|Isobel Brandt \\ Persephone (praxidike) wrote in paxletalelogs,|
@ 2017-08-21 10:45:00
|Entry tags:||freyr, persephone|
you can count on me like one two three
Who: Rafael & Isobel.
What: Isobel brings a housewarming present to Rafe's new apartment.
Isobel gingerly tilted the small, plastic carrying case for the betta fish; her purse was slung diagonally across her chest, the leather strap slashing her black and white striped shirt. The elevator was silent and still, though Isobel felt the slight sensation of moving upward; she was headed to Rafe's new apartment, her gift for his home in hand.
She lifted the plastic case to eye level (nearly, anyway), peering in at the bright red fish that swirled somewhat angrily around its enclosure as the water neatly sloshed from side to side; or perhaps she was thinking it angry merely because of its coloring. Maybe it was scared.
"Sorry," she murmured, glancing up as the elevator came to a stop, cheerily announcing its arrival with a ding. Once the doors slid open enough to allow her exit, she moved onto the otherwise nearly empty floor but for the occupants in 801 and 802, making a beeline for the latter. Balancing the fish tank between her forearm and her chest, she lifted one fist and gently knocked, announcing her presence to those within.
Rafael answered the door seconds later, a bright smile on his face and a glass of red wine in his hand. Behind him was an apartment larger than his prior one, and arranged in a decidedly different manner. Though the furniture and artwork were the same as before, it seemed pointedly changed in an effort to start fresh. "Isobel," he said, his voice more cheerful than it had been in some time. "Come in!"
The move appeared to have served him well; perhaps his greeting was a bit too effusive, indicative of a man only slowly becoming reacquainted with living alone, but it spoke to a better frame of mind than he had been in months past. He waved her in, his gaze flicking down toward the brilliant red betta. His smile spread wider.
"Is that for me?"
Her mouth curved in return, hands unconsciously raising the small, plastic tank for his better view. "No, I just brought along a friend. Yes, it's for you. Someone to keep you company in this big, wow, seriously big space," she replied, doing her best to keep the laugh out of her voice. He'd told her before, after one of their dually attended yoga classes on the weekends led by another Pax tenant who Isobel didn't know (though whether that was before or after her memory loss was still up for debate), that she'd given him a fish that had passed away recently. In an effort to repay him for the kindness he'd shown her in the wake of all the strange goingson, she'd decided to replace the one he'd lost. It was only fair.
"I'm not sure if it's at all like the other one," she said, glancing down at the fish in hand. "But maybe this one will last a little longer?"
A soft blush splashed over Rafael's cheeks. He reached out and took the little tank in his free hand, holding it tightly by its handle. "Yes," he said, "I certainly hope so. I am sorry about Mr. Fishy. I did try to keep him safe…" He turned away and his words trailed off; Isobel's brow furrowed a little, unsure exactly what Rafe meant by those words. He set his wineglass down on the coffee table as he passed it, making his way to a table beside his well-worn couch. A little boat made of gold-painted balsa wood sat there. He set the fish just behind it, where the boat looked almost a part of the creature's small habitat. He twitched a small smile, quickly gone. Then he turned to Isobel again, the broad smile carefully back on his face.
"Thank you, Isobel," he said, moving back to her side. "Mr. Fishy the Second is just what this place needed. Can I get you some wine? Or water? Or anything, really. Just ask."
She'd loosely draped her arms over her chest, watching the display with the same gravity that some might reserve for funerals; when Rafe looked back at her, she quickly mirrored his expression.
"Some wine would be great." She followed him to the kitchen, oohing and aahing in all the right places as she inspected his new and much larger abode.
"I'd be jealous if I could even afford this kind of space," she commented, one hip resting gently against a counter as her eyes swirled over the his interior decorating. "What made you decide on the eighth floor? It's...very empty, isn't it?"
He glanced back to her as he finished off filling her glass. "It is a little, I suppose. But Nish was able to get a good rate for me because of... um, what happened. I thought about somewhere else, but Gabe..." He cleared his throat, suddenly visibly uncomfortable. The soft blush returned, and he tried to distract from it by holding her glass out to her; she took it, noting the scarlet, but said nothing. "It's nice to be near someone familiar. And he needs someone to look after Spot when he's away for work, so I said I'd help."
He moved past her, returning to the living room before she could fix him with some judgmental stare. He expected it; he knew he deserved it. But he could not bear to wait around and see it. "So how are things downstairs?" he asked. "Any trouble with, um, bird women or weird things in your closet or anything recently?"
Isobel was half withdrawing her drink from her lips when his question rose; her brows drew together, and one hand lifted to wipe away residue.
"Bird women? No, I didn't... There were some strange... They kind of looked like little hippos? But I could only see them out of the corner of my eye, at best." Mostly she'd noticed them going to and from the kitchen, and their appearance made her glad Hanni was staying with Obed. She followed Rafe to the living room, perching on the edge of the couch. He sat down beside her, scooting back until he was nestled into the broken-in cushions.
"I think they kept moving things around, unless I was just imagining it. But from what I saw on the network boards, it didn't seem like it was a hallucination..." It matched too closely to what she'd been told of the goingson in the building, and her own apparent transformation that she'd not been aware of.
"It's a good thing then, isn't it, that you're near someone you trust? Just with...everything going on. Hopefully Alice will get someone on her floor soon so she's not by herself."
Again Rafael blushed. His friend seemed to be uniquely keyed-in, today, to those things which would best prod the unseen bruises of his guilt. It was not her fault, of course, and her unintentional accusations were no worse than what Rafe had said to himself in those rare moments he lapsed into introspection. But they cut all the same, and he turned to wine to dull the edges of her blades.
"I hope so," he said, sincerely. "I probably should have stayed. You don't think I'm a bad friend for coming up here, do you?" He frowned. "I still go and see her. And I told her she's always welcome here, of course. When I decided to move I didn't think… well, I guess I didn't think at all, really. Or not enough." He shook his head. "Nevermind. Little hippos, you said. They didn't hurt you, I hope?"
Isobel swallowed more wine, shaking her head gently as her glass descended to land between both hands. Her tongue swiped the edges of her mouth.
"No, they just...moved things around. And a lot of my food went missing, too... I ended up eating out more than I would've liked," she answered, laughing a little. She felt the unease in the room, nearly overcrowding them both.
"I don't think you're being a bad friend," she offered, touching back on his previous topic despite the clear indication that he wanted to move on from it. "I mean, moving up here, Gabe wasn't the only reason, right?" The question was rhetorical; it was already very clear from Rafe's earlier words that he was almost embarrassed by the choice. "Is there a reason why you shouldn't be this close to him?" She wracked her brain, but there was no lingering detail that she'd been told in the weeks since losing her memory, not that she could keep track of it all anyway. She lifted her glass halfway to her mouth again.
"Or we can talk about something else. Maybe getting a bigger tank for Mr. Fishy the Second? Though I don't know if bettas do well in larger enclosures..." Her brows rose, and then furrowed as she puzzled over the topic.
Rafael cleared his throat. His fingers tightened around the base of his glass. He nodded, forcing a smile. "I actually read a little about that," he said. "I was going to buy a larger one for Mr. Fishy, actually, before... " He shook his head. "Nine liters or so. Not too big, but I read they do like a little space. So I'll certainly get one soon for Junior here."
He steeled himself with another sip of wine. Avoidance was juvenile and pointless, he knew. Isobel deserved the truth that had somehow been stolen from her; if he had to retread difficult ground to give her that, it was surely the least he could do.
"I probably shouldn't be this close," he admitted. "Gabe and I dated a long time ago. He's with someone now, and I guess I am, too, so…" He shrugged. "I do want to be closer to him. I miss him, and we haven't really gotten to catch up as much as I'd like." A deeper truth hid in the shadows of his face, in the way his gaze darted away from her. But he would not give voice to that, at least. He shrugged again. "I didn't tell Alice that. I don't want her to think she means any less to me."
A small ah escaped Isobel's mouth, the hands cupping her wine glass settled on her legs.
"It'll probably just take some adjustment for her; I know she's got a lot going on with work, and then whatever's going on with her and Lucas and...some other stuff," she quickly ad-libbed, unsure if Rafe knew about what had happened between Alice and Gus and not wishing to out her friend's dirty laundry without permission. He nodded understanding. "But hang on, you're seeing someone already? Who?" She latched onto the assumedly happier topic, hoping to bring Rafe back around to his less tense self.
It almost worked; the hard line of his shoulders eased, and a hint of a smile played over his lips. "A friend from work. He's young and it's really not anything serious, but…" He shrugged. "It's nice, anyway. Kind of a distraction." He sipped at his wine. Every smile grew a little more real, a little easier than the one before. He waved his glass toward her. "But what about you? Are you feeling any better lately? Are you… remembering anything?"
Isobel rubbed her lips together, nodding and rolling her shoulders in a non-committal answer. She helped herself to another mouthful of wine before actually giving a more solid reply.
"Sort of," she said, the glass hovering before her mouth, cupped in one hand. "I talked with Obed -- I don't... Have you met him?" She fixed Rafe with a quirked brow, but shook her head. He opened his mouth and closed it just as quickly. "It's not important. He let me ask him some questions, and look around his apartment a little... I remembered one thing." She stopped, thinking about the whole encounter. How she'd apparently changed, how she'd cut Obed, allegedly, and found him on his knees in front of her. Her eyes took on an unfocused look, which she quickly dispelled with a shake of her head. She glanced back at Rafe, slight embarrassment tinging her cheeks pink. For his own part, Rafe was glad that for once, he was not the one blushing.
"Just why he doesn't sleep well. Nothing... Nothing that really helps me, I guess. Um... This is going to be a weird question, but you've had strange dreams here, right?"
He shook his head, lowering his nearly empty wineglass from his lips. "That's not a weird question," he said, "considering everything else that's happened here. I've definitely had dreams I can't explain. 'Strange' is probably the best word for them."
He rose from the couch, quiet as he returned to the kitchen and retrieved their dwindling bottle of wine. When he sat back down beside her, he placed the bottle within easy reach of both of them.
"I've had a few dreams that involved other people from the building. But we were… other people. I'm not sure how to put it. Is that what you're talking about?"
Isobel nodded, her lower lip stretched taut between incisors. "Alice told me about them, how I've dreamt of a woman named Persephone, how she's dreamed of someone named Uke Mochi. That we've all had them, or at least, it seems like most people in the building. I... Something weird happened, the other day, when I was visiting Obed. It was... way weirder than a dream." She paused, watching Rafe's face to see if she'd gone too far, but it felt good to talk about it with someone. "I don't remember what happened; it was like a time skip. One moment, I was looking at this bonsai Obed said I gave him, and the next..." Her cheeks colored, and she reeled back from the edge she'd feared she'd come too close to.
"The next, I'd cut him, and he said that I'd become someone else. That I'd been her. Persephone."
Rafe's eyes had gone wide; his fingers were tight around the stem of his glass. Given all they had seen and dreamed it did not seem too great a reach. If she had truly become someone else, perhaps they all could do such things. Rafael did not find the idea entirely displeasing. His teeth worried at his lower lip.
"Become her," he echoed. "What does that mean? Did you look like her? Sound like her? Or…" He shook his head. "I don't understand. I don't think anything like that has happened to me, but I suppose I wouldn't remember if it had. But she…" He stopped, biting at the tip of his tongue. Alice seemed to have told their mutual friend a great many things; he wondered if telling her what had happened with Uke Mochi would in fact be too much. He swallowed hard, and forged ahead.
"Alice… she did something like that, too."
Isobel's brows drew across her forehead, and she felt tempted to ask what had happened to their mutual friend. But, again, propriety and courtesy kept her tongue from crossing that line.
"I'm not sure. I don't remember turning into anything... but I didn't have anything to cut him with, not while I was in his apartment. Just...a letter." She stumbled, wondering if whatever had become of Alice would help explain what had happened to her. But she still skirted the issue, unsure of asking about something she wasn't even sure Alice would want to have discussed. "And I moved across the room. It was all so very strange.
"There's just so many strange things happening here." She finished what was left of her wine glass. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to make you feel uncomfortable in your new place," she started, changing tack suddenly. "Do you want to give me the tour?"
Nodding, Rafael rose from the couch, setting his wineglass aside as he did. "You're not making me uncomfortable," he said. "This is a very strange place, and I think we'll need one another to get through it. Even if it's just talking with each other about it, just to know we're not all going crazy…"
He beckoned her to follow. They went through the apartment one room at a time, with Rafael pointing out small changes here and there. It felt like the fresh start he needed; fresh paint, clean walls, a bathroom on whose tile he did not still see spattered blood. There were two bedrooms, the smaller of which was already made up into an inviting guest room, done up in cheerful shades of blue and white. "I know I'm a little farther away," he said, "but you and Alice and Hanni are always welcome here, if you need a change of scenery. I'm hoping to have some little dinner parties, too…"
Isobel pulled back from the spare room, tossing a smile in Rafe's direction. "That sounds wonderful," she said, her hand on the door frame. "But I'm glad you've got Mr. Fishy to keep you company, too. This is a lot of space for one person." She stepped back, then softly led them both back out into the living area. "Alice and I will definitely make sure we come up here so you don't get too lonely," she tried teasing, circling back to a previously discussed topic. He chuckled in answer. "Though it sounds like you'll be OK on that front, too. But I should really be going; I've got a shift at Alice's bakery in an hour, and I'm sure it'd look bad on me if I was late when a friend was doing me a favor."
Rafe nodded, smiling softly. "Please tell her I said hello. Oh, and you two decide what you might want for a dinner party. Okay?" He led her back to the living room, eyeing the wine glasses he could now drain on his own. He patted Isobel's back; after a moment's thought, he pulled her into a tight hug; she easily returned the gesture, a smile on her face. "Thank you, Isobel. Next time you're here I'll have a nice little home for Mr. Fishy the Second, too."
"You're welcome, Rafe," she replied, pulling back. Isobel grinned at him, pleased she could do something in the midst of her confusion, and nodded as she saw herself out the way she'd come.