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I <3 New York

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Reese rides the subway with his eyes cast downward, toward the ground, rocking and swaying automatically with every tricky lurch and bump. He knows every one by now, like old friends. He knows the subway because it's the only friend he has, it's always moving, always rushing in the underground like the arterial blood of the city only it's somehow more vital than that.

Each pulse, twist, every shriek and groan of metal, cracks like voices raising, crying. All these familiar points make him remember to breathe, reminds his heart to beat. In his haze of drunken staggering, down so deep he's lost his soul and couldn't tell up from down, in all that depth he never loses his hold on the city. It's become the only thing he wants to hold on to. Even though it writhes like a nest of asps in his grasp, sometimes turning around to bite him. Reese is knifed once in his bicep, when he refuses to surrender his spot quickly enough. It had been early on, when he'd still looked like he might have something to lose.

He learns from it, not that he needs to guard himself better, but that he needs to look less like he cares. Amongst the dispossessed of New York City, there is as system and hierarchy, and the squabbles are mostly at the top. He learns to grin and grit his teeth, learns not to value possessions - not that he ever much had, but as a part of the city, it became less imperative to even own the same clothes day to day. What he couldn't keep, he wasn't too proud to replace.

You get further by going with the flow. He shares his cheap alcohol when he has some, so that when he's without, the favor comes back around. He's used to the living things that draw life from him, too. In the agony of itching and holding his breath through pissing with his third UTI, he realizes it's in those moments that he most ceases to be an individual that he feels the most alive.

Reese is the scraping, crawling, filth of humanity, but he is for once human. It could just be the alcohol. His mind is a quiet void at last, utterly devoted to processing the most basic and limited of information, but he notices exactly how far a pool of light spreads, learns how cold it is by the plumes of air rocketing out of the open, moving mouths around him.

And in the winter he keeps warm the cheapest way possible - rides the subway which traps and holds the heat of all mobile New York, keeps it dear and close and stifling. The car is always thick with damp, that old deep smell of mildew which held on through any amount of cleaning. When he was drunk - which was as often as possible once he'd learned that it was expected of him - it was safer on the train than in the tunnels.

The ringing in his ears almost matched the cricket-whine of electric rails and wheels running rapid to close pace over them. It was only when the train was practically on top of him and the singing rails accompanied by thudding and clanging as the cars moved against each other, that his instincts woke. He had been blinded by lights seeming on top of him a dozen times, two dozen, and he'd always felt vertigo.

Lights like that are mounted on the bottoms of helicopters. Even as his body threw him aside to save his life, his mind would rebel that he wasn't looking up, but -

it must be time for extraction.

He hates the thought, hates feeling it even after all his efforts, and it always strikes him restless and angry. Hates knowing that it's all still lurking right there and waiting to spring out just like he used to, without even an elevated heartbeat, to wrap his hands over an open mouth, choke cries into nonexistence, and drag him back into the shadows. In his more lucid moments, he wonders how long it will take him to go soft, even though he knows the answer is between never and already.

Reese breathes the car exhaust and moves incessantly along the streets, as silent and invisible as a ghost. As he had been in his top form, and yet fully visible and if he spoke it was just that no one would listen. Others with nothing to lose reach out and risk his attention, risk the intent focus of his gaze, because what can he take from them? They point him at soup kitchens and other help, as if he were a lean, hungry, animal that could be soothed down to something tamer by a few good meals.

They don't realize how much tame this already is. Friendships are distant and transitory, brief occupations of his mind, but even this world where every scrap is precious and a layer of rags and soiled newspapers could be the difference in life and death, he was less like to have to kill his associates. He forms a four month bond - his longest since he'd gone dark and scattered himself to this depth - with a dog. It's not practical to do it, and it's also not his choice.

That makes it easier, familiar. To not have the control - even if it's just this. The dog follows him everywhere, through traffic and parks and underground. He ignores it, and it doesn't care, nags along at his heels like the best trained show poodle. When he sits, it sits. Sleeps. They bond over how good they are at waiting, and when he allows it in at last, curls up with it in the bitter cold so that they won't both freeze that night, it's over.

The body was cold when he woke. He discarded it, like everything else he had ever cared about, and went on moving. The scent of death must linger, because no other animals dare him. He drinks more, and thinks, 'good'.

Drinks until the world is a haze, until the lights become coronas, become as wide as they can shine in the dark, halos and halos unfocused, warring against the dark like him against his own mind. Until he feels like he's a blur against a world of blurs, and yet the whole city is still beautiful, even so smeared out of focus, like an impressionist painting of stars coming all the way down to the ground and reflected from glass that had light coming out of it already. Until he confuses what he is with what's around him.

And Reese can feel like part of something beautiful for once, one small smudge in a greater image. It would all come together when viewed from a distance. He prayed to never have the perspective.

No one was listening.