(Don't) Beware Those Who Come Bearing Gifts


kara_icon.gif yi-min_icon.gif

Scene Title (Don't) Beware Those Who Come Bearing Gifts
Synopsis Not all visitors are what they appear.
Date March 16, 2019

Sunken Factory

At this advanced hour of the night— well after communal dinner hours, though not quite so late that most occupants of the factory are yet asleep— an unexpected visitor at Kara's quarters is probably the last thing that munitions chaplain is expecting. Yet this is ostensibly exactly what is happening. An unfamiliar knock resonates at her door: one-two-three brisk raps, energetic enough to carry within but neither forceful nor urgent in nature, and then silence.

Just beyond, Yi-Min lounges in near-leisurely fashion in the partial blackness of the corridor, select areas of her face and body illuminated by the warm, yellowish glow of artificial lighting. She is dressed just a shade more casually than Kara had seen her thus far; white jeans, white blouse peeking out beneath the part-open flaps of a denim jacket.

Though her arms are crossed, a black bottle of beer can be seen dangling from the hand that is tucked beneath.

Kara takes her time before coming to the door, considering in silence what someone could want from her at this hour and if she has the patience or the energy for it. When the door swings back just enough to reveal her profile, a book can be seen hanging in her other hand, thumb pressed to the inside of the spine to keep her place.

Her eyes shift up and down Yi-Min, trying to make sense of why she's there. "What is it?" she asks gruffly, neither opening the door further nor slipping out to close it behind her.

By way of an answer, Yi-Min uncrosses her arms and hefts the dark-glassed bottle a few suggestive inches upwards. If Kara bothers to look that way, she can make out a line of Mandarin characters printed directly beneath the label. The Taiwanese woman's expression is a difficult one to read, which is not really unusual for her; everything about it conveys a noncommittal sense of calmness without divulging much of underlying intent. "Care to share a drink? I can certainly come back later if it's a bad time."

What is discernible is that by both look and sounds of it, she does not particularly care if this is the case. In a sense it would even be preferable— this is a cherished brand of alcohol that she would just as soon have entirely to herself.

Odd, odd question. Kara straightens, leaning on the door as she peers down at the bottle, then looks back up at the woman bearing it. "I try to not drink much," she says before pushing the door open and allowing a view into the rest of the spartanly furnished space. "But I'll join you for one." An abandoned chair in front of a table passing for a desk is the most likely place Yi-Min could seat herself, as Kara settles on the edge of the bed, her hand still keeping her place in her book.

She lifts her shoulder in a shrug as she looks over her room. Nothing adorns the walls, there are no personal effects to speak of. Several worn paperbacks sit on the desk in a stack, lacking the dust to indicate they've been there long. The light in the ceiling is diffused by a pale shade that was installed after moving in, which aside from the mismatched bedclothes, seems to be the only decoration added. Her three pairs of shoes are all at the foot of the bed, snug against an unlocked metal trunk that's surely only filled with clothing.

Yi-Min seems pleased enough by this, letting herself through the space that had been left open for her and carefully closing it again behind her as she passes within. If she forms any opinion of the austere nature of Kara's accommodations, negative or positive, she keeps it to herself; the titles of the books on the table are what draw her more immediate attention as she seats herself near to them. These receive a cursory but interested slant of her eyes before she returns to the subject matter at hand.

"Eileen holds you in high regard," she observes by way of both a simple explanation and a beginning, unpalming the bottle and setting it down atop the surface beside her with a subdued clink. In the somewhat sharper lighting of the room, the English words embellishing its design become more visible: Sinkiang Black Beer. To Kara, the context of her visit suddenly becomes more apparent in the light of what she had come bearing.

It's a peace offering, of sorts.

"And so I'd hoped to clear the air between us. Someday, maybe, we can get to the same point.” All the side snark about being a snake probably hadn’t helped, not that Yi-Min had actually seemed to mind much thus far.

An assortment of titles glance sideways up at Yi-Min, some attached to thicker tomes than others: The Great Gatsby, Moby Dick, Don Quixote, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Classics, to the last. You can't be choosy when your library is often scavenged from what others have left behind. In Kara's hand, though, is a newer book — a recently-abandoned copy of By The Victors that hasn't quite made its way back to its owner yet. She places the book open-faced on the bed, letting gravity serve as her bookmark as she reaches to turn the glass toward her and admire the label.

Kara lets the bottle settle back down carefully before she turns to Yi-Min again. "I hold her in high regard as well," she says of Eileen, and it's something that's sure to extend to the other Horsemen as well.

Yi-Min is not of their number.

When her visitor says she'd like to clear the air, Kara's initial instinct is to insist it's not a matter of air being cleared, but she vaguely recalls letting her thoughts run unfettered the other evening, in one way or another. And to be honest, she can't remember how much was said or got around.

So there's really only one way to handle this. "What do you think needs cleared?" she asks without an ounce of defensiveness, the question delivered with the same straightforward manner she approaches most things with.

This ragged composite of titles had not really been expected, and Yi-Min lifts an appreciative eyebrow as she absorbs them. Regardless of whether they had been Kara's first choice in literature, the conscious decision had been made to keep them, and that counts for something.

As to the question of what Yi-Min thinks needs cleared: this is easy. "You don't trust me." It isn't an accusation, and isn't meant to be one. Indeed, the laxness residing in the angles of her small frame all but alludes that such a state of being is perfectly reasonable— even expected. She may as well have physically shrugged while saying it. "Since we've met, I haven't lied. But I suspect there are questions you may have for me still.

"If you have glasses, we should start on this while it's cold," she adds to this, still mildly, pointing at the beer with her chin.

It may also help the threads of this discussion along.

"Only one glass," Kara informs, leaning to her side to grab a nearly-emptied water glass from the floor. She tosses back what's left of the water, placing the glass by the bottle's side. She seems to be in no hurry to crack it open.

"No, I don't trust you." she has no trouble in pointing out. "Trust is earned over time, and you've only just arrived." Looking back to Yi-Min, she considers her for a long moment, not saying anything further. Grudgingly, she budges in the form of opening the beer and splitting the pour between the bottle and the glass.

"I'll bite. Just why are you here? For yourself, or for Praxis? You have history here which makes it hard to guess."

The dark lager flows into Kara's glass with a strong, mellow aroma: the deeply-roasted malt expected of such a drink, but also an evocation of an additional sweetness. Caramel perhaps, or nuts.

"Both," is Yi-Min's brisk, honest answer. There is no appearance of first formulating what to say, or needing to. When there looks to be only one single glass available, and that one for Kara's use, she curls her hand about the neck of the bottle and takes a swig from it firsthand. "You lost your Praxis man sometime ago, no? When a replacement was called for, I made sure I was the one they asked." For the first time, there is the flat intimation of something much more faraway behind her eyes, though she still wears her measured expression.

"My ties to the Vanguard run much deeper than my ties to Praxis. They always have. When I heard rumors that I'd be able to see old friends I'd thought dead— well. I couldn't turn down the chance."

"All right," Kara allows while she takes a sip of the dark drink, taking a moment to savor the flavor across her palette.

Next question.

"Sure, your ties might be there, but what about your beliefs?" she asks openly enough. "I didn't sign on with this, drag my ass from one coast to the other, to go on a Vanguard reunion tour." Nefarious, world-altering intentions behind said tour implied, there. "So, if that's your goal, then we'll always be a little at odds with each other."

This is enough to cause an openly bright laugh from Yi-Min, who takes one more sneaky drink and then deposits the bottle back into position right next to her, within the most convenient reach possible. "That's fair. I should have elaborated. I was talking about the individuals within the Vanguard: Hector, Eileen. The Vanguard itself… is not something I want back, I assure you. But the relationships built from that time, I don't want to lose."

Like the one with that dearly possessed woman whom even now she calls 'little sister.'

Funny thing, how attempting genocide brings people together.

"If you do or don't, I don't really give a damn. What does concern me is if you use our resources," such as her carefully-grown armory, "to go about it."

"There's plenty enough people out here we're supporting without having resources drawn away for that," Kara insists, taking another, slower sip before setting her glass aside. "So." Her hand braces itself against her knee before lifting briefly to gesture to Yi-Min.

"We did lose our Praxis man, yes. To that robot we ran into the other day, actually. Glad we haven't lost you in a similar way yet." It's said lightly enough to be construed as affection of some kind, accompanied by a very stiff smile.

"So is this your first time in the States, then?"

Yi-Min tilts her head in genuinely puzzled speculation. "The only things I've taken," she says as she leans herself back in her seat, "are ones which will go back into Providence." If Kara could not have easily guessed, she is referring to the side-building project she had been working on alongside Hector for weeks— something which is no secret. A note of amusement inserts itself into what she says next. "And if resources were what I were after, no offense, but I would have gotten Praxis to send me elsewhere."

The achievements of hardy little Providence may be quite admirable for what they are, but compared to the assets of an entity like Praxis they could not even begin to be described as ragtag.

The fate of Shih as well as Kara’s commentary on it causes her to breathe out silently through her nose, more emphatically than normal. "The report was that he disappeared. It makes sense now why Praxis didn't name what killed him— they didn't know."

A shake of her head, then, after the next question: "I have been here before, but it was less shitty then." Drily: "You've seen better days." Not you as in Kara, but America collectively.

Kara has to chuckle softly at her own expense, then. What else could she do? Between the shitty state of America and her overactive paranoia around defending the resources of the Remnant, there's plenty to laugh at.

Not to mention, there's also the much funnier matter of Praxis not knowing what had caused Shih's end.

"Of course they didn't," comes out in a way that sounds like she'll be infinitely amused about it. "How could they? He just…"

Instead of offering any explanation, Kara just laughs again, reaching for her glass, and taking a long drink from it. When she lowers it, she keeps it clasped between both hands. The tail end of her entertained chuckling trails off into a pleasant hum.

"You'll have to forgive me my hypervigilance. Even before Eileen and them arrived, I spent a lot of my time … community-building." That had a much more pleasant, even resumé-approved ring to it, given what all it entailed. "It was a lot of hard work, turning nothing into something." She smirches her tongue off the side of her cheek before adding, "It might not be a lot to you, but it is for them. Sedro-Woolley. Providence."

To her, too.

"It all still feels a little surreal to me sometimes, but I'm just as protective of it as the next," she admits.

It is uncertain whether it's better or worse that Kara doesn't fill in the exact gory details. Both, for separate reasons. "I suspect we will never know for certain what happened to my honored colleague," Yi-Min says as she lifts the bottle of lager to sip it, her voice filled to the brim with an overly-heavy equilibrium of delicacy and graveness. "After all, nothing remains of him to tell. They did not tell me the wildlife around here was so vicious."

Still truth, down to the expressed regret, though perhaps a subtly directed version of it.

A smile of commiseration slips onto the edge of Yi-Min's lip when Kara mentions her labors: after all, the ex-Vanguard operative is no stranger herself to the motivation of protectiveness. "I will correct you, it does not mean a lot to Praxis. But you know, I'm a selfish person. Now that this is my home as well, I intend to make sure it stays worthy of being called one."

"And that is the sort of thing that moves you from being untrusted to being relied on," Kara remarks with a tip of her glass. "But it does take time and proving it."

There's hardly a beat before she adds, "And working with you to get you the shot you need at it. I imagine there's things you're missing to get you up and running, even with all the magic Hector can work up."

As for Praxis, though, there's a slight narrowing of her eyes. "Of course it would mean little to them in the end. Our need for resources influences our willingness to take on work from them. Should we get to the point we can sustain ourselves in all ways alone, well, there'd be no need for us to take jobs with them." She starts to lift her glass again, remarking sorely, "And that'd just be a shame, from Praxis's point of view."

"Yes." This plain remark from Yi-Min is accompanied by another drink before she expands further upon this. A larger one, this time. "We will have lots of work to do in days to come. Gathering supplies. Cleaning up… wildlife. And so, I wouldn't worry about reaching that point quite yet; Providence has a journey ahead of it before that becomes a probability."

Best not to put the cart before the horse.

When she moves to set down the bottle again, it does not leave her hand this time, and she gives Kara a considering look as she brushes her thumb along the decorative shape of the characters. "May I have a turn to ask a question of you?"

Kara tips her head forward in a tentative nod before actually taking a drink from her glass. "Shoot," she encourages somewhat drily, eyes on Yi-Min's. No reservations, it seems, just a disinterest in talking about herself.

Unfortunate, because on all counts, this is where Yi-Min is going. "You count yourself among the Horsemen's number," she notes with an honest-sounding curiosity, her memory shuttering back to that description Kara had voiced early in the disastrous truck ride of weeks gone. She's not like us, is she. "But, you didn't arrive with them. You were already here when they came. There must be a story behind that."

So it wasn't in the form of a question, exactly, but the inquisitive intent is clear enough.

So it is, and it happens to strike on an area Kara particularly doesn't like to address. Damn her for being so observant.

"There must be," Kara agrees stiffly.

The way she speaks, it even sounds like she might possibly say more, but all she does is take another sip of the fine, foreign beer that Yi-Min's offered to share with her.

Also slightly disappointing to Yi-Min, given how unequivocally forthright she had elected to be about herself, but she is judicious enough to respect that her drinking partner had never agreed to the same. "It’s alright," she says with an easy levelness in contrast to Kara’s rigidity, lazily swirling the remaining liquid in the bottle. A goodly amount remains within, if diminishing quickly. Travel is still… a fascinating topic to me. A story for a different time, if it suits you."

Perhaps Yi-Min can be forgiven her interest in learning where Kara fits into such a puzzle.

“An easier question then. What drew you to the Horsemen?”

Kara's mouth hardens into a line. It's not an easier question, by the looks of it. She looks down at her drink, considering the answer for a long moment. The question for her has layers to it, and so does the types of answers that could be given. She likens it to holding a hand of cards and only being able to play one at a time.

For Yi-Min's sake, Kara is searching for the one that best suits the type of answer she's looking for.

"I imagine…" she begins in that same gruff way as before, her voice gaining a thoughtful crisp after. "that it's similar in some ways to why you were attracted to coming out here."

"Except mine is related to 'travel'," as Yi-Min had so elegantly put it. Like they had all dived the Great Barrier Reef together once instead of reality-jumping being their shared experience.

Kara glances up at the question-asker, giving her one in return. "What drew you to the Vanguard, initially?"

"Birds of a feather," Yi-Min articulates with a dip of her chin in understanding, the English idiom less strange on her tongue than many others she had learned: Chinese locution held a very similar turn of phrase.

It is a fair question to ask in turn, and there is an observable pause from Yi-Min— not so much from uncertainty, but because the matter is one that holds certain emotional implications for her. This fact has not changed, but time, at least, has at least made the explanatory aspects of it easier to deal with. And so she does. "I killed someone very dear to me with my ability," she says with a straight look into Kara's eyes. There is nothing but stillness in her own; the matter-of-factness can be interpreted any number of ways. "Everything that followed fell into place because of this."

Kara in kind is very still with her response, the only movement she makes being to turn the glass in her hand with a roll of her thumb. She is incapable of offering judgment or even a kind word — she simply has no ground to relate on, as far as she's concerned.

But she does see the unfortunate incident as a valid motivator, and accepts it.

Her lips part to ask an additional question before she lets out a grunted "Hm," and drinks again from her glass. Very little of her own remains, regardless of Yi-Min's pacing. Eyes shift off to the side before returning to Yi-Min, giving her a stiff nod. "You're better with it now?" Her ability, presumably.

As things would go, the reserved reaction serves Kara well here: the purpose behind Yi-Min's curt explanation had been solely informative, with no words expected in return. Or desired, really. She does have the presence of mind to turn the last probe into a jibe of her own, however. "Well, I haven't killed anyone else by accident in twenty-six years, so I'll take that for what it is," she responds in a notably droll voice, noting Kara's almost empty glass.

A brow is quirked. "More?"

Kara lets out a faint laugh, taking her time as she sits upright on the bed. "Well, I'll do what I can to not break your streak." she offers. Which is to say, she'll try not to do anything to make her snap, if possible.

And on that note: "By the way, the… snake thing?" Her nose wrinkles as she says it aloud. She regretted how much repetition that little moniker was getting. Kara lifts her shoulders after acknowledging its existence. "Sure, part of it comes through not knowing what to make of you. The other half, though…" she remarks with a note of thought as she tries to recall the proper terminology. It doesn't come.

"The symbol for medicine," is as close as she comes for specifics. "involves snakes."

And she can take that for what it is. Kara tosses back what remains of her glass and sets it back on the table. "Beer was good. Different than anything else we've had around here recently." Something that could be construed as a positive thing, given the appreciative lift in her voice.

The glass is nudged slightly in Yi-Min's direction. She'll have more only if the other would like to share. Not out of any obligation to.

"Oh, it was rude, but reasonable," Yi-Min assures of Kara's first line of reasoning, this as laid-back and reflective as though she is merely affirming someone's choice of dress colors. It is, after all, the type of bluntness that she vastly prefers both in herself and from other people. "You did not know me. Suddenly, I come out of nowhere after nearly ten years. What were you supposed to think?"

Yi-Min assuredly does have her limits, but they are lofty; so far Kara is not even on the radar.

"I will say, I did think it fitting that you chose the snake, of all animals. I hadn’t thought about it, but the symbolism is apt." Also the obvious correspondence with her ability. She inclines the bottle for another swallow, and while mid-drink, smiles benignly at the praise that it is given.

There is little time wasted afterwards: Kara's glass is once again foaming and full.

And so the glass is lifted in a silent thanks, though she seems to take her time with that refill, admiring it rather than drinking from it immediately. "Reasonable or not," is all Kara has to say about the poor initial footing, before appearing to leave the matter behind her entirely. She shakes her head to dismiss it all.

"Feel free to take one of the books with you, if you like." she offers. "There's at least one of them I know there's no way I'm getting through." Kara's eyes drift toward the thick Moby Dick volume in particular. She'd probably make an effort to start it, maybe skip to parts that looked interesting, but there was no hope for the whole thing. But maybe the more important question for Yi-Min was: "You do much reading, actually?"

Enjoying her own drink in the manner that she is― legs crossed and wrists draped delicately over one another on her upper knee― Yi-Min herself appears to have left behind the matter long ago, even as she watches the remnants of Kara's discomfort with a gentle, muted mood of perceptiveness.

"I do, in fact," Yi-Min confirms of the latest question following a halt for a long and lingering draught from the bottle. "I haven't had as much time as I would like in past years, with my work, but I did bring some books with me here. They're mostly in Chinese," this takes on a lightly regretful cast. "But you are welcome to what I have, as well. I may take up that offer if you do."

There may be a thing or two Kara will find welcome just as a matter of change from picking up literally whatever she finds out in the field.

"I knew I should have picked up that copy of Chinese for Dummies," Kara quips with a click of her tongue, glancing at Yi-Min out of the corner of her eye with some amusement before she hides her grin behind her glass. After a long sip, her head quirks to the side. "Well, I'll have to stop by sometime, then." She lets out an amused 'hmph' before adding, "Good excuse as any to see how your sleeping arrangements ended up comparing to mine."

"You are welcome to my home anytime. It is not much, but I have managed to fill it out as I can." That word again: home. Still alien to Yi-Min's mind in association with the aesthetics of this place, yet it is growing steadily more true with the passage of each day. At the mention of a comparison, she arches an unfaltering brow and allows her gaze to once again run over the bareness of the walls and furnishings, registering the nearly complete absence of personalized trappings. "Choice, or limitation?"

"I chose the room," Kara replies knowingly as she looks across the room, content with its arrangements. She'd likely remain content with it regardless of whatever Yi-Min's looked like, but the banter had been worthwhile to make. It takes a moment to circle back and realize she may have meant the decoration, rather than the room itself and its placement in the factory. She blinks, the connection being made, but her look of content does not falter.

When she looks back to Yi-Min, her shoulders lift a hair before settling back down. It is what it is. There wasn't much to decorate one's room with when they started with nothing to call their own, and were only passingly sentimental.

Though the shrug is just on the verges of perceptible, it is possible for Yi-Min to discern the context from the smallness of the gesture itself. She herself catches it and smiles, meaningfully. "…Then we may have to rectify this. Red Hook has a number of nice things the last I saw— perhaps we can look together. You may live in a home that you have built from nothing, but it does not have to look like it." There is a genial inflexibility in her tone that presupposes Kara's likely refusal, and a informality that indicates she does not care.

It is one thing to be protective of one's own creation. It is yet another entirely to be able to find comfort in living in it.

"Come again?" escapes Kara plainly, even though she heard perfectly well the first time. She blinks slowly at Yi-Min's insistence, her weight shifting as she considers the smaller woman. There's not a clash of wills that happens, just a general confusion about the insistence behind the declaration.

She lets out a slow sigh from her nose, deciding this is not a battle she wants to take on. "Guess we'll pencil it in soon, then," Kara concedes, unenthused but unargumentative.

Yi-Min does not repeat herself when asked, for she knows that well she had been understood; all she does is view Kara's bewilderment with an outward aura of mellow contentment. An innocence is threaded into her expression as well, as though all this is the most natural thing in the world.

Perhaps it is, to her. After all, whyever not? It is something to do, and the less the place seems a military compound— inescapable though the fact may be— the better.

"Excellent. Next week when we go for supplies, then." Relishing the faintly bitter fragrance of malt and chocolate, Yi-Min brings the bottle back up to her lips with a composure that certainly makes this seem final.

…There is never a time like the present.

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