Smoke and snow

Gabriel walks leisurely down the bustling sidewalk, stepping smartly out of the way of oncoming passersby, without ever lifting his eyes from his book. It is unseasonably cold for April, and the air smells of snow.

Absently, he pulls his thin cotton robe tighter around his body, wishing he had thought to wear something warmer. None of his employees had warned him that Seattle would be this cold. He is nearly regretting this little business trip, but the prospect of a whole new untapped market is enough to keep him here.

He only regrets that he is here alone. His trusted assistant, Emery, is at home in Japan, managing affairs while Gabriel is out on this little excursion. He would have sent some underling to go in his place, but they always seem to screw things up or give him the wrong information, and Gabriel isn't about to waste money establishing a new branch of the Group here if it isn't going to be profitable.

He stops suddenly, looking up from his book. Something soft and white has just landed on his arm. He turns his face skyward, watching the first flakes of snow turn to flurries that dust the hair and clothes of the people around him, and then looks around, brow furrowed in confusion.

"...snow?" he murmurs to himself. "What an odd place this is."

A shout from nearby startles him. "Oi, pretty boy! Move over, will you? Some of us have places to be!"

Turning towards the sound, Gabriel studies the owner of the voice. He takes in the long, rusty orange hair, tied up in a... something... that he absolutely refuses to call a ponytail. It's messy and looks as though it was put that way only out of convenience, unlike Gabriel's own perfect hair, tied back with a simple white ribbon to keep it out of his face. The man--Gabriel is pretty sure it's a man, despite the rather feminine features--is wearing what appears to be a bright blue jumpsuit underneath an open trench coat. The coat looks old, and battered, and has a ridiculous camouflage pattern that wouldn't hide the wearer for an instant, but the hood is fur-lined and looks warm. Gabriel shivers unconsciously in his own inadequate clothing.

He curls his lip in distaste as the red-haired man pulls a cigarette out of one of his many pockets with nimble fingers, cupping his hands to protect the flame of the lighter from the growing wind. Smoking is a nasty habit, and he doesn't allow it in his company.

"And where would an... upstanding citizen such as yourself be headed to in such a hurry?" he drawls.

The man smirks, blowing cigarette smoke in Gabriel's face. He coughs pointedly, but the redhead only grins. "That's classified information. A layman like you wouldn't understand."

Gabriel refrains from rolling his eyes. Honestly, some people are so pompous. He ignores the small voice in his head telling him that he is a complete hypocrite. Instead, he simply laughs, enjoying the look of confusion on the other man's face. "Layman? Ahaha. No, I'm afraid it is you who doesn't understand."

"What could you be doing that's so important? I mean, look what you're wearing, man. Seriously, what's with the man-skirt?"

Gabriel bristles inwardly, but his outer demeanor shows nothing but cool amusement. "That's quite rude, wouldn't you agree? It's a hakama. Traditional Japanese attire. Not that you would know anything about Japanese culture," he adds, glancing distastefully at the redhead's battered clothes.

The man shrugs, seemingly unperturbed by the slight. "Never bothered with any of that history stuff. Why are you wearing it if it's so ancient?"

"I don't believe I've ever met someone quite as ignorant as you," Gabriel says incredulously. "It's simply astounding. Does your stupidity have no bounds?" He shivers slightly as a drop of snowmelt slides wetly down the back of his neck. "These days it's considered formal attire. I prefer to dress tastefully."

The other man snorts derisively, obviously having caught the shiver. "I like to dress so I don't friggin' freeze to death."

Gabriel has to concede the point, but the other man doesn't have to know that. "Be that as it may, I was unaware that it would be this cold when I exited my residence, so I did not think to wear anything warmer than this. My assistant usually carries a spare coat, but he is... not here at the moment. Therefore, unless you are willing to part with your own coat, there is nothing neither I nor you can do about my situation."

"You're kidding right? Oh for..." The man looks uncertain, as though he is trying to make up his mind about something. Eventually, his faces sets in determination, and he roughly tugs his trench coat off of his thin body. "Here. Hope it's tasteful enough for you."

Gabriel is sure his expression is one of surprise and shock, and for once he doesn't bother trying to mask his feelings behind a veneer of politeness. This... strange man has... has offered him his coat. How does one respond to this? Customs in Seattle are surely different than in Tokyo, but this can't be normal anywhere. They've only just met. Is this man hitting on him?

With some effort, he calms his racing thoughts. This man is just strange, but most likely harmless. Gabriel can protect himself if the need arises, anyway. It can't hurt to accept this man's gesture of friendship. His fears are groundless.

The man's hand is still outstretched in an uncertain offer. Slowly, Gabriel raises his to take the coat. Pulling it around his chilled body, he wrinkles his nose at the overpowering stench of smoke that envelops him. "You stink of tobacco," he murmurs. It's not a thank you, but the man seems to understand.

"It's not 'cause I like you or anything, so don't go around thinking that," he mutters, rubbing his arms harshly, evidently missing the warmth of his coat already. "I just... y'know. I'm always up for helping a stranger in need."

Gabriel smirks. "Of course."

The other man mutters something that sounds suspiciously like, "screw you, man," and looks up. "I didn't want you to catch hypothermia and die, is all."

"How vulgar," Gabriel remarks lightly, ignoring the second half of the man's statement. "But of course, how rude am I? I'm afraid I don't even know your name."

"Bentley Nailes. I'm a photographer."

"Gabriel Darson. I'm the head of the Darson Group. Perhaps you've heard of us? We're an insurance firm."

Bentley looks thoughtful. "Insurance, huh? I could use some of that. My things seem to break pretty often."

"Perhaps it's the lifestyle you lead," Gabriel says, but he can't help the corner of his mouth lifting into a slight mile. "I'm only here to see if it would be worth setting up a branch of the company here, anyway."

"If you don't have a place to stay, I've got a spare room, I mean, if you need one..." Bentley says, trailing off uncertainly.

"My, people in America certainly are hospitable. Are you quite sure you're not attracted to me?" Gabriel arches an eyebrow in amusement. This strange man is really quite funny.

"What?!?" the man splutters, blushing to the roots of his hair, "no, I... no. I'm not... no, it's not like that. I just... I mean, if you really do ghosts, then..."

"That's a bit presumptuous of you, don't you think? And no, I don't accept sexual favors in return for my services."

"That's not what I meant," Bentley snarls indignantly. "God, I hate people like you."

"I believe that you and I could get along well enough, despite your inherent character flaws," Gabriel muses, mind whirring. Emery is not here to help him, and who knows how long he will be here? An ally would be helpful, and so far this is the only offer he's had. "I would not be... averse to working with you for the remainder of this trip." Breathing deeply, he takes the plunge. "Where is this spare room of yours?"

"So, Japan, huh?" They are sitting in Bentley's apartment, watching as the snow continues to fall. Bentley is sprawled across a beat-up floral print sofa, and Gabriel is perched gingerly on the edge of an equally beat-up, equally flowery armchair. "Lots of sushi and businessmen and trains, from what I hear."

"You'd be surprised," Gabriel says lightly. "That may be true for some of the larger cities, but the countryside is simply beautiful." He sips delicately at his cup of tea, staring unseeingly through the grimy window down to the deserted street below. It seems that everyone else has had the same idea as them, and are all staying inside with fires and warm beverages.

It's odd, he muses, how things have turned out. He would have found a hotel room, had he not run into Bentley, and probably have been much more comfortable there. But he did run into Bentley, and he's not in a hotel room. Instead, he's in a run-down apartment building in the Central District, drinking tea with a strange man he's only just met. As a rule, Gabriel doesn't like strange things. Strange things are never good. And yet, this seems okay, somehow. Bentley is rough and not polite at all, and his home leaves much to be desired in the way of cleanliness, but it's a welcome shelter from the snow, and its owner is proving to be a surprisingly good conversationalist.

"Why did you give me your coat?" he asks suddenly. It has been preying on his mind ever since he entered the apartment, and he can't stand not knowing a moment longer.

"Dunno," Bentley shrugs. "You looked kinda pathetic out there in your traditional hamka, or whatever it is. I just... did, okay? Don't worry about it."

"You said you were a photographer," Gabriel says, changing the subject quickly. He can tell that Bentley is uncomfortable, and he, at least, has the tact not to push. "May I see some of your work?"

"I guess you can. I'm not exactly an... artist-type photographer, you know. Don't keep any of my work, either. It sells, so it's good. I've got some on my camera, though, if you want."

"I would love to," Gabriel says, polite as always. Bentley hands him the camera with a wordless shrug, settling back into the couch and closing his eyes. Gabriel had insisted when they walked in that Bentley would not be allowed to smoke inside, so the redheaded man is pouting. Gabriel ignores him in favor of inspecting the camera.

It's a nice camera, though a bit battered. It whirrs a little when Gabriel turns it on, and the digital screen blinks to life. It's one of those new digital cameras that looks like and old film camera. The pictures are a medley of black and white and color, portraits and still shots. Despite Bentley's assurances that he's not an "artist-type" photographer, the pictures are good.

"You have an eye for good pictures," he comments absently, pressing the right arrow button to move to the next picture. "Where could I buy some?"

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