If The Light Fails


tamara_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title If The Light Fails
Synopsis Tamara's leap of faith lands her bloodied and exhausted in the Cathedral. She chooses to take another, when Teo comes with questions about birds, beauty, bridges, and other things that alliterate but are better left unmentioned.
Date January 6, 2008

Cathedral of St. John the Divine

The largest Gothic cathedral in the world, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine remains partially unfinished to this day, despite its construction having begun in 1892 - true to form for buildings of its type. Nonetheless, it is a grand and imposing sight; possessing the characteristic grand arches, pointed spires, and beautiful stained glass windows, including a large and striking Rose window. Where the walls aren't covered with old and meticulously preserved tapestries, they are often ornamented.

Guided tours are offered six days out of the week. Services are open to all. Since the bomb, the main nave is open at all but the latest hours, though the smaller subject-specific chapels close in the evening. The cathedral is also a site for major workshops, speakers, and musical events - most especially the free New Year's Eve concert, which has been held without fail each year since the bomb.

St. John's has long been a center for public outreach and civic service events, but since the bomb, those have become an even greater part of its daily affairs. Services include a men's shelter, a twice-weekly soup kitchen, walk-in counseling, and other programs besides. These are open to everyone - non-Evolved, unregistered Evolved, registered Evolved… the philosophy is that they're all children of God, and that's what matters.

Wednesday morning, even early Wednesday morning, finds the Cathedral's back corridors and hidden rooms to be busy places. It's the morning of the soup kitchen, at which all hands are needed and there is always something needing to be done. Turns the place into something rather like an ant nest — not a kicked one, just busy, bustling with workers going about their tasks.

Tamara isn't doing anything related to the soup kitchen, herself — she's presently curled up on a cot in the chamber that's been set aside as a shelter, thin blanket tucked up around her shoulders. Were questions to be asked of a staffer who might be persuaded to hold still for thirty seconds, it would be learned that she slept for over a full day; that the girl spent the second day hardly moving, just drifting in and out of awareness and occasionally relating disjointed comments. Currently, she has the appearance of wakefulness, even if all she's doing is looking at the wall. And breathing. There's still that.

Twenty-six seconds of verbal exchange and a fifth of a loaf of raisin bread and mug of milk shoved into his hands, and Teo finally makes his way through the Cathedral's sublevel, away from the hive of charitable activity and into the relative seclusion of makeshift living areas. Tamara was placed out a little by herself by those who knew enough about the Ferrymen to understand that some of their — patronage have stuff going on, the eruptions of which might lead to behavior that would induce panic in those with limited or bad experiences with such. Not that — whatever Tamara's Evolved ability is tends to be terribly flashy, but the circumstances of her arrival and the man who'd carried her in warranted caution.

He pushes the door open with his head because he has no hands; fortunately, it was already slightly ajar. He sees her eyes open, points of blue instead of the blonde-fringed convex of sealed eyelids that he'd left her with. That being said, the improvement could have been more extensive. "Buongiorno." His shoulder nudges him further egress, and he half-steps in. "Are you here, bella?" Audible uncertainty, aware that the question might have been rude— or the wrong one.

Normally, Tamara is just that little bit ahead of events around her. She anticipates, by manner and gesture if not overt statement, turning towards those about to arrive, looking at those about to speak. Yet when Teo walks in the door, it's still the wall upon which her eyes rest. So, too, when he greets her.

The answer might perhaps be no — but in the end she does turn her head, even if the girl doesn't quite look at Teo. Neither furtive nor ashamed, if she could be either — and the evidence of two days ago suggests otherwise — but seeing something else, something not quite in tune with the here and now. The skin around her eyes wrinkles in concentration, and Tamara blinks rapidly, as one might when attempting to improve focus. "'Sa blue bird," she murmurs, the weary syllables broken apart rather than strung together. This question, it seems, is merely treated as a question, even if the answer is other than conventional.

At least it's an answer. One that makes Teo's forehead go all wrinkly with confusion, granted, but it smooths the next moment, brightening as he identifies at least his own personal significance with the creature she'd just mentioned. "I have one of those." It is difficult not to sound enthusiastic when he's talking about her. "Pila.

"You've heard me talk about her." Despite the lack of conventional invitation, he sidles in through the door, glancing out over his shoulder once, not furtively, before nudging it back to its original half-inch gap with a careful elbow, the level meniscus of milk in his mug seesawing gently in the aftershock of the motion. "For you." He doesn't obstruct her view of the wall, choosing instead to drop into a squat on the floor about a foot from her line of sight. He holds up the mug of milk and the bread.

Tamara blinks slowly. Scrubs her eyes with the hand she isn't laying on, the blanket sliding back from her shoulder. Blinks again at Teo. It does nothing to erase the confusion the phrase you've heard has apparently instilled in the girl. "It could," she muses after a moment; if asked, Teo would probably talk about Pila, at least for a little while. But she doesn't ask. Instead, Tamara lowers her gaze to the Sicilian's laden hands, that frown reappearing. Not bewilderment, this time, but concentration, tinged with an undercurrent difficult to define. Some abstract reluctance that doesn't stop the girl from pushing herself up to a sitting position. Her reaching hand is more hesitant, seeking for the bottom of murky water no one else can perceive.

Stranger things, but not many. Bread and milk come to meet her halfway. The bread first, given Teo thinks that the whole grasp-mug-handle thing would probably confuse him if— he— were— very drunk? He isn't sure what the appropriate parallel would be, is more wary now than ever before of making assumptions, and extrapolations and deductions both masquerade so cleverly as those. By now, he's guessed. That she has a way with time. Reedy frame spurred borne along by its flow, blue eyes ever riveted to the future. Which is sort of an ugly mix of metaphors. Water rots wood, and no one should have nails through their eyes.

He passes the bread over with what might be construed, by some, as unnecessary caution, waiting to see her little white fingers curve around its girth before he releases.

Do you remember this? Absurdly, he forgets to ask the question aloud. Instead, his freed hand is on the move, as idle hands are wont to be: snagging his hoodie collar aside, that he might pull out the length of chain upon which teeters the pendant she'd given him. A boat with nickel sails, haloed.

Once she's actually touching the bread, the mystery of where it is (when it is) ceases to be mysterious. Bringing it back towards herself, after Teo's grip releases, is a simple task; one Tamara can complete even as she flinches abruptly away from the unasked question, ducking her head. "Don't," she whispers. "Don'tdon'tdon't." The syllables tumble over themselves, as if the teen might flood the air with enough of them to drown those other words out. "Can't. Can't reach. Bubbles float. Watch them bounce in the water, all pretty rainbows. Don't touch. Bubbles pop and the pieces were glass ghosts; drifting. Drift away." Though after the words have been said, after a short silence, Tamara looks abruptly up at Teo, at the pendant on its chain. "Glitters. It's pretty."

'Don't.' Teo stops. All of him, at first: he even stops blinking, holds his breath, thinks of nothing, the pendant alone jiggling on its clasp. The effect is broken when his brow furrows again. "Okay. I won't." Somehow. Getting a repressed Catholic boy to shut up all the almost-spokens inside his head isn't the easiest thing, but she looks like she's concentrating, and that's heartening enough to prompt him to try. He drops his gaze to the pendant, or at least the flat back of it that he can see from here. "It is. Pretty fucking cool. PRetty.

"I mean, pretty like a lad, not pretty like a lass," he notes, importantly, wryly defensive in a way that mocks masculinity's inherent insecurity even as it plays to it. Shifting his thumb over, he swivels the pendant so that he can look at the front, even if upside down, before he lets it fall gently against the fabric of his hoodie. After a moment, he volunteers the mug.

All of them don't need to be stopped. Just the ones that incorporate remember. Tamara relaxes a bit when Teo chooses not to ask, closing her eyes for the moment. "What did you do?" He spoke, might be one answer. Blue eyes open again when he resumes speaking. Confusion resurfaces, but in a different quality from before; perplexed curiosity rather than noncomprehension arising from the lack of shared reference points. The girl tilts her head to one side, looking between the pendant and the Sicilian's face. "They're different?" Another shift, then, when Teo lifts the mug; blue eyes flick down to it, to the bread in her hands, back again. Milk. But I'm holding bread. For some inexplicable whimsy, the suggestion she take both merits a discontented scowl.

Remember. It's hard for Teo to help that for himself, personally, but that's a different thing and he might be able to feel his way out through the rest. After retracting the milk with an expression of contrition. "I think they're different." His voice lacks conviction but not amusement. "It's what I was taught." Experimentally, he rocks back on his heels. Once, twice, before he manages to seat himself without troubling the mug of milk too much. That, he holds in front of his shins, his arms draped over his knees. "I— today?

"Today… I did a load of laundry, and came here. They said you were awake. I met some people before that, in the park. The big one." He rewinds through time with not inconsiderable difficulty, himself. Which necessitates the admission, or disclaimer, gingerly: "I haven't slept yet. It's supposed to snow. I should go before, or I'll embarrass myself. Y—" He aborts out of that reflected question with a rapid blink. "What are you going to do?"

"Shadows," the girl remarks, leaning back a bit. "S'all shadows." Her fingers pick idly at the bread, worrying a piece off bit by bit; crumbs are inevitable, and inevitably ignored. She looks past Teo, might as well be looking through the wall; unfocused eyes darken, though not so much as they had the other day. "Snow. Don't… don't think so. Wet. Drippy-wet."

Tamara closes her eyes, her head falling forward a bit, fatigued. "Drifting. Gets fuzzy; ad lib shadows, up is down. The river circles; splash." Less an answer and more the verbal rambling of confused thoughts, pointed in a general direction by the Sicilian's query. "Fishing for ghosts in the house of cards." One hand holds a nearly-whole section of bread loaf; the other's curled fingers loosely cage a corner pried free from it. Both sit idle in the teen's lap, forgotten.

Wet weather, Teo can handle. And that much, he can understand or at least infer. Rain, not snow. He greets this revelation with a certain amount of relief, which dissolves into confusion again as she begins to look past him, see through walls.

Automatically, he turns his head, begins to follow her gaze. Inevitably, his own stops at the peeling plaster and concrete. "That doesn't sound like fun," he observes, after a moment. "It might fall down on you. The house of cards. You're a little thin, signorina." His head swivels back; he finds himself looking at the top of her head, gold parts tumbled one wavy over the next, and part jagged down the center. His hand appears below her face, if her eyes are open to see with normal sight: he's indicating the raisin bread. Which, perhaps, she ought to eat. Or else, "It might hurt."

"Wasn't fun," the girl agrees, voice muted. As Teo's hand penetrates her field of view, her eyes fall to it, looking at the appendage as though it were some sort of bizarre curiosity. "Fell down, falls down. Thin." Tamara echoes the word, a bit more slowly, testing the sounds of its single syllable. She appears to find them appropriate. "Scraped thin." Tilting her head, the girl considers Teo — or, rather, considers his remark, her expression thoughtful. "Doesn't hurt. Not nice," she allows. "Doesn't hurt." In order to appease the Sicilian, however, Tamara does eat the piece of bread she's been hanging on to. She even proceeds to worry another one off the section of loaf.

Teo hasn't seen many little girls hemorrhage out the nose and fall down on the steps of his former college. He thinks that pain accompanying that experience is somehow more reassuring than none, if only because he could understand the association between blood and agony better than he can— most things about Tamara. He retracts the bizarre curiosity of his hand, closing his fingers around the warm girth of the mug still supported by the other. "You'll need your strength," he says, his voice quieter than a man-child his age is generally wont to be.

There's a grain of guilt in his saying so, which hearkens back to her collapse at Columbia. He believes— knows he'd been the cause for that and, as he recalls, he's prone to repeating his errors.

Comprehension is an elusive thing, sometimes in both directions. Then there's when her additional perception yields a clue — such as just what sentiment is driving Teo's guilty expression. The second bit of bread is eaten, swallowed quickly, before Tamara reaches out to set her hand on Teo's arm. She's focused enough for the moment that it isn't too difficult an action, though it lacks the grace of her usual easy, instinctive certainty. "Don't be sorry," the girl directs her companion.

Finnish-blue eyes begin to waver at the hand when it takes his arm, but winds up stayed at Tamara's face. Searching it, the clever furrow of her brow and heart-shaped bones of her face, the verge of her point chin, all of it dead-set serious, less the whimsical serenity that has perpetuated through the rest of their encounters. It occurs to him here as it does with one out of every one-point-five members of Phoenix, that she's too young to be doing this. He's searching her face for some confirmation, assent, a word or sign: Yes.

Not that he has any clear idea of what he'd say after he got it, of course. The possibilities are too diverse. He isn't sure what to ask about the future from someone who might well know all of it. He clears his throat, a touch of self-consciousness. "I'm going to tell Helena that Volken has brought others to Manhattan.

"That there's internal conflict. And the man they say succeeds his throne claims to want to kill him. I don't think Eileen or the others know about the bridge. I'd say they didn't know about the Shanti virus, either, but the files we have say they took it." He doesn't mention that he doesn't know who to trust. It seems a weak point, or strange: he's telling her. Eighteen years old, raisin bread in pieces on her lap.

She is too young. But you play the hand you're dealt, and such was hers. The girl is quiet as Teo goes introspective, closing her eyes and sitting back a bit; stealing a few breaths of 'downtime' while the Sicilian mulls over the circumstances. There is little confirmation in her face — rather, a notable lack of such. But Tamara is listening; she is always listening. And again, the question unasked lingers. Hooks demanding claws into the mirror; draws attention to the closing of windows, the slow decay of some might-bes, the opportunity to strengthen others. An opportunity that won't be the same a second time, won't carry so much weight. May not have a second time around. The girl draws in a deep breath, turns her gaze just slightly away, looking into empty distance. "It… One. Two. Maybe." Her lips press into a thin line. "Pick careful."

One. Maybe two. That's not a lot of questions. Fewer than the wishes Aladdin had to crucify himself with. Teo exhales: sounds like a dying engine, and his head falls forward, almost bangs into his knees, eyes closed, brain choking on a hundred notions a second. Christ, this sucks. Someone else should be here. Someone older. Tamara isn't alone in that. No second chances — at least that's a concept he's used to. Careful, as well. A protracted moment; his shoulders pull upward, tugging his sweater into sharp angles, and he picks his armored skull up with a blink of pallid eyes.

"Which bridge will it be?" he asks, finally. "Or bridges? Could you tell me that?" Teo manages to keep his voice steady, no other changes discernible in the face he looks at her from, either frayed enough already or immune to fraying.

It's not a lot… but the limitation is not dictated by whimsy. Only necessity. She bows her head as Teo shuffles through his options, discarding by some rubric the ones he doesn't voice, arriving at the one that is. The bread sits idly in her lap, as forgotten as the fingers which curl around it, penetrating the crust and sinking holes into its core.

Which bridge? That's not too hard. Not when it's actually "…all of them. Not much… left. Time." There is no grace in her voice, no childish humor, not even the bizarre elegance of symbolic speech; it is the harsh rasp between harried breaths of someone who's fast approaching the limits of their stamina. But Tamara holds on, despite the red trickling down her lips; because even this much will have a price measured in long days at best. One question less won't save her; she forces her gaze up to Teo, eyes dark, expectant.

One question more might save him.

He had thought so before and he thinks so again. You're breaking up.

Teo watches the blood thicken and fall from her nose without startling, though his hackles tighten behind him and his hands are going white-knuckled from around the mug warming his palms. He has the strangest, ugliest conviction that he's watching her walk, slow-motion, into her own sword, one hand out reaching toward something beyond the hilt while he can't look at anything but all that cold, remorseless metal. He doesn't think he could do it. Not so slowly, without the rush, the crunch, the adrenal numbness he's always welcomed the possibility of premature darkness.

He's out of practical questions. The wheres and what's-going-ons of now seem beyond her grasp. They can start with the bridges. Anne could get them there, if he should send someone. All of them. The three words buzz around in his head like a fly that crawled in through his ear, though there aren't any in the room. He doesn't know his aunt is here, yet.

A little blankly: "Are you all really going to die?" Eloquence fails him. You all encompasses somewhere between dozens and hundreds of faces, not all of Manhattan, though not only Tamara. He means the people who are real to him. He's a little sorry that he cares less for the ones who aren't, but Deckard thinks they're going to fuck this up and Helena's determination would condemn her to a cage, so he'll take victory in a small measure if he can have it.

Some say the end justifies the means. It has a different meaning when the end is not merely extrapolated, but known, in all its variations, including each and every one of the little factors that might otherwise mess up a person's neatly-planned means. She would do it, and not begrudge a single step. She does do it.


What is most often overlooked is the double-edged nature of that sword, which Teo was exposed to in their prior meeting. But such is not in evidence today. A smile tugs at Tamara's red-tinged lips, the indulgent sort of expression given to someone who really ought to know better — but she'll field the question anyway. "Everyone dies," the seeress murmurs.

She eases down onto her side, curling into a ball with her hands — and that sadly neglected chunk of bread — tucked against her chest. Blood drips onto the webbing of the cot… but it's not the first such to be so marked.

Tamara knows what Teo really meant, so she doesn't leave that as the only reply. "Only if the light fails." A final sentence voiced on the soft rush of a sigh; the girl lets her eyes close again. If her loss of presence is not so dramatic as it was the last time, it is no less absolute; Tamara will not be answering any more questions anytime soon.

To Teo's credit, he doesn't spill the milk, but nearly. He stumbles on his knees, catches himself with a hand on the rickety old frame underneath the mattress, catches the loll of her fleecey skull before it meets the bedpost. He curses, of course, never one to be especially inventive when manifesting his temper. There's a shout from Tamara's quiet little corner of the Cathedral. Help. She's bleeding. She's out — again. Broken, and they need a fucking doctor. Fast. Fuck, fuck. The curses go on.

The Ferrymen come, evading the curious eyes and tagalong feet of ordinary soup kitchen volunteers, just two or three. It wouldn't do, to have a girl die in God's House. Somehow, they manage not to kick over the mug sitting on the carpeted stone. Teo finds himself shrunk into the corner of the room, his blood on her sleeve, trying to scrub away the pain behind his face with his knuckles, though he keeps at least one eye out, if bleary and growing bloodshot, twitching saccadically over the cot. His pendant twinkles in his peripheral. Somebody stepped on the bread, squashing slimy purple raisin-skin and and sucrose into the floor, but not the milk.

She's still breathing.

January 7th: Choosing Your Enemies
January 7th: Checking on the Housebound
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