Frauds, All


odessa_icon.gif wu-long_icon.gif

Scene Title Frauds, All
Synopsis Odessa finally sees fit to display her ability in full to Wu-Long, and to lay her claims to him.
Date December 26, 2008

Chinatown: Canal Street Market

Day or night, Canal Street is busy in Chinatown. Perfumes, purses, produce, pork, and poultry are all sold side by side in busy open storefronts. One entire portion of the street is dedicated to nothing but jewelry stores catering to various price ranges. Box vendors sell all manner of sizzling foodstuffs to passing pedestrians, some of it identifiable, some of it better left unexplained. The ambiance is one of business and pleasure.

The evening of Boxing Day in Chinatown sees as much bustle and activity as the preceding two had, mostly because the immigrant population — still considerable — didn't really 'get' the spiritual significance or differentiate between the days, accepting where holidays fell and commerce was good.

In raucous misappropriation, many traditional Chinese wares and eats have made their appearance lining the crowded column of the Canal Street Market. You have red lanterns, firecrackers, chestnut roast wheelbarrows, plastic Buddhas wearing Santa hats, candy-striped stockings Made In China, electronic reindeer staggering around together within the racetrack of cardboard cartons, red qipao embroidered and fuzzily trimmed with white, candied ginger, name calligraphy, fortune tellers.

Wu-Long is finishing up a fortune telling. The sort where a bird comes out of its diminutive wooden cage, walked across a row of cards before selecting one to answer the question pitched.

The former soldier had almost insisted on shuffling them first to prove the authenticity of the exercise, before realizing that was sort of inherently ridiculous, merely stared at the old man who owned the small stand in a way that made him smile less. The card shown to him elicits a slight frown which the fortune-teller's interpretation did only a little to ameliorate. The air around him changes, slightly; people stop bumping into him as much, despite the narrowness of the passage afforded around him, between the baked yam salesman and a dirty wall.

The air changes and then all movement simply stops. "Did you not like your fortune?" asks the light, airy voice of a woman he can only hear in the echoing silence of the still crowd. Still, he can hear the familiar sound of terribly impractical heels clicking on pavement and, if he turns to look, a familiar blonde form weaving through stopped figures. Finally, Odessa emerges into the pocket of solitude around Wu-Long with a smile on her face and a mooncake offered in one hand. "Hello."

As the world halts its progress, there's no shortage of surprise, though that as much as any other sentiment never comes with exceptional plenitude for Wu-Long. Dark brows hitch high and his eyes turn toward Odessa's approach before his head, neck, shoulders, as methodic, precise, and ordered as puppet parts rotating on a string. There's an implicit limit to caution in the way he moves. No panic, no alarm; the near-fearlessness of a monster or an old monster, hard to tell which.

"I don't like getting cheated," Wu-Long answers, presently. His eyes find clarity in the movement of her willowy figure between the breathless forest of bodies deprived of theirs. "But I'm too superstitious to resist." He motions between himself and the scrawny old man perched opposite, over the thumb-sized head of the olive yellow bird frozen mid-chirp. "He promised me that Eileen would have a son who would reconcile us.

"I think he was trying to tell me what I wanted to hear," he concludes in a tone that indicates that the old man had not succeeded.

"Perhaps. But hope is better than nothing, is it not?" Odessa hands off the sweet and salty pastry and brushes her hands together. Around them, there's movement - for the briefest of seconds - perhaps only evident by the sudden and short-lived return of sound. "This is taxing," she decides.

A glitch like Wu-Long hasn't experienced with his own ability in years. He recognizes it as it frays into dynamism once again. "He thinks Eileen is my daughter and she ran away with a boy." Which is an altogether more believable scenario than the one that the ex-soldier was actually alluding to, of course, but he's mildly distracted now, his head turned, eyes lowered toward the bird in the cage. Its bill clicked shut, now, after having dispensed its single note of melody.

"That isn't hope: that is a bad lie." Lies, he generally doesn't care to give import with disappointment, but it isn't the first silly thing that the fortune-teller told him.

Odessa's current display of — honesty is made bizarrely remarkable in the context of a failed parlor trick, and astonishing for its grandeur. Time. He recognizes its cessation, however selective; maps it against the recollection of her interruption of the spar he and Sylar had had before. There's a mooncake in his hand then, its lotus-moulded contours smooth and dark against the chapped scarring of his skin. His eyes smile; he dips his torso into a slight obeisance.

"Xie xie. Thank you." He doesn't mean merely for the food. "How far does it go?"

"I had to walk this stretch for a while before I got the feel for it. It spans as far as I can see in my mind." Odessa smiles faintly, "Somewhere, a bus is going to be off schedule while the driver insists it isn't." She inclines her head gently. "It used to come easier. I'm coming to discover stress can drive me to distraction."

'Stress.' Creature that he is, the first thing Wu-Long looks to is her throat, brow furrowed; her hands then, the stoop of her shoulders and brace of her feet, contraction of her pupils and sanguinity of her cheeks, checking her health and for injuries in two sweeps of black-on-black eyes, even as he angles a step around her, the long line of his coat whispering by the crook of her arm.

Despite that he takes the act seriously, it's practiced enough that he can spare the hapless bus driver a smile as he does it. He clasps a forefinger and thumb on either end of the mooncake to break it in two. "Because distraction causes stress, or has trouble found you, xiao jie?"

Her targeting is different than his. He likes that. The wider view, intuition, plan required to manipulate time, against the range of an ordinary glance to make blindness.

"I am trouble, I think," Odessa quips. "I am… adjusting. Unused to the way things work out here, still. Soon, I think, I shall be better. New surroundings are difficult to manipulate." Perhaps that's a concept he can appreciate? Odessa can only wonder. She winces faintly, stretching her arms out slowly to either side of her body. "Time marches on. Demands to. I can only keep it moving in place for so long before its insistence makes my very bones ache."

The cant of Wu-Long's head and a shift of his jaw imply that he might have been about to edit her words slightly. She's trouble. She's stress. A distraction also, the sort he had been implying. The predator cuts out of his gaze and manner in time for him to offer her the half of a mooncake; never the ungrateful beneficiary of anybody's kindness. He nods to indicate his understanding. He's been working in urban warfare for long enough to understand. "This is a great gift.

"Ethan must be very happy to have this in his arsenal," he says, though his attention remains anchored to the woman rather than her effect on the world around her. The cross-section of the egg yolk shows as he holds it out toward her; the heart of the mooncake broken into two as easily as the rest of its baked skin and sweet flesh had been. Though he can't empathize with her pain, he admires it for the possibility of diligence. "Is this practice?"

Odessa nods. "Yes. It won't do me any good to ignore my limitations. I have to press them." She accepts half of her own gift with a grateful smile, turning the half into a quarter after she takes her delicate bite. "You say Ethan's name as though you believe he has some sort of claim to me. Why? Am I not my own woman? Free to do as I choose?" Within certain limits. Usually those set by morality. Or Kazimir Volken.

Which is a dichotomy of limitations that Wu-Long would find kind of funny if she had mentioned them out loud, but he is no mind-reader. He bites into his own half of mooncake with the expedience of a wolf, chews it the same way— with minimalistic efficiency, the conduct of a lifetime of rations, high alert, and rigidly budgeted mess hall minutes with only a smile of his eyes and a moment's thought for savoring.

"The Wolf is my commanding officer. I'm not my own man or free. It must look stupid to you," he says, his voice failing to locate any disturbance in that likelihood. At least, not before complications lead him to think better than following orders. It's happened before: he is a deserter. "Freedom is more important to you than anyone I've met in four years."

"You would understand if you'd lived the way I have lived." Odessa's eyes hold a certain sort of sadness to them. "Phase Three is mine. The Wolf answers to me now. I suppose this means that you do as well. I've never been a leader before." She can't even manage the smile she had hopes to plaster on her face. "Don't judge me too harshly?"

"I thought so," easy agreement: "I was the lucky one." To live on a leash, but not confined to a cage. Acceptable terms, he'd thought; an acceptable sacrifice for finding his place in the world, to do what he was good at. Breaking shit. Other people paint. The other remark evokes surprise on Wu-Long's face again, his neck straightening upright, his breath dispersing translucent toward the night-time firmament and its slow swing of stars untouched by her gift.

"I will look dangerous," he says, only a little wry. The irony there is too cheap to expend a lot of theatrics toward it. He'll save the theatrics for later. "The prisoner himself. The man. I should not harm him?" Important details.

"I have means to mend myself. He does not." It's a roundabout way of saying that he should be left unharmed. "I need him for his mind. He'll be useless to me if he finds himself too concerned for his own safety." There's a grin now as Odessa reaches up to cup the soldier's cheek. "I'm glad you don't find this distasteful. It will make things easier once the curtain rises on our stage." The expression falters, fingers twitching once against his skin. "Time marches on," she murmurs for the second time.

It should come as a surprise to no one, that a sociopath's humor occasionally takes a cynical twist. Ha-ha. Oh, it makes sense. Even a bleeding heart reserves greater panic at its own physical injury than it does for the sentimental losses indicated by that melodramatic metaphor. Wu-Long smiles, and his face turns slightly toward the palm that clasps his cheek. She's warm.

Moreso than the raw-boned fingers of the fortune-teller he had fed bills to, or even the steam cast off from the gruel basin as he had walked past it. Her skin is flushed, in wilful defiance of the chilly weather and her own size.

It makes her look healthy right now. For now. It will be worse if she goes on for much longer, he knows. All of their gifts come at a cost. "We always run out," he says, laughter and accent rusting the consonants of his words. Time waits for no man. She shouldn't, either. He's curious. "Will you disappear?"

"Do you want me to?" Odessa's eyes, wide and curious, peer into Wu-Long's. She looks healthy, though she feels less so. Method actors for the Work, indeed.

Other times, the Work suffers nothing for sincerity. Wu-Long turns his head experimentally, until the angle of his nose pries her thumb apart and her fingers splay gently under the graze of his weathered skin — rougher than it looks, affording his single eye a glance through the gap between her slender forefinger and middle. He puts a smile on, and it tugs the thin skin inside her wrist. "No."

"So it shall be." With a wave of her free hand, time once again resumes, leaving only a few baffled at the sudden appearance of a woman where there was none earlier. The roar of crowds brought back to life is nearly deafening to ears given the solitude of the stillness of time. Her thumb brushes over that smile, bringing a light to her own eyes. "Come, my Shadow. I believe the time has come to make our own fortunes and futures, and leave the frauds behind." Her hand falls away from his face so that she might take his arm and stroll through the market at his side. Into his pocket Odessa slips the bills he used to pay the fortune teller.

December 26th: Friends in the Strangest Places

Previously in this storyline…
The Dream Has Just Begun

Next in this storyline…
The Beaten Path

December 26th: Extreme Makeover Magnes Edition
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