"I believe I will survive this vast and aching disappointment."
25 November 2017
After Elliot leaves for work, Edmond and Kelsey eat dinner anyway, and they surprise both themselves and each other with the things they say and feel.
Highgate Apartment #8, R06
LAST TIME in Meeting Neighbors:
"Oh no!" calls Edmond, honestly dismayed. "Listen: I am Edmond Basumatary! When I hear you come home I will knock and have leftovers for you, okay? Or if you hear me playing you can knock!" He finishes chopping the spinach, and then looks sadly at Kelsey after Elliot flees, his hands pausing for a moment in their deft work. "Did you hear her stomach? I feel bad now. I hope she does not have an entirely hungry shift."
Hopefully he's kidding.
At least he's a little short to be Hannibal Lecter.
Conversation, however, is not derailed by any mentally-numbed 'your stars are pretty' remarks. "Is that why you haven't fixed the problem?" Kelsey wonders. "An aesthetic or moral preference for poverty? Not that I've fixed it either, mind, but I haven't been here as long."
Here Edmond looks distinctly self-amused, and even the stars in his hair twinkle brightly, and the ones in his eyes are practically suns. He flips the cheese blocks again, not even paying attention to them, and absently takes the lid off the spinach and stirs the pot again. "--when I come into money I buy nice clothes and new strings and pen nibs. I do not have an airtight identity, so banks and things of that nature are awkward, anyway. And I like to move around. It is easier to pack and leave if everything fits in a shitty little car."
That grin is like sunlight itself.
He drifts back doorward, but only to listen at it for a moment (anyone in the hallway? No-one in the hallway) before adding, "That's a remarkably specific example. I feel like I should stock up on fancy sandwiches."
It's really not much of a hitch. And it's so smooth afterwards.
"--cafe, the Cat-22 Collective place, down the street thataway." That part gets an inclination of his chin. "But," he says with a breezy smile as he finishes spooning palak paneer on top of the rice, then brings both bowls over to the coffee table and sets them down, spoons and all, "the newspaper said it was a paperwork mixup, so obviously no corpses were ever stolen and I am having you on. There is clearly no need to stock up on fancy sandwiches, unless you are just planning to be nice to me."
If it is, though, it is filed away somewhere for later, not pounced on on the instant. "Should I not be nice to you?" Kelsey asks blithely, glancing back kitchenward to see whether anything else needs carrying. "If you like me better not nice, I could always be mean. But that seems terribly out of balance when you've just been cooking for a pair of strangers. Well. A stranger and a near-stranger."
Okay, putting his fingertip in his mouth afterwards probably wasn't necessary, but there it is.
Perfectly matter-of-factly, but with a real smile for the sound of Kelsey appreciating his cooking, he goes back to eating his own bowl.
One thing that can be said for the place, as brightly and busily decorated as it is: it's meticulously spotless, and there's neither clutter nor mess. Absolutely everything is in its place except what he'd just finished using to cook. It's warm, it looks warm with the fool-the-eye colors, it's someone's version of homey, and it is flawlessly clean. The books are alpha by author for fiction, and clearly grouped in topics and organized within those, and all lined up precisely so their spines are flush with each other; the spice cabinet had been organized-- there's no mail or letters visible, the sarode is on its stand and its case is leaned against the wall behind it; the keyboard is broken but it's not trailing guts or anything-- and the inbox and outbox of the typewriter are aligned with the edges of the little table it's on, and the chair is pulled up flush against its front.
The floor's seen better days, but from the cleanliness of the rest of the place, the guy probably washed it with a bleach solution when he moved in.
Kelsey's rate of consumption is somewhat slower than Ed's, given time taken to savor, but soon enough he has his own glass cradled in his hands instead. The first sip may have been a little overly quick; that's still more spice than most Americans are entirely used to. But not too much more in this case.
"That," Kelsey says at length, "was really good." And definitely better than the amount of food visible in among the luggage he was hauling in, which if the rest of his bedding was stuffed in there with the pillow, probably amounted to 'maybe a handful of breath mints.' "I think your neighbor has a better thing going than she knows."
It is not a pledge phrasing. It skirts close to it, but it's not.
Whether or not he'd have given that warning if Edmond's storm-warning summer-night Mantle weren't strong enough to push his own back ... that's a question for later, maybe. Or maybe for never.
His body language had gone still for a moment; now it eases, a shift of weight, a light little bend-and-stretch like a breath against a candleflame. "If you still were to write a letter to me, knowing that -- why, then you might address it to Kelsey Williams, and it might get to me okay."
Only there's a faintly amused, faintly sad little quirk to one corner of his mouth, and then he goes on moving again, to put the dishes in the sink and turn on the water so it runs hot, eventually. While he waits, he takes out a dry erase marker and he writes 'Kelsey Williams' on the fridge in a gloriously graceful, looping, antique hand. As he writes, and then as he re-caps the marker and goes back to the sink, he speaks.
"That is all right. I believe I will survive this vast and aching disappointment. Please do not think it creepy if I date guys who look a little like you-- it is only that you are," he glances over his shoulder and grins at Kelsey, "my type. If we are to be friends, that is perfectly lovely. If we are friends who flirt, that is lovely also. Only if-- you think you are flirting too much, please do not stop the friends part, only the flirting part."
It's a moment after that he uncurls from the couch, slipping over toward the counter, trailing behind and regarding the handwriting on the refrigerator. "If you think," he says lightly, "I am flirting too much ... please tell me, so that we can also stop the right part there. I don't know what you find acceptable, and what you find beyond the pale." He pauses. "-- is that an idiom you know? English is made out of weird."
He sounds completely serious, but there's laughter in his eyes as he turns back to look at Kelsey, and there's fondness there. "I am a great deal older than I look, or act, Kelsey. I think if you start groping me I will ask if you have changed your mind about hooking up, and if you say you have not, then I will inform you that you are in fact flirting too much."
-- to give himself room to drop into an extravagantly courtly bow over his left arm, right hand out in a fluid flourish, left foot drawn back in poised counterweight. He holds the pose for a moment before straightening. "I'll keep that boundary in mind, and on your own head be the rest."
There's an instant's pause. "Mmm. I should tell you that I'm occasionally a girl. But only occasionally, and briefly, and honestly it almost always seems to happen when I have a knife in my hand for reasons entirely unrelated to food. So it shouldn't be a problem, I think." He cocks his head to the side inquisitively; the motion makes a bright ruffle out of the contained firefall of his ponytail. "I hope."
The voice in the back of his head screaming at him about why in the world he's opening his mouth on the subject in the first place is consigned ruthlessly to the same internal box as the urge, a few moments ago, to touch that hint of sadness at the side of Edmond's mouth. The only hint of either unexplained touch of irrationality is a faint, faint brittleness in his smile.
The Elemental pauses, looking even more startled, and shuts his mouth. Then he frowns a little, and when he looks back up at Kelsey his eyebrows are up, like this is news to him but it's topical and relevant so he's going to damn well share it anyway. "If you were, then for you, I would be willing to work on it. And I don't know why. I have known you less than an hour, and that seems a silly thing to say. But-- just-- there is... trauma. So please do not surprise me by being-- ..." His mouth shuts again, as he looks for a way to put it.
Finally he sighs and straightens up, running a hand through his thick starry black hair. "I do not think you would do that. But in the interest of full disclosure, I will... freak out. If you are a girl and you start coming even close to the line I have drawn already."
Straightening up a little more, the starry boy looks down at his wooden hands, then glances up past Kelsey, and moves around the counter again to head back to the couch and the lassi. "We do not step on trauma, yes, but sometimes related things can be stupid and awkward and upsetting to people we like, and I am sorry if-- this is--"
His hand closes on his glass, and he picks it up and holds it in both, and he just keeps looking down at it. "It is not you, or what is a part of you, and it is not me, and it is not any of my friends who are girls, and it is not any other girls, it is just-- Her." He actually shuts his eyes and there's actually legimitately a flinch that stays, like someone unused to alcohol getting a mouthful of straight scotch. A faint breath, and he forces himself to relax, and his words are quiet and firm, a resolution. "Someday I will be able to make myself get past it. I am sorry. Our conversation was fun! And then I went left."
It's only after Edmond says that last, and finally finishes, that the couch shifts again. And that's all the warning he has before there are thin arms wrapped around his shoulders, and a slim body pressed (through two hoodies) against his side, and a chin prodding firmly into his shoulder.
"Don't you start apologizing over that," Kelsey says, low and fierce. "Not to me."
And Kelsey is so close. In addition to the scents of a storm-warning summer night, he smells of clean earth that's freshly turned, and of living forests, wild and untamed, and his Wyrd offers the sense of expansiveness and awareness of astronomical distances and geological time. He feels like someone who should be patient and calm and solid, and somehow the electric wildness of his Mantle's low angry warning fits with that. Somehow. There's a link, there's a sense to it, that only Kelsey's particular flavor of Autumn obsession would be able to put together: this boy, if boy is even the right word, is that solid and that patient and that enduring, which means his Mantle indicates a very large temper at the end of a very, very long fuse.
None of this washes with the twitchiness he'd displayed initially, or the recklessness of inviting total strangers into his home, or the sheer desperation to please them that's danced about the edges of his interaction. Something happened, and happened recently, that's set this patient and solid creature off-balance. And none of this washes with his blithe, flippant statements about packing everything in his car and leaving. Someone like this should put down roots, shouldn't live in a building where no one talks to each other, should be part of a community, should become a fixture-- not steal a corpse for a fancy sandwich and be ready to bug out at a moment's notice.
But here he is, complicated and nonsensical, as damaged as the rest of them in myriad ways-- and here he is setting his glass down again and lifting his hands to hug Kelsey's arms around his shoulders, living wooden hands polished-smooth and hard but warm, and he lightly leans his starry dark head against Kelsey's candleflame bright one. His voice is soft. "All right."
Even if it might be better for them, sometimes.
None of what's happening makes any sense. It's something, again, that Kelsey can fold away, can set aside to take out and examine at a later time. The Autumn Court is, as a rule, in favor of living with one's emotions rather than trying to conquer them. But even when one has a roommate, one doesn't need to prioritize them all the time. Feel, yes. Consider later, yes. Act on ... not all of them at the same time.
He stays there, therefore. Not still, precisely. His breathing is definitely evident, given that some of his weight is outright draped on Edmond. Fingers flex. That pointed chin shifts, just a little. Small things that, although sometimes uncomfortable, make the difference between a still more uncomfortable silence and a lving one.
And eventually, the murmur quiet and low and blending oddly perfectly with the quiet and the warmth and the contact: "If you turn out to be some kind of codependent jerk with no borders and abandonment issues, Summer or not, I'm gonna find some way to kick your ass."
Kelsey's voice, an almost sudden thing in the humming quiet of the room, gets Edmond to open his eyes and turn his head a little, starry navy blue meeting that too-bright green with affectionate mirth. "If I display signs of such, please kick my head instead, in order to dislodge whatever may be possessing it. Behavior that poor would be distressingly out of character for me."
Quiet again for a second, that regard so very close as almost nose-to-nose as they are, Edmond studies Kelsey. And then he brightens, ridiculously, grinning like he just managed to see the individual wingbeats of a hummingbird in flight. "I figured out how you feel!" he crows like it's a huge revelation, dropping his head back and saying it to the ceiling so Kelsey's not deafened. And then he starts laughing in relief. "Yes, it is strange how easy it is to be comfortable with you, and I am worried for it also, because I do not like to become too attached to people or places? Because I do not wish to be eaten by loss. But I will not run from you, Kelsey," he finishes, patting the flamesiren's arm. "If I find I have to leave I will tell you first. I will trust you and give you whatever you need for you to trust me. I want your friendship very much."
"It's 2017," he says. Still looking ceilingward. Even after being patted. "They have these things these days. I know it's hard to catch up with everything, but some things are useful to know about. 'Internet.' 'Cell phone.'" He does not draw out the syllables or exaggerate the way they're pronounced, at least. Not this time. After a moment, though, he squirms, and the unpatted arm comes up and a fingertip taps Edmond's nose.
(Yes, he glances to check whether the stars are also indignant.)
"You should be more careful with your promises," they murmur, their voice dropping lower. "Somebody might take you up on them before you have the time to think things over."
Then there is the nosetap, and he blinks-- and a shooting star tracks rapidly across his face, from just below his right eye, before it vanishes in the vicinity of Achernar. Still, he doesn't stiffen, doesn't tense. There's something else instead, something inscrutable and distant, which shifts his demeanor in almost imperceptable ways-- shifts it to something regal and grave and full of a vast and weighted sorrow that tastes almost of despair. Almost.
It's very quietly that he says, one hand coming up to catch at Kelsey's and hold it in the air near their faces, "You do not know how careful I am with my promises, or with my heart."
"I don't," they answer gently, not quite lightly. Weighed down a little by that near-despair. "I only know about that one. And it makes me worry. Maybe I worry too much. I don't know you yet. But I'd rather worry too much than not worry when I should have."
He takes a breath, and releases Kelsey's hand, and the thin pre-dawn light at the v of his hoodie's zipper grows warmer, brighter, beginning to be touched by hints of airy white-gold and lightening the blue above it. "I will trust you, and give you whatever you need for you to trust me. That is neither bound as promise in Wyrd or words, but it is a declaration of intent, and you are not the boss of me so I am making it."
The earth and sky and the green green leaves grin at Kelsey abruptly, and this time it's quick and bright and teasing. "It is an offer to make a promise, Williams! I am not so bad at English that I do not know the difference!" And then the elemental pulls himself up and away off the couch and spins deftly on his foot to face Kelsey again, and the smooth-polished wood of his hands goes into his hoodie pockets. Standing, he cocks his head and regards the flamesiren, and there's mischief that goes with the reckless and careless front that doesn't mesh with the slow steadiness or the deep vein of burning anger like magma or Centralia.
The stars are brightest on the upper half of his face, and in his eyes, and in his hair, and he's teasing and he's serious and it's all plain as day. He's not hiding a damn thing. "It is an offer I make because you want to protect me. It is also very heavy and you have to unpack, yet, so I will graciously allow you think on it-- ah, if you even wish to-- and I?"
Affection. "I will play my sarode until I fall asleep."