"You know I don't believe in this stuff," I said, pursing my lips. "It's just a scam."
Em placed the last card. "Are you done?"
I rolled my eyes. She'd placed each of the cards on the square of white silk in some kind of order; they were laid out like a cross, with four of the cards making up a straight line next to the cross. She'd shown each of the cards to me before placing them down and looking at them herself.
I couldn't make out the images very well. Knights. Kings. Chalices. Lots of swords. She said something for each of them."This covers you"... "This crosses you"...
Not that I was believing any of it. This stuff was for people who couldn't handle the truth. People never want to accept that there aren't any quick-fix answers. And no one ever knows what's going to happen. We make our own decisions, our own choices.
But then there was the Canon...
I twisted in my chair, looking over my shoulder at the wall. It was dark since Red had turned the lights down. I narrowed my eyes, looking at the far side of the wall, the part that had remained dark.
I wondered if slips of paper where hanging there, too...
I looked back at Em. Her eyes flickered to the wall for a second before she turned her attention to the cards. She took a deep breath.
"Let's begin," She said.
"You chose to represent yourself as the Knight of Swords," Em said quietly, pulling a card out from under another. It was the first card she'd shown to me, the one I'd selected out of the entire deck.
I looked closer. A knight in silver armor. On a horse.
A knight. I snorted back a laugh.
"He is a brave man," She said, ignoring me, her voice even. "Strong and dominant. He lives a life of war and conflict; he is a defender, and he seeks to avert destruction and death.
"This man can be headstrong," She said, her eyes flickering up to me for a minute before resting on the card again, "but he is skilled and is someone you would want on your side in battle.
She glanced over the cards. "You have a number of swords in your reading," She said slowly. "They betoken strife and all of them depict a gathering storm. Dark times are ahead for you, and you must be on your guard, ever ready, like the knight you have chosen for yourself."
She paused for a moment, slipping the card back. I blinked. Dark times are coming, Michael -
She moved her hands over the cards again, pointing specifically to a few cards. The ones with the chalices.
"The cups you have are reversed," She said. "Ordinarily, they are cards of good fortune - but here, reversed, they can show loss. The named cards, the Major Arcana, tell me that there is much you and I cannot know. The Arcana are secrets; they are hidden from me and I can only guess at what they truly hold for you."
"At the heart of your question -" She said, gesturing to another card, "is The Fool. It is not that the Fool is foolish as we understand it," She said quickly. "Rather, that he is inexperienced and at the start of an undertaking; he is wise enough to seek wisdom," She said, her eyes coming up to meet mine.
"Wise enough to seek answers," She said deliberately.
I opened my mouth to say something and changed my mind. If she thought I was buying any of this...
"He is at the beginning of a journey of spiritual and intellectual growth," She continued, looking down at the cards. "He is the ultimate seeker - and he is a representation of you, Michael, for your life has been a quest. You seek answers, always, and you never have enough."
She pointed back at the card and I squinted to make it out. He was in mid-step... ready to walk over a cliff...
"He is not afraid of what the abyss he sees holds for him," Em continued. "He is strong-willed and not held back by lower forms of desire. He carries with him the universal memory of all things past, present, and future. Like any one at the start of a journey, however, he faces a choice.
"The choice, Michael, is one of enormous importance," She said, pausing and looking up at me. "He must use all his gifts and powers to be sure that he makes the right choice. Remember this as the rest of the cards tell their story. The Fool's guide is traditionally the Hermit," She said, pausing for a moment.
"But here, there is no Hermit in your reading. You have no one to light your way, and so you are on your own. It may be very dark for you as you continue on in your journey, but you must not get discouraged or sidetracked. You are used to being on your own...you must trust yourself, but it might not hurt you to learn to trust others, as well."
She looked at the third card she'd placed. "The King of Swords crosses you. He can be an obstacle, but he can also be working for your cause in ways which are not yet apparent. He is a stern man, and he sits in judgment as a storm gathers around him. He is a wise man, who, like you, the Knight, the Fool, holds the power of life and death in his hands, in his choices.
"He can be a counselor," She said slowly. "He is an authority figure, perhaps in military or governmental concerns. He is very careful; his every step is measured. I think that you know who he is. I think that what you do not realize is that he could just as easily be yourself.
"You struggle against your own nature as well as others. Here, however, this card is not you…I can see that you admire this man, and I can see that your struggle with him will be painful to you and others. You must always remember that what you do affects not only yourself," She said slowly. "but also those around you."
I stared at the card. The King was on a throne, a sword held up in his hand.
An authority figure. Careful. Every step is measured -
I shook it off. It's just a game, Guerin, to get inside your head...
"Beneath you are the Lovers," Em said, her hand hovering over the card beneath the King. A naked man and woman stood apart, a large angel just above them.
"They are the archetypal lovers," She said. "Representing the male and female balance in consciousness and in the spiritual world. Eve is identified with the high priestess, your next card. She is Adam's way of getting in touch with the higher power of the angel. They are reversed, though," She said slowly, "And here they represent the interference of guardians in the lives of children; they represent quarrels over children, and they suggest an incorrect choice with respect to those children.
"It is in your past," She said deliberately. "The child is you."
"What?" I asked, leaning in. "What does that -"
"I can't tell you what it means, Michael," She said gently. "I can only tell you what the cards tell me."
I pursed my lips, staring at her for a second, then sat back suddenly, the wood of the chair hard against my back. "So what's the point?" I snapped. "I mean, what good is any of this if you can't tell me -"
"The concept of the Tarot is that only you can know what they mean, Michael," She said, shaking her head. "I can tell you what they say, but only you can know how they apply to you."
I stared at the cards. I tuned into a tapping sound and stopped when I realized my left hand was punctuating a rhythm on the armrest.
"Not that any of it's real," Em said quietly.
Her face was turned away. I couldn't read her expression.
I narrowed my eyes. "Keep going," I muttered.
"The High Priestess is behind you," Em said, pointing to the next card of a woman on a throne.
"She's a pretty blatant sexual metaphor for the creativity which requires opposites in order to realize itself: the black and white pillars, the conscious and subconscious mind. Her scroll is full of secrets which you, the Fool, are only beginning to understand. The curtain behind her is covered in male and female symbols, and it indicates that the subconscious she represents is only productive when joined with conscious desire to make it so. She tells us that there were, and perhaps are, hidden influences at work, and that the creative forces of the subconscious are at work in your life. She can represent a woman of great intuition and inner beauty who was and perhaps is a force in your life."
She moved to the next card. Two adults, a man and a woman, looked up at the sky, their arms twined around each other's waists. A girl and a boy played next to them. A golden arc of chalices hung above the family in the sky.
I resisted the urge to turn around and look at Liz.
"Before you is the Ten of Cups," Em said, her voice quiet. "The husband and wife, and their children, look with wonder upon the scene." She cleared her throat.
"It is reversed," She said, her voice sad. She looked up at me. "You will not share their joy."
I stared back at her, keeping my expression neutral. It doesn't matter, I thought, I am the Stone Wall, they're only cards, it's not real -
She looked away and I breathed again. The pain was sharp in my chest.
"Instead, what it shows for you is a loss of friendship by betrayal," She continued. "It forecasts a quarrel with someone you are close to, someone you consider family. You are cautious, but you must watch yourself, because this is no light matter."
She paused and looked at me again. I stared at her evenly.
"The Queen of Swords is above you," She said. Her hand hovered over a card of a woman on a throne, her left arm extended, her right arm holding a sword in a vertical line.
"A storm gathers behind her as well," Em said, pointing. "You can see the storm clouds on her robe. She looks out over the storm, and she is sorrowful, worried because of it.
"Her sword is raised, but it rests on her throne; she is not active, yet. This card represents a dark-haired woman. She is smart but subtle, quiet but very aware of her surroundings."
"She symbolizes privation, separation," Em said, her voice dropping. "You will be separated from her."
The heat flared in my hands, the skin singing the tips of my fingertips. My teeth clenched the inside of my mouth and I moved my hands from the armrests to fold my arms over my chest, ignoring the dark burns they'd left on the chair.
"It will cause her pain; it may be the source of the sadness you see in The Queen here," Em continued.
"Note that she does not belong to the King of Swords. They are not a pair. The Kings and Queens of the Tarot need not be married to one another or to anyone; their designations are simply for convenience: they tell us what positions they hold."
She looked up. "Do not make too much of the names of the cards, but look instead at what the cards themselves mean."
I pursed my lips. It doesn't mean anything. They're only cards, it doesn't mean anything -
She turned to another card. A large hand held a cup, a chalice, overflowing with water.
"Your fears are represented by the Ace of Cups," She said. She pursed her lips and took a breath before she continued.
"In its reversed position," She said, "It represents hesitancy towards anything good. You are afraid to get close to people, to love them and to let them love you. As a result, you tend to cut short good things in your life before you become too attached to them, just as you fear becoming too attached to the material things of this life that the suit of Cups normally represents. In some ways you are very highly developed spiritually, but it is out of fear and necessity, and not out of a conscious decision to become so, I think."
Her eyes flickered up to me before moving to the next card. I stared back.
"The Ace of Swords represents the feelings those close to you have about you in your current situation," She said, her hand moving to a new card. I glanced down at it. An outstretched arm held a sword up to the sky. At the tip of the sword hung a crown.
"This card, like the Ace of Cups, involves the presence of the spirit in you. It is a card of extremes in everything. Your friends see you as tremendously forceful in love and hate and in all things in which you engage.
"They see you in constant motion, in constant conquest, constantly seeking and working towards your desires and your goals. Like other cards in your spread, this card can represent fertility and potential. I am at a loss to explain this clearly, but it must mean that the time is ripe for something," She said, shaking her head slightly. She looked up at me.
"Everything in your life seems to be waiting for a final element in order to come to fruition. Be sure that you are ready when the moment comes. Do not be caught unawares, for you do not know what the result will be."
She returned to the cards, moving to another one. A tower, struck by lightning. A crown at the top of the tower was about to fall to the ground, and it looked like people were being thrown from it to their deaths.
"Your hopes are represented by the Tower," She said. "The tower represents ignorance, false reasoning, and human conceit; it is like the Biblical tower of Babel, struck by the light of truth and right. It is a card of change, of eliminating existing forms in order to make way for new ones; it is a card of openness to new ideas.
"The crown is the materialistic aspect of life being thrown aside. It is the overthrow of the traditional way of life, but it brings conflict and unforeseen catastrophe. There is enlightenment to be had, but it comes at a cost," She said slowly, her eyes coming up to mine.
"You must be sure that you are willing to bear that cost," She said evenly.
"This card can represent the answers you seek," She said, leaning back and looking down at the cards. "But you must be sure that you want these answers.
"They will change your life in ways you cannot imagine."
"The Summation of the cards, the direction in which all this will take you, is represented by the nine of wands," She said, pointing to the last card. A man leaned against a staff. Several other staffs stood upright behind him.
"The man is waiting, prepared, for the enemy," Em said quietly. "His weapons are well-ordered, and though he rests, he rests with his weapon in his hand."
My teeth clenched the flesh in my mouth. I tried to cool the fire in my palms.
"He has strength in reserve, and he will be able to defend himself when attacked, but make no mistake: he will be attacked," She continued. "His enemies are coming for him, and he is fortunate enough to have been given notice to prepare for their attack." Her eyes flew up to mine.
"You may not be so fortunate," She said deliberately.
I blinked, surprised at the fear clawing at my throat. Maybe Valenti knows something. Maybe Max told him something -
"Please don't ignore this," Em said quietly. "The enemy will be among you soon. They are coming for you.
"You think that no one ever comes for you, Michael," She whispered, shaking her head. "But that is not true. They are coming for you, Michael, and for those you care about," She said, leaning forward.
"You must be ready, because it will take all of your strength to defeat them."
"Is everything all right?" Someone asked behind us. I jumped.
We both looked up at *Maria*. The singer. The one who spoke French -
"Hey, *Maria*. We're finished," Em said. I glanced back at her. She was picking up the cards and placing them with the deck.
"How's the, uhm -" She smiled, putting all the cards in the white pouch. "How's the sister project?"
"Ohhh," *Maria* grinned. "Tres bien. I could not wish for better. Wait -" She paused and closed her eyes. "I take it back. I believe I could," She laughed, looking down at me. "Salut, mon coeur," She said, placing her hand on my shoulder.
"Hey," I muttered, looking at Em. She'd placed the cards in the box and was locking it. She smiled at me briefly and picked up the book she'd been reading. There was a pause.
"What," I said, "That's it?"
She didn't even look up from the book. "What do you mean?" She asked slowly.
"The cards," I said.
She looked at me blankly, not saying anything.
"Enemies approaching? Betrayed by someone close to me? Any of this sound familiar?" I demanded, leaning forward. "What about that - that Queen of Swords one. You said -" I licked my lips. "You said she was a brunette. That she was leaving -"
"What about 'This stuff is a crock?'" Em asked quietly. Her hand moved over the text, marking her place before looking over at me. She tilted her head and looked at me. "I thought no one ever knew what was going to happen, Michael."
I shut up. My eyes narrowed at her.
She didn't even blink.
"Oh, come now," *Maria* crooned, her hand squeezing my shoulder. "If Em says you are free, zen you must join me, mais non? For - what is it you usually give your clients, Em? A cookie?"
Em smiled. "Yep. Chocolate chip," She said. "They're in a jar by the bar."
"Oo, you ryhming psychic, you," *Maria* said with a smile, pulling at me. "Come, come, Monsieur. Ze cookies are magnifique," She said.
I stood up, confused, and let her lead me away from Em. I glanced back halfway across the room.
Em was smiling weakly. She raised her hand in a wave for a second; then she picked up her book and started reading again. I almost waved back.
"That was weird," I said, my eyes still on Em, leaning against the bar while *Maria* looked for the cookies.
"Ahh, Mademoiselle has touched on some truth, non?" *Maria* asked, her hands on her hips, surveying the bar. "Qu'est que c'est le cookies," She muttered.
"Yeah," I snorted. "Right. Like I buy any of that," I said loudly.
"Oh non," *Maria* said, pursing her lips and shaking her head. "Not vous. Ah! Here it is -"
I looked over at Liz. She was still sitting there with several women, smiling, laughing with them.
Someone said something - Elizabeth, I think. Liz she laughed out loud and I caught a flash of her teeth, her hair falling in waves over her shoulders. She brought her hands up and clapped them together.
My heart lurched. She was beautiful when she didn't smile, but when she did...
It was like the whole room lit up, I thought.
Em was wrong.
"Liz would never leave," I said, turning to *Maria*. "That's just -"
"Viola," *Maria* said breathlessly, holding a chocolate chip cookie in front of my face. She was grinning.
"Thanks," I muttered, taking it from her and setting it on the counter.
"Oh non, mon coeur," She said quickly. "It is a - how do you say? A 'ritual'," She said, nodding happily. "Sometimes ze readings, zey are -" She paused, her eyes narrowed.
"Difficult?" I prompted.
She beamed. "Oui," She nodding emphatically. "Zat is ze word. Em says," She said, reaching in to take one for herself, "Zat ze cookies help."
I looked at her. "Really."
"Oui," *Maria* said. "She says, 'Make sure zey eat a cookie and be sure to tell zem: 'As soon as you are finished,'" She said, taking a nibble of hers, "Zey will feel right as rain."
"How'd it go?"
Em sighed and closed the book. "Terrifying," She said quietly, looking over at Michael. "But I'm not sure he was convinced."
"He will be."
Em rubbed her eyes. "That doesn't make me feel better," She said quietly.
"I see he's found the cookies. And the tobasco."
"Yeah," Em said, smiling a little. "I thought the distraction might be good for him. It worked in the Matrix."
"Neo was far more malleable than our Mr. Guerin."
"Well, that's part of his charm, isn't it?" Em asked, standing up.
"So... this reading...."
"Anything I should know about?"
"Nice try, Whiteotter," Em said dryly, smiling and folding her arms. "But you know I never reveal a reading."
Whiteotter rolled her eyes. "Well -I was sort of hoping you'd make an exception in this case."
"Sorry," Em said, shaking her head. Both of them stared across the room at Michael.
"It's in his hands now."
I looked over at Michael. He was eating a cookie at the bar.
With tobasco. Of course. I smiled. Everybody here was so friendly, they were so nice -
And I didn't have to think about the dreams when I was here.
The conversation kept going without me; Lauren was telling an off-color joke and Elizabeth kept saying the punchline before the joke was over. We'd been laughing since Michael left with Whiteotter -
I glanced over in that direction. Whiteotter was talking to the woman Michael'd been talking to. I'd never met her before. Em, I thought, remembering. Whiteotter called her Em.
Their voices were low whispers. Em was shaking her head. She folded her arms.
They were both staring at Michael.
They looked worried.
I twisted around, looking at Michael. He was staring at the cookie in his hand.
He took a bite, looked at it, and then suddenly threw it down onto the counter. His hands clenched into fists.
I stood up. Elizabeth stopped what she was saying and looked up at me.
"What?" She asked. "Liz, what is it?"
"Something's wrong," I whispered.
"You do not like zem?" *Maria* asked. "Zey are supposed to be magnifique -"
I shook my head and tried to control the fire in my fists.
Someone I admired was going to betray me.
You will be separated from her -
Enemies were coming for me. What enemies? Valenti? The FBI?
It may be the source of her sadness -
A choice was of enormous importance. What choice -
"Michael?" Liz said softly, her hand resting on my shoulder.
I looked at her and felt the fire in my hands start to ebb.
I pulled her into a fierce hug.
"Michael," She whispered, surprised, her hands hesitant. I clutched her tighter and her hands fell on my back and my hair. "Michael, what is it -"
I pulled back and locked eyes with her.
"Promise me you won't leave," I said quietly.
Her mouth opened. She looked shocked.
"Michael - I would never -"
"Promise me," I hissed. "Just say it."
She blinked twice, confused, worried.
"I will never leave you," She whispered slowly. Tears glittered in her eyes.
"Michael - what -"
I pulled her in to me quickly, smothering her question with a kiss, my hands warm and bright on her face.
She promised, I thought. She promised. We would find a way around it. We'd found a way around everything else.
She broke the kiss way too soon. I tried to pull her back to me -
"Hey," She whispered, her eyes downcast. "We could, uhm - we could go back.
"To my room."
I blinked. I could hear my breathing.
"Right," I said. I swallowed and looked around quickly. "Fine."
"Time to go, I presume," Whiteotter said, walking towards us.
Liz turned around, smiling. "Yeah," She said. Her hand slid down and her fingers locked around mine. "You know how it is."
"Unfortunately, no," Whiteotter said. "But I can imagine."
"Right," I said, moving for the door. "Bye."
"Michael! Wait," Whiteotter said. "Look, I don't know what Em told you, but -"
"I've got it taken care of," I said quickly. Liz looked up at me. "We're okay."
She smiled, surprised. "Wow. Well - good. I just wanted to tell you that the reading - it's just to help get you prepared."
"Right," I said, turning for the door.
"There's just one thing -"
I sighed loudly and turned around. "What."
She pursed her lips. "Look - both of you just be careful. Alright? Just - have faith in each other. Follow your hearts," She said, waving her hands self-consciously. "Don't let anyone tell you who you are or what you're supposed to do. You are who you choose to be."
Liz blinked. "My grandmother used to say that," She said quietly.
"You mean Claudia?" Whiteotter asked. "Grandmother Claudia?"
"Yeah," Liz said. Her voice was a whisper. "She told me to follow my heart."
"Here's another bit of sage advice," Ivy called out from across the room. "Be careful around Nasedo."
"And Tess," Red said, putting the cookies back behind the bar. "Don't forget about her, either."
Whiteotter nodded slowly. "They're right. Nasedo in particular is dangerous, Michael. It's no reflection on you or any of the pod squad, and I'm not saying he doesn't have his reasons, but... just take what he says seriously. You'll get through it. All of it.
"Just be careful."
I blinked and frowned. "Pod squad?"
Several people started to laugh. Whiteotter grimaced. "Oh, man," She said, barying her face in her hands. "Wait - wait, I can take that out -"
"Oh, no -"
"Hell, no, Whiteotter! That's funny -"
"Ottie, honey, you have got to relax-"
The voices overlapped each other quickly. I glanced at Liz and moved my head toward the door. She nodded, a smile on her face.
They were still laughing and arguing when we slipped outside and felt the blackness envelop us.
|DC Slash||Harry Potter||Ros. Hetero||Ros. Slash||Ros. Other|