Out of Hiding


odessa_icon.gif wu-long_icon.gif

Scene Title Out Of Hiding
Synopsis By which I mean scars, secrets, and still more alliteration here.
Date December 1, 2008

Confucius Plaza: Wu-Long's Apartment

A downright Spartan apartment building. Neat, but not immaculate, minimalistically furnished— give or take a few militarily-oriented surprises tucked into concealed nooks or replastered behind furniture, and impersonally decorated.

A small plastic Buddha atop a shelf and generic prints of Chinese women on bridges and fat children are framed on the walls. A carved wood tube of wood sits by the entranceway, receptacle for umbrellas; the dining table, knee-height and surrounded by seating cushions, bears a rickety glass Lazy Susan. A faded Xerox of a faded photograph sits on what serves as a mantelpiece, just right of the television, a portrait of a solemn, elderly Chinese couple. There is a plate of fruit before it, peaches, pears or apples swapped out before rot sets in every three days.

You'll find beer in the refrigerator and three small bedrooms in the back.

The moon hangs crooked Cheshire in the sky, its ancient mirth blurred on the Hudson and limning the distant maw of the Midtown ruins; the sound of traffic is thin, even at the mouth of the Brooklyn bridge. It's late for dinner, but most of the meals the Vanguard tends to take are.

He had created a pan of stir-fried shrimp and snow peas, and made soup that involved thin, transparent noodles, fishballs, cabbage, cha sao and something that made the base thick without resorting to MSG or anything vulgar like that. The invitation had been akin to his usual salutations, statements, graces — or lack thereof: neither formal nor lengthy. She continues to be his charge, and he is pleased to see her, to seat her at the table without chairs, and offer her tea to go with her meal. If she didn't like tea, there was water, beer, or whisky.

And for dessert, there are the ubiquitous mooncakes. He's cutting one apart with an ordinary knife and washed fingertips. "I have to frame a man for a crime that will start a manhunt," he says, presently diverging from their previous topic of conversation. "I have his fingerprints, and he has a criminal record." Dark eyes swivel up, bright with laughter. Other dinner hosts talk of Kafka and elections. "How would you do this if you were me, little doctor?"

"Am I so little?" Odessa asks, amusement in her own eyes. "That all depends. Is the crime specific, or one of my choosing?" If the doctor didn't like any of the meal laid out before her, she didn't give any evidence. Though she did only drink one cup of tea before switching to whiskey. It's obvious she enjoys the effect of it more than the taste. Her cheeks are flushed a pretty shade of pink from the liquor.

In contrast, Wu-Long remains as ever impervious to this phenomenon of blushing. Personally, that is: his complexion doesn't change, though he looks at the apples of her cheeks with a classical farmer's not-quite-stoic appreciation for the health and sanguinity of something edible. "The crime is of your own choosing. I'm probably not going to get started tonight; there's time to prepare." And time to lay low in the meantime. He's well aware of the Vanguard's current defensive configuration— which only makes sense granted the changes that have taken the field and the shadow of the next phase cast over what they have already accomplished. "You're very small," he remarks kindly. His weight is crooked on the elbow he has atop the table, his fingers wrapped around his teacup.

"I am not so small that I cannot do great things," she insists with a smile. She tips her head toward the ceiling, considering for a moment. "If I have his prints at my disposal, I suppose I could shoot someone and leave his prints on the gun at the scene. Could steal something valuable and leave traces there. I would think evidence of arson would do the trick if you burn enough buildings down and leave enough evidence. I can't say I'm terribly criminally minded. I lack the experience."

She lacks experience with several things, Wu-Long does recall. Living out of the Company's basement for the entirety of one's adult life does that to a woman. He downs his tea to the dregs and reaches for the pot, drops another column of herbally-fragranced solution into the bottom of the cup, where it puddles, glitters, begins to well. "Arson has an unfortunate way of destroying the evidence along with the buildings, but I think that's a good idea.

"I can work that out. Police tend to take that more seriously than a solitary homocide, these days." Which says nothing particularly bad about the PD, as far as he's concerned. That they have priorities, procedures, efficiency, an empirical way of weighing human life. Not that any given officer would take that as a compliment, from Zhang Wu-Long. "No," he agrees, after a moment. "Not so small. What great thing will you do?" There's no skepticism in his voice. There's rarely much in there at all.

"I haven't decided yet," Odessa chimes. "I'm sure inspiration will hit me. The moment will be right and I will say 'This is it!' And then…" She shrugs in place of speech as she nibbles on a bit of mooncake. "And then I'll do something great, I guess." She then pops most of the cake into her mouth so she can get the sweetness mixed with the unique taste and texture of the egg in the centre.

Her greed and savoring make an odd dichotomy that he likes well, at once quick and slow. Children have none of the latter, and most of Kazimir's men just as incapable, but there's nothing of languor or laziness in her manner. Everything is still new. "Sounds good, xiao jie. I'll try to be around for that," he says. His words hint at morbid amusement, his features verify sincerity. As ever. "What do you think about the Work so far?" He selects a piece out of the sliced mooncake and puts it between his teeth, bites down with the same razor-rimmed strength as a wolf would use taking a deer's jugular, though the small dessert most emphatically is neither alive nor struggling. He's been indoors too long, probably.

"I don't know what to make of the Work some days, I admit." Odessa's gaze takes on a sort of unfocused quality as she considers his question a bit further. "The prospect of dying when I've only just begun to experience life terrifies me. I don't feel I deserve to die so quickly. Or, at least, I find it terribly unfair and will fight it tooth and nail until I've had my fill of what this world has to offer me."

A week ago, Wu-Long wouldn't have recommended sharing that information with him, if the physics of that made any sense whatsoever. He's always a loyal soldier unless he's a deserter. She's found him in something of a mood, however. Deserted, rather than the other way around. Pink as she is, and glibe, he instead lets the thing roll off the table like an ordinary joke or flight of fancy. I'm going to join the circus. The Peace Corp. "You would need more than your teeth and your nails," he points out, cheerfully. "Unless it's Eileen that we set on you. Maybe." He pockets sweet and salty inside his right cheek and flicks a crumb away with a sinewy forefinger. If this is a death threat, it isn't a very impressive one.

"Eileen?" Odessa seems to think about this for a moment before she shakes her head and downs another mouthful of whiskey, even though it causes her to shudder and make a face. "Nah. Eileen likes me. She wouldn't do that." She grins widely and leans forward, "Besides, it wouldn't work."

That sounds alarmingly like a gauntlet. Wu-Long wonders if she's actually drunk enough to actually throw one. Doubts it. Her hands aren't pink yet, he detects, glancing down at the manicured things propped up on the low gloss of his table through the glassy distortion of the lazy Susan. "There are a lot of things Eileen wouldn't do to people she likes," he acknowledges, his voice recognizably dry. Both that and the hint of sardonic humor that had coiled the corner of his mouth fade with her expression. When she leans forward, he leans his head to the right, black hair falling across his nape. "What wouldn't work?"

A quizzical expression is fixed on Wu-Long as if to relay, 'Isn't it obvious?' "The birds," Odessa states simply. "They couldn't hurt me. There are very few people in this world that can hurt me." Though she feels the need to toss out the disclaimer, "That I'm aware of." It's doubtful she's consciously issuing a challenge, but she seems fairly self-assured on this matter.

It isn't. "I think she prefers guns," Wu-Long says. He folds the fingers of his right hand into one, the nozzle constituted of forefinger and middle, the trigger curled in his ring finger underneath. He raises his hand to plant the makeshift muzzle against the young woman's temple. "To do the work," he clarifies, conversationally. "I think that pigeons don't hurt as much. You probably need to — take that into account," he says, when he fishes the phrase out of the air between them. "When you talk about besting all but a few." He smiles, lips sealed over teeth and, without noise, ceremony or sincerity, pulls a trigger that isn't. The kickback rocks his fingers away from her head.

When he moves to pull that imaginary trigger, Odessa reaches a hand up as though plucking the bullet out of the millimetres of air between the barrel and her skull. "Bullets? Please. No match." She makes a pantomime of dropping the fictitious bullet, eyes following its unseen descent and clatter on the lazy susan before she then wraps her hands around the fake firearm. "It's all part of this game I play. I can't be hurt unless I let it happen." Her eyes have that sort of glazed over quality of one who's had far too much to drink, if the way she seems apt to parade her secrets about the room weren't evidence enough.

Secrets that are strange and difficult to parse, which might well lend her— them— some protection. When she lifts her gaze again, Wu-Long's eyes show her her own face, fair-skinned in its blonde corona, easy to pick out against black pupils and irises nearly as dark. He'd glanced down too, though. Watched the imaginary bullet fall, spent and wasted. The gun that sought to end her is conspicuously warm in her hands, bearing little resemblence to ruthless metal. "Kazimir's sword disagreed," he points out, after a moment. His other hand sorts itself into a blade. Flat, thin, angled expertly on the end of a wiery wrist. He matches it against the subtle seam horizontal across her throat: her healing scar.

"Please," Odessa rolls her eyes, now expertly leaning back to dodge the blade that threatens to cleave her new necklace and again slash her tender throat. "I let him so Sylar could prove himself. Just watch him try it again. He won't get any such satisfaction a second time." Because now, it's her turn to prove herself.

Unhappy news for Volken Xiansen, should he ever receive it— should it not be an idle boast. The blade finishes its arc, stops, recoils agilely and returns to Wu-Long's side. He's curious. Mildly concerned. Unsure of whether that is because he believes her or because he does not. It wouldn't have been an easy blow for even him to escape, but in this world they inhabit, very little remains outside the limits of human capability. "He might be pleased," he says, after a moment. The gun in her grip begins to shift, rotate, easing through the air to meet Wu-Long's own skull, and he smiles as he sees it coming out of his peripheral. "He likes to have more power. If not, he will try ask Ethan to use a bomb." Harder to dodge, he's given to understand. He winds his thumb back, cocking the weapon for its second discharge.

"Still wouldn't work. I could have escaped Midtown if I had been there." That's not to say that Odessa could have - or maybe even would have - prevented it, but she maintains that she could have escaped the bomb. She pries the gun until it's once more a hand she can lace her fingers with. "You don't believe me. That's okay. It's better for both of us that you don't."

His eyes hood, with awareness that that statement, at the very least, is not only lucid but true. It's better that Wu-Long doesn't believe her. Ironically, the fact she's aware of this makes him believe her. Long, combat-scarred fingers splay to allow hers through. Despite her recent adventures into the world, confrontations with sunshine and bruises alike, her hands remain brighter by far than the tawny, callused ones she's managed to twine herself into, the contrast enough to flinch at whether one enjoys aesthetics or not. He does not disagree. "Maybe then you won't need to fight," he suggests, neither grateful that she destroyed the gun nor especially disappointed by it. "If he can't kill you, you could just run away. You could do whatever you want, wherever you want. Your great thing." Black eyes smile for her now. "I never took you for bloodlust."

"I've maybe the stomach for it, but not much taste." Odessa contemplates leaving her place at the table for a moment, but she decides now isn't perhaps that time and instead tilts her head back slightly. "Do you like my necklace?" The silver choker, set with blue gemstones, glitters faintly in the light. "Ethan said I should have something lovely. Do you think it suits me?" Her query seems genuine, rather than that of a girl simply fishing for a compliment.

He shifts backward to see better. From a distance of arm's reach, he can match the shade of the stones to the irises of her eyes, the curvature of the choker perpendicular to where it intersects with the swoop of neck and shoulder. Makes him smile, after a moment. "I do," he nods. "It does. Ethan must have studied you a little. You don't wear clothes that are cut low." And apparently he wasn't the only one. A pendant would have fallen lower, or a longer string of beads gotten entangled in buttons, zippers, unless she hid them completely. "I don't think he has bought anything like that for a woman in a long time. Not since I have known him." The hand in hers tightens, barely tangible, before loosening as if he had noticed. She was going to get up.

Odessa smile faintly. The practicality runs deeper than that. "He bought it so I could cover up the scars." She lets her hand slip away so she can stand finally and stretch her legs, pacing for a few moments. "I think I'd like to kiss you again," she resolves finally.

Could have done without that grain of practicality, as far as Wu-Long is concerned: he wouldn't have covered up the scars with anything resembling permanence if it were him. He is, however, well aware that the vanity of women operates a little differently. Apparently the rest of their collective mind does, too. What. Oh. He fails to be or look surprised, glances up at her, and then, almost idly, at his ancestors' portrait by the wall. Stoically, they regard him, the woman, and the ensuing exchange. "You have kissed Ethan." It isn't a question.

"So?" Odessa crosses her arms under her chest, flashing the seated man a confused look. "I kissed you first." What's Ethan got to do with her request anyway? Briefly, her gaze follows his before she lets it settle again.

Instantly, mirth flares up in his eyes and frame like fire behind the black-on-black of coals. She's a good liar, he knows now. That mingles oddly with her inexperience in all things else; he gathers, from her latter remark, that she retains some inkling of why a man might mind. Wu-Long says, "I don't think Ethan would like it," even as he unfolds his lean frame from underneath the table, agilely rising to his full height without evincing any twinges that might have come from his knees or back. Whatever abuse physical discipline might have left with him, his mental self-discipline trumps that, easily. His feet are noiseless on the floor, closing the distance to where she has paced to. Either unconcerned or merely unafraid, he studies her whiskey-flushed face with a discriminating eye. "Where?"

"It's not like he and I are married or something. I mean, I don't think we're even in love." While she isn't quite confident enough to say for certain of her own feelings, she definitely cannot speak for Ethan. "And where what?" Odessa quirks a quizzical brow at Wu-Long's query.

On some level, Wu-Long finds it comedic that she so readily associates marriage with love. Love with marriage. Whatever. One might either blame that on her naivete or an access to certain truths that his observations of the human condition hadn't made him privvy to; he'd always found that he and Mu-Qian were rare exceptions.

"There's no reason not to," he agrees amiably, stopping on the carpet in front of her. "But love and things like it are usually not reasonable." He lifts a hand and wafts it lightly past the little ski-jump tip of her nose, the edge of her lips, feels the heat from her drunken flush rise thermal against his calluses. "Where would you like me to kiss you?" His tone is straightforward. He might as well have been seeking clarification on a matter of Kleenex fragrance preference.

Odessa flounders for a moment. Where would she like him to kiss her? For a moment, she considers playing dumb and exclaiming, 'why, in this room, stupid!' but they both know she isn't quite that naive. She could ask, 'well, where would you like to kiss me?' Instead, she closes her eyes and tilts her head up a bit and murmurs with a smile, "Surprise me."

By now, they do both know she isn't that naive— or at least, that she's too intelligent for that. Wu-Long looks at her smiling face, inviting and peculiarly open for a woman who could take anyone on the battlefield, up to and including a man gone nuclear, and implicitly hoards countless other secrets besides. He is reminded of his wife, this time. It's a faint pang, where Ethan had elicited none, but equally ignored.

He lifts her choker with a forefinger. Turned, the metal nudges cold against the line of her throat in the part where her skin had not warmed it before. He moves Ethan's token of affection, bends low and offers her one of his own, a mouth on her scar, teeth easing along its subtle line.

A little squeak slips from Odessa's lips, surprised at the placement, but pleased by it. "That's the difference between you and him, isn't it?" The woman opens her eyes only far enough so she can see where to lift her hands to tangle in his hair. "He gives me something pretty to cover up the flaws. But you think the flaws have their own beauty, don't you?" Her eyes slide shut again and she tips her head back to expose more throat to him. "I can't believe I was ever terrified of this. But you wouldn't hurt me…" She doesn't issue the challenge this time by saying he couldn't hurt her.

Even though — assuming the truth serum works as it should — he couldn't. There are hands cupping her neck now, strangely symmetrical with thumbs tucked in under her chin and four fingers supporting the base of her head with their points. Wu-Long is kind of too busy to answer verbally.

Hopefully, his actions can either be construed as agreement or a sinister contradiction, and a further intellectual debate can wait for later. There's a daub of darkening pigment on her skin by the time he moves away, and her choker falls to hide that, too. He kisses her jaw then, the crook of it two inches below her ear, her cheek, the inner point of her eye where tears remain conspicuously absent from the scene. She can keep talking: that is okay.

And keep talking the blonde does. "Do you like me, Wu-Long?" Her cheek is warm, flushed from booze and bashfulness and another feeling she can't quite give a name to. "Or do you just think I'm pretty enough to kiss?" When he nears her eye, Odessa's lids flutter briefly as though she'd like to look at him, but she refrains. To be fair, it's a question she could and probably should be asking Ethan, but the Wolf threw to her was so derailing, she didn't feel entitled to her own questions. But Wu-Long… Wu-Long lets her ask questions. The man is one big question to her.

It's something he kind of regrets, that the answers he has to offer are so simple. Wu-Long knows himself to be no great enigma — though, granted, few people are despite that they complicate things with lies. The defensive function of deception is no mystery to him. "Both." The syllable curls on the thread of her eyelid, tangling in the almost gossamer wingbeat. He adds, the next moment, lower on the curve of her cheek, "I didn't say 'pretty.'"

A soft sigh of contentment. Odessa smiles. "No, I suppose you didn't." After a moment of quiet indulgence, she remarks, "You're rather good at this." A hand leaves the waves of his dark hair so that she can lightly trace her finger over one ear. A simple, lazy sort of gesture, but no less affectionate.

"Thank you." The answer might come across as absurd, but at least it's sincere in its absurdity. Wu-Long's ear is smooth to touch: no stray shrapnel or torturer's implements ever managed to find him there, the cartilage uninterrupted, skin continuous and whole. He stops with his nose parallel hers and allows her her moment's quiet. "I've been alive for awhile," he adds, by way of explanation, a note of something that might be wry humor stealing into it.

"I think I'm a testament to the length of one's life having very little to do with one's level of experience." And as though to contradict herself, Odessa lets her instinct guide her. Tipping her head to one side, she presses her lips softly to his in a very chaste, but sweet, kiss.

There is a grain of uncertainty in the way that Wu-Long answers that. The physical part, in any case, the trace awkwardness that comes with testing a new threshold of delicacy, not entirely unlike the giant dropping the egg for fear of breaking it.

It doesn'nt last, of course. Uncertainty rarely does, with him. Even indecision over time becomes a decision. You choose not to leave, and you choose to stay; to choose not to ask becomes the acceptance of ignorance in silence. To forget, to move on, to kiss a different woman. "You're lucky. To get to choose what experiences you have." More than the rest of them, he thinks.

"I didn't get all my choices," Odessa reminds him just before closing the gap between them again, parting her lips in a welcoming sort of gesture, while being too timid to be the one to take that initiative.

"Not all," he says agreeably, his mouth slanting with the smile that reaches his eyes, lines of mirth spidering dark toward the edges of his face. Ancestors, or at least photographic representatives thereof, look down at them from the wall and the city stares past, through them, blank with darkness. Manhattan isn't what it once was: there are even stars here. Indifferent to the criticism of the former or the speculation of the latter, he leans in, taking her mouth for inquest. Convenient or otherwise, they taste the same, having shared a meal only a few minutes ago.

Maybe half an hour. Time operates differently like this. He pulls back before they have to figure out how to breathe and kiss at the same time and wipes her lip with a thumb to see the flush squeeze away to white, then return.

When he pulls away and brushes his thumb over the rosiness of her lips, Odessa is trembling. This is the part she doesn't understand. This is when the flight instinct kicks in and she feels that she should run. But she stays now, fearful of emotions she doesn't fully comprehend. Her chest heaves with breaths she's had to remind herself to take. Her eyes glisten when she meets his gaze. She cannot find words.

People tend to waste those, anyway. Words. Wu-Long watches the flow of blood through infinitesimal veins stall and continue as his finger challenges the sculpture of her small mouth. He doesn't notice her tears for a moment — or, alternatively, doesn't let himself notice. The next, his eyes lift and he does see. Withdraws in a fashion that could be described as abrupt, leaving the impression of rough fingers on her chin.

"It's late," he says in a tone of voice that could not be mistaken for harsh in the hearing of any mortal being. "Thank you for coming. You should try to avoid drinking when you speak to the others. Except maybe, Eileen."

The words may not be harsh, but it smacks of rejection that resembles a physical blow in the way Odessa flinches. "Thank you for dinner. And… ah… Whatever this was." She waves one hand in a vague gesture, stepping back quickly twice before turning to begin the hunt for where she left her coat.

An ordinary woman would have no way of knowing what follows her, but Odessa isn't one. Wu-Long follows, four long, silent strides, stops with his shoulder against the wall, a strangely casual stance for a man so often characterized by utter military self-discipline. The tilt of his shoulders catches his hair in a snarl in the hollow of his neck. "Do you want to stay?" he asks, his tone almost weightless in the brightness of the room, as if it weren't laden with a dozen other implications.

Odessa's hand hesitates in its quest to reach out and retrieve her coat and she meets Wu-Long's gaze with a hint of confusion. She's silent for a few moments, trying to process the situation and find something to say. When nothing comes, she simply nods.

His breathing is not visible in the line of his lean frame, and makes no sound. He watches her as if her thoughts, her equivocation, arrive to him by his black-on-black eyes and the keenness of his hearing, both. He gets it, to a point. It's neither an easy decision nor a difficult one. "My home is yours," Wu-Long says, offering her a palm upward.

December 1st: The Other Fed
December 2nd: Fail
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