A Funny Thing


des2_icon.gif eileen_icon.gif

Scene Title A Funny Thing
Synopsis CONTENT WARNING: Assault.
A trip to the park turns out to be part disaster and part reunion.
Date May 8, 2018

Jackson Heights

It isn’t that green places are unusual in New York City. Nature has reclaimed a lot more than the citizens have done, which makes the parks all the more special in some way to Des. It’s dusk, edging into early twilight, which is the time she likes best. The stars - what she can see of them - start to wink above and she feels safer taking off her sunglasses, if not quite safe enough to go without the large red-framed glasses she wears them in place of. The shades are tucked away into a simple black purse which is held to her side by the crossbody strap meant to keep it from slipping away from her.

One chocolate-colored ballet flat in front of the other, Des carefully balances along the edge of a retaining wall, doing her best not to take her hands out of the pockets of her navy blue skirt. She teeters once and up her arms come to spread out to either side like wings to hold her aloft. Loose brown curls and the green silk scarf knotted at her throat flutter in the breeze a moment before settling against the soft fibers of the short-sleeved sweater that’s just a shade lighter than her skirt.

Smiling to herself, she indulges her whimsy only a moment longer before hopping back onto the grass and heading for a table she sits at often to unwind after a long day of leaning over her desk and typing up reports. The fresh air is nice.

There’s a feeling she gets sometimes. Not like she’s being watched, but when tension starts to gather in the air like electricity before a storm — it’s usually the first sign that something is wrong, even before she’s able to identify what that something is.

In this instance, it’s the two uniformed soldiers skirting the edge of the park. They’re young enough to have matured during the height of the war, and in Desdemona’s experience it’s these sort of men and women who are the most unpredictable; when someone’s formative years are defined by trauma and destruction, it’s difficult for them to adapt to the slower pace of the life that comes after.

She watches as they flag down another woman who looks to be about Desdemona’s age. At a distance, it’s impossible for her to know what’s being said, but judging by their body language and the woman’s flustered reaction, they’re demanding to see her paperwork.

The woman searches her coat pockets, her movements small but harried, and produces proof of her identity that the shorter of the two scrutinizes in the dying light. He holds it up against the setting sun, examining it for any signs of forgery before surrendering it back to its owner. If they’re looking for trouble, they didn’t find it there.

His companion tips his cap to the woman and ushers her on her way before his gaze drifts across the park to Desdemona. All it takes is a wordless glance exchanged between the pair and they decide that her table is their next destination. They steer toward her as a unit, their gait deceptively easy and relaxed.

Deep breath.

This isn’t the first time Des has had her credentials examined. It won’t be the last time, probably. Though… any time might be the last time that they’re examined and she’s still free to go. From her bag, she fishes out her ID and her phone. The latter so she can dash off a quick message, innocuous and without hidden meaning if they were to check her phone later.

Des: I love you.
Message Sent: May 8 8:35 PM

And if the person should receive it, should it not get bounced by the towers in the area, the message will still be innocuous. And without deeper meaning.

Some things really are that simple.

Des is quick to push her glasses up her nose and offer a smile when the two approach. Her ID is slid to the far side of the table in preparation of their arrival. She pays attention. She was prepared. It isn’t as though it’s the first time anyone has been stopped and asked for their credentials. But hers are face down, all the same.

“Evening, ma’am,” says one of the soldiers. He keeps one hand on the sidearm holstered at his hip. His companion is also armed, but with a rifle too heavy to wear without a leather strap that cuts across his stronger shoulder. “Hate to intrude, but we’re just doing a few spot checks tonight. You mind if we take a look at your card?”

Because it’s already out. The other soldier reaches for it regardless of Desdemona’s answer and slides it off the table. His fingers deftly flip the flimsy piece of plastic between them. “Nice name,” he says, dark eyes skimming what’s printed there. “Never met a Desdemona before. Desjardins. What is that? French? French-Canadian?”

There’s a gracious gesture toward the card as permission is asked for, whether they were waiting for it or not. She has nothing to hide, after all.

If only that were true. Everything to hide and everything to lose. But one thing she is, is an accomplished liar.

“Thank you. My parents, rest their souls, were very fond of Shakespeare,” Des replies, her smile still fixed still, while seemingly genuine. “I’m not sure they were so fond of me, though.” She laughs quietly. A little joke. “We’re French on my father’s side. I can speak the language, but I’ve never been.”

“Too bad,” says the soldier. “Not a lot of opportunities to travel abroad anymore.” He runs his tongue over his front teeth, continuing to assess the identification card — or pretending to. His posture and the smug uptick at the corner of his mouth suggests that he’s stalling for time just to make Desdemona nervous, not because he’s found a flaw.

He turns a look over his shoulder, scanning the park for others who might be out and about for an evening stroll but sees no one else, not even the woman they’d been speaking with a few minutes prior. “You make it sound like your relationship ain’t all that. Estranged?”

“My family isn’t… We were never close at the best of times.” It’s easy to lie when there’s truth in it. “They’re both gone now. I still miss them.”

This stalling tactic is one that Des is very, very familiar with. She’s played it herself so very many times. But usually to instil dread, because the thing that people would fear would be the inevitable. She’s now torn between the possibility that she’s about to be arrested - they paid very good people very good money for that identification, so she’s hoping not - or that these two men are out harassing women.

So hard to tell with men.

Rather than return Desdemona’s identification card to her, the soldier tucks it inside his uniform pocket.

That’s probably not standard procedure. “Let’s take a walk,” he suggests. “It’s a good night for it.” And he’s not wrong. A warm spring breeze ripples off the water and catches in the new leaves in the trees, filling the night air with the sound of rustling greenery. Fragrant lilacs growing amidst the ruins smell like sweet earth and yesterday’s rain.

“Probably better for you to have an escort,” his companion puts in. “It’s called the Safe Zone but it isn’t really. You wouldn’t believe some of the calls we’ve taken. There was this incident out at Saint Margaret’s last year—”

Whatever he was about to say next is silenced by the look given to him by the other soldier. Shut up, it states.

There’s a moment where she considers suggesting she charges fifty dollars flat rate, but she’d give them a discount. Not a very good joke, however. Not a very safe joke. “You’re very sweet,” she decides on instead and slowly rises up from the table. “I come out here to enjoy nature. I’ve never had any trouble here before. You must be very good at your jobs.”

Her head tilts to one side curiously, almost birdlike, when one hushes the other. “That’s… the place that burned down, isn’t it? How awful that was.”

“Yeah,” says the first soldier. “After.

After what he does not specify. Instead he touches a hand to Desdemona’s upper arm, guiding her away from the table and toward a path that carves between an overgrown tangle of bushes, deeper into the park. It’s well-traveled although not paved, the dirt packed down where dozens of feet have tread in the last few weeks.

She knows the park well enough to understand they’re leading her away from the nearest road where their vehicle is most likely situated. She knows, too, that this is the behavior of someone who has done this enough times for it to be a pattern.

Both of them have some idea of where they’re headed, even if Desdemona does not.

This is almost worse than her initial fears. Fingers curl in on one hand, but not around any invisible threads. Using her ability would be foolish. They’ve seen her ID and they’ve likely had briefings. Desdemona Desjardins would be revealed - or at least strongly suspected - to be Odessa Price almost immediately. Any cover she has left would be blown.

She could kill them. But that will only make patrols worse. It’s a sentence to stay inside until things calm down and people forget.

And people have long, long memories.

She can let it happen and hope they don’t want her life as well as her body. It wouldn’t be the first time she’s had to weigh a terrible decision like this. Taking their trophy back - her ID - wouldn’t be so hard. They could believe it got lost in the scuffle.

She’s getting ahead of herself.

“Are we going behind the boathouse, gentlemen? Because this path doesn’t lead to that little ice cream stand I love so well, and I hear stories about the things boys and girls like to get up to in parks when there’s too much foliage around…” Des offers a look that’s innocent, but also says I might be persuaded to go along with this. That’s a start at least. If she can get some control of this situation, maybe…

It’s not what either of them were expecting.

Or what they’re used to.

“I guess that depends on what you’re into,” the first soldier says, and there’s a sort of caution in his tone that wasn’t there before. His companion, meanwhile, moves behind Desdemona, and uses his fingers to sweep the curls of dark brown hair away from her neck.

“What are you into, Ms. Desjardins?” he asks. “I’d put money on all sorts of crazy shit.” He’s testing boundaries, growing bolder. “It’s hard work, you know. Thankless, most of the time. Maybe you want to show us your appreciation for the good job we’re doing.”

There’s something in her posture that relaxes, even if she is disguising a shudder as a shiver. She’s not going to be arrested. Not for what she would expect, at any rate. But it means her other fears are true, and rage burns in her chest as she wonders how many women they’ve done this to before her. She fantasizes about stabbing them one time for each.

That fist unclenches because it has to. She’ll either draw blood from her own nails, or someone will notice. “I’m whatever you want me to be,” she murmurs. “If you want me to be thankful, then I can be very thankful.”

Between the ribs, maybe. Collapse a lung.

Where could she hide them? Could she dispose of them somehow? Shit.

“But, I don’t really do things like this. So… you’ll be kind, won’t you?” Carefully, she takes off her glasses, her motions slow as she retrieves a case from inside her purse to tuck them away, keeping it held in her hand. This is a risk, but she doesn’t want them to get broken.

The only thing she wants broken here is every single bone in these currs’ bodies.

“If you’re nice,” the first soldier promises. He plants a kiss behind Desdemona’s ear and reaches around, prepared to slip a hand under her skirt from behind, but something makes him hesitate. As his chin lifts, she catches the hitch in his breath.

“What is it?” asks the other. “You see somethi—”

The last syllable of his question is cut short by the crack of a gunshot and the accompanying spatter of blood and brain matter that abruptly coats the right side of Desdemona’s face. She may never get used to the sensation of how hot someone else’s blood is when it first makes contact with her skin, or how quickly its texture changes, growing cakey in her hair and the space between her eyelashes.

He slumps forward as if trying to steady himself against Desdemona, feeble fingers clutching clumsily at her arms, but the strength goes out of his legs and the rest of him is limp by the time his body crumples to the ground.

The survivor hooks an arm around Desdemona’s neck and heaves her backwards. His training kicks in the next instant, and a knife flashes against the cleaner flesh of her throat. “I’ll fucking kill her!” he shouts into the darkness. “Don’t think I won’t!”

Some things you don’t get used to. Gun violence that close to her own person is not one of those things Des is keen to ever get used to. Her scream is cut short in her throat as she’s pulled back and feels metal on her flesh. It’s intimate. Guns are impersonal.

“P- P- Please!” she begs, the case with her glasses is fumbled, but not dropped. It betrays her ability to remain calm in this sort of situation, if anyone has the time to notice something like that. But there are a lot of soldiers mixed in among the citizens. Not everyone signed on with the military police. In this, it isn’t a lie to say she fits that mold. “I don’t wanna die.”

That isn’t a lie either.

All the same, she’s inching her hand toward her skirt. It’s a good thing the man didn’t have the time, or he might have found the sheath strapped to her thigh. She starts balling the fabric up in her fist, like a nervous gesture.

There's a shimmer of gunmetal in the trees. Desdemona sees pale eyes and long fingers cinched around a pistol’s grip. There is probably a reason their attacker waited until the sun had set to make their move; from the soldier’s vantage point, it’s difficult to distinguish identities based on vague shapes and textures alone.

Desdemona recognizes wool and leather. The glossy sheen of dark hair twisted back. Very high cheekbones.

“You really haven’t the faintest idea who you’ve got at knifepoint, do you?” asks a voice she hasn’t heard in a long time.

The soldier squints at the figure. He must not know who that is either, apparently.

Desdemona does.

“Well, fuck.”

Things may just have gone from bad to worse, but there’s something to be said about the devil you know. One moment Des is there, held at knife point, and the next she’s standing aside - her ID retrieved in the process - and, for the second time this evening, gesturing graciously. This time to the soldier who would have killed her. “He’s all yours, dear.”

Eileen knows that Odessa can stop a bullet just as easily as she can fire one. It’d be a waste of ammunition.

Eileen does not hesitate. In the time it takes the soldier to process what’s happening, she squeezes off two additional shots that catch him square in his center of mass. Momentum carries him backwards, into empty space.

Desdemona hears his body eventually come to rest in a nearby bush, and although both she and Eileen must strain to listen for sounds of him stirring, none come.

So the Englishwoman lowers her weapon.

And Des doesn’t raise her hands. Though she keeps them where they can be seen, because she knows better. “That’s fortuitous timing. Especially considering you’re supposed to be dead.” Not that she has much ground to stand on there. She’s been there herself. Once at the hands of the woman who’s just saved her from a very difficult decision.

A glance is spared in the direction of the fallen body at her side and she pushes a breath out of her lungs that she didn’t realize she’d been holding.

“Thank you.”

“No need,” says Eileen, moving out of the undergrowth. “You'd have handled that on your own. I only got tired of waiting.”

She clips her pistol back into the holster she wears beneath her coat. Overhead, a raven wings through the canopy, scissoring between branches until it finds a suitable perch for roosting.

There's nothing remarkable about the bird except that it is as white as the new moonlight illuminating its feathers and the daggerlike point of its beak. Milky eyes regard Desdemona from above with cold indifference.

A few years ago, it would be studying her on Eileen's behalf, though she seems not to need it now. Her gaze is as sharp as the knife the soldier had pressed to Desdemona's throat.

The tension is thick in the air. For a moment, Odessa doesn’t know what to say. Doesn’t know if she should say anything. Wonders if she should just go and never come back to this place. Maybe she should leave this city.

But a good mystery has always been a weakness of hers. And Eileen Ruskin is a very intriguing mystery.

“Am I next?”

“Unlikely.” Eileen circles the closest corpse and takes a knee beside it. Her gloved hand rolls the body onto its side, allowing her to access its jacket pockets and identification card within.

A quick glance at the name and rank commits both to memory. “I seem to remember you having a distinct advantage, as far as our abilities are concerned.” She squirrels the card away into her own coat, then rises in a smooth, rolling motion that carries her forward toward where the other soldier fell.

“Then again.” Ferns fold under her boots. “Memory's a funny thing.”

“I seem to recall you still won.” In more ways than one.

Des steps back when Eileen steps forward. Call it self-preservation. Call it paranoia, good sense, habit. Her tongue slides between her lips to wet them, and the lower gets pulled between her teeth when that’s done. “You were right all along. About… all of it.” Probably. “Everything. I’m sorry. And I know that’s not even close to enough, but it’s where I have to start.”

In her mind, she’d imagined a moment like this. It involved her breaking into tears and hugging her old friend, her enemy, and begging for forgiveness. Being grateful that rumors of her death had been greatly exaggerated. None of that comes to her now. Only the wariness, and the need to find out more.

It's the I'm sorry that makes Eileen pause. She swivels to face the other woman even as the trees are filling with birds. They crowd the branches like an extra season’s worth of leaves, whether sparrow, crow, starling, or pigeon; the only thing the individuals have in common with one another are hungry, twinkling eyes and a restless energy that reminds Desdemona of the wind as it’s picking up.

They'll need to dispose of the bodies somehow. This is her solution to that particular problem, even if she’s yet to give the assembling flock permission to descend on their supper.

“I'd have liked to have heard you say that.” There's something different about Eileen's tone and body language, and even if memory’s a funny thing, Desdemona can’t recall ever seeing her quite this guarded. There are other things amiss, too: an absence of scar tissue where it should be, wrinkles where there weren’t before, and eyes that are a shade removed from what Desdemona imagines they should be.

It briefly occurs to her that she might not be speaking to who she thinks she is.

“You’re hearing it now,” she says with a tone that could easily be accompanied by a shrug, but isn’t. That would be too dismissive. She - whoever she is - is hearing it now.

But there’s so much that’s wrong. The stature, the speech, the eyes. And Desdemona is aware of the hungry eyes overhead. She’s been terrified of birds ever since Peter Petrelli first turned that ability on her ten years ago. Blue eyes come up to glance at the trees and realize that they aren’t here for her.


“Who are you really, though? I know the shade of Eileen Ruskin’s eyes.” They’re one of the very last things she saw before she died. “Yours aren’t the same.” There are plenty of decent explanations for that, probably, but Des is having difficulty coming up with one that isn’t this isn’t Eileen. “You have her ability, and you look so much like her… What name do you know me by, Muni’?”

“Kazimir called you nightingale.” Eileen, or whoever this is, bends to retrieve the ID card belonging to the second corpse. “I imagine Ethan had a special one for you, too. Under the bedcovers.”

She pockets the card. The knife that the soldier wielded against Desdemona receives closer attention and scrutiny as Eileen rotates it between her knuckles. This, at least, is a familiar gesture, an idle fidget she once used to occupy anxious hands.

“You're the first one to notice,” she says, “though I suppose in everyone else’s defense so far, none of them knew me very well.”

Des tips her head to one side. Yeah, well. She’s right, nobody else maybe knew Eileen quite the way Odessa did. And as to what Eileen’s father called her when they were in bed with one another, well, it’s not a wound either should be keen to dig into. The answer isn’t terribly exciting regardless.

“I didn’t know you as well as I thought I did,” is more accurate. Honest. “I didn’t know anything.” With that, she does shrug. How could she have known anything, sheltered as she was in those days. Her worldview had been skewed. She’s had to learn a lot in the years following, and she’s learned enough to know that she still doesn’t know.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

Something pings in the back of Odessa’s mind. Something long forgotten and it ties her stomach in a knot and sends a screaming klaxon warning off in her brain. Maybe she did answer the question.

“I’m approximately who I say I am,” replies Eileen. “I have her memories. Most of them. Her ability, her sensibilities — the ones that matter.” The first birds dart down from the branches on tentative wings and alight on the corpse in Desdemona’s view. Little feet and claws pick at the edges of the gaping hole left in the soldier’s head and peel back skin like an navel orange that’s already half-peeled.

The larger animals like the raven and its pristine, snowy feathers, hang back for the moment but jockey against each other for the best view of the feast that awaits them below. Eileen locates the knife’s hilt and removes that from the body as well, before finally relieving it of its firearm and holster. An underhanded toss hefts them in Desdemona’s direction. Catch.

There are some things the flock won’t be able to stomach. These are among them.

“I’m still figuring out the rest.”

Des has to dip down to catch the tossed weapon, but she accepts it, tucking it away in her purse for now. She’ll give it to… Well, someone later, to dispose of. Keeping a military issue weapon is not something she intends to do. Maybe she’ll throw it off a bridge herself. But now her hands have touched it and… she’s overthinking things. Because that’s Eileen right there. Or an approximation.

“So you’re… what? Some kind of clone of her? I thought maybe you were from…” Des shakes her head quickly. Never mind. “I don’t know. And you don’t either, huh?” This time, the shake of her head is slower, more regretful. It’s awful not being sure who or what you really are, she knows. “No matter what anybody tells you, you’re you. You’re whoever you want to be, and not who someone tells you you are. If you say you’re Eileen Ruskin, then you’re Eileen. That simple.”

There’s sadness that writes itself into the lines of her face and furrows her brow. “I’ve spent almost ten years regretting what I did to you. I hated you so much because you were right, and I didn’t know what to do with that. I let someone foster my jealousy and turn it into something even uglier, and that’s no excuse. I made my choices… But I regret them. And if you don’t remember… maybe you’re better off that way.” That would be too much to hope for.

Eileen shoulders the assault rifle. Her fingers flex and curl, calfskin creaking like the boughs above their heads as her right hand reaches out to touch the left. The edge of her thumb rubs along one finger directly below her second knuckle, easing the tension that resides there.

“I don’t remember,” she admits, turning to show Desdemona her back. She rolls her shoulders and adjusts the leather strap so it doesn’t pinch her skin beneath her coat and the black silk blouse she wears beneath. Her head rolls from side to side. “But maybe I’ll read about it in a book.

“There are so many.”

Light footsteps carry her down the same trail the soldiers attempted to coerce Desdemona along, toward the sound of running water where she can presumably wash any traces of blood or gore from her own hair and skin. Rather than join the other birds at the corpses, which are now looking more and more like carcasses, the raven slices through the woods after her with a low, croaking call that implores her not to leave it behind.

But she does not wait. Not for the raven. Not for Desdemona.

Following after, because she really doesn’t want to supervise the disposal of the corpses anyway, Des hurries toward the sound of water. Kneeling, she splashes water up onto her face and scrubs at the warmer fluid she feels under her fingers and attempts to rinse the stuff out of her hair. She can’t walk around the city like this, and she can’t exactly hold time in place for herself long enough to make it home. She’s not quite that fortunate these days.

“I’m glad you’re alive,” she says to the woman’s back as she squeezes out her sopping curls. She may not hold on to this relief when she finds out what happened to her brother. For now, it stands.

“If there’s one thing I’ve figured out, it’s that you need to make the most of your second chances. Don’t let anyone control you. Don’t let anyone convince you that you owe them your life. Live for yourself and how you want to live.” Maybe if Odessa had done that, Desdemona wouldn’t be here right now. Lonely and afraid.

“Good luck out there, whatever you decide.”

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