Trouble Was For: One Very Creepy Dude + Dammit, Jim
A birthday was just another day. At least that's how Dom had always seen it. He never really saw a need to make a big deal about being another year older, especially when he didn't feel any wiser or more mature or any of the things you were supposed to feel when you had another year of living under your belt. Although he supposed he should. A lot of things had certainly changed in the last twelve months. He'd had a near-death experience, found himself taking on responsibilities he never wanted, and in between all that, everything he thought he knew about the world he lived in had been turned on its head time and time again until he wasn't sure what was real anymore. He didn't think any of those things were particularly worthy of celebrating. But as ambivalent as he felt about birthdays in general and his in particular, getting drinks with a good friend he wanted to catch up with was enough of an occasion in and of itself. He hadn't seen Nora since they'd parted ways in New York more than two weeks ago, and he knew that she hadn't been in the best state of mind during that time.
The bar was just a short walk from his apartment, so he arrived a few minutes early and grabbed seats for the two of them at a high top table, and just in time too, as the place looked like it was starting to fill up. It occurred to him as he sat there absentmindedly scanning a menu, waiting for Nora to arrive, that there had been a time not too long ago when going to a bar — or a restaurant, or any public place full of people and noise and sensory overload from every direction — had been too much for him to handle. Catching wafts of yesterday's trash from dumpsters that hadn't been emptied yet used to be debilitating. Practically being able to taste what everyone in a fifty foot radius around him made it nearly impossible to keep anything down. The fact that he wasn't flinching at the sound of ice cubes being crushed at that very moment was a testament to how far he'd come since the super senses had been thrust upon him. It had taken practice, not that he had much of a choice if he wanted to have any semblance of a normal life, but he was slowly but surely learning how to live with them.
Birthdays, in Nora's book, were a reason to celebrate. They could be used as an excuse to throw a ridiculous party or have a nice meal, or even just fancy drinks. And for some people, another rotation around the sun was difficult; she knew that much, and birthdays were enough of a reason to reward that. She wasn't sure that Dom fell into that category, but seeing as how he'd gotten into such a gnarly car accident not too long ago, birthday drinks seemed warranted.
She peered out the window of her Lyft as the lights of the Bay Bridge passed by in a blur. She hadn't felt like navigating traffic on her own towards the end of the day and she'd figured that it would be less likely for her to get caught up in her old neighborhood and old haunts without driving herself, even if alcohol wasn't a concern for her that night. Nora pulled up the app on her phone and checked the time, hoping that her ETA left her enough wiggle room so that she wouldn't be late. Satisfied, she shot fired off a quick text to Dom: About 7 mins away, see you soon.
The rest of the ride went without issue and it wasn't long before Nora was climbing out of the car and onto the sidewalk in front of Here's How. She checked her appearance one more time in a nearby window illuminated by a streetlight, ensuring that the heather gray t-shirt and dark wash skinny jeans were still as spotless as they were when she'd first put them on earlier in the day. She scanned the bar as she walked inside, looking and listening for any signs of Dom. It didn't take long to pinpoint where he was sitting, and she approached the table that he had snagged. "This seat taken?"
He picked up on the sound of Nora walking in through the door before she made it to the table. The thing about having to learn how to be selective about the things you hear, to be able to sift through all the noise and filter out the things that were important, was that gradually you began to learn that everyone has their own distinctive rhythms. He was aware he had to try not to be invasive or, well, creepy without intending to be, but it was what it was. It wasn't something he could always help. Some heartbeats were slow and steady. Others sounded like an uncontrolled jackhammer tearing through concrete. Nora's had been one of the regular ones that he remembered from his time in the hospital, and it was one of the few he could already pick out of a crowd.
"Yeah, actually, I was saving it for you." With a grin, he stood up from his chair to give her a hug and gestured to the open seat across from him. "That line usually works better when we haven't already agreed to meet up here," he joked with a shrug as he got back to his seat. He took a quick glance at the drink menu in front of him before looking back up at Nora with a slight tilt of the eyebrow. He hadn't forgotten about the fact that she didn't really drink regular alcohol, or at least not in the same way he did. "So did you bring your own, you know, special booze?" He asked in a hushed tone, leaning across the table slightly. "Or are you going to just going to slum it like the rest of us mere mortals?"
She returned his grin with one of her own and gladly wrapped him into a tight hug, taking extra care to ensure that it wasn't too tight, a thing that occasionally took extra effort like when she was overtired or just caught up in the moment. Super strength certainly had its perks, but being able to deliver bone-crushing hugs usually wasn't one of them. Nora hoisted herself onto the bar stool, careful not to overshoot again (because all it took was one mistake to learn from) and idly picked up a menu once she was comfortably seated.
One eyebrow was quirked over the other as Dom leaned in and she smirked at his question. The magical booze had been her cousin Molly's concoction, one that she had worked for several months to perfect before testing it out on Nora and giving her a small flask to take with her as needed. All she needed to do was add a few drops of the stuff into her own drinks and the magic would work its...well, magic. "It's a work night, and that stuff knocks me on my ass, so. Birthday or not, I'm taking it easy tonight. You, though, you should drink up. How was your birthday?"
"Come on, live a little. What, you don't want to show up at work with a magic hangover?" he joked, lowering his voice a tad at the word 'magic'. Despite being able to make light of some of the unusualness that surrounded them in a city where unbelievable things happened on a monthly basis, he still wasn't quite used to being part of the weirdness and didn't need to be broadcasting that information to a bar full of people. Turning the menu over in his hand and taking a quick glance down the list of drinks and asked for a maracuya when the server turned up to take their orders.
"The birthday was good," he answered afterwards. "I had dinner with my sister, and other than that, I spent most of the day in and out of the office trying to get caught up on a few things before I leave town again." By all measures, working late when you didn't have to was probably a lame way to spend a birthday, but he didn't mind a break from excitement once in a while. What he needed more than anything lately was simply time and little bit of quiet. "So how've you been? We haven't really talked much since New York..." The end of his sentence tapered off into the air as he turned his head just slightly to better hear the snippets of a conversation that had caught his attention. He didn't have to turn around to know that there was someone sitting at the bar who was furtively shooting glances at their table. "Sorry, I didn't mean to tune out. Don't look now, but there's a guy at the bar inhaling beer and beef jerky who's trying to figure out where he recognizes you from."
"If you thought regular hangovers on this side of thirty are bad," she grinned. "No, thank you. I'm back on peds and even when they're sick, kids can be loud. Plus, you know." She lowered her voice in turn. "Super hearing really doesn't help with any of that." It was easy enough for her to go into sensory overload if she wasn't controlling her powers effectively, but luckily that hadn't been an issue in quite some time. When the server appeared at their table, Nora realized that she hadn't even decided what she wanted yet, but after a quick skim of the menu, she asked for the bar's flagship drink, a Here's How, and an order of fries for the table.
She nodded along as Dom recounted how he had spent his birthday. "When are you heading out again?" she asked. As awful as her eighty hours (and then some) work weeks could be, she was grateful not to have a job that required as much travel as his; despite her outward social and outgoing appearances, Nora was ultimately a pretty big homebody at the end of the day. "I've been...eh," she answered noncommittally. "I've just been trying to adjust to my peds fellowship. Taking a couple of weeks off of work was great, but I feel like it's made me a little lazier," she smirked. It certainly wasn't true even if the time off had made her want for more downtime.
Her brow furrowed slightly when Dom mentioned the other bar patron, and she carefully zeroed in on the bar with her own hearing to try to figure out who he was talking about. "Great," she mumbled. She could only assume that he recognized her from the reality show that hadn't exactly painted her in the best light, and it had seemed that enough time had passed since September that most of the noise and flurry from the show had died down, at least around her. She caught a few unsavory, choice words that the guy was saying to a friend of his and wrinkled her nose. "Well, I regret listening in," she said in a low voice as she tried to keep her facial expressions somewhat neutral. "If he comes over here, just do me a favor and pretend we're on a date or something? Maybe he'll leave us alone."
Dom accepted Nora's sound reasoning with a knowing smile and nod. Life hadn't gone quite smoothly since he suddenly woke up one day with seemingly superhuman abilities, but having at least one friend who he could talk to about them, who knew firsthand what it was like, certainly made things a little easier than they would've been otherwise. The constant feeling of having too much noise in his head, of being aware of everything happening around him at all times and not being able to get away from it, sometimes not even being able to hear himself think — that wasn't something he could explain to most people if he wanted to. He appreciated the fact that Nora already understood what it was like without him having to try.
Somewhere behind him he heard Creepy Bar Guy, which was what he had decided to call Nora's fan in his mind, order another beer for himself, although they definitely weren't doing him any favors. His comments hadn't escaped Dom's notice, and a shadow passed over his eyes as he shook his head almost imperceptibly at what he was hearing. He was somewhat less successful at keeping his face from reacting than she was. There was a part of him that was tempted to walk over and say something to the guy, but fortunately the more rational part of him prevailed. Technically he was still supposed to be taking it easy on himself and letting the last of his injured bones finish healing.
"Uh, Sunday," he answered, carefully tuning out the rest of the conversation that Creepy Bar Guy was having with his friend and circling back on the conversation he and Nora had been having. "I'll be heading back to New York for a couple days and then to London for a week to meet with a few new investors, but then I'll be back here again so I can make it out to Tahoe." But as much as he tried, his tuning out of the guy from the bar proved to be short lived. "You've got to be kidding me," he muttered under his breath in exasperation as he heard rustling followed by the sound of footsteps, not to mention the aroma of the food the man had been consuming, growing stronger by the second. With a smirk, he reached across the table to take Nora hand in his, quickly transforming the expression of annoyance on his face into one of rapt adoration, and as the man approached their table, he leaned in as if to whisper something in her ear. "Alright, we'll try your idea first, and if that doesn't work... well, let's hope it does because he's really not going to like Plan B."
The conversation between Creepy Bar Guy (CBG) and Creepy Bar Guy's Buddy (CBGB) was making Nora's stomach turn, but once she had started to listen in, she felt like she couldn't stop. They were talking about her, after all, and even though their conversation wasn't meant for her ears, well...it was happening anyway. She felt her muscles tense up over the past minute or so and pursed her lips as she realized that her fight or flight response was kicking in. They were indoors at a nice neighborhood bar, trying to have a quiet round or two of drinks to celebrate Dom's birthday, and then suddenly, this. Nora forced herself to take two deep breaths in an attempt to slow down her pulse after realizing that it had spiked to twice as fast as it normally was. A stress response. A trauma response. Her dating history was peppered with healthy relationships that had ended in heartbreak for one reason or another, but there was one person in particular who had done a number on her that she had yet to shake. The lies, the manipulation, the emotional abuse; they had all left their mark. And though she had done the work to move past all of that with her therapist, those marks had yet to completely disappear and had a tendency to sneak up on her when she least expected it, just like in that very moment.
She tried to listen to what Dom was saying about his upcoming travel plans but the words coming out of his mouth sounded like they were being spoken underwater, and yet the conversation happening across the bar was as clear as day. The only thing that seemed to shake her out of the odd trance that she had fallen into was the realization that Creepy Bar Guy was now approaching them. She glanced up at Dom with a glimmer of panic in her eyes despite her own efforts to steady herself. They can't hurt you. You're safe and you can beat them to a pulp and fry them if you need to. Kara's voice — her own voice — rang out in her head and she took another deep breath, this time trying to turn her attention to the charade that she had suggested and tried to take on the role of her companion's light-hearted date.
Nora squeezed his hand in return and leaned into him as if she was trying to hear what he had to say. She smiled softly and let out a small laugh, glancing down at their table shyly to keep up the ruse. "I think your Plan B and my Plan B are probably pretty similar, and I'd hate to see this place take any damage." It wouldn't have been her first bar fight and history suggested that it wouldn't be her last; as far as she knew The 802 in Boston was still standing, and there were at least two or three more bars and restaurants in Boston and in San Francisco that had been trashed at her hand — but those were stories for another, less predatory day. She was just about to say something else when she got a whiff of cheap, unfamiliar cologne. Nora tried not to make a face but it wasn't long before its wearer made his presence known with a gruff voice and a drunken slur.
"Looks like you're in a date here. What can I do to get you out of it?"
With no choice but to say something, Nora pulled away from Dom and looked up at Creepy Bar Guy and the unflattering smirk drawn across his face. "I'm good, but thanks," she said coldly. "We were just talking about leaving, so if you want the table, it's yours."
Within seconds his mood had gone from slight annoyed to disbelief at the guy's gall to actually pretty angry. He didn't miss the look of panic that flickered across Nora's eyes or the sudden uptick in her heart rate caused by this tactless stranger's presence in what was supposed to be a fun, light-hearted evening of two friends catching up over a few celebratory drinks, and that was enough to make him want to do whatever it took to put some distance between him and them as quickly as possible. There were a number of ways he could think of to accomplish that goal, and the vast majority of them were options he wanted to avoid unless as a last resort. The guy might have been a dick, but they were also in a nice and respectable public place, and Dom didn't think any of the other people around them would've appreciated being treated to a random display of violence on a weekday evening. There were a few things he wouldn't have minded doing if it really came down to it, but the more reasonable side of him had taken the reins and decided that an attempt at de-escalation was in everyone's best interest.
"Hey, don't be like that," the guy persisted, his dumb smirk still plastered on his face. "I'm just trying to have a conversation here. What, you think you're too good to talk to me?"
As Nora withdrew her hand from his, Dom turned his head slowly to fix Creepy Bar Guy with a look of bored, mild irritation. While he knew that Nora was more than capable of defending herself, it made his blood boil that she was having to do so at all. And he had the feeling that this guy wasn't the kind to take a hint and leave her alone just because she asked politely.
"Look, she said no, dude." Dom got to his feet, putting himself squarely between Creepy Bar Guy and Nora before the guy could further embarrass himself, which would've been a feat. With an impeccable sense of timing, their server chose that moment to return with the drinks they'd ordered. "Is... there a problem here?" She asked slowly with a nervous smile frozen on her face as she placed Dom and Nora's drinks on the table. "No, no problem at all," Dom reassured her, turning his attention to her with a grin. "This gentleman here thought he recognized me from his crossfit gym, but it was just a simple mistake." He chuckled and then turned back to the guy, looking him straight in the eyes. "I mostly do krav maga these days," he deadpanned, pointedly, then broke into a grin again and clapped him firmly on the shoulder. "Anyway, he was just getting back to his friend. Weren't you?"
She refused to let her gaze break away from Creepy Bar Guy and was perfectly content to continue to stare him down while Dom gave him his own version of a pep talk. Underneath the cold look, however, she was still focused on her breathing, in part to drown out the loud, thumping heartbeats of those around her as they watched a situation escalate and de-escalate in a matter of seconds — particularly that of the server and her impeccable timing. She looked away for a moment to offer her some semblance of an apologetic smile before looking over at Creepy Bar Guy again. Though she knew that she could have handled this just as well on her own, she was grateful to Dom for stepping in. At the very least, it gave her a few extra moments to try to clear her head and get her shit together in case something actually did need to happen, which would've been quite a shame given the celebratory nature of these drinks and how nice and new the bar was.
"Come on, guy," the last word so unnecessarily and annoyingly emphasized. Nora mentally braced herself for another slew of verbal bullshit from Creepy Bar Guy as Creepy Bar Guy signaled his friend over. Creepy Bar Guy's Buddy followed in kind with a look of annoyance on his face and for a split second. Nora thought that maybe, just maybe he'd help reign his out of control friend in.
Her heart was pounding in her ears and she could hardly make out with the guy's friend was whispering to him, but whatever it was seemed moot as the friend retreated back to his spot at the bar. "I knew it," he began, aiming his drunken gaze at Nora once again. "You're the girl from that reality show. 'Squatters'? That one? You hooked up with your roommate and then he boned some random chick he picked up from god knows where. And you can shoot lasers out of your eyes?" Creepy Bar Guy laughed and smirked smugly as he repeated himself, satisfied and convinced he was right and only slightly slurring his speech. "I knew it. You're one of those supers. You sure you don't want to party with us over here? We'll find a new bar, one that's more your speed — The Ruby Room. Or is Little Darlings more your speed?"
Nora wanted to do nothing more than to punch the ugly smirk off of his even uglier face, but Creepy Bar Guy had (loudly) given everyone else in the bar enough identifying information about herself that was actually correct that she didn't really feel like running the risk of felony assault. And then suggesting that a strip club might be 'more her speed'? Well, that just spoke volumes about what kind of uppity person he was if he thought "Look, dude. I'm a doctor, not a reality TV star. We all just came here for a drink or two and it looks like your friend misses you over there so maybe it's time to give him some company. You're right about one thing, though — sounds like you're overdue at Little Darlings."
Rather than being persuaded into acting like a reasonable adult, the guy seemed to be only emboldened by their attempts to defuse the situation. It was enough to tell that he'd had a few drinks just from his breath, but what made it really evident was the fact that he was continuing to run his mouth when it was clear to just about everyone else involved that he didn't exactly have a winning move here. Nora's words seemed to barely register with him, and when he began to take a step forward, no doubt to continue giving her his unwanted opinions about her reality tv appearance, Dom took that as his cue to intervene. "Take a hint, asshole," he said in a low voice, holding out a hand to block him from further invading her space. That appeared to anger the man, and he turned to Dom with a sneer as his hand balled into a fist and lunged sloppily in his direction. Dom quickly side-stepped to avoid his pathetic attempt at throwing a punch and easily caught his hand, leveraging the weight behind it to twist the arm and pin it against the guy's back while he used his free hand to maneuver the large, clumsy man into a chokehold.
Behind him, the server let out a small shriek of surprise. He could sense everyone in the room suddenly turning their attention to them to watch the commotion. Well, so much for defusing the situation. "It's okay, everything's fine," he said calmly to the room, attempting, probably unsuccessfully, to reassure the other patrons as Creepy Bar Guy struggled underneath his grip. "I sincerely apologize for the rude interruption, but I assure you we'll be on our way shortly in just a minute, so please go back to enjoying your evenings." Creepy Bar Guy's face was turning red as he tried to break out of the chokehold. "You're only making it worse for yourself," Dom hissed in the man's ear. "By my estimate, you've got about thirty seconds before you pass out, so if you don't want that to happen, I strongly suggest that you agree to apologize to the doctor, go back to your friend over at the bar where you're going to close out and leave a very generous tip, and then go home to reevaluate your toxic attitudes towards women."
The man only grunted in response but stopped struggling. "I'll take that as an okay," Dom said, releasing him. The guy slid to the floor, taking a moment to catch his breath. "Well, I think we've outstayed our welcome," he shot a slightly sheepish look at Nora before downing half the drink the server had placed on the table and then taking out his wallet and dropping a few bills on the table — much more than the two cocktails called for. "What do you say we get out of here?"