Shadow On Water, Part V


feng_icon.gif mu-qian_icon.gif

Scene Title Shadow on Water, Part V
Synopsis Feng Daiyu comes to nurse his wounds with the only woman who will take away his pain.
Date September 1, 2009

Golden Luck Dragon Restaurant

It's traditional for the Chinese to involve business with pleasure, as far as fine dining goes. Family, too. Such things often being intertwined in Triads, long since departed from a history of darkly glistening political agendas, rebellion against tyranny, something about— monks. Mu-Qian doesn't know how to separate academic fact from the wheezing ramblings of her ailing charge, who is small, fat, more dependent on painkillers with hallucinatory side-effects than on her, and the head of the smallest and weakest sanhehui in New York City.

He's being wheeled away, now, by a bodyguard who was doubtlessly selected out of the Flying Dragons' pool of cast-offs. A big, burly young man who looks peculiarly well-educated and tidy in the suit he's obliged to wear out when the core family is doing its posturing or diplomacy or whatever; Mu-Qian hadn't really been listening to the actual words involved in the exchange, seated two skinny foolish girls down from boss's corpulent side. She drank Tsingtao, gave the glass-brittle smile when introduced as Ming-Liao's personal nurse, and gave the other man her most advantageous angle, was neither surprised nor entirely unstung when they paid her no mind.

It doesn't strike her the slightest bit hypocritical, that she thinks her age ought to command the girls' respect and her youth, the men's. Whitewashed fuckers.

She's alone at the bar now, frowning moodily at the arrangement of wineglasses over the barman's head.

The sound of rain outside is audible only in the brief time the door to the restaurant is opened. A few quiet greetings and a sharply hissed breath roll out behind where Mu-Qian sits at the bar. Disaffected ignorance of questions about seating, and shuffling footfalls eventually bring a distorted reflection into clear view in those wine glasses. Feng Daiyu's form is recognizable by the ink blot shape of his silhouette, black suit and short cropped hair bulged out to give him a monkeyish shaped head in the curvature of the hanging glass.

It's not a fitting likeness for his attitude.

"«We need to go someplace private.»" He's impossibly rude and boorish, as always, a calloused hand resting on her arm, squeezing with just enough urgancy to suggest that she get up and get moving. It's only in that motion that he's visible in her periphery, dark circles around his eyes and cheeks sunken some, he looks like he's been awake for a couple of days, lips downturned into a frown and eyes bloodshot where they stare at her over the frames of dark sunglasses — worn at night. "«Now.»"

It's probably only out of polite courtesy that she doesn't enlighten Daiyu that she felt him coming long before he pretended to be subtle. Men have such fragile egos.

Other times, the men from home are no less tactless, but as ever, the difference between a man worth waiting for and one whose goings she'll ignore is the sorts of friends they have. She's sitting in a nest of snakeheads, and still: Feng Daiyu's friends feel relatively impressive.

Flicking her eyes away from his distorted reflections, Mu-Qian slips white fingers through her hair, pressing back tendrils that the clip and bun had permitted escape, using her free hand, permitting the man to keep hold of the other. She takes her time standing, which doesn't take too much time at all, really, but the voluntary nature of capitulation is important for any number of reasons. She realigns her arm, makes use of Feng to prop it up against, despite that he looks as close to weak as she's ever seen him.

"«I have use of an office space at the clinic. Shared, but Lan-Qing isn't in on Tuesdays.»" It's only a block down. Not a bad time of year for walking, either, with the chestnut roasts starting on the curbs and the Mid-Autumn Festival incipient in the decorations and wavering mooncake prices boasted up in the construction paper displays, the temperature stubbornly clinging a few smoggy degrees above chilly. It's different inside the clinic, of course. They aren't selling anything you could see from the street.

It smells of antiseptic and herbs, and all of the upholstery is a conspicuous shade of brown. She doesn't put a white laboratory coat on over her white embroidered coat, merely inclines her head at the receptionist and taps the light on. There's a fern by the window, a cramped duo of desks, a closet in the back that's probably twice as large as the walkable space here and full of firearms and heroin. The name posted on her folders isn't her own. "«Your face is holding,»" she remarks, amiably, awaiting release of her arm. "«Any pain?»"

The words send a shiver down Feng's spine, memories of necrotic flesh hanging half-dead off of the side of his face, a withered and shriveled eye, the visible teeth where his cheek should be — all nightmares that still haunt him in the mirror. "«None physical.»" The answer comes thorugh his teeth as he anxiously makes his way towards the desk of all things, gloved fingertips running over its surface before his dark eyes level back on the flesh-weaving witch. "«I need my ribs tended to, I have to be ready to…»" he doesn't elaborate, just trails off with a shake of his head, meandering away from the desk like a lost puppy.

"«I have something for you.»" Carefully reaching inside of his jacket, Feng favors his left side, awkwardly retrieving a bent photograph from within his breast pocket, laying it down on the desk, spread flat with his fingers. The dark-haired young boy seated on the lap of a wavy-haired young white girl looks out of place, given that the boy in the picture is Mu-Qian's son. The fact that Ethan Holden's stubbled mug is seated beside them, whittling is a conspicuous picture.

Feng needn't use words, not after the display. It's a trade as any there could be, one wounded man inneed of help, and a thread of hope for a son long since lost. "«How long?»" Will it take, should be at the end there, but speaking still causes some discomfort with his ribs as badly cracked as they are.

She could dip into her little bucket of sarcasm and finish that sentence for him. Duojiu dao shenma? It isn't entirely Feng's fault; he has no way of knowing that John Logan had used a photograph to fuck with her only a few months before. Mu-Qian stares at it. Her eyes flatten in their pits before sharpening again, pupils constricting around a hair-raising degree of focus. She sets her fingers down on top of it, slides it toward her across the desk, peels it up on the precise point of her thumb.

Looks closer. Her boy, the white girl's lap. Ethan Holden and the hideous chimera birthing itself out of his knife and that sweat-riddled sud of wood. How fabulous, how futile this excess. She knows enough about forgery to wonder where Feng got this.

Who took it? Why this and not the boy himself? Coincidentally, she also enough about Feng to determine that the story it tells is as important as the impudence of its presentation. "Ta hao dale." Of course; it's been more than four years since she saw her son, and his intelligence, personality, had been a larval thing then, his father's eyes hidden by rolls of baby-fat. Her heels click throaty on carpet and her fingers are warm on his back.

"«An hour.»" Half, she'd guess, without pacing herself, but you can say a lot in a half an hour if pain is the first thing to go. "Lowai shi shei?" The white girl. She wants to know.

Unbuttoning his suit jacket, Feng makes his way towards that brown-upholstered examination table, draping the jacket over the coat rack he passes on the way there. His gloves come off, one by one, laid on the sill of the nearby window, and his dark eyes drift over to Mu-Qian as he begins to unbutton his shirt, revealing the corrigated fabric and square plates of a concealed vest beneath the dark shirt. "«Eileen Ruskin. Munin.»" One black brow rises as he wincingly removes the shirt, then begins unstrapping the velcro of his vest, pulling it away from a body-fitting underarmor shirt that has small tears and holes in the front and sides.

"«One of your husband's former comrades.»" The vest is folded and left at the foot of the table, uneasily, and as Feng struggles in sliding off that shirt worn beneath, the splotchy yellow-green-purple of bruises become visible on his left side. They're impacts marks from bullets stopped by that very vest, patterned around scars from far older gunshot wounds that have long since healed.

Dropping the shirt o the floor, Feng climbs up onto the table, fingers touching tenderly at the bruised side of his body, three shots in total where he was struck, and judging from the bruising they were close-range. "«She lives on Staten Island. Cares for the child as her own. You're not a part of her consideration.»" A wince comes, too deep a breath, and Feng's eyes flick back to Mu-Qian from his ribs, impatiently.

The flat of Mu-Qian's palm levels against the oblique muscle of the man's back. She's frowning, visible in the peripheral of his vision, the painted corners of her mouth recurved downward and the sculpture of her brow dug down into an expression of displeasure. The kind of displeasure with which real frost regards its silly artificial plaster fluff of its counterpart, creeping crystalline across one side of the pane to stoop its jagged-edged shadow through and over.

She doesn't look at the flattening mass of the armor piling up where he ditches it, nor check for weapons: he's made it clear that the commodities in this exchange are different. "«Munin. Sounds a lot like» meng." Dreaming. Drowsing, when you've eaten so much you're too thick and slow to think. Say it in the right tone of voice, and meng, dreaming, is a bad thing; makes you a fool. "«An unlucky name,»" Mu-Qian decides, and she doesn't even know the half of it, really.

Five, six touches, analytical, no malicious application of pressure— not really. She moves to fill a cup under the grasp of her hand, discreet but not particularly well-concealed by the turn of her back, and it comes away half-full of a tidy, milky white. Lifts a gesture with it at his mouth. "«Drink and I will knit your bones.»"

Narrowed eyes settle on that glass, then lift up to the woman holding it suspiciously, he knows what the contents of that cup are, but the knowing makes it worse somehow. A hand unsteadily takes the cup, dark eyes leveled on Mu-Qian just as they were the first time, as if expecting it to be a trick, and an entirely different foul-tasting ungent to be awaiting inside of the glass. Swallowing pride and protoplasmic fluid, Feng's eyes wrench shut. It has the consistency of mucus and the bitter taste of sweaty flesh, it churns his stomach and makes his jaw tense, throat working up and down to force the foreign substance into his body.

And that is the easy part.

"«It— »" he chokes out the words, "«is a very unfortunate name to have.»" A distasteful shudder comes, as the glass it set down on the padding of the table, and Feng looks up to the healer with eyes still narrowed to dark and glassy slits. "«You may want to take your child back, before she risks his life again. For all the love your husband's name never hears on her lips, she pretends to favor the boy so.»" Playing to her pride and her weakness in the same motion, "«She lives a short life.»"

"«I thought your assignment was to kill» Ethan Holden," Mu-Qian points out benignly, perching her hip against the counter. Its edge dents the fabric of her coat, keeps her balanced upright with one white foot tipped up and arms linked in a loose V down the front of her. She studies his face without the shades on them. So much less the monkey, now, without the extra weight bloated in by the curvature of glass. If anthing else, he looks like a skull, skin spanning volume no greater than the brittle bowl of his skull.

It begins in his chest. Squirming, kinesthesis and kinesis registering parasitic in his body, the fact that it sleekly evades gag reflex and circumvents the automatic processes rejection, its perfect painlessness seeming all more eerie, not less.

And Mu-Qian's own face is rigid. Not from concentration, of course; she is permitted by some years of development and prowess to manage such fine manipulation on a perfectly intuitive level. The pinch of her lips and cheeks have merely turned waxy white with annoyance, if not nearly the pigmentless albinism that comes when she invokes the other parts of her ability.

The photograph is bent into crooked smashed-insect angles in her fingers, hasn't quite ripped or wrinkled yet. Her forefinger cuts Eileen off at the neck.

"«When will you do it? You have your mission, your passion. When do you reunite me with my son? Is it the Americans holding you back?»" Easier to blame delays on their incompetence, for both of them, though in no small part also for mere politeness' sake. Absurdly, neither Feng nor Zhang have anybody to depend on but each other for their health and hopes for future happiness, their options constrained by obsessively blinkered motivations. Leaving has yet to become a true option.

Feng lurches, if only because of the feeling of something slithering inside of him. Thoughit is something he and Mu-Qian have in common — slithering. Both their own variety of serpents, both equally fanged and venomous, just different species of deadly. Perhaps it's why they've gotten along as well as they do — polite lies aside. "Holden «is personal. Ruskin and the others are business. My job isn't as simple as just one man, and it's not complicated enough to warrant elaboration either.»" He's defensive as of late, spooked would be the better word. After having been intercepted in Else Kjelstrom's apartment, he's gotten the feeling eyes are getting too readily aware of his presence. Then, of course, there's the shadow that nearly killed him on the Brooklyn bridge.

"«Have you seen him?»" A question posed out of sheer selfishness, "«Holden?»" He still hasn't answered her question, and from the way he winces and holds his stomach, eyes wrenching shut for a moment, perhaps Mu-Qian notices.

"«I'm not Social Services,»" Feng finally adds, compliant to her will now. "«He's your son, why not just take him back? Guilt is one of» Ruskin's «weaknesses after all. Just invoke your late husband's name, and perhaps she'll even shed a tear for you.»"

There's a sniff of annoyance, not exactly the same as affront. Mu-Qian doesn't particularly care that she isn't the expatriate Chinese version of Xena: Warrior Princess. "«I haven't forgotten the injury that first brought you to me. 'Why not just take him back?'»" A brow arcs disdainfully high on her forehead.

Doubtless, it's either his imagination or guilt, the saccadic jump of nerve Feng feels in his healed face, then, an involuntary tic. Anyway, she's looking at it sharp enough that he couldn't possibly be confused about what she means. You could pen a geometrically perfect arrow down the trajectory of that gaze. "«You say she'll die soon. You go about your business— come back in this state. I'm not a soldier. I'm a nurse.

"«Sometimes, your nurse. No, I haven't seen your quarry. If that's what they want me to do, they should have sent someone else. Sit up straight,»" her voice changes when she throws that order out, takes an ironic twist for the gentler. Decades of medical training have left her conditioned with a reasonable bedside manner. It's everything else she's sniping sharp about: "«you're throwing off the alignment.»"

It's possible that Mu-Qian is one of the few people that can give orders that Feng Daiyu listens to, and it's with an awkward stiffness that he sits up straight and narrows his eyes, looking down to the blotches of bruising on his side. Either they're getting fainter, or he's simply been lax in checking them over the last few days. A dark look is tossed to Mu-Qian, and his eyes fall shut. "«If you want me to /get/ your child… just make sure I can run when this is over.»" She'll come to rue those words later, and her own choices, perhaps more than she already does.

"«With any luck, this will be the last time I have to drink that— »" he knows better than to insult her work, and just smiles away the descriptive word he was considering. "«I have to handle business before your son, is all. I would hate for something untowards to happen to him while I am in the process of hunting down Holden. My path and the child's path are often in the same place, and you know how stray bullets can be — not that I would miss,»" bitterness, there, bitterness years old, "«but Holden is sloppy and careless.»"

Rue is the domain of human beings who behave like human beings, or so Mu-Qian has felt, regarding such entities from across the boundary that she has always tacitly understood separates them. Where 'human being' is, really, a flattering interpretation for unshelled parts, soft underbellies, excusing that catalog of weakness and cognitions that she's always, honestly, found rather boring.

She has never understood why someone would choose to live in a manner that makes life boring. Healing, now. Her ability, to set crooked bones to rights, siege and beat cancer back across the oscillating boundaries of malignant effect, restring musculature and easing the grotesque whimper and drone of impaired breathing— that's an investigative, restorative tack to life that makes sense, in its dynamism and variety. Even if she happens, momentarily, to detest the soul that this reviving shell happens to house.

Still, Mu-Qian fixes him. Needs to do that for fixing's sake, needs him back on his feet, needs somehow to involve herself in her son's life, again. Needs Feng Daiyu to understand that, in the United States of America, one is obliged to pay off one's debts. Confucius' empty ideals of loyalty and piety don't carry, and more and more, her ability is carrying him.

Mu-Qian smiles for him, her best facsimile of reassuring. "«That's how you'll catch him, Feng. I believe. But first you really should explain,»" her brows shift quizzical, and she sets a thin forefinger up against the diminishing saturation of the bruise pooled under his skin. "«Who are these men who keep catching you?»"

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