A Dark and Stormy Night


eileen_icon.gif francois_icon.gif

Scene Title A Dark and Stormy Night
Synopsis Francois meets with Eileen to discuss Teodoro and what there is to be done — or not done.
Date July 23, 2010

Cathedral of St. John the Divine

It was a dark and stormy night.

Which is ridiculous, because it's a summer evening, but it was like this too, where Francois came from, le Midi, Aquitaine. Constant warmth, brief and exuberant downpours, between longer, clearer days. Homesickness is the same way, forgotten for long stretches of time, and then it will hit and hit hard, but only for a while, and usually inexplicably. Right now is not one of those times — not for a home that doesn't exist anymore in the Spain-bordered patch of south-west France, or the brownstone home on the same island he's on now.

Beneath the arch of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Francois stands, protected from the sheeting silver downpour and feeling bad that he's meeting someone out here at all. He's already soaked head to foot, but has given himself an opportunity to dry while he waits, damp hair fingerbrushed through, and clothes more or less thrown on after determining that he was going to be getting no sleep tonight, around an hour ago. And then he came out here.

Thunder rumbles malcontent in the sky. He couldn't agree more.

The woman who emerges from the steam rising up from beneath a metal grate on the other side of the street would not be immediately identifiable if it was not for the white cane she carries under her arm or the pair of crows that wing through the mist in front of her. Like a courting pair, they spiral parallel to one another, rainwater glancing harmlessly off their backs and flicked from greasy black feathers, and alight on the arch above Francois. Their raucous chattering sounds like laughter, but the Frenchman knows better — there is nothing even remotely humourous about this situation.

Eager though she is to get out of the rain, Eileen crosses the street at a leisurely pace, leather boots splashing through the shallow puddles of water where there are dips in the pavement, her silhouette limned in silver by the headlights of an approaching vehicle too far off to bother blasting its horn at her. By the time it passes the cathedral, she's already halfway up its slick stone steps.

It's the birds he sees first, only out his peripheral vision from where he's taken up pacing, hands tucking into pants pockets and shoulders curled inwards. His jacket, leather and water resistant, is speckled with rain water that never soaked in and has yet to run off, although dark jeans are darker around the ankles, splashed up halfway his shins, and a wide necked T-shirt has no definite colour in the low light of the evening. Francois stops, though, at the sound of birds, glancing up quick enough to see them disappear up onto their perch, and a brief scope out has him spying Eileen making her progress over.

Instinct has him stepping forward as if to help her, but either a desire to allow her to make her own way halts him, or maybe the last note they struck on their previous conversation has Francois keeping his distance.

A raised chin, narrow shoulders and the gentle curve of Eileen's spine define her posture, which betrays nothing about her feelings toward the man beneath the arch, but as she crests the topmost step and moves toward him, both her gloved hands find his and close damp lambskin fingers around them in an obvious show of affection and camaraderie.

She stops short of brushing a kiss across either cheek. They're not quite that close, and as soon as she's given his hands a firm squeeze to let him know he's forgiven for what transpired at the cemetery, she's reaching into her coat and retrieving an unopened package of cigarettes.

She'll let him speak first.

Even through her gloves, his fingers feel cool, lax when she squeezes them save for a token twitch to return the gesture in the last split second, and when his hands are released, both are returning into pockets with a marked awkwardness that he doesn't show particularly often. Silence is broken up, split apart by the sound of rain glancing off the church face and rattling through gutter pipes, sending silver sparks up on every strike against granite step, and it takes a little while for Francois to order his thoughts, and, you know.

Say something. Scarring stretches a little at his neck when he turns his more alert gaze from her blanker eyes. "I told you he wanted to go away a while," he starts, and pauses, unsure if he actually did. Implied, maybe, but his memory fails him now about what degree of candid he'd been with Eileen with matters of Teo. "So you are sure your friend witnessed a kidnapping? Peter only relayed details."

Eileen breaks the seal with the edge of her thumbnail, dark head bowed, and slivers the package open, mindful to hold it out of the way of the water pouring off the cathedral roof in thin silver ribbons. "Yes," she says, the word pressed past bloodless lips that are as cold as Francois' fingers.

She uses hers to select a cigarette seemingly at random and steers it into the corner of her mouth. He might be able to see traces of makeup still clinging to her lashes and caked in the lines around her eyes, but the rain has washed most of it away, leaving her face deathly pale and gaunt. "Do you have a light?"

"Non." He moves from her, then, almost pacing a circle until his trajectory veers off and towards the steps, as if Francois has already had enough of this conversation and is seeking to leave. Doesn't.

Francois' feet find the first step downwards, stop there, and with a flick of the hem of his coat, he crouches to sit on concrete a little damp from wet footsteps prior to now and when the wind pushes in errant droplets beneath the shade of the arch. He stretches his legs out a little once down, hands smoothing out the denim clinging to his thighs. "It's bad for you," he adds, barely over a shoulder, as he settles folded arms on bent knees.

He'll hear her soles click once against the granite as she comes to stand behind him rather than sit beside. The tip of her cane comes within inches of skimming his shoulder blades before she rests its point on the step's top lip without putting any of her weight on it. That's not what it's for.

The taste of the filter in her mouth satisfies Eileen's oral fixation for the time being. "I love him too," she reminds Francois around her cigarette in a low, terse voice that's tight but without reproach. This isn't his fault, or hers. "What is everyone else telling you? That we'll get him back?"

He glances more to that extension of bright white cane, than at her, but it's the most he can see without twisting around. A hand itches the nape of his neck, mouth twisting a little at that first declaration but not because he doesn't believe her, or because it's not a valid point. It is. It's just easier to pretend that you're the only one who hurts. "Oui, of course," Francois replies. "I believe them, I think, but, ah. I cannot let it reassure me very much. And reassuring me is not as important as action. This is not something that happened to me, but to him."

"Say something enough times and it eventually stops being true." Eileen lifts her eyes to the opposite side of the street that the crows are watching for her. She's more vigilant on the steps of the church than she'd been at the Suresh Center or outside the mausoleums in the cemetery, and it only has partly to do with the dark. The cars that pass by them receive little scrutiny — it's the shadows in the alley mouths and the shapes creeping out from under parked vehicles that reserve the pair's attention.

"My grandmother used to tell me that words have only a little magic in them. I wouldn't want to use it up." Or she doesn't want to make promises that she can't keep. We'll get him back, is the first thing she'd said to Gabriel. Now she wishes she hadn't. "A better question: has anyone told you what we're going up against?"

"The Institute?" Now he glances back at her, for all that she's not looking at him, and settles back into his posture. "I've heard it mentioned before. By you, long ago, when we spoke of what the Ferry faced. By Abby, who told me not to tell Sarisa Kershner things about herself in case the Institute discovered it. And now, Melissa has told me that that girl that was with us, Liette? With the rainbow colours in her hair. She said that she had been in their custody, but. That is really all I know. I was going to see if I could speak with the girl myself so that I can understand it — but I suppose— " Francois' smile is mostly secret, in that it lacks audience, crooked and wry.

His hands rub up his face, fingers grinding around eyesockets that ache with a sleeplessness that comes with the job he has now in combination with Drama. "But I suppose you and everyone else has already done that, and know very well what we are up against. So why don't you tell me?" It's an invitation, not accusation.

"In your war," because Eileen has only read about it in books, "Kazimir's people conducted experiments at Auschwitz, Ravensbruk, Dachau, but there aren't a lot of historians who study that body of work and know his name. The Institute has those records in its possession, and is picking up where the Ubermensch Project left off."

She rests her hand on the outside of her coat pocket, knowing that the matchbook she carries is damp and useless. It would help if she started carrying a lighter. "I don't know what they want with him," she concludes. "I do know they raided one of our settlements last month and took as many as eighty men, women and children captive. I do know they won't hesitate to use lethal force against us when we come for him. I suspect lethal force is preferable to the alternative."

Oh. Francois' hands are braced on either side of him, now, fingers hooked pale on damp granite in the way someone might do an in an attempt to anchor themselves, whether against some sudden current or tide, or a wealth of memory coming through like a landslide. For a while he doesn't say anything — not out of shock or even dramatic effect, but he's honestly trying to remember, trying to sort through decades of memory until he can pluck one name out from it like an apple off a branch.

"Project Icarus."

In his rush to say it out loud when it comes to him, before he can lose it again, he's forgotten to maintain a level tone of voice, the sound of it tight in his throat as if sickened. An inhale inwards afterwards is shaky, the exhale an attempt to release some tension.

Eileen reaches out and touches her hand to the back of Francois' head as a reminder that she's there and parts his hair with the tips of her fingers before sweeping it sideways across his scalp. "I'll speak with Peter," she says, "and the three of us can discuss what options we have as soon as we find out where they're holding him. This is what Messiah does, and what the Ferry has needed to do a handful of times in the past. We have experience trying to get people out.

"Sometimes we're successful."

Hair damp but clean, could stand a trimming but untangled, and Francois manages not to twitch away from the touch, sources the comfort or reminder intended in silence and without protest. Guilt, here, seems vain. Caring about whether it seems vain seems vain. In truth, he doesn't know how he's meant to feel, but he does mean it when he notes, after a few hesitations and aborted words, "You know I will do everything I can also." In case she didn't.

Know. But there is a kind of determinism, there, for all that it's unremarkable, for all that he felt like Melissa's assurances were similarly unremarkable. By now, though, he can see the point in saying it out loud. He adds, as a frame of reference, "I can't leave him there."

"He wouldn't leave you there, either," is neither affirmation nor denial. It simply is. Eileen's hand falls away from Francois' head and curls fingers at her side. She almost certainly has other places to be, though few are as important as here and now.

"We can talk about him if you'd like," she offers, in no hurry to leave. The crows likewise seem content to huddle against one another in the rain. "He'd be embarrassed if he knew, but he doesn't have to."

That, at least, gets a smile, almost laughter, for as fleeting as his amusement is. "I would be embarrassed if he knew," Francois corrects, with a glance down at where his boots are set against the soaked step. "That I won't be able to stop thinking of him, and if I do, I will correct myself. Every conversation I have with mutual friends will be like this one until he is back again. I have never liked this part, that comes with love. The indignity of it when something goes wrong. He will have a lot to make up for, non?"

Eileen lowers her eyes, knowing that it makes no difference to her but wanting Francois to be able to see the sympathy shining in them if he cares tip up his chin and look. A year ago, she'd sat where he's sitting now. Figuratively. "I'd be thankful you have mutual friends," she says, "and that the people helping you don't have to be convinced, or paid."

"Oui," is easy concession, a glance skimming up towards her face, back down again. "I, ah." A hand drifts up, touching fingertips to brow, a gesture away at his own absent-mindedness that comes too naturally to Francois to compensate for the fact that there's no one to see it. "I talked to Elisabeth. Elisabeth Harrison. On the subject of mutual friends. She made mention of passing along word of Teo being missing, although I know not to who — perhaps Kershner, perhaps not. She has promised she would tell me what she would find out, if there were plans to do things, although I did not make the same promise back, exactly."

Being a professional self-centred asshole, and everything. Francois gets up, now, a little stiff-legged but mostly heavy in his weariness, hands adjusting the sit of leather jacket, a glance up at the turbulantly rainy sky. "Although that is because I have nothing of my very own to share," he concedes, rueful. Never properly inducted into Ferry and certainly not Remnant, not Messiah, or whatever mysterious network that Elisabeth was citing.

Eileen takes a step back to allow Francois more room to rise. Sarisa's name has her curling her fingers just a little tighter around the grip of her cane. "Kershner has her own agenda," she says, and it isn't a slight against the other woman. She has an agenda, too. "She already knows about what the Institute is doing, and her position within the government puts her in direct opposition with Messiah. Whether or not you choose to involve her in this is your decision, but keep in mind that her involvement has the potential endanger Peter's people. And mine."

It's the closest Eileen is going to come to asking Francois to please don't.

It's not against Francois' nature, to not go running to the likes of Kershner, to not call the police, to not call forces. He's been alone for a long time, but still, there's some quiet after Eileen finishes, considering silence, as if reassessing Sarisa's own trustworthiness. "I know," he finally says, quietly. "But you must know that, if enough time passes and there is nothing, then I will have to do all I can.

"Perhaps if there is information we need, I can get that much off her, without endangering any of you," is added, a little like apology, but mostly an offer.

Eileen's exhale isn't a sound of defeat or concession, but rather something in between. She steps down and back out into the rain, less confident in her ability to navigate the stairs descending than she was on her way up. The crows on the arch provide her with the opportunity to monitor her progress, while her cane prevents her from losing her footing. When she arrives at the bottom, one of the birds hops off its perch, wings spread and glides the short distance between cathedral and street, coming to perch on her shoulder.

The other remains where it is and studies what it can see of Francois' shadow beneath the arch with one glittering black eye. "How much time is enough?"

"I am not holding you ransom," is not the answer she's looking for, but it's what Francois feels moved to bark down at her, some flaring irritation and hurt that may or may not be even related to her and her response, or even her intent. His boots ring sharp against the slick steps, almost precarious — one misstep and he'll be skidding on down and breaking his tailbone along the way, but the Frenchman manages to escape this indignity by the time he's at the foot of the staircase.

His hand comes out, touches her arm, curls fingers into a grab that has him steering her to look at him, for all that the gesture is strictly token. Rainwater runs down the nape of his neck, soaks the collar of his shirt hidden by leather. "And I am not giving you a deadline, except that enough time is passed when we both know there is nothing we can do, and we both know there is one more thing I can do."

The look from the crow on her shoulder is much fiercer than the look Francois receives from the Englishwoman herself. Not a difficult feat to achieve; as austere as the Englishwoman's face is, the bird's is comprised of sharper angles and does not have the curve of a yielding mouth to soften it.

It's the shape formed by her lips rather than any verbal communication that conveys her understanding and eventual acceptance of what Francois is saying. If she had known Sarisa Kershner a year ago, she cannot deny that she would have eventually turned to her, too. If that's what it took.

If that's what it will take. She does not pull away from his touch. "Of course."

As if uncertain what would be better in terms of eye contact, Francois' green skip from Eileen's blanker, paler set to the black, beady eyes of the bird cocking its head at him. It's the latter he finally settles on for the time it takes for him to let go of her arm, and take a step back. The rain's darkened his hair to the same kind of ebony as the ravens feathers, features gaunt and pale in comparison. Time to go home, blast himself with a warm shower and climb into bed shivering and mmmaybe sleep this time.

"You know how to find me," is reminder and goodbye. And hint. And then Francois is taking another step back, turning, moving for the shining black shape of his car that hunches in wait near the curb some small distance away.

As still as the stone cathedral itself, Eileen watches Francois go, either through the eyes of the crow on her shoulder or its companion leering down at him from its lofty perch on the arch. The sound of the car door slamming shut behind him has her seeking out the same shadows she'd assigned the birds to scrutinizing, and while it won't be any drier in the dark, she'll feel less vulnerable there than she does alone with the rain washing over her and thunder filling the cavity of her chest and the air around her with its malcontent vibrations.

Information was Munin's speciality. Spurling had better be able to provide.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License