Rating: PG-13 (some bad language)
Word Count: 1077
Warnings: None, unless you fear fountain pens.
Summary: Reno moves his forearm in a slow sweep across the page, testing the weight of the pen, feeling for the pressure that will let the tines of the nib expand incrementally, that will change the thickness of the line. “Don’t push,” he mutters.
“Here it is,” says Reno.
Tseng, immersed in Form Five Nine Beta, looks up at the sound of his voice.
“That was fast,” he says.
Reno hooks the chair with his foot and sits down across the desk from Tseng. Freshly laundered shirt, Tseng notes, the cotton worn soft and thin to the point of translucency.
“Your guys gave me everything I needed to know. Pascal sent me a scan, even,” Reno says. He withdraws a narrow brown velvet box from his coat pocket. “Want to see it?”
Reno pries open the clamshell lid. The pen inside is a smoky amber; the clip is rhodium.
“Well,” Tseng manages to say, finally. “Not what I expected.”
“Me, neither,” Reno says. “Nice, huh? I assumed it was going to more or less look like a giant gold dick, or something.”
“It’s a fountain pen?”
“Believe it or not, yeah.”
“Can he,” Tseng wonders, “actually write with a fountain pen?”
“You’re the one who goes to those meetings,” Reno says. “You tell me.”
“And he picked this out? Himself?”
“All by himself,” Reno says. “He must have seen it online, somewhere, and wanted it. See, I figure what got him excited was this thing the nib can do. Check it out.”
Tseng, eyebrow lifted, waits.
Reno gently extracts the pen and uncaps it. There is no nib.
“Okay,” Tseng says.
“Watch,” says Reno. He presses a button inset into the bottom of the pen, and the nib slowly and silently emerges from the section, glimmering, clad in rhodium to match the clip. “It’s got a launch sequence, see?”
Tseng gives a bark of near-silent laughter, and they both watch the nib descend back into the pen.
“Oh, well,” says Reno. “I guess you have to have your dreams.” He closes the pen box with a snap.
“It’s instructive to realize,” Tseng says, “that Palmer can dream. I’ll remember that.”
Reno, looking down at the box, says, “It reminds me of my old man.” Tseng does not allow his surprise to show, this time. Reno has never mentioned his father before.
“Your old man,” he says, “kept a fountain pen?”
“It was pretty,” Reno says. “It was green. It had some stripes and stuff swirled up through the body, looked kind of like a marble.”
“Celluloid,” Tseng says.
“Had a lever on the side you could pull to fill it up with ink. They said it was his, anyway. Kind of carried it around for awhile. Never tried to write with it,” Reno says. “Pawned it when I was seventeen.”
“Needed the cash?”
“That, and,” Reno says, and is silent. Tseng grunts softly.
“You got one?”
“Sort of figured you’d have a good pen, although—“ Reno gestures at Tseng’s ballpoint, nib retracted, parked at the top of Form Five Nine Beta. The corner of Tseng’s mouth turns up.
“Sort of aspirational, be like the big boys, that kind of thing?”
“Classy,” Reno says, simply. Tseng looks at him for a long moment, then shrugs and opens his desk drawer.
“It looks old,” Reno says.
“It is old.”
Tseng has pushed Form Five Nine Beta to one side of his desk. The pen rests on Tseng’s blotter calendar. It is much shorter than Palmer’s dream pen. There is no clip; there is no metal on it at all.
“I can’t figure out what color it is,” Reno says. “Looks like a piece of pottery, like one of the things Reeve has on his desk. With the glaze…what’s it made of?”
“Heki-tamenuri urushi lacquer,” Tseng says, “over ebonite.” He touches the tapered, faceted body with one finger; the edges of the facets show celadon where the brown top layer of the lacquer has pulled away.
“This belong to your old man?”
“I don’t have anything left,” Tseng says, “from my father.” Briskly he tears a page off his desk pad, centers it between them, and pushes it, and the pen, toward Reno.
Reno, unscrewing the cap, hesitates.
“Is this, like, your most precious possession, or anything? Because—“
“Don’t worry about it,” Tseng says.
Reno cracks his neck and studies the nib, frowns a little, traces a few straight black downstrokes. The pen skips.
“The nib is designed to flex.” Reno glances up at him. He hears it, the thing Tseng meant to keep out of his voice, as surely as he hears the scratch of the point on the paper.
“Flex means the nib opens up?”
“That’s right,” Tseng says. “For characters with thick and thin lines.”
“I’m pushing on it. Nib can’t flex if I’m pushing on it, can it?” Reno says. He’s silent for a moment, his mouth compressed. “Pull, then. But I can’t pull left to right unless…” He transfers the pen to his other hand.
“What…what are you doing?”
“Lefty at a disadvantage,” Reno says. “Situations like this, fuck being left-handed.”
Reno moves his forearm in a slow sweep across the page, testing the weight of the pen, feeling for the pressure that will let the tines of the nib expand incrementally, that will change the thickness of the line. “Don’t push,” he mutters.
Arcs and arabesques open up broad and gleaming and drop away to hairlines.
“That’s better,” Reno says.
Tseng watches his shoulders relax, his face lose its sarcastic grin. Reno’s not performing, although it is a magic trick, getting shining wet curving lines of ink from a flex-nib pen, using his off hand. He’s not doing it for show. Reno has no idea how he looks anymore.
“You write with that,” Tseng says, “like you own it.”
“Nah,” Reno says. “It’s definitely your pen. Feels like you.”
“You can tell,” Tseng asks, “how I feel?”
The pen-tip pauses against the paper. Reno doesn’t look up.
After a second, he resumes his movement. More quickly now, he sketches a set of close-matched curves, unfolding like a wing. Then he signs his name.
“Here,” Reno says, turning the page around and pushing it across the desk to Tseng. Tseng can’t look at the paper; his eyes are on Reno’s hands, on his long scarred fingers and his sharply curved thumbs, as he finds the threads on the section by feel and screws the cap back in place.
Later, after Reno has left, Tseng will take the page, take the wing, take the name, and those scrolling lines with their infinite flex, and put them away, privately, somewhere, for safe-keeping.