2010-01-16: We Have to Stop Meeting Like This



Date: January 16, 2010


Nothing cranks up the awkward quite like being on the lam.

"We Have to Stop Meeting Like This"

Noodle Heaven, Lower East Side

It's nice to know that some things, at least, never seem to change. There are still no pasta dishes on the menu, and there are still people complaining about it. "But that doesn't make any sense!" one of them insists to the put-upon cashier. "That'd be like doing Ren Faire at a Chinese place."

Taking advantage of the noisy crowd, Randall is sitting by himself at a lopsided booth near the corner, working his way through a ham-and-cheese and a pencil sketch. The changes in his own person - a backpack under the table, a nervous glance upward from time to time - are subtle, but noticeable to those who know him.

It's a little known fact that Lena adores noodles. She would, in fact, probably sell her half-brother for a bowl of really good noodles. Therefore, to those in the know, it would be no surprise to see the young woman entering a place called Noodle Heaven. What would be a surprise is that she does not yell, throw anything or storm out upon overhearing some of those complaints from other would-be customers.

But today, Lena is a little too distracted, shell-shocked, even dazed to kick up a fuss. Either that or she's been brainwashed, because everything about her looks different, from hair to lack of makeup to clothing that came from Sydney's wardrobe instead of hers.

The sunglasses she's wearing to hide her new green eyes are drawn off to allow her to stare up at the menu. But…really, her appetite isn't there. So she sighs, glances to the side and…spots Randall. Which is how he ends up with a young brunette sliding onto the bench opposite himself, in spite of the obvious signs of paranoia. "Hey…"

Indeed, Randall does freeze up at first, not immediately recognizing her - but no, a competent kidnapper would try to distract him with some innocent line of patter. Who's this, then? "Oh, hey," he replies after a few seconds, untensing as he works out the answer. "You look like hell. The matzo ball soup might help."

"Asshole." Yeah, it's Lena. Although it'd help if she smiled while she responded, which she doesn't. "You're supposed to be like, 'wow, you look awesome that way, want me to buy you lunch?'. And then I'd be all…hell no, that sounds like a sneeze." The sunglasses are folded and placed on the table before she begins to wriggle out of her heavy coat. "So you're still out, huh?" she goes on, eyes drifting towards the sketch. "Any weirdness at the store?"

"Hey, I didn't come up with the name." See, they're having a normal (if vitriolic) conversation, nothing that anyone should be paying any special attention to. "And that's a stupid question, considering Jade's still there. No badness at the store, at least nothing worse than usual."

Randall's sketch is an abstract, as usual - he hasn't felt like doing portraits very often since he tried it out as a day job once - but there are more straight lines in it than usual. Whatever that means.

That does earn a smile from Lena, although it's not a very nice one. She passes her hand in front of her, just summoning his attention to its gloved state, before lowering her voice. "I meant our kinda weirdness. But…I'm glad." She pauses, the smile bleeding away. "And I'm sorry. I guess that doesn't mean much but I am."

But let's not linger on the apology. She reaches out to tape the corner of the paper he's been laboring over. "I didn't know you drew."

Randall leans forward, resting his arms on the edge of the table. "It's all right. I mean, I was kinda pissed when Peter warned me, but… they went all Room 101 on you guys by tasering your brains? I'm pissed at them. And I can't say I wouldn't have done the same thing if it'd been me."

"Yeah, it's where most of my spare time goes," he continues, nodding toward the sketch. "Following patterns, trying to see what's coming… nothing good, I expect, but we knew that."

Both his chosen phrasing and the emphasis earn something like a flinch, with Lena sinking back against the bench and dropping her chin. "Yeah…I mean no, it's not okay. But I'm glad he warned you. And you're being careful now?" Her lapse in composure is covered by pretending to rummage around in a pocket of that coat, finally coming out with a cellphone. It's flipped open, its screen checked, but it wasn't reading. She puts it away again.

"Is that what you do? I kinda wondered, Jade didn't really describe it very good." Lena hesitates, looking from the paper to the man. "Can you do that for other people?"

"Ready to run at a moment's notice." Randall glances down at the backpack - it's not completely stuffed to the gills, but there's enough room in there for a couple changes of clothes and some other hitchhiking essentials. Indeed, the corner of a bath towel is stuck in the zipper.

Picking up the paper, he holds it up to one side and considers. "I can get some impressions, yeah… it's abstract, and kind of faint in daylight. But there are patterns, yeah. Like— you ever seen sparks coming off a flint-and-steel set? I'd guess you were exhausted even before I saw your eyes."

She listens silently, brow rumpled but appearing to accept the explanation— even if she doesn't entirely understand it. "Sparks, yeah. You see sparks? As…as patterns of what could happen. That's…" A little weird, but no weirder than fireballs. Or being a drug lab. Lena folds her arms on the table, leaning closer to get a better look at the sketch.

Nope. Safe to say she doesn't understand any more from a different angle than she did from the original one.

"I guess…maybe. A little. You don't…you don't sleep well after something like that, you know? And the other stuff going on…" Lena draws a breath, forcing a smile with the exhalation. "If you gotta run, man, I've got a number you can call. And…and maybe you can do a drawing for me. I don't know where in the hell to go. What to do with me, now."

Randall shakes his head. "I would, but… usually it's hard enough to work out what it means myself, I'd hate to have you relying on an educated guess at a time like this. I'll take that number, though. And if you're at the shop and anyone— well, just follow my lead, okay? I promise it'll make sense if it happens."

"Oh." Lena is neither skill enough nor inclined to disguise her disappointment. But she doesn't make a big show of it, choosing instead to look down at the table and spin the cellphone around in slow circles under her fingers. After a moment, it's flipped open while her other hand dips back into a pocket. Probably in search of a pen. "Anyone what? I'm not that dumb, I could get it if you used small words. Jerk."

"Why is it, whenever I leave a sentence half-finished, the other person always assumes I'm trying to screw with them? Isn't it possible that I don't like thinking about the other half?" Randall pushes aside what's left of the bread and slumps back. "If the guys in the unmarked van show up and are all 'hey, there are those people we're supposed to haul off to an undisclosed location', okay?"

The girl opposite Randall is silent for a moment, and not just because she's found that pen. Lena's watching him with those unnaturally tinted eyes, looking rather pained. "…sorry. I'm the jerk, I guess. No…I know. It's…I promise Jade's working on trying to get me to think about other people too but it's like a work in progress."

It's a poor excuse but she leaves it at that. A few buttons are pushed on the phone, summoning up the cell's own number. The pen is offered over to Randall. He has the paper, after all. "If that happens, you call this number. It's the number of the guy we're staying with. We can get you to a safehouse."

Randall glances up. "What." Glowing colors in the air, he can deal with. Government agents trying to do bad things to him and his friends, he can deal with. But Jade giving etiquette lessons? No, this simply does not compute.

Finally, he snaps out of his state of shock, taking the pen and scrawling down the number. "Uh, thanks. Hopefully I won't have to use it, but… out of our hands, I guess."

"What? She's actually pretty damn smart about that sorta thing." Even if her instructional methods leave something to be desired. Like…less bruising, of both the physical and emotional sort. Lena waits until the number is recorded before snapping the phone shut and returning it to her pocket. "I hope you won't have to either. It's…bad out there. In there. You know what I mean. But folks are trying to stop it…maybe we'll get lucky." Not that she appears to believe that's likely to happen, at least not soon.

The young woman reaches for her coat next, proceeding to shrug back into it. "You should get moving. Me too. Been here too long, I was just gonna get some noodles."

Which gets a brief chuckle out of him, in spite of everything. There's one he's heard more than a few times. "Oh, that— try Lucky Joe's, couple blocks down. I think the name here is their version of turning the sign upside down, it's wrong but it gets people's attention." With a nod, he tosses a couple extra bills onto the table and starts gathering up his things.

A glimpse of the old Lena is there, in the way she grimaces and mutters something foul under her breath. "That's more than just wrong. That's false advertising, it's illegal." And she should know! Because being a government captive also makes one an expert on law. Or something. Giving an aggrieved sigh, she slides to the edge of the bench and stands up. "Keep your head down, okay? And if Jade's with you…if anything happens…you get her the hell out of there."

Randall rises to his feet, shouldering the backpack; he's starting to get used to its weight, which is itself upsetting when he thinks about it. "I will. After all, I'm the one who got her into all this in the first place." Well, they both had a hand in it, but if he hadn't hired her at the shop, maybe… "You and what's-his-name stay safe, too, okay?" Really must learn his name one of these days.

"Yeah, you gotta watch that blaming yourself thing, man. It'll kill you," Lena says with a thin smile, fingers doing up the button of her coat. That process ends, however. There's a distinct pause. And then, "Tiago? He took off. But…but yeah, someone told me he's safe. Don't worry too much about us. I think we're okay for now." Mostly. On that cheerful note, the young woman strides off for the door. Once the sunglasses are on, she looks like any number of young urban professional sorts.

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