Soiled Hands


odessa_icon.gif wu-long_icon.gif

Scene Title Soiled Hands
Synopsis Somewhere along the line I must have gone off the track with you.
Date January 11, 2009

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.

What passed for a home for months lost that feel with each passing hour. Drawers emptied of their sparse and Spartan contents, shelves and walls stripped of their cheap cultural decor, the refrigerator emptied into the trash can, walls, furniture, bathroom wiped down for fingerprints, socked feet taking him across the hard floor as he drags a mop over the wood to efface shoe treads and measurable strides though, after a good amount of consideration, Wu-Long decided to leave the undetonated explosives replastered in the walls. Of course, he took his guns.

All of them. It's almost nine by now. Night-time scintillates overhead, stars and satellites picked out in the same sterile white of light. He is by the window, looking out on Chinatown's vibrant neon chickenscratch of signage and the infinite variety of rotted gardens and shingled roofs, the swooping contours of a lone pagoda poking out of a skyline otherwise reflective of the adopting culture rather than the adopted. The long lines of his trench coat dangle to the empty floor and the silhouette he casts exaggerates the length of his silhouette. In his hand, the small, stumpy, deadly shape of a 9mm dangles juts from one scarred fist.

His erstwhile home rests like a post-autopsy cadaver hollowed out behind him.

Wu-Long has some warning of his impending visitor if he happens to notice the top of a blonde head bobbing down the street as the woman dressed in a champagne-coloured coat makes her way toward the entrance of the building. A minute later, there's a knock at his door. "Wu-Long? Are you still here?" The voice, like the head of golden hair and the coat, belongs to Odessa Knutson.

A little brighter than a nightingale. Phoenix, maybe. The Chinese venerate phoenixes and, occasionally, Wu-Long allows that part of his culture to mean something to him, and a ready association with his own name, the mythological complement, polar opposite that draws his attention, locating her in the arc of his sensory perception as if looking for a missing part. If his eyes had been focused on the city, they would have unfocused now.

"Wan an," he says, raising a hand in greeting before he remembers to turn his head over his shoulder. Eye-contact; it matters to people, social prerogatives founded on some evolutionary hard-wiring. "Not for much longer. How are you?" His shoes click the floor, finishing enough of his revolution to see her coat. It inspires a ghost of a smile on the shadow of a man.

Odessa steps into the apartment quickly, her simple black heels clicking on the floor as she moves. They're very uncharacteristic of her. "I'm scared," she admits before hurrying forward to wrap her arms around the Chinese man. "Kazimir shortened the timeline for Phase Three. He says if he doesn't have results, he'll kill both Suresh and I."

The man goes still in her arms, receptive to her embrace and stirred by her words albeit only subtly. Instantly, instinctively, Wu-Long's arms wreathe her own. It takes him longer to say anything, and until then, he's studying her face with thought deepening his brow. Callused fingers find the dainty angles of her elbows. He had noticed the shoes, pragmatic simplicity at odds with the tasteful brightness of her plumage.

He presses his mouth to her brow once, partly to comfort her, partly to check skin tension, the heat of her limbic system throwing riots he personally can't remember experiencing before, ever. "You shouldn't be scared. You're a brilliant scientist. Doctor Suresh, too." A quaver-beat's pause, his eyes following her brow where his lips departed. "Have you told Sylar?"

Odessa shakes her head quickly. "I haven't seen him since I patched him up last…" She's panicking, heart pounding in her chest. She bites her lip and looks up miserably, though she doesn't lift her chin. "This isn't my area of expertise. I can stitch a man back together, but… I don't do this sort of thing. I don't know if a full team of scientists could get it done in the time frame he's demanding."

It would be doing Wu-Long an injustice if he pretended that he wasn't aware of the distinction between a surgeon and the sort of scientists that a would-be bringer of the apocalypse would invoke toward that purpose. He doesn't bother smattering another palmful of assurance over her very real mortal terror. His shoulder smells of soap, leather, and a bitter needling that could doubtless be attributed either to the work he's done during the day or the like which he tends to complete under cover of night. "Shhh." It's a rumble by her ear. Her hair catches slightly on the small scars and old calluses, a tug that slips straight into her scalp as the blunt tips of his fingers tease through pale locks.

She should be telling Ethan this, he knows. But Ethan's gone. Tiandi knows where. "Sylar, Elias and I aren't afraid to help you. If you want to run away, and start somewhere new." Again. The word hangs there in the otherwise empty air. He knows she is no stranger to flight.

"I don't have anywhere else to go," she whispers, holding him tight to her. "I've never… had people that I could rely on before. I don't know if I could go back to having nobody." Odessa presses the side of her face into Wu-Long's chest, eyes staring blankly out the window.

This time, Chinatown exchanges its stare of endless yellow, square eyes with her instead of Wu-Long, whose attention has shifted inward. Through the apartment, white plastered walls that contain nothing but air, evaporating soapwater, and shadow. The kitchen gleams dully and the wall clock tick-tocks, an odious mechanical heartbeat, at once at home here and not at all. Against the hollow side of her ribcage, his own heartbeat is a steady, steady drumming; against the hollow side of his, hers is a screaming clatter. "You won't," he says. "We're professionals.

"There are enough of us." Not the most comforting statement, he knows. Sylar had experienced that of him as well. The soldier shifts slightly, boots grating quietly against the aged varnish of the floor, a physical translation before the next topic comes, no less pragmatic, but quiet now. His eyes flick away from the plastique cubes buried in the walls. "Something is going to happen. They all think so: Elias, Eileen. Afterward, we can regroup, and find you, if you need to hide now."

"Come with me," Odessa begs of him. "We could leave together. Find somewhere new. With our abilities, no one would ever find us. Even if they did, no one could ever catch us." She's still frightened, but her eyes hold some glimmer of hope. "We could start over together." She pauses and manages a shaky smile. "We could try to be… normal. Live normal lives." It would be a new concept to them both.

Almost. Wu-Long was normal, once, or the closest approximation he can remember to it. Square house, square lawn, hopskotch fading from the pavement in the front and higher voices crying out in Mandarin as he stepped through the gap between halves of picket fence. Those interludes were parcel with the dust, ash, and sand of Iraq, of course, but it's the first thing he thinks of when she says that. The only thing he has, besides a childhood spent systematically separating himself from everything…


A different man might have laughed. Shaken his head, groaned, expected her to understand the impossibility of what she was asking before she spoke it. She might not have asked a different man. "Not with me," he says, his voice low after discarding something that couldn't have been hope. He meets her eyes to verify that it's there, though. In one of them. Nothing glimmers in his eyes except for light, when he so chooses to permit it. "I'm too old to change, qingai de. I am married.

"I'm a monster." The word doesn't come easily to him; he doesn't use it often, the 'r' crumpling on the end of its guiding vowel. An unfamiliar term: he likes himself too well to realize the ugly depth of its definition, even as he knows that it isn't quite right. "This is all I have. Perhaps Sylar. Or Ethan. They would be right."

"Don't you try and tell me what is or isn't right. We've both done horrible things to people. You've watched me shoot people stone dead. I cracked open a man's skull with a paperweight to take his brain. I've blown up buildings full of people whose only sin was wanting to escape the horrific mundane of life. Normal life." She doesn't understand. Well, how could she? Odessa disengages herself from Wu-Long and steps back just once. There is nothing in those eyes of his. Nothing for her.

The arms around Odessa don't unlock at first. She bounces off them like a pup — which she was, once — off the rim of a metal collar and choke chain, her slender back bending like a willow limb against the circle of his embrace. It seems, for a moment, that Wu-Long might have forgotten his strength. Of course, that's just stupid. He wouldn't forget that.

"You're more like them than I am." And then he does let go, though not before a gentle pull of his arms assures himself she won't fall backward on her heels from some accident of gravity, won't peel away from him unless she chooses through. His fingers close again, and he lets his hands fall to his sides. "Right and wrong don't mean those things to me."

His head tilts fractionally, black-on-black eyes staring out from his tawny features, something hard about his expression that Odessa has never warranted before because he had never needed it: armor. If asked, he couldn't say why he needs it now. "There is nothing wrong with killing. I am not the right man to do anything else."

The tears well up in Odessa's eyes and she doesn't even realise they have until they're spilling down either cheek, coming to meet at the point of her chin. She keeps her footing once he releases her, but the damage is done. Her heart his broken. "I can't do this alone! I don't know where to go! What am I supposed to do? Sylar isn't going to hide with me. Ethan won't go if it means leaving Eileen!" It's likely an unfair assumption she's made of where Ethan's priorities lie, and it's a misconception born of jealousy. "You can keep me safe. I'm not asking for your heart, Wu-Long. I'm not so foolish. Nobody loves me, and I am incapable of love." Or so she tells herself. It would be safer that way, wouldn't it? "Fine." She wipes the tears away and steps back again. One small movement toward the door. "I'll figure out some way to make it alone. Who needs you, anyway?"


No one.

Not an especially impressive revelation. Wu-Long is familiar with this knowledge: that he isn't good for much. He hadn't meant to make her cry, to fill her eyes with the salt water of failure. His knuckles go whiter and he takes his time breathing. His argument is poorly constructed, verbalized in soupcons of information, facts, arranged out of order, unconnected by anything except individual relevance. "Ethan may love you. He is a good man.

"You would be safe if you took some money. Buy a new ID." She must have learned a little of how, by now. He knows she must have, and her desire for companionship must be fleeting, cosmetic. Or— not, no, not really. He doesn't know that. She isn't like him.

"I'll help you prepare." The words fall out of him like water from a dam, no impassioned burst, but a low trickle, cold, weary, belying the seething pressure behind it, almost like relenting; he takes a step after her. Two. Keeps speaking. "And I will come for you after it's over. I have to stay here now." Stay here. Waiting. Fighting. Traveling on simple, stupid inertia. He doesn't know what he's doing here exactly, and it's no oath to de Luca nor real faith in Mu-Qian that he is here, but he knows that he can't run yet.

"Ethan loves a dead woman and child. He only tries to supplement and transfer those feelings to those of us left among the living." Odessa's lip curls in an anguished snarl. "Stay, if that is what you need. But don't say you'll help me." She dances a step back, and another, fingers twitching restlessly at her sides. "I can see it churns your stomach." One moment, she's bringing her hands up and quickly splaying her fingers as if she were pushing some invisible force toward him.

And then she simply isn't there.

Time qualifies as a force. Takes a man's strength away and, according to some schools of thought, offers in return a little bit of wisdom. Neither come to lend Wu-Long in his time of dire abandonment, though he knows he could cast out a net of blindness or of silence, so she'd know— somewhere out there, amid the chaos and confusion of muted car wrecks and unillustrated death, that he is still here. A sign. Other people write postcards or blink room lights in Morse.

A cold and fungal conviction — that his home is empty now and, thus, no longer a home — settles like a stone in the pit of his stomach, rivalled only by the size of the realization that she's better off without him.

Denial had been on the verge of speech, perhaps even an apology, but his teeth click shut. He swears under his breath once, in his mother tongue; skims his lapel for cigarettes without dedicated intent. He stares absently into darkness for a protracted moment before he merges with it and the dragon, too, disappears.

January 11th: Compromised
January 12th: A Very Large Codfish
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