RP The Heart of it All


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It was bright, and warm, and quite moist when Catian stepped into the garden among the flutter of whispered wings. He knew that he was expected, and made no notice of the wave of Change they might have effected. He changed of his own accord, clothing adjusting to the tropical clime to reveal bare feet and shorts, a gaudy Hawaiian shirt and a pair of dark sunglasses that framed his face in a bug-like manner. A coconut with a tiny umbrella formed in his hands.

”You move up in the world and I still find you flitting amongst the flowers. Glad to see you embraced the Butterfly within the man so readily.” It was a joke that was not a joke, a recollection of something raw and a small favor given. Catian was by no means one of those deities who demanded of mortality their whims in exchange for the things he had done, but he did intend to start this conversation with a proper sense of familiarity. ”It has been a while since we last spoke, friend. Though I think you have kept a close enough eye on me that I shouldn’t need waste our time recounting some of my more adventurous tales here.”

If friends they were then the acknowledgment of his eyes upon the Traveler’s movements would be taken in stride, if something else some defense might be given. The reply was of curious consequence. It might prove that Rex Papillion had become much more of the Foundation over the years, had relinquished some of his Self that Catian had hoped he would nurture and taken the perceptions of those around him. 707 was a guardian against that loss, however. One Catian considered with some affection, if truth be told. She might have been considered lesser by another deity for her form and execution, but Catian respected her natural beauty for what it was. She would keep Rex on track; She was helpful in that way.
“–to slip through the cracks, if you’re that worried,” Dr. Takahashi advised.

“I’m not going to spy on him,” He chuckled gruffly. “First of all, that’d make me a bad friend. Second, and more important, he’d kill me.”

“He’s not going to kill you.” She was being patient, which was better for when Butterfly was starting to feel frayed. “He owes you his life, he literally can’t.”

Which was the excuse the slippery bastard would use, because powers forbid anyone accuse him of liking anyone.

“Through a binding made against my will!”

“You know as well as I do that she had your best interest in mind when she did that. Besides, someday you might want to call it–”

Dr. Takahashi stopped at the same time Butterfly did, and the pair exchanged a look as a ripple passed through the garden, right down to the blue mountain swallowtail and Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing. Bindi began to frown, an inverted reflection of her Councilman’s smile. She didn’t much like it when he got that spark behind his eye. It meant he knew something that she wouldn’t until it came to pass.

By the time Catian spoke, the Councilman was already looking in his direction. The twenty-five years showed on Rex’s face in lines and gray patches that had pervaded his beard and hair, but along with age was experience. Long gone were the nerves of the intern, replaced with casual confidence and a warm joviality. And long gone were the nerves of the Butterfly Effect as they noticed the change that was Catian Valor, although a shiver of ten thousand wings passed through them. She and Rex grown into each other, maybe in a more literal sense than most would’ve liked, as seen in the sparkling eyes. No longer warm and brown, but a pale green that twinkled like he always had a bad idea in the works.

Butterfly hardly looked the part of a Councilman. His build was still utterly unremarkable, although today he was wearing thick blue jeans with dirt on the knees that indicated he’d spent at least a little time working in the dirt today. His hands were deep in a labcoat that was mostly clean. The flat cap, complete with butterfly, had remained a staple of his appearance, as had the square-rimmed glasses–even if, should he just say the word, he wouldn’t need them anymore.

“Well, well,” he said, with a smile that was warm and familiar, “speaking of old friends and favors. You haven't changed a bit, but I guess I can't say I'm surprised. Bindi, this is–”

Bindi, a researcher of mixed Japanese-Australian heritage, folded her arms. She was also in a lab coat, with a light dress underneath and sandals. It was hardly laboratory attire, but they weren’t in the lab right now, and it was too damn hot in July for anything else out in the garden. South America was a real bear that way. She wore a disapproving look on her face, which was shared in spirit by the swallowtail on her left shoulder.

“Catian Valor. I know, I have the file.” And she did. The butterfly hadn’t even had to twitch before she had a simple manila folder in her hands and reading glasses that could’ve always been on her face. “U-thirty-four-seventy-three. You’ve been very active lately. I’ve been the one monitoring you lately, not the Councilman.”

His smile didn’t waver as he laughed a little. “I’ve been aware.”

“Without a single report to show for it, as per usual.” She looked at her Councilman, and handed him the file folder. He took it. “If you two would like some privacy to catch up–”

“You can go let Hack know. Can’t guarantee how much he’ll see but there’s no harm to him watching after last time.”

The exchange only took a few seconds, and didn’t leave room for interjection. Bindi was gone. Everyone present would know she’d been there. Rex sighed, then waved his hand and the file was gone, because he didn’t really need it.

“Would I be wrong to hope this was just a friendly drop-in, Catian?”
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It was friendship that greeted Catian, at least in part, and it was friendship that lit the smile on his face to match Rex’s own. He offered a polite nod toward Dr. Takahashi in acknowledgment to her words, but otherwise remained where he stood. His first impression of her was not one that would invite the amiability of Rex’s familiarity, if she would accept anything from Catian at all. She was far more the norm for the Foundation than the Councilman was.

Catian extended his right hand toward the man, greyer and more lined but still very much the Rex he knew. ”You can never be wrong to hope, Councilman.” Catian said it with a voice full of amusement. He couldn’t help but wonder if Rex’s glimpse into infinity had lead him to this point in some way. ”Unfortunately hope falls short on this occasion. Though I come here as a friend it is not an innocuous visit. I am afraid I have some matters of a serious nature I would like to discuss with you.” Once their hands were released Catian motioned to a nearby wrought iron table painted white and laden with tea and cakes, much like he had offered the Scapegoats at L-7, though this one was much smaller and only offered room for the two matching iron chairs.

”Despite that there is no reason we cannot enjoy the visit, is there?”
Butterfly grinned almost sheepishly at the stress on Councilman. It was a relatively recent development, but not unearned, and he’d been doing his best to put his influence to good use.

But he was here for business, and the grin faded into a soft smile and a little nod. The birdwing had always been on the back of his hand which was always available as a perch. This wasn’t a defensive position for her at all – it was relaxed, in his line of sight, a familiar weight, and wanting to be included in the handshake, not protecting him from it.

“Y’know by the old rules of host-and-guest I’d be the one required to provide for you, but I don’t know if you’d want whatever Geoff has in the cafeteria today.” Strings would be on his expletive about it. But this wasn’t a formal occasion; Catian wasn’t a stranger, despite the brevity of their first meeting. He came as a friend, and he’d be welcome as one.

The Councilman sat down first (which, according to Hal’s arbitrary rules, was good manners) (he really did have the old bastard on the brain) (expletiveing idiot) – he pulled himself together and sat back in the seat, stiff bones coming to rest. He wasn’t as old as some of the last Councilmen, but he was getting up there. Catian hadn’t aged a day, although the time had passed all the same. Deities were like that. Butterfly just smiled, deepening the lines around his eyes.

“So, how’ve you been? I know we haven’t seen too much of you until the last few months, not unless someone uses the stone. Keeping busy elsewhere, or just too important for us?”

It was friendly chatter, although he didn’t touch the food right away. That wasn’t anything to do with manners or rules or even habits, just patience. The garden was nice at this time of afternoon, if you could ignore the humidity. And usually the bugs, but there was always an absence of mosquitos or flies when the Councilman and the birdwing were out here. Not that they’d bother Catian anyway.
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”Since I was the one who barged in on you it is only reparation that I provide the fare, no?” Catian smiled at the comment and slid into the seat across from Rex taking the liberty of pouring tea into both of their cups with practiced and steady motions. To his own he spooned a bit of honey and cream, stirring silently as he considered Rex’s question.

”Certainly not the latter, rest assured. Lets just say that there are some things your Foundation wouldn’t approve of an Anomaly doing that necessitates a bit of subterfuge.” Catian took a quiet sip of his tea and set it on the palm of his hand, the warmth spreading over his palm soothingly. ”I have no intention of becoming an enemy, but I also can’t be limited in the ways that your protocols dictate as standard. It is easier to stay apart, stay hidden, than to openly defy your order.”

Catian stirred his tea again in the pause, an air of tension settling for a moment. ”I must say that I was prepared for the events at L-7 to go much worse.” Another sip. ”Perhaps the changes in policy might favor more friendly visits in the future.” He stared into the cup with those shifting eyes and studied the swirl of the toffee colored liquid pensively. ”I was hoping to ask a favor of you.” He said the words as if they were stuck to his tongue, reluctant to fall from his lips but forced through anyway. ”I would owe you one in return.” Of anyone he could think of, Rex might have been the least worrisome to owe a favor to.
The Councilman nodded along as Catian explained his motives and distant. He seemed to be trying to read something in Catian’s face after he mentioned the incidents at L-7 – he’d been exposed to some very high-security information, but if he didn’t know, Rex didn’t want to be the one to spill the beans. He had enough trouble with SV-4 as things stood. He decided to refrain from commenting that they might have been much worse, if Levi hadn’t stepped in directly. Locations like that always did better with a director of one kind or another present, even if they found it more stressful. And it helped that Levi was all for the policy change – the last location director there would’ve probably tried to intervene with the circumstances, and that would’ve been a much bigger problem than choosing to engage in the conversation.

As Catian finished speaking, Butterfly didn’t respond to him right away. Only now did he take some of the honey and put it in the teacup, stir it, take a sip. The birdwing, which seemed massive compared to the porcelain, continued to rest on the back of his hand. He saw her proboscis unfurl, and he let her have a sip before taking one of his own. They didn’t converse, exactly, but there was something in the air between the man and the insect before he spoke again.

“Y’know, I already have one more man owing me a favor than I’d like.” He sighed, and set the teacup down. “But if it’s bad enough you’re offering I can’t just offer you whatever you’re looking for for free.”

By Hal’s standards, Rex had always been a moron. He had not talent for negotiation, didn’t understand the significance of words in deals, didn’t understand the price at which some magics came. He was, however, very good at wrapping his head around things that couldn’t be explained rationally. He’d always been even better with instincts than Hal was, even before 707. And unlike some people, he wasn't afraid to ask for help when he needed it. If he needed help negotiating the return favor? The bastard did still owe him. He’d probably hate him for calling it in for this, but…

Another sip, another sigh.

“Alright, Catian. Before I agree to anything, what’s the favor?”
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Catian leaned forward, his tea forgotten in that moment he returned it to its tray. The expression he wore was one of amusement, and perhaps a bit of concern as well. Despite the sureness of his movement his words came after several moments of consideration.

”Perhaps I should lead with the favor I am willing to lend you as the two are somewhat tied in their nature.” Catian took one of the little cakes from the platter before he leaned back again and studied it intently. ”Of course, I would like to keep both matters strictly between the three of us here. It could be… troublesome if others were to find out what we are up to. More so for you, I suspect, than for myself.” He didn’t need to explain why.

”I am sure you recall, despite the years, when I brought you into my world?” Catian set the little cake down next to his tea and folded his hands over each other on the table. ”It seems as though I had not been as tidy in that venture as I had thought. You see, my infinity appears to have kept your permutations.” Catian glanced down to his tea before meeting Rex’s eyes again. ”That is to say, there is a you in my world now. I am not entirely sure how it happened, though I suspect your closeness with 707 might have given you a permeance I didn’t calculate.” Catian picked the tea up again and took a small sip.

”While that isn’t really a problem for me, it could be a great boon to you, my friend. It gives me a unique chance to offer you something… difficult to achieve otherwise.” Catian paused, letting Rex digest the revelation. This was a conversation best suited to long pauses and deep consideration, and Catian was more than willing to give the Councilman that.
Butterfly drank his tea and listened. It actually didn’t take all that long for him to accept that one of the echoes he’d seen in Catian’s reality all those years ago had stuck. There had been a day, fairly recently, when he looked in the mirror and realized he’d come to look like one of them. Potential fulfilled. Whether it was the one he remembered so clearly or another one that lasted mattered less than the fact that his guest sounded like he was dodging the question.

“Catian,” he said his friend’s name with the same abnormal firmness he’d used for Hal more times than he could count over the years, “unless you’re asking me to take the second me off your hands, which it doesn’t sound like, you’re not telling me what you want. I don’t like that. I’d rather you be level with me, and just accept my yes or no when I make that decision.”
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Catian’s tea was held between tray and lips for a moment, forgotten at Rex’s words. The shifting irises seemed to slow as Catian considered his friend before a short, coughing laugh forced him to set the tea back down. Of the many things that Rex Papillion could have been, instinctively apt seemed to permeate all of his potentials.

”Would that be a favor, Rex?” Catian’s laughter still punctuated his words slightly, though they were delivered clearly. ”I’m getting to the point, but we need to rehash a little more history before we get there.” The tea was finally brought to grate ful lips as the chuckles died completely.

”Two thousand and eighteen.” A long sip and the tea was returned yet again, nearly drained at this point. Catian folded his hands on the table and leveled a gaze that most might feel saw right through them, down to their soul, toward Rex. ”I may not have been involved in the Breach and what followed, but be sure that I am aware of what occurred.” Catian filled his cup again, but hesitated before adding the honey and cream.

”I would say there were many failures there, though I am sure certain members of your organization would consider them successful. A certain…” He seemed to struggle to find the words he intended for a moment. ”A certain redaction comes to mind. One involving a certain individual?” Catian raised a single eyebrow as he idly stirred honey into his cup. ”Would you consider that a successful resurrection, Rex?”
Butterfly had, of course, been listening the whole time Catian spoke, but the moment that year came up, a certain kind of focus settled across him, like a rippling pond becoming calm, or thousands of insects going still at once. The Breach was an affair that Catian had chosen to stay out of. L-8 and L-2 had fared better than most, largely due to the presence of their Councilman and Location Director Takahashi, but a higher number of lives had been lost in the event and its aftershocks than in any other singular event in Foundation history. The butterflies, at least, did not like to be reminded of its occurrence, nor of the position of ‘decidedly neutral’ certain parties had maintained during its course. Rex was fairly certain she was incapable of holding a grudge – but it added a little insult to injury, to remind her that he wasn’t involved. That certainly didn’t raise her opinion of him anyway.

It was the Resurrection that caught Butterfly’s attention.

“Resurrections always go wrong,” he echoed, more as an instinct than an actual reply. God, how often had he heard Strings say that over the years? And then came the old counter, “But he’s alive, isn’t he? Not any weirder than he was before his stupid dumb[EXPLETIVE] [EXPLETIVE] kicked it.”

That wasn’t completely true, actually, but he didn’t know exactly how much Catian knew. The passenger was kept under tight lock. Only a few people – namely, he, Strings, Magdalena, and Leviathan – actually knew about it, and two of those people only because they’d been involved in the resurrection that had gone wrong by going right.

Still, he knew that while Catian was building up to the point, he still hadn’t told him anything of worth. The pale green eyes turned just a touch narrower, the butterfly on his hat resting with wings outspread.

“The bastard would probably talk to you just fine if you asked him,” he countered, although he was very careful not to use any of Hal’s names, because he’d lost track of which ones were actually binding years ago. “And I’m not the negotiator he is. Why come to me first? Why not approach him directly?”
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There was a silence that preceded Rex’s reply, a stillness that Catian decided to address first before answering the man’s questions.

”Keep in mind that the Stone was in Foundation possession the entire time. If you had used it to summon me I would have been contractually bound to helping you, and the tragedy of that event might have been avoided.” His expression spoke to what regret he had on the matter, though his tone was a touch admonishing. ”And before you consider that I might have intervened of my own accord I would like to remind you what I really am. Despite the losses of that event the scales were decidedly tipped to the Foundation’s benefit.” If he had shown up there was no guarantee he would have been there to help. ”Beyond both of those facts I would also point out that my interference might have damaged your reality more than it would have helped.” This seemed more an argument he had held with himself than one he was currently presenting.

A bit of tea sloshed from the cup where Catian might have stirred a bit too firmly, and he set the spoon aside with a sigh. ”Regardless of all of that, I do regret that I couldn’t prevent your loss. You have my deepest condolences on those. Without them, though, this world would probably be something far different from what you know.” He seemed to be more focused on 707 than Rex with that.

”More to the point, you aren’t wrong. Resurrections are a messy business, and even in my world they are far more likely to go wrong than they are right. However, in that state of shock and grief I am afraid that something slipped through your fingers that you are all too aware of.” Another raised eyebrow, this one of suggestion rather than inquiry. ”I am sure Strings would be more than happy to speak with me, under his own terms, of course. If you haven’t noticed I am a bit reluctant to enter into any contracts with the people of your world, though. He surely would aim to tether me to his own fate if I presented him the opportunity.” Whether Catian knew the mechanics of how Strings might do such a thing was left to mystery, as he preferred to leave so many things.

”Which brings us to the favor in question, and the reward.” Catian decided to forego the cream and took another sip of the fresher tea before continuing. ”I want you to arrange for Laine Cantrille to visit L-9, along with another researcher to verify the results of her testing.” The clink of his cup returning to the tray was almost like the strike of a judge’s gavel. ”Someone unassuming, with a portfolio that is neither too illustrious or too demure. Harold Stines comes to mind as a decent candidate.” Catain’s arms crossed over his chest. ”And in return I offer you a cleaner alternative to the messy resurrection you’re familiar with. One exclusively available to you.”