents’ cars. He locked the shit after grabbing his shoulder bag and phone, then began his sojourn to the front door, up the path lit only by black-headed, squat, solar-powered things that shone a yellow that was way too reminiscent of the ‘50s. The heat of the night, lying close to the skin at the back of his neck and bare arms, stuck his t-shirt (black, cotton, fitted, emblazoned with the grill of a pink ‘60s cadillac with an equally pink license plate reading ‘RENO’ and, higher on the chest, the words ‘HOT AUGUST NIGHTS’ in a waving yellow-orange (thanks, Dad)) uncomfortably to his back, straight down the razor of his spine. He tugged at the shirt by the collar, hoping to shake it loose. No such luck.
He gave up, ran a hand through black hair already in disarray, and took, instead, to singing to himself and, yes, dancing as he made his way up the dry walkway. It was a shuffling move, shoulders held high and feet doing their thang. He imagined the clarinets and the drum machine. This was a nightly routine, that much was obvious from the well-practiced moves and the way Lin didn’t bother to look up as he went.
“—John Wayne ain’t got nothin’ on my fringe game, hell no. I could take some Pro Wings, make them cool, sell those. The sneaker heads would be like, ‘aw, he got the vel-’” The next words, the chorus, never followed. Lin almost tripped over the stairs up to the building because some fucking jackass was sitting on them, quiet in the ill-lit parking lot, not doing much by way of warning against the oncoming collision. The boy caught himself, though his legs tangled in the creepy sitting person’s for a second. Thankfully, he didn’t drop his bag, which contained his fucking phone and computer. He stumbled backward over the sandy cracks of cement. “The fuck are you doing out here, asshole? Do you not understand how much I don’t want to die on a fucking sidewalk?”
Lin squinted in the dark. He saw the shining paleness he’d missed however many weeks ago and he almost smiled. But he frowned instead.
She was a tangle of limbs that unknotted themselves, ghost pale hands and the water-ripple of long hair in that instance, a miserable angularity of sharp corners and edges that moved with an alacrity that was all geometrical understanding of his own trajectory back toward sidewalk, to stumbling; the cement of the steps was there, suddenly visible, and a litheness to all that movement that was not Thea at all but perhaps a little of rooftops and training, of working with darkness in a way that worked to them both. She shifted - sideways, a graceful little collapsing in on self that absorbed once again all those parts of her that caught the light, except now it became obvious that it was scuffed sneakers on stone step that was the trickle of grayish white beneath the blue-black of lightless sidewalk night, she was inky dark in jeans, in the same thin sweater that she’d worn three weeks prior, trying to swan-dive from a roof.
She didn’t say anything sharp and rude about dancing, there was nothing quiet but distinct from the steps themselves; by pressing against the railing, she had made enough room for passing and that, it seemed, was Thea’s grand comment on the world, on life, on Lin’s ability to execute a soft-shoe shuffle or otherwise: nothing at all. He had tripped firstly by catching bony knees and skinny legs into a mismatched jigsaw that tangled both and suited either and the bag - a heavy, immoveable sort of object weighted down with the kinds of books suited to studying calculus with a movie and a whole lot of Lin A - as a secondary but by no means impossible follow-up.
She was chin in hands, up close, elbows on knees; the voice when it came (a good three minutes or so after the making room) was husky, as if she hadn’t used it in a long enough time that it creaked a little. That, or she’d been crying.
“You don’t have to be so melodramatic.”
Lin straightened himself on the sidewalk in all his five feet and eight inches of glory and brushed invisible dirt and very visible irritation from his shoulders with fingers extending from a palm that had gone clammy from that blink of fear. He swung his bag to the front of his body in a practiced move and inserted himself next to the milk-white girl on his front steps, saying nothing to puncture the safety net of silence that, while it suffocated him, seemed to protect Thea as an eggshell, a thin thing coated with a membrane, but not nothing. Cars went by in mechanical breaths and rubber on asphalt at speeds well over that posted on the white and black sign just outside of the entrance to Meridian and the night sighed around them as nights do, crickets in parched grass, leaves skittering around ugly puddles of congealing oil. The sounds of the world moving bore down in a soft cacophony, but Lin said nothing.
His own frustration or whatever it was that had weighed him down so in the car ebbed in the tidal pull of another person.
The sharp points of his elbows notched into his thighs and he looked sideways at the apparition of his friend. He couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to her, and if she was okay now. He observed her clothes and knew they were those she’d been wearing that day on the roof, the memory of said day still bright and all points in his mind. The sky had been a purpling bruise. The day had been dry. He shook his head.
When she finally hatched from the quiet, precocial and downy, butter fuze and all, Lin almost started. Luckily, however, he did not, which was good, because he really didn’t feel like falling down the stairs and dying on the sidewalk, as he’d mentioned before. That’d just be lame.
“Yes, I do.” He leaned his cheek into his palm as he faced the girl with a twist of spine, purposefully speaking in a very matter-of-fact fashion. You know, contrast humor. His eyebrows were high. He cleared his throat and stood then, grabbing the wrought railing for help. He held a hand out to Thea à la Aladdin to Jasmine (‘do you trust me?’) then and waited expectantly. “I don’t want to freeze to death either.” It was hot as balls outside, but the sentiment was true enough, and it was melodramatic, so there. “Come inside so I can berate you for letting my ship sink earlier today, you jackass. I mayday’d three times just like I was supposed to and everything.”
The boy smiled then, mentally elbowing the worry from his face. She didn’t look much like she was in the mood for joking, but that didn’t stop Lin from trying.
He had been warm, the solid line of his thigh (Lin was thin enough for hipster jokes, for child-size clothes and whippet-delicacy but he was solid in a way Thea appreciated and lacked, a certainty that he existed in the world and that he would indent it by his existence, even if he did so in fucking awful t-shirts and brightly colored shoes) nestled close enough for heat to seep across the gap sat there on the step. Thea minded him moving in that minute, she curled fingers against the washed-worn cotton of his shirt, a drag-anchor of palm and vague clutching fingernails but he was upright, and his hand was extended. Lifeline. He had one. She’d read a book about it once, palmistry. It was mostly bullshit, Thea thought, but when you were sat at the back of a dusty store, reading before you were caught gulping down the stock in a glorious, page-flicking rush, it caught on the synapses, tangled with memory.
“It’s not freezing,” she said, because it wasn’t and the words were flatter than she meant them, dampened down. Perhaps Gotham had reached her through Cass, all that sleepless caring compressed out of her own, a long spider-thread that connected them across a door. She looked at him, palm flat in front of her, and she slid the tips of her fingers across it; they were cool, despite Vegas-warm. “I didn’t let your ships sink,” Thea shrugged, bony shoulders hunching ever higher, “How would I even know if they were sinking?” Unfolding was the pin-prick of sleeping legs and arms; she’d been sat there so long she’d forgotten when she’d begun. The sky had darkened around her, that much she recalled.
“I didn’t say it was freezing. I said I didn’t want to freeze to death,” pointed out the boy on the sidewalk with a tip of the head and a smug smile, because he knew very well what words came out of his mouth, and he liked it when he got to tighten them like a tripwire across a corridor and watch what happened. Not that he could truly, fully relish in his own very definite, totes absolute genius, because Thea... Thea was 2-D. She felt 2-D. There was no volume to her, nothing that denoted shading or feeling or really anything beyond pale eyes of pastel and skin like chalk on charcoal. There was little beyond a stretch of cold fingers caught in Lin’s hand. His palm was as dry as the desert that drew out around them in a wasteland of bodies, of cold cathode gas-discharge lights, sealed tubes of neon, helium, and inert gasses electrified, and of so much sand. He blinked. He hauled the girl to her feet, though she was little more than skin sliding over bones.
Why she was here, he didn’t yet know, but it was obvious something was wrong. She was pensive, blue eyes watered down, hair lank. Whatever had happened in the three weeks since he’d seen her, it obviously hadn’t been good.
Lin’s fingers closed around the back of Thea’s hand lightly, but he didn’t let go of her yet.
“You did let them sink. A man died. I told you. I said mayday three times. I texted you, hater.” It was a quiet series of words, each less heartfelt than the last, until finally Lin stood in front of his friend with a rare, honest expression of concern bending his eyebrows toward one another and tugging the corners of his mouth down into a frown. He was wary, but he relinquished her hand and lodged a key in the door. “Come on.”
He walked inside with his bag catching on the doorjamb because that was how his life went. Once getting it loose and once the keys were tossed into their bowl, he stepped back to allow Thea entry.
Mayday. May day. Venez m’aider. Thea didn’t think she was the right person for anyone’s aid, even if it had been three times over in a text message on a phone she’d not had through a door but the flitter of something almost a smile surfaced, ripples on a standstill pool. She’d spoken French once; it skipped together like hopscotch, all elisions in apostrophes - his palm was warm, warm like Vegas, dry as sand. Thea’s fingernails butted up against the base of his fingers, delicately she latticed hers through his. Squeezed.
“A man died? Which man?” Maybe if she spoke more, her voice would warm up, stretch itself out. Her mother had done voice exercises once. Stood behind a door, she’d watched, the invisible audience all applauding politely as her mother whooped and stretched and then was sick, forcefully. When Madeline talked about nerves, she was delicate about it, the implication of things that could be broken. It was more guttural than that, Thea knew. It came from somewhere that didn’t snap. Perhaps, through a door, she’d snapped. It was possible. The smile glinted, subsumed beneath the surface once again. “I didn’t have my phone.” She didn’t need one, in Cass’s world. No phones. Communicators, buzzing in one another’s ears.
Lin’s home was warm, bright colors and low lights and the familiar reached out with friendliness and soaked itself into her skin, like water painting her in a shower. Thea dropped her bag, it fell with heavy tome-weight to the floor by the door: familiar. Same. Real. She kicked off one sneaker, and then the next, and she walked without invitation and without prompting (shaking his hand loose) to the couch, to her side (the side hers via an accumulation of times that meant it was hers by proxy, by colonization) and curled there, knees to chest and hand looped around wrist to link them all together.
“Lin?” Her voice drifted. “Can we have tea?”
The mirage of a smile was, if fleeting, and if only a phenomenon born of thirst, light, and heat, a Fata Morgana—layers of light arcing as they passed through air layers of different temperatures, thermal inversion in which an atmospheric duct has formed. It was real. It wasn’t a hallucination. It was simply an a green flash, truth changed in the air. The differences between the two—illusion and phenomenon—were vast enough to warrant secernment. Lin’s own grin flashed back by way of sun glinting on sand, and then they were inside, and the door was closed, the lock shot home with a sound that, to the boy’s ears, meant safety.
“Me,” he answered in his low voice, kicking his shoes off with practiced carelessness. They puddled together, toes over toes. It was simple. He didn’t impose any more melodrama—there was no flailing in invisible water, no lung-wringing cough, no drowning. Theatrics weren’t on the menu tonight. Everything was subdued, including the kid in the cadillac shirt. As much as he could be. He buzzed down the arrowshot of a hallway, settling his own bag in the squat old-page yellow chair in the space between kitchen and living room. He passed a hand over his face, a glimpse, perhaps, into the exhaustion he felt but didn’t show, and circled around the barstools, shuffling over linoleum tiles the color of mint leaves. “Tea? Sure.”
Glancing over the black laminate countertop, he watched Thea slide onto the couch, the smooth butter of her hair tucked over her shoulder, just as it had before, just as she had before. He wondered again what was up, but decided it could wait until she had her tea and he... probably had some fucking tequila. Like an entire bottle. Lin grabbed his percolator and opened it under the faucet. (No teapot here. Well, there was one, but that was dusty and forgotten in a cupboard above the fridge.) He set the plastic thing back on its base and flipped the on switch.
“Whatcha want, girl?” He didn’t drink tea very often. Not often enough to really need the several, ...several boxes of Yogi tea that were stacked like those cool-ass, colorful containers in a construction zone—you know, the ones that look kind of like blocks? Whatever—but, Rose had stayed with him for nearly a month, and she had bought, then subsequently left behind, all fucking manner of motherfucking tea. Lin was now loaded. With tea. Which was exactly what he dreamed of being loaded with as a child. Oh, yes. What do you want to be when you grow up? A person with an entire cupboard of tea! I want to be the Scrooge McDuck of that tea brand with the fortunes on the back. “How about... a black one.”
Lin smiled at the box that had some weird-ass name he didn’t care to read and shook it in the air for Thea to see.
They drank tea in Russia. They drank it from leaves, the electric samovar a replacement for the ornate and fiddly one that stood in the corner of the living room like a warning or an urn for someone cremated or just an extreme and obscene ornament; Russia, we like our tea. They drank tea in China, too - in France, it was coffee. It had been coffee. In France, tea was vaguely suspicious, and came as a cup of hot water, tea bag optional, served on side. Tea was consistent, it was the kind of thing you could press up flat against your palms and think over and no one assumed you didn’t know what to say or ought to know something to say. You were communing. With tea.
“I don’t care,” Thea said and it was smoothed out calm, the patience-restored of sliding her hands between the slope of the seat cushion and the back of the couch itself, the pressure of cool fabric, of her own weight on the couch, the gaps and crevasses in Lin’s place almost as enjoyable as the place itself. There were places you could leave things. Forget things. Come back to them. She swung her feet up onto the couch proper, nudged her toes next to the cushion, and then - perhaps he didn’t know tea at all.
She was socked feet on linoleum, silent dance around him that was white-cotton gavotte over mint-tiles; she’d learned the layout of his kitchen, Lin was habit, things where they could be found. Tea - two mugs, assumption made and marked with pottery in hand - a vague sort of hip-check as she slid between him and the counter, wraith-dance as her hair smelled of smoke, of things burning, of dust and the hotel itself. It clung to her, that unpleasant gone-away smell; under the defined light, color was beginning to pick itself out in the watercolor wash. “You don’t make it right,” she said, calmly, by way of explanation as she scooped her own mug into her hands, and padded out once again, collapsed-doll on couch and feet curled beneath her this time.
Lin was rolling his eyes as he followed Thea out of the kitchen and to the sofa. He had no drink himself. He left the mug behind, unintentionally. As well as the tequila. Empty-handed, the boy claimed his own cushion via habitual high jump. He had the shit down pat. Approach at some 30 to 40 degrees, in eight strides, hard and controlled, running from the ankles, not the hips, bring palm to rigid back, and jump. In a matter of seconds, he was dropping down on that velvet orange with a grin, pleased with himself as ever, though he was careful to not land near Thea, lest she spill her badly made tea.
Once settled, the boy instinctively collected his remote control from the greedy cushion crack he found most lost things in and brought the TV to life, followed by the XBox with a different controller all together. His avatar spun as the home screen was reached.
“Next time, you can bring your superior-ass Song dynasty Yixing clay teapot and I’ll holla at my ancestors in Fujan and we’ll have some fucking nice tea, alright?” It was a throwaway suggestion, offered in hyperbolic sarcasm, and Lin smiled in the white flush of pixels, his dark eyes sliding sideways toward Thea and her dimestore mug decorated with butterflies of no specific make.
There came a short, partial silence as Lin went on into Fallout: New Vegas and opened his save in a series of slide clicks and nostalgia-washed drawings. Once in, he cleared his throat and displaced his weight to tip himself a bit toward his guest, his own socked foot squashed underneath him butting against her knee.
“So. How are you?” Purposefully trite, he turned his head finally to look at the girl next to him, to eye her clothes and her hair and her mug and the thin skin under her eyes, and he cocked his head to the side. Lin smiled. “Alive?”
“Alive,” Thea agreed. It was a good word to pick; it carried enough weight that it was not dead - there had been times, through the door, that she’d thought about it (it was like particularly vivid dreams and waking from them, sifting through sand for the glass-grains that made up the whole. Cass was danger, exhaustion, flitting dots of red on black like an inverse night sky). She wrapped her hands more tightly around the mug and there was no comment on Lin having one painted with butterflies, if anything, it suited him. The strobe of the television painted them both in mad colors, reds and sepias, greens and blues - color licked across her hands, her face, the slope of her cheekbone was especially violent blue.
She looked at him, peculiar calm and steady blue eyes above tattered shadows like moth wings, “I don’t have a clay teapot, Lin. I don’t think my aunt even owns a regular teapot. She likes coffee.” It was something, that knowing, something to wind fingers into and hold. It wasn’t something her mother had mentioned and it wasn’t something you knew by way of passing - the way she knew her aunt’s towels were the plain kind, or that she liked to sleep weird hours. You knew about liking coffee because she’d liked it, right in front of her, and that was a pleased, warm place tucked deep inside Thea, even if it was just a piece of something, even if her aunt was probably going to throw her out. Send her back.
They were a dichotomy; it was understood that Lin would be warmth and sprawl and she would spin herself in and out of it, surface-skimming and light and that was it, that was how it went - but she dipped her shoulder, and she leaned the thin line of hip and shoulder up against his own until the warm that was Lin was water painted over paper, until it washed through and she was picking at the raw edge of the sleeve of her long sleeved shirt, winding it over and in and out of her fingers in the old displacement, order restored. “You?” Pale eyelashes blinked.
Courier Six was talking to Victor the creepy-ass face robot in Novak. Lin had started a new game a few days back as he sat bored in the living room, but this one was being played on hardcore mode, because he liked the idea of having to sleep, eat and drink whilst out in the Mojave wastes. It added an element of realism that he could appreciate. Not that there was much else extremely realistic about a mid-century obsessed, apocalyptic wasteland being fought over by two distinct groups, one of whom wore fucking Roman centurion headgear, red crest and all. But, you know, still.
He decided to bring the teapot “argument” to a halt—or, more accurately, not comment on Thea’s aunt liking coffee over tea. The weird, ethereal tone of his friend’s voice urged him to think of the more pressing matters, like her sanity, so, he did. The boy sniffed, turning into the Dino Dee-Lite motel, and, when Thea bumped up against him, a child seeking comfort, Lin leaned in, his weight melding to hers as was his way, and he looked at her.
“Alive,” he assured her, the press of his bare arm, browned by sun (he didn't actually hate the outdoors, turns out), against the sleeves of the girl’s shirt—the shirt she’d never changed. And he was alive. As far as he could tell, he was alive. Blood moved through his veins, he felt it where it came close to the skin in arterial palpitation, and his heart was beating, and his thoughts were tripping over themselves as always. That was about as alive as he got. Chemical synthesis for the win.
There was some shifting to be done, however, and Lin did it. He situated himself to better be able to put an arm around Thea’s scant shoulders, which he did, to bring her into something a little more substantial by way of comfort.
“You wanna tell me where you’ve been for the past three weeks or are we not talking about that?” Lin’s words were a light, trickling brook. He hid no weight behind them. He let them splash and play and hoped it was too little to drown in.
It didn’t matter what the hell was going on over on the TV set - Thea didn’t much care about the games as they slid past, a blur of competitive bullshit (who the hell fought in a wasteland like a Roman? You were fucked if you were a Roman) but she slid into all that warm weight with the almost-sigh that wasn’t, not permitted and her eyes felt lead-weighted. It was safe, that warmth, peppermint-scented and clean and she’d called bullshit many times on girls who got a little swoony over people who smelled and thought it meant something, called it ‘home’ because people weren’t anything at all and the smell was product, chemicals and artificial, over the counter, but warm-clean peppermint, that was Lin and maybe Lin was allowed to mean safe and warm, just once. His arm wasn’t heavy, it was blanket-weight across her shoulders and it sort of made up for sitting out on a step until the concrete puddled cold through her jeans, it made up for the prickle-sharp stab of her feet waking up from sitting out there.
Three weeks? It didn’t seem like three weeks. Her clothes didn’t feel like she’d been in them, three weeks but her jeans were hanging off her hips in a way that was maybe, okay, three weeks worth of skipping meals and coffee and poptarts after school doing math homework and teasing Lin over video games and Thea stretched just enough to huddle bird-wing shoulder blades beneath Lin’s arm, tucked herself securely until his heartbeat ticked beneath her right ear, and settled. She spoke to his tee-shirt, warm-muffled voice.
“Through the door. Her world’s a fucking nuthouse right now.” She sounded sane, thin-voiced, she sounded fine, even if she’d skipped three weeks’ worth of meds. She picked at the hem of his shirt, loose thread freed with sharp fingernails. “One of those comic books where everyone’s killing each other, all the time.”
Lin went through the speaking prompts with the proprietor of the hotel in a blitz of A-button pressing, cutting off the woman’s voice before she got two words in with each question. (Of course, with an arm around Thea, he had to cradle the controller in his lap and use his left hand only, but he was surprisingly adept at such.) His Courier wasn’t rude, as one had the choice to be, and he generally opted for the funnier responses because he just did. After receiving his room key, Lin steered his Courier—who was, actually, not a he—up to her room upstairs in the dilapidated, boarded-up motel, just above the lobby, as specified by Jeannie May or whatever the fuck.
Now she had a home. Good.
It was the mention of the door, as well as Thea’s reeling closer inward, that drew Lin’s attention back to—right, the sanity thing. He blinked absently, wondering how the fucking hotel decided who it kept and who it let go, and why and when. It seemed like the whole switcheroo thing—when he’d ended up in spaaaace—had hit everyone at once. Then, he was trapped with the Cat in a Hitchcock dreamland nightmare, and now Thea? Held hostage for three weeks in a comic book nuthouse?
See, it’d been fun at first, to be able to step into a story, a place one had maybe only every imagined, or played in (like New Vegas here), but when the shit started kidnapping you, it became more of a hassle than anything else.
“I see,” he replied, frowning in dim technicolor white, trying to think of the best way to combat the strange distance that settled behind the blue rings of Thea’s eyes and had displaced her somewhere Lin couldn’t quite get to with tea or anything else for that matter. “I’m guessing it was this comic book place where everyone’s trying to kill each other all the time that had you, you know, trying to fucking repel seven stories with a bike lock...? Or was that just a bit of fun on your part?”
Lin tipped forward to catch Thea’s eyes with his own. He remembered waking up after three days in the hallway of the hotel, and he remembered very clearly how he’d felt when he had. Three weeks and the girl was just that much worse for wear, he was sure of it.
“Do you want like, actual food? Because you should probably eat some actual food. I got Spam somewhere, I know it.”
“Drugs,” Thea said, and she blinked; Thea’s eyes were the washed out color of well-worn denim rather than anything bright or distinctive. It allowed a great deal of onlooking without being noticed and the general bleached-out-to-bone look of being left out in desert sun until color was leached away made the lines of her face especially sharp. “Not like, drugs drugs. Not ‘hey, peer pressure’, drugs. Comic-books,” she yawned. Food seemed like maybe it could be awesome, once the thought occurred it was a jagged, biting thing that rippled through her stomach, a dense and solid sort of ache that now she was aware of, became uncomfortable. “I thought she could use the time. Plus, comic book drugs. So the door spat me out and I walked back in. She walked me back in. It was a little of both of us. Cass doesn’t talk much. She just... does things.”
A shrug. As if denial of school and of math and of an aunt who was spiny and sleep-deprived and who drank coffee syrup-thick, were nothing. Jumping off a building was slow-burn embarrassment, the crawl of heat up the back of her neck, sun-burn blush warm. The mug of tea was cooling, she lifted it to her lips, bitter-black.
“A lot of people jumped. In Gotham. They’re trying to mop up the mess but,” another thin shrug, “Messy. People don’t mop.” Her eyes trained in on Lin, on the slant of his mouth; Lin was forever sharp-slashed pencil, a visual movement, he was picked out in pen lines, in the slow and steady and careful transitions of someone holding very still. Another blink. “You’re being very un-Lin. Isn’t there something cutting and witty to say? I’m locked out here, I could do with humor. Mock me.”
The shrug was small, but it jostled against Lin, as close as he was, a bony jut of scapula to ribcage. It felt like a well-worn bit of movement, tied up in an accustomed pull of sinew and muscle, a response built to deflect. He could understand that. He was a shrugger himself. The boy wasn’t certain he’d employ it after trying to swan dive off a building and then being swallowed alive someplace with no word for three weeks, but, you know, who knows? Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it or whatev.
“People do not mop, no,” Lin agreed solemnly, trying not to think of the mess a body would make from so high up. Still, his mind did the work for him anyway, because it was a bastard and as much as it gave him, it liked to be a dick too. The thing decided visual representation was a good idea. It played him a few reels from seven stories, eight stories, twenty stories, all with different people, different wind resistance, different jumps/falls, but with the same fucking splat. Goddamn.
Now it was his turn to blink, rattled from his morbid daydreams. Black eyelashes met and parted in measured time and Lin, as if prompted by some unheard cue, smiled, dismantling the mental cinema, film strips of gore burned in a city square pyre.
“You want cutting and witty? Alright then.” The boy withdrew his arm as he prepared to stand up, to move to the kitchen, because having Thea collapse was not on his list of things to do tonight, and he didn’t want to have to make that phone call to her aunt. He pretended to consider what words he might use to sting before offering, with a beatific smile, “You look fucking hungry, asshole. Come on.”
The joke of course being there was nothing witty about that at all. In a very Lin-like fashion, he laughed at himself and got to his feet.
He looked like maybe he was seeing things that weren’t there, superimposed over the television full of well-drawn violence; he’d gone far away, somewhere beyond dark eyes and the shutter-stop of eyelashes and lids. Thea waited, cool hands wrapped over cooling porcelain and was patient, the bony bridge of shoulder tucked beneath arm that was living-breathing route back in. Gotham was bad dreams and poorly-made nightmares; it occurred to her, silent sentinel to the march of Lin’s imagination, that he hadn’t said anything about his door. The space-pirate was quiet. And then he was cool space beside her, the absence-of-Lin was more than Lin had been, a denuding against the apartment, and Thea binked, disturbed-Sphinx and uncurled, the hitch and glide of hips and wrists and shoulders that was unballing from tight knot on the corner of the couch.
Food sounded good, food sounded amazing, and her stomach growled, descant-tune agreement with Lin, fucking hungry; obediently, she padded after him, silent on socked feet and she brought the mug with her, the dregs of tea to match the one that still stood on the side, abandoned and unloved. “I made you tea too, genius. You don’t like tea? Or you just felt like making a point?” It was patter slowed down to half-speed, the tempo of an ambivalent conductor, notes all correct and present but adagio instead, dancer on stage twisting like a caught-strings puppet. Thea cocked a hip against a counter-top, folded arms, was serious, pale pointed face and sharp little smile like cat’s teeth.
“Do you even have food. Like, is that a thing here? Beyond popcorn and shit?” Nudge. Stir. Normality was a thing craved like sugar, like a blanket to drag overhead and finish off the fort. Lin at rattle-pace was effective protection against going home to an aunt who maybe-probably didn’t want her after she’d basically gone MIA for three weeks. Who wanted that? More trouble than you’re worth, parting gift with the brief-dry wipe of lips on cheek, behave yourself.
“No point, princess. I actually meant to put tequila in that shit and forgot it. You can have it,” answered a busy Lin (for whom ‘princess’ was gender neutral, to be fair) in the hum of his low voice and smile worthy of a pirate (that is to say, with its very own swagger). He skirted Thea and the ghostly reach of her hair, and climbed with red-clothed knees onto the countertop wedged between stove and fridge. The space there was cleared away, mixers, mugs, pot holders, everything moved aside in a small crescent just deep enough for small femurs, making it plenty obvious that this was the boy’s main, childlike mode of fetching things from the high, tall-standing cupboard some ruthless prick of an architect thought should be placed a million feet up the wall. He was lucky it wasn’t higher, he might have had to find some comic book drug of his own to scale the shit with a bike lock and some fucking thread.
His eyebrows lifted in unison at the implication that food might not be a thing here and Lin scoffed into the light maple of the cupboard door, before bending himself backward to leave room to open the thing. The bottom shelf housed the treasure trove (booty?) of tea, but the top two were surprisingly deep, and held all kinds of boxed edibles, or mostly edibles, depending on your point of view.
“First of all, I don’t eat shit and you shouldn’t either. Second of all, you know horse semen comes with the popcorn and it has some nutritional value, so don’t be rude. Third of all, actually, I have to keep something for those days I don’t manage osmosis with my books—knowledge, food for the brain—” A smirk. “Or I don’t get my photosynthesis in. In short, yes, jackass, there is fucking food and it is a thing here.” Enter the usual prattle of long-winded Lin. He flashed the girl in his kitchen a look from atop the countertop, then he slid backwards back onto his stockinged feet and onto the green tiles. “I know!” A revelation accompanied by an appropriately revelatory expression. “Eggs-in-a-basket. Protein, choline,...baskets. Eggs-in. Perf.”
Lin kicked his fridge open—by which I mean he tore it open by the handle, but it was definitely in the manner of a kick. He forgot to close the cupboard and would probably smack his head into it later, but so it goes.
She couldn’t remember the last time someone had cooked on her behalf. Cooked, for her, emphasis for, emphasis active verb, emphasis that didn’t fucking happen. Her aunt dialed for pizza, and left it on the countertop where it could safely be considered food, emphasis edible, and that was still more than before - Mom had found her a room service number, wherever they were and that was parenting - Thea didn’t know if her mother could actually cook, beyond talking about stuffed dormouse as a delicacy back in the day, or how peacock should actually be eaten today. Protein. Eggs in a basket. It sounded awful, it sounded like something faintly, vaguely like normality shaken out and held up for comparison and Thea figured if the back of her nose was prickling over that then maybe she should just shut the fuck up and let it.
He had too much tea in the cupboard for someone who didn’t drink it regularly; she peeped, up on tiptoe and angular arm holding the cupboard door wide enough to peer in, the recesses of gloomy ranks of boxes, tea-after-tea, hidden like it was a left-over rather than a bought thing. Her fingers flicked along cardboard outlines, “Do you even drink tea? Like, at all, sans tequila - eff why eye, that sounds revolting,” the rattle-tap of batted-back volley, the conversational fleckerel and parry that was stood with the cold of Lin’s tile seeping through her socks and the air-conditioning fanning along her arms and the too-typical gunfire of Lin’s own language, noose and knot and wildly-dancing hangman to judder on forever.
The tea was cold; she ignored it. “There’s not a ton to eat, back at Matilda’s.” Folded arms, the curvature of her spine against the counter’s edge was defined line, watercolor-blue eyes followed him, interested. “I mostly missed out on two weeks of pizza.”
Eggs-in-a-basket, as seen in the 1935 Mary Jane’s Pa, were motherflippin’ delicious. There was no way an egg, cracked and fried into a hole cut into a slice of bread, could go wrong, salmonella aside. Shit was genius, and Lin’s main source of, you know, life the year he’d lived abroad however long ago that was now. (As much as he was able to speak like a German, he sure as fuck couldn’t eat like them. Cabbage. Gross.) He was happy to be introducing (and it looked like introducing, given Thea’s wordless reaction) them to the girl in his kitchen. He was like an eggs-in-a-basket missionary, here to spread the word and gospel of the egg, the butter, and the ...uh, holey bread. Ha ha ha!
The milk-brown eggs were placed on the countertop near the prepped stove, two of them, sitting against one another, picked out against black, like soldiers bored in the trenches, while Lin found his bread and buttered a very ‘70s-reminiscent orange frying pan, and hummed thoughtlessly to himself the bridge of a song from a dream. Michael Jackson. The boy was a practiced choreography of movement in the intimate space of the kitchen, hands grasping and cracking in time with shifting feet. It was a reel sliding through a projector showing the same film it had many times before, it was a show of just how little things changed in Lin’s condo. He knew just where everything was down to degrees.
“The tea—Rose bought it, but she abandoned it-slash-gifted it to me upon her departure,” said the cook with a half-glance over his shoulder. He couldn’t remember if Thea knew Rose. He thought she did, from the comms, but people came and went with such frequency, who knew anymore? Anyway, it didn’t matter. “Tequila’s mine though. And honestly, put enough in and it’s only gross for like, 20 minutes.”
He was busy, tipped over the glossy counter with a plastic, pink cup. He pressed it down hard with his palm until it bit into the bread and a neat little hat was cut away and the “basket” created. Lin dusted breadcrumbs away from his fingers and so the cooking began.
Lin turned away from the sizzling stove, spatula in hand and considered his guest, presenting her with a glib smile.
“That’s a bummer, dude. That’s a lot of pizza. Maybe you can get your aunt to agree to buying you fourteen pizzas at once to make up for it.”
The air smelled like frying chicken potentialities never fertilized and never realized. Wonderful.
Thea’s lip curled at the edge, it wasn’t disgust - not quite - but it sidled up and made friends, leaned a little on the fence like maybe it was planning on sticking around until she was sure she didn’t want to get comfortable and close. There wasn’t a whole lot of well-cooked food in recent history; there was room service and that was usually gourmet, the kind that came with options and no one minded what you substituted. Pizza wasn’t entirely bad as a diet, load it up with vegetables and you were fine. Tequila in tea sounded revolting, and she told him so, a twist and elbows on counter and leaning close enough to peer over his shoulder at the contents of the pan. “That’s drinking neat tequila, not tea.”
And then a flutter, a wing-beat of something moth-thin and dark, mistrust flitting over cheekbones. “That’s if my aunt even wants me around. Can’t buy pizza for someone kicked out.” A sideways shrug, the slide of her thumb along her fingertips, the finery of pointed nails, picked at skin. For someone who’d been through a door for much of two weeks, the hangnails were bloody-raw, bitten at. “Can’t blame her. You done yet?” The smell was rolling her stomach, see-saw, tipsy-hungry, the vague emptiness that roiled there. It didn’t matter that it didn’t look really appetising.
“It’s called tea-quila, hater,” came Lin’s final word on the subject, accompanied by a sniff and a look of disdain. But, as per usual, it was a blitz of an expression, immediately replaced by the rat-tat-tat of a smile—which then gave way to something more hesitant, like the squint in the dark from earlier.
‘That’s if my aunt even wants me around.’ Suspicions though he’d had as to why the young Thea W would seek him out, he hadn’t thought the girl’s aunt would be the cause in a ‘turned out to the streets’ kind of way. He blinked at the pan, ignoring the hot spit that came at his hands.
“I'm done. I'm always done. Done with life. Done with the peoples. As for the egg, I’ll tell you when it’s done.” He understood she probably felt as drawn as an empty purse, ready to fold in on itself, but there was nothing to be done. Cooking eggs was srs bsns. Lin thought a moment. “Have you tried contacting her yet? If you want, I can call her for you and you can -” Brown eyes dipped to week-worn clothes and light locks dulled, then zipped back up to meet Thea’s blue. “Take a shower or whatever.”
“Are you saying I smell?” Bland innocence, all sharded sharp beneath; Thea’s eyelashes fluttered upward, she smiled like shark’s teeth as she felt balloon-light, empty-soaring. At least - maybe - at least if she was under the drum of water (and okay, maybe it felt weird to be walking around wearing two-weeks-ago clothes, maybe it felt like the empty echo of her own body wasn’t something she knew very well right then) it wouldn’t be her voice on the phone, it wouldn’t be condemnation, sour-true note in her aunt’s voice to listen to. Thea had heard that a thousand times, didn’t much like it but Matilda - Matilda who drank coffee black (skippety-flick of still twisted stomach at knowing something, anything) Matilda she didn’t want to hear it all the more.
“You’ll have to keep it warm for me. The number’s in my phone,” and she was flit of blond hair and elbows, and bailing for the room beyond, for the shower-room and towels and clean skin and - “I’m stealing a shirt, you don’t get to argue,” an echo down the hall.
Thea left Lin alone in the kitchen, with only the trail of sharp syllables retreating toward the bathroom for company.
“Just make sure it doesn’t have Leo on it,” he called back, twisting away from the stove toward the corridor, fairly certain she couldn’t hear him any longer, but it was worth a shot. He wasn’t kidding. If she came out in a Titanic shirt, he’d just make her turn around and pick another, and he’d do it without feeling bad about it. The boy muttered something to himself about the difference between ‘saying’ and ‘implying’ before removing the blush of heat from under the pan and saddling it with a glass lid, which quickly fogged in the cool of the room. The eggs-in-a-basket grew much more mysterious and misted from sight.
He padded back toward the door, where Thea had discarded her bag, assuming (correctly) that her phone would be in there as well. He didn’t know if this was a good idea or a bad idea or just an idea, but he’d already said he’d call and Thea had already accepted, so. He figured it would be easier for him to talk to the woman who brought those stormy scraps of darkness to Thea’s eyes. He hoped, anyway.—It only took a few seconds, after scrolling to ‘M’ and finding nothing, returning to ‘A’ and finding ‘Aunt,’ and then, ...well, he was ready.
Lin wasn’t exactly sure what he should expect, but he just told himself to think of pizza and that everything would turn out okay. Back in the living room, reclining on the sofa with an arm tucked under his head, he thumbed the name and the line began to ring.