Inner CalmStarted by Shalimar Fox at Aug 10, 2020 3:17 AM
December 1, 2023
"Someone once told me you can't force right or wrong on anyone."
Adam: "All you can do is lead by example and hope they lean towards the light."
"Glad you remembered."
The vending machine was one of those standard snack ones almost every major business had set up at different key areas across several floors. They were easy, cheap and convenient; filled with varying types of deliberately tempting and overpriced food and drink. Shalimar used the one on her floor in the I.T. building quite regularly, mostly for a soda but today that little chocolate nut bar in the very corner at the top of the machine located near the entrance to her workplace was looking like a rather fitting quick bite to eat on her way home.
Thing was, self-use, automatic, money activated machines often had the tendency to peeve everyone off by either taking the money and giving nothing or dispensing the product but stopping just as it was about to drop. The latter was happening to Shal right now and no matter what she did – hit the area beside, in front of or near it, slightly shake the blasted thing, or press the button over and over – it wouldn’t budge. The kitty within was fast starting to lose her patience, eyes flashing. Thankfully, facing the current thorn in her side meant no one could see it unless they were astute enough to notice the glow in her reflection.
“Come on, you stupid thing!” she almost growled.
She’d already had a long day dealing with irate and just downright clueless customers. All she wanted to do was go home, maybe have a glass of wine and settle the inner big cat down by soaking in a nice warm bath filled with lavender and Epsom salts. The way she was feeling she’d have to go straight and meditate first lest she started tearing things down in an impromptu redecorating of her apartment.
Fox debated whether to lift the vending machine off the ground slightly, she was definitely strong enough to but knew even the most oblivious fellow co-worker would think there was something wrong with that. Plus, there were so many cameras around too. Instead, she gave it one more shake, this time far more vigorously and almost cried out with joy when the nutbar finally dislodged. Grabbing it, she wasted no time in making her way out of the building careful not to catch anyone’s gaze in case they were to suddenly need her for something. Seemed to happen all the time, an annoyance the striking blond had to grin and bear if she wanted to keep this job.
Every day she was thankful that where she lived in Silicon Alley, Central Manhattan, was only about two blocks away from her place of employment. Meant she could walk, never get caught in traffic and be home in a matter of ten minutes to hide away from a bustling metropolis she did love yet needed to completely close off from every now and then. Speaking of, she shut the door behind her, slid in the chain lock, secured the two other bolts, kicked off her shoes, placed her bag on the small table in the initial hallway and walked straight over to the couch set up in the perfect relaxing position near the bay window in the main living area.
“Okay girl,” she thought. “Time to relax. In and out. That’s it." She smiled to herself. "Just as well that snack bar was actually worth it!”
Even though sunset was still an hour away, the winter’s light was already starting to dip below the tall buildings that make up the city. The evening air was starting to get a renewed chill to it. The chill urged residents and visitors alike to make their way home, or quickly get to their next destination where warmth awaited them.
Booker felt the cold just as much as everyone else. He pulled the collar of the oversized flannel that he had grabbed from a donation bin, up around his neck. It was as an adult-sized top, which made it look like a robe on him. It did a good job of hiding the hospital PJ’s, but also made him look homeless. Which wasn’t far from the truth. The hospital was as close to a home as he had, and it felt more like a prison than anything else.
Today there had been a new nurse handling the afternoon medication distribution to his unit. They had failed to make sure he took his meds. Missing one dose was enough to allow him access to some of his powers. Which was all he needed to escape. It would not be too long before they’d be out looking for him. He didn’t want to go back but finding a warm place to sleep was going to be difficult. When a minor shows up at a shelter they’re always quick to call child services, which is how he got sent back the last time. Booker wasn’t going to make that same mistake.
His nose, aided by his stomach, had led him down an alley behind a Thai restaurant. It smelt SO good. It had been so long since he had anything other than hospital food. It was dinner time so the smell of freshly cooked food poured out of the exhaust fans. Looking in the ally he tried to find something to use as a stool to look into the little window in the kitchen door. He noticed a half-buried milk crate. Booker tried to be quiet but wasn’t great at it. As he pulled the box out it caused a loud crash as half-hazard objects tumbled down to the pavement. Worried that someone would come and investigate he quickly hid behind the garbage bin.
After a minute he poked his head out from behind the bin. No one seemed to be coming. Seems he was in luck, the staff was too busy with the dinner rush to wonder about the noise. He smiled slightly, before going to retrieve his milk crate. With a grunt, he lifted it up and carried it over to the door. With small cold fingers, he gripped the window frame as he climbed on top of the crate, careful not to lose his balance as he peered into the kitchen. Wobbling slightly as the crate sat unevenly on the cement.
"Someone once told me you can't force right or wrong on anyone."
Adam: "All you can do is lead by example and hope they lean towards the light."
"Glad you remembered."
Deep within, Shalimar could finally feel herself starting to truly relax from the events of the day, particularly that very annoying last fifteen minutes of it. She’d heard stories from her co-workers about how unrelenting those vending machines could be but hadn’t experienced it personally. Now she had, the feral based child of Genomex was sure the next time she could handle it better. Hah! Who was she kidding?! The machine would end up getting a thorough beat down, Shalimar making sure it was within the normal human parameters so no one else would be the wiser.
The big cat side of her never allowing these moments to close out everything around her entirely, the sound from the alleyway below made her jump ever so slightly and slowly open one eye, enhanced hearing honing in. Moving from a lotus position to kneeling, she glanced out the bay window, keen eyesight at first picking up on nothing further up and closer to the street. Then she watched the little shadow come out of behind the bin and proceed to head up to the back window of a restaurant she frequented often since the back of it was right there so close to where she lived.
She recognised a kid without a home when she saw one, Shalimar having been there done that for quite some time in her younger years. Someone else may have gone out their front door and around. Not Shal. Instead, she walked silently up her hallway and into one of the spare rooms accessing the fire escape, climbing out and, after double-checking the kid was still there, jumped over the side, landing gracefully.
“I’m sorry, little one, but they’re not the type to give away free food,” she said calmly.
Even though her voice was quiet it still startled Booker. His body jumped causing him to lose balance and fall off his crate with a tumble. Trying his best to catch himself, he ignored the twinge of pain he felt in his ankle as he got back onto his feet and scurried into the closest corner he could find. Hoping that the person would forget he was even there.
Shalimar hid the fact she’d seen this type of fear in young children so many times before and not just because they had nowhere to call home. Approaching slowly and kneeling down when around a couple of metres from the little boy, Shal smiled warmly, at first staying quiet and just watching, her intention to assure him was not going to invade his space.
Booker kept his head down. As if he was trying to become an object and not a person.
After a while, as the woman remained still, his eyes slowly began to drift up. Eventually, he was able to make it up to her face. He cringed one last time as if meeting her eyes was going to cause her to go BOO and attack him. When that didn’t happen he relaxed slightly, his fingers moving to the edge of his flannel as he pulled it closed a bit more. “Who are you?” he asked hesitantly.
“My name is Shalimar,” she said, gently. “I saw you from my window up there,” and she motioned further past the restaurant. “You haven’t hurt yourself from the fall, have you?”
“Shalimar,” he repeated to himself. Hearing her question, he moved to make sure his ankle was covered by his flannel. “I’m fine,” he answered. “Where do you work?” he quickly asked. His eyes narrowing slightly as he waited for an answer.
“Not too far away, actually. It’s an I.T. company. Computers are my thing,” she explained, noting how unusual such a question was from someone so young. ~Let him not be used for things I don’t even want to think about,~ Shalimar thought. ~I’ll kill ‘em.~
Hearing her answer, she could see him relax some more. Hearing that she wasn’t from the hospital helped ease some of his anxiety. “My name is Booker,” he shared with a slight smile. He looked past Shalimar to the kitchen door, “I was just watching them. I like the smell a lot too.”
Knowing better by experience alone, Shalimar knew he was lying, both about not hurting himself and the fact he’d just been watching the cooks. It was a relief to see him relax yet only affirmed he wasn’t just homeless but running from something. “I was about to have dinner if you would like to join me?” her tone very welcoming and also containing that sense of an adult who knew better than what he was telling her.
Booker pulled his eyes away from the kitchen door and refocused on Shalimar for a moment. He wasn’t sure what to do. His stomach had it’s own option, as it growled loudly. “Um,” he paused as he battled with himself. “I am hungry. Just…just promise me I can leave whenever I want to. No questions asked and NO child services,” voicing his conditions.
"Of course you can," Shalimar said, slowly standing up. She decided not to hold out her hand figuring he wouldn't take it anyway, simply motioning for him to follow her over to the fire escape. "To avoid too many people we can go back in this way. It's how I came down to you," she said, jumping up slightly to grab and pull down the ladder.
As the woman moved away and towards the fire escape Booker leaned out of his little hiding spot. Since the angle was odd he had to completely crawl back out into the alleyway. His shoulder’s shifted as he straightened himself and moved his jacket back into place. “I don’t know if I’m tall enough to grab that,” he commented. Suddenly a thought struck him, causing his brows to go up. He scurried over to the kitchen door and grabbed his milk crate. Quickly returning to Shalimar.
Smiling, Shalimar nodded slightly and moved out of the way. Smart kid. Offering to lift him up most likely wouldn’t have been accepted anyway and really, who was she to interfere with such a clever idea. “Keep heading on up five staircases, if you like?” she offered, inwardly caught up in the cuteness of the moment.
The kid looked up at the ladder and then down to his milk crate, it took him a few times to line up the two items so they would actually work together. “Cold,” he commented quietly to himself as he grabbed the metal. His little fingers were already frozen, and the metal didn’t help, still, he carefully made the climb up. Not daring to look down.
As he reached each landing, he counted the floors, doing his best to keep track of how far he had climbed. “Five,” he finally voiced. Clearly winded by that point. This was a lot more physical activity than he had been used to the last three years. “Is this the right one?” He asked, moving out of the way to make sure Shalimar could get onto the landing as well.
By the time her little visitor had reached outside her apartment window, Shalimar was already halfway up, reaching him in mere moments and nodding. “Yes,” she said, motioning to the still open window. “You want to go first to have a look and get your bearings?” she asked. “Will give you a chance to start warming up too,” she added, with an understanding smile.
Booker looked at the open window, then to Shalimar and then back again. “I…I think I’ll need help. That cli…climb took a lot out of me. I…I don’t want to break anything if I get clumsy,” he admitted. He didn’t like to admit he was weak; it wasn’t smart to do with a stranger. It was the truth though. He even got a little misty-eyed with the admission.
“Okay,” Shal assured him, moving over to climb inside first. She then turned around and held out her hand. “Come on, I can lift you over.”
Taking a step to the side Booker made sure he wasn’t in the way of the window. He watched with attentive eyes as Shalimar moved into the apartment. She made it look so effortless. It only assured him that he wouldn’t be able to do such a task as well. Once she was inside he moved closer and held out his arms so she could help him. For the moment he was completely submissive, choosing to truly trust her for a short while at least.
Shalimar didn’t have any children of her own, trusting one day that she would, still, that was one of the most heart wrenching yet also adorable moments she had ever experienced. The trust of a child who didn’t even know her. Nothing could really compare. The inner feral was almost purring with contentment and the absolute need to make sure nothing else bad ever happened to him. She reached over, gently taking Booker under the arms and bringing him in, not letting go until she was sure his feet were firmly on the ground.
“Food first, or would you like a shower or bath to warm up?” she hesitated none in asking him as she closed the window to keep the warmth of the ductless heating in proper.
Booker closed his eye as he felt Shalimar’s hands. He wasn’t closing his eyes because he was scared, he was just worried that if he watched her move him that he’d try to move and screw things up. Feeling the floor beneath him again he kept his eyes closed for a moment more. Part of it was the fact that he was tired, and the other part of him was taken back by her touch. It was getting hard for him to remember what being touched gently felt like.
Realizing that he might be worrying Shalimar he opened his eyes again. Offering her a small, tired smile. “Thank you,” he added. “Food and a blanket would be great… please,” trying not to forget his manners.
“No problem,” Shalimar answered, standing back up and moving over to the double bed decorated with both neutral and natural colours. She pulled back the covers, revealing a deep red set of sheets, then removed some of the decorating cushions so she could put the pillow properly in place. “This is one of the spare rooms. You can rest here and, since you now know how to, the window is just there to use at any time you may be feeling scared or you simply wish to leave. Now,” and she looked around at him again. “What do you like to eat? Are you allergic to anything?”
Small slippered feet shuffled further into the room. As Shalimar started to move pillows around he walked past the edge of the bed, letting his hand slide along the soft blanket as he moved to the window. He looked out to see where it lead to so he was familiar with his closest exit. “I don’t like chunks of tomatoes,” he answered rather quickly. Even under the worst conditions a kid always had an opinion on food when given a choice.
Shalimar let out a small laugh. “Yes, well, not many people do, to be honest,” she admitted, turning and heading towards the door. “Make yourself comfortable, Booker. I’ll be back soon.”
As Shalimar moved towards the door Booker went ridged for a moment, “Please don’t close the door.” A touch of panic and fear could be heard when he said “please”. Seeing as her hand didn’t even move towards the handle he relaxed, “Thank you.” He added with a smile as he turned to investigate the rest of the room.
Not liking the smell of the flannel, he had found, he took it off and left it on the floor near the window. Crawling up onto the bed he kicked off his hospital issues slippers and pulled the top blanket towards him. With the skill of a 10-year old’s mind, he turned himself into a blanket burrito with just enough room in the layers of blanketed warmth to sit up, but just barely.
In the kitchen, Shalimar paused, unable to help but let the emotion of the moment swell up even it was just for a little while. She felt her own dinner, consisting of silverside, white sauce and vegetables, might be a little too heavy on an empty stomach so decided on making a silverside sandwich instead. Cutting it into four squares, she then poured a glass of water, as well as another glass of milk for after he’d finally gotten something into his stomach. Placing all on a small tray, she headed back into the room, half expecting the little boy to already be fast asleep.
Hearing Shalimar coming Booker looked towards the open door. He smiled when he saw her, but the smile quickly faded. Replaced with a slightly worried expression, "I think I over burrito'ed myself. I'm stuck." He confessed. In his excitement of sitting on a real bed with proper blankets, he made a rookie mistake when he sat up. He accidentally sat up on the edge of the blanket that sealed him into his burrito. Unable to lay himself down he couldn't unroll himself on his own.
This time her laugh was a lot louder, the blond placing the tray on top of the bedside drawers and reaching down to take a hold of the blankets. “Here, let me help,” she said, giggling some more.
"If you want to play around with mutant genetics I'm the last person you want to play around with."
Adam had a dream since he graduated from university. To heal people from diseases that used to be death sentences through genetic engineering. His dream had led him into founding Genomex, but now he didn't feel as confident about it as he once did. There was something different going on. Even Eckhart wasn't the same anymore. The time he had spent out of existence seemed to have changed everything now that he was back. Each day he questioned if that was still the same company he had created.
Maybe he was just overreacting. It could be the result of too much work to catch up with what was done in his absence. He had always been too methodic. Many in his life had pointed out that not so little flaw of his. He thought of it as a virtue though because it meant everything was always sorted and in its rightful place. His notes had been so precise that others could use them to continue his work as if there had been no glitch. He saw that as a good thing. His work meant everything to him. For a good period of his life, it was the only reason why he wanted to keep breathing.
That was true until Shalimar Fox had entered his life again. Finding the girl turned feral New Mutant by his work had opened another door in his heart. One that had always stayed closed since the death of his parents. Family. Adam took her in and then, for a reason still unknown to him, kept her and cared for her like a true daughter. He was devastated to know she had also been vanished and he was working and not with her when both of them were erased from existence.
Adam drove to Shalimar's apartment building and parked in front of it. They had arranged to have dinner together that night. He was glad she had found a new job and was also making her life anew. He hoped she wouldn't mind that he was slightly late again. Shalimar knew how his work was important to him, but he always made sure she knew that it wasn't more important than her. That she could count on him always, for anything.
Upon reaching the front door, Adam used his keys to open it. To his surprise, the chain lock was in place not allowing him to come in. Had Shalimar forgotten that he was coming for dinner? Sometimes her mind got sidetracked by other things and he never held it against her. He took his smartphone out of his black leather briefcase and called her. No reply. He started to get worried. He opened the door as much as possible.
"Shalimar? It's Adam. The chain lock is on the door. I can't come inside." He didn't shout, only raised his voice slightly, as he knew her keen feral hearing would pick up his voice from anywhere within the apartment while the neighbors wouldn't be bothered. He wondered what was going on.
It had taken a little more effort then it should have, but once Booker relaxed enough to allow Shalimar to move him off the seam of the blanket he was able to loosen the blanket enough to free his arms. He definitely needed his arms if he was going to eat something. His eyes grew wide and he smacked his lips just a bit as he crawled over to the bedside drawers, aka closer to the sandwich. “That looks like a…” his words trailed off as he heard someone knock on the door. The knock was quickly followed by the phone ringing, and then a male voice called out from nearby. All thoughts of sandwiches went out the window, as alarm and panic took its place. Instinct caused him to dart off the bed and into the closet. Quickly closing the closet door behind him. He may have trusted Shalimar enough to come inside, but that trust did not extend to anyone else.
OOC: He will be in the closet when Shalimar leaves to get the door. However, when she comes back, he won’t be there. He will have moved back outside to the fire escape. He will be hidden from view, but the tail of the blanket he’s still wrapped up in will be draped over the window seal. He is not a flawless ninja.