Net and Pin, Part III


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Scene Title Net and Pin, Part III
Synopsis Lydia is shown a truth, with a decision stolen from her. Hiro is too, but a decision rests with him.
Date November 8, 2010

Ichihara Bookstore

The crisp fall morning feels full of promise for Lydia, even with impending doom lurking in the back of her thoughts — she'd read and felt many fears around this day, yet even in light of what may or may not happen, she dares to hope for more than the projected doom and gloom. Even in her hope, there's an odd tension; a sense of anxiety eating at her and pulling her up too early; she'd snuck downstairs away from Edgar and had searched the many shelves for an interesting title, a simple distraction from the noise of her own thoughts.

Her barefooted steps carry her along the uneven wooden floorboards, shuffling about for any title of interest while her index finger slides across the row of text. The sun hasn't even begun to peek through the blinds of the bookstore, but with the overhead light at the very least, she doesn't need to squint.

Casually, she tugs on a particular novel — one of Delia's choosing when she'd worked at the store — Hidden Serenade. With a small smile she shuffles back to the counter and rests the book upon it before choosing to perch on her stool, taking special care to smooth her long red skirt before sitting.

Finally, she relaxes on the stool, and opens the book, poised to read.

She gets to maybe a page, before the world begins to break down. The words seem to blur around the same time a cold, night-time breeze is blowing against the back of her neck, seemingly passing right through the wall behind her and flagging blonde hair along with it in streaming tendrils. The distant sound of a helicopter begins to beat against the audible ambiance of the bookstore, and the light fades away to something much dimmer — smokey moonlight, instead of bright and cheerful morning day.

Lydia falls, backside finding damp forest ground instead of the stool she was perched on, the book jarring out of her hands and disappearing along with— everything else. It's an Alice in Wonderland moment of fiction fizzling out in favour of a new reality, except—

You know.

Wonderland never had gunshots echoing thunder in the distance.

The forest is thick and black around her, strangely familiar, pine needles poking into the backs of her legs and the palms of her hands. Whatever is happening, some conflict, it seems to going on behind her, although it's difficult to make out through the trees from down here. It's a chilly evening. Cries echo up to the sky, gunfire blasts in casual bruality, and the sound of approaching helicopters fill her ears.

Her shadowed surroundings turn to bright white as a shining light arcs through from above, the searching high of that exact aircraft tearing through the sky above her. But it's not looking for her, passing over her head a second later, towards the sounds of the fight.

Familiar, too, as familiar as the white paper crane she might see out the corner of her eye, tumbling along in the wind just beside her.

The would-be Alice pales as she hits the ground, her body jarring at the impact with tension that forms across her muscles, the noise of the helicopters extending general uneasiness into all-out heart-pounding anxiety. Her stomach curls into knots, turning over on itself while her heart pounds in her chest, even as she manages to push herself off the ground away from the pine needles and hard floor; bringing a silent wish that she'd put on shoes when she'd stepped out of bed this morning. The noise in the distance only increases her anxiety — now coupled with a strange deja vu that she's been here before, although not at the same time.

In that standing position, she stares up at the sky, her arms used to shield her dark squinty eyes from the white blinding brightness of the light that she hasn't quite brought into focus.

Lydia instinctively reaches for the crane, the memory of the first pulling at her curiosity, even amid the presumed violence of her wonderland. Carefully, her nimble now-trembling fingers unfold the bird, taking particular pains not to tear it in the process.

Unhelpfully— or maybe helpfully— it says the same thing as it did before. The truth is neatly written, and a date she knows too well. May, 2007. Just at the edge of her hearing, she'll hear the sound of running feet — through the density of the forest, she sees a woman running, a small child bundled into her arms. A flash of blonde hair and a pattern of skirt she recognises, and Lydia will inevitably come to the realisation that she sees a glimpse of herself running like the hounds of hell are at her heels.

A crunch of footsteps just behind her, twigs and pine needles breaking as someone takes a quiet step closer, as if attempting to sneak up on her — or not scare her in their approach. That she never heard them ever get there, under the sounds of the gunfire, is distinct.

"The truth," Lydia whispers as her hand drops to her side, lowering the paper from her gaze. Her face pales further as her heart rate spikes again, adrenaline coursing through her veins. Her eyes widen as she catches a glimpse of herself running away. It's that night; the one permanently etched in her memory. She cups a hand over her mouth to stifle her gasp, this is a night she's tried mostly to put out of her mind.

The crunch of footsteps has her taking a sharp turn around; not that there's much she can do if it is an assailant, albeit a rather clumsy one.

Hiro stops his approach when he's spotted, regarding her with assessment and interest. "Lydia," he greets, his head bowing in short greeting. "My name is Hiro." The man that made Samuel's intentions so difficult. Or so it would seem. "Do not be afraid — I do not wish to harm you." He doesn't even have his sword, perhaps strangely enough, or just cocky enough. This isn't a very swordy occasion, despite the obvious combat playing out that distance away beyond the tree-line, and in Lydia's vivid memory of it following her through the forest.

Stepping around her, with a clear expectation for her to follow borne from an arrogance only time travelers possess, he starts in the opposite direction of the fight, leading into denser vegetation than the path-ish clearing they currently stand within. Beyond the trees, behind them, Lydia will be able to see the flashes of search lights, and the ring of a ferris wheel cresting the tree-line.

Lydia blinks blankly at the greeting; while she's semi-accustomed to the unusual, especially having lived with a traveling carnival for so long, there are some things she still can't process as quickly as she'd like. Her eyebrows furrow at the reassurance, knitting tightly together as she paces after him. A few moments pass as she attempts to collect her thoughts, "Why are we here? At this time?" she swallows audibly, fighting the words from catching in her throat, "Again?" Not that Hiro was here the first time.

The path is cold beneath her feet — damp and a little muddy, but she doesn't complain, especially as they move away from the chaos she's already lived through once. Her feet leave distinct footprints in the mostly firmly-packed soil. "Where are we going?" Her eyes scan the area as her heart rate slows, her tension is slowly fleeting.

It isn't far, wherever it is, because Hiro stops soon enough and places a hand near Lydia's elbow, touchlessly bidding her to halt. "To see," he says again, simply. "And not to act. You must stay here, no matter what. Do you understand?" It isn't condescending, exactly — he expects she understands. But he bids for confirmation.

Which hopefully is in the affirmative, as the sounds of approach finally break through. Hiro's back stiffens, melting back into shadows with a shoulder brushing damp tree trunk as he watches, with a cold stare, the figure of a man staggering through the woods. Samuel is delirious with pain and injury, shoulderchecking himself against a tree and knocking him off the angle he was running, his hands gripping his belly as if holding in his own innards. Probably not that dramatic, if he still has his legs.

But he's still dying.

Like a steer buckling from exhaustive chase, his knees simply weaken, landing him in the soft ground of the forest. Lydia and Hiro remain far away, far enough and angled enough that it would take Samuel some searching to see them, but close enough to hear the wheeze in his breathing. Blood is flowing rich and fast, staining black through the fine fabric of thrift store best, and a bullet's hit something critical.

"I…" Lydia's confusion persists in the whisper, but she nods regardless, "Yes," she won't interfere, thanks to her interference too much history could've been changed already. Like Hiro, she presses against a tree trunk that shields her aside from her eyes, but when Samuel enters the forested area, she stiffens and moves as if to press away from the trunk, her more familial maternal instincts beckoning action, but she already gave her word without knowing what they were going to watch; besides, hasn't this happened already?

Pained by her own inaction, she leans against the tree again, repositioning herself to watch as per Hiro's instructions.

That it's already happened before is probably the point of this excursion. Rather than observe the dying man, Hiro's gaze is dipped downwards and observing Lydia out his periphery, somber in his silence as Samuel goes from knees, to hands and knees both, to lowering himself down as agonising gut injury takes him under, shivering and breathing shallowly as he— unknowingly— awaits Arnold's arrival.

An arrival that never occurs.

It takes too long, but Samuel's unconsciousness is at least swift as red leaks between his fingers, skin blanched and breathing thin, reedy, fading. Beneath their feet, the ground begins to tremor — it's not an earthquake, too shallow for that, but it's certainly being called upon. Lydia will watching as Samuel simply begins to sink within the dirt, as if it were opening up, taking him back as his heart beats its last.

Lydia gasps as the world consumes Samuel, her breath raspy as it happens. Ironically, even after her recent dissent and his subsequent control exercised over her, she chokes on emotion she wasn't aware she still had. Her hand cups over her mouth to stifle the sob caught within her throat while her eyes burn with the familiar feeling of tears; one all too familiar these days. Again, she pushes away from the tree, her promise long forgotten as those silent barefooted steps take her towards him, her hand still cupped over her mouth.

Dirt runs over Samuel's crumpled form as if it had a life of its own, individual particles swarming to run over skin, clothing, sticky blood. A tendril of dirt is sweeping up that haughty cut of cheekbone, mouth and nose covered in dense soil, already a few inches under, by the time Lydia is almost near enough to put her hands on him and drag him out of that sinking grave.

But hands find her first, Hiro's gripping her arm to stall her, and by now, it doesn't matter that they're out in the open. Samuel's eyes— or the one eye they can still see— is at a crescent of glistening blankness, entirely unseeing. Hiro waits until this one is gone too, until Samuel is little more than the suggestion of a person beneath the ground, until it changes.

The abruptness at which the time traveler lets the empath go is careless, sends her tumbling hands first to the very ground that had taken back its master. But rather than churning earth, her fingers find growing grass. Day light dapples the ground through the canopy, and the sounds of pain and battle in the far distance is gone in favour of birdsong.

Another time, the same place.

She hears Hiro take a step around her. "You did not kill him," is straight forward attempt at reassuring her. He, unlike some, finds it cruel to leave someone feeling guilty with the knowledge that allowed time to continue as it should have.

Grass stains smear her skirt along her knees as Lydia tumbles to the ground. The softness of the turf absorbs her fall, providing a little give to it. The sunlight provides unexpected comfort, leaving that night and everything that happened as little more than a distant memory, yet the tears that had stung at her eyes trail down her face. Her body tenses and gasps for air around them.

She swallows back all of the emotion she can, pressing it underneath her guise of stoicism, her tool to make it through the everyday as she pushes herself into a kneeling position. The sleeve of her shirt is used to dry her eyes, catching as many tears as she can. Her head shakes, she knows she didn't kill him. With a loud sniffle she manages to collect herself enough, just enough, to croak out quietly, "But I let him die alone."

Hiro's shoulders slacken a little, although it's less regret of his decision than it is acceptance that he won't have much he can say to that. "No," he disagrees, looking down towards that spot in the grass. "I did." Still, the sky has changed, even the land seems to have shifted in some subtle way. There's no ferris wheel in the sky, and though it's warmer than the dead of night, the air is cool enough to hark to the same season she departed from. It could well be the same day.

One way or another, Hiro is correct. He moves to step away from her, to give her a moment alone with tears and memory so recent that the cool of the night is still coming off her clothing and hair.

Lydia trembles as she stares at the ground. There was no Arnold to rescue Samuel, no quick time-fix, just Samuel dying alone. She even saw herself run away, a fact that does make her feel guilty, even now. With a few deep breaths her eyes close gently to clear her thoughts. Her lips press together and she reflects on the events of the last week. That May night will haunt her for years; it had taken nearly three to make her peace with it, it could take three more to repeat the process.

With a heavy sigh, much sniffling, and her sheer will, she uncurls her legs from under her and stands to her feet. She steps carefully towards him, having taken her moment alone, she's found her courage again. She sniffles once more. "What now?" while the words themselves might seem harsh, Lydia's tone is far from, in fact, there's a gentle vulnerability about them.

Now? Now, Hiro could ask her to dig.

He doesn't. He might have, but the empath doesn't need to truth laid out before her like her Tarot cards, or scrying bones and black mirrors. Hiro turns as she approaches, and then simply offers out his hand in invitation. "Now, I take you home," he says. "It will the same home you know. The things you have done, they will not change. I did not bring you here to change things. Only to see. The Samuel you knew did not have a place in your time. I find it is better to show, than to explain. Perhaps you will also understand.

"Perhaps not today," he grants. His hand extends out a little more, urging that offer of safe passage home to her bookstore, and her morning, and her book.

"H-how… how did Samuel die and… yet live? I thought — " Lydia's eyebrows knit together, but the question falls to the wayside, disappearing with Hiro's non-explanation. Not-understanding isn't new to the gypsy, in fact, there are many things in the world the Painted Lady is content to never understand, but then Lydia isn't one to shy from the mysterious.

The cryptic words bring a soft smile to her lips — a secret contentment with the vague that gives her an idea of what her customers likely feel on a daily basis. If anything, the crypticness only suffices to humanize Hiro when he'd been nothing more than a nuisance to Samuel. She steps forward to accept that passage, even if it's the only safety she'll find today.

They vanish from the burial place together, and by the time Lydia finds herself back in her bookstore, she's entirely alone, with Hidden Serenade toppled to the ground, and the second hand of the nearest clock only ticking over once from where she left it.

This Hiro, a trifle more accurate than the other.

Jittetsu Arms

The Japanese dressing screen is closed. If Rhys were to return to this place, he would find the sword slash running through it, but his other things untouched. That he hasn't yet come back to collect it— well. Hiro isn't sure what that means. He's currently kneeling upon the wooden floor, his fingernails digging into the edge of a loose floorboard, which he flips up and off, and taking out the strange, silvery containment box within. Though the Institute he invaded was only a few years off this year, it was always a little scifi— a little advanced— in taste.

Standing, Hiro returns to where his sword is laying on a table he uprighted, glancing over the weapon his father once wielded and passed it onto him in turn. It feels like disappointment, the weight of it much the same, and does not go to take its hilt.

Not today. Maybe not ever.

Hiro instead pushes back the lid of the case, viewing the capped syringe inside and taking it out. It's a heavy thing of metal and glass, with that strange formula fluid within it, that he had once imagined was meant for Arnold. The truth only coming clear when this proved unnecessary, but Tamara would never have requested he take two vials if they were unneeded. And this one is not going to waste.

Silent as a sword slipping from its sheath, Hiro jabs the needle into his arm, depressing the plunger.

It stings. But it's a burden lifted.

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