What I Can Be


df_cardinal2_icon.gif peyton2_icon.gif

Scene Title What I Can Be
Synopsis Peyton is given more information in order to make a choice — to be a pawn or be a queen.
Date February 9, 2011

The Commonwealth Arcology

In the life of an ordinary young woman, Peyton Whitney has been witness to worlds of wonder.

From the muddy trenches of World War I France, a journey that spanned time and space alongside Hiro Nakamura. She had seen the worst of humanity in the bigotry of Humanis First, barely escaped with her life. She's suffered the death of the one person close enough to be called her friend, and was forced to allow her to die again for the sanctity of the future.

Now, six hundred feet below the streets of Cambridge Massachusetts, Peyton Witney is surrounded by a misty jungle. Greenery and foliage spreads far in every direction around the wrought-iron bench she's seated on. Lush grass grows up beneath her bare feet, and arcing palm trees cast shade down from where artificial sunlight from dozens of ultra-violet lamps are set into the high ceiling.

Birds chirp down here, colorful red and blue plumage flits between branches, songs echoing in the faux outdoor environment. Only the presence of twenty foot tall and six foot wide concrete columns give any indication that this is underground and not some bizarre alien world. A high, dark ceiling of metal rafters arched like a ribcage support those massive heat lamps, they too breaking the suspension of disbelief.

"Most of this place is so sterile…" Comes a voice through the treeline, and while his face may not belong to the man she knows, Richard Cardinal is in every ounce of his mannerisms and posture. He's the only manw ho would wear a three-piece pinstripe suit in the middle of a jungle, and not complain about the humidity. "There's sixteen species of endangered birds here, part of our biological research division…" Dark eyes angle up to the ceiling and the lights of what amounts to multiple suns.

"Those lamps," one of Cardinal's hands shields his eyes. "They move from one side of this park to the other, simulating a rising and setting sun. I… had them install some white Christmas lights in the ceiling," he admits with a crooked smile," for simulated night."

Lowering his hand and looking down to Peyton, Cardinal's dark brows furrow and one hand tucks into a pocket in his slacks. "The Institute isn't all what people make it out to be."

"It's hard," Peyton begins, the lights reflected in miniature in her dark eyes as she looks up, then turns her gaze to him, "it's just hard to see this, and somehow… what's the word…" her nose wrinkles as she tries to find the write term. She's become so much more eloquent than the 20 year old party girl she'd been when she first met him, but once in a while that eloquence fails her. Once in a while, her lack of education still shows.

"I don't know how it can be all this and then all that I saw back in Staten, too. I know… I know things don't always go as planned, but he — but you had me watching for so long, and I saw so many things that…"

She swallows. "I trust you," Peyton says softly, one hand reaching to touch his arm, as if afraid of offending him. "It's just hard."

"I wasn't around," is Cardinal's way of apologizing, black shoes scuffing across the wet grass as he comes to stand in front of the bench Peyton's seated on. "Simon did his best to run things in my stead, use what little information I'd shared with him to try and follow my roadmap. Unfortunately parts of that map led to dark country, and… regrettable things had to happen. What was done on Staten Island was an atrocity, one that I don't think will ever be forgotten. Shouldn't ever be forgotten."

Lowering dark eyes down to the grass underfoot, Cardinal lets his shoulders rise and fall slowly, then exhales a breathy sigh as he looks up to Peyton again. "The monsters are, largely, gone now. Nothing more than memories, bad ones as they were. That's going to change now, though, nothing like that will be allowed under my watch."

It feels difficult to make that assertion, knowing what goes on in the Mount Natazhat facility. "There's still— hard decisions left to make," is his consolation and coverage about that place, should she ever learn of it. "But everything I do is for our future, to ensure the survival of humanity."

His words seem to appease her — she nods, teeth raking over her lip as she stands up. It sounds like Richard Cardinal, the one she knows. The one whose mission she believed in, almost as if it were a religion. For her, it almost was. For her it was a salvation of a kind. And now here he stands again in a resurrected form, a second coming of sorts.

"He," she says, and makes a face at the confusing pronouns, "he would be hurt, if he knew I was here." The words are soft, gentle in their regret. As if it's the man in front of her that she's hurting by her choice to stand here in this place. Because it is.

And it isn't.

"I haven't talked to him since before Christmas. I don't know what to do. I thought of just signing everything over to him. Taking the loss on Redbird, letting him have it in his name."

Her eyes lift to Cardinal's. "I don't know if that conflicts with what we're doing here or not." We.

"It doesn't," sounds like there's an unspoken but that should come after it. Cardinal moves to sit, taking up space beside Peyton, leaning back against the wooden slats of the bench' one arm up on the wrought iron armrest. "Back before everything started to go wrong, you were with me, Peyton. You… stayed with me even after Elisabeth left with my son. You never once lost your faith in me, even…" Dark brows crease together. "Even when I'd lost faith in myself."

Turning to look to Peyton, Cardinal's expresion is more apologetic than thankful. "After the riots, I left. I couldn't— deal with having failed everyone. So much blood on my hands that I could have averted… and I just— I ran. I left you behind to try and run the remains of my life, while I went in search of my past… while I grieved."

Looking away from Peyton, Cardinal stares out into the artificial jungle, listens to the call of the birds. "I din't find what I was looking for, and by the time I came back to New York you and Elle were at each other's throats over what was happening inside the company. The Institute had hijacked Tyler Case, weaponized him with an Evolved that could possess other people— Jet. She attacked Redbird inside of Tyler… Aric, Elle and Harmony wound up getting their abilities swapped in the process of trying to fight him off. Case wound up leaving with my string map…"

A dark expression crosses Cardinal's face as he leans his head back, staring up at the ceiling. "I came back to that, to find my office building attacked and the Institute threatening everything I worked to create. There was just so much wrong— so— much wrong." Dark eyes sweep to the side, and Cardinal offers an askance look to Peyton, smile bittersweet on his lips.

"But you stayed," is where things differ. "You helped pick up the pieces, when one of the people I counted on the most was gone. And you still kept doubting how much you meant to me, how much you were worth."

Peyton's brows furrow with the revelations and the words that conflict with her own memories of what happened. "That … it wasn't like that," she says with a shake of her head when he says Elle and she were at each other's throats. "Jet?" is echoed, with confusion — a name she doesn't know, her head shaking.

Finally, she bites her lower lip, and murmurs, "A son? She … left?" Her voice is soft, sympathetic. "I'm sorry, Card." Her eyes turn glassy, threatening to spill over with a sadness for the loss of a child yet to be.

Peyton takes a deep breath and smiles. "I never doubted that you thought I was worthwhile, you know. You never made me feel like I wasn't. You just didn't have enough faith in me to make up for my self doubt. In my past. I guess it's different than yours." There is a soft chuckle. "You know time travel confuses me."

"Confuses me too," Cardinal admits with a dry laugh, trying to pass off his concern for Peyton with nothing more than a casual smile. He leans forward, resting his forearms over his knees, hands lacing together. "I take full responsibility for the course my life has taken. It'd be easier to be able to point fingers at someone, label my failures in someone else's name, but that's not who I am. I know mistakes were made, I know what to avoid now too…" Dark eyes angle up to Peyton, and Cardinal's troubled expression is awkwardly replaced by a dishonest smile.

It's forced, that expression, a desire to put on a strong face for Peyton understandable. Even if the face isn't his own. "Slight differences," Cardinal explains after that long moment of silence. "Tiny changes to history, but we're still on the same bearing. It's like… changing lanes on a large highway. You might not be stuck behind the same periwinkle van," a crooked smirk comes at that, "but in the end you're still bound for the same destination, unless you really decide to veer off course intentionally."

Leaning forward more, Cardinal's hands press at his knees and he pushes himself up to stand slowly. "I guess this is where I ask where your next off-ramp is?" He twists at the waist, looking down to Peyton with his hands tucked into the pockets of his slacks. "Where does peyton Whitney go from here?"

She chuckles at the analogy, even if she doesn't get the true inside joke he's made to himself. Her dark eyes drop down, studying her hands, fingers curling around one another and twisting nervously. "You know I don't even have a driver's license, right?" she quips, cheeks flushing. "I never got it renewed after it was suspended after the accident."

She glances up at him, unsure if he remembers the story of the girl she was before she met him, the 17 year old celebutante who had taken the blame for a celebrity friend who'd crashed while drunk. The accident that had put her in rehab, and put her parents in a divorce lawyer's office in midtown on November 8, 2006.

"To further extend this really bad analogy, I guess I could make a diamond lane joke?" she adds. The stupid humor makes it easier to throw her lot among his.

"What do you want me to do?" she asks, chin lifting, the more confident Peyton she'd been becoming more apparent now, rising to her full height, letting her nervous, fidgeting hands drop to her sides. "I want to help you."

"No, you don't," Cardinal rebukes, his voice quiet and lacking an admonishing tone. He takes a step away from Peyton, offering his back to her as he sorts out his own thoughts. "Not me," he clarifies, turning to look over his shoulder at the clairvoyant, then more slowly turning to regard Peyton with a furrow of his brows. "You want to help him," is a hard thing to admit, the difference between one man and the next, between one iteration and the next. But he remembers Edward, remembers his Other, remembers the vast difference between the two. This, regretfully, isn't so different.

"But if you'd settle for me," Cardinal offers with a hushed tone of voice, "I'd have you here. We have work that you could do, and I won't go easy on you. I know what you're capable of, I know what your limits are, and I'll push you beyond them. I know what evolutions your ability can undergo, and I know how brilliant you can be when you apply yourself."

"If you aren't afraid…" Tilting his chin up, Cardinal offers it as a challenge. "You can find out just how much I know."

Her own brows furrow when he turns his back to her, and her perplexity shows on her face when he turns back to face her. She shakes her head slightly at the mention of evolutions — not in disagreement, but merely in ignorance. Peyton doesn't know what he knows. She has been to the past, but never the future.

Of all people, Magnes' words suddenly echo in her head, however, and Peyton's dark eyes narrow at the challenge tossed to her by the man in front of her. "You make me sound very useful, which is nice to know. But am I more than a tool to you?" Her head tips, lips curving into a slight smile. "Or, to put it in Endgame terms, a pawn?"

"No," is perhaps a sarcastic answer, or maybe the God's honest truth. "But I'm willing to change, learned enough that maybe things aren't as black and white as I used to make them out to be. Or— black and red, I guess was our case, wasn't it?" A wistful smile briefly crosses Cardinal's, lips as his shoulders slack some, dark eyes considering Peyton.

"Even a pawn can become a queen," is his alternative to the quandary of whether or not she's been used. "Everyone's a tool, Peyton, to me or someone else. It's all about finding for yourself what you want to get out of that. How you want to find yourself useful, and what rewards you'll earn on your own merit through that activity. The only way to not be used, is to start making decisions for yourself. Forging your own path."

Crow's feet crinkle at the corners of Cardinal's eyes as he smiles. "That choice is yours."

Her lips part when he says no, hurt and anger flashing in her eyes before he qualifies that answer — the words soften the blow but only to an extent. The words are honest, at least, and Peyton finds herself nodding in agreement with them.

A hand reaches out to touch a green leaf, tracing it with nimble fingers, eyes down as if to study its curves, its verdant gloss.

Dark eyes move back to his face and she nods again. "I choose you," she murmurs. "This you. I believe in you."

She offers her hand, palm up. "Show me what I can be."

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