1965-07-24 - Death and the Dragon
Summary: A chance encounter with the best bagels in New York brings Danny to the cusp of being an artist.
Related: None
Theme Song: None
danielle-rand sadie 

It's the Swinging Sixties, baby! Yeah!

And that means anyone who is cool eats dense bread in a round hoop for breakfast. Bagels fly fast and furious at the counter of Hip Bagel. Imitators will be shot, condemned, and trod under Birkenstocks. The cool kids hang out here, those from New York University and Greenwich spillover into Soho, the hippest of the new neighborhoods clawed back from dissolution into moldy bricks and collapsing buildings. Gentrification at work applies readily for those without a lot of money but big dreams and aspirations. A gig in the back involves two guys playing bongo drums and a guitar, the song not half bad in its composition. Swaying a little from side to side, Sadie minces her way over to a free table. It may not be open yet, but the folks there are leaving and they just have to be convinced to move along instead of loitering for twenty minutes, right? The girl with the sleek blue-black hair backcombed and teased into a lustrous height. She beams as she carries her poppyseed bagel, the smear of plain creamcheese mounted beside it. "Good morning," she answers cheerily. "Marvin, how is your mother doing? Is her ankle any better? Falling when watering her Boston ferns — it's like something out of a story."

Marvin's companions might snigger. Marvin, however, is a man with biceps like corded steal, and an opinion about his mother. No sniggers, only knowing nods and worried looks. He takes that time to push his chair back. "I should get her groceries. She's not up and about yet." And that means his friends go, since they've got a morning to strut out into.

Danny Rand is not normally a standout character in most parts of town. She's a relative newcomer back to the big city. But how she's dressed— slacks, a neat business jacket, women's office dress shoes— gets more than a few looks. It's so progressive that it's a little disconcerting even for some of the Greenwhich crew, and it certainly is radical enough that the old salts of New York look askance at the city's youngest millionaire.

She heads up to the counter with a smooth stride, hands in pockets, and looks up at the menu. "Hi. I'd like to try one of those onion bagels, with lots of cream cheese," she requests. She digs out a slender billfold and lays a couple of bills on the counter, ignoring the looks. She accepts the food and heads for a table, the same on Sadie's crusing towards.

"Oh, hi," she tells Sadie, a little apologetically. She looks around. "Can I share the table with you?" She inquires, casually. "Looks like there aren't a lotta spots to sit," she clarifies.

The navy-blue dress Sadie wears, with its line of silver buttons, holds a slightly militaristic air somehow turned on its head to satisfy the mores of a girl in go-go boots. Hardly surprising that she has a tight scarf, multicolored in grey, blue, and red wrapped around her hair. She drops down into a seat still warm from the last person to sit there, and scoots in closer. Just one person at a little three or four-topper; the round tables require scooting in to really take advantage of their size. Her plate lands with a clink, and there isn't anything to drink, but it hardly matters at all. She has excellent food.

Feet slanted under her chair, she watches the world go by before picking up her plastic knife and trying to saw into the bagel. That takes some skill. The tip of her tongue emerges from the corner of her lips, and she breaks into a little smile at her efforts, right as Danny floats up. "Absolutely. Any chair that's open is fair game, isn't it? Otherwise you might have to eat on the kerb, and that's not very appetizing."

Danny sits down and sets a napkin on her thigh, then starts spreading cream cheese across the bagel with the knife in her hand. Five-hundred-dollar suit aside, she's got scars on her knuckles that she probably didn't acquire during hostile corporate takeovers. "I appreciate it. I mean, I've probably eaten in weirder places than New york, curbside," she remarks, "but this is nice. Sitting, I mean, instead of the old Thai squat," she says, cheerily.

She sets her bagel down, wipes her fingers, and offers a polite handshake to Sadie. "Danielle, but everyone calls me Danny," she tells the woman. "Can I buy you some coffee? Very polite of you to let me sit with you."

No need for a napkin in her lap here, because Sadie has the gift of neatly bisecting her bagel in the most fascinating ways. Her efforts to prise apart the two moons of the bagel requires the smart application of knife and nails, releasing a steamy cloud fragrant with the scent of fresh baked bread. "Isn't that just the best scent ever? This is what life is about." Dabbing a speck of poppy seed against her lips, she swallows lightly. All about her manners, the dark-tressed girl sits back a shade. "You're quite welcome. But breakfast with company is usually better than breakfast apart." She nods at this bit of advice with conviction in its presence. A bit of dabbing her fingers on the napkin follows and she offers it, pale as cream, fair enough the blue veins in her wrist are visible.

"Sadie. It's good to meet you, Danny." She smiles brighter. "I'm sure the Thai squat is a good thing to practice for balance and strengthening your centre. Not enough people do that nowadays, and it shows. Coffee would be absolutely sublime. I could just drift away on the smell. You don't have to, of course. Though if you want to, I'm not going to be rude and turn down your gesture of kindness."

Danny half-turns and gestures to get a barista's attention— two fingers, then a flickering point to the table. The universal sign for coffee. "It's funny, I've seen them do it all over the Orient," Danny says. "It's uncomfortable as heck for me, but they can sit like that for hours at a time. I think it's just as natural for them as it is for us to sit in chairs."

"You from New York, Sadie?" Danny inquires, convivially. There's a sense about the woman that she's hungry for human interaction on some level, as if she's spent a long time away from the nicities of polite society.

Sadie forms bunny ears with her fingers, scooping up a sliver of the bagel and applying cream cheese with quick, deft strokes of the knife. Her gestures have a particular economy to them, far from grandiose flourishes. "It must be so. You grow used to what you have around, and that becomes normal. I imagine there are entire stretches of the world where they cannot imagine living in apartment buildings like we do. No land! No space. Who wants that? There's probably a Mongolian herder shocked by our choices in life."

The quick nibble along the outer rim of the bagel leaves crescent marks. "I'm a New Yorker now, through and through. I moved around before this," she says, "but there's something about the city that keeps me right here. The city sticks with you even when you leave it. And yourself?"

"Born here, grew up here for a long time. Spent some time abroad," Danielle says, rolling a shoulder in a neutral gesture. It's shorthand for 'it's a really long story', probably a lot like Sadie's truncated explanation of things.

"I haven't been back really too long. Just a few months, really. It's… as big as I remember," she says, wryly. "It was kind of a culture shock for me, to be honest. China's big. Almost as big as America. And there are millions of people living there, everything from deserts to mountains to tundra to swamplands. But it still feels… unsettled. A little more insular, y'know? You see little villages and rice farms with maybe the same fifteen families that have been there for twenty generations or longer. New York's oldest families are… what, seven, eight generations? Nevermind heading out west, with the settlers."

She wrinkles her button nose, then laughs. "I'm sorry. I'm in a strange mood today. I'm not normally this, uh, chatty," she tells Sadie. "Funny, I don't think I've ever really sat down and /thought/ about it like that before," she reflects.

"How lovely. Do you like traveling? It seems like a fantastic way to expand on your horizons, and learn about other people and things." This is an age of journeys, though none is so short or long as the one she embodies. Sadie smiles, her mood bright and easy. The second bite of the bagel seems to give her a total glow of satisfaction. A wonder she doesn't just cram it all in her mouth.

Hip Bagel is serious about its bagels. "They're so good. Yum." She puts down the remaining half and cuts another two wedges free, more polite to eat, and much more tolerable. "China is vast, isn't it? Maps don't really give a sense of the scale. So many mountains. All the middle ranges. I think most people imagine the Forbidden City, Hong Kong, the Himalayas, and panda bears. Then forget about the middle. Did you travel all over it?" Her eyes widen fractionally, that kohled curlicue fresh as the moment she painted it on in the morning. Probably. Right?

A bit of a laugh escapes her lips, and she might just look about ready to pat Danny's hand in reassurance. "It's a whole new perspective, standing somewhere very old when your country is still so young. Don't feel bad at all. I've had that experience too. Looking at Egyptian pyramids and stopping to think, that was old when the Romans ruled. Their names are known in Greek to us because the original ones were forgotten. That's just mind blowing. To say nothing about Harappa, too."

"I saw Cowloon Bay, and Beijin, and Shanghai and a few others," Danny says agreeably. She eats her bagel with the slice balanced on her fingers, though she's neat enough not to spray crumbs everywhere. "You get into the wildlands in the heart of China and it's… like a land that time forgot. I mean, we think the Pyramids are old. There are monasteries and chapels and ancient temples in the highlands of China that are easily as old as the Pyramids. It's… I don't know Harappa offhand," She admits. "But the Chinese can trace linear dynasties going back thousands of years. I know what scholars say about the Cradle of Life being in Mesopotamia, but… gosh. You see some of those old mountainside temples and the fishing villages, and it's hard /not/ to wonder who was first."

"Peking and Shanghai are marvels, aren't they? Great cities, so very old. But then there are villages occupied since the first emperor, they say, though it's a bit of speculation there." She presses her fingers to her lips, the need to laugh brightening her eyes out of their incredible darkness to something closer to an actual colour. Take your pick as to which. "You make it sound so very exciting. What a thrill to travel there. But you know what I like best?"

A pause, because that bagel really needs a bit more cream cheese. She adds it without complaint. "You sound so respectful of it, rather than afraid. These are fascinating things to you, and they are something you've given respect. That is amazing to me. It really is. I hope more people feel the same." A nod, and she let's that go. "So, Harappa is a series of cities in the valley of the Indus Valley. In what's the Punjab today, I suppose. They're really quite remarkable, since the great Merhgahr culture traded with the Sumerians and established this remarkable network of irrigation and urban centres along a now defunct river channel. That was sad when it happened, naturally, but for thousands of years, they bloomed in the most remarkable of ways. A string of cities achieving such feats, and they were for the most part quite peaceful. Well. Except for birds. They did a lot of cock fighting. It wasn't perfect, of course, there were a fair bit of struggle now and then, but the city states — what you'd think of them anyways — sort of did their own thing, far as it looks, and they maintained interesting links. They were also fascinated by carnelian, by lapis, and other stones we see all over Egypt. Proof humanity went the distance even as far back as four thousand years before zero, and all that."

Danielle gives Sadie a stunned look. "I…. how on earth do you know all that?" she inquires, looking a little gobsmacked. "I lived in China for ten years and I don't think I scratched the surface of their history. I'll never really *be* Chinese," she says.

"What are you, some kinda history professor or something?" She holds up a hand to forestall a response. "Dumb question, you really don't strike me as a tweed jacket wearing anthropologist," she tells Sadie. "Kinda makes me wonder what you're doing in a trendy bagel shop in New York," she says, eyes narrowing even as her lips curl.

"I hear things. I read things. I work with a lot of people and meet a ton of them too." She waves to the server passing by with refills for coffee. "Hi, Peggy." Her mouth tips up in a content simple, and Peggy laughs, pouring more into their mugs. Off she goes, leaving Sadie lightly shrugging a bit, in the cheerful rather than dismissive way that says 'that's just how it is.'

"I'm not a history professor. National Geographic had something about in a magazine. I went to a lecture, too, over at Columbia. It was really something. You can tell the people discovering these things really love what they do." She sits forward a bit, her elbows placed on the table and her chin resting on the bridge of her hands. "It's the passion that sticks with me, I guess. You know how you can remember good things so clearly? Like a fine meal. I may not remember what I had yesterday, but there's this incredibly good pizza shop over in Brooklyn? I never had this funny wrapped up pizza thing they've got. The filling on the inside, and the outside is all baked bread or crust or whatever. And I can describe every last flavour of that down to the tomato heaven in the middle. Well, that, and I burned my mouth on it, but I didn't care. That's sort of what the experience is like for some of these people. They go out into the field, found something incredible. Like - - you've heard of Egyptomania? King Tut and all those guys digging up the Nile from end to end. It was kinda like TV, but better. So that's kind of where it goes. I really just like listening to what moves people, what makes them wonderful. I'm an artist, right now." She gestures at the door. "I co-own a gallery with a number of other artists. Anyone who wants a stake in it, actually, can have one. The Endless Collective. It's been eye-opening, and it totally expanded my perspective on a few things. You see someone so moved by what makes them fascinated, what makes them feel alive, and it's hard not to want to know more about it. I mean, even if I've never been to India, I know they were really into mining these beautiful stones that end up in those pectorals of Isis in the British Museum and even the Met. It's crazy."

"Gosh. You really get into your reading, don't you?" Danny tells Sadie, with a bemused expression. She grins at Sadie, then, and takes another bite of her bagel. "Maybe I need to renew my subscription to them or something," she mutters.

"Oh, heck, I didn't mean to sound so accusatory," Danny says. "Just kinda surprised. I keep feeling like New Yorkers and Shanghai really aren't so differnt— everyone keeps their head down and minds their own business. It's kind of surprising to meet anyone who actually cares to learn about history beyond what will be relvant in the next couple weeks."

Maybe. She snickers all the same, eating that bagel and trying not to be too overt about her enthusiasm. "I like almost everything. It's worth getting into."

She grins all the same, popping the bagel into her mouth. "Enough of me though. What was the most interesting thing about China to you?"

"I was nine," Danny explains, reaching for her coffee and sipping it down. "When my family got there. I spent most of the next ten years in a really old city— you wouldn't know the name, trust me," she tells Sadie. "So I mean, I was… thirteen, fourteen? When we did a trip to Shanghai for provisions. And then Beijing, a little later. Not a ton of travelling. I grew up in New York so it was… the same, but different?" she hesitates. "It wasn't a scary surprise for me to be aorund the buildings and people. I … it just felt like home, I guess," she admits, laughing easily.

The girl folds her fingers again, chin back on them. Her ankh earrings swing back and forth from under the gleaming blackberry fall of her shining, straight hair. Pin straight, she probably irons it to achieve that smooth sheen that's the envy of all. Including the player, seriously. "Really?" Interest illuminates her eyes, and she gestures. "I'll buy you a pastry of your choice if I don't." A bit of charm and cheer blend together, knowing full well she'll probably forget all about it. "That's amazing your family traveled there. I hope you found it to be remarkable even then. It really sounds beautiful, like a place that profoundly influenced you. And that's a good thing. Same applies to art. Put your hands on a brush or a sculpture or a hunk of wood, let that inspire you, and shape it as you are shaped."

Danielle's smile broadens just a little. "It's past Khandbari, near the draw that feeds the Koshi River," she tells Sadie. "Only a few hundred people living on the tundra steppes, about sixty miles from Everest," she says. "They don't consider themselves a town— it's a monastic order, really. They call it Getave be Garna. If you've been there, you're among … maybe ten white people in the world who've seen it," she tells Sadie, wryly. Her eyes dance. "How about that pastrie, then?"

"Not too far from Biratnagar, the road of petals swept up to rugged summit of Makalu. There, suspended under the thin wisps of cloud, a lush emerald value surrendered to countless silver braids threading down from those lofty peaks under the roof of Heaven. Ah! But I was held helpless in the spell upon me, while the porters thought me daft, and I thought I heard in that moment the distant shout of the snow leopard — or the voice of Shiva, summoning me to attest. Or was it instead the Ekajati who danced in her reckless abandon for me, and left me insensate and dulled to the pleasures of the lower quarters where my kind of the Hesperian Isle properly dwelled?"

She says it almost in sing-song, a chant intoned oddly favorably to the beat of the drums patterning behind her and the guitar plucked in order. "When you walk no more, and the trail ends, past the curving peaks and the ragged cloths, you have truly reached the start of the journey. I think that's how it goes." She blinks, a dreamy flicker of a sunny smile there. "Heavenly, really. You certainly had a remarkable situation by the sounds of it. And yes, that pastry."

Danny regards the woman across from her with a blank expression. At least, it's her best attempt at being unreadable, and it might even be a good one except for one such as Sadie sitting across from her.

On impulse, Danny pushes her awareness out towards Sadie. She's no psychic— it's not invasive or intrusive. But a harmony sings around every creature in the universe, every rock and tree and twig and beetle. There is a *place* for all things, and mastery of Qi is, essentially, mastery of the harmony of self. Danielle is one with herself inasmuch as few other humans have ever been.

And so she reaches out with that harmony of self to push her very essence against Sadie's, to see what *her* harmony can reveal to Danielle.

She's the counterbalance to the song of life. The melody requires a harmony, just as the dark accentuates the light. The level of the balance stands there, though not properly arranged. It's like staring through a keyhole to the vastness of space, to something that stands perfectly level with two dishes. She would be the golden feather on the scale and the heart at the same time, or the spreading fair wings — green, in Egypt, black in the Levant, white in the furthest southeast. It's a long way down that Alice rabbit hole, and yet far too shallow, the psychic stone landing with a plink at an acceptable depth and falling, falling, all the way to a beginning. The beginning. No beginning at all.

The ankh earrings shine on her ears, bright silver, and not silver at all. But it's the visible mark under her eye, the one that would make her Nephthys as easy as Persephone, the mask of smiling Czernobog or scowling Kali, the prince's of the underworld, the hooded seraph Azra'il, the sucking void or the white light at the end of the tunnel. At the end of the day, she is what she is. No hiding that. But a piece of it, cleaved off a block. There is a place for all things, and she is that block, the black mountain, the high pearly gates, the Elysian field, except one pebble, one bar, one flower. In perfect harmony. And not at all, the jangling deviations of chords around her foreign, like finding that flower with a stick of dynamite nailed into the earth, the pebble glued to a Buick's bumper, the horn and bone bar thrust through a shark on a reef. Odd, really.

Sadie smiles. "You've not met Bartholomew Levington-Brass? He lives two streets down. Older now, and he never really got over malaria. His father, Islington, wrote a grand collection when they were in British India. He's a very nice fellow, getting on in years. I've taken tea with him, and he likes to talk. Oh, that collection is something. His father lugged a typewriter in the Himalaya. Imagine! It's about this big, I'm sure." She holds up her hands a bit bigger than could possibly be so. "Of course, Bartholomew had to carry it when he was big enough. I think he preferred the handwritten journals sent back to Calcutta."

Danielle gulps. Loudly. Her hands rest on the table, perfectly still, which is a credit to her training and discipline. Mentally, she's reeling from that brief brush of her life force brushing up against a well of eternity, from beginning until the end of all things when the last light winks out.

"I… haven't had the pleasure," Danielle says, trying to collect her aplomb. "I've only been back a few months, and it's … mostly been trying to untangle some, uh, legal affairs. Wills, estates, that kind of thing. My family, was, ah, declared…" she trails off, and clears her throat twice. "Dead, in absentia. It's been a little hectic."

Death is deathless, bright and hopeful. And death is not. She has a vast spark of life, and with that, she has a terrifyingly normal bearing. Sadie sips her coffee, her eyes crinkling almost impishly. If she knows something is amiss, she doesn't show it. "Oh, if you have a chance, I can give you an introduction. He's the most gentle old soul and he might be glad for someone else who knows the difference between a brahmin and the Bramaputra." Her mouth tips up, almost laughing, but dims right down because legal affairs, those are serious.

Death is serious, if only for a few moments. She nods, her mouth rounding. "In absentia? Oh my. Is that one of those things you have to get a congressman for? How do you get undeaded?"

"Carefully?" Danielle says. It's a bit of a glib response, but she's sufficiently rattled to fall back on the old standby: cracking wise. Something the monks never quite disciplined out of her. "It required a judge, though. A bunch of witnesses. Evidence. I had some things— stuff my family brought with us. I was able to bring photographs, some personal journals, identification, that sort of thing. Took me months to get my identity reinstated, but it kinda cinched it when we went to my old bedroom with the woman who was my nanny and I dug out every candy stash she pretended not to know about," Danny says, wryly. She's recovering from the immense shock of the encounter with Sadie's presence, and like most humans, seems to be falling back on that other handy standby: Don't Worry About It! It's probably better in the long run if she doesn't dwell.

Danielle Rand says, "Oh, the entire narrative arc is a depicition of the problem with long-term delaying your problems."

Sadie blinks. And then she laughs, truly laughs, bright and warm as a shaft of sunshine. "Oh yes. I suppose you would. It must be terribly awkward to convince someone you aren't dead when you are standing in front of them. But the paperwork says it can't be." She sounds mildly mystified by that function. And well she should, considering the office she holds. "Well. If trouble arises, you are always welcome at the Collective. We have a bit of a living area and of course space to pursue what you like. Read, create, be. It sounds all turned out right, which I'm so glad for. What a strange state, being in bureaucratic death. Not the first time, I guess. But such a story!"

She's not laughing. Her coffee cup is planted straight to her lips. "The candy stash. Oh, that's clever. I like the way you handled that."

Danny hesitates. "I do some calligraphy," she admits, after a beat. A little shyly. "It's not something that most studios are interested in, but I'd like to find a venue to share it. Discreetly," she adds, a moment later. Already she's returning to normalcy, treating Sadie more like a person than anything else. It's not like Danny's soul doesn't have a co-gunner riding with it, after all. "Would it be all right if I brought some of my brushwork by?"

"Calligraphy is as noble and beautiful as working with sand or transforming bark into something remarkable." Sadie tips all the way forward in her seat, perched on the very edge. Her go-go boots better be planted firmly on the floor. "I am absolutely interested. As there are endless ways to demonstrate creativity, so there are endless ways to appreciate it and come in. Everyone owns it. That means if it's your passion, you have your stake." Her terms are simple, and probably laughable. She hasn't likely made the connection to Danny's wealth or family, but how would she unless she chews up the New York Times? And on the other hand… She smiles. "We aren't big on being stuffy like, say, the Met. Oh, the Met is great, it truly is. But this is about taking your path as you express yourself. I can't stress how much latitude matters. You get whatever space that makes you happy, and you put it up how you want. We have an awful lot of room. And now we no longer have the bomber sculpture up, it's a lot easier to move around."

An actual bomber. The warehouse gallery is probably not small then.

"I… it's not a lot, I promise," Danny says, lifting a hand again with a smile. "A couple of pieces no bigger than a sketchbook. I'll bring them by… oh, say tomorrow afternoon?" she offers, tentatively. "I can have someone drop them off also, if that doesn't work— I'm pretty busy this week. This is the… hour or so I have for lunch, and it's getting close to that time."

"Do you, uh ,have a … card, or a phone number?" she inquires, nervously. How does one ask Death for her phone number?

There's a grand question. Does Death /have/ a phone? Answer, yes. In a roundabout way, definitely. Because the collective has a phone even if they're hip beyond a care. "You decide what works best. We can offer suggestions and feedback. The whole purpose gives everyone room to work how they like." Sadie puts down the empty cup on her plate atop the napkin. Happiness all but tumbles off her in easygoing acceptance for the world. "Whatever happens. We're open most of the time, and when we're not, we always have someone around. Tomorrow sounds great. If not, you just let us know what works, right?"

Sadie nods, and she pulls out… a tiny spiral notebook! Yay for pockets in the Sixties. "Do we have a pencil? Maybe Peggy does." She'll wait for the waitress, ask politely, and end up scribbling numerals down. "There. I added my name and the address for the Endless Collective."

Danny accepts the information and reads it carefully before putting it in her pocket. One gets the sense she's the sort who doesn't forget things like numbers easily. She hesitates, then dips in her pocket and hands a card to Sadie. It's a very simple card: Danielle Rand, Rand Corporation. Just an address midtown and a phone number. "Give me a call if you run into any trouble beforehand and need to reschedule," she offers.

Pencil returned to Peggy, Sadie grins. "All fair and done." She reaches out for the business card offered to her. "Not many people give me these. I will keep it safe." She looks at the name and the pertinent details, then sticks it into her small wallet, which is large enough for a library card, a brace of paper bills, and not much else. She probably has another form of ID in there. "Thank you very much. I tend not to run into too much trouble, blessedly. But if I do, I can keep that in mind." She beams.

Of course, what kind of help Danny might be called for that a petite avatar of Death can't handle, that might be amusing.

"Sure thing. It was …. really fascinating to meet you, Sadie." Danny rises and hesitates for a microsecond, then offers Sadie a handshake. Screw it, it never hurts to be polite. "I'm looking forward to seeing the gallery soon."

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