Welcome to the Neighborhood

July 13, 2018:

Luke invites Owen to Pop's so they can talk on neutral ground and the gloves end up coming off when Cage hears to the full story of Owen's run in with Fisk. And then Owen gets an apartment.

Pop's Barbershop

It's Switzerland with a Swear Jar.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Wilson Fisk, Jessica Jones, Danny Rand, Emery Papsworth, Matt Murdock, Harley Quinn

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Texts From Vigilantes:

Owen Mercer: Hey. So, we should probably talk.
Luke Cage: 179 Malcolm X Boulevard. Friday. 8 pm. Neutral ground.
Owen Mercer: Pistols or swords? I'm a little rusty on this.
Luke Cage: Pop's is Switzerland. Consider it a parley. I had to google that word. Appreciate.
Owen Mercer: Isn't that the fancy salad thing you don't eat? I'm too lazy to google it, I'm going to assume it means bring beer.
Luke Cage: Damn right it does.

*

The address Luke provided is for a barber shop in Harlem, sunken just below street level with a spotless store front window that proclaims it as 'Pop's'. It's no longer business hours, but the lights inside are on and the door is unlocked for this particular meeting. It's a square rectangle of a room, with stations along one side with a waiting area opposite and a set of folding chairs with a chipped table up front complete with a chess board with a scattering of pieces that seems paused mid game.

The only occupant is currently sweeping the room, the broom looking absurdly small in Luke Cage's hands. For such a menial task, he sure seems to take it seriously, reaching over to pluck up one of the chairs with one hand to sweep under it like it was made of cardboard. He must be trusted to lock up when he's done, which implies he has some sort of history with the place.

*

For the last few days Owen's mostly been holed up at Emery's penthouse. It's not the worst place to lay low. Actually it's second only to Danny's in terms of sheer comfort and opulence, two things Owen is still not used to, but very much appreciates now. After figuring out that Luke is dragging his ass all the way up past the park Owen is sure to give himself enough time to make the arduous journey. His jeep is pulled out of long term parking and he slowly makes his way up. There are plenty of bodegas in the area so he doesn't show up empty handed.

After stopping far enough away to set down his stuff and have one last smoke, Owen finally makes his approach. He knocks on the glass door with one knuckle of the hand holding his coffee cup. The other is holding a brown paper bag, but he still manages to swing the door open.

"Please tell me they don't let you cut people's hair. That'd just be mean."

*

There's a chuff of laughter as Luke leans the broom aside, "Nobody trusts a bald barber, just like nobody trusts a skinny cook." There is a little up-nod given in greeting, but other than that Luke stays near the back of the room near the vending machine and fridge. "I know you ain't from Harlem, but Pop's is a safe zone where people can meet and talk out their problems without fear of being jumped. Respect."

Now that that little speech is out of the way, he relaxes a bit. "Since when do you pre-game with a double shot cafe mocha latte?" He mocks the coffee cup after their previous text conversation about beer. Mocking is comfortable. It's what friends do.

*

Owen's face creases when Luke talks about Pop's being a 'safe zone'. He lets him finish though and get to the crack about the coffee.

"I think we both know me better than that." He sets down the bag and pulls out an opened bottle of whiskey, which has obviously been used to fix the coffee. And a six pack of beer. Nothing fancy, just some Pabst Blue Ribbon.

But then as if he can't quite shake off the earlier speech, he asks a question. He tries and fails to keep an edge out of his voice when he asks "In this scenario. Who needs to worry about being 'jumped'? I mean.. we can get into it later but you can frisk me for weapons if you want." It's been a tough time for Owen and the stress of it is obviously getting to him in that he's not quite his usual wise cracking self. Here he sounds more suspicious, maybe even paranoid.

*

"Thatta boy." Though there's nothing really behind the use of 'boy' as Luke rubs his hands together in anticipation. He steps over to the formica ledge that runs the length of the stations, plucking a coffee cup up and peering inside. He squints at an errant hair, blows it free of the confines and then ticks his head at Owen to join him at the little sitting area for customers that is arranged primarily in favor of the flatscreen on the wall. Looks like he'll take a shot with a beer back, himself.

The question raises a 'tsch' of Luke's tongue against his teeth, and a side glance over as he sits down on the loveseat that looks more like a standard chair when the big man is done settling in it. "Daredevil knows you weren't aiming to hurt him, I ain't scared you're going to pull on me or anything. It was more about making you feel comfortable. You can talk here freely, or not. We've got enough to go on, for Fisk, with or without you. Thought you could use the bro time. Know I could."

*

Owen smiles wryly as Luke exclaims about the booze. He grabs a beer for himself and leaves the rest for Luke to make whatever he's drinking. "Figured you c'd use a real drink too." Technically he was just going to bring beer, but something to take the edge off before the beer is always a good idea in his mind.

"Well fuck Daredevil." There is no heat or real anger behind the sentiment though, more annoyance. It's clear on his face that he's debating elaborating on that sentiment. Ultimately though he just lets out a long breath and then takes a sip of coffee.

"And yea I could use some .. bro time." Okay, it's not exactly what Owen would have called it, but the sentiment is accurate. And with that he decides to take a small detour. Try and relax so he might be able to talk to Luke like he wants to, about what he needs to talk about, just not right this minute.

"Did Harley manage to track you down too? Somehow she managed to end around me and meet all my friends before I introduced her.. like I should have."

*

"Aw dang.." Luke sighs when he cusses out Daredevil for one very important reason that he's soon pointing out. His finger is jutting at an old rusted coffee can that someone has taped a sign to that reads: Swear Jar. "Can't cuss in Switzerland, man. Pay the toll." But as Luke didn't mention that rule in the beginning, he's footing the bill as he digs out a dollar bill and flicks it onto the low table covered in a scatter of magazines. Relaxing back with a beer and good dose of whiskey in a mug that reads 'Hugs Not Thugs'. "Nah, never met your girl. You'll have to rectify that. Bar's finished you know, but I'm holding off opening until after the dust from Hell's Kitchen settles." Almost literally, sadly enough.

*

Owen looks at the swear jar.

Owen looks at Luke.

Owen looks back at the swear jar.

"No…" Owen's eyes narrow as if trying to wrap his mind around this concept. "You're serious." He's too shocked to even notice that Luke paid his way for him, otherwise he might protest, weakly.

"Yea. I will.." He tries not to react when Luke mentions the bar being finished. All the does is raise his chin a bit and wait for him to continue. But he is secretly relieved when Luke mentions not having opened yet.

"Yea. About that. You.. uh still need a bartender?"

*

"Dead serious. Even the worst thugs that come in here pony up when they let one slip." Luke's finger makes a little motion to the money, "It's about respect and honoring the place and what it stands for. Setting a good example. Go on, then I'll answer your other question." Cage is sticking to his guns about this one, he himself having poured a fair amount of change into the thing himself. Sometimes he just throws a twenty spot in at the end of the week to make up for outside transgressions. While he waits, he does what's in the mug in a quick shot and then cracks open his beer.

*

Owen's face continues to wear it's puzzled expression, even as Luke explains it.

"Did you fu-.. "

"What the sh-.."

"Are you trying to bankrupt me? Can I call you a cock sucker? Does that count..? What are the rules of /swear jar/?"

Owen digs in his pocket and pulls out two bills. He creases them slightly and puts them between two fingers before flicking them like playing cards across the room and into the jar.

"Stupid Switzerland."

With that out of his system he cracks open his beer, double fisting between the coffee and brewsky now.

"And you gonna leave me hanging still?"

*

"Yeah, I think that counts." Luke says, looking at Owen flatly when he asks if calling Luke a cock sucker counts. "And you wish because then maybe you'd have a shot at this fine chunk of chocolate. Keep it rated G." Cage's head twists quickly when Owen flicks the bills, and a little wide eyed at the skill in which it took to flick the money into the jar. "Dayum." Still staring at the jar, he leans forward to pluck his money off the table and lean it across to Owen. Both because he owes the jar himself, and he wants to see that trick again.

Then, he leans back so his torso straightens out and he can access the kangaroo pocket on the front of his hoodie. There is a jingle of keys as he pulls a ring out, four different ones strung on the loop. "Frankly Owen, whether or not you come back to work is on you. I won't sit here and pass judgment on your life choices, but I can't exactly have an addict with the keys to my livelihood."

He starts peeling the keys apart to show them to Mercer. "This one opens the bar. This one is for the cellar door on the sidewalk." Brown eyes flick up to make sure he has Owen's full attention. "This one is for the front door to the apartment building. And this one is to the one bedroom I set aside for you on the seventh floor with easy access to the stairs and the roof."

*

Owen looks at Luke like he's speaking latin when he continues to expound on the rules of the swear jar. He shakes his head and says "Seriously. You put this in the bar an' I'm broke. I.. am not G rated. F-.." He swallows that one too and takes another sip. Taking Luke's money with a shrug, he folds the bill, a little neater this time. He bounces it off the wall into the jar, and then just shrugs at Luke.

When the keys get pulled out, Owen noticeably starts paying more attention. He nods at the first statement. "Yea. I.. I get it. That's .. that's reasonable." His voice is low, almost mumbling the agreement. It's not like he didn't expect something like this. But still, he's an addict, he's always looking for that easy way even if he's not surprised when it's not there.

"You know I was clean before, right? Like when I worked for you. I wasn't using H at all…" Yes, no heroin. Clean is a bit of a stretch though depending on who's measuring stick you're using.

At the mention of the apartment his eyebrows raise. "Me? .. You..?" His eyebrows raised he takes a while to respond. And he mentally tries to run the math. What else goes away if he's not clean? Does the apartment go? What about Luke? He finally responds, "You got an opening date in mind?" Of course what he's really asking is how long until he has to have his act together.

*

If he wanted to be cruel, Luke would just put one of those magical patches on the table with the keys next to it, and make Owen pick right then and there. Maybe the only reason he doesn't is he's afraid the bar would be on the losing end of that transaction. "Like I said, I'm pushing back the opening of the bar a few weeks? Maybe a month? It all depends on how fast we can take Fisk down now that we're on the right track. I have to start letting the tenants move in though, and I've started getting inventory at the bar. Look, the apartment isn't free. In exchange I need something from you. Part of my deal with the investor is that I be the landlord and the Super, but you and I both know that with those duties and running the bar, I'd have no time to do the shit we do. So. In exchange for the dirt cheap rent controlled crib I'm ready to hand over, I need you to help me Super from time to time if I'm tied up. How are you with a plunger?" He smirks, but the words are earnest.

*

Owen breathes a sigh of relief at the date. He hasn't used since the night Fisk made the offer, but it's tenuous and doesn't have the 'feel' of a good run, whatever that means.

"Okay. First of all, my plunger skills will blow your fucki.. FUCK."

Owen stands to his feet and stomps over to the swear jar to mercilessly shove two more dollars in it.

"We're going to smoke outside. In America. Where I can swear, like a free man."

No, he doesn't wait for Luke to agree to this. He just takes his beer, leaving the mostly empty coffee behind and walks for the door. He gets outside and lights up. Once Luke joins him he finishes, "My damn plunger skills are the thing of god damn legends. So hell yes."

"And I want in on the Fisk thing. He came for me personally. He wanted to use me to get to … your people. And then he made me a part of that bombing. I.. Luke, I can't.. I can't let that shit go. I want to be dealt in."

*

If Owen is cool with stepping out of the 'safe' zone, then Luke has no qualms about it, his eyes shining with amusement as he follows after and steps into the little concrete courtyard with the stairs that lead up to the street level. He makes a finger movement for Owen to let him bum one, "Man needs a place of his own that he earned." Luke responds to the zealous declaration of plunger skills with a statement born of the time that he's spent at Danny's. Not that he hasn't appreciated the hospitality and generosity, but likely that's why Owen has to pay rent at all and help out around the building. It wears on a man's pride to freeload long term.

Mercer's response earns him the last two keys that Luke fiddles with getting off the ring while Owen sets him up with a smoke. He glances at Owen without tilting his face back up, looking at the man from the top of his eyes. "What if it's not my call? You want in, you're going to need to come clean. Or maybe you forgot that Daredevil is a walking talking lie detector."

*

Owen is quick to offer the cigarette and the light, practiced from their times at the bar even if Luke smoked rarely back then. Owen might think he's okay with freeloading, but Luke is right at least partially. It may not be necessary for his pride, but it's necessary for his sobriety. Too many handouts don't help motivate the right attitudes.

"I did come clean. S'why Danny kicked me the fuck out of his house. Didn y'all catch up on this..?" Owen is a little disappointed that he has to tell the story again. He was hoping Luke could just know. And the fact that he doesn't means that Owen isn't exactly grabbing for those keys. He's already been kicked out of one place.

He sighs, "The chick, Ariel, gave me a sample of his new heron." Yes, obnoxious drug addicts sometimes call it heron. And Lord knows Owen is one of those. "Once I was coming down, Fisk shows up. Just .. there. Says he's got an offer for me." He pauses for a second to take a sip of beer and then a drag. "A job. Like a gig. He offers me a lifetime supply of this new … amazing … stuff." He stumbles a bit over how to describe it, but does his best to not rave about heroin, while still emphasizing how above and beyond the new product is.

"He said you and Jess would be safe. All I had to do was give him either the identity or deliver Daredevil or the Six chick. And I don't think we covered this, but I sure as shit am never giving up a cape's id. … Surprised he didn't know that about me. Or he did and did it just to fuck with me."

*

Maybe Luke heard it, maybe he didn't. If it was the former, there's a chance he just wanted to hear it from Owen's own lips. "Emery mentioned something." Luke just plays it off, Owen not the only one that can throw out half-truths when it suits him. A long drag is taking from the cigarette that seeps back out through his wide nostrils, quiet for the time it takes Owen to explain the full situation of what went down. "Or he was banking on the fact that the drugs would win out over your morals." The words vibrate out quietly as he treads on the dangerous ground. "You're not just playing me to get to this?" It's not the keys he's talking about, but a shiny patch he pulls out in the same clasp of fingers. A test?

*

Telling the story is still not easy. He very much feels like an asshole for it. Especially after these people have done so much for him. But he's trying. At Luke's question Owen just gives a half shrug at the Kingpin's motivation. Or maybe it's in agreement that Luke's thought is probably true. Hard to tell.

But then Luke pulls out a patch. Or at least something that looks an awful lot like one. Owen looks at it, impassively at first. Then up at Luke. Slowly his face falls into a very pained, hurt expression.

"Dude. What the fuck? Why…?" He takes a half step back shaking his head, and then closing his eyes. He puts his hands up and finally looks at Luke with real anger furrowing his brow.

"What is this? Some sort of joke? Do you pour Jess a glass of whiskey just to fuck with her? What..?"

"What?!"

But in all that. There is no answer.

*

"You're right, man. It's not fair." Luke's ring finger flicks the edge of the patch like he would a packet of sugar. It's not meant to be taunting, but a nervous gesture. He knows he not only toed the line, but leapt straight over it with both feet. "But Jess got clean because she wanted to. I need to know you want to, too. Because if you don't, not really, not deep down, then all of this is for shit. I'll help you, every damn time you surface for air, you know that Owen. You're my brother. But I can't vouch for you with the others if this is all it takes for you to turn."

*

"For the record. I hate you right now. Like I want to find out if your fucking perfect teeth are unbreakable." While Owen may be growling the words out, he's already gotten over some of the shock.

His mind briefly tries to rationalize a way that he could both get the patch and keep Luke's confidence but those odds seem low. Owen sucks extra hard on his cigarette and takes a long time to exhale, the smoke blowing out his nose dragon style.

"It's not that easy. Dammit. Do you get that? Like I can't just snap my fingers and be like *Now I'm good-boy Owen Mercer who just smiles softly, never makes a mistake and settles down to have the perfect fucking Americana life*? You /know that/ .. right?"

He takes a second and then asks, "Seriously. Just lose that shit. Put it away, because we both know I can grab it out of your hand before you can blink." And it does keep drawing his eye, as much as he would like it not to.

"Luke. I want to get clean. Seriously. I mean it. But." He pauses, and makes sure to make eye contact "I'm not sure…. I mean, I might. I probably will fuck this up. And what then? How does that work?" On the one hand, he wants to know that it's not one shot and he's out. On the other, wellllllll, he might be looking for an out. Just a little.

*

To the reaffirmation that Owen could pluck the patch out of his fingers before he can blink, Luke's fist just closes around both keys and patch. He won't be able to just snatch it out of an iron fist (no relation to Danny). "Gimme your lighter." Luke says, trying to remain stony during that appeal. Everyone fucks up. Everyone deserves another chance. It was the conversation they had the day Luke had Owen sign the papers for the old property, making Mercer the one to inherit Luke's if anything happened to the big man. He takes one more hit off his cigarette before he flicks it away then holds out his now freed hand to accept the lighter, palm up.

*

Thinking he knows what Luke has in mind, Owen is glad to hand the lighter over. He is grinding his teeth, but only a little bit. He would rather it get destroyed, then he doesn't have to think about it. Granted there are countless others out there like it, but he would have to do work to find it. And he can avoid doing work.

"Do it."

*

Luke shoves his hand into the pocket, releasing the keyes before he holds his closed fist out, loosening his grip just enough that his pinky unfurls a small opening. Then his other thumb sparks the flint wheel, lighting the butane released when he depresses the red button. Impervious to the flame, he holds his fist over it until the patch inside catches and starts to melt until it's just a black gob of char that he then crushes and crumbles in his grinding grip. "Like I said. The apartment is rent controlled so long as you hold up the work agreement. I'm there for you but I'm not going to coddle you. You fuck up, I'm not afraid to chain your ass up in the basement until you're clean again. How's that sound?"

*

Owen resists the urge to try to inhale some of the smoke. Even just a little. Who knows if it would actually get him anywhere but the thought definitely crosses his mind. But he stays back.

"Okay. It's a deal. I stay clean … no heroin. And I get a job and a rent controlled place up here." In Harlem. Which isn't exactly where he planned to live. He had meant to try to find a place in Hell's kitchen. Maybe some place that was busted up but still standing. But rent controlled is good. Just makes the commute to Stark's or Gotham a bit longer. Oh well.

"How does that sound? It sounds kinky as all get out, but you know I'm into it." Owen can't help but laugh at his own joke, but the smile feels just a bit forced. "But yea. It's a deal."

*

It's not really the time for levity, and it wasn't really the bro time that Luke promised either. Hell, things escalated the minute they stepped out of Pop's, but that's what Owen gets for stepping back onto American soil. Still, Luke finds a bittersweet smile for his friend and the keys make a reappearance. He takes a step forward, but only to press them into Owen's hand with a shake to seal the deal properly, capping it off with a quick back slapping hug with the other arm. "Welcome to the neighborhood."

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