Just Cards


cardinal_icon.gif elisabeth_icon.gif

Scene Title Just Cards
Synopsis Unless you let them be more, that's really all they are.
Date Oct 10, 2009


The sun's just going down over the city, casting a reddish pall over the ruins - the sky's light still blurred faintly by the dust kicked up by the destruction of the Municipal Building, a scarlet sunset turned into a sullen glow that falls bloody across this ground where so many died.

Cardinal's woken up not too long ago, and he's out perched atop the blast-melted lion, one leg dangling and the other foot perched up upon what's left of one of the lion's paws, knee near his chest and an arm draped over it, cigarette in hand. He's watching the sky, silently, thoughtfully and without the shades that rest beside him on the pedestal, as if there seeking guidance.

The footsteps of the woman coming up the stairs aren't muted. Liz is grungy again, though she's made some level attempt to clean up some. She's clearly been out at the Municipal Building yet again. Her blonde hair is pinned up and gray with dust in the deepening shadows. Her hands are shoved into the pockets of a denim jacket that has seen far better days, and her jeans and sneakers are in the same shape. She stops below him on the landing between flights of stairs up to the lion. If the fact that he's sitting outside smoking bothers her, it doesn't appear worth mentioning. "Hey," she says, letting her ability carry her voice to him without needing to shout.

"Hey." The cigarette drops, with hand, down to grind the ashes out upon pooled bronze, the butt of it flicked out to tumble down and land amongst the scattered debris below. Brushing his hands off, Cardinal pulls his leg up, rolling in a smooth movement up to his feet and shaking his jacket out to resettle it properly. A faint smile's flashed down, "How're you doing, beautiful? Aside from needing a shower…"

Blue eyes watch him as he moves, her expression shuttered. "Not that I believe in tarot or anything… but were you ever going to mention that it didn't go well?" Elisabeth's trip to Hokuto has been weighing on her mind a good bit, especially since she also got still more bad news on top of dealing with flashbacks of 9/11 on top of the rest of her issues. Now that she pauses to consider that thought, it's a wonder she's not a fucking basket case. And though she's not pissed off at Cardinal for any real reason, there's an underlying sense of … this being perhaps the easiest place to be angry. It's a stupid thing to say and she knows it even as the words slip out of her mouth, yet she doesn't take them back.

Hazel eyes blink once, the brow above them furrowing. "It's just cards," Cardinal points out mildly, shifting to hop down from the pedestal and land on the steps with a sharp clack of his soles, moving to head over towards her down cracked and stained steps with a frown tracing itself across his lips, "I didn't see any reason to worry you about some stupid cards. It's not like she's a precognitive or anything, she's a dreamwalker… what happened?" The last is sharper, as if, clearly, something has. But then, he knows her pretty well.

A faint smile curls her lips and the blonde looks around the ruins around them. "Not so sure," she admits. "I went to see her. To say thank you for the help she's already given, more than anything," she finally says, rocking a little on the balls of her feet. "Besides, you said she wanted to see me. It was…. enlightening, actually. Learned a lot. Card at the center of it all was definitely you… kinda weird, actually." She smirks faintly, deliberately NOT telling him about the whole baby on the way thing. Craziness, that! "She said some things… some I knew, some I didn't. Didn't much like what I heard." She looks back at him. "And then to find that what you got told wasn't so pleasant either was… disturbing. So…. what'd she say?"

"They're just cards," Cardinal repeats, quietly, as he stops beside her; one hand lifting up to brush against her cheek, trying to meet her eyes, "Nothing more. Don't put any more stock in them than any advice she'd give you— 'cause that's all it is. Her trying to read you and interpret that. Old scam, Tarot."

She lets him touch her, turning her cheek into the caress with her eyes closed. And when Liz opens them to look at him, there's a spark there that hasn't been there in a while. "Really?" she asks him quietly. "You really believe that nothing she says has value?" she challenges quietly. "She said nothing to you that's made you think or made you wonder?"

"She didn't tell me anything that I wasn't already thinking about," he says, firmly, but it's a lie— or a partial one, but he refuses to consider one of the things he was told. He watches her face for a moment, "What'd she tell you that upset you this much?"

Elisabeth averts her eyes slightly so she's not looking into his and says quietly, "Mostly the same as you … things I already knew. Or know to be true." Her jaw clenches. "And I shouldn't let it get to me, and I know it, and I damn well can't help it." She wants to shrug it off, it's as stupid as it gets. "Apparently I'm squandering my second chance at life, and shouldn't I be ashamed?" And that she's letting him override her good sense and wreck her leadership abilities. She bites back that, though, struggling more with the next words. "Mainly she told me that I was letting Doug ruin my life…. and that I'm not very far off BECOMING him." There's a flash again at the way Hokuto's words have rolled through her head. He can feel the tension that is coiling her muscles up again, tightening her tone. "That I'm having a hard time controlling impulses I've never had before. And frankly…. she's right." Her gaze shifts back to him, meeting his eyes with that simmering anger still shoved down. "I didn't kill him myself…. but I wanted to, Richard. More than anything in the world. I wanted to make him come at me so that I could and still justify it to myself. And I wanted…" She shivers under his hands. "And I wanted to kill Azrael myself… and if Danko puts his face in my sights, I'm not sure I won't flat out kill him too." The thing that gives away how deeply Hokuto's words hit home is that low hum again — it keeps happening, and the more often it happens, the more Liz seems to withdraw into herself.

"We all want things that we know aren't right, sometimes, Liz. We've all got that monster inside us…" The hand slides down her cheek, curving to her jaw until his thumb can stroke under her lower lip. Cardinal's gaze is dark, serious upon hers. "…and maybe you wanted to, but you didn't. If you get Danko in your sights, though, fuck, you'd get a god-damned medal, Liz. Sometimes— sometimes we need to kill. You know that. It doesn't make you a monster for doing it. Just if you enjoy it. There's no way in hell you could ever be like that rabid dog."

"Now who's only seeing what they want to see?" Elisabeth asks, her expression dark. "The only reason I didn't was because I was fucking terrified of him. Paralyzed! In spite of the fact that he was shackled, I looked at him and all there was…. was his breath in my face. His weight on me." She pushes his hand away. "It wasn't strength, it was fucking cowardice! I keep telling myself that it's because I'm better than him — that I didn't shoot him, that I put Danko on a warrant instead of dealing with it myself, but it's not. It's abject terror!" Tears war with the rage that now bubbles out, finally, humming along in the subaudible ranges, rattling the sheets over the broken windows of the library. Rattling what few windows remain.

"That pig had his hands on me. He fucking pissed…." Elisabeth chokes on that, the low-level bass rolling off her like waves off speakers. Her hands come from her pockets and she gestures wildly now. "I sat in a c-c-co… FUCKING FREEZING room in a puddle of my own piss, and he would hiss in my ear all the things he w-w-w-wanted to d-d-do to m-m-me." Rage, incandescent in its purity, rips through her, causing the stutter to reappear. "And th-th-th-then he'd … b-b-b-break things or cut me. And croon in my ear while he did it. And he fucking wins … I c-cou-couldn't do it!"

"He's dead," Cardinal replies sharply to her words, more than a hint of wariness entering him as the very air begins to vibrate with sound—felt before it's heard, a rumbling in his belly and under his feet, he drops a step back, "You're not. How's that winning, Liz…?"

"Because now he's stuck in my head," Elisabeth replies, her expression crumpling. "He's stuck in my head and I take him… everywhere I go. I weigh everything I do against … whether it'll draw their attention again. And I don't know how to make it stop. Oh, I fake it pretty well, I guess." She doesn't talk about this. Hasn't talked about it in the weeks since, and she keeps telling him she's all right. She paces faster as the words tumble from her. "He wins because I'm too fucking weak to take him out of the equation… just like he knew I would be. He wins because I would … beg him… I would beg to tell him things, just to make him stop." Her anger is not just at them. "He wins because it seemed like they did things … forever. For weeks. And it wasn't more than a couple of days before I told them everything they wanted to know." She doesn't notice that her face is covered in tears by now. "Do you know… that they killed a kid in front of Felix and he still didn't tell them anything? They had him for weeks, Richard. I …" She raises a shaking hand to cover her mouth and she blurts out, "I got people killed. And it didn't …. it didn't do anything. It didn't make them let me go, it just… made them go ahead and kill me. And I wanted that. I wanted to die. And I hate myself for telling them anything."

When she turns, she's fifteen feet away from him and staring at him. "Why don't they all fucking hate me??" she demands, the low roil of sound never going into the audible range even as the small glass shards that remain in the broken windows of the library start tinkling musically to the ground and rattling around on the stairs. "Why am I not dead? Why was I not dead in that stupid fucking future? Why are Conrad and Mona Rao and … and MINEA dead while I keep surviving??"

"You barely told them anything, Liz," protests Cardinal, standing where he is on the stairs even as the glass shards clatter to the ground and pebbles and debris rattle upon the steps all about him, "You knew so damn much more than you told them— and, fuck, Felix is an Agent, Liz. He's trained for that. You're— you're a cop, you weren…" A blink, back straightening, "Minea?"

Elisabeth wants to throw something — maybe even in some ways she wants to throw it at him. He's such a guy. Even as the intent forms, she realizes just a moment later what's going to happen. Her eyes go wide… and Liz turns away from him, back toward the courtyard below, a wider, more open space. She /shoves/ all of that rage and anguish away — and it sends debris blowing away, shakes and rattles lightposts that no longer function anyway, even rattles windows across the huge expanse of open space and cars abandoned in this part of town that have never been moved after the blast. It's like releasing the pressure by taking something and shaking it really really hard, and the rattling and crashing continues farther down the street as long-abandoned trash barrels and newspaper containers topple and roll too. "Minea," Elisabeth confirms finally into the silence, her back still to him as he stands higher on the stairwell.

The sonic shockwave that crashes out from her over the street echoes through the distance, and even Cardinal nearly loses his footing in the backwash of it. Silence reigns for long moments, and then he slowly makes his way back down the stairs until he's standing behind her, one hand lifting to brush the back of her arm, murmuring, "I'm sorry. What happened?"

"I don't fucking know," Elisabeth says softly, her opposite hand reaching around to twine her fingers into his where they brush her arm while the hand nearest to him comes up to wipe her face. "I just…. don't know." Her tone is bleak. "Two bullets to the chest and they sank her body in her trunk in Meadow Lake." She bites her lip and says softly, "I'm so goddamn mad. All the time." She sucks in a deep breath, trying to let it out slowly.

When her hand covers his, his fingers curl against her own warmly, and he steps in behind her; his other arm curling about her waist carefully, he turns his face in to brush a kiss to her temple, the warmth of his body easing up behind hers. "I know," he says quietly, "I just… wish I knew what you needed, Liz."

Blowing out that deep breath, standing there on the stairs overlooking what used to be a bustling part of the New York metropolitan area, Elisabeth says quietly, "Well… if the cards are to be believed, what I need is to stop being afraid and to be true to myself. Not entirely sure what that means, but…. something did resonate for me in all of the advice." She rests her head backward onto his shoulder. "I've been relying on you to have a plan — in part because you said you did, and in part maybe because … it's just easier that way. But we've been talking about taking actions that I don't think will work. I got hold of the recording of the Beck show, and I've been thinking through it. Killing Mitchell …. cold-bloodedly choosing to martyr a man… is not going to serve us well, Richard. That makes us the monsters. I do… sort of.. maybe… have an alternative plan forming, though."

"I do have a plan… it's a long-term strategy, even if people keep putting parts of it in danger…" A hand slides back across her stomach, resting to her hip briefly before he pulls back a step, brow furrowing and lips pursing in a slight frown as he looks down to her, "…what's this alternative?"

Her body molded itself automatically to the curve of his as he cradled her there, and when he steps back Elisabeth looks over her shoulder at him. "There are several parts that may or may not cause me to say you're right — that it still needs to be done. But Beck gave clear indication that he'd be willing to go on the air if documented proof can be gotten to him. Phoenix has already put some of that proof out there — the pictures from Moab. But we have a lot more of those, and although I could be misremembering, I think we have hardcopy of some things from Moab. Phoenix's working on their broadcasts, and that's what they need to be doing. But I think we should coalate all the data and send it to every independent radio station talk show host out there. If even a fraction of them actually run with the data, it's better than we had before. And the documents could make clear that while some of those people should have been there, none of them got a trial. If you don't want to run with that thought, I'll let Cat handle it. In the meantime…."

Liz pauses and studies him. "We need to know for sure if Petrelli is an ally — the future Petrelli who came back with Ray may have a lot of information that could help us out here. It'd put us maybe in hock to him, but… if he can give us any insight into Ray's string map, it could be worth it. And if he's not an ally, at least we'd know that too. Call it enlightened self-interest on his part to help us — if we succeed with the information he may have, he can claim he helped. If we fuck it all up, he's still got plausible deniability, you know?"

"If they have all of that," Cardinal challenges, one brow lifting dubiously at the woman, "Why haven't they released it yet? Hell, I remember someone mentioning they even had proof against Petrelli… but they weren't willing to release it. Again, because if they bring him down, we get Mitchell. I don't know why Phoenix hasn't done any of that before— if you think they'd do it, go ahead, talk to them. It'd be great if they did. I don't have the resources to do paper-shuffling, not with other shit on the table."

His arms fold over his chest, weight rocking back to his heels a bit, lips pursing briefly before he shakes his head. "I don't think we can consider Petrelli an ally, either way, Liz. I'm meeting with him soon anyway, I'll size him up when I do."

There's a long pause and Elisabeth admits, "I don't know why they haven't gone public with all the paperwork they've got, honestly." She wraps her arms around her waist, a movement as unconscious as it is defensve. "You have to realize that there've been times when I've been at the center of things, and times that I don't have the faintest idea what's going on with them. Phoenix is Helena's baby. And Cat's and Teo's maybe… and even he's not terribly thrilled with some of the things going down lately." She shrugs a little. "Maybe it's because for every piece of intel we put out there, the flip side of it is that it implicates Evos too."

Nibbling uneasily on her bottom lip, Liz says quietly, "He's obviously going to have his own agenda — and in terms of being an ally, it'd be temporary, assuredly." She smiles faintly. "We have a lot of those. People who help out when the situation warrants and otherwise don't like what we do out here but leave us alone because we serve a purpose. Like the Company. Like Minea Dahl." She sighs. "Tell me all the steps of the long-term strategy you're running?" She did tell him she wanted all-in.

"I already did." A quiet response, Cardinal's stance shifting slightly, his head tilting a little to one side, "I'm having to reconstruct a lot of it since that Rebel asshole may've just sank a few of my political cards when he brought up Rickham…" He rubs a hand against the bridge of his nose, eyes closing, "Alright, go talk to Cat and them, then, see if you can talk them into taking some stuff public, if they have anything… I'll hold off on other stuff for now."

There's a faint smile. "No… you told me that you wanted to assassinate the vice president. You didn't tell me the steps BETWEEN," Elisabeth corrects mildly. "You mentioned you had plans for Rickham, but you didn't tell me about them. Is it a half-formed plan to bring him out of the woodwork and see if he'll help, or do we actually have somethin in the pipe with him? Hell… last I heard, he was still in hiding and no one knew where… is that right?"

"I can find him," Cardinal says with a tight shake of his head, "I know where Stephanie Caiati is, where she went, who she really is, and I have enough blackmail information to drag her out of Linderman's hands and get her to bring Rickham back into play. I just don't know if he's of any value anymore." A frustrated note to his voice, even as he turns to start up the steps, "I need to talk to Brian, see what he's been up to with Daniel. I have several've Linderman's people on the fringes, maybe I can do something with them."

She watches him walk up the stairs and hesitates. "I'm thinking I might try to get a meeting with Donovan," she tells him. It's nice to not have to shout when someone's walking away. Elisabeth offers, "It'd be nice to know if he can actually be trusted with the job before we go about trying to make sure Jennifer Chesterfield isn't mayor, yeah? And by the way, I asked Hana to look into a paper trail on that topic."

"Not a bad idea," admits Cardinal, pausing to glance back, "Get one, if you can, see if you can feel him out. Let me know what you think about the guy… and, thanks. Appreciate it."

"Are you pissed? Or something else?" Elisabeth asks mildly.

"I've just got a lot've fucking re-planning to do," Cardinal replies with a tight shake of his head, his voice strained and frustrated as he turns back around, "Between Rebel - whoever he is - and fucking Norman White…" And, one might easily discern, Elisabeth.

There's a sigh as she looks out over the city, and Elisabeth shakes her head. "When you're ready to talk to me about the re-plan, lemme know," she tosses over her shoulder, making sure it winds its way to him. "The alternative is barely half-formed and I thought you might want some possibilities in light of Rebel and his announcement. My mistake."

"I'm always open to possibilities, Liz…" The tattered remnants of police tape are trodden upon as Cardinal walks across them, and across the foyer, scowling privately to himself. "They're only cards, Richard," he mutters under his breath, "Don't mean a damn thing…"

That brings her head flying around, and Liz jogs up those stairs to catch up with him. "Tell me what you mean," she says from a little way behind him in the foyer. Sternly. "Clearly it involves me, so tell me what you mean."

"Nothing." A curt statement as Cardinal stalks through the hallway, his movements followed by the electronic eye of security cameras currently unwatched, unless Zuleyka's perched on a chair somewhere keeping an eye on things.

"I'll go ask her, if you make me," Elisabeth says candidly as she walks behind him. "Tell me. Because I'll tell you something else about that reading. *You* were at the center of it. The source of … inspiration, as it were. I'm not naysaying your plan — and that's the attitude you're giving me, that I've said something you're pissed at — but I am saying… I have some concerns. And considering the situation at hand, I think the misgivings at least out to be talked about — and alternatives planned for just in case. When I said I wanted all-in, you also said you didn't want a bunch of people to yes-man you. So… tell me the problem."

"…and you were in my reading, too," Cardinal replies flatly, twisting to look back at her with a sharp look, "As the person that had the potential of entirely destroying all of my plans and leading everything into complete and utter ruin. So if you're on this kick because of something Hokuto said, then you're fucking kidding yourself. Everything she says is bullshit, and they're just fucking cards."

That makes her stop and Elisabeth looks startled. "Well, …. fuck." She sighs and shoves a hand through her hair. "In point of fact, I'm not on a kick of any kind. You're right, they're simply cards…" She smiles faintly. If they weren't he'd be shitting bricks about now. "And all they did was make me think, and wonder. About what the effect of Rebel's comments might be, and whether in light of the collapse of the Municipal Building, Mitchell's martyrdom could bite us in the ass. Let me rephrase this question to you: If you kill Mitchell — a supposed supporter of Evo rights, a supposed supporter of FRONTLINE, an all-Evo SWAT team — and you get him killed by Humanis First…. how does this fan a revolution? You yourself said there was not enough fuel yet to sustain such a movement. We need to do things to create the fuel, then."

Cardinal takes a deep breath… and then sinks back against the wall, one hand coming up to rub against his brow. "It creates fuel," he says quietly, "Nothing gets the American people so fired up as political assassination. It brings back memories of King, of Kennedy. It gives the people a look at how far Humanis will go, to contrast White's shit, so they won't just fall in line. It opens up the possibility of removing Petrelli if it becomes necessary, since the presidency won't default to Mitchell. Depending on who he puts into… office…" He pauses, eyes widening a touch as he looks to her, "…Rickham. If we can use this, and get Rickham back into play and willing to step into the light— in the case of the vice-president's death, the President appoints a new VP— "

Elisabeth tilts her head, listening intently. "All right…. a political assassination does get them up in arms," she agrees, as she did before. "I'm waiting on Cat's information on what the man's voted on, just to verify." Which they'd talked about. "Here's my concern: Right now, if you take out Mitchell, it starts to look like a Humanis First-slash-Evo war front. In doing so, you polarize people pretty drastically — there are going to be a lot of people who are going to say that Humanis First didn't act first because they don't know what's been going on in this city. So…. the groundwork needs to be done first. *If* you can get Rickham back into play, it may work. But there's no way to guarantee he'd be appointed, and Congress also has to approve the appointee."

"They may have no choice," Cardinal lifts one hand to scratch against the side of his neck, brow furrowed and a frown tracing his lips, "After Rebel's statement… it may be political suicide to have the idea brought up, then rejected. Maybe. I need to think about that…" A shake of his head, "And yeah, but if we don't give them something to rally to on our side, and something big, and soon, they have White to rally against, Liz."

Elisabeth nods slightly. "I'm aware of that much," she says on a sigh. She makes a faint grin of amusement. "And all this cuz of a deck of cards, huh?" Shaking her head, she tells him, "I'll leave you to your plotting. You know where to find me if you want me. I'm sorry about …. earlier." She pauses and admits quietly, "I don't think I'm quite done yet."

"Yeah. All about cards. And it's all right. Anytime you need to vent…" A wan smile, as business is pushed aside, and then Cardinal pushes himself away from the wall, turning to head inside further. A pause, and he glances back, saying quietly, "I told you I wasn't a good person, Liz. And that this wouldn't be clean."

So he did. Now all Elisabeth has to decide is where in this spectrum she'll fall. "You know where to find me when you want me, love," is all she says as she heads out of the library.

She heads out; he heads inside. His footsteps sound louder to him as he walks down the hallways, as if the library was somehow emptier.

They're just cards, though. Right?

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