"New York's one of those places that's at once larger than life and somehow also exactly life-sized."
<NYC> Evolve Cafe - Lower East Side
Spacious and open, this coffeeshop has a somewhat industrial feel to it, grey resin floors below and exposed-beam ceilings that have been painted up in a dancing swirl of abstract whorls and starbursts, a riot of colour splashed against a white background. The walls alternate between brick and cheerfully lime-green painted wood that extends to the paneling beneath the brushed-steel countertops. There's an abundance of light, though rather than windows (which are scarce) it comes from plentiful hanging steel lamps. The walls here are home to artwork available for sale; though the roster of prints and paintings and drawings and photographs changes on a regular basis it has one thing in common -- all the artists displayed are mutants.
The seating spaced around the room is spread out enough to keep the room from feeling cluttered. Black chairs, square black tables that mostly seat two or four though they're frequently pushed around and rearranged to make space for larger parties. In the back corner of the room is more comfortable seating, a few large black-corduroy sofas and armchairs with wide tables between them. There's a shelf of card and board games back here available for customers to sit and play.
The chalkboard menus hanging behind the counter change frequently, always home to a wide variety of drinks (with an impressive roster of fair-trade coffees and teas largely featured) though their sandwiches and wraps and soups and snacks of the day change often. An often-changing variety of baked goods sit behind the display case at the counter halfway back in the room, and the opposite side of the counter holds a small selection of homemade ice creams. A pair of single-user bathrooms flanks the stairway in back of the cafe; at night, the thump of music can be heard from above, coming from the adjoining nightclub of the same name that sits up the stairs above the coffeehouse.
With the city starting to get back to some semblance or normalcy Akihiro has finally made his presence known again. The younger looking man is dressed in a white button-up with the sleeves rolled up past his elbows, a pair of tailored blue pants, and shiny dress shoes. After waiting in line for a while he orders a black coffee and pays with a several large bills, but doesn't appear to get any change back. "Damn it feels good to be back." he finally says to himself once he's out of line, eyes scanning over the establishment for anybody he might recognize.
Daiki has been tucked into a modular armchair in the front corner, appearing to scroll idly on his phone. He's sharply dressed, if less formally than most days here, in a lightweight silver-gray nehru jacket, its cuffs and hems trimmed in blue and black trousers, all impeccably tailored. At Akihiro's comment he looks up and allows a small, reserved smile. "I think that's on a lot of people's minds lately. Those who aren't lamenting the same, for one reason or another."
Mercury's entrance was impossible to miss. The glowing mutant was mostly uncovered, not bothering with sunglasses or mask, wearing a tight black dress and wide-brim black hat, which she took off upon entering; with sharp black heels and nails filed even sharper. A newspaper was tucked under her arm and her eyes flicked to the few folks dotted around the cafe, a little disappointed that Polaris was absent.
To be honest, meeting people was tough. And against her nature. She was blunt, rude, arrogant, acerbic and sharp- hardly things that helped her make friends, but she was trying. She was trying, and part of that was going out and talking to people and playing nice. Her steps were oddly heavy as she strode towards the counter, heels clicking satisfyingly on the hard floor, only having to wait a moment before ordering her full English (full... American now, perhaps?) and a large latte, taking her table number and turning, pausing to consider where she'd sit. On one hand she could bury her head in her switch, inhale her breakfast and bounce, that's what she wanted to do naturally, but she resisted. Still though; for a moment she paused, unsure, her eyes were immediately drawn to a handsomely dressed Asian man sitting across from someone at the front of the cafe, but she paused, confidence faltering.
Sure- realistically, what was the worst that could happen? They'd tell her to fuck off? It would sting; and she was a prideful, brooding bitch, so it would hurt that much more. But perhaps... well, the longer she hesitated the more insecure she looked, and felt.
"Yeah, between work and the pandemic, I'm just glad to be back in New York." Akihiro says, taking a small sip of his coffee and moving a little bit closer to Daiki's armchair. "Don't get me wrong, it was great seeing Japan again, but it's changed and I have acquaintances here. I think anyway."
Mercury's food is not immediately forthcoming but her latte is up in short order. The diminutive blue person who brings it around the counter is not dressed in the typical barista casual of the other workers today -- Shane is striking in a sleek, jet black dress shirt, a silver geometric tie cinched in an elaborate trinity knot, a shimmery blue satin vest with a color shift reminiscent of sunlight underwater, smart black pleated trousers, and polished wingtip shoes. His tiny frame and demonic features make it nigh-impossible to guess at either age or gender. The extremely broad smile that he offers Mercury nearly splits his narrow face in half and contains an alarming preponderance of wickedly sharp serrated teeth. "Yo! Mercury? This you?" It's not entirely a question -- he's offering it out to her even as he beckons her over, scanning the crowded cafe floor. "C'mon, I'll get you a seat."
He's veering, already, towards Daiki's corner, pulling out a chair opposite his partner and gesturing Mercury towards it. "You think?" Who says eavesdropping is rude? Amateurs, that's who. Shane tips his head up towards Akihiro and Daiki, his clawed hand flicking out towards Mercury. "Well, here's a new acquaintance for you. This is -- Mercury?" This time, it's at least half a question. "They're new."
Daiki's eyes widen slightly when Mercury enters, and his smile goes just a touch warmer. His emotionally magnetic powers tugging briefly stronger -- not obvious, but powerful, like the passage of a wave in deep water -- making him inexplicably just a touch more compelling. He turns his attention back to Akihiro. "Oh! You must have had a time of it with the travel restrictions. I'm glad you made it there and back safely." Something in his posture eases at the sight of Shane -- though it might not be apparent to someone less observant that he had been tense before or that he is less so now. "Welcome to Evolve, Mercury." The greeting comes with a dip of his head, a truncated bow. "I'm Daiki."
"Yeah, you never really know, do you?" Akihiro's attention shifts to Shane and Mercury, before giving a polite smile, "Akihiro. Good to meet you." Rather than find a seat he keeps his standing position within the group. "It was a pain in the ass and I also forgot the card I carry to get around the metal detectors. It definitely could've been worse though."
She'd heard of the... unique owners of Evolve. They were beyond your normal odd-looking mutant, more than her, more than Taylor even, and impossible to even begin to disguise. He, she...? They seemed to totally embrace it though, their fashion gently encouraging a sort of shark-like perspective, encouraged further by his alarming smile. Even though she stood nearly a foot above him, easily a foot in her heels, she couldn't help but feel diminutive in his confident, effortless presence. "Oh, yes, thanks-" Politeness induces her take her latte, and to follow as he moves, and it's not until too late that she realises where he'd so kindly escorted her- to the man she'd been pretending to ignore.
"Mercury." She affirms, "It's a pleasure. I've just moved here from Australia." Her accent was noticeable, but more refined than one might imagine. "Sorry, I've been looking to meet new mutants, but I don't mean to intrude." The man she'd been eyeing smiled, and it was oddly... magnetic. She got an interesting vibe off of him. It was unusual, but not entirely unwelcome.
"Well! We're old mutants, but new to you." Shane drops himself down onto the arm of Daiki's chair, scooping up Dai's tea to take a sip. "You picked kind of a chaos time to move to the States. America will probably treat you shitty, but I hope we've been treating you alright, at least." He lifts the teacup, tips it toward her in a lazy salute before putting it back down. "I'm Shane. You can't really intrude if I brought you over here, right? Besides --" It seems improbable that his toothy smile can stretch wider but here it does, "This is my shop so saying hi is like. In the job description. For me, that is. Daiki's just friendly recreationally."
If Daiki is in any way upset by the theft of his tea, he does not show it. "Oh, you have both had long journeys, then. Not too harrowing, I hope, and that you've had time to rest since -- such as restful is, these days." The graceful turn of his hand indicates Shane. "But, chaos or no, you've come to the right place for meeting -- us." The twitch of his smile is small but sincere. "There are few enough public places mutants can go, even here in New York, and not be outnumbered. This is one" He tilts his head slightly. "And I, at least, do not feel intruded upon."
"Well, I'm an old mutant anyway. I'll be seventy-four next month." Something seems to click on Akihiro's face as he says that, "That means Steve will be turning the big hundred in a couple weeks. Hard to believe it's been so long already." The mutant segues, turning his attention to Mercury. "You just have to carve your spot out and learn not to take other people's shit. I wasn't sure I made the right move settling down here initially, but I honestly can't say I've met this many people I like anywhere else."
"Well, to be honest, that's why I moved over here. I knew America wouldn't be particularly kind or easy but," She shrugs, "Don't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, as the expression goes." Deciding it wasn't too rude to join them after given permission she took a chair to the right of Daiki, the left of where Daken was standing, enjoying the comfort of the armchair, crossing her legs.
"If I were a real historian there wouldn't be a limit to the price I would pay to hear the stories of older mutants." She muses, "I have a healing factor- that's what does it right? Maybe if America isn't too cruel to me I'll make it that long too." She sipped her latte, pleased at the bitter taste. Thankfully Evolve didn't sweeten their coffee. "Speaking of which, are you speaking of Steve Rodgers? Captain America? I'd love to meet him, eventually."
"You could still just pay 'em. Buy a meal, listen to the stories. Assuming they have good stories --" Shane waggles the cup in Akihiro's direction, then returns it to Daiki. His mouth twitches; there's a slight ripple of the slitted gills along the sides of his neck, their sharp edges quietly scraping at the collar of his shirt. "For all I know you were just high all through the sixties and don't remember shit. I just assume everyone was high all through the sixties." He leans back against Daiki's chair, one arm hooked up onto its back. "Steve Rogers? He's not like, hard to meet. Slings coffee down in SoHo. Been down at the protests a lot. Hard to miss with his shield back."
"Mm, sometimes young mutants have some pretty good stories, too," Daiki adds softly. "History ought to make room for all of our stories -- and all our historians." He accepts the cup from Shane with a grateful dip of his head and takes a slow sip. "Oh yes, he's been out and about at lot, lately. Might try to give you a sandwich and some water, if you're not careful." His smile skews just a touch fey, here. "New York's one of those places that's at once larger than life and somehow also exactly life-sized."
"You don't want to hear my stories." Akihiro says with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I wish," he says back to Shane, "I can't get high though. " After taking one more sip of coffee he finally opts to pull a seat up and join everyone else. "Steve's good people. I'm sure you'll bump into him at some point, he's pretty hard to miss."
"That's true enough." She conceded, "And I seriously doubt that, but you're right on the high part." She added with a smirk to Akihiro. "I should probably go protest then... but I wouldn't know what to say to him if I did meet him."
It was true enough. Though she felt oddly at ease with Daiki it was clear that she wasn't a particularly extroverted woman. Polite, but perhaps uncharismatic. At least, she thought so. "You all know each other, then? New York seems to be practically bustling with mutants. Barely knew any at all back home, but I think some just leave cities and live far out. Which is fair enough, but for me anyway, life without wifi is no life at all, and you won't be getting much of that in rural Australia."
"Fuck a healing factor, right?" It's difficult to read much sympathy in Shane's inhuman expression with the glance he gives Akihiro, but it's there in his tone all the same.
For Daiki, though, only amusement: "Please. Our stories are also not fit for polite company." Shane's gills ripple again, faster, this time. The hairless ridge of his brow quirks upward. "I uh -- think probably you should definitely not go to a protest for Black lives in order to try and meet a white celebrity you like? He's around. Other places. Like I said he's a barista in SoHo -- place called Montagues. Makes it easier to know what to say, you could just tell him your coffee order." His head tips down, huge pitch-black eyes fixing on Daiki. "Is that bad business practice, just telling people to go drink other coffee? I like Mel, though."
One of his shoulders lifts, falls quickly. "There are a lot more of us here than other places. New York is just -- really fucking big? I think no matter who you are you can find your people here, if you look. And this --" His clawed hand gestures around the shop, "we worked kind of hard to make it a good place to look. We're still very outnumbered, in the city. But we're here." Almost as an afterthought -- but firmly -- he adds, "Steve Rogers isn't a mutant, though. He just cheated."
Daiki's wince is sympathetic. "I'm sure the sixties were less entertaining than us youngsters like to imagine, even if you were high." He passes his tea back to Shane. "Regrettable but true -- I have often felt our stories were rather rude." He adjusts his glasses thoughtfully. "I don't think it harms to be on friendly terms with Montagues. Even if we had the same niche, we're not close enough to actually compete. It's a café for and by humans," he adds, for Mercury's benefit. "The manager is an ally, though, and they'll serve visible mutants -- which is better than can be said for a lot of businesses, unfortunately." His dark eyes dart aside to Shane, quick, then return to their newest guest. "If you'd rather not take your coffee with a shot of staring, though? Akihiro's not wrong. You hang around the Lower East Side long enough, you may well just run into him. The man keeps busy, and he does wear a giant target on his back."
"I'm not saying that." Akihiro grins at Shane. "I'd be dead a few hundred times over without it." His head turns again to look at Mercury, "You start to recognize faces, before too long you know a good handful of people at least in passing. Especially since most places won't serve visible mutants, so we tend to congregate at friendly places. Even if they occasionally try and firebomb us."
"Sure." She shrugs, "I'll head to 'SoHo' then." She considers Daken, holding a level gaze, "Not being able to control your healing factor must be annoying. I'd probably be pissed if I could no longer... get pissed. I can control mine, to some extent." She sips her latte, seeming a little tired, perhaps stressed.
Being the focus of the conversation bothered her a little bit, her introverted nature rearing it's ugly head. "Not that I don't love my full English but I wish some 'mutant' places were a little less well-lit. Would kill for a shitty backwater pub. Might start my own, if I get bored of programming. I don't think firebombing would be too much of an issue, depending on who you hire and where you put them, and who you let it. Not that I know anything about that." She concedes.
"Oh!" Shane brightens, his brows lifting again. "Good luck with that!" His tone is cheery, encouraging. "You have any experience in --" A claw flicks around the cafe. "Business?" That same hand drops to Daiki's shoulder with a grateful squeeze. "I'd have been sunk so many times over without this guy's genius. High risk, low profit margins, and opening any customer facing business as a freak --" His shrug is small. "Not to mention what the pandemic did to pretty much everyone's businesses."
He takes the tea back, takes a slower sip. This time, the flutter of his gills is slower; there's a slight glassy shift, easy to miss if you aren't used to seeing it, over his solid-black eyes as his inner eyelids blink closed. "Shit, when I put it all like that just reminds me I do not thank you enough. Remind me to --" His fingers squeeze harder around the mug; he is slow to pass it back to Daiki. "Take you to dinner some time, I guess." It's more muted than his previous statements, but his cheer is quick enough to return. His sharptoothed grin, too, tipped bright and pointed toward Akihiro. "I figure if I just keep enough badasses around drinking my coffee, firebombing gets to be more trouble than it's worth. You, uh, need a refill, by the way?"
"I'm not familiar enough with the shitty backwater pub market to say for sure, but I suspect there is at least some demand -- for reasons that have been mentioned. I'm going to hazard a guess Akihiro would appreciate such a place, inconvenient healing factor or no." Daiki tilts his head ever so slightly. "If you're looking to make connections in the community anyway, it could make for an opportunity to feel out what people might be looking for in an openly mutant-friendly dive. Off the top of my head I'm going to guess 'only occasional firebombing.'" The smile he offers Shane is small but warm. "It's not so much genius as a lot of privilege and a bit of skill with spreadsheets." He accepts the tea back, but just cradles it against his chest. "I'll certainly not say no to dinner, though."
"It's a trade off for being able to regrow limbs." Akihiro says with a small shrug before shaking his head at Shane, "I appreciate it though." There's a slight pause before he continues, "At this point it's not worth it to attack Evolve, they'd just go the way of those Nazi's that attacked us in the park. That being said nobody ever accused these people of being smart."
He crosses his legs and nods, "I only sleep a couple times a week, so I'm out and about a lot to try and fill the time. I've spent more time than I like to admit in sketchy dives. I guess part of me just hopes I'll run into the Wolverine in one of them."
"Yeah. I run my own business. I'm the only employee but I do love spreadsheets. Plus I have time and I'm a quick learner. Lock me in a room for a month with an internet connection and I'll figure it out." She seemed to realise it sounded boastful and cringed, "I'm not good at a lot but occasionally you just luck out. Speaking of which I guess I'm lucky to be sat with you lot." She flips open her purse and sets a few cards on the table. "Contact details, if you'd like to keep in touch. But no pressure."
"See... I can make shields, sort of. So I think if I got a handle on that I really wouldn't care about whoever might come to start trouble. Human trouble, at least. And I'm a total night owl so I'd always be there. Honestly I haven't even slept yet." It was nine am, and she stubbornly sipped her latte. "Sleep is overrated."
Shane opens his mouth, then closes it again. There's another quick-light flick of his inner eyelids. "Oh," is all he says to that, and, "Cool." He hops down off the arm of the chair, leaning down to pierce one of the cards with a needle-sharp claw and drag it to himself, slipping it into a vest pocket without looking at it. "Haven't seen him around, but I'll keep an eye out. Sorry to dash, but I got a cafe to run. Good to meet you, Mercury. Stay safe." His chin tips up toward the others as he slips off again toward the back.
Daiki only tilts his head just a touch. "I'm glad to hear you're on top of everything, and hope that your plans bear fruit." He plucks up one of the cards and pushes it delicately into a pocket. "Unfortunately, human trouble can take many forms -- including some that shields cannot keep out. I don't want to discourage you, though. Evolve is proof those troubles can be overcome." He smiles gently. "I hope that you can manage it, too."