|Searching for Redemption|
"Now," Samantha replies, not echoing the grin. She is too tired to allow her focus to shift from the task at hand, as she seems to once more fall deeper into herself, toned frame swaying back and forth as it struggles to keep up with the honed focus of her mind. "Now I give you myself." It is spoken simply, almost matter-of-fact, although this is nothing that she has ever done before. Her eyes lid slightly as she places a hand just above Tabitha's breast, warm palm seeking proximity to the clone's beating heart. "Maybe we'll understand each other a little better."
With those last words the world seems to slow to a crawl. The air becomes thicker. Sound seems to cut off and fade into nothingness. The players in this scene, all but one, fade away as well until the nekojin stands alone in that moment of time. More than simply this disjointed moment of time, there is something else there. A feeling of being watched. Someone or something is just out of sight, waiting to make itself known. This feeling is irrelevant, however, as a large doorway suddenly appears behind where Johnny was standing just moments before. With a heavy creak the door swings open and standing there is the imposing form of the Guardian of Time, Sailor Pluto.
Adjusting a long purple robe draped over herself, Pluto forces a smile to Samantha in this moment which shouldn't exist. "Samantha Li-Bogard? I'm sorry for this intrusion, but you and I need to talk..." With that statement made she turns and walks off into the detail-less fog which exists beyond the doorway, clearly expecting her to follow. Strange how the sounds of her boots seem to be the only sound that exists beyond her voice. The moment she's out of sight however that feeling of being watched returns. Is there something else going on here?
Samantha's eyes are already closing when that terrible intervention occurs. She has no awareness of what passes, as she begins to channel her energies and bestow one last gift upon the world - her first to the girl forged from her very essence. When time stands still, she stands in the midst of it pledging to pour everything she can into sustaining existence for those who fade even now. Beginning to draw a long, cool breath, it's only once this act is finished and the expulsion made with a full-body shudder that a voice at the back of her mind begins screaming. Begging her to listen.
Something has changed, and she's left... standing alone. It's hardly the first time.
The nekojin's sapphire gaze is unveiled with a startled gasp, her extended palm closing to a fist that burns abruptly with insistently-smouldering motes of blue-white energy. Her rear hand lifts instinctively to a guard, and she turns a half-circle to take in her surroundings. "What--?!"
She finds herself looking askance at Pluto, mouth downturning in a confused scowl soon drawn to a resolute line. This is some kind of test, she decides; whatever protectors lie betwixt the realms she was attempting to bridge with her power, whatever guardians keep watch over the displays of power summoned by their mortal wards... she's faced gods and demons enough to know they exist, and have cause to be unhappy with her. Her stance tightens, and she's about to launch herself into an assault, when an apology reaches her ears. That this tall, coldly-beautiful figure would know her name is of little astonishment to Terry Bogard's talented daughter, but-- an apology?
She's not heard one of those before, has she? Certainly not from Cassandra. And if Satan himself ever offered her such, she had no reason to believe it. His smile was certainly less convincing.
Setsuna turns, and leaves. Leaving the nekojin to consider her position carefully. She shivers again; something is with her, she knows it and somehow - despite her newfound convictions - fears it. Feeling no less stupid for the stance she maintains in the darkness at the end of time, and convinced she cannot fight this presence, she forces her body to relax. Repeating an internal mantra - one she made up herself, whilst alone in Hell for those long, torturous years - she flexes out her fingertips with a creak of gently-protesting leather. "I guess this ain't gonna be as easy as I thought."
The words, the thought behind them, draws a laugh from the young demi-human. Rolling her shoulders, and grateful for the warmth of even her sleeveless over-garment against the curious chill in this place, she turns to follow the Guardian. Spiritually, she remains alert, her deeper and keener senses prickling away and her muscles twitching occasionally at the figurative shadows.
"Wait for me, Tabby," she adds out loud, careless of seeming 'touched' to the weird stranger who's summoned her here. Glancing up into the roiling mists, she smiles, "I'll show you what real strength is. Takes more than a creepshow like this to set /me/ back...!"
Turning her gaze ahead, she pauses outside the doorway and the thick fog beyond. Reaching to her hair, she checks the knot is in place - and slightly loosens the folded fan keeping it there. Then, she steps forward, stride bold if lacking the cautionless nature of her younger years.
Looking this way and that through the featureless haze, she calls, "Let's go, lady! Talk before I start gettin' mad, here."
Of course the moment Samantha steps through the doorway, the massive doors slam shut behind her, reverberating through the dense fog which blankets this all-white place she's now found herself. Pluto is of course waiting for her with a look on her face usually reserved for telling someone their family just died. The Guardian hardly seems to want to look her in the eyes as if the act is just too much to bear. What exactly is going on here?
It takes a moment for her to find the words but as soon as they start Setsuna can't seem to make them stop. "My name is Setsuna Meioh. I am also known as Sailor Pluto - the Guardian of Time." There's a weak smile that accompanies her title. "I'm afraid I had to come to you at that moment, a second later and it would have been too late. The events of that day set a lot of things in motion, some of them good. Some of them bad. From your perspective I come from about five years into the future. But time doesn't work that way on Twisted. I've had to overstep my authority to bring you here."
An emotion creeps into the Senshi's features as she continues her story. One that feels alien on her face. Fear. This is not something the guardian is taking lightly. "When you step back through that doorway again you'll learn that the one you call Tabitha is much more broken than either you nor your friend could have realized. One of the events of significant importance which have occurred since then involved Senior Diablo's..." There's that look of dread again. "...unique method of trying to fix the damage."
Suddenly all of that worry and hesitation is gone and her voice takes on an intense tone not far from anger. "I intend to fix the damage he's done to the girl. Her mind is shattered and broken, and I believe you-" A flash of worry crosses her eyes again, "Th-the you that you are -now-" that was not a good save, Setsuna. "...might be the only one who can help her." She takes a moment now to pause and wince slightly. She's not very good at this, is she?
Though not traditionally the sharpest tool in the shed, Samantha Li-Bogard has fought hard to possess something - in abundance - that is arguably far more useful than intellect alone; wisdom. It's apparent in sapphire eyes as she meets the Guardian's solemn gaze and rapidly scans the features of her face. It's not surprising to find this meeting is an unpleasant one, and her inestimable time spent sharing the thoughts and memories of a literal goddess have rendered Sammy quite capable of making an educated guess as to just whom she is facing. Whatever Setsuna is...
...she's no mere human, and she bears a great burden. Gliding to a halt, her tail thrashing behind her in a single, whipping motion before it assumes a slow, regular snaking, the displaced catgirl folds her arms loosely about her bare midriff. She's a few feet from Setsuna, but the frown creasing her brow still communicates a great wave of sympathy; what she's hearing is not easy for this stranger to impart, and it makes her focus all the more intently upon it.
The more that the senshi speaks, the more she reminds Samantha of somebody. And the more deeply Samantha frowns, her breathing deepening and small chest rising and falling beneath her t-shirt. A few nods punctuate her understanding - or at least acknowledgment - of Setsuna's words, but at the end her expression changes. She emits a breathless laugh, not quite bringing levity to the situation, and starts forward. Her arms disengage, and the left one lifts as she steps forward through the mist. Whatever fear was burdening it, it's brushed aside now in favour of something else.
"Hey." Her hand seeks Setsuna's right shoulder. She's frowning again, but her lips are faintly upturned, those ethereal sapphires expressing a deep concern. Radiating strength, she seeks to impart a comforting squeeze... shouldn't it be the other way around? "Stop. I'm not an idiot, y'know."
That brings up a smile, a self-effacing little smirk that's probably the more reassuring gesture, particularly in light of what she says as she continues.
"I'm gonna die. This place, it..." She hesitates, and withdraws her raised arm to gesture at the mist-wreathed surroundings. Her gaze pans about with an awed curiosity. "It kinda reminds me of Hell. I spent a long time there, I had all the opportunity I could need to feel it out; it's /part of me/ now, and I c'n feel it pullin' away at my insides. Something's wrong. Really wrong." Her tone hardens at the last, and an equally-resolute stare refocuses upon the Guardian. "Whatever else I may or may not know, I've been on borrowed time for longer than I remember. All I want to do--" she hesitates, mouth open for a moment before she shakes her head briskly and amends, "All I /wanted/ to do, was help Tabby by showing her everything I'd been through. Always figured I'd bite it again sooner or later, but she... she shouldn't've been made, and that isn't fair."
Drawing and releasing a breath, Samantha steps back and refolds her arms.
"It ain't /right/. She deserves my help, and if I get to piss off the Devil in the process..."
Tipping her head back slightly to raise her chin, Sammy lets a wide smile spread. It lights up her features, casting light into astonishing blue eyes, peeling the years from her skin. For all that she's been through, and is being told now, her inner strength is something to behold.
"Stop worryin' and sign me up. I'm your catgirl. Don't particularly wanna die again, anyway..."
Despite the weight she feels on her shoulders from the subject matter, Samantha's smile is contagious and Setsuna finds herself smiling despite it. The idea of making Diablo madder doesn't help to restrain it, however. Of course that just sets her mind back on course and the smile soon fades again, her expression is less full of doom now at least. "The one who calls herself Tabitha is no longer the one you met. Senior Diablo's interference gave her a new life, but the personalities that where repressed found themselves bubbling to the surface. I can't say to know them first hand but there are at least three of them struggling for control." There's a creep of hesitation again. "She was given a very distorted view of her history skewed to Diablo's convictions and no longer trusts what she knows to be true. It pains me to see a citizen of Twisted in such a state."
Before allowing herself to continue, Setsuna lets out a long sigh. "I tell you these things because I believe it's important to understand where she is now before I ask you to meet her. She has met Johnny only once and he's tried to explain things to her, which is what inspired me to seek you out. She views herself as your descendant, and in many ways that is not a falsehood."
Opening her robe, she pushes part of it over one shoulder like a cape. Beneath it she wears the standard armor of the sailor senshi. "I can bring her here, but I can't tell you how she'll react or what she may tell you of the current world... But I fear you must stay here. This meeting will have to remain between us." Setsuna's expression softens and for a brief moment a sadness sits in her eyes that suggests the age her appearance betrays. From her lips come the question that probably should have somehow been first. "Are you sure you will be alright with all of this?"
The syllable is rather less reassuring than Samantha's prior actions, but it's spoken with the inkling of a grin, a loose roll of the shoulders and a crick of the neck that communicates a different intent. She's no defeatist, and she'll surely fight the worse eventualities; but this was the only honest reply she could make. Platitudes have failed her in the past, so many times... and now she stands, whisked away from offering that hope to yet another. How can she be sure? How can anything ever be alright? She can only strive, and in the striving hope to find success. Besides...
"It's not me that has to be alright, though, is it?" A dark brow lifts, and Sammy shakes her head. Just once. "For all the things I've done wrong, all the times I've messed up, nothing feels worse than... all of this. That this girl's suffered coz I couldn't be there for a friend... d'you know what it does to me? It doesn't /matter/ if I'm alright." Her lips twitch, and there's a momentary profound sadness in those sapphires that the young woman is quick to condemn. "I'm gonna have forever to fix that. Let me do whatever I can to help her--" to help Johnny, she can't help adding mentally. Perhaps, in easing Tabitha's pain and conflict, she can... "--but lemme ask you one thing."
The nekojin blinks, rocking back on her heels as she draws and releases a calming breath. Her tail swishes.
"C'n you send me somewhere else, afterwards? I don't wanna go back... there. If I try my best, if I succeed in righting this..." Her tone is soft, uncertain now, as she asks, "Setsuna, will you keep me from Hell?"
Despite the sadness in the nekojin's words and the seriousness in her request, Sailor Pluto finds herself stifling a laugh. Much like the final meeting with her mother just days before she finds herself in that rare moment where a missing piece to a puzzle falls into place. With that single question she realizes /why/ Samantha had not yet returned and for a moment she understands also why Johnny was finally able to walk away from her. "My duties here where to watch over this gate and protect the flow of time... A difficult task on a world where time does not flow in a proper line. In the chaotic fabric of Twisted time is a substance which gathers like pools of water around people and can slowly become depleted when they leave." She steps past Samantha as she speaks, placing a hand on the elaborate door behind her. "I know what I do about things because I've been here so long that I had little else to do but watch." Something that should sound very familiar to one who was friends with Johnny. "I've seen people come and go. I've seen horrors creep from the shadows." Wait, is she blushing? "I've seen things which some would rather be kept private." Yeah, she's blushing. The Senshi suddenly doesn't look Samantha in the eye again as she turns back around. "I do not have the ability to keep you out of Hell's grasp, but I can assure you that from what I've seen your destiny lies elsewhere." Suddenly a faint smile plays across her lips and she returns the earlier gesture placing her own hand on the nekojin's shoulder this time. "It's very possible that this is the reason why."
When Setsuna speaks, Samantha can't help but be lost within the words-- no, she realises with a grinding of mental gears, NOT the words. At least not in themselves. It's what lies through and beyond them, stated so clearly yet lost to most mortal senses; if she hadn't encountered so much of it already, in her way, she'd never sense it. It's the gravity of Setsuna's existence that enraptures her, the unseen, unspoken weight dragging her ever downward - keeping her anchored, perhaps, to this place. No wonder she dwells her alone, if dwell she truly does. Most could not bear her.
Perhaps, she considers, biting soft upon her lip, that's mutual.
The blush is all but missed, because the martial artist is lost in this profound realisation. By the time she wipes her third eye clean, she's facing the senshi with a hand upon her shoulder. The content of her speech comes in a singular barrage, as though it were briefly kept at bay by the outward gates of her mind and then allowed to rush in like an invading horde. It's then that she takes the next step, just as she's offered the most calming words she's had in a long, long time...
"This is your hell, isn't it?" Her words are wracked with deep thought, coming too blunt on the wave of an inward shock. Suddenly her hand is atop Setsuna's, on her own shoulder, her arm crossing her body. "I'm... sorry." Her speech falters because she's not sure what she's apologising for. "I was ready to fight you, I thought--" I didn't think, she thinks. At least I'm thinking now. Another shake of the head, and she drops her hand away, clenching both into fists at her sides. "I don't care about time, and I'm not afraid of my fate. I'll handle it. If you're right, then..."
She clears her throat, and bows her head. She'd bow all the way; even sink to a knee to do so, because this mysterious woman is revealing herself to be worthy of that. More than any other of the professedly powerful that the nekojin has encountered.
"I've got nothin' to lose, and what I /might/ lose ain't as important as what's at stake. I never liked being a pawn, but." Lifting her head, she squints at Setsuna for a moment; then, the expression eases as it's softened by a spreading grin. "Maybe this time I'm better'n that. I've been turned around at the end, and I'll be stronger for it! This time, I'm the queen. Let's do this."
"I wouldn't say this is my Hell, but yes. The concept is very similar. We all have duties that we must attend to, at least with my Mother's passing I am no longer as tightly bound here as I was before." Even though she must be happy about that it's clear she isn't and the smile on her face feels forced. At least until Samantha makes her declaration.
Unable to fight that contagious smile, Setsuna nods her head in agreement. "Very well. Let me bring her here. You realize of course that I cannot allow you to go with me while I go to bring her here. I am deeply sorry that I can do nothing to alleviate the silence and isolation." Once more that smile fades and the faintest bit of worry frames her eyes. "If it is any consolation, I've found that time passes much more quickly here whenever I was alone. Hopefully the same courtesy will extend to you."
With a heavy bow, the Senshi pulls the purple robe back on proper and walks off into the mist. Her boots clicking heavily against the seemingly non-existent floor as though walking across marble. Soon enough she fades from view taking the sound of those footsteps with her.
"I'm used to it," comes the admission from the nekojin as she's condemned to solitude, the subsequent shrug delayed only because it surprises her, too. Is she truly so adjusted to being alone? The grin doesn't fade, but it does calm to a placidly-content expression as she allows this self-truth to settle. She made a lot of wild claims to Johnny, upon the rooftop of their old haunt, and they're finally feeling like less than a fantasy; she believes in herself, and she accepts her fate. "Good--"
The senshi is already walking away, and Samantha is indeed left here. In this place. Alone.
Puffing out her cheeks, she settles down with a graceful motion to cross her legs, her tail riding up behind her and settling down into the mist. From here, she's wreathed in it herself, and she begins to focus upon the latent energy within the area - that heavy resonance, dragging her down, telling her she does not belong. She attempts to attune herself to it, her aura thrumming away as it's focused inward; whatever else she may be, Sammy is a prodigious talent when it comes to manipulating energy, and even if she can't touch this... mold it... she can certainly sense it out, and strive to become much like it. If that's how Setsuna passes her time, it could work for her.
Just keep breathing, just keep focusing. Breathe... focus... breathe... focus...
After what will feel like only a few minutes the sound of those footfalls return. Moments later Setsuna comes forth with her staff held before her like a walking stick. She pauses a few feet away from Samantha and steps to the side exposing Tabitha to her for the first time. This was not the Tabitha that she had prepared to give her energies too. Her hair has been cut shorter, her eyes seem a little more blue. Besides a red short-jacket (why does she always end up wearing red?) she looks almost like she's trying to copy Samantha in her own way appearing very much like she's been actively following in her footsteps with the random bits of equipment and gear strapped here and there. If only she wasn't still wearing Johnny's second dagger on her hip...
Seeing the elder nekojin, Tabitha's expression is priceless. A mix of shock and admiration and another expression that probably feels alien on her face as the younger nekojin charges forwards wrapping her arms around Samantha tightly with tears streaming down her cheeks. It takes at least a minute or two before she can make herself speak and the first words she manages are "I'm so sorry..."
Samantha snaps alert within the mists, her conscious mind so distant from the roiling thoughts of wakefulness that it's much like sitting up from a coma. A flood of disorientation hammers her, and she's forced to parry with a severe mental effort - redirecting weariness and confusion with a poise she may have been unaware she had. Still, she's hardly new to telepathy, and the assaults upon soul and conscience have been relentless... she has earned such resilience, and now she displays it in the most subtle fashion by rising to her feet with a flexion of powerful legs.
An ear twitches as she comes face-to-similar-face with her clone, a memory resurfacing with painful abruptness from her meditatively-calmed mind. Setsuna is disregarded not because she's no longer significant; but because it seems best, and feels right. Sammy only has eyes for the smaller girl rushing her. There's an instant where she has a choice, the instincts of martial training and the savage inner demon that manifested so long ago reminding her that she doesn't have to stand there and take what's coming - this girl, this /child/ would have killed her. Will kill her.
"Shhh," she's hushing before words are even said, that demonic urge quelled and thrust aside by the mother she never got to be - and never will be. She's felt this before, too, and it led to her demise as she cradled the one being in the world that ever depended upon her totally. Strong, toned arms lift to hold Tabitha now, one hand smoothing that short, silky hair and the other resting upon the small of her back, fingertips curling inward gently. They stand like that in silence.
Over Tabby's back, she inclines her head to the Guardian. It's the one acknowledgement she'll make, before she goes back to comforting her murderer, not loosing her own grip until she feels the other ready for release. This moment can't last forever, but for now it can drag on. She's waited long enough; a few minutes won't hurt in the slightest, and it feels good... good to be alive.
"You've got nothin' to apologise for," comes the tender murmur once Tabitha feels ready to speak, the hand upon her head slipping to the side, cradling ear and cheek. "You didn't do a thing wrong."
The girl jerks back from Samantha's attempt to soothe her. "I-I didn't do anythin' wrong?!" Clearly, she still has Johnny's version of her accent as well. Shaking her head she continues, "I, we... No. I've seen it! I've felt it! We were there!" Fresh tears force their way out of her eyes, "I /killed/ you!"
From a distance Setsuna cringes at those words. She couldn't find a way to explain exactly what was happening to the girl, only stressing the necessity for her to follow. With Samantha's acceptance of things it seemed for the best but she'd assumed that Tabitha could at least go a little while before blurting it out. Before even realizing it, Setsuna is several steps closer to the two of them. A moderate amount of fear has started to burn inside her once again. This is one of the taboos she was not supposed to break and now it is there in the open for everyone to see...
Tabitha is sobbing deeply, almost to the point of it interfering with her words. "Xue showed me. It was horrible!! I've spent my whole life tryin' ta be like you, tryin' ta be someone you'd be proud of, an' -I- was tha one that... that..." The girl just can't do it anymore. Trailing off, Tabitha drops to her knees. The voices in her head straining against that moment of weakness. It would be so easy to just run away and let them deal with this, but she can't. She's waited too long for this moment and it may never come again.
"I would give ANYTHING ta take it back. Ta make it right... It's not fair!! How could I do somethin' like that... to you...?" And if it wasn't obvious before from the guilt she shows her words should have just made it clear. She has no memory of doing the deed herself. Only the pain of guilt for what was done.
...what will be done.
The moment that Tabitha strives to break free, she's released by her progenitor. The words that tumble forth thereafter have less impact upon she than Setsuna; in fact, Samantha doesn't even flinch, lowering her hands slowly with palms turned out. A slow nod does nothing to deny the younger girl's claims - and now is not the time to speak. Standing relaxed, her chin lowering and eyes half-lidding only to conceal the worst of her own emotional reaction, Sammy allows the tide to crash.
A glance goes to Setsuna before she joins Tabitha upon her knees, holding a hand up as though to stay the Guardian from intervening. There's scant distance between the two catgirls, but this place is left clear nonetheless; the elder choosing words over action.
"Right now," she says calmly, with the wry hint of a smile, "It seems to me that you /couldn't/. Perhaps instead of worrying about what you've seen, about what others believe has happened, you should realise what's staring you right in the face." Extending an arm, she unfurls her fingers and presents them for examination. Close up, the callouses of many years' training are obvious, along with the myriad tiny scars tracing Samantha's skin. There's no denying how real it looks, how convincing an illusion this would have to be to get every detail so right... "I'm here, Tabby," she announces firmly, sapphire blues boring into their near-twins. "I'm alive."
Leaning forward a little, alongside her outstretched arm, she smiles, "An' I'm here to help you."
The girl takes a deep breath, wiping her eyes on the back of her arm. "...Johnny said when I cry I looked like you." That was meant to be her way of agreeing to move on from the topic. "But that I cry too much." She doesn't know what to do with the offered arm but she clutches it with a gloved hand. "He's a jerk."
In the silence that follows Setsuna offers the two of them a slight smile, "I'll be back in a few hours. No one can enter here. You two are safe for now." Assuming Samantha doesn't say or do anything to stop her she'll turn and leave once again, giving them a privacy that not even the Devil can see past.
Tabitha doesn't say much more besides a soft moan or two while she tries to get herself back together. Fresh tears fighting for the dense air are wiped away on the sleeve of her free hand while she sits quietly, waiting to see if her senior will speak. "Ya really think you c'n help me? Shouldn't you be mad or somethin'?"
"When you do /anything/ you look like me," it comes out suddenly, a frank admission that has Samantha draw a giggle from herself. In the pleasant afterglow she brings her other hand up and over, settling it upon Tabitha's fingertips. It's a curious kind of clutch in which they find themselves, but the older catgirl is entirely off her guard - there couldn't be any more trust in the gesture, or the manner she's chosen to seat herself. They're exposed, helpless, and together.
A flicker of Sammy's glance is all that Setsuna receives as she departs - just catching the reddish eyes of Twisted's Guardian long enough to affirm that she's been heard and understood. Nothing more needs be said, even if as of yet the seasoned warrior is unsure what help she is providing... in presumptive comfort, she takes it that her support is moral and psychological. Part of her nags about this, a prickling in her gut - crying a warning - dismissed as if, too, were the Devil.
"And he /is/ a jerk." A nod punctuates the delayed pronouncement, and provides an answer to at least one of Tabitha's questions. "I can help you, if anyone can. Whatever y'need. We're pretty much sisters, after all, right?" That's accompanied by a smile and a squeeze of her grasping hand, warmth shining through the flaming ice of Sammy's gaze. "The only thing I won't do is hurt you, or kill any of my friends for you..." She leaves a pause for comic effect, scrunching up her face as though in deep thought, then flippantly adding, "Theeere's prob'ly some other stuff too, but let's focus less on what I can't do," she grows more serious, tone softening, "And completely on what I can."
Nodding along with what she says, Tabitha finally lets herself smile. "I like sisters better'n you bein' my gramma. I've spent th' better part of a year tellin' people Sun was my Mom and I don't get how your supposed ta be -her- Mom." The girl raises an eyebrow, "That's how that works, right? No one ever explained that ta me." Well that's one assumption for how that works at least.
The girl frowns a little at that. "I'm glad I got ta meet Sun, even if she's not tha same Sun." A momentary pause, "Now more than ever." Forcing herself to stray from that train of thought she chirps up a little, "But she's still lettin' me live with her! My room's pretty nice." A wealth of useless information this one is.
Samantha's led several entire lives now. She's technically been 'alive' for a very, very long time. There are relatively few moments, considering, where she's been rendered utterly speechless. Normally at least able to stammer out a response, and more often than not possessed of a measure of her father's cool bluster, in this instant her mouth just hangs open and she stares at her younger clone. "Wh--..." She manages the half-syllable after a moment. She's still not sure where to /start/.
The extended arm suddenly goes limp, a shiver running the length of the half-Felixian's body. Her tail writhes on the floor as if trying to wake itself up from a stupor. Her ears droop. Then it all pricks up at once as her mouth widens to a ridiculous degree and then phrases a yell.
"I--" her breath catches as she tries to speak as several of herself at once, the outraged and the astonished, the lost and the bereaved. "I mean... she's alive?" Pause. "You LIVE with her?!" Her mouth hangs again, aghast. A few seconds later she snaps it shut. "...separate rooms... you have separate rooms... that's, uh, I mean--" Almost hyperventilating, she sucks in a few breaths and smacks her lips, sniffing as her nose threatens to eject snot and her eyes tear up. Then:
"Woah, woah, woah!" She's back to the beginning again. "I am NOT your grandma! An' I ain't her MOM!"
Oh shit, she's blinking rapidly, and now the prickling tears start to scatter off dark lashes, smearing down pale cheeks and clinging threateningly to her jawline. "We... we were together..." Sniffle. "L-Long time ago."
Tabitha's expression goes from amused at the first cry out to nervous before it happens a second time. She starts to open her mouth and assure her that no one ELSE thinks that but with the oncoming tears it finally clicks. "OHHHHHHH!!! NOW I GET IT!!" The joy of solving a puzzle that plagued her is gone pretty quickly as it sets in just how insensitive that was. "...ohhhh."
Forcing a smile the girl crosses her arms, twisting her legs around to sit cross-legged. "Would it make ya feel better if she spoke highly of you tha few times we've talked about'cha?" The girl frowns again. What more can she really do in this situation? "She's really tha closest thing to a Mom I've got, an' she's helped me out a lot - even before we knew what all was goin' on."
The girl lets out a heavy sigh, hugging herself tighter. "I still feel bad I wrecked her livin' room when th' other me's came out. I really expected her ta throw me out, but she didn't - she just moved us to a nicer house." She forces a smile again, "You're not allowed ta leave here are ya?"
Fortunately for both of them, Samantha's scattering of tears is not the beginning of full-fledged waterworks. The emotion is a distant one, long dismissed and only now surfacing that a harsh truth has been revealed - another she thought lost has never been, may even have been searching for her; like Johnny and Xue, and Cale, people who never gave up. For her part, the young warrior has relinquished her loved ones on more than one occasion. It was easier that way.
Tabitha's words are mostly noise, though the content is appreciated. Sammy shakes her head, salty droplets scattering onto the fur collar of her jacket and dotting her muscular shoulders. "I'm fine," she insists, a husky edge to her voice. She sniffs once more, running her freed hand back under her nose and across her cheeks, then wiping the resultant moisture on her thigh. It's not as disgusting as it looks. Really. "But no, I don't believe so. Which means it doesn't matter, right?"
A smile is forced onto /her/ lips now, but it comes more easily than she imagines. Her heart stings in her breast, but only briefly. Samantha's mood is undiminished once she casts aside the negativity she knows damn well she doesn't need; it won't help, so it has no place here.
"I'm glad y'found someone, Tabby." (I'm glad she did, too.) "That's what makes life worth living, y'know?" Drawing herself upright and breathing a sigh, relieved and wrung with positive energy - not a heavy, regretful thing. "People. People who care, people who forgive you. People who love you. Remember that, and cling on to it-- no matter how dark it gets, they'll always be there. I was lost for centuries... maybe more..." Her head tilts, and she examines Tabitha less in question, and more in wonderment at the reaction she'll have to what follows, "An' here you are, havin' had those conversations about me. With somebody who loved me, believed in me, followed me through /time/."
Idly, she reaches up, fiddling at the knot atop her head and then running her fingers down through the twin silken streams of her bangs, not taking her eyes from the younger nekojin.
"If people c'n love that much, forgive that much, then why shouldn't you be forgiven? If you wanna make amends with me, though, do this: let me help you, so I can help Sun. And Johnny. Everybody in your life, who loves and cares for you... if you think about it, they care for /me/, too."
She lets that hang for a moment, then lowers her arms with a shrug, quickly turning to business.
"Tell me about the other you's, Tabitha Li-Bogard." She speaks the name like an honorific, and why wouldn't she? It's a name she's proud of, has worn like a medal through all her lives but one; the only one in which she had nothing to be proud of. "Tell me everything you can."
Tabitha looks at the floor, or lack thereof, raising her head and an eyebrow at the comment about centuries. Samantha will be denied the initial shock of that after Johnny pretty much said the same thing to her already about himself. As she continues the shock fades and the girl nods quietly. At least until she's asked to explain herselves.
Her tail swishes only once before it lays still. How to begin this? At least it's easier having recently had to explain this to someone else. She's far less likely to fall into tears this time around. "There's five of us total, an' we're all kinda different an' the same. They kinda trade out when somethin' knocks me out, so they show up from time ta time when I sleep. Whatever Xue did in my head made it so I can talk ta them when I meditate."
Tabitha says, "There's Meria." She lets herself giggle slightly. "Caliga named her that because she sayin' she was you an' it made him mad. Something about her bein' tha first an' therefor she was tha 'real' Samantha. She kinda looks like you but then she starts slowly falling apart like she's dead. It's... Weird."
"Then there's the youngest one, Tab-." She stops and corrects herself with a wince, "Newt. Sorry. Supposedly I looked like 'er a long time ago. She thinks she's four. Every night I wake up at some point lookin' like her because she gets scared. I don't know how they do it, but they can change how I look without using tha dagger." Tabitha just assumes Samantha knows what she's talking about.
"There's another one, but she won't tell anyone 'er name. She's all scared and sees herself in a strait jacket. She set Sun's curtains on fire once. She doesn't like ta come out."
The girl sits there momentarily quiet thinking about how to address the last voice in her head. Thinking back to the conversation she had with NNY she chooses to start there, "Johnny called tha last one his wall beast. Said it was somethin' in a waste lock an' that somehow I was one of these? He said he was supposed ta protect me an' could reboot things if I broke. I didn't really understand most of it..."
Five. That hits Samantha between the eyes, though she's instaneously unsure why; the learnings of any martial artist of her calibre naturally infringe into the spiritual sooner or later, which in turn lead to religion - and as one inhabited by and in thrall to several gods or deistic creatures throughout her lives... well, a few things stick. Never mind the obvious pentagram.
"You don't need me to tell you this is pretty disturbing, huh?" Comes the woman's quiet voice when Tabitha trails off. Her hands have found her thighs throughout the laboured soliloquy, her breathing regular and attention transfixed. She's done her best to remain calm and unconcerned, though pangs of guilt and regret, pain and astounding empathy, have beset her throughout. It all reminds her so much of NNY, and even herself, in her darkest moments... "First off, don't believe what he tells you." Her voice gains volume, a sigh brushing her lips as she tosses her head and gains traction, continuing, "Johnny's spent his whole life strugglin' with demons, real and imagined. He's been wrong a lot, believe me; and there've been a lot more problems than solutions. Whatever's inside you..."
She frowns, and shakes her head, erasing doubt quickly with a breezy smile. It's fairly natural.
"Whoever you /are/, you've got the strength to get free from this. Don't forget that. Even if he's right about this 'waste lock', it doesn't matter. Yer not gonna die, or break. Not on /my/ watch." She glances sidelong into the mist, lowering her head enough that silky black locks tumble into her face. Pushing them back, she looks up, leather glove creaking as she closes that hand to a fist. "Okay, Tabby? These are all either aspects of you - in which case, we can make you stronger," she doesn't say 'I' - it wouldn't be true or fair, "Or they're somethin' else. Let me tell you what I've learned, let me tell what I've been through, and then I'll explain to you just how we beat this."
Her clenched fist suddenly SCREAMS with energy, an electric blue-white pulsation ripping up her arm in an instant to envelop each finger in a sheath of violently-blazing chi. It glows all the brighter as it touches Sammy's fingernails, and then in its wake... pure, stark white, so bright as to expel even the mist around them for a single fluttering heartbeat. There's just light, and a curious feeling of peace and safety - like the ambience in a cathedral.
When it fades, everything seems darker. The mist is thicker, the shadows closer. Samantha grins.
"There's no energy, in any universe, that can't be controlled. An' you've got that power. If you wanna be like me, then learn what I've already learned... in no time at all," she doesn't pause to reflect on the significance of that statement, but she might later, "You'll be BETTER than me."
Sitting back while Samantha charges up her ki, Tabitha can only shake her head. "You an' Caliga. Jeeze. You c'n tell me not ta listen ta Johnny but there's one thing e's right about. It's inside me." The girl stands, dusting herself a bit despite the lack of dust. "Caliga tried ta beat it into my head that I don't need this." She draws the Dread Dagger at her side and twirls it in that way that only Johnny ever seemed to do. "But fuck him. I can't do ki. What I can do is this..." She clutches the dagger and making the comparison greater her body instantly turns black, shadows burning off her form. She opens white pupil-less eyes and grins revealing her teeth within the blackness. "I c'n also do this..." Closing those eyes a moment the darkness burning off of her intensifies, coming off of her in greater waves before dissipating into the fog. When she opens her eyes again, they're burning the color of fire. Instantly the black trails coming off of her are engulfed in real flames instead of the shadowed ones. Her inky black form laughs once and the girl drops to the ground instantly going back to normal. She looks tired suddenly, but it's obvious she's excited about it. "I've been practicing that while tryin' to push tha monsters back into the fog. First time I got th' fire ta do that I singed the hair on my tail off." The girl laughs and wobbles. Probably not best to be pushing herself in a place where there's no negative energies. "If you c'n teach me ta do it better, I can keep EVERYONE safe..."
Or, perhaps, that's the best place to push her abilities.
Samantha watches with the keen eye of an expert now, the gamut of emotions running throughout this conversation now having run their course. She's certain now, even watching with a faint background twinge the display seemingly stolen from NNY, that she can help this girl. Control is something she's learned... because she's had to. Because without it she'd have burned herself to ashes, over and over, because she WAS forced to do so. To kill herself and everyone she loved; one of the many punishments to which she was subjected in Hell. To which she subjected /herself/.
Yeah, she knows pain. She knows madness. Better than she's ever admitted to anyone. There are dark places she's been of which she has never spoken - because they're part of her now. The black and white crescent moon upon her jacket pocket resembles a ying-yang for a reason; she learned balance, the hardest way possible. How many times has SHE killed? How many times has SHE manipulated dark energies, directly or otherwise? For someone supposedly admirable, she's been every bit as bleak and unforgivable as Tabitha. The difference: that she's always been forgiven. This was step one.
Step two... step two is to impart what she knows onto this eager, frustrated, hurt young girl.
So she smiles, and begins to speak.
"Let me tell you about someone who tried to keep everyone safe, but couldn't save herself..."
She speaks, not for a long time - because this is not possible, but for a great many words...