You, or Everyone Else


cardinal_icon.gif claire2_icon.gif tamara_icon.gif

Scene Title You, or Everyone Else
Synopsis Tamara brings a message to Cardinal. Upon revelation of its contents, Claire faces the choice her companions have already made — to pursue one's own dreams and desires, or to make of them a sacrifice towards other ends. After Claire leaves, Tamara offers a sacrifice Cardinal doesn't understand enough to use; nor does he understand the significance of what he finally does ask for, but she gives it to him anyway.
Date November 22, 2009

New York Public Library

Once upon a time, the New York Public Library was one of the most important libraries in America. The system, of which this branch was the center, was among the foremost lending libraries and research libraries in the world.

The bomb changed that, as it changed so much else.

By virtue of distance, the library building was not demolished entirely, like so many others north of it; however, the walls on its northern side have been badly damaged, and their stability is suspect. The interior is a shambles, tattered books strewn about the chambers and halls, many shelves pulled over. Some have even been pulled apart; piles of char in some corners suggest some of their pieces, as well as some of the books, have been used to fuel fires for people who sought shelter here in the past.

In the two years since the bomb, the library — despite being one of the icons of New York City — has been left to decay. The wind whistles through shattered windows, broken by either the blast-front or subsequent vandals, carrying dust and debris in with it. Rats, cats, and stray dogs often seek shelter within its walls, especially on cold nights. Between the fear of radiation and the lack of funds, recovery of the library is on indefinite hiatus; this place, too, has been forgotten.

It's been a stressful couple of days; even the discovery that Elisabeth's at least in good company, if not exactly safe, hasn't completely taken the edge off the serrated blade of Cardinal's mood. As the sun sets over the city, autumn bringing that darkness earlier and earlier, he's settled out in the debris-scattered foyer of the library, perched on the steps of a flight of stairs and smoking a cigarette as he gazes off through sundered doors strung with weather-tattered police table in brooding thought.

The wind rustles the tape, stirring debris and garbage that's blown in through the opened doors. Deeper in the building there's warmth and generator-provided power, but he's wearing a jacket, and the weather suits his mood in any case.

Only just now coming home from her stay with her mom, Claire looks somewhat rumpled since she's in the clothes she wore last night. Bundled in her warm jacket and jeans, it's not hard to spot the brooding man. Claire chews her bottom lip for a moment before she moves to join him. "Hey…" She murmurs as she approaches, climbing the stairs a bit before turning to drop and sit. "I owe you an apology for storming out last night." She glances up at him and offers a small smile. "Was totally uncalled for and I'm sorry."

The third person to congregate on the foyer isn't wearing a jacket. Blond hair loose and characteristically mussed by going who knows how long without a proper brushing (and rather overdue for a trim besides), her feet are soft but not silent in their descent of the stairs, one step, two steps, three, four. It's not the quiet of someone sneaky, but of a small frame and careful steps — though one could make a case for sneaky, here.

Tamara carries a manila envelope in one hand, its yellow planes clearer in the gloom than her dark red knit shirt and black jeans. Clearer than her eyes, which look past Cardinal and Claire rather than at them, even as the sybil offers a rueful smile. "Those could kill you," she quips lightly, a drift of cigarette smoke floating past, her nose wrinkling from its smell.

"Hey." The edge of Cardinal's thumbnail flicks sharply to the filter of his cigarette, sending tiny glowing motes of ash swirling upon the wind and away to join the rest of the street's refuse. It's brought to his lips, briefly flaring to orange-red light at the tip as he drags the sweet carcinogens into his lungs, then exhales a plume upwards, "S'alright. You're worried about Varlane— totally understandable. Look, I…"

Then a prophet suddenly appears. It happens around here sometimes, you just have to get used to it.

"…Tamara?" A brief moment's tension fades upon recognition, and he grabs hold of the stair's rail to pull himself to his feet, a frown twisting across his features, "What the hell is going on? You sent Abigail to fucking Russia? And then someone kidnapped fuckin' Elisabeth and sent her there too…"

There is surprise when Tamara shows up, but Claire doesn't jump up or whip around. She turns to look at the girl, before she follows Cardinal's example and slowly stands. "She sent Abigail off?" She asks, glancing sideways to Cardinal, before studying the girl, brows dropping. "Seems weird to send one and kidnap the other." She comments, lightly, leaning against the railing, hands gripping it to keep her upright.

"All strands work towards the same end," the seeress replies obliquely. "But the left hand isn't the right, and it has its own means." She smiles again, rueful, wistful, apologetic. "I am sorry. You weren't likely to like this much better." Despite this statement, Tamara descends the stairs without any apparent hesitation or concern, coming to a distance where she can extend the envelope comfortably to Cardinal.

The envelope's offered out, and Cardinal reaches to take it as a feeling of forboding wells up in his gut. Once it's in his hand, he turns it over, regarding it for a long moment before a heavy sigh spills past his lips. "It figures," he mutters under his breath. Half of him's relieved to have some more instructions, having expected them eventually. The other half resents the interference by a man he once tried to murder, and still wishes he'd succeeded.

He hesitates, then takes a deep breath before opening it up, allowing direly, "Let's see what the boss has to say, then."

Claire looks at Tamara like she grew a second head, her eyes narrowing thoughtfully. When she decends and hands the envelope to Cardinal, the small blonde's head tilts a bit as she reads the handwriting and looks at Cardinal with curiosity. She shifts closer to look around his arm at the envelope. "You mean…?" She doesn't say the name as she watches him open it, she remembers who he calls boss, feeling a flutter in her stomach… like this is important somehow.

The sybil stands quiet as Cardinal withdraws the contents of the envelope; documents, a number of them, paperclipped into two groups; and a single loose sheet, its surface darkened by a handwritten paragraph. Tamara's gaze remains fixed upon Cardinal, only her breathing a clear indication that she hasn't suddenly become a statue; but her expression is patient rather than expectant, the look of someone making sure there aren't other questions to be directed her way.

The letter explains so very little…

I expect by now the second portion of the Vanguard threat has come to your awareness. What you may not yet fathom is the scale of mountain which must be moved in order to prevent it from being realized. You will need a compatriot in each of several locations. Accordingly, give the first set of documents to your companion; I am confident she will find them all well in order. The other set, as should be self-evident upon examination, is for you. Do not delay in acting upon their contents; time is of the essence, if the pieces of information you need are to be gathered and put to use before Munin wakes.

…and yet in the context of the rest, perhaps much; for the documents are those pertaining to travel. Everything a person needs to go abroad these days — to Argentina, in the case of those bearing photos of one Richard Cardinal, and to Madagascar in the case of those with the image of Claire Bennet. 'The boss' was even thoughtful enough to include small packets of destination-local info — or… of predicted destinations… that could turn out to be no help at all. Forethought is chancy like that.

"You always were a smug sonuvabitch…" The letter's read, and true to the assumptions of its author, Cardinal doesn't need much explaination as to the situation. He's been preparing for this for some time, after all, he just didn't know the details about what he was preparing for.

The documents are flipped through, and he grunts, taking the second sheaf after a glance and turning to offer them out to Claire. "Congratulations," he deadpans, "You're going to Africa to hunt for stolen nuclear weapons."

"How…" Claire starts when she sees her image on one set of documents, reaching to take them slowly from Cardinal. "And how did he know to use Claire Butler?" There is awe in her voice as she flips through the pages. "So… there is more then just Russia… Whoa." She suddenly turns to sit heavily on the steps as she looks at the stuff. "But… what about Magnes?! I'm supposed to drop everything… including finding where he is being held… for this?" The young woman looks rather torn.

Dark eyes shift their focus to Claire, more or less. The sybil tilts her head slightly, angle reminiscent of a bird's querying consideration — or a person's thoughtful reflection. "Sometimes that's the choice," Tamara observes to the girl who isn't much older than she. "You — or everyone else." Quiet a moment; she blinks once, a slow closing and opening of eyelids; smiles softly, continuing with a rather gentle tone. "He wasn't so lost as that, in any case; and it wasn't you to find him."

"It's a decision I made a long time ago." The papers in Cardinal's hands are gone through slowly, page after page rustled through as he considers the words, the pictures— the information that was provided him. The man's lips purse in a tight frown for a moment, and then he looks up and over, his gaze falling on Claire for a moment before he says quietly, "You told him to trust you to deal with your life without rushing to your rescue, Claire. You'll have to give him the same."

The girls words strike a chord in Claire, she glares up at Tamara and then the papers. Her jaw clenches as she bites back words, they are not going to help the situation. Her head drops a little in defeat, blonde hair falling to shield her face, shoulders bowing a bit. Him or everyone else… How many people have had to make those kind of choices? Not to mention… Sandra would be pissed if she found out.

Standing slowly, she doesn't look at either A hand slowly lifts to forestall them from saying anything else to her, before Claire quickly slips out of the library into the biting cold of the night… She needed some space to think, even if Cardinal was right.

Tamara wasn't going to say anything else to Claire; she merely watches as the young woman withdraws into the gathering gloom, seeing — more than the simple tableau of her retreating back, though what exactly exposes itself to the sybil's vision is anyone's guess. Her silence is pensive, reflective; it remains that way for several long moments before the teen shifts her gaze to Cardinal.

Cardinal watches her as she stalks out, for the second time in two days; his head shaking slowly, he looks back down to the papers in his hand and then up to the precognitive, a faint smile touching his lips — but not his eyes, which are steady and hard upon her. "I don't suppose," he says quietly, "that you've got any other insights into all've this business, do you?"

No more does her smile reach the shadows of the sybil's eyes; dark and melancholy, in a strangely peaceful way. "Insights," Tamara echoes, tasting the word, the texture of its syllables. She turns her face away, towards the darker depths of their surroundings, the shadows that pose an environment both welcome. Her voice becomes quieter. "I have little else. She said— " A beat of questing silence. "…she says…" But memory hoards its secrets from the seeress, and in the end Tamara can only shake her head, giving up on the point she had thought of but whose substance now eludes her.

She looks at Cardinal again, frowning faintly, the seer's poise marred by the girl's touch of bewilderment. "What is said, unsaid, changes everything, and everything changes," she remarks. "Knowing does not write the easy path; and the mirror was only what it knew."

"Very zen." A wry twist of Cardinal's voice, his head shaking just a little even as the man leans back against the long railing, one hand resting down against it as he looks out across the lobby, "I'll just have to go with what I have, then…"

The shadowman's silent for long moments, before looking back to her suddenly and asking out of nowhere, as if to prove that the seer is human indeed and not merely a tumbling 8-ball of bewildering comments, "How's Demsky doing? And Colette?"

"I would give you the time, if you asked it," the sybil says softly, in a tone of voice that suggests something much more serious than a simple matter of interpreting clock hands. Something she approaches with less than perfect equanimity, a touch of reticence; she doesn't volunteer anything more as the silence stretches, leaving Cardinal to his thoughts.

Of all the questions there are in the world, it's this one that makes Tamara's expression crease in a lopsided grimace. She's slow to answer, the pensive quiet of gathering thoughts. "They… were… and are; well, together, and Jupiter too." The frown remains after her voice stops, as if she's not convinced that's sufficient reply to the query.

"Good… good. I only met her the once. She seemed like a sweet girl, if a little deluded about Gabriel's bunch…" A faint chuckle stirs upon Cardinal's lips, as he admits, "…of course, I'm not one to talk about bloodied hands. Demsky seemed like a good sort, too. Didn't try to arrest me too much or anything." The long-forgotten cigarette is tapped off, a column of ash drifting towards the steps below his feet before he brings it up to his lips, taking a long draw upon it, letting poisons seep into his blood that assuredly will never have the time necessary to kill him. He has no illusions about his line of work, or the retirement plan offered by the late Doctor Ray. If he's dead at all. There are only martyrs and cowards in his business.

"What time?" Finally asked, and with a certain wariness to it as he looks over to her, as if something about the way she said it worried him.

Looking away from Cardinal, the girl runs a hand up through her hair, then lets both come to rest on the rail. She doesn't answer immediately, framing thoughts, seeking words. Finding them is another story. "Did you know that words swim? Slimy, scaly, slippery fish. The ones that catch aren't always quite right, and the others bite; sharp little teeth that don't prick the skin but itch anyway. The mirror stays away from them, mostly."

Turning, the teen moves another few steps down the stairs; below Cardinal, deftly plucking the cigarette from his hand as she passes. The cancer stick and its glowing ember are turned around between her fingers, studied with a regard normally reserved for something far less prosaic. "But they can be caught — the mirror is broken because it must be; it can also not be. You could say my time, and not be wrong." She looks over the red-orange coal at her companion, despite the absence now of what most people would call light by which to see him, waiting. For comprehension, or its lack; for acceptance, refusal, deferment. For his reply.

Hey, those are expensive these days. Not that Cardinal often pays for them, mind, petty thief that he is even now. There's no objection made past a briefly offended glance, his hands dropping down to rest on the carved rail of the steps and his gaze following her as she walks, and as she speaks.

She looks back to him, and he admits shamelessly, "I don't… understand. I'm sorry."

The girl smiles in the darkness. "That's all right," she assures Cardinal, holding out the cigarette for him to reclaim; and if it sounds like there's a touch of relief in her tone, it may not all be his imagination. "I would rather not step into silence anyway. The shadows go elsewhere in the lightest roads; they're softer to walk on, for as long as they last." Tamara walks up the stairs with all the assurance of someone who can see where she's going; well, she does. "Stay sharp, Cardinal; so much else is."

The stub of a cigarette is taken between his fingers, and Cardinal shakes his head slowly. "I try to keep that edge sharp," he admits in quiet tones, before taking a brief drag upon it. The remnant's dropped down to the steps, discarded and ground out underfoot. She's watched for a moment, two, and then he calls after her, "Do me a favor?"

A beat, before he explains, "While I'm gone… there'll still be people here. My people. If something big's coming on down the pipe, could you… let them know? Most've them are new to this life. They don't— understand yet."

She pauses at the top of the flight, not turning back, but her head angled in a way that clearly says I'm listening. There's a beat of silence; he didn't understand, but perhaps understanding is overrated, and fate plays its cards regardless. The reply is solemn. "Yes, I can do that. For… for so long as I remember," Tamara qualifies with a more rueful note in her voice. "I can be their shadow, too."

The world goes by regardless of one's understanding of it; it's never necessary nor required. "Thank you." A simple statement, though her words garner a pause from Cardinal; watching her for a thoughtful moment, then he just nods, turning a little, "Take care, Tamara."

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