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Now who was reading minds?

Claire quirked a surprised brow that Tony had anticipated her conclusion about Dr. Oborev. If fortune-telling was mundane for him, what kind of life must he lead? He was Russian. So probably dangerous and full of intrigue, spies, and mystery. How exciting! Then again, Claire had had enough excitement for her twenties. She wouldn't mind a bit of stability. Craziness she could handle, but not when it was spiraling out of her control.

She sniffed a snicker at his faith in her. A good ninety-five percent of everything pulled into her pocket was a pile of crap. In a strange way, what they did gave people peace and who could put a price on that? But on the other hand, it was just downright toying with people's lives and Claire loved it. Shouldn't that make her a terrible person?

She started to go, but surprisingly, Tony had a few last things to say. Things that made her face crunch up with confusion and none so much as catching a brief glimpse of darkness sweep across his otherwise jovial aura. A quick glance told her nothing was amiss, so why the stammer? Slowly, her concerned confusion turned to coy amusement, and so also did her smirk twist around to an actual, warm smile. The light in his eyes. The extra little bounce in his steps. Haha! She'd not surprised if he tossed that long blonde hair and winked next. Add on the thick russian accent, and Claire wanted to squeeze him like a puppy. So adorable!

She crossed her arms, the blue leather creaking in the creases of her elbows, and loosely hung back on one foot to give him a nice long look over. But it was all a ruse. She was quite pleased with the turn of events. Who knew Russian boys were so shy!

"The big brother thing is a good angle and all, but if you want my number I'd give it to you just because you asked."
She tilted her head with bird-like curiosity. "So... are you asking?"
Claire's smile was like a drop of water on the lips of a dying man. All concern of the abnormalities fled his mind, along with caution.

He found himself caught up in the thrill of the delicate mental dance that was conversation. Granted, he had not had the chance to practise in a decade, so his expectations were low.

It was not his intention - he had almost forgotten the relationship between man and woman in his desperate days of darkness - but he seized the opportunity without hesitation. She was a very interesting woman, after all, and he found himself curious now that she had brought it up.

He beamed at her offer, as if it was the greatest gift she could give. It wasn't a lie exactly. That was the key - so he had been told. Never act without at least a grain of truth, or you will be called out on it.

He took half a step closer, oblivious to the unsteady movement, so intent on his objective. "It would ease my heart,"
he said, allowing Claire to see he was playing on her 'big brother' comment intentionally. "Claire, I can call you Claire, yes?"
He didn't pause for an answer, lest he overdo it. Again, not exactly a lie, he used his ignorance of American custom to fuel the fire. Let her know he was not oblivious, but still had a streak of naive propriety. Neither a swindler or a fool. "I'm afraid I don't have a phone with me at the moment though. Would you mind doing it the old fashioned way, with pen and paper?"
He produced both from his coat, turning the notebook to the last page of writing and handed it to her.

Even if she did see through his game, he thought she was the type that would appreciate it as harmless indulgence rather than any sinister attempt at deceit. Besides, he could not help flexing his rusty skills like a newborn kitten. Or reborn. Whatever.

Edited by Tony Soloyov, Nov 19 2013, 09:41 AM.
Claire's amusement continued. Who really wouldn't be flattered? Tony was stumbling all over himself, but the city-girl in her found his otherwise old-fashioned ways charming. She smiled a cashmere soft smile and gladly accepted the pen and paper, uncharacteristic for her playful ways. Seriously, 'it will ease my heart' who in the world talked like that?!

She scribbled her name and number in the corner, but before handing it back, her gaze was drawn down along the rest of the page, glancing modestly at what else was written there.

A few key words jumped out. Orobev. Visited. Sickness. and her brows furrowed confused. Despite her career-choice, Claire was actually an incredibly honest person. She studied the rest openly, going so far as to withdraw slightly so Tony wouldn't take the book away.

There was a list of names scribbled beneath a heading: ''CONFIRMED CASES OF THE SICKNESS AKA TALENT"'. With hers written in the corner, a bitter taste filled.

She cleared her throat, withholding outright judgement, but when she flipped the thing around, she was looking none too patient about hearing his explanation. There were plenty of people working at figuring out the Sickness. It was killing people like the plague. Maybe Tony was one of them?

"Orobev is a colleague of yours, huh? You a doctor too?"
On one hand, Tony seemed kind of young to be a doctor, but the lines in his face and the fatigue crimping his eyes glazed his youth an extra few years.
Claire's sudden change in stance should have set alarm bells ringing, but he only felt a dull throb of pain. He squeezed his eyes shit and massaged his left temple with one hand. The power had become unruly. The ocean in the thrall of a typhoon.

He lost his grip and staggered, barely able to hold himself upright. Banality came flooding back into his bones along with an exhaustion that made his shoulders sag and metallic bile rising in his throat.

Blood...? The thought was distant and fleeting.

Blinking, he re-adjusted his gaze and the cause of the change in atmosphere was apparent. It was slightly disconcerting that he did not feel panic. He felt...nothing... As if his mind hadn't truly registered what his eyes had seen.

That was not the case, as he knew perfectly well what it meant. Ignorance wouldn't solicit that kind of reaction. She could use the power, he was sure. Of course, it could have been a relative or friend, but Tony would stake his life on it.

In a way, he was.

His smile returned, although now it was neither flattering nor exaggerated. It was hard and cynical - but not unkind; an acknowledgement of the pain and danger that accompanied the dubious gift.

When he replied, he discarded any pretence of ignorance. Logic screamed for caution, but it was a dilute sensation. "Oborev knows the 'Sickness' quite intimately."
Years of experience in the art of veiled conversation kept him from declaring it outright, but he found himself in no mood for dissembling. "As do I. And those bastards took my life, future and family for it."

"This meeting was a coincidence,"
his smile turned playful. "Rest assured, my interest was genuine."
The playfulness was short lived. "But it seems I was careless. If you really want to know, there are powerful people who would go to great lengths to see those with the 'Sickness' disappear. I intend to do something about it."

Tony's sudden decline erased all of Claire's good-hearted flirtation. He wavered like he might fall, and she reached to steady him. Given the girth of those shoulders, she doubted her slender shape do much more good than simply slow his descent to the ground.

Thankfully, no such thing was needed, but Claire's heart beat brisk in the aftermath of what had nearly taken place. With the danger passed, and like the good meddlesome thing she was, her curiosity buffered the remaining edge of tension. What in the world had happened?!?

He calmed her with a tight smile that Claire definitely did not buy, and carried on with more cryptic sayings. Holy shit, intrigue was sure man's blood.

After returning his book, she crossed her arms and leaned her weight back on the ball of one foot. She was withholding judgement, but the way she studied him was intrusive. She was going to get to the bottom of this whether it was her business or not.

"The Sickness, you say."
She snorted something in between disbelief and hesitation. Sure, June had talked about it some, but the Sickness never really came up in conversation between the four girls of their coven. No more than it did at any family's dinner table. "You can't turn around without finding another conspiracy theory. There's those camps for 'quarantine' right? Well if there's people that want to make anyone with the Sickness disappear, then I'd buy that."

Behind the gears of her words, she was running over the list of symptoms they talked about on the news. Disorientation, flushing, vomiting, screaming. Well, if Tony's fluster had been a sudden appearance of the Sickness, she'd hold her ground. At least to watch and see what happened to him. She hadn't known anyone with the Sickness before.
Tony's brow furrowed in confusion. Was she being coy? Unlikely, since she was earnest in her demand for knowledge. Was he mistaken? No, he didn't think so. He was sure of it. So then why...?

With insight came a bellow of laughter.

Fuck, she must think I'm a madman...

Unfortunately for him, he was not. "Someone taught you before it ever manifested!"
He shook his head at the irony, but hurried on before she asked questions. "The 'Sickness' as they call it is as much a blessing as it is a curse. Few survive it, but those who do all have one thing in common - the power."
He paused a moment, comfortable and in his element. "Lucky for you, someone taught you before the 'Sickness' hit, yes?"
He didn't need an answer. He had spent a long time around others like him and knew the signs. "For lack of a better word, it feels like magic. Euphoria and Light flood through your body."

With great effort, he straightened and seized the power once more in a fierce grip, and some of the exhaustion melted away. The impact of what he revealed hit his cleared mind and he cursed himself for the blunder, but the damage was done. He would have to make the best of it.

He held out an open palm, quickly scanning the area to make sure there were no onlookers, and produced a simple ball of flame. It was his favourite technique, most effective as a visual. There was little need to convince her of the power's existence, but confirmation that he could use it would perhaps ease her mind. "You can't feel it,"
he said, remembering what he could of the fragments still in his memory of the Thirteen. "Not like you would feel a woman using it. It is different for men and women - although I don't know why. The only indicator men have his goosebumps when a woman uses the power."

He smiled. "Try it if you want, although the feeling isn't a favourite of mine."

He was talking too long. A habit of his that he had no patience to indulge at the moment. "I tell you this so you understand a little better. Countless deaths can be prevented if those with the Sickness were taught - just as you were. Most of it is ignorance, no doubt. But there are those - I don't know who or why
- who know the connection. And want people like us dead." He let the ball of fire vanish, shaking his head. So tired... "As I said, I didn't intend to involve you in this. I had no idea of your power when we first met. Perhaps you will understand though. Oborev is a doctor, but he is also one with the Talent. You see the connection here, the opportunity?"
Claire was a smart woman, and reluctance still held his tongue back. "Instead of being quarantined, Oborev will send them to me. It is a small thing against a larger power, but it is something."

His smile turned wry. " I am already a dead man, so perhaps I can do what a living man can't. I only tell you because you asked. I don't expect any help. It is a dangerous line to walk. However, I would suggest you be extremely carefulfor a less practical reason. A reminder that you if they found out. But more than that, I gave you Oborev's number in case you find yourself in any need - you are not alone.

Edited by Tony Soloyov, Nov 22 2013, 12:25 PM.
Now it was Claire's turn to furrow an expression of confusion. It grated beneath the skin a slight discomfort. Confusion was ignorance, and ignorance had the potential to bother her immensely.

His description of power was close enough to the truth, though Claire would be hard pressed to admit it. The source of her supernatural side was a gift of nature, manifested by those passed down in oral tradition. How theirs transitioned from flirty conversation to the Sickness Claire could not recall.

A license of focus crept across his features that moments before seemed on the verge of a more common type of illness. Something flickered, and Claire's breath caught at the upturned palm and hovering flame. It was utterly impossible! So easy for him!

Her lids fluttered rapid blinks, and she drew the courage to pass a hand through the flame. She hissed at the heat. Real heat. She shook her head, lips parted as though to speak, but she was for once, speechless.

On the heels of what he revealed, so much more did he say, yet Claire's mind buzzed to keep up with it all, to seek out the subtleties of what he implied, and turn over the possible explanations.

The Sickness. People dead. That cut too close to home, and Claire's confused brow narrowed with more grievous memories.

That Tony commanded the gifts of nature by mere thought ranked him far above her, though Claire did not think little of herself either. What was the proper protocol, here? Did she tell him? What exactly was he suggesting she 'try'?

In response, she dug around in her bag until she produced a Memory. It was basically a snapshot of time kept in constant motion, like a video on a seamless loop. She showed it to Tony. He'd recognize the gangly teenager as a younger version of her. Alongside and in front of a stove covered with stewing pots was a a bent old woman with bright white hair and eastern european features. The third woman with her auburn hair pulled back in a fizzy bun and wielding a rolling pin was Claire's mother.

She swiped the screen and in its place appeared a quartet of girls. Claire herself appeared much the same, including the same short bobby haircut, but with a broader smile.

The final screen was a looping video, sound muted, of a news cast shot on the street outside the psychic shop turned murder scene. If the police tape and detectives in the background didn't give it away, the headline at the bottom did.

She tucked the Memory away and met his gaze. "I'm dead too. So it looks like we have more in common than I thought."
She eased his tension with a confident smile. Trust her, it said. She'd take care of him.

"You look like you were hit by a bus, by the way. Maybe I should escort you home?"

She still didn't understand half of what he talked about, but for that jaded grin and ornery gaze, she'd be willing to find out. And if it paid off for her in the end, well that would be a cherry on top.
Watching Claire's reaction was...enthralling. It wasn't sexual - at least, not entirely. They said pictures were worth a thousand words, and his parents had taught him that body language was worth a million.

To learn how others survived, reacted and coped with their abilities was something he had great interest in. She was surprised at his flame. It could have been that she hadn't seen it used in that way or she was not strong enough -although a simple ball of fire took very little -, but he doubted it. Most likely, she had a barrier preventing her from accessing the power at will. Strange, if she was taught. But how then did she avoid the 'Sickness'? Could he be wrong? Was it something he had no knowledge of?

It didn't matter, at the present time. Perhaps he could help break the barrier, but it would be much easier if she had the help of another woman.

When she produced the Memory, all thoughts of the power faded and a surge of affection, empathy, anger and understanding flooded through him. She was like him. Dead, forgotten, cursed.

He no longer felt the melancholy self-pity. He had started to drink because of it, but it had developed into a hardened bitterness, helplessness and frustration. Claire's revelation spurred his resolve and confirmed his convictions.

Her later offer he would have laughed at. Not because she was a woman, but because of the reversal of his own proposition. However, the taste the blood in his throat and his eroding control could no longer be ignored.

Bracing himself, he released the power. It hit him like a blow to the stomach and he hunched over, grimacing in pain before straightening himself with supreme effort. He doubted he could walk too far without the power unaided, but he knew the dangers of retaining it were far more than the temporary indignity. Besides, it would be by no means unpleasant.

With a playful grin underlined with weariness he held his arm out in a parody of outdated courtesy. However, she would notice his weakness immediately. "That would probably be a good idea."
He had not told Michael - only Marco and Oborev knew - but he had his own...home... once again. It was hardly permanent, but it was nearby, and it suited his purposes. Besides, going back to Michael's would be problematic. He could not tell the man yet, as much as he wished to. His other conspirators would not be able to handle him.

Turning to Claire with a more serious expression he said "Now, instead of me talking at you, perhaps you have some questions? I will answer the best I can."

Tony's grimace shot Claire with a new wave of concern. They were breaching the casual bonds of empathy, and were approaching a well of straight up worry. Claire may tug the threads of her puppets with an experienced hand, but that wasn't to say she was unfeeling of the effects.

She swallowed, hesitant to touch him, but also to bring it up. He behaved as though the reaction was not unexpected. Which led Claire to believe his ails were longstanding. Was it the Sickness? Or something else entirely? Most importantly, how does one find the answer?

She swung both directions. It made her bangs fall erratically across her eyes, which she fished from view with a practiced sweep of the hand she barely knew she was doing. "First you're going to have to tell me where we're going."

She could very well punch in an address and get simple directions to the location, or he could lead the way. She didn't care which, but if he did take the lead, that was not equivalent to her not paying attention to how they got there.

She kept pace with him. Neither leading ahead nor dawdling. Whatever discomfort kept doubling him over, she wasn't going to push him to speeds beyond his ability. She detested the sounds of vomiting. Just the idea of it and her stomach flopped.

Theirs had certainly been a more than unusual conversation. It had distanced far from where they started, and curiously, Tony was uninterested in the fact that she had followed them. Uninterested in the why of it. That only heightened Claire's need to know the why of it herself. She would have made a good spy .. like the heroine in some best-selling novel. Instead, she was stuck with a mysterious lineage, witchcraft, and strolling the Moscow streets with a handsome stranger. Okay, so her life wasn't that dull.

She had plenty of questions, and no shortage of words to formulate them, but Claire occasionally turned contemplative. She was hardly an introvert, but there was much to consider, and she liked to plan out every step before leaping stone to stone over treacherous waters.

One of the many bangles had fallen low on her wrist where it dangled at her side, and she began to entwine between her fingers a long feather which hung there. It belonged to a blue jay, the sort of bird with a bright blue plume dotted with soft white streaks. It matched the color of her biker's jacket, and the smokey set of her eyes, but its selection was hardly for fashion. One might say the color of her attire was shaped to match the accessory rather than the other way around.

So far, theirs had been a very shallow interaction. They discussed intimate secrets, yet she did not so much as know Tony's last name or anything else about him really. The flirtation had passed, however. Dulled by the reminder of harsh realities: sickness, death, conspiracy, and pain. It was hard to recapture the moment when she'd teased him about the exchange of phone numbers.

There was something that bothered her. Finally, it formulated itself into a question. "You keep saying you are aware I have 'powers'."
She shot him a suspicious glance. "So I am psychic, and I told you that freely. In fact, I have nothing to hide about it, and in New York made a good living off it. But you seem to imply something more than that. What? And why?"
Tony led the way, stifling the pain and the rest of...whatever he felt. Yes... He would really need Oborev to Heal him again soon. And to think he had thought that problem had been solved years ago...

He smiled at Claire's concern. Whether for him or the potential implications for herself, it was genuine it seemed. "It is not contagious. It was something I brought upon myself."
Ce... He is memory of the name faded, as it so often did, although he could recall the face and that day clearly. The horror when she realised the Healing had gone wrong, wreaking whatever havoc it had upon Tony's body.

As they walked - staggered, he supposed with grim humour - he remained silent. It was not a subject easy to discuss. Tony might know more than many - he had been one of the first to suffer the Sickness - but he had learned that he knew precious little. A drop of water in a sea of sand.

Nevertheless, that drop could be the difference between life and death.

Finally Claire had decided where she wished to start, and her suspicious gaze did not disappoint. He was careful to keep his features as neutral as possible, but a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth full of restrained laughter.

His tone was careful and precise. ""Hmmmm... Where to start."
How could he answer the question without confusing her more than she already was? "I know because I have known people like you - like me."
He glanced at her face, a quick assessment of age. He doubted she was much older than Michael, in her early twenties. "I do not know everything, despite what I may think."
He essayed a small smile. "But I do know some things about this power we share. I have had a decade to learn, for myself and others. I can't tell you what it is, or why only a few experience it. It is dangerous, but not evil. I think of it as another appendage, like an extra arm. Also,"
he paused for a moment to catch his breath. "in regards to your other...abilities. This power...Well, it is something else, as I'm sure you know.
" He shook his head. "Forgive me, it's not something I can explain easily."

They came upon an innocuous looking alley into which he turned - was it luck that led him to buy a place so close to Jensen, or something else?. The alley was short, leading to a dubious looking wooden door with mould and age wearing it down. It was exactly the kind of image that rich parents showed to their sons and daughters as a place to avoid at all costs.

As he opened the door Tony turned to Claire with a teasing smile - although it was spoiled by a sway and grimace - testing her reaction. He doubted she was the type to be easily phased. Definitely a refreshing change from the cowardly arrogance of the daughters of the rich.

She would be surprised when she entered. Far from the derelict exterior, Tony's...home... was clean and stylish. He was not so foolish as to purchase top of the line furnishings in what was essentially a ghetto, but all of it was of good quality.

It was a small place, consisting of three rooms. The first room was a combination of kitchen and living space. The counters of polished marble were clean. Both the fridge and the flat-top stove he purchased -or rather, Marco - from an old acquaintance he trusted for quality and price.

The living room was simple. A black leather couch - three central seats with two more extending from each end forming something like the letter C - sat in front of a TeleComputer built into the wall.

"I'm afraid I must sit down before I fall,"
Tony said, entering the house without a second look back. He threw himself down onto the couch with a sigh of relief and closed his eyes. "Help yourself to anything you can find in the kitchen if you are hungry or thirsty."

He rubbed at his temples, the pain in his stomach rising. "I may not be able to answer everything, but I will try. What is it you want to know?"

Edited by Tony Soloyov, Nov 27 2013, 01:09 AM.

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