The Out

Not here.

Not here again.

Waking up here (again) was like being pulled out of Hell and told you had to live again, but couldn’t change anything, and would end up in Hell anyway. The leaves were slick, or dripping, and the dead fog hung heavily on Ezra-Pound branches. No sound of birdcall, but the barest whisper of rushing water–far away, and yet too damned close. He knew he was being watched. He knew he was being thought of. He knew someone, somewhere just wouldn’t let him die. This happened, now and again, but he could never really understand why. After all the fights, and the deaths, and the missions, and the gloves, and the apartments, and the hundred different worlds that collided in ways he wasn’t comfortable thinking about–

(I’d rather be growing strawberries)

–and then there was that. The occasional thought that filtered through, that was his but didn’t feel like his. It didn’t feel like his at all. He was cold, and half-damp, and his teeth chattered as he shivered his way in the direction of Out, not that he knew precisely where it was, but it would come, and he would rather be doing something than waiting.

He always hated waiting.

* * *

The Out was the same as always, the slit of a window, a looking into the gritty lot that didn’t exist, the lot that was a building of bodegas and huge billboards, the lot that was on the upper corner of what no one calls Hell’s Kitchen anymore. A corner on 48th, by Port Authority, where there is never a small amount of people, also waiting.

Stepping out was twisting, and sideways, and jolting to the nerves and the stomach, and even if he was careful with his feet (which he always was) he tripped, went down, every time, and felt the rolling nausea like he’d just stepped off his too-manyth ride on a Tilt-A-Whirl.

Stand up, stagger, brush off, and he’s just another guy in wrinkled black suit pants and a button-down oxford. The black tie’s knot was half undone, and his sleeves were rolled up, and his hair was looking more like frightened cats fought in it than anything else.

Pack of cigarettes in one pocket, and the familiar gesture of ‘what you see is simply me, with a lighter, of course’ and inhale and exhale and another inhale and another exhale and then one step and then another.

Walking, instead of waiting.

* * *

She was at the noodle shop, all by herself at a table for two, with a notebook and various pens and pencils, an iPod and a bowl of noodles covered in something eye-watering and red.

She looked up, when he came in, and he knew it was her he was looking for, by the way she froze, staring at him with a naked sort of awe and excitement.

A rushing waiter swore in Mandarin, shoving past, but he didn’t care. He stared at her, close enough to touch, and narrowed his eyes. “Do I thank you, or kill you?” he asks, and his voice is smooth and low and honeyed whisky. He expected it to be rough and worn and broken.

“Dunno,” she answered, the most ridiculous grin plastered over her features as she shoved the bowl in his direction. “Noodles?”

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