Ghosts in the Shell


odessa_icon.gif wu-long_icon.gif

Scene Title Ghosts in the Shell
Synopsis The puppy gone astray is recovered by her master.
Date November 16, 2008

Ruins of Midtown

Standing in the ruins of Midtown, it's hard to believe New York is still a living city.

There's life enough around the fringes — the stubborn, who refused to rebuild somewhere else; the hopeful, who believe the radiation is gone, or that they somehow won't be affected. Businesses, apartment complexes, taxis and bicycles and subways going to and fro — life goes on. Perhaps more quietly than in other parts of the city, shadowed by the reminder that even a city can die, but it does go on.

Then there is the waste. The empty core for which the living city is only a distant memory. Though a few major thoroughfares wind through the ruins, arteries linking the surviving halves, and the forms of some truly desperate souls can occasionally be glimpsed skulking in the shadows, the loudest noise here is of the wind whistling through the mangled remnants of buildings. Twisted cords of rebar reach out from shattered concrete; piles of masonry and warped metal huddle on the ground, broken and forlorn. Short stretches of road peek out from under rubble and dust only to disappear again shortly afterward, dotted with the mangled and contorted forms of rusting cars, their windows long since shattered into glittering dust.

There are no bodies — not even pieces, not anymore. Just the bits and pieces of destroyed lives: ragged streamers fluttering from the handlebar which juts out of a pile of debris; a flowerbox turned on its side, coated by brick dust, dry sticks still clinging to the packed dirt inside; a lawn chair, its aluminum frame twisted but still recognizable, leaning against a flight of stairs climbing to nowhere.

At the center of this broken wasteland lies nothing at all. A hollow scooped out of the earth, just over half a mile across, coated in a thick layer of dust and ash. Nothing lives here. Not a bird; not a plant. Nothing stands here. Not one concrete block atop another. There is only a scar in the earth, cauterized by atomic fire. This is Death's ground.

Nobody goes out for walks this late. Nobody goes out to see the ruins of Midtown Manhattan this late. All the same, a solitary feminine figure stands in the rain, wind whipping through long, blonde hair. Odessa Knutson has come tonight to see the destruction wrought. The destruction attributed to her companion and protector.

Eyes like the sea in a storm produce tears that mingle with the rain falling against her fair face. A vice clenches around the doctor's heart, weakening her knees. For most of her adult life, she's longed for freedom. For a chance to live life. How many people had that taken away from them that day? It gives her a profound sort of gratitude to have what little she does.

And it makes her furious.

Of all the evils Sylar has committed, laying waste to so much of New York City has always been the worst attributed. He didn't even do it. He never would have let it come to this. Never. Perhaps the worst part in the mind of the troubled Company rogue is that Peter Petrelli, a man she had such high hopes for and respect for, continues to let the city believe that Sylar is to blame. At her sides, Odessa's fingers turn to fists.

Only tiandi knows how a man of such means finds a woman amid an inchoate rainstorm in the evacuated bowel of a deeply damaged city, but tiandi is very far away and unavailable for disclosure. Wu-Long got up two hours ago. He ate something he unearthed from Ethan's refrigerator, found a letter from Sierra— the first and by far the longest piece of personal mail he had received in a very, very long time, and ruminated in more ways than one, before he put his coat on and slid out the window. Two hours later, his teeth show Cheshire from the darkness above a W-shaped ruin of a wall, ten yards to her right, a crescent-shaped sliver of enamel-white, thin, a surrogate moon.

"I'm sorry you don't like it," he remarks, his accent stripped down by the keening of the same wind that sways his ponytail and slashes his cheeks. He sits his elbow on his knee and glances down at her. "I don't mean the coat."

Odessa's head snaps to the side preternaturally quickly, gaze falling on Wu-Long without needing to search the area his voice came from, as though she knew he had been there the whole time. "This?" She spreads one arm out to indicate the scar on the cityscape. What else could he mean?

There's nothing else he could mean. Dark eyes make the sweep with her arm, blinking only once out of deference to that peculiar instant of reflex. "At home, we had a tradition about the weather. Tianjin," he clarifies, if she hadn't known. Not that it matters. "If a child is born on a rainy day, we say it means that Tiandi — that's Heaven — sheds tears of sorrow because an evil creature has come into being. If a man or woman dies in the rain, we say this means that Heaven weeps for the loss of a good creature. I wonder which it is tonight." His eyelids close. Open. "Yes: I meant this."

"Did it rain the day you were born?" The tone adopted is casual, oblivious to any offense she might be making by asking such a thing. She wipes under her eyes with a thumb, clearing the tears and droplets of rain. "It isn't a like or don't like thing," Odessa murmurs. "It's just there. I heard about it when it happened and I saw things on the news, but seeing it for myself is entirely surreal."

A lightless body pounces down from the wall, alighting on the beaten tarmac beside her with the silent alacrity of a cat. He recorporealizes the next moment, Seems to be having trouble paying the distant ruins any sort of attention; his eyes are, instead, on his little golden charge. The only paper he has on him is his letter. Wu-Long suspects that wouldn't feel very nice, smearing across her face, so he reaches a leather-rough hand out to squeegee water out from underneath her eyes with blunt-trimmed fingernails. "It rained the day I was born," he answers. He lets the rain wash his hand clean. "Are you sympathizing with the dead?"

Odessa nearly recoils from the hand that reaches out to touch her, but she holds her ground. It would be silly to run from him just for a small touch like that. "Perhaps a little," she admits. "There's so much I haven't experienced yet. So much I want to. The last thing I want is to get myself killed before I have the chance to enjoy all the things I've missed out on." She frowns faintly, her eyes on the blight. "So many people were just…" Gaze as stormy as the clouds now turns on Wu-Long, "Why does this bother me more than the lives I've taken in the past few days?"

In Wu-Long's understanding, it's silly to run from most touches at all. No one ever won a war exclusively by retreating across the field. Nevertheless, he'd've understood if she withdrawn, and he understands when she flinches. His hands fall. He watches the expressions float through her features as if propelled by the wind, subtle and sheer as the wrinkles in the curtains of a careless homeowner.

Studying her. She'll get used to that or she won't. "I don't know you well enough to say for sure. It probably has something to do with your imagination. I think you wouldn't find it so bad if you had seen them die, or their remains afterward. Also Sylar. You like him. Most of us appreciate his…" words, words, words. "Purpose, method, and clarity. Brains, abilities." Black eyes blink away the liquid distortion of stormwater. "His aim was a little off with this one. Perhaps it's the shock of revelation," he theorizes blandly.

Slowly, Odessa's head tilts to one side as her expression changes to something that would have also been appropriate if he had just told her that he was a golden retriever in a past life where he won several Tony awards for his performance in Fiddler on the Roof. Utter disbelief. "You still think he did all of this?" Again, her arm sweeps out to indicate the ruined world around them. "Sylar didn't do this! He would never have done this!"

Because she pointed, he finally looks. Buildings sheared short like broken teeth, a snaggletooth grin, bleak and rotted to the toxic bedrock of metaphorical gums, scorch marks for liverspots and stale rainwater for saliva. It's quite a ruin. Probably would appeal to the evil-eyed nihilist in him, or whatever, if it were paletted in a little more color. Wu-Long doesn't find her disbelief hard to believe. He does know better; didn't think she had. Leans back slightly, as if tilted by the onslaught of her shrieking indignation. "I can't tell if your objection is moral or professional," he states, after a moment, his confusion as sincere as his curiosity, despite the edge of humor peeking out from underneath. The next, his hand rises, unbidden, moves to try the new line across her throat with a warm forefinger.

Moral or professional. Perhaps it's some of both. Killing off so many people is wrong, no matterer how you slice it. The Sylar she knows would never have killed so many intentionally. And on a professional level? Abilities wasted, if it must come down to it. Who knows what gems were hidden amongst the dead? When Wu-Long's fingers again reach out for her, Odessa shrinks up. Her shoulder's huddle tighter and she trembles, though not due to the cold. She tips her head back in almost a gesture of submission the way she bares her throat for his inspection.

There isn't enough light here to do it with his eyes. A scarred knuckle probes the small bones of her throat, tracks across jugular, ignores pulse in favor of the thin seam there on her skin, interruption to the grain he can barely feel through the stinging needles of rainwater. Sylar had melted her back together. No doubt, incinerated most of the probability of bacterial infection with it. It strikes him as funny that Sylar saved her life with a lazer. Men have almost killed him with those before.

Irony. You live with the Englishman long enough, and you learn it. "Maybe you're unhappy because there had to have been good people in there," he says, suddenly. He thumbs her chin gently and his hand falls, patting her shoulder in something similar to awkward farce he had played at comforting Deckard with, once upon a floor. "Innocent ones. Children and a gentleman trying to learn how to mix guacamole. None of them perfect, all of them valuable. Economically, sentimentally. I guess they didn't talk about that much in your silver tower. You're very beautiful," he adds, absently, putting his hand into his pocket where it can't hurt her anymore.

The woman shivers and jumps from the touch of calloused fingers across her throat. The pulse ignored quickens beneath her skin. "Good people," she murmurs numbly. Of course there were good people here. The thumb on her chin and the hand on her shoulder both cause her to jerk away a little. She's about to open her mouth to comment upon her upbringing in her silver tower and her black cellar, when her thoughts are entirely derailed.

How can one's thoughts completely and utterly halt while simultaneously racing out of control at breakneck speeds? Odessa takes three heavy steps back - away from Wu-Long. Her shoes slide precariously over loose bits of concrete and debris. She can't even pin down a verbal response to his assertion of her beauty.

Perhaps Wu-Long should have known better. She seems to have an odd relationship with sexuality, if not actually moreso than the average Vanguardian does, and beauty seems so often to draw from that cultural context. He fails entirely to feel remorseful about it. Watches her, instead, realizing at the same time that the rain is slacking off, dragging its ragged, soppy nets free from the ruined skyline, away from stark shores of Manhattan Island and heading…

East, he senses, after a minute or half thinking it. It takes him far less time to make barometric observations than it does to reach conclusions, establish connections about a human conscience. He's a little dense that way. He was better at it before Iraq, which doesn't make him extraordinary: there are hundreds of men who were better at conscience 'before Iraq.' He thinks of his wife; remembers his letter; turns his eyes away. "What do you want from this world?" he asks. It seems a natural question to place before a woman who can't take a compliment.

Odessa's eyes slide shut heavily. She finds herself in utter disarray. Maybe because he touched her. Or maybe because of what he said to her. Or maybe because of what he's asked her just now? The answer is likely a combination of all three of those things. She lifts her hands up to the sky, feeling the straggling drops of rain from the retreating clouds upon her finger tips for a moment before her eyes open again. She can't quite bring herself to tip her head down again to look at him. "I don't know." And that fact scares her right now almost as much as he does.

Given Wu-Long has yet to break off anybody's face on a stove grille, that's a little unflattering. He follows her gaze as he had followed her gesture before. Into the sky. Tian. There's no sun yet, and he is incapable of generating light; this bothers him primarily because he thinks that's what she's trying to look for, and he'd like to see how she'd react to receiving it, this once. "That's all right," he says, instead. He lifts an arm, crooked back over his shoulder, and hauls his fingers through his waterlogged hair. Snags up short on the rubber band binding his ponytail together, and keeps dragging, until it pops free and his barbarian's curls shag loose. He squeezes water out of them, an uncharacteristic moment's vanity. "You're young. Have fun. If you know how," he adds, in a tone like concession. "I've been wondering what you did with that brain."

There are some things that Odessa can cope with easier than others. Violence, indifference, hatred - those are concepts that the girl understands. They're almost straight-forward to her. Indifference is even second nature. But friendship, love and affection of any sort? She's the first to say she's never had friends. She doesn't understand the nature of those emotions at all. While Wu-Long suspects it's the light of day that she reaches for, the truth is that she hopes to find answers just out of her grasp. "This is everything I've ever wanted and now I don't even know what to do with it. Doctor Kenneth was right…" Slow and steady integration may have been the best course of action after all. Slowly, her arms fall back to her sides and she can bring herself again to look at the man. "I gave the brain to Sylar. It's been disposed of now."

And yet she seeks shelter from danger in Sylar's coattails, comfort and familiarity in Ethan's home, and cries for masses of the anonymous dead. It's there. Wu-Long can smell it, his awareness sharpened by the understanding that he would never find such desires, convictions, or callings in himself. There's a little wist, sharpened by curiosity. "At least, it's good that you see it that way.

"Too many people who live here creep around cringing, wondering what Manhattan's going to do with them." Which is, he thinks, an altogether dumber way to go about extending one's life. A hundred years as a lamb, or forty as a lion? He likes to think he's made his choice. The truth might be a little crueller, but this wouldn't be the time to be discussing truth. "You could go to the zoo. Learn to climb trees. It was the first thing I taught my son. Take a glassblowing class," he suggests. His wife had loved that: making her own plates. "Fall in love, if you're feeling braver than usual."

All options Odessa hadn't taken the time to consider. She's been reeling since she escaped her captivity. "You're a father," she echoes the indication softly. "Or… were?" She isn't sure which, and she doesn't find it impolite to acknowledge both are possibilities. "I don't have parents. Never had them. I don't suspect that I would make a good mother, either." Veiled by dark lashes laden still with drops of rain, her eyes narrow faintly. "What good is love to someone intent on destroying everything they are?"

"Are you talking about the Work? Kazimir's orders?" Wu-Long doesn't answer about his son, not immediately. Mostly because he isn't sure what to say. Considers his answer in silence for a few minutes, listening to the fading sussurration of weather abrading horizon while he watches her breathe. Finds himself subconsciously cueing his own with her. Inhale, exhale. Cold in, warm out. Even wrung out, his hair is cold and clammy on his neck. "I don't think either of those things would have stopped me."

This may be a bold assertion; he gathers that the average human being wouldn't qualify his love as love, but such as it were, there are no average human beings present. He steps forward, finally, reclosing a little of the distance she had slipped and slid away from him, his head slightly tilted, his eyes disfocused past her shoulder. "My children disappeared years ago. My son is about fourteen if he is still alive. My daughter would be younger."

"Seems to be something the men of the Vanguard have in common. Families lost." To her credit, Odessa doesn't step away again when he steps closer once more. But she doesn't let the issue go, either. She fixes him with a look and asks, "Why are you doing this?"

Wu-Long gives a nod of agreement. "We move around a lot." The Vanguard. "Families are hard to pack." He's being funny, sort of: in that droll way serial killers are, moving bodies. "You're lucky you were spared that trouble. Or maybe you're not; I picked a word." There's a phrase in English he's heard of. To love, to have lost, something better than the alternative; he doesn't know it, never bothered to. He stops when he is little over two feet away, returning to conversational configuration. "I wasn't a very good father, either. I don't know why Kazimir gave you to me, but you shouldn't be concerned: I'll keep you alive until I can't." A ringlet falls against his cheek, beaded water; never stops looking at her face. Nose, mouth, forehead, remembers routinely to look back into her eyes, the way people are supposed to. He asks, "What am I doing?"

"You're making me uncomfortable," Odessa shivers and shrinks back just a little, though she never takes a full step. "And you know you are. But you keep doing it." Her lips purse in a sour expression. "Talk of beauty and love… What are you playing at? Is this part of some game Volken's put you up to? Pretend you love me and make me love you back so my loyalty's ensured?" She narrows her eyes to angry little slits. "It's sick."

Puppy flattens her ears. Puppy raises her tail: emblematic, a banner of rebellion. Puppy exposes tiny, needle-like teeth. Puppy would have been placed in a bag, tied up and left to a river, if she were actually such a small hairy thing. Wu-Long's head tips the other way, surprised by this accusation, not quite exasperated. "He would ask Ethan to do that if he wanted someone to," he states, frankly. "That isn't really my…" What's the word? "…forte." Social maneuvering, he means. He can lie well enough, threaten, bribe, play poker, but seduction has never been his strong suit.

Mu-Qian hadn't minded. Sierra perplexes him as much as this does. He's one of the less charismatic people he's ever met. His eyes thin, lidding, amused, before he widens them: inquiring. "If you want me to stop, you should ask me to do something you would like. I am no mind-reader, xiaojie."

The doctor finds herself with no response. He may be less than charismatic, but she's certainly clueless in matters of the heart. Any sign of affection is horribly misconstrued, as every aspect is beyond her comprehension. "Xiaojie," she repeats, the foreign word tripping off her tongue awkwardly, but she doesn't do a horrible mimicry. "What does that mean?" Odessa presses her lips together in a thin line, actually unsure of whether she truly wants the answer or not.

Nor is Wu-Long entirely without lecherous intent, or undercurrents, to be fair. He's as bad at being chaste as he is at being anything else categorically nice. His smile doesn't reach his mouth, crows' feet curling at the corners of her eyes. It's significant to him, that she didn't tell him to stop, couldn't tell him what to do. To be young and fail to understand oneself.

He sort of misses that. "Xiaojie," he repeats. "'Little woman' is the direct translation. It's the Chinese equivalent to 'miss.' Polite," he promises. "Xiaojie. Ni xiang huijia ba? 'Miss: would you care to go home?'" He thinks she looks cold. He's wondering how she got all the way out here by herself.

Odessa nods shakily and looks back toward the less ruined landscape of New York City. "Yes… I think I would like to go home." The young woman balls her hands into fists briefly, flexing her fingers outward again. Breathing comes in deep and even, an obvious calming or focusing technique. "I would like that very much."

"I took a car." She's given a hand. Or offered a test, if she'll accept either of those things. A palm up, rough fingers splayed loosely, his wrist held motionless against the dulled sway of the wind that cards her hair and nudges the long panels of his coat against her leg.

Odessa cannot bring herself to look at the hand even as she reaches out to grasp it. That just makes it too… She isn't even sure what that makes it. Too compliant? Too real? Complacent, submissive, willing, weak? Words. There aren't any for the conflicted emotion within the sheltered and confused doctor. "That's good," she responds absently. "My feet are starting to hurt."

Hard fingers curl around white ones, sealing them away; warmth had never left his. Wu-Long doesn't pull. Turns in place and begins to walk, allowing her to either move in tandem or to wait until his arm pulls to its full length before catching against their twinned grip and pulling her along.

"You will enjoy yourself out here," he says to her without turning, leaving her to construe it as either reassurance or a threat. He makes no assumptions when it comes to Odessa's opinions on anything anymore. One minute, maybe two, and the car shows through incinerating mist in the distance, rain-beaded contours and flawless facets jarringly out of place against the backdrop of Midtown, exposed by the slow light of day.

Doctor Knutson finds herself feeling tricked. She assumed the offered hand was so that the man might use his ability, but no. It was for something as mundane as proximity. How dare he? Odessa flashes him a look at the ultimatum (perhaps it was assurance?), "I am sure I will find something to content and amuse myself eventually." Once everything is no longer upside down and tumbling round in disorienting circles.

Ahead, the car chirps on the command of a button-push, the key summoned from Wu-Long's pocket in easy sleight of hand. No, no ability; he put himself into a coma for twenty hours thanks to Chinatown, and he isn't interested for a rinse and repeat, even if the rain already took care of that first part. He does dare. After all, she had come all the way out here for something as mundane as to cry in the rain. He might offer an apology if she asks for one, but he finds such demands— conspicuously absent from their conversation, when he lets it draw toward an end, pulling the door open for her with a clunk and clunk. "We might see a rainbow on the way home." He lets go.

"You need sunshine for rainbows," Odessa remarks flatly, taking the passenger's seat. She waits until he climbs inside and then casts him a look. "What did you do with the money?"

"We might get sunshine for your rainbow," Wu-Long answers in a tone mimetically as flat, neutral. He shuts her in and circles around the nose of the vehicle to join her, with a whisper and wet flick of wet leather. The world seems much further away after he shuts the door, sealed away by layers of steel frame and tinted glass. "I opened a bank account and paid a security deposit for a new apartment. Perhaps you should have one too." Either of those things. Both. The engine awakens with a throaty growl, and raindrops slide down the window, trailing fingertip shadows down her face.

"I would have a hard time with either of those, I should think." Odessa peers out of the darkened glass with a wry smile. "I don't technically exist. I have no social security number, no identification cards… I'm not even certain if I have a birth certificate on file anywhere. If I do, I'm sure it's not under the only name I've ever been told was mine." She glances briefly back toward Wu-Long, "Existing off the grid has its perks, but there's a lot of drawback, too."

They growl over beaten tarmac, curve their course beneath the broken-off stump of a bridge and slough through a puddle that sends froth up on either side of the car like wings. There are ways around that. Wu-Long isn't sure that either Kazimir or Ethan want her to have them yet. He doesn't exist either, not really. Not anymore; he's as much of a ghost to the system as he is when he chooses intangibility over flesh, neither undetectable nor invincible, but not gone. He turns up the corners of his mouth, puts his foot on the accelerator.

November 16th: Terror at Tea-time

Previously in this storyline…

Next in this storyline…

November 16th: From PARIAH With Love
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