Je Ne Sais Quoi


colette_icon.gif raith_icon.gif

Scene Title Je Ne Sais Quoi
Synopsis French; literally "I don't know what".
Date February 28, 2010

Staten Island Boat Graveyard

It takes a certain je ne sais quoi to try and stalk a former government spook in his home terrain. While these days Jensen Raith has taken the home field to be New York more so than the jungles of South America, there's a certain commonality between the urban jungle and the rainforest, and no where else in New York is that more evident than Staten Island. Here in the middle-grounds between the dreary neon lights of the distant Rookery and the flood-lights and razorwire fence of the government's reclaimed Miller Airfield, the Staten Island boat graveyard is like a little slice of home.

Here, out on the shores of Staten Island where the rusting hulks of salt-eroded tugboats and tankers lie beached on the rocks there is a precarious nature to the environment. One wrong step away from the shoreline, and it could mean evisceration on a yard of jagged, rusted metal. It's not so different from the jungles of Venezuela where one false step could mean pulling a tripwire and being eviscerated by a rogue claymore, or the more recent jungles of Argentina where one false step meant evisceration by a giant robot.

Not that anyone believes that story.

Out here, however, an unseen specter haunting Jensen Raith for the last hour through Staten Island's greenbelt, and then out through the Rookery before coming here has proven to be a tenacious — if not somewhat obvious — pest. For all that an invisible stalker should be foolproof, this one shows remarkable inexperience at the subtleties of remaining unnoticed; from too much disruption of the background, to what ultimately becomes evident out here on the boat graveyard — footprints.

Rocky sand, tidal pools and frosted layers of snow and ice leave an invisible stalker treading obvious boot tracks across the ground in search for the elusive Jensen Raith, whom has seemingly disappeared into rust and detritus of this sunken beach of corroded metal and ice. Unfortunately, Raith's pursuer also has not realized they are walking straight into a trap.

The most critical component of a fragmentation grenade is 6.5 ounces of Composition B- a high-explosive mixture of RDX, TNT, and paraffin wax- which violently detonates at 9,000 meters per second and sprays metal shrapnel over a wide area. A man can do a lot with explosive filler like comp B, but he can do even more with the principles behind its use. The timer is what really matters, because that controls the entire mechanism. The filler is important too, but only in that it detonates, or in some cases, simply deflagrates. The shrapnel can be replaced with just about anything. All of these are reasons why whoever is following Jensen Raith is lucky, because it is not a fragmentation grenade that lands just in front of the trail of footprints a split second before it explodes.

A simple timer sets off a detonator and explosive combination- a priming cap and some smokeless powder, both extracted from a rifle cartridge. Confined the way it is, the resulting cloud of gases has no place to easily expand to and force its container, a small plastic bottle, to explode under the pressure. It's only then that the filler comes into play, lashing out at everything in its small, ten-foot reach. Talcum powder is everywhere; on clothes and skin, in eyes, and perhaps most irritatingly, up noses and in mouthes.

Its only an instant after the cloud has been dispensed into the air that Raith springs out from his hiding place, vaulting over a hunk of rusted metal onto the ground and taking off running for the end of that trail of footprints, even if he has nothing else to guide him. Even if somehow, whoever was following him has not been rendered visible, they still leave footprints, and it is those footprints that Raith uses as a bullseye to direct his leg when it snaps out at where he figures they must be in a moderately-powered, waist-high roundhouse kick. No way close to powerful enough to seriously injure anybody (unless they had advanced osteoarthritis, perhaps), but definitely enough to knock somebody off-balance. Enough time for him to decide whether to follow-up with a chain of lightning fast hand and elbow strikes, a combination of knees and kicks, an arm or knee bar, sleeper hold, or even to not follow up at all. Such is the nature of versatility.

What isn't seen is just as important as what is seen in this instance. What isn't seen is the target of Raith's attack, even after the spinning kick has sent a yelping form falling backwards to crash down in snow. It's an unusual visual effect, where light is bent unerringly around the talcum powder once it reaches a certain distance from whomever was doing the bending of aforementioned light. It does stick, judging from the coughing and choking, but it — like everything else the stalker had been carrying and wearing — went unseen. In effect, this created a large blurry bulls-eye where a pocket of bent light filled an awkward void in the flowing powder which now coats a small portion of Raith's right leg and boot.

What becomes immediately visible is a cane, not the steel wolf's head of nightmares, but a simple and battered looking crook-necked wooden cane. It clatters down onto the snowy ground a few inches from one of the tidal pools, and where a body soon becomes outlined in snow, there is a wheezing and pained intake of air, followed by a mottling daub of colors and light that soon peels away to reveal an unfortunately familiar young girl who should have known better than to stalk a spook.

Colette Nichols might as well be defined by je ne sais quoi, it seems surprisingly apt a term. Rolled onto her side in the snow, Colette curls up with arms wrapped around her sides, eyes scrunched shut and mouth open in a silent gasp. She wasn't hit hard enough to really elicit that sort've reaction, not until in her curled up state, Jensen can see the velcro back-brace wrapped around her torso beneath her shirt where it is exposed from how her sweater rides up in the back.

Coughing out a sharp breath, Colette stares at the snow as her eyes open slowly, blinking away the tears that come from any sudden and sharp pain. Her throat moves up and down in a swallowing motion, edges of her body blur and distort, and when she's fully in view her green eyes angle up at Raith, brows all screwed up in a hi there experession.

She should've known better.

It's in no way the sort of thing that Raith had been expecting. At all. Maybe he should have suspected it may have been Colette; she's done equally stupid things in the past, after all. And now, here she is, sprawled out on the ground, injured more than she apparently already was, and all the luckily that it's only Raith she was tailing and not someone (somehow) more violent than he is. He does next the only thing that any rational person would do it this situation, and slaps the palm of his hand against his forehead. "Nice night for a walk, eh?" he remarks darkly.

Not completely without compassion, he unbuttons his overcoat enough to reach inside to what must be his hidden utility belt, and withdraws a short bottle filled with water, for you never know when you need a bottle of water, and offers it to Colette to wash the sticking, choking powder out of her mouth and throat, if nothing else. "What, you didn't feel comfortable asking if anyone had my number or what? You are not Robin. Don't do that again."

Mouthfuls of chalky aftertaste and nostrils full of white powder do little for the girl's appearance. That fading bruise on the right side of her head wasn't Raith's doing, and it has all the purple and yellow pockmarked with red to indicate a collision with pavement that has had time to scab over but not quite heal fully. That bruising around her eye and cheek seems less sallow than the look she affords Raith on spitting out a murky mouthful of chalky water after swishiny it around.

Choking out a breath, Colette takes another swig from the bottle and spits it out on the ground at her side. "Ss— sorry." It's the first thing she can manage to say, brows furrowed and eyes wrenched shut. Her hand motions away from Raith, towards the cane laying out of reach. "Can you…" One gloved finger waggles in its direction as she props herself up on one denim-covered elbow, black fabric darkening where snow melts.

Right now, at least, she isn't offering any sort've explanation. At least not until she's up on her feet and not doubled over on the ground in pain. She can be standing and in pain just fine.

Huh. Well, if that's how the game has to be played, that's how it shall be played. Raith takes a figurative hop and skip to the dropped cane and picks it up before the figurative jump back to Colette, brushing some snow off before he offers her a hand up. "I hope you've got a really good explanation for this," he says. once she's up, then she can have her cane back. Along with a thump on the head: Raith's index and middle fingers held stiff and the tips thumped literally on the top of her head. That'll learn her. "What's the matter with you?"

One eye squinted shut and lips pursed in something between a pout and a look of indignation, Colette's brows furrow after the thunk against the top of her head, which in a way is something more light and carefree than a kick dangerously close to bruised ribs. Using the cane as a brace, Colette pushes herself up to her feet, favoring one leg more so than the other until she's straightened up. An exasperated breath comes after a moment, when she winces and brings a hand to her side, leaning forward on the cane as it buries the rubber head into the snow.

"I— Wanted to talk to you?" Colette phrases it a bit more like a question than a statement, which it properly is. "Wherever home is for you… cause— " Closing her eyes, the teen shakes her head, "It's not important." Wiping at her forehead with a gloved hand, Colette offers a wary look up to Raith before motioning to the olive-drab courier bag laying on the snow beneath where she had fallen, as if for Raith to pick that up too.

But as she's making the motion, Colette is reaching inside of her denim jacket, under the trail of her red scarf, to palm something out of an interior pocket. It's shiny, round and plastic painted like metal. Leather-gloved fingers offer it out to Raith, a small five-pointed star badge made of copper-painted plastic with the words SHERIFF emblazoned on the front; an old and battered child's toy.

"I found it…" Colette explains, poorly, then furrows her brows. "I— like— you know how in the movies, when the good guy fucks up and he has to turn in his badge and gun?" The plastic badge is flipped around between her fingers, offered up to Raith. "I fucked up. The gun," she nods to the courier bag, "isn't fake. I— I fucked up on that mission, and I could've gotten everyone hurt. I— I didn't know how else to put it."

When offered, Raith accepts the badge, likewise looking it over in his hand, both sides. "It's tricky knowing how to put things," Raith says, finally looking back at Colette. "Took me a long time, you know, before I started to figure out how to put things, and even longer before I was any good at it. But the thing about this kind of business, there're lots of guns. Ain't no badges. We don't need no stinking badges." He doesn't at least, and that is exactly why he offers the badge back to Colette. "When I was your age, little bit older than you, really, I enlisted. You think I knew anything when I did? Ha! I didn't know the inside of a rifle from the inside of a medical kit. But I didn't fuck up when they sent me to Panama, and you know why? Because I can learn."

Whether or not Colette takes the badge back, Raith keeps holding it out to her. She hasn't turned it in yet. "You fucked up, and you know it. That's good," he says, "But do you know why you fucked up?"

"Prrrobably not." Is the most honest offer Colette can give, looking over the plastic badge as it's handed back, turning it around in her fingers before tucking it back inside the front pocket of her jacket. "I didn't listen to you…" is the best guess she can give, but it seems more likely that she doesn't know the full length and breadth of the answer, which perhaps more frighteningly means she came here to learn the answer from Jensen.

Cued in that Raith isn't going to pick up the courier bag, Colette very slowly crouches down, and it's clear to Raith that sshe's trying not to bend one leg when she does it. After a moment of futile struggle, ingenuity kicks in and Colette's using her cane to pick up the bag by the strap, and then sling the whole thing over her shoulder. The gun, for now, can stay in the bag.

"I— Sort've came down here because I need to do what you did…" Colette admits in a quiet, clearly embarrassed tone of voice. "I— I need to learn." There's a tentative smile, one that seems to hinge on Raith's reactions. "Learn a lot've stuff… I guess." Scratching at the back of her head with her free hand, Colette glances down to the muddy smudge in the snow where she had fallen and grows silent.

'Serious' is perhaps the best way to describe how Raith looks at this moment. This is, after all, a very serious matter. "You want to learn?" he asks, "That's fine. But you need to be careful about what you learn. Not listening to me wasn't what you did wrong, but it did make things worse. What you did wrong was going into unfamiliar territory, without intelligence, without backup, and without an escape plan. If Kaylee had been able to take the two of you through walls, that would have been completely different. You see what I'm saying? Making mistakes is not where you go wrong ever. Where you go wrong is when you turn your brain off and don't think through things. And thinking through things is exactly what you need to do right now.

"Where do you see yourself in ten years?" It's a question that Raith was asked once. "That is the most important question that I have ever been asked. And it's the most important question you will ever answer. So tell me. Where?"

Ask anyone else this question, and they might need to think about the answer. Ask Colette, and she'll tell you straight up exactly where she'll be.

"I'm running a detective agency," Colette states simply, one brow slightly higher than the other where it disappears into the fringe of her bangs, "with— " the moment's hesitation is unwarranted, after all she can trust Raith — or so goes the notion, "Tamara, and she sees the future." There's a crooked smile that matches Colette's brow, and with a curl of her shoulders forward against the cold, she's moving her gloved hand up to her face, trying to snort out some of that talc from her nostrils before continuing.

"That's… that's what somebody told me I'm doing, who's been to the future. They said I was married, that I was running that detective agency, and the world was a whole lot better've a place. I'm happy, then." A ghost of a smile crosses Colette's lips. "I dunno if that's actually gonna' happen…" green eyes wander away from Raith and go out towards the darkened husks of rusting ships beyond his silhouette.

"It doesn't matter though, because nobody knows the future for sure, not— not even people who can see it." Dark brows furrowing, Colette looks back to Raith, rubbing her thumb idly at the side of her jaw. "I dunno where I'll be in ten years. I don't think anybody does, 'cause the world's always changin'…" She cracks a smile. "S'like that saying, plan for the best, prepare for the worst, right?"

"People say that," Raith replies, "But what is the best? What is the worst? The fact of the matter is this. Where you see yourself in ten years does matter, because that is the metric you have to use to plan anything else. You want that detective agency? You can have it. But you can't be like me. Not today, not ever."

There's always a point where some dreams have to die, and some images need to be shattered. "It doesn't matter how you slice it, Colette, or what good things I do for the city and for the world. I steal. I threaten. I destroy and I murder. No matter how you look at it, I'm at least a criminal. I have to be, if I want to do the things I want to do, take care of the people who are trying to make the world a darker place to live in. You want to know how to use your head? You want to learn strategy and tactics? Intelligence and investigation? You can learn from me. But you can't be like me. Not if you want that detective agency. Not if you want anything.

"In ten years, I see myself in one of three places. In the shadows, in prison, or in the morgue. Those are the only options I have left. You have whatever options you want, at this point. You want to learn from me so you can be wherever you want in ten years? I can teach you. But if you don't watch what you learn, if you lose sight of exactly who I am, then in ten years, you'll have the same three options that I'll have.

"Don't you ever forget that."

Squinting one eye closed, Colette adjusts the way the strap of the court bag rests on her shoulder. "I…" The teen is at a loss for words, though not quite in the way most people would be. At first it seems as though she's scrutinizing Jensen in the way someone might a practical joker, waiting to see if he bursts out into laughter. Then, once it's evident than Raith isn't pulling her leg, she's managing something of a troubled expression, brows furrowed. "You can call yourself a bad person all you want…" she reaches up to rub her thumb at the side of her jaw again, then pull up her scarf to cover her mouth and nose, "but it doesn't make you bad."

Green eyes linger on Raith, and that seems to be all Colette even needs to consider to the topic. It's not quite a blaise agreement of the ends justify the means but something both naive and pragmatic all in one. "M'not cut out t'be like you…" Colette says quietly, head shaking, "I— I couldn't pull the trigger when it mattered, when I could've stopped somebody. You— could've, and everyone'd be better for it." Swallowing tensely, the young girl offers Raith something of a lopsided smile.

"Ever since you drove me home, after we got out've Pinehearst, I knew you'd be someone I should listen to." Green eyes drift up and down Jensen for a moment before Colette continues. "You say you're like— all bad and stuff, fine. I don't believe it, but fine. Doesn't mean I can't learn what not t'do from you. S'like hanging out with Flint, you learn all sort's of things not to say and do in public." A mild smile cracks at that.

"M'not asking you t'be a role model. I think I suck at finding them anyway," With a quirk of her head to the side, Colette's bangs fall to hide one eye. "All I want's… I dunno…" Dark brows creep up into a somewhat hapless expression. "Do mentors help you learn by their mistakes?"

Is Jensen Raith insane? Maybe nobody really knows for sure. Right now, he couldn't seem more sane if he tried. "'Mentor' isn't the word I would use," he says in reply, "But here's your first lesson. You don't know anything about following people. When we got to the snow, you should have been stepping in my footprints." With a sharp jerk of his head to the side, Raith indicates that Colette should focus her attention elsewhere, right before he begins walking in the same direction: We're leaving. "Second, if you have problems pulling the trigger, you need to find something you don't have a problem with, or you need to not roll with the Ferrymen. Third, don't ever count on other people to bail you out. They might not be able, or willing to. Fourth…."

Maybe it's not the word Jensen would use, but for the time being it's the only word she has to describe this peculiar process. The momnent Jensen starts talking, Colette is listening in an exaggeratedly attentive, both brows raised as her head quirks to the side and she looks down towards her footprints in the snow. It'd been those very footprints that had clues Felix in on her presence once she'd disappeared. Pursing her lips to one side, her green eyes flick back to Raith as she offers a slow nod of her head.

As she listens, Colette takes a few meandering steps around the boat graveyard, listening to the sound of Jensen's voice. When the comment about her inability to shoot when it mattered arises, Colette's eyes cast away from Raith, and her browsa furrow. It's a silent point of contention, where she thinks she could do it now, if pressed, but the memory of the gun firing inside of the back of that transport truck still vibrates in her hand and rings in her ears. She killed someone there, or at least contributed to that man's death, and the notion twists her stomach in knots.

She thinks to ask about it, when Raith drops another bomb on her. Not expecting people to bail her out, it's that defeatist notion that had hung over Colette's head after getting brought out of Bella's care, the whole reason she'd even taken that guard's life in the back of the truck. Her jaw unsteadies for just a moment, though the quavering tremble is hidden by the red fabric of her scarf.

"….and fourth?" Colette asks, her voice smaller than when she started.

Raith stops abruptly, not whirling around but turning quickly to face Colette all the same, had held out, a small strip of silver protruding from a pack of Wrigley's. "Always carry chewing gum," he says, "It's a great ice breaker, especially since people don't smoke so much anymore. Loosens them up, makes them more likely to talk to you." Before Colette actually takes any of his gum, however, Raith snaps the long piece back into the larger wrapper and puts the whole package back into his pocket, turns again and resumes walking. "Listen, how far are you going? I don't want to use all my 'A' material before I have to. Maybe you want time to take some notes too?"

The answer is a laugh, because obviously Raith's joking and not completely out of his mind— obviously. Rubbing a hand at her head before laughing too much and feeling the ache in her ribs, Colette breathes in a shallow breath and lays a hand down on her side. Squinting one eye shut, she stares up at her makeshift mentor, one brow raised. "Right now?" She has to consider his question, and even then she's not taking it quite the way he meant it. "M'still following you back to the batcave," she admits with a quirk of her head and a shrug of one shoulder. "Or whatever it is you curl up in when you stop pretendin' t'be, like, crazy."

Pretending is still up for debate.

"It's past dark, it's freezing out, and I just got kicked into a snowbank…" Colette's lips creep up into a smile. "M'sure as hell not limping back to the mainland. So, it's either follow you around, or haul myself out to the Garden. I came here to apologize for screwing things up that you'd planned… and to see if you could, like, maybe help me not be such a screwup."

With a thoughtful cast of her eyes up to the cloudy skies, Colette feels the chill of a single snowflake as it lands down on the tip of her nose and melts. "I guess— how far're you going before you ditch me?" She asks with an angle of her eyes towards Raith, one hand steadied on her cane.

"Okay, I'll be a good guy and walk you to the Garden," Raith says with defeated exasperation. "The location of the 'batcave' is already known by too many people, and if I bring anybody else by, Alfred's going to be pissed. Looks like I'm stuck with you until the Garden." That much was simple, at least. And if nothing else, at least Colette knows she doesn't have to make the walk alone, and has extra time to pick up whatever other tricks Raith is willing to teach her.

Almost worth the price of being roughly kicked into the snow.

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