Cheshire Cat Scratch


corbin_icon.gif s_hokuto_icon.gif lydia_icon.gif

Scene Title Cheshire Cat Scratch
Synopsis Corbin Ayers seeks out Lydia Taylor for her tattoo-ing skills, rather than her fortune telling. He's been learning how to play tricks from the Cheshire Cat, who also makes an appearance.
Date August 9, 2010

Just Ink

Closing time~

Time for you to go out, go out into the world~

Closing tim-


The radio is clicked off, killing the music that had been all too apt for this particular time of day. "Lydia, I'm headin' out— " the gruff dark haired man calls as heavy steps traipse to the door. "See ya tomorrah— lock up when ya leave— " with that the door jingles as he exits with those same heavy steps.

"Good night— " the sandy-coloured hair woman calls from the back where she'd just finished cleaning up her station. After rolling a pair of blue gloves off her hands and depositing them in the trash she washes them under the sink before shuffling from the back to the front desk area, tidying up the last of the workspace for the evening.

The elastic is removed from (and placed around her wrist) her hair before raking her fingers through it, preparing herself to leave. Once things are tidied, she tugs her shoulder bag over her shoulder as per her routine.

With a few minutes of blissful silence, one might think the last costumers have come and gone— and then the door jingles as someone decides to break that illusion. Dressed in much the same way as he'd been when he tried to interview her outside the "compound", Corbin's easily recognizable, especially considering some of the oddities of their original meeting. The timing of his arrival has no doubt been chosen— as he looks around to check who all is present. Only better time would have been opening— but he gambled.

And sometimes gambling allows him to get lucky. He'd been taking a gamble the first time he met her, too.

"Excuse me— Lydia, right? I meant to come earlier, but— " The job of a reporter is always a busy one, though unfortunately he's not even a reporter anymore. The job of a Company Archivist is always a busy one, too. Especially when one does what he does. "Did you hear what happened with Mister Schnook?"

The jingle of the door brings Lydia to attention, straightening behind the desk until Corbin comes into focus. A curious tight-lipped smile crosses her features at the greeting. "Yes, Lydia. Lydia Taylor. How are you, Mister Ayers?" While she'd been standing moments before, slowly she lowers to the chair behind the desk, her jaw tightening at the mention of Wiley. It's not angry, but it's a sore spot of sorts.

"I did. I helped him pack and move out." A hand is raised to her chest with heavy sigh, "He didn't get what he deserved." The bag is lowered from her shoulder again to the floor. "He is a good man, Mister Ayers. He is."

"I'm just glad you were right, and that it really wasn't him," Corbin admits, stepping further into the building while he lays his suitcase down on something. Well, it's more of a man-bag, but he'll call it a suitcase, cause that sounds less…

Anyway. He's planning to stay for a few minutes, despite the possible soreness of having been involved in the outting of Wiley Schnook's second in command. Even if the young woman doesn't know all the details of that. "It's better that he found out now, before things got worse— He was unwittingly causing his followers to commit crimes. It's fortunate the most they'd done is theft and attempted armed robbery." It could have been so much worse.

"He is a good man, though, but unfortunately he still gets punished for what someone else did, in this case." Just not as badly… "I'm not really here to talk about him, though— I meant to come here for a fortune telling, and I still want one, but I find myself in need of a tattoo now, as well. For which I'm willing to pay, of course."

Lydia twists in the chair, stretching her arms. "Perhaps. But he should've listened to those loyalists who are committed to the cause. He has courage coming from he had. I only hope it persists through this. He has people who still believe in him, even if he doesn't believe in himself."

At the mention of the tattoo and reading, her features harden a little with a kind of business edge as she combs her long hair into a ponytail once again, pulling the elastic from her wrist to hold that ponytail in place.

"You need a tattoo? I can't say I've heard the often. What are you looking for? I warn you, I'm just an apprentice and still working on my art. Tarot and fortunes are more my area of expertise."

The goings of Wiley Schnook might bother him, but— there's really nothing Corbin can do about what happened to him. Other than having pursued leads that pointed to the real villian in the situation. If only it hadn't caused the man's dream to fall apart at the same time— it's difficult trying to remain in the same place when the very foundation of what one stood for has crumbled. That— That Corbin understands a lot more than he'd admit.

"I think you'll be able to handle this," he says, reaching into the suitcase and pulling out a few photographs. Shape of the neck and skin-tone indicate they are likely different people, but all with the same mark, in the same place. Two lines. Two, simple, black lines. Includes next to them is a size indicator on the exact length and thickness of the lines.

"I know it's an odd request, but— it should be simple enough."

The photographs themselves yield an odd confusion, particularly with the simple image and the simplicity of the ink. Her lips tighten into a thin, guarded, and almost-too-polite smile while her fingers run over the black lines on the pictures, almost like she's trying to connect to it, in actuality she's gauging the size.

"Unusual. It is very straightforward," dark eyes glance up from the photograph to meet Corbin's gaze. "I can do it right now, it won't take long… I have to lock up though— can't have more clients this late." The chair slides across the tiled floor before she pushes on her thighs to stand.

Her ballet flats silently pad along the floor.


The door is locked. The sign is turned. No one else will be coming in tonight.

She gives a vague nod towards the back indicating she wants to be followed as she moves towards it, which essentially contains girneys for clients to rest while their tattoos are completed. Everything is extremely hygienic in this space. Paper on the beds is disposable and all standard practices are carefully observed.

"Part of the reason I chanced coming in this close to closing," Corbin admits with a smile, picking up his bag after she's locking the door and turning the sign, before following her back. With his bag set down, he begins to remove his shirt, unbuttoning the front of it so he can pull it off. It could likely be done without taking his shirt off, but he knows from the tagging process itself, it's done with shirts off. Too much collar pulling to see where it is, even. This should be gentler on his clothes.

At the very least.

"I've never gotten a tattoo before. Does it hurt as much as I've heard? How long should I be expect to have redness and soreness?" If it's longer than a couple days, it might make his plans… difficult, but he can always write in 'adverse reaction' and see if they buy it.

"It's kind of like a cat scratch. It doesn't not hurt, but there are worse feelings in the world," Lydia explains evenly while pulling on a pair of blue coloured gloves. "As far as redness is concerned… it varies some. Generally only a couple of days where it's really red, longer if you have sensitive skin and it really depends on the person."

She collects a vial of black ink and puts it into her tattoo pen. "This is very simple though. The less complex, generally the faster it heals." And she should know.

"What inspired the tattoo today?" she asks after positioning herself to begin.

"Well, I'll try my best not to cry or carry on," Corbin says, though he sounds as if he's trying to keep himself from doing such a thing. "Honestly pain is not something I'm good at dealing with— not in the least. I can't even handle needles when I have to get shots for vaccines and stuff." Setting his shirt down on his lap, he looks away from her and forcuses his eyes on something else— someone else. And tries his best to block out the impending pain.

Or the cat scratch. A good description, because he has a cat at home who doesn't always like him. His arms have more than a few of them, but his legs get the worst, because apparently his pants look like a scratching board sometimes…

"It's kind of a long and complicated story. Let's just say it's a statement, and that certain people won't be happy with me if they realize it is a statement. But it's better than the alternative." Is it? Really? Well, to him it is—

He doesn't want to get injected with a isotope that will allow his employers to track him whereever he goes, especially if his employers stop being in control of that system.

"A statement? Nothing you will regret having, I hope," Lydia takes a deep breath that clears her head and relaxes her muscles; calming any stray nerves. Neck cranes to loosen her back muscles and relax her body further. This occupation is demanding on her body and she knows how to push it to its limits.

A stray strand of hair missed by the elastic his brushed out of her face with her forearm before she gently soothes. "Just breathe. It will be over almost as quickly as it starts." The tattoo pen comes down on Corbin's skin with that cat scratch like feeling. Simultaneously, so does Lydia's free hand, bracing herself and maintaining her own steadiness with that pen and giving her ability easy access.

The purpose behind those two little lines comes clear in his emotional state— concern. For himself, but at the same time it seems the tattoo is a bid for protection. For himself, and for what he's carrying with him. Corbin may be complicated in many ways, with that second set of desires hanging around him like a deep imprint in need of redemption. What he needs is something quite different— security, safety. And this tattoo— a ruse of some kind, is his bid to keep himself and everything he holds, safe.

There's a few soft hisses in the way he's breathing, but he avoids flinching or moving away. Over as quickly as it starts? He's likely hoping for that to be the case. "Just— make sure it's dark. It needs to stand out." Black on pale skin. He doesn't sunbathe often, so there's little sign of a tan. Too much time spent in archives.

"He really does have a low pain tolerance," is something only Lydia can hear, a voice whispered cooingly in her ear from a person she can feel leaning over behind her that wasn't there a moment ago. A thread of dark hair floating languid as if underwater is the only visual cue aside from the scent of fresh paper and wet ink that hangs in the air before the figment is gone.

A heartbeat later Lydia can see it out of her peripheral vision, someone standing to the side of the chair Corbin is laid across. But she's gone when an actual look in that direction is fired. It's only when Lydia's eyes settle back on Corbin that she is abruptly confronted by the appearance of an unfamiliar woman standing on the opposite side of the Company agent from her.

Dressed in a vibrant red, double-breasted suit and slacks with crimson pin-striping, she seems to be offering a very bold statement. Hair as dark as spilled ink flows down past her shoulders and is possessed of the ethereal weightlessness of someone suspended underwater, her eyes — gold like a cat's — are squarely settled on Lydia, red painted lips quirked up into a smile.

"Hello," Hokuto offers in a voice not entirely unlike Lydia's, rich with texture and bordering on a catlike purr, "I don't think we've been properly introduced."

"It is dark," Lydia replies matter-of-factly. "No need to worry about that. Although it will lighten after its wholly healed, but that's a given." She lifts the pen from his skin to complete that second line, and takes a momentary pause for her own sake.

"Just keep breathing, Mister Ayers." Her forehead creases with an unusual concern that she fights against until the voice whispers in her ear, there is no fighting against voices. The pen falls to the floor, cracking when it hits and bleeding ink across the tile. When she looks over, and Hokuto is momentarily gone, she murmurs a quick apology and something about being clumsy. With a deep breath she glances at the single line of her handiwork only to have Hokuto appear again.

The empath tenses and slides away from Corbin. With a slow inhalation of breath, she finds a tempestuous stoicism, easily tipped from neutrality to outright concern. "Who are you?" with a sidestep she glances between Corbin and Hokuto, "How are you doing that?" her tone is even, but her forehead creases with heavy concern.

Oh, and is he ever grateful that the jumping and dropping of pens only led to ink bleeding across tile and not blood bleeding down his back. Corbin is ever, ever grateful, but at first he's confused. "All I was doing was what you told me too…" It's the way her eyes are flickering around that reminds him all to much of how he looks around in certain situations, and suddenly he's looking around as well.

Only he doesn't find what he's looking for. And who might be to blame for this.

Hokuto'd always been a bit of a trickster. It's one of the things he'd liked about her. "What happened? You didn't mess it up, did you?" he reaches over his shoulder, wanting to poke at the skin, rub it, scratch on it— it feels wrong, and it stings.

Yellow eyes slant downwards to Corbin, then drift back up to regard Lydia. "You can't walk backwards away from yourself," is confusingly offered from the dark-haired oneiromancer as she lifts a pale hand to rake back dark bangs from her face, threading locks of black hair between her fingers as she does. "It's a trick of the mind, hallucination and figment, auditory and tactile, olfactory and visual. I suppose you could taste me too but I don't think now's the time for that," the phantom teases with an arch of one brow.

"The mind is capable of many miraculous things, the subconscious even more so. But you needn't ask who I am, because you brushed minds with me once before. We just didn't become properly aquainted." Running her tongue over her lips, Hokuto crosses her arms over her chest and paces around the chair Corbin's seated in.

"You can call me Hokuto, I suppose that's who I still am." Yellow eyes are partially lidded behind dark lashes and a coy smile crosses the dreamwalker's lips. "I'm the little soldiers inside of Corbin's Trojan Horse. Though I suppose I'm inside of you now," Hokuto notes with an askance look to Corbin, "since he doesn't seem to see me." Which, admittedly, she is fascinated by.

"N-no," Lydia stammers once before clearing her throat and turning back to her little shelf of tools for a fresh pen; she'll have to clean the other up later. "No mistakes," the words are smooth. Goosebumps form along her arms and as even as she keeps her tone and features, physically, her body, responds to the stress; her pupils dilate and skin pales.

The illusion mentions Corbin's name and the artist essentially outs herself with one word, "Hokuto," and a vague glance given towards the imposing woman.

And then, aloud, whether or not Corbin has clued in, she addresses the apparition, "You were the feminine. The imbalance… how?" Her lips curve into a minute frown as she lowers the tools altogether and pushes her stool away, there's no use trying to finish when so distracted.

Oh, Hokuto, what did you do?

As soon as Corbin hears that name, he straightens up and looks directly at Lydia, because his eyes can't find who he's looking for anyway. Lydia Taylor, who's talking to air, something he's had to avoid doing more times than he would care to admit. Always at the most inconvenant times, did she start talking. In the middle of meetings, at crime scenes… It was the times she visited in his dreams he handled the easiest.

Maybe because she's not dancing around in red in them.

"You're talking to Hokuto? Why— how…" What happened? For a few seconds, a little part of him starts to panic and worry, looking around as if he might catch a glimpse of her in the corner of his eye—

Hokuto's answer comes as she taps two of her fingers against the side of her head, both brows raising slowly. "How do dreams seem so real when being dreamt?" It's with another coy smile that Hokuto makes her way around the chair, bare feet clashing out against her otherwise formal attire as she treads across the parlour's floor. "In short, I died…" both of her hands come up slowly, as if to show off her palms to Lydia, "but yet here I am."

Those yellow eyes regard Corbin out of Hokuto's periphery, her lips downturning into a frown before she looks back slowly to the tattoo artist. "I showed myself to you to thank you, because I believe it was your gentle mental tug that you offered to me that pulled me out of Corbin and into you, showed me that I can move from mind to mind as spectator and participant. You've effectively given me a new lease on life, Lydia… and in turn I owe you a favor."

The red-clad woman reaches inside of the open collar of her suit jacket, then pulls out an entirely illusory piece of card stock. The back has a houndstooth pattern in black ink with a symbol at the center resembling a gradually curving "S" with three prongs, like rungs from a broken ladder, extending from opposite arcs.

Turning the card around, she holds it out face-first to Lydia, showing a card depicting a man dressed in red slouched over an ivory throne, his brow heavy with one hand raised in the air holding aloft two fingers, the other holding up a golden scepter resembling the symbol on the back of the card. Above the likeness of Joseph Sullivan is the Roman numeral V and below his feet is written THE HEIROPHANT.

"The cards are the path to the answer," Hokuto opines thoughtfully, one brow raised as if in invitation for Lydia to take the card. "Is he your answer, or…" with a flick of her fingers Hokuto flips the card over to show a similarly designed image of a man seated on the throne. But his wild hair, crooked nose and black painted nails aren't that of Joseph Sullivan, but Samuel. Above his likeness is the numeral IV and below is written THE EMPEROR.

"Both are equally important to you?" seems phrased like a question, but confoundingly so. "Name your favor," she adds afterward, and Hokuto's lips creep up into a smile on dismissing the card with a snap of her fingers into a wisp of ephemeral black smoke, like ink in water.

Consicously, Lydia looks away from the apparent illusion back to Corbin, "She can move from your conscious to others. My ability nudged her and displayed her capability to do so— particularly when I felt her in your conscious at our fist meeting."
Fortunately Lydia is open to the unusual, her features softening considerably at the explanation as vague as it may be. "In death you managed an altered state? Alive, but not. Here, but not. Her fingers lace tightly together in front of her, guarding her own thoughts, desires, and emotions as best she can, but with Hokuto in her head, this is destined as impossible.

Features tighten at the question while her face flushes a light pink, knowing full well the symbolic meaning of each of the cards. Her lips tighten further, not really into a smile, although likely its supposed to be, but not frowning either. "Both men are dear to me," is the cryptic response. "Both are my family and both were there when no one else was."

Her features tighten further at the offered favour. "You owe me nothing," is the even reply. "But there is only one thing I want; something I doubt anyone can deliver." And then quietly she states it, "My family back. ANd some semblance of my old life."

"But she can jump back, right?" Corbin can't help but ask, touching the back of his neck lightly as if cold fingers might help soothe the pain there. Not even mentioning the strange emptiness that he feels all of a sudden. Metaphorical, perhaps, with the knowledge that she's jumped into someone else more than anything he actually feels. But still there. Despite himself.

He tries his best not to show it too much, though, perhaps because—

What if that's what she wants? Wasn't really fair to be the only one she could talk to.

"I'm afraid I'm missing half of this conversation. Hokuto's giving you a reading, isn't she?" Something she'd still not do for him.

"You can't walk backwards away from yourself," Hokuto belatedly echoes to Lydia's request, one of her dark brows arched in that puzzling response, "but if that's what you want, and that's what is in store for you… anything can be found. But just remember, Lydia, anything you do find… anyone you do meet?" The dreamwalker takes a step around the chair Corbin is in again, "you can't ever undo that. Once you open the bottle, the Genie is out."

Those words have a hollow resonance to them, like words spoken in a large and long hallway echoing a great distance. As she speaks them, Hokuto both discorporates into inky wisps of black in Lydia's frame of reference, and appears in those same ephemeral clouds of ink crouching by the side of Corbin's chair in a way that only he can now see.

"She's nice," is offered up abruptly to Corbin with a wry smile, "exactly how many girlfriends do you have on the side, Mister Ayers," is entirely teasing of her, complete with Cheshire smile beneath upturned yellow eyes.

"Yes. She is giving me a reading, and yes, she can go back," eyes narrow through a thick line of dark lashes before pushing that hair out of her face with her forearm once again, and removing several beads of sweat from her brow.

"Perhaps not. But many in my family insight me to feel like myself, and without them, I am nothing but a stranger in my own skin; a visitor in my own mind. Thank you. Even if I can't unmeet them, they are my family." Her face flushes further, but no explanation is given as to why, particularly as she fights for neutrality in her expression, absorbing all save for a single twitch of her lips. The stool is repositioned behind Corbin as she prepares the needle to finish the tattoo. And then Lydia is alone again, in her own mind, anyways.

With a deep breath, attention returns to her work and the task at hand. "Alright. Shall we finish this last line?" She poises her pen to complete the tattoo.

And of course, Corbin isn't expecting the voice when it comes up, or the cheshire-cat that appears out of no where. If she came with floating head or eyes, it'd be an even more fitting comparison. "She's not a— Well, at least I know of one person I can talk to you around." And it's not his actual girlfriend— cause he's not told her about his brain hijacker yet. Something he probably should now that she can jump bodies…

"Oh, so you weren't done? There's more?" From the grimace, he's not looking forward to more, but he does turn to allow her to complete, to do the second line.

"Now I know you're Evolved, and not just fortune teller instincts— don't worry, I'm not going to turn you in. Though…" He glances at the yellow eyed ghost as he asks, "Have you ever thought of running your own shop?"

Hokuto simply folds her arms around herself and leans in closer with her crouch, one brow raised and eyes unseen by Lydia as they level on the fortune teller. There's a slow draw of a smirk that crosses the dreamwalker's lips as she watches Lydia's reaction, carefully gauging her reactions with distantly focused yellow eyes. Hokuto has no words for Corbin at the moment, nothing beyond her teasing, just careful consideration of Lydia and how she takes this — to her — very important question.

It's a very special shop to her.

"No such luck, Mister Ayers, there is more," Lydia states as she leans forward in the chair to draw that second line along his neck. Her lips quirk upwards a little, her hope glimmering brightly in those bright eyes, even if the reassurance was from a literal dead woman. The tattoo is completed within seconds and the needle returned to the shelf.

"Yes, I am Evolved. My instincts are more than just instincts," the explanation stays vague. "My own shop?" Her lips press into a thin line again, considering the question. "There was a season in my life when all I did was run. One place to another," her lips quirk into a smile, "I was fortunate that the people I was with were movers as well." The smile brightens, "Some ran faster than I could. But then…" the smile falters, disappearing into regret, "…I ran when I should've stayed put."

With some strain, the smile returns, broken and regretful this time, thoughts still pressed upon her own mistake. "I'm ready to put up roots. It's something I had considered early on," but her loyalty compelled her to stay distant from others, distrusting, even. And then, reflectively, her features soften, "Perhaps it's time."

"Sometimes you need to run— and sometimes you need to stay put and hide in plain sight," Corbin says, grimacing despite himself at the pain of the tattoo. At least it's done now— "You are done, right?" he asks as he thinks about it, looking at the pen and the fact it's no longer scratching along his skin like some horrible cat with black claws of doom. Doom that could give him hope, at the same time. Hope to avoid a certain tracking needle, along with some fancily faked documentation, at least.

With his hand rubbing the "wound" a few more times, he turns to face the tattoo lady. "I happen to have a bookstore— People used to get tarot readings there." People except him. "It used to be Hokuto's, but just like I needed this tattoo, I need someone else to own it. So that it'll be safe. Someone not connected to certain people." The people he's connected to, the people most everyone he could think to sell it to is at least indirectly connected to and in their files, in one place or another. "It comes with a cat," he adds, as if that might be a selling point.

"I like her," Hokuto comments in hushed whisper as she slowly rises from her kneeling position, offering an askance look to Corbin as she does, "if she accepts, after seeing the place…" there's a look back to Lydia and the fortune teller is regarded through the dark fringe of Hokuto's lashes, "have her give you a reading with my mother's cards." Card she never let anyone else perform a reading with. "You deserve to have one fully done with them, and the cards deserve a new home…"

This time, as Hokuto steps behind Corbin, she doesn't reappear, though the brief scent of fresh paper clings to the air like some sort've bookish perfume in the moments of her departure from his subconscious mind. She doesn't re-emerge, not for the time being, and not here.

Now that the Genie is out of the bottle, she has some wishes to grant.

"Yes. It's finished," Lydia announces, a bemused smile playing at her features. "I am officially done." The tattoo is wrapped. "Keep it covered for a couple hours and after that run it under a hot shower to remove any dried blood." She nods at this fact before sliding the rolling the gloves from her hands, one bunched into another.

"A bookstore," she repeats smoothly as her lips curl further. "I could … own a bookstore." Her eyes light at the notion of reading tarot or palms more frequently. "And a cat. Life needs at least one confidante." There is, however, one lingering question, "Who are you connected to? And why is it so imperative you lose this shop?"

There's a long pause, before Corbin speaks quietly, "I wasn't investigating Wiley Schnook for a newspaper." And as he says that, he pulls his shirt back on finally, avoiding rubbing the tattoo too much as he buttons up. "I was under cover— but don't worry. I'm not going to take you in. Though I think you'd have known if I was planning to." Though he's not sure what her ability is, he's guessing she would. Evolved instincts, and all. Walking over to his man-bag/briefcase and pulls out something that looks suspiciously like a badge. A Homeland Security badge, under closer inspection, though the name on it is not actually Corbin Ayers.

"I understand what Schnook went through, finding out the very thing you'd been working toward wasn't what you thought it was, and that another force was in fact working against what you were working toward. I've been going through that a lot this year." Dropping the badge back down, he grabs something else instead, a small map, with a circle on it, a phone number and an address. On Roosevelt Island. "The bookstore is here. If you still decide to take it after seeing it, and meeting Gabriel, that's the cat, then we can do my reading there."

"I would know," Lydia admits as arms cross over her chest. "I know things about people." Corbin is issued yet another tight-lipped smile, guarded, and protective of her unregistered secret although less so now that the jig is up. A glance is given to the badge, her body stiffening rather involuntarily especially at the words Homeland Security. Nostrils flare slightly as she presses her lips into that same line, suppressing her visceral reaction to that badge.

She manages to relax enough to accept the map, her eyes reflecting vague suspicion as she places it on the desk to be placed in her shoulder bag later. "Thank you. I will visit." And she will. Even with that badge hiding in the man's bag.

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