cardinal_icon.gif peyton_icon.gif

Scene Title L.O.A.>
Synopsis At the end of a very long night, Cardinal checks in one last time…
Date Nov 9, 2010

Redbird Security: Main Lobby

There's a sharp, professional feel to the main lobby of the building. The carpet is a deep maroon underfoot, the walls an off-white cream that doesn't glare too brightly beneath the recessed lighting in the ceiling. Half a dozen chairs upholstered in a sandy light brown sit against one wall beneath a painting, a print of a Thomas Brill that shows the ruins of Midtown covered in vines and greenery as seen from the rooftop of the Deveaux building. The receptionist's station takes up almost an entire wall on the right side of the lobby, guarding the hallway that leads back into the building's offices. Behind and above the desk, the logo for Redbird Security Solutions hangs on the wall in glossy black.

The central hall continues the same carpet and wall colors to a number of doors. There are four offices, a restroom done in shades of blue and pale sand tones, and a comfortable employee lounge with attached kitchenette. An open doorway in the main lobby reveals a flight of upward stairs, and there's a locked door at he end of the central hall that guards the basement steps.

Sometime after midnight, Peyton Whitney is slouched in her chair, eyes closed, head slumped over to rest awkwardly on one shoulder. She'll have a neck crick when she wakes, no doubt. On the desk in front of her is a scribble of notes on a notepad — times and initials and locations of where her comrades are, taking up the full sheet of lined paper, and this is not likely the first of the pages, since the times on this page begin at 9 p.m.

Von is curled at the base of the chair, a water dish and food dish set out for him — if Peyton has eaten, it isn't clear, though there are a couple of empty water bottles and a half-full coffee cup, the caffeine from which seems to have failed to keep her awake.

A long shadow cast across one wall of the young woman's office disgorges the ominous shape of an armoured man, blacks alternately dull-matte or gleaming like an insect's exoskeleton. Both hands lift up, disengaging the lock on the helmet and pulling it from Cardinal's head, setting it carefull on the desk's edge as he steps up beside her. There's shadows under his eyes, a haunted look that wasn't there earlier in the day, although the sight of her sleeping there brings a wistful little smile just-tugging up at his lips.

One gloved hand reaches out, brushing a lock of hair away from her cheek. "Hey," he says softly, "You awake?"

Dark eyes flash open, bloodshot and wary — it's obvious she's overtaxed her ability, but not to the point of collapse; merely sleep. When she sees Cardinal, Peyton's face breaks in relief, brows furrowing and tears flooding her eyes as she throws her arms around him, though he won't feel it through the bulky armor.

"Thank God you're okay," she says softly. Too many of their group is not.

The man stands there for a moment as she throws her arms around him, and then slowly brushes one hand over the back of her head, his other resting on her shoulder. "Yeah," he lies, quietly, "I'm okay."

A silent moment, then Cardinal asks, "How're the others? Is every— everyone alive, at least?" Everyone, one presumes, meaning Endgame.

There's far too many dead bodies out there in general.

"I … I think so," Peyton begins, turning to look at the clock on the wall, and then down at her notes — she's lost a half an hour, and she frowns, bringing a hand to her still-aching head. "Last I looked, anyway."

Her pale face peers into his and she reaches to touch it lightly, her hand cold. She knows it's bad out there, so to ask him what's the matter seems ridiculous, but obviously something is. She drops her hand and reaches down to the little mini refrigerator by her desk, bringing another bottle of Evian out and uncapping it for him, since he's still in gloves, then hands it up.

"You need some Advil or anything stiffer?" she says lightly, though her eyes are worried as she studies his face.

"I go down that road, Pey, I'm not finishing up the night without breaking into the hard drugs…" Cardinal shakes his head ever so lightly - a brief lean into her touch, then he reaches over for the bottle of water with a murmur of barely-distinguishable thanks, tilting it back to his lips and taking a swallow.

Lowering the bottle, he closes his eyes for a moment, "Did Abigail ever get here? I tried to talk her out've going after the refugee medical camp… Susan betrayed the ferry, she told me."

"Yeah. They brought Bennet here — they killed a few of their council," Peyton says roughly, shaking her head angrily. "Abby's around. She might be down checking on Elle or maybe sleeping somewhere, I'm not sure."

She reaches down to pet Von, as if to ground herself from all the thought of death and violence. She stares at her desk for a moment and tilts her head up to look at him, dark eyes still worried, brow furrowed as she studies his face. "What do we do next, Card?" she asks in a small voice. "The city is in ruins from what I can see, and I haven't even… I haven't even dared to step outside yet."

"Elle ended up here too?" A prick of Cardinal's brows upwards, bemused, but then he simply nods. He doesn't need the details. Another swig of water's taken, and his head drops down forward, a sigh whispering to the neck of the vessel. "I don't know, Peyton. I don't— I really just don't know," he says, his voice soft and tired and raw, "I wish I did. We don't have a roadmap any more…"

The tip of his tongue moistens raw lips, and he sets the botle down on the edge of the desk, looking across the room and saying, "We keep our heads down. We listen, we watch, we protect our own… it's their turn, their move. We just… be Redbird Security for awhile until the smoke clears."

Her eyes go to the window where the smoke above the city's buildings makes the dark night sky a sooty reddish gray instead of black. "Hopefully it will," she says softly, brows knitting together. A hand comes up to rub her tired eyes. "I think the Ferry's hiding … what's that island on the river — not here in the city, the one that has the fort on it, the one that looks like a castle? I checked in on Wes and that's where they are. Eileen and Kaylee and people like that. They might need someone to relay messages — someone who can go there unseen and not, like, by boat or something." Something he could do, if he were willing. "If they need anything — you know, guns, whatever, and they don't have the money, I can help."

"Okay. Maybe… maybe I'll stop by," Cardinal allows quietly, also watching the city's night-time sky burn, "Just be careful sending them supplies. Now that we're under martial law… it's going to be harder and harder to do the dance we usually do." Another sip of water's taken, swirled around in his mouth as if he could get the taste of something out of it.

"Kain betrayed us to Logan," he says flatly, without looking back over, "Says that he told John everything. The Zarek Project's in ruins. We might still salvage something if Niki completed her assignment, at least… make sure it ends up in the hands of someone who isn't a complete monster."

She nods at the advice of being careful, then raises her brows at the mention of Kain. "Wha… he told you he betrayed you? Why? Was he playing us this whole time?" she says, paling a touch. "Can Logan be swung to our side?" Of course, they'd thought Kain was on their side, so there's always the chance of being fooled again.

Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me.

Her eyes return to the window and she shakes her head. "Maybe we should just let New York burn and get the hell out, Card."

"Because…" Cardinal closes his eyes, drawing in a breath before exhaling, gathering his strength to finish the sentence, "…because he had a change of heart. He decided that I was some kind of monster that was dangerous with that much power. That I couldn't be trusted with it. He put out a contract on me. Guess he forgot that I find out everything, sooner or later…"

Regret. Bitterness. Guilt. The tips of his fingers brush over the desk's edge, wandering over the lines of its grain, "…tried to shoot me, too. I killed him. Logan's a rapist pimp that cut out Abigail's tongue to stop her from praying while he had her locked in his basement. Nearly killed me once, just for kicks and giggles. No, I'm not working with John."

A humorless smile tugs a little at his lips, "Yeah. I wonder that sometimes too. I…"

He hesitates, as if trying to work up the courage for something.

Her mouth parts when he says he killed Kain — Kain, who she's slept with. Kain, whose grandfather she saved. Did she save him just so he could give birth to a man that would try to kill Cardinal. "Jesus," she whispers, then echoes it after the information about Logan. Wendy's "John," who she'd decided was not so bad after all, who helped her when she asked just weeks ago.

"Cat warned me," she adds, regarding Kain, and Peyton shakes her head, her eyes filling with tears not for the first time tonight. She's grown stronger, but there is a limit to the despair she can endure. "But I never listen, do I." She smiles ruefully at that.

Finally, she tips her head at him, realizing he trailed off, that she overlapped his thought. "Hm?"

"Neither do I," Cardinal murmurs, mostly to himself, shaking his head slowly.

Then he finishes his earlier thought.

"I know who's behind the Institute, Pey," he says softly, head low and eyes still closed, "It's me. Another… another me, from some time in the future. Things got so bad that he went back in time to the seventies… started the Institute. Samson killed him, but the Institute brought him back, in Tyler's body."

"It was always me that we were fighting."

Peyton's brows furrow and she shakes her head. "How — I don't understand," she whispers. "We just… we just went and did all this time travel stuff to keep people from going back in time, from doing all these things to screw with us — how come we couldn't change that? How … how bad did it get that he… that you… would do that? Worse than this?" She points outside, where the smoke hangs ominously over the city. "How can it be? How could making something like that be better than whatever you … he… Oh, God, Card!"

She looks up at him with sympathy and then it mixes with fear. "How do you become him? How … how do Liz and me and Monica and Niki… how do we allow that to happen?"

"Because he killed Elisabeth!"

It's not a statement but a shout as Cardinal twists back to look back to her with almost a snarl, his eyes burning like the city out the window, "Because Edward Ray sent us a message months ago, a list of targets… Elisabeth, Niklaus, Teo… and that son of a bitch actually did it!" One hand slams down on the desk's edge as he steps away from it towards the window, the hydraulic-driven strength causing the entire thing to screech away a couple of inches on the floor. He walks over to the window, hands resting on either side, his head falling forward, his eyes closing as he falls silent, save for a few quiet words, "Because he's everything I always feared I could be."

"What?" Peyton asks, glancing down at her notes, shaking her head. "When — I was trying to do checks every 15 minutes or so… did she — is she dead?" she asks, all color draining out of her face, tears sliding down her cheek as she stares at him, her head shaking again, dark locks swinging about her face and strands sticking to her wet face.

"I… no, no, not… not our Elisabeth…" Cardinal's head falls forward, shaking slowly, "His… from the timeline that he was from, the one without the Institute… I…" He tenses sharply, looking back over his shoulder uncertainly, "…she is alive, right? I sent Lola to protect her from the sniper."

Peyton glances at the notes and nods uncertainly, then brings a hand up to brush the tears out of her eyes so she can see. Her bloodshot eyes dilate and she stares past him for a moment, then shakes her head. "She's unconscious or asleep, but I think okay. Not dead," she says softly. "I'll keep checking, though."

She rakes a hand through her hair. "I don't understand this all, Card, you'll have to explain it to me when I'm not on like 3 hours sleep for five days, but…" she gulps, and reaches for his gloved hand. "But we'll get through it somehow. We'll change it somehow. You're not a monster. If … something must have happened to you, to make you like him, but it's not your fault."

At that affirmation, Cardinal's head drops forward again. "Good… good." He pushes himself away from the window slowly, turning back to her - pausing as her fingers curl to his hand, he resists an urge to squeeze back, given the likely result. Things are bad enough without breaking his friend's hand. Pulling away after a moment, he reaches down to peel open the velcro-lined flap of a pouch on his armour, pulling out an envelope and offering it to her.

"Here," he says quietly, "There's… instructions, for you'n Liz. Not much, just a few things."

Those fingers curl around the envelope, dark eyes peering down at it. "Instructions?" she says, swallowing, then tipping her face back up at him. Dark hair falls across her eyes as they well up with tears again, and she shakes her head to toss the hair out of her face.

"Card…?" she whispers.

He won't look at her, Cardinal's hands reaching out to wrap about the sides of the helmet where it rests on the desk and bringing it up - looking at the visor and his features reflected in it, distorted and dark. "I've… got a lot to figure out, Pey," he says quietly, "I know I can trust you and Liz to keep the home fires burning - you're the only ones I know I can trust with it."

Her parted lips try to speak but only tremble, and she backs away to sit back down in her seat, staring up at him as the tears overflow again.

She survived the Eighth. It is now the Ninth. And yet the world still feels like it's ending.

Peyton presses her lips together, breathing deeply through her nose for a moment, before managing, "I can check in on you? How long?"

That's why he's not looking at her - he knows she's crying, and if he sees her like that, he doesn't know if he'll have the strength to do this. To do what he needs to do. He's spent so long trying to put the world back together… he'd almost let himself fall to pieces.

"Yeah. And… I don't know. I've got to… go back to the beginning," he whispers, not trusting his voice any louder, "And see where I lost myself along the way. I'm not… not gonna let myself turn into him."

Peyton knows something about losing herself, and she knows she can't begrudge him the journey. She nods, shaking hand reaching to set the envelope on her desk, and then she brings her hands up to wipe her face. She can be a brave little soldier and allow him to leave knowing he has her blessing.

Even if it breaks her heart.

She stands again and moves closer, bringing slightly damp and still-cold hands to his face, tipping it down and pressing her lips against his cheek. "Just come back, okay?"

Cardinal's head drops forward as her hands slide over his cheeks, his eyes closed as she kisses his cheek. They open again to meet hers, tired and haunted, guilty and slightly wet with the threat of unshed tears. "I will," he says softly, his voice rough with emotion, "Not abandoning you all, I just… just need some time."

Every drop of blood in the streets is a drop he blames himself for. All his plans, all his designs, burned today.

"Okay," Peyton whispers. She doesn't know how she'll manage without him. She believes he's saved her life in more than one way, and not having him nearby is a frightening prospect she doesn't want to face.

"I'll check in on you… Pick a time of day, so I'm not … so I'm not spying or seeing you … when you wouldn't want me to, okay? I'll look in on you once a day for a few minutes. If you want to send me a message, you can hold up a note." Her voice shakes though she's trying to be strong, her eyes glimmering with tears she refuses to let drop, knowing how hard it is for him to look at her just now.

"You'll be fine, Peyton," Cardinal says in his thick voice, one hand coming up to brush carefully against her cheek, "You're… stronger'n you think. You'll make me proud… I know you will."

He leans forward, pressing a kiss against her brow before leaning back, clearing his throat and raising the helmet up, twisting it around the right way and pulling it over his head. As he secures it, his voice is muffled by the helmet when he speaks, "Say… five o'clock?"

She smiles at the words and touch, one errant wet tear sliding over his fingers and she nods, before quipping, "I know you mean in the evening, because you know I don't wake up before 8:30 in the morning."

She nods, though, and glances down. "Let me know if you need anything. Wherever you go. If you don't want to see me or anyone yet, put it in the note, give me an address, I'll get it to you safely. I promise."

"Yeah, the evening." She can hear the brief smile on his lips. He certainly doesn't get up anywhere near those ungodly hours of morning, when he can help it. "I'll let you know. And if there's a… a real emergency, you'll be able to find me."

There's another nod and she stares at the floor. Von, sleeping contentedly a moment before, suddenly stands and comes to Peyton's side, nudging her leg with his nose and leaning against her, sensing something is wrong. She smiles down at the dog, and looks back up. "If there's an emergency — do whatever you can to tell me you need help, and I will figure out how to get it to you."

She reaches up to tap the side of his helmet. "I love you. Come back to us." The words come naturally, and somehow her cheeks don't color, for she means love in the purest of senses — she may be in love with him, but she also loves him like a friend, a savior, the big brother she never had.

"Love you too, babe," he replies quietly, looking down to her through that helmet's opaque visor for a long moment before turning away, "And I'll be back. Count on it…"

Armour becomes darkness, melting away against the wall and slithering through the cracks in the window. And then Richard Cardinal is gone, out into the night where the city burns.

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