Bon Courage


eileen_icon.gif francois_icon.gif

Scene Title Bon Courage
Synopsis Francois and Eileen meet for tea.
Date February 28, 2010

West Village Street Bistro

It's a white winter, or what should, by rights, be the last day of it. Doesn't feel like it. Doesn't look like it. The mid-afternoon sun glares with thorough brightness through the flimsy overcast veil, melts the snow the sky had laid down just prior, and glares off glass and ice alike for the time, until more snow comes shaking down like tipped salt. For now, Francois is risking the slender wheels of his bike on the slick pavement, recklessly unadorned in protective gear if only— okay, not only— because he can't afford it.

But he could afford a bike, one he steers across the West Village street, bumping up the curb and coming to halt outside the nice little bistro Eileen picked out, one he knew by name after a few false starts as both immigrants try to fathom together their collective knowledge of New York City's, compare and contrast.

Halt in theory. He certainly stops, but only after wheels promptly wing too far to the right and he goes tipping to the left. A spray of slushy ice smarts low against the cafe's window as man and bike go crashing. "Mer— !"

This is familiar.

The bell above the door jangles in dissonant protest against the Englishwoman whose gloved hand is pushing it open and admitting a gust of chilled winter air into the bistro's dimly lit interior. It has a fireplace, which is one of the reasons why Eileen chose it, and so she is thankfully spared any sour looks steered her way back its other patrons. There's plenty of warmth to go around.

She steps down off the bistro's stone stoop, pea coat drawn tight around her small body as she bends down to place the other on Francois' shoulder. Her face comes into frame a moment later, large cat green eyes and pale skin contrasting with the dark curls of hair she wears pinned up beneath a black cloche hat made of felt with an oversized satin bow in the shape of a rose.

She smells like one, too, but that's likely her perfume. "Are you all right?"

It's a winter hazard. Fair to say that men falling off bikes is an annual occurrance. The front wheel spins merrily, a slight and comical swerve to its rotation, and the worst injury Francois can boast is ego and clothing, icy smears fast to melt and soak. A hand, though, shows off angry red where concrete smarted it, but bloodshed only manifests in those prickles of red. He turns up his own green eyes, a shade speaking more of forests and oceans than predator glints, to meet Eileen's, and offers a rueful smile. "Je suis fantastique. Bonjour, Eileen." Up we get.

Not a mission, brushing himself off and stooping to pick up his bike, secure it against the wrought iron fencing outfront the bistro, then adjusts the straps of the black backpack turtleshelling to his spine. "You look well," he comments, which is polite code for, you look nice. She's a neatly put together package, and Francois is an ordinary one. His jacket is brown with wooly lining, his sweater is green, jeans are blue, and boots are black. No tokens or trinkets, not even a watch.

It would be a barefaced lie to claim that Eileen does not appreciate the compliment. There's a distinct difference between what she hears at work and what she hears on the street coming from someone who is not yet a friend but still much more to her than an acquaintance. She's spent countless hours immersed in his most private thoughts — the ones he put down on paper — and as a result possesses a strange kind of half-formed familiarity with the man standing in front of her that's more intimate than either of them should probably be comfortable with.

Her hand goes to her hat and self-consciously touches fingers to the brim. She has another one at home, sans floral bow with a black lace veil, and there's actually a moment where she finds herself wondering if it would have gone better with the dress she's wearing under her pea coat. It's a pleasant change from the other things she's been thinking about lately.

"Merci," she replies, and she means it. "Parlez lentement?" Please speak slowly. "«I am trying to learn.»"

"D'accord," is amused consent, but he nods to her. Okay. There's a moment, there, in harsh, straining sunlight, that Francois remembers a thing about this girl, and a thing about the spirit that possessed him, briefly. No, Francois had not ridden and crashed here for that purpose, but maybe he should have. Grazing his sleeve against his jaw, as if to clean an already clean face, he tilts his head up towards the cafe doors, leading up the damp steps. "Allons-y." Eileen is British. She has to know that one.

Inside, it's worth it, to escape the cold. "«Where are we sitting?»" he asks once he's sure he's not trekking slush in after him.

"«Here.»" There are schools of thought that believe the best way to learn a language is by speaking it exclusively. Eileen's French professor subscribes to this method, and so far it's been working; six weeks into her classes at Columbia, she appears to possess a basic understanding of the rules and an accent that, although far from perfect, is at least passable and sounds like it has the potential to mature over time.

She pulls out a chair at one of the tables closest to the fireplace and takes a seat in it, unbuttoning the top of her pea coat some of her body heat can escape the ventilation provided by her collar, turned out. Their proximity to the flames tickles skin and tingles in the tips of fingers, toes and the soft cartilage of their ears — it would almost be painful if it weren't for its gradual creep. "«They have very good tea,»" she explains. "C'est magnifique." Then; "«What did you want to talk about?»"

Francois learned English in a similar way, minus the classes at Columbia, a rocky crash course wherein he'd bid Americans to speak slowly too. He peels off his jacket and slings it over the back of his chair, sitting down and ruffling his fingers through his hair in the same manner a dog might shake out his fur. His hands are pink and white, his left one less even than the right, just as she'd seen on the carrier and showing no sign of healing, on account of it already being healed.

"«Not the weather,»" he admits, speaking slowly, as he does a little for Teo sometimes, and Abby on rarer occasions still. Half a century from home and he's never let his native tongue get rusty. Fancy being a Resistance soldier named Francois who could not speak French. "«I don't know how much you've heard, about the» Vanguard «men we met in Russia»— "

And he trails off when a waitress mouses on up, and in English, he orders tea, which will inevitably come on a tray with delicate silver accompaniments of sugar, milk, extra hot water.

Hot soups served in small porcelain bowls with wedges sliced off a fresh baguette are also on the menu, which is displayed in chalk on the board behind the front counter, but Eileen opts to put in an order for a croissant with a side of sweet cream butter and some of the homemade marmalade that the bistro is famous for. She's having a very late breakfast.

"«I haven't heard much,»" she says after the waitress has departed, pausing to think about what words are best employed to convey her meaning. In the end, she deems the subject too important to allow room for miscommunication, no matter how small, and makes the transition back to English. "I haven't needed to," she adds. "Kozlow and I used to work together. He taught me how to stitch our people up."

The skin beside his eyes crinkles in crows feet in a smile, back bent enough to rest elbows against his knees in a comfortable slouch. "Your French is not bad," Francois puts in, turning a palm to inspect the peppery graze before leaving it be. Maybe his bike will get stolen and some poor thief will have to lug it up snowy city tundras for him, that would be nice. Lacing together his uneven set of fingers, he tucks his chin upon this configuration, studying the low table between them as he thinks.

"It was something you said to me. You spoke of the Vanguard like family. I have a feeling that we— accidentally, maybe— hit them where it hurts, in a sense. They have become personal. So I thought it might be useful to know a different side of them, oui? Not just how they kill and how many."

"Oui," she agrees, removing a cigarette from behind her ear. This is not the sort of establishment one smokes in — there is, in fact, a sign posted above the fireplace that strictly prohibits it — but Eileen has no intention of fishing a matchbook from her coat from which to twist off a stick and light it. She just needs something to occupy her hands.

"Kozlow isn't like the men in my family. Jensen, Ethan." Wu-Long and Elias, too, though Eileen feels that it would be wise for her to stick to names Francois might recognize. There's another one she's leaving out, if for different reasons; that relationship is presently too complicated to articulate and does not contribute to the conversation except to make her more morose than she's already feeling.

"What did you accidentally maybe do?"

When the tray for tea occurs, Francois occupies himself with setting it up. He's no Englishman, and prefers his tea in ice form when the weather allows for it, but he only desires the warmth it brings, kindling body warmth for all that the hearth makes a good effort at toasting the outside. Speaks, while he performs these rituals, seeing no particular reason why he can't fix himself some tea while he speaks of murder. "Carlisle Dreyfus? Perhaps, a man before your time, I am not sure. His son was killed in the crossfire, and we have some reason to believe he is working with Kozlow. I think it could be revenge."

Though too hot, still, to drink, Francois warms his hands around the mug, running the edge of a thumbnail against the ridge. "Is a man named Feng Daiyu also family?"

The name Carlisle Dreyfus makes the cigarette skip in Eileen's hand. She catches it before it can fall to the table, however, and pointedly sticks it between her lips to slake her desire for its taste and the relaxing effects of the nicotine rush that normally accompanies it. As soon as Francois is finished pouring his own cup, she takes advantage of her freed hands and does the same, steady in spite of her initial reaction to his query.

"Feng Daiyu has a grudge against Ethan," she murmurs around the filter. "I haven't seen him since last October, when he was still trying to kill us."

That's a no.

Francois nods in acknowledgment — subtle, more of a deliberate, sliding blink than movement, careful to watch her, from twitches through to the more deliberate shows of expression and posture. His gaze wanders down to her hands, anyway, and their negotiation around silver and porcelain. "So there is Daiyu, Dreyfus and Kozlow," he states, as if wondering exactly how these three men fit together. And by extension—

"Would you be able to make a guess about who else would join their numbers? Of the Vanguard?"

Eileen sets the pot back down on the tray as the waitress is returning yet again with her croissant, sweet cream and a small porcelain vessel topped off with a chunky orange mixture that is undoubtedly the marmalade she asked for. "There aren't many of us left," she says, trading the pot for a butter knife, which she uses to sliver open the croissant. "If Kozlow is working for anyone, it's because he has incentive. I can't picture him coming all the way to America to avenge the death of someone else's child unless he's being manipulated in some way. Too self-serving."

She dips the tip of her knife into the sweet cream first and pauses to slather a generous portion of the stuff onto the croissant's soft interior before moving on to the marmalade. "Not counting those of us in prison, there are probably less than a dozen Vanguard operatives left in the world. None of them active."

"Dreyfus was not active either," Francois mentions, after finally taking a long and warming sip of milky English breakfast tea. His head tips to the side in a gesture of concession. "And it took the death of his son for him to stir, as much as this— probably is not a strictly Vanguard operation of his. But it is as you say — Kozlow would not be here if he was not motivated in the right way, and perhaps that is also true for associations, non? And we have two members of the Vanguard possibly working for him now."

He hesitates, before he sets down his tea, back straightening just a smidgen. "They haven't approached you, have they?" If one can be completely facetious and serious at the same time— maybe some attempting at charming— then the Frenchman manages it alright, his expression open and honest, a small curve of a smile, but he sits and waits for an answer with a look of scrutiny that demands truth.

Truth is what Francois demands, and truth is what he receives. "Once," Eileen says. "Kozlow came to see me at my apartment while Abigail was staying there. She hid in my bedroom while the other woman who was with us helped me send him away." She wipes off the back of her knife on one of the napkins provided by the bistro, sprinkling the tablecloth with a trail of flaky crumbs.

"You're wasting your time if you're here to dissuade me from working for Dreyfus. There's nothing he or Kozlow could hold over my head to make me turn on your people."

"I did not think that would happen," Francois says, and he sounds sincere, not even answering too fast. "My suspicions began with their collecting and ended with an attempt. Thank you for telling me. What of the others?" Another sip of tea, collecting it back up, and he eases back into his chair as if only just now comfortable enough to do so. A slight wince across his features as new bruises ring out in protest — it would have been so easy to heal away. "I have not seen Ethan in a little while, and I do not know Jensen. As far as I am concerned, their loyalty was towards saving the world." And that's been done. Tying up some loose threads for cash or blackmail, less so.

Eileen surmises that the chances of Feng and Ethan working together again are as good as a foreseeable end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It just isn't going to happen. She gives Francois a dubious look, both her dark brows arched high, and takes a bite of her croissant, which she then washes down with a long sip drawn from her teacup.

When her mouth is clear and her tongue confirms that her teeth are clean, she lowers it from her lips just enough to peer across the table at the Frenchman from behind the cup's lip. "Ethan isn't in New York," she tells Francois. "Jensen I can handle. I don't know anyone other than Kozlow or Daiyu who might be working for Dreyfus. At this point, he's more likely to seek out the local talent."

He nods, and doesn't press, observing her for a long moment. There's a lot he could say. He could tell her of Kazimir. He could ask for his journal back. Instead: "Then you will wish us good luck, oui?" Francois concludes, with that same subtle smile that focuses in what his eyes are doing as opposed to his mouth. "Although, a real French speaker would say bon courage."

"Bon courage," Eileen repeats, but the smile curving her lips is a rueful one. She lowers her eyes to the cigarette she'd balanced on the edge of her saucer when she'd picked up the teacup to drink and reaches down to pluck it between her fingers. A deft motion of her wrist slides it back behind her ear beneath the brim of her hat, obscured by the dark curls of hair that it covers.

It is just as well he does not mention Kazimir. If what she's telling him his true, then she does not have much family left. Better for her to have hope that her dziadzio is still out there, somewhere.

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