Dreaming Tree


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Scene Title Dreaming Tree
Synopsis Corbin Ayers is either losing his mind, or finding more of it than he knew…
Date April 19, 2010

Standing here

The old man said to me,

"Long before these crowded streets

Here stood my dreaming tree."

There's a song playing, one that serves as a quiet backdrop to the faux-wood paneled walls and smell of musty paper. The old radio perched on the shelf plays the soft sound of drums and acoustic guitar, a saxaphone harmony rising up behind the gentle plucking and strumming. This is how days are for agent Corbin Ayers, sitting on a milk crate, surrounded by cardboard organizers filled with manilla folders. The Company is an organization that is almost solely made of hard-copies, so few electronic documents and even fewer directories. It's a daunting job for one man to do, but maybe his superiors noticed that by now.

Below it he would sit

Head bobbing unconsciously to the song, Corbin lifts up a red folder, setting it down in a box beside another, placing a blue sticker on the corner to denote a successful bag and tag. The click of the archive door opening and the sound of footsteps coming in to the crowded rows of shelves and filing cabinets isn't entirely unusual, but Robert Bishop rarely makes personal trips down here.

For hours at a time

"Ayers," he notes with an amused little smile, casually leaning against the frame of the door. "I've got a file for you to process…" Stepping in to the archive, Bob's quiet footsteps take him over to where Corbin sits, and a green folder handed out to the archivist is color-coded for partnership assignments. "I think you'll probably want to do this one sooner rather than later." The smirk forming at the corner of Bob's mouth is playful and light-hearted — this is the way it used to be at Primatech. — "Because that's your partnership assignment, and…"

Now progress takes away

"And you know I'd rather not have to do it myself!" Comes the chipper woman's voice behind Bob. He recognizes it, from cafeteria lines, from audio-tape reports, from that time he bumped into her in the hall and she apologized profusely for not paying attention to where she was going. "After all, you're the junior agent in this pair which means I can give you all sorts of embarrassing orders, can't I?" That Cheshire smile is so fresh in this time, the way dark hair spills down one of Hokuto Ichihara's shoulders and equally dark eyes seem so full of life and full of light. Stepping around Bob's broader form, she tip-toes over to where Corbin sits and bites down on her lower lip, brows lifting and smiling playfully as she offers out a hand.

What forever took to find

"Ichihara," Hokuto notes impishly, "I think we're going to get along wonderfully." Behind her, Bob laughs to himself and shakes his head, reaching up to adjust the frames of his glasses and cast eyes to the side towards the shelves of neatly organized files.

And now he's falling hard

"You heard her Ayers, get that processed so she doesn't have to?" This is how the Company used to be, before everything was ruined.

He feels the falling dark

A few small bandaids can be seen on awkward fingers, as Corbin finally hops down from his milk crate, the product of many, many paper cuts over the last few weeks drowning in the archives. Of all the things that would have shown up to greet him, this would not be one of them, though he was supposed to get a partner eventually. Everyone does. One of us, one of them. "I look forward to working with you." That's what he wanted to say, but it came out more like… "I— yeah." His cheeks color when he realizes that he pretty much got two total words out to her, before he reaches to finally take the folder. "I'll get right to that."

How he longs to be

He's was able to complete a full sentence for the older man in the room, at least.

Beneath his dreaming tree

"Sorry. I— it's been quiet down here most the day," he apologizes to her after a few moments, moving to crack open the file for a glance at it, so he can get it sorted, and out of curiosity.

Conquered fear to climb

Of all the files he's already had to process in his time with the Company, abilities have always managed to surprise him. "Oh hey, you have a dream power? That's pretty cool." And not dangerous, by his terms. It's all the files that get shuffled away somewhere else, containing people of very dangerous abilities, that he's always worried about seeing. Guys who can boil flesh with a touch, or bend bones, or— dreams seemed so harmless back then.

A moment froze in time

"And— you're younger than me. Why do you get to be the senior partner?" he says, finally lightened his mood a little to complete sentences, though he still looks embarrassed.

When the girl who first he kissed

"Because." Hokuto states with a flash of her tongue, arms folded across her chest and weight on one foot. Bob looks over to the dark-haired agent at that assessment and offers a feigned expression of helplessness, shoulders rising and falling in a wordless response of she's your problem now as he waves one hand and makes his way back out of the archives, leaving the two alone.

Promised him she'd be his

"Besides, I've been with the Company longer, so it's business." Stepping past Corbin, Hokuto boosts herself up onto one of the desks nearby, sitting on it cross-legged, swaying from side to side slowly as she reaches down to pluck out a daisy she'd tucked into the front pocket of her black vest. The brunette leans forward, offering the tiny white flower out to Corbin. "I plucked it on the way in," she notes with a wrinkle of her nose, "but the pollen's making me all sneezy, so it wasn't really the best thought through plan. You should keep it," she instructs, lips creeping up into a smile as she twirls the flower around but its short stem.

Remembered mother's words

"So I get more paper work, and a flower— I wonder if this is going to become a trend," Corbin says, opening up a file cabinet to finish sorting the file and drop it down. Things would be so much easier if he could just scan files and put them away in a computer network somewhere. But the building is still stuck in the 90s.

There beneath the tree

With the file put away in the right place, with the right codes and stickers, he walks over, plucking the tiny white flower from her hands, and sticking it behind his ear. "It's weird you're allergic to daisies, when you're practically the size of one." Just like she chesire smiled at him, he's grinning at her, with a flower stuck behind his ear, it looks weird. And silly and young.

"No matter what the world

These were the days when they could be silly and young, while surrounded by hundreds of important papers.

You'll always be my baby."

"Maybe," Hokuto notes cheerily, leaning back from offering the flower and beginning her side to side sway again, hands folded in her lap. "You know your my first," the dreamer notes with a purse of her lips, dark eyes off to the side and lost in the details of the drop-ceiling tiles. "Partner, I mean…" there's a wrinkle of her nose, head tilting to the side and dark locks of hair falling down to shield one side of her face.

"Mommy come quick,

Her eyes close, and when they open she's staring askance at Corbin through the ragged fringe of her lashes. "You're going to have to meet my father too. He said he wants to meet the person they assign to be my partner, he's really strict but he's just worried about me is all. But he's going to try and scare you, because that's how he is, and my mother will swat at him and call him embarrassing names to even the field and…" Hokuto purses her lips, looking away from Corbin.

The dreaming tree has died."

"She'll probably think we're dating since I never bring anyone home for father to meet, and she doesn't exactly know about our work. Maybe that can be our cover!" Hokuto's eyes widen, lips creeping up into a smile as she leans forward on the desk to stare at Corbin. "We can pretend to be a loving couple, star-crossed and full of life! A romantic story for the ages, hiding their secret lives as special agents behind a cover of a romance! But is it true, have the two agents fallen in love for real? Find out next week."

The air is growing thick

She really used to be that bizarre.

A fear he cannot hide

"Your dad is in the Company?" Corbin responds, looking back to where he filed away the folder in a desire to go and grab it again. Ichihara… That name had sounded familiar in more ways than a impish little lady who stood out in crowds, at least to him. And probably half the other guys who work in the paper facility. And she's young and— He's her first. Partner. Which makes the name standing out in his memory a little oddly placed.

The dreaming tree has died

"At least he won't have to worry about us getting into much trouble. Worst that'll happen is a bunch of files may jump off the shelf and try to crush you," he says, moving away from the desk she's seated on to pull the daisy out from behind his ear and drop it onto a coffee cup on the other desk. Which luckily happens to be empty.

Oh, have you no pity?

"You really want to pretend to be dating? I— would that really— be a good idea? I mean you're— I'm new to this 'secret agent' thing, still."

This thing I do

"Maybe you're right," Hokuto notes with a huff of breath, unfolding her legs and letting them swing freely over the edge of the desk, "maybe it's too soon for a deep cover operation like that!" There's a waggle of her brows at that, teeth toying with her lower lip as she slides off the desk and lets her heels of her boots clunk down on the floor, hands folding behind her back. "I guess for now you can play the part of co-worker aaaand," she draws out the sound, leaning forward with hands behind her back to inspect Corbin. "When you're more comfortable in your role as agent, we can play house!"

I do not deny it

There's a crack of a smile and Hokuto leans forward, close enough to be just this side of embarrassing before she leans away and stands up straight again, hop-stepping away from Corbin before twirling around on one foot. "No take backs you decided it an' you've gotta stick with it, you had your chance!" The youthful agent notes with a bubbling, mischievous laugh.

All through this smile

There's an embarassed downward glance, and Corbin's leaning back a bit away from her. It's that uncomfortableness, but also— he can't help but notice little details, like the color of her lips, the shape of her eyelashes. From the way his blue eyes travel along her face, slowly and sticking to specific details, he may be tempted to go along with her original idea. But— no take backs.

As crooked as danger

"I— well, I'm a reporter for the New York Times, too, but I mostly do online fixing of other people's stories, or tossing together something last minute. It shouldn't interfere with our work at all, but I can— do you really want to say we're dating later? I mean not right now, not trying to take it back, but…"

I do not deny

Shifting around the desk, he scratches at his hair, an embarrassed expression on his face. "Co-workers is probably better, anyway. It's… Maybe we could meet your dad here. Then you won't have to explain me to your mom."

I know in my mind

"Where's the fun in that?" Hokuto teasingly notes with a huff of breath, brushing a lock of dark hair away from her face, "It's kind've fun seeing you get all squirmy and awkwar—

I would leave you now

Snow is falling down at a rapid pace, the air is freezing and the ground beneath Hokuto is steadily turning a deep crimson hue in the wake of the assailant's approach over clunking floorboards and through the shop again. Lights are coming on in the adjacent windows of the buildings crowding Ichihara Books, and after the riots on this tiny island just a few nights ago the sound of gunfire likely has residents calling for the police. They'll be slow to arrive, given how bad the storm is, given how heavy that driving snow falls and how fast her attacker is fleeing. The ambulances, too, will be too slow to arrive, even if there is a hospital just on the other side of the island from here.

If I had the strength to

She's whimpering, there, laying across Corbin's lap, hands too weak to reach up and even press on the wound at her stomach that is leaking blood like a punctured water bottle, too cold and too numb to reach the other wounds on her back where steaming blood fans out in a pool beneath her and continues to spread to either side of her body ins ow progression.

I would leave you up

When she does finally get her shaking, bloodied hand moving, it's to reach up and paw distantly at Corbin's cheek, leaving three streaks of red down across his stubbled jaw where she touches. Lungs suck in breath, shallowly, and brown eyes are glassier than they should be, despite the tears welling up in her eyes from pain, spilling down either side of her face and freezing against skin in the sub-zero cold.

To your own devices

She can't sit up, and her jaw keeps trembling, her whole body is trembling. Somewhere in the store, the wind chimes jingle again from the breeze, snow drifts in the front door of the store and collects on the floorboards. A yellow-eyed cat is the last person to see the attacker leave, turning slowly to leap down from her perch on the counter and trot out of the store across the floorboards and out the back stockroom to where Hokuto lays in the snow, a thick and tacky pool of blood now soaking into Corbin's knees.

Will you not talk?

She mouths something, words, maybe. It's an attempt at saying something that she's wanted to say to him the whole time they worked together in the Company, something she was too afraid to because of the loss of her father and family. It's unfortunate that she can't squeak out the words now, one bloody thumb brushing over Corbin's lips.

Can you take pity?

There's a book in her store, on Egyptian mythology, detailing how when the sun god Ra descended in the west and came to night, he was believed to have died and sunk into the underworld to be reborn anew come morning, and in this time between night and day, great cats like lions would watch over him and guard his spirit before it's eventual return with the rising sun.

I don't ask much

Hokuto's choice of feline is far less leonine in quality, but equally like a sentinel as it watches her from the doorway, yellow eyes sharp in the dark. Hokuto Ichihara doesn't get to see the sun rise like Ra, doesn't get to journey back from the underworld, but in the grand scheme of things being able to be by Corbin's side — at the side of someone she loves — before she goes is a peace that most people aren't afforded.

But won't you speak, please?

The jarring change of past to present shakes Corbin from his sense of reality, and the weight of Hokuto's body in his arms seems even heavier than it did in that long time between now and when the paramedics finally arrived; too late to be of help.

From the start

The blood soaking his hand would be one of the few warm things in this place. But everything seems uncomfortable anyway. The cold all around, and the warn on his hands. Everything is off, everything is wrong. The daisy that she gave him wilted in his coffee cup, until he ended up throwing it away. Some part of him wishes he'd pressed it between two pages of a book in wax paper, kept it for later. If he could travel through time, he probably would have. It would be framed, kept close to his heart—

She knew she had it made

But he didn't.

Easy up 'til then

He'd not known what would happen.

For sure she'd make the grade

"Hokuto," he closes his eyes against the cold, the warmth of her hand fading away, though the warmth of her bloody thumb against his lips tempts his hands to move, to touch her, to hold her, but he keeps his hands against her stomach, trying to hold in some of the blood…

Adorers came in hordes

Even if he knows, it will do nothing. He still stubbornly tries to keep his last words. She'll be okay. Everything will be okay.

To lay down in her wake

He should have let her say they were dating, even if just as a cover story. It's what he'd wanted, once he knew her long enough to know he'd wanted it. It was the truth of the tale, the truth of their partnership. Even if they'd never admited it to each other outloud.

Gave it all she had

"Just stay with me," he says quietly, new warmth around his eyes, where the tears start to fall. "Stay with me, please…"

But treasures slowly fade

"She did." In the powdery snow, something black and white approaches Corbin. Neither man nor animal, but rather a round ball with black and qhite octagonal patches alternating around one another. The soccer ball comes to a stop against Corbin's knee with a bump, having left a trail through the snow where it came from. Following the path of the soccer ball, Corbin finds himself no longer alone in the vacant lot behind Ichihara Books. Standing there in the snow in nothing more than a white t-shirt and brown shorts is barefoot in the snow. His chin-length black hair is parted in the middle, skin a burnt shade of chestnut and eyes coal black. He's young, maybe fifteen, and the smile he offers is too cheery despite all circumstances.

Now she's falling hard

"You worry too much," the boy states in a firmly accented tone, the cadence of Hindi hangs off of his words. "You are dressed in layers of heavy past regrets, so thickly dressed that you cannot find yourself beneath, can you? You do not even know where youa re under all of that emotional padding."

Feels the fall of dark

Snow clings to the young boy's hair, flecks of white in night black, almost like stars in a clearer sky. "What you are looking for is not lost, Corbin Ayers…" the young boy offers a crooked smile, brows creased together and head shaking in amusement. "If you can shed some of those layers, let go of the past and be lighter on your feet when marching into the future, you will be more likely to see what there is to see, and not be distracted by everything you drag behind you."

How did this fall apart?

Some time between the boy's appearance and now, Hokuto's body disappeared from the lot, leaving just the bloodstain behind in the snow in Corbin's peripheral vision. But when his blue eyes go to look directly at it, even the blood stain is gone, replaced with untouched snow, and the boy is suddenly right at Corbin's side, crouching down to pick up his soccer ball.

She drinks to fill it up

"The heart wants what the heart wants, yuo cannot change that any more than a leopard can change its spots. But the head…" the boy's lips creep up into a smile, "the head can be guided, but only if it knows which way to look. Have you seen something trying to guide you?" There's a knowing smile from the boy, hands clasping the soccer ball as he comes to stand up straight slowly.

A smile of sweetest flowers

Not lost, but still gone. Even as the blood vanishes, the weight of the warm body disappears, Corbin stays sitting in the snow, eyes sliding shut for a moment. Everything looks white and red in his mind. It's all— The hands, no longer soaked in fresh blood, touch the snow that once held her form, her blood, before he looks over his shoulder at the young teenager that he doesn't even recognize. Words that tug on his mind, the same way that visions in the corner of his eye have for the last few weeks.

Wilted so and soured

"It feels lost, though," he says quietly, fingers drawing through the snow, picking it up, and leaving finger trails behind.

Black tears stain the cheeks

"Yeah, I've seen things lately…" His imagination, he'd convinced himself. His life flashing before his eyes. Hallucinations in times of trauma and self-doubt, when he looks off and wonders if he's doing the right thing, and what he would do if she were still there.

That once were so admired

And some of it he knows for a fact he would do differently if she'd never died. "I just wish this had never happened." But he doesn't know where he'd be, if it hadn't.

She thinks when she was small

Reaching up, he touches his clothing, to try and feel through the layers to try and find out if the key is there. The body isn't, the snow is fresh and clean, and the key wouldn't be there— not if she were.

There on her father's knee

"You can wish all you want, Corbin…" the Indian boy states with a slow shake of his head as Corbin begins feeling through the layers of his clothing, searching for sign of that key he wears around his neck. "But you cannot change the past, as much as anyone else cannot. You can only move forward, and find hope in what you have left." There's a sad, thoughtful smile from the bow as he watches Corbin's fingers find purchase on the chain around his neck, as cold to the touch as the freezing winter air is.

How he had promised her,

The boy watches as Corbin fumbles the chain up, but doesn't find a key hanging from the end at all. "Remember who you are, Corbin Ayers, and why you are you." There's a more confident smile at that, replacing the boy's worried frown as he watches something else dangle from the end of that chain. "You know what you have lost, but now you must realize what you still have… and cherish that."

"You'll always be my baby."

Hanging from the end of the chain is a daisy, fresh as the day it was picked.

"Daddy come quick,

The day he met her.

The dreaming tree has died.

"Ayers." Comes a voice from beyond the vacant lot, "Ayers!" The slap of a book down next to Corbin's head has the agent jolting up from his seated position and eyes adjusting to the sickly glow of fluorescent lights all around him. A wet trail of drool dampens the side of his face, and the furrowed brows of Bob Bishop draw low above the dark frames of his glasses from where he stands at Corbin's side.

"Agent Ryans just called in, he's been in a firefight and I've been trying to page you for the last ten minutes." There's a sigh from the Director as he shakes his head, laying down a folder atop the one he slammed on the desk where Corbin had fallen asleep. This one is a red case file with the name Alton, James written across the top. "Think you can get your camera and head down to processing? We're going to need some shots of him."

Falling asleep at his desk would not be among his past times. In fact— it's something that more commonly happened at the desk that wasn't his, back in the old rooms. Corbin touches his mouth, to check for drool, and feels the beard that hadn't been there when he first started working for the Company all those years ago. Nine years.

Of course that would explain why he dreamed of it today, why it whispered in the back of his mind, yet…

"I'll get going, sorry, I— I haven't been getting enough sleep lately," he tries to explain, the guilty tone to his voice. In some ways, he's been getting too much sleep…

As he stands up, he turns away for a moment as if looking for something, but instead of looking for his wallet, or a file, he tugs on the thin silver chain until it pops out of the partially unbottoned top collar.

A small key with a laquer of the dark sky, the moon and the stars stands out. A nighttime design, glossy and fresh. Not the daisy that she'd given him all those years ago. Daisy's wouldn't grow in this weather, and the stars and moon aren't visible at night, either. Snow, clouds—

And no Hokuto. Except in fleeting visions in the corner of his eye.

Remember who he is.

The file is picked up as he lets the key drop back out of sight, and he makes his way through the door, toward processing. One thing hasn't changed. He's still the one who ends up with files dropped from the sky— though now he has no one around to give him a daisy, a tease and a Cheshire smile.

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