1963-09-09 - In Bloom
Summary: Rosemarie is not having a great day, but at least there's an experienced hand there to keep matters from going from bad to worse.
Related: If there are no related logs, put 'None', — please don't leave blank!
Theme Song: None
rosemarie johnny 


The sun might be shining, but heavy shadows lie under Rosemarie's glossy cinnamon-brown eyes. She has spent the last few nights with little sleep and, for the sake of her sanity, has called out of work today. There's a little cafe not far from the safety of her apartment and she's ventured out carefully this morning for a cup of coffee. She tries very hard to keep her actions smooth - she locks her door, walks down the hallway and down the stairs, and out onto the sidewalk. It's hard not to cringe and flinch when someone brushes past her, though they mean no harm whatsoever. She's very tired and strung like a tight wire.

Behind her ears, she can feel the itching. It hasn't gone away and she's made some loose connection between the changes and her stress level. It's just…how to go about fixing the whole mess? She also can't keep warm. The mousy-brunette rubs at her upper arms through her thick sweater and shivers a little despite the bright morning light. A cup of hot coffee is sounding better and better. In her exhausted state, she is keeping little track of her line of travel and decides to stick close to the inner edge of the sidewalk as she approaches the cafe.

*

Already seated inside the cafe with a corner table to himself: one Johnny Storm, impossible for most New Yorkers not to recognize even though his hair has just recently been changed from its natural deep brown to a rich, warm blond.

There have been one or two interruptions, but for the most part, Johnny has been left alone. The stack of rather advanced mechanical engineering textbooks next to his drink probably have a lot to do with that, helped along by the tired way he has his head propped up in a hand while he writes notes.

Before long, Johnny just drops the pencil and leans back in his chair, reaching up to quickly rub at his face and mutter quietly about needing another refill.

*

She's lucky enough to make it to the cafe doors without any sort of unwanted interaction and even into the cafe itself. Rosemarie counts this as a little win and feels the knots in her shoulders loosen ever so slightly. The air is redolent with the delicious miasma of brewed coffee and her chest rises and falls in a slow appreciative sniff of it all. The line is short, courtesy of her timing (not quite morning rush, not quite lunch recharge), and she takes her place. Her purse, a small tasseled number, hangs from her shoulder; she reaches into it and pulls out a wad of one-dollar bills.

As she waits for her turn, she scans the crowd. It's quiet today and not many people linger in the seating area. A few tables are taken, mostly by gentlemen reading papers or pairs of ladies having a tete-a-tete about their neighbors. Her eyes are drawn to one corner, with a single occupant and a pile of books (oh, she recognizes those - she just reshelved copies of them a few days back at the library), and her gaze lingers. A pensive frown knits her brows and she tilts her head a little. The young man seems very familiar somehow, but she can't quite put her finger on it. Perhaps she's thinking of someone else. The hair color isn't right for the faint memory she has of his face.

The barista asking about what she'd like brings Rosemarie back and she blushes under her freckles while she gives a small, nervous smile. After putting in her order, she steps to one side and waits for her coffee to come up, her eyes lingering on pamphlets that lie across the end of this counter.

*

She has a few moments to herself before Johnny materializes next to her. Really, he'd just made his own way through the line again to request another cup, but he's tired enough to be pretty quiet about it. Easy to miss, especially when one's attention is elsewhere.

Hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans, Johnny lightly bounces on his toes while he waits, casting a quick look around the cafe. Whether it's the proximity or the unusual attire for the beginning of September, though, his eyes eventually settle on the young woman next to him, and he tilts his head slowly to one side.

*

Her hands are rubbing up and down her upper arms again as she fights against a chill - and then she realizes that someone is in her peripheral vision, a little close for comfort. Her heart rate spikes, the itching increases, and she swallows as she glances over at the person.

Oh, it's the young man from the corner, and he seems to be looking at her. At her. Rosemarie looks in the same direction as Johnny, beyond herself, and then back at him. She stares up into his dark eyes for a moment and wishes very badly that she could turn invisible on the spot.

"Can I help you?" Her voice comes out quiet and raspy, worn from late-night tears and weariness and the words are a well-practiced mantra that comes out as a default awkward response these days.

*

"Huh?" Johnny blinks once and immediately takes a small step backwards, his face twisting in a wince. As he steps back, the area becomes slightly cooler — the guy is like a walking space heater. "Was I staring? I'm sorry! I'm half asleep," he says apologetically, holding up his hands. "Sorry. It's… it's been a week."

*

"It's okay," she replies after a moment, recovering from the throes of feeling badly that she made /him/ feel uncomfortable. "Same here." The barista pushes her coffee towards her with professionally-bland smile and Rosemarie takes it in-hand gladly. The heat suffuses her chilled fingers and leaves her in delighted goosebumps as it begins traveling up her arms.

She glances over at Johnny again in nervous curiosity, still mulling over why his face is so familiar to her. Finally, she can't bear it anymore and asks, with an apologetic half-smile, "I hope you're not offended, but I've seen you somewhere and I can't remember where. It seems impolite to re-introduce myself, if our paths have crossed. I'm Rosemarie," and she hesitates and eventually decides to keep her hands about her soothingly-warm coffee mug instead of offering one as a greeting.

*

Now it's Johnny's turn to offer an "It's okay," though his comes with a lopsided smile that is not at all apologetic. "None taken. I get that a lot. I'm — oh." He interrupts himself long enough to accept his own refill, flashing the barista a beaming grin and a quick <Thank you,> that he's too tired to realize comes out in Korean.

When he turns to Rosemarie again, he does offer one of his hands, even though she hasn't extended one his way. "Sorry. I'm Johnny. This place is pretty full — do you want to split my table?" he offers, indicating his corner spot with a nod of his head. "I'll move my books."

*

Rosemarie's eyebrows rise slightly at the unfamiliar language that slips from his lips (some sort of Asian, it sounded so wonderfully fluid) and then he's holding out a hand. Her nose twists into a grimace, not at him but at how she's so tired that everything is too fast and she's reacting too slow and why isn't she at home under her blankets again? Removing her palm from the hot surface of the coffee mug, she grasps his gently and her lips open in a little gasp.

His palm is as hot as the coffee! Being so weary of mind, she forgets entirely to mask her disbelief as she glances to her mug and back at her hand, still holding his, and then up his face. All the while, she feels wondrous warmth creeping into her very bones from his touch. "You're so…hot," she says and then - oh my. OH. She said that aloud! The flush rises up to the tips of her ears this time as she pulls her hand away. "Sorry," she whispers, brushing a loose strand of hair behind her ears and slowly beginning to back away.

*

The reply comes without so much as a missed beat: "Why, thank you. So are…" Wait. No she isn't. She's freezing. Johnny blinks once and his brow creases in concern, eyes flicking down to her hand before allowing her to take it back without any fuss.

"No, no, it's really fine," he says quickly, offering what he hopes is a reassuring smile. "Honestly. Come have a seat?" Again he gestures towards his table, taking a small step that way while keeping an eye on her. "If you're cold -" Yeah, right, if, "- then I might as well make myself useful. I'm real popular in December."

*

"I…I see," she replies hesitantly, giving him a somewhat suspicious look, the same one you'd give a person you're convinced may be on the crazy spectrum. Popular in December? As she stands there, within arm's reach of him, she realizes that there's another source of heat nearby - oh, /him/ again! Again, too tired to mind social mannerisms, Rosemarie reaches out and holds her palm out towards him before quickly pulling it back against her chest. A little delighted laugh escapes her and her cinnamon-brown eyes rise to meet his again. "I see," she repeats, this time firmly. "I suppose…" Again, that shy smile, mildly twisted by the little scar on her upper lip, and she steps to one side to follow him if he leads her over to the table.

*

That he does. Johnny's even polite enough to pull a chair out for her and waits to reclaim his own seat until after she's gotten herself settled. A quick moment to shift his books and notes back into his backpack, sitting on the floor propped up against his chair, and then he aims a sunny smile her way. "There. That's better, right?" he asks brightly, wrapping both hands around his mug. "If your drink gets cold, let me know. I can fix it."

*

Rosemarie settles in, unconsciously placing herself within arm's reach of the young man with the odd blonde hair, since he seems to be this miraculous human heater. She's never come across such a thing and her curiosity remains piqued. She watches him put away his books with a faint look of concern (shoot, there goes a conversation starter) and then buries herself in her cup of coffee, gulping about a fourth of it down in one sitting. The liquid sits comfortably in her stomach and she slouches a little, even taking a moment to scratch behind one of her ears. The itching seems to have subsided…for now.

"I don't mind getting up and getting a warmer," she replies with a breathy laugh. Like he could actually heat up her coffee mug; the silly things that young men say, yeesh. With a tilt of her head, she looks him up and down and sighs. "I'm sorry, but really, we had to have met before. Your face seems so familiar, but I can't remember anyone named Johnny beyond this patron who comes into the library drunk all of the time and I don't believe he grew out his hair so quickly. He's bald," she adds with a nibble on her bottom lip, looking up through her eyelashes at him and hoping he laughs rather than judges her as being full of empty thoughts.

*

The proximity doesn't bother Johnny at all. He offered, after all, and he is used to it — just not this early in the year. He watches her carefully for a moment and, sure enough, the area around him (and their table) grows steadily warmer, like sitting near a fireplace without an open flame.

He makes a thoughtful noise and reaches up to touch his own hair, as if reassuring himself it's still there. "No, that can't be me," Johnny murmurs thoughtfully, a playful twinkle in his eye. "Besides, I'm sure I'd remember you." He casts another quick look around the cafe, lips pursed, before he leans over enough to be heard after dropping his voice. "…Johnny Storm," he offers. "It's… I get my picture taken a lot. I'm sure that's all it is."

*

She tries not to smile at his light-hearted reply and fails. The humor is tiredly appreciated from her end of things. It's been so dark and uncertain for her lately that Johnny is a delight, even if he remains an unknown - that is, until he says his full name.

Rosemarie's eyes narrow as she hears the name. It processes while she looks at his face and then, it clicks. The whites of her eyes show as she straightens and leans back in her chair. "Oh." The little sound escapes her rounded lips and then she turns into a shivering mess. "Oh, y-y-you, the one with the fire, and oh!"

She can barely get out the thought that is so logically lined up in her brain: Oh, Johnny Storm, how nice to meet you! I read in the news that you saved those people. What amazing powers you have. Kind of freaky, but then again, people keep talking about mutants and it seems useful. You must never get cold. But have you set things on fire when you didn't mean to?

That's not what comes out. Pushing her chair back with a loud crank of metal on metal and sloshing her coffee everywhere, Rosemarie flaps her hands uselessly, fully devolving into panic at this point. Johnny himself hasn't gotten her into the state. Exhaustion plus running into a celebrity means that she's beyond saving as far as her nerves go. She rises to her feet, gasping for air and stumbling for the door. Other cafe-goers look up in concern as she wobbles outside. Tears are now threatening to run down her face. The itching has returned ten-fold and when she next reaches up, she can feel the silky tips of the feathers emerging from her hair. With a choked cry, she begins a shambling jog over to the alley next-door to the cafe, intent on hiding until she can breathe again.

*

Okay. This bares some resemblance to reactions Johnny has gotten before, but only passingly so. He's quick to bring his hands up to try and keep the coffee from spilling, eyes a bit wide in surprise and worry. "It's okay!" he insists, "Calm… down?" Aaaand there she goes.

This is a new one. At least he isn't feeling sleepy anymore.

With a worried frown, Johnny grabs his bag and slides to his feet, awkwardly hopping out from behind the table. "I apologize for the mess!" he calls towards the counter, already hurrying for the door to try and track the poor girl down and make sure she's okay. "She's fine, I'm sure she's fine, I've got it!"

*

One of the silver metal trash cans clangs as she tries to catch her weight against it. She's able to stumble onwards, her half-sobs echoing off between the brick walls of each side of the alley, and finally makes it behind a large dumpster. There are some collapsed boxes, none of which look too dirty, and she falls onto one hip there. Pressing herself against the sunwarmed wall, she shivers and sniffles and wipes at her face before once more giving a stifled sob as her fingertips brush over the feathers that are now long enough to curve back beyond the edges of her skull, two vertical crowns of indigo-hue.

Rosemarie pulls back her sleeves and lets out a helplessly-angry sob at the feathers that have now too grown from the skin on her arms, along the edges of her ulna, and fan out like those of the long-extinct dinosaur-birds. It's when the burning between her shoulderblades becomes apparent that she slams her back against the brick wall, as if to halt the process, and yanks down the sleeves of her sweater. She's not cognizant of anyone approaching her until they're in view.

*

Between the clanging of trash cans and the choked sobs, Johnny doesn't have much difficulty figuring out where Rosemarie ran off to. He yanks his backpack up onto his shoulders as he dodges pedestrians on his way to the alleyway, expression etched with concern as he rounds the bend.

And sees her.

For a moment, Johnny is frozen in place from the surprise of it… but then his mind remembers how to work and he shoots a quick look over his shoulder. Oh, boy. At least this isn't as public as it could be.

Very slowly, Johnny moves deeper into the alley to approach, trying to make sure he doesn't startle or surprise her any further. "Rosemarie?" he calls in as gentle a voice as he can. "Are you — no, that's a dumb question," he says under his breath, wincing at himself.

*

Her brown eyes, shadowed and made more so by her paled skin, lock onto Johnny as his voice reaches her through the pounding of her heart in her ears. With an animalistic squeak that sounds partly avian, she tries to slide down the wall, away from him, but losing the pressure of her skin against the sun-warmed brick is her undoing.

Her sweater suddenly expands from behind her ribs and with a rip of torn stitching, nearly comes off her body. Only her frantic grab and some strings about the back of her neck keep it on her. Now, two wings, not much bigger than the width of her outstretched arms and bearing the same midnight-blue hue of feathering, expand awkwardly behind her back. One, half-caught on the nearby dumpster, is stretched to its full length and the other is folded, looking somewhere between 'awkward fledgling bird' and mangled. Rosemarie catches sight of them and seems to break. Her grip on her arms lessens as she slides down into a pathetic heap, her chin touching her chest as she quietly sobs.

"Don't tell anyone," she manages between sniffles. "Please, they'll take me." She's freezing-cold now, not just chilled, and the feathers quiver in time with her full-body shakes.

*

The animal-like cry is enough to make Johnny freeze in his tracks, though not out of fear of her — fear for her. He casts a worried look back towards the sidewalk, wincing, and does his best to ensure that his body is blocking what view of her that anyone passing by might have should they look down the alley for the source of the commotion.

Only after Rosemarie has settled into her pathetic heap does Johnny finally finish his approach. With a worried frown, he slowly lowers himself down into a crouch in front of her and, after a long moment's consideration, he just holds out one hand, palm up. "Who will?" he asks gently, his brow creasing. "Do… do you need somewhere to go? Somewhere safe?"

*

Johnny's voice is an anchor amidst the turmoil of her thoughts. All she wants to do is escape back to her apartment and hide in her room until the…these stupid feathers retreat back into her body.

"The police, they'll take me because I'm a f-freak and then the government will do experim-m-m-ments on m-m-me an-an-an-" She can't even finish her thought for the fear-laced adrenaline coursing through her blood and dissolves into muffled sobs again. She can't cover up the feathering, not now, so she hides her face instead. In her state, she completely misses Johnny's outstretched hand, but somewhere, instinctively and beyond the reaches of her panic, she can feel that he's emitting that same warmth and the odd sentience in her blood begins to chip away at her terror, encouraging her to respond to it.

It takes her another minute or so, but she consciously realizes that he's still there due to the aura of heat around him and swipes a sleeve across her face. It's blotchy and red, no beautiful crier is she, and she looks up at him pitifully. "I want to go home," she whispers in her tear-broken voice, a basic child's plea for safety in a cruel world.

*

"I won't let anybody take you, Rosemarie," Johnny says to her and, despite the gentleness of his tone, there is a certain air of a promise to his words. "Noone is going to hurt you, okay?"

When she looks up, Johnny's expression remains one of pained, utterly sympathetic concern. He and his friends aren't so far removed from their own powers manifesting that he doesn't remember damned well what kind of turmoil comes along with it.

"If home is safe, I will take you home," Johnny says quietly, extending both of his hands towards her now. "If you need help, I can take you to the Baxter Building. Reed should be there. But it's completely your choice. I'll drive you either way. Okay?"

*

Outstretched hands. Rosemarie looks at them with mute exhaustion, just now reaching the point of being too tired for tears, and then up at Johnny's concerned face once again. Her cinnamon-brown eyes are now some blended orange hue, akin to avian raptor-red. Reed. Oh, Reed, Dr. Reed, of the…the something Four. He was a scientist, right?

"Dr. Reed is a scientist, right?" she echoes her mental musings as she sits up slowly. She aches abominably in her skin and muscles where the feathering and wings have emerged. It's more than her psyche can take right now and even the sight of her fingernails, now elongated into small talons, is met with distant distress.

The moment her skin touches his palms, it seems to suck away the heat. Blessed, blistering warmth rushes through her veins and makes her shiver hard once before the generalized shudders begin to subside. This blood-sentience croons to her, encourages her to remain touching him, and draws more heat into her core. She can feel it balming over the strains of her mortal body and blinks in weary confusion. "Could he help me?" she asks after Dr. Reed.

*

There's a faint flicker of surprise that washes over Johnny's face when he feels the heat draining from his hands, but unlike most people, he is in the very fortunate position where he can compensate it. Being a walking furnace does have its advantages, every now and again. So he just gently takes her hands in his, replenishing the heat as quickly as her own biology saps it from him.

"If anybody could help? It's probably him," Johnny notes with a small smile. He doesn't bother correcting the name — Reed can do it if it bothers him, and it's definitely not important right now. "He helped us. I'm sure he'd be willing to help you, too."

He thinks for a moment, briefly chewing on his lower lip. "…will you be okay waiting here long enough for me to bring my car around?" Johnny asks quietly. "I will not leave without you. I promise."

*

A frisson of fright leaves the feathers on Rosemarie's wings shivering like leaves in a wind, but she looks into his face long enough to be able to determine that he is, in fact, not lying. He will not leave without her. And a car…a car sounds like a good idea right now. Not…not walking on the street with the people and…and…

A hiccup of a sob escapes her before she can help it and she takes one hand back to wipe at her face again. "Yes, I'll be here." She's not okay, but she is here, and that's a point of sanity for her at the moment. Realizing that her sweater is still gaping open to some extent, she pulls away and tries to tug it futilely back into place. The wings hamper the process and the one caught on the dumpster disengages itself after some semi-intelligent flaps. She's nearly knocked over, but catches herself on one hip and scrambles back to her knees to keep holding her sweater shut.

*

Instinctively, Johnny's hands go to Rosemarie's shoulders to help catch her before she can completely lose her balance. "…okay. I'll take you to Reed, and we'll get you a new shirt, and we'll see if he can help you," he says slowly, nodding to himself to punctuate each item on his new to-do list. "Just wait right here. I'll pull up at the end of the alley and come back for you." Reluctant to withdraw the physical support, Johnny straightens back up and turns to retreat back out of the alley.

Although the wait isn't a very long one, it probably feels like an eternity before a blue Chevy Nova rolls to a stop just outside the alley. Literally just outside the alley — the car jumped the curb to put the passenger door right up against the alleyway, and once it swings open, he's shimmying his way across the front seat and out again to return to Rosemarie's side.

*

While Rosemarie in her sane mind would have shied away from the steadying touch of his hands on her shoulders, atavistic Rosemarie almost leans into them further. The heat…it's so sumptuous…and then he's gone. The loss of his touch is nearly painful and she watches him go with wide, oddly-colored eyes. Her mind momentarily entertains panicking once again when he goes entirely around the corner and fleeting horrors of military-grade men returning instead cause her to flinch into herself and shiver. Now that the source of warmth is gone, she's unable to control the quivering of her muscles.

It's the crunching of his steps in the alley once more that cause her to look up, ready at a moment's notice to bolt, like a cornered animal. But it's just him, just Johnny, and she wobbles unsteadily as she tries to stand up. She saw the blue car at the end of the alley and how he's parked it so it blocks the view and it nearly makes her want to cry out of gratitude. If only she wasn't so empty right now. "Thank you," she mumbles after a sniffle and extends her hands. If he takes them, she'll follow tamely, like a lamb to the slaughter.

*

Johnny takes them without hesitation and, just like before, can feel himself start generating more heat to compensate for what is leeched off with the contact. "A promise is a promise," he says with a small smile, walking backwards to guide her back to the car. He only releases one hand when he reaches it, and that's just to allow himself to mantain his balance as he wriggles his way back across to the driver's side.

"I'm not going to drive too fast," Johnny assures her, already getting the car started back up as she joins him inside. "No excuses for anyone to pull us over. But it isn't very far, so don't worry, okay?"

*

Rosemarie is steadied as she wobbles to her feet and follows him. Her wing-tips drag on the ground, collecting dust, as she's too tired and too inexperienced to hold them in any other way than a connotation of weariness. Her skin continues to suck away the heat, as if it were literally starved for it, and somewhere in her mind, she wonders about how he's able to keep generating the heat. She's too addled to contemplate it much.

It takes her a moment to get settled in the quality leather seat and she has to carefully yank one wing inside so the car door can shut. She still manages to catch a few of the longer feathers when closing it, but there are no nerve endings, so she doesn't notice and wouldn't care if she did. The other is awkwardly folded behind her and doesn't allow her to lean back properly in her seat. She ends up canted against the door with her head leaning against the glass, heedless of whether or not anyone can see the vertical ruff of indigo-blue feathers that are smushed between the translucent surface and her hair.

As the car gets moving, she has enough energy to glance over at Johnny and his oddly-blonde hair. She's thankful that he means no harm; Mother always said she was too trusting. "Thank you," she whispers again and then the whole business catches up to her. It's not quite sleep and not quite a faint, but something in-between that leaves the world spinning into darkness and peace.

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