Apropos of Nothing

March 30, 2018:

The Magdalena and The Rapture talk at cross purposes. As they do.

Lower Manhattan

Outside Trinity Church. Later, a downmarket bar, both in Lower Manhattan.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Curator (NPC), Tilly Grimes (NPC)

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's Easter, or nearly so. Good Friday to be precise. When both the always faithful and the armchair Catholics come out to celebrate that oddest of feast days. The celebration of the murder of a Man. But faith is faith, and so, they come, they lift their voices, and the doors, open, slightly ajar, allow the sound of hymns to drift out, the voices of those with less faith buoyed up on the backs of those with arguably too much.

And in the cemetery, a lone figure, dressed in armor, all of black with only the symbolic crosses in gold, that seems both impractical and ceremonial, moves through the headstones, moving, it seems, in time to the sound of the voices, laying down a single sprig of hyacinth at each of the headstones. The figure is nearly to the edge of the fence, close to the sidewalk, the light, as it lifts its head revealing itself to be a woman with dark hair, dark eyes, and a solemn demeanour.

There is one, at best self-described lapsed Catholic, who does not make it to the Church, and indeed appears to have no intention of doing so.

One could generously ascribe the fact that Tom Judge hasn't eaten today due to some holdover of his former beliefs, habit or otherwise. However, the more likely reason for it is that the man's just woken up — and is now, slowly — making his way towards somewhere he can get something to drink.

The priest's collar hanging loosely from his neck earns looks — some nods — one stilted, "Good evening, Father—" before something in Tom's dark, returned expression cuts off the charitable greeting. It's enough to put the ex-priest in a sour mood, only bolstered by the fact that he's passing the church, the sound of the raised voices drawing him to a halt.

A snarl slips from between his lips, unbidden, surely: "Bullshit."

Is it the word that draws her attention, coming as it does in that eerie, near perfect silence between one verse and the next, or the sheer and complete venom with which it's offered? Does it have to be one or the other? But voice and figure she recognizes, and moves to approach, setting down the basket of sprigs as she approaches the gate that will allow her access to the sidewalk and put her in closer to the probably not a priest.

"I would say that it is a matter of perspective. It is certainly, in some ways, a symbol and a crutch, to use a more uncharitable turn of phrase."

The figure does not approach, not fully, though she is turned to face in his direction, her eyes shaded though, by the hood that she hasn't yet drawn back from her head, "Good night, Tom."

The ex-priest's gaze jerks from the Church to the woman that approaches from the darkness, his teeth baring — only easing marginally when he recognizes her. Tom's posture is still tense, though her words wrest a twisted smile from him as he regards her through the fence that separates them.

"I was like you, once. Blind. A ''damned'' fool," that makes him laugh, unaccountably, as a hand rests, curls around one of the bars of the fence.

"Still am, all things considered."

There's something nearly existential, about the sight of him through the bars, a yawing moment when she finds herself wondering, unbidden, if she's the animal in a cage looking out or if he is. But that momentary thought passes so quickly, it might not even register, not right away, as she places a hand on the wrought iron of the gate, pushing it open to step out onto the sidewalk.

"I do not think you know enough about me to make that sort of judgment, Tom." There's no heat or censure in her voice, only studied politeness, "But yes. There is blindness, and then there is blindness. Were you on your way, just passing through?"

"No?" Tom barks a low-throated laugh. "That you're here, on all days — that says everything." Her words, about blindness, earn a snort. "You've no idea." Something darkens his expression for a moment. A teasing bedevilment — not quite the gaze of the Brimstone demon she saw of him so recently, but reminiscent of it in some way.

He reaches out as if to touch her shoulder, and if she lets him, to guide her to turn his way — facing the church. To see what he sees, how he sees it, maybe.

Not that she sees anything different.

"And what does it say, exactly? That I am acknowledging an event that was in a very real sense, fundamental to who and what I am today? That I have chosen to acknowledge that event on a day that humanity has dictated should stand as a placeholder for a time no one, now, can remember? The day is as much a crutch as those hymns. But when the ritual does not matter, it does not pay to reinvent the wheel.

Vivienne makes to attempt to avoid the hand he settles on her shoulder, nor the pressure that turns her away from him and towards the stately edifice. "What is it that you are hoping that I will see, Tom? Those mortal souls, seeking for proof of a divine they cannot see or touch, searching for proof of a faith that they hope, but do not know is real?"

He doesn't answer. He doesn't have to. She doesn't see it, and then, as Tom's fingers dig into her shoulders, she does.

The bars, between them and the Church, begin to glow — turning red-hot even as Tom's fingers lift from them — that's the first, immediate thing she'll notice.

The spires of the church beyond begin curl and burn, flames leaping from the peaks into the skies, the facade cracking and moldering like a decayed, desiccated shell of itself. At the base, where the gravestones rest, the curled decayed husks of people — shades of something, but hard to describe as human anymore — shiver and huddle and moan as if in constant pain. One stretches a hand towards her, desperation and despair painted on every feature. "Help… please…" comes the wracked, pleading words.

It is brief. A flash. Mere seconds, but it feels like an eternity.

The glare, the hopelessness of it all lingers, even when the brightness has faded back into the twilight of the normal New York evening.

Tom, beside her, breathing raggedly.

Vivienne doesn't move. At first, it is of her own will. And then, as Tom's fingers bite into her shoulders, and he uses his power to pull back the veil of the world, not showing her a glimpse or vision of what might be, but, rather, of what is, she can't move. His power holds her in place, roots her to the spot, unable to look away from what he wishes her to see.

Not in this plane of reality, but in one so close that, likely, he needed barely the smallest amount of effort to tear away the membrane between the living world and the the hell plane, that place of utter damnation and despair. And did she know that in that place, she shone like a beacon? A bastion of pure white radiance, that, to the denizens of that place was like acid, or cancer, something, to them, so vile it was not to be borne, to be attacked, destroyed on sight?

That it marks her as a target, in this world and her own? Perhaps not. Or..perhaps she knows it so well, that she makes no attempt to escape his hold, only reaching out to raise a hand, to cast some of that light on the figures pleading for help.

And then she's abruptly, back in the world she she knows, only the faint scent of brimstone lingering on her skin to mark that she had ever been anywhere but in this place, "Hell. A place to which we fall, or we can be driven." She looks over at the man still with his hand on her shoulder, seeming, now, in this place, wholly human and unremarkable, "Does hope never come into that place, Tom? Can it never come into that place?"

Whatever it is, whatever Tom did, it is an effort that costs him in some fashion. His expression is draw, fingers curling after they slip away from her shoulder, shoulders hunched, the Rapture gleaming for a moment, seeming to reflect a fire that is now slipped from her view.

"No," he says, harshly. "A place that is what awaits everyone. You. Me. Them. Good or bad. Catholic or lapsed or godless or Satanist. They," he flickers fingers towards the Church, where the voices rise in unison, "Seek and hope in something that will fail them."

His gaze falls on her, now. "You do, too."

Her question earns a thinning of lips, closer to a grimace than a smile, as if recalling some ghastly remnant of that Hell vision. "It has. But it won't again any time soon, if I have any say in the matter." A cough wracks his frame, the scent of Brimstone clogging in his throat and senses. He turns, and begins stumbling down the street.

"Are you their judge now, Tom?" As he stumbles away, whether he accepts her help or not, she does offer it. Not to draw him back towards the Church, but, if anything, only to assist him in drawing away from that place and towards the only respite he seems willing to give himself. And that, only what he can find at the bottom of a bottle. She needs to be no seer to know that. "To know that hope can exist, but determined to bar them from it?" There is not even any judgment in those words, "I think I might know what you need. Come." A beat, "If you will."

It makes him bark a laugh — not one of absurdity at the question, but mocking amusement at just how close she hits to the mark. "And what would you have me do? Do what only your-so-called God was meant to do? Weigh the goodness of a man's soul and pass judgement? I tried that once — and it cost the lives of innocent people." Another, ragged, uneven breath is torn from him, even as he shakes off her attempt to assist him. "Even He — if he exists — doesn't dare."

It doesn't take a psychic to know exactly where Tom's headed. Even a day like today, there are always places you can go to forget. Forget your responsibilities. He glances at her, but doesn't seem swayed — at least not by her words alone. "That stopped working for me a long time ago. The solace of the church. The peace of confession." He makes a dismissive sound at the back of his throat. The bars, instead, beckon, luring him forward into the dark night.

"Is that what you truly believe God and his Son were meant to do, Tom? That their sole purpose is to decide which of the living should go to hell and which should go to heaven? That they served no purpose but to decide on the fate of a soul after it had lived the full measure of its mortal existence?" Vivienne seems to take no umbrage at his laugh, nor at the easy dismissal of her assistance. "You are not a god. Though you now possess such power that might well rival one. And how you choose to use that is given to you and you alone."

Even if he does brush off her assistance, Vivienne still seems to find some merit in his company, remaining at a companionable distance from him, though she no longer makes an attempt to assist him, "I was going to offer you neither solace or peace. I was going to introduce you to a rather delightful tapas bar I discovered only just a few blocks from here. I must admit, I developed quite a fancy for it during a few months I spent in Spain just after I reached majority."

"Who else can know the truth of a man's soul? Certainly not a priest… not even the Pope, or the Pope's pet enforcer," Tom's response is bitter indeed as he casts her a sidelong glance.

"If you try and take it from me, you won't like where you end up." Another gleam of red — not from the Rapture this time, but something deep in Tom's gaze, like for a moment she can see into that other realm through his eyes. And then it's gone.

He keeps walking, gaze forward, grunting dismissively at her suggestion. "I know a much better place."

"A man can know his own worth. That isn't the question. or the obstacle, in my mind. I believe, the true obstacle is in whether or not that man is willing to accept that truth,plain and unadorned, for good or ill, when he is faced with it." Vivienne's pace is nearly perfectly matched to Tom's, stumble and all, hands twitching the cloak around herself, giving her some faint protection from the still evident chill in the air.

The threat, implied and genuine seems not to phase her at all, indeed only bringing a curl of amusement to her lips, "I am not going to take it from you, Tom, nor would I allow anyone else to do so." Certainly she's already intervened twice in the scant time that she's known him to prevent the forces aligned against him from divesting him of the Rapture.

"Then I'd be glad to visit it." A wave of her hand, a non-verbal, 'Please, lead the way.'

"You speak as if you believe the majority will be able to accept what is real. I know better. Better than most," Tom gives a dark laugh, "That that's far from the truth. "Even there," a flicker of fingers, like Hell is a mere half step away from them, "They cry out for God. They deny their sins, their foibles. What person — even a good one — wishes to be faced with the truth of his own soul?" He snorts.

"No sane one."

Her reassurance aside, he doesn't seem wholly convinced, even if he doesn't follow it up with any more threats.

Tom's 'better place' isn't really… so much at all. It'd be easy to miss, in fact — tucked away down a dingy staircase off the sidewalk — the sign proclaiming the name so dirty that only part of the symbol — some sort of half circle — and none of the name can be seen. The door creaks when he pushes it open — it's dingy, small and dark inside. Faces turn towards them, briefly, then look away, while Tom heads straight for the bar. "Give me a bottle of Jack Daniel's," he says, with a twist of lips, jerking a thumb towards Vivienne. "On her." The bartender looks at Vivienne, kind of dubiously — as much because of her hooded get up as doubt she's willing to fund a whole bottle.

"To the contrary. From what I have seen of the world and the people who live within it? Only very few have the strength of will and character to face the truth of who and what they are. That is, as you say, why Hell is so full of those who cry to God to save them, unwillingly, even then, to acknowledge that they had no small stake in the decisions and actions that brought them to that end and not the other that they, very likely, thought they deserved. If there were more, they might well but us both out of a job."

Vivienne says no more about the artifact Tom Judge carries, seeming more interested in studying the streets as he leads her to their eventual destination, slipping inside behind him, accompanying him to the bar, only pushing back her hood when the bartender turns in her direction, "And also a double of whatever Irish you have, Tullamore Dew would be preferred, Jameson, if not. Neat please."

Tom, mind, doesn't wait for her acceptance — claiming the bottle with no glasses — already headed for a table. There's not a spare one at the back — seems most of the patrons are like as not to their privacy — so he slumps down into one at the middle, cracking the bottle and taking a deep draught. It causes a coughing, gasping wrack of a breath afterward, but something — some ever present tension — lessens in his demeanor for a moment afterwards.

His lips curl briefly at her choice of drink, but he's not one to judge. He'll wait until she joins him, at least, "If you have all the answers, and the truth doesn't shake even one iota of that mold of yours, why do you still work for them?"

Vivienne, though, does wait, even after Tom wanders off, since it takes the bartender a few minutes to dig out whatever it is he has that approaches what she requested and pour it into a glass. She takes care of the tab right away, rather than beginning an open one, and only once things are in order, does she turns back to the room, eyes skimming over the patrons, never lingering, until she finds the table that Tom's slumped into.

"I don't believe that I have all of the answers. I do think that I have a particular perspective that is my own, that is all." Vivienne settles onto her side of the table, setting the glass she brought with her first, before she arranges herself into the seat. Always, with that careful consideration towards keeping the cloak around herself. "And I do not work for them. I work with them. But that clarification aside, the Church is as full of corruption as it is of light. But it has not yet strayed so far from the path of redemption that it cannot find its way back."

Tom doesn't seem bothered with the waiting. In fact, he seems more than happy to fill the silence and lack of company with considerable amounts of the whiskey, in a way that suggests he's intimately familiar with starting — and ending, no doubt — many a night just like this.

At her ready response, he gives a bark of laughter that turns into a snort. "They really did a number on you, eh?" He rubs at his chin, at the stubble there, glancing not at her, but past her. "Ought to get Tilly to the run some numbers for you. Don't think you'd like what she'd see, though."

Wry: "No one ever does."

Vivienne leaves the glass she carried with her alone, close at hand, but untasted, seeming appeased enough by the company, and perhaps by the ability to settle, if only for a moment, "I don't believe you know anything about what they did or did not do to me, Tom. No more than you know much of anything about what I have seen that has nothing at all to do with the Church. I feel that you look at me and you see what you want to see. And that, I think, is not the whole truth. But I don't think the truth is what you're looking for."

A quirk of her lips, at the threat of the woman whose name he's mentioned quite a number of times now. "I think I would be more interested in what you see. What you saw, when you used the sight that," she tips her head towards the cross, "gave you. But if you prefer her judgment to your own, feel free. I would be interested to see what she has to say."

"I don't think anyone in this bar is looking for truth, let alone anyone at this table," Tom says, with a brief, low-throated laugh. Another gulp from the bottle has his voice sounding rough when he adds, "Shall we take a trip to visit the Popes of the past, see how they're faring, how truthfully they see themselves and what they've accomplished? What of your predecessors? Where do you think they went, what they went through — would their thoughts matter more? Speak truth to you?" More than his presumably, a fact of which he doesn't seem to be overly slighted.

He grimaces, but he doesn't say anything more on the subject of Tilly, and though his phone does beep he deliberately ignores it, gulping down another couple of mouthfuls of alcohol. Maybe it's her suggestion that he describe what he saw — when he's obviously doing his level, steady best to drown out exactly that.

"That may very well be. Truth has a way of stripping away all of our comforts, all of our conceits." Finally, Vivienne claims her glass, taking a sip, her nose wrinkling at the flavour. "Leaving us raw and exposed." She sets the glass back down, light fingertips twirling the glass on the tabletop, the wood slick enough from years of wear to make that an easy enough task. "I do not, in all honesty know where they might have ended up, for all that they were chosen to lead and serve the Church. As for those women who came before me, I have no doubt that they reside in heaven or hell, in direct correlation to how they have lived their lives. Being born in grace does not mean that you cannot fall from it."

Vivienne's eyes fall toward the sound of the phone, though she cannot see it, "If you're leaving that for my sake, don't." And then, when he seems to make no move to answer it, "Will you tell me about the sort of work that you take on as an investigator?"

Speaking of raw and exposed, Tom seems to be doing a fine job of covering that up with copious amounts of alcohol. Halfway through gulping, he hiccups — or more coughs, maybe laughs which turns into a cough when some of the burning liquid goes down the wrong way. It takes him a moment to catch his breath, and when he does, there's nothing satisfied or proud of the knowledge: he sounds, in fact, weary.

"You don't get it. They're all there. All of them. All your saints and sinners, all your good and evil. Your most lauded, holy warriors, righteous popes and pious parishioners alike — they all end up writhing in agony and hopelessness alongside the most vile, evil men — all in the same place."

He continues to ignore the phone. Ignores her offer to stop ignoring the phone, even when it beeps again, and a third time, almost like it's frantic.

"Hell is not binary. It's the end outcome of everyone." It's a sentiment that makes him drink again, fingers white where they clutch the glass.

Vivienne, seeing Tom struggling, at least does him the courtesy of waiting until he has control of himself before she answers him. Perhaps in other circumstances, or with someone, anyone else, she might have offered to rise and get a glass of water. That would, after all, be the normal, human thing to do. But instead, she simply sits there, waiting. Perhaps knowing that anything else would be unwelcome. "If that were the case, then the thing that you carry would have no power to grant hope, or respite from pain, to free souls from their eternal torment, to send them to somewhere that was not damnation. Because there would be no place save that plane of pain and suffering."

Vivienne, now, seems to ignore the phone, making no more offer for him to answer it. It is, after all, not someone looking to speak to her. "I am no shepherd. It is not given to me to change your views of existence, to lead you back to the flock, if such a thing were even possible. My task is simpler, I think."

Because there would //be no place save that plane of pain and suffering.//

Through her words, she describes exactly the core of the thing. The thing that drives Tom to drink, the thing that twists his lips sardonically. And it makes him, unaccountably, laugh, because she says it, that moment of truth, even if she doesn't get it. "The Rapture doesn't free souls to heaven." He leans forward, intent: "There is no heaven."

The bottle is brought to his lips again, albeit briefly. "All I can do is release them back here, which is… some might argue, not indefinitely an improvement, especially when return is inevitable."

"And how precisely do you know that, Tom? Have you tried to turn your eyes that way? To see into that plane what is the antithesis of everything you believe about the state of the world?" Vivienne doesn't wait for an answer, though she asks it with obvious interest, as though the question was not truly one she needed an answer for, though she might welcome one. "But that mindset does bring with it a number of interesting questions. First, if you believe that suffering in hell is the natural state to which we all must return, to which we all belong, then why does this plane exist at all? Interestingly, on the opposite spectrum, the Church's doctrine of celibacy sought to answer that same question. 'If the preferred state is residence in Heaven, then the goal should be to ensure that no soul leaves Heaven to be born into the mortal realm. Hence, celibacy. Cut the middle man right out."

"And secondly, if you do indeed believe that we all belong there, why would you release anyone at all? Why are you still here? Why are you fighting so hard to retain command of that artifact? Shouldn't you be already in that place you believe we all belong?"

And through it all, Vivienne's voice is calm, curious, as though she were enjoying any lively discussion, not one that seemed to touch on the very heart of the nature of reality and salvation. "How is this place better than the one I suggested, when I don't even see an appetizer menu?"

"I never said I could explain it — I don't even claim to understand it. Just telling you what is known to me." The barrage of questions earn a furrowing of brow, that quickly become a scowl and a retreat to the bottle while the litany of questions rolls on, unanswered. Mercifully, he's spared any attempt to answer by the approach of the bartender.

"There's a uh… young woman on the phone. She says, and I quote, 'You tell that brooding asshole if he doesn't look at his phone right now, the next time he falls asleep I'm going to string up his balls and cut off the—'" Tom coughs, holds up his hand. "I get it," he says, grimacing. "Thanks."

He finally, reluctantly, pulls out his phone, scrolling through the messages.

'Don't do it.'

'Don't tell her.'

'The numbers are clear.'

'Don't you fucking ignore me!'

'I'm warning you…'

Another laugh rattles through Tom. "Fuck the numbers," he mutters. It's too late anyway, right? Maybe. Maybe not. He fingers tap the glass of the bottle.

"Didn't come here for the food," he finally answers her last question, at least.

"Ah." Only what is known to him. There is no judgment, in Vivienne's response to Tom's avoidance of her questions. Perhaps she's simply accustomed to asking questions for which there exists no answer. Instead, she returns her attention to the glass, reclaiming it, though she sets it down, once again, "I should have asked for water. It might have diluted the flavour. Whatever this is, it's not in the least Irish." She does not, however, make any move to retrieve the bottle Tom is still nursing to take a pull for herself. She opens her mouth to offer comment, but closes it again when the bartender moves over, an eyebrow rising at, not the message, but rather, that the woman who sent it had enough clout to get a man to leave the bar at all. "I rather wanted to hear that threat. It seemed terribly creative." As for his final answer, "More's the pity you. You missed an amazing dish of charred asian peppers."

"Yeah, she's good at… creative." There's an odd kind of resigned fondness when Tom talks of the woman he so often references.

"Look, all I'm saying is, I've been there, I've seen—" he glances at his phone, kind of sidelong, grimaces, and takes another gulp from his bottle. "Believe me or don't. Sounds like it's kind of too late regardless."

And that fondness is noted, since he seemed fond of precious little else. But, in this, as in most things, she makes no attempt to pry into a part of his life that is none of her business. "I do believe that you have seen things that I have not. That you've been given insights that I have not. Which is why I ask. But I cannot and will not attempt to force you to tell me anything more than you are willing to." Of course she's got no idea about the silent, one-sided conversation going on on his phone. "But I also believe that there is more to this than is given either to me to know or you. I have no illusions about that."

One last text, one that finally makes the ex-priest stand — albeit with the bottle in hand, because priorities. "There's more than even your Curator knows," because Tom now associates him with her, keeping himself distant from that part of their arrangement.

He glances down to his phone again, grimaces. "Hey, if some hyper woman ever comes at you and claims all the bad shit that happened is my fault… I mean, she's probably right. She's always right. But do me a favor — try and downplay it?" He tilts his bottle towards her in what seems to be a silent salute and heads for the door, no farewells.

"He is not my Curator. Again with the assumptions." And again, not at all catering to politeness, she does not rise when Tom does, not ask after whatever it is that's made him decide to run for the hills. Only that thoughtful consideration, as she listens, "If a woman should come to me and attempt to lay blame in any direction, I will try to ascertain the facts and not simply accept th accusations."

And whether he hears her or not, as he's already wandering off, "Goodnight, Tom."

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