Credit for Their Bravery


eileen_icon.gif francois_icon.gif

Scene Title Credit for Their Bravery
Synopsis Eileen entrusts Francois with an important task.
Date February 8, 2011

West Village: Maison d'Allegre

Night blankets New York City in a veil of darkness and still more snow. The walkway that leads up to the front steps of the brownstone that Francois Allegre calls home is pristine white, interrupted by footprints belonging to the woman that stands outside the front door, wool coat drawn tight around her small frame and hair sheltered by the scarf she wears knotted under her chin. It is less difficult for Eileen to ask for help on the behalf of others than it is for her to ask for help for herself, which is why she has not yet knocked.

Her scarf will not provide adequate protection from the weather — she needs a roof over her head until morning, and short of seeking out her brother again or making another bargain with John Logan, there are very few options available to her unless she wants to exchange her freedom for a ten foot by ten foot concrete cell.

The robin at her shoulder is less patient than the Englishwoman is and makes a sharp, angry sound in her ear. She raises a gloved fist. Raps knuckles against heavy wood.

Knocks on the door, as infrequent as they may be, relatively easy to dismiss. Less so than phone calls (as infrequent as they may be), less so enough that a glimmer of the curtain shifting in a paranoid detecting of who's there is a mistake that happens. He's not very well going to not open the door.

Even if it takes longer than it should, a shy and guilty zigzag of approach down the hallway before Francois hooks his fingers into the doorhandle, uses his other one to undo excessive locks that seemed important during Carlisle's heyday and is now impotent in Hiro's. The cold whispers inside, silent and sharp like a hidden knife, but this doesn't stop the Frenchman from letting the portal swing wide, open and welcoming. Grey wool swamps his torso, V-necked and showing black cotton beneath and the track of scars from long ago at the base of his throat. Ear still bitten, hands now symmetrical.

He smiles, bright, and sort of detached from eyes that try to drink in her expression with sharp scrutiny, Francois unsure if he has anything to answer for, being here, or to try and find the purpose of her visit hidden behind sightless eyes. Both hands go out to take her wrists and gently draw her inside. "Bienvenue — inside, come."

Teodoro is what Eileen had been about to say, but he isn't. Teodoro. She'd expected to find a Silician filling the doorframe with straw-blond hair and an insufferable mouth that hooks up in the corner — to be greeted by a Frenchman instead, a Frenchman she'd thought lost in spite of their best efforts to locate him through his writings and intricate pencil sketches, catches her off-guard. Surprise blooms across her pale face like a white flower opening. So does her mouth.

"Good lord," seems to her the most appropriate thing to say, rasped out as Francois draws her inside by her wrists, and although she does not resist him, her hands clasp around his so tight that he can feel her nails biting into his skin through the soft leather of the gloves she wears. Her robin snaps open its wings, carelessly hops off her shoulder and sails across the short distance between the front door and the banister attached to the stairs.

"How long?"

They go in a circle, so that Francois can bump the door closed with a shoulder and seal off the awful cold outside. Too used to warm French-Spanish springs, he's bundled and layered in wools and cotton even in the thermostat comfort of his own home, the glow of sun beginning to leak from skin that goes pale when neglected. Unhurt. Well rested. Hair longer, vainly, but as are the smile-made crows feet at his eyes. He lets his hands remain trapped in her grasp — appreciates it, in fact, probably prone to fidgeting otherwise.

"A couple of weeks, now. This is how long it has taken me to recover from time travel— lag." It's a joke that trips over his own too careful enunciation as well as a severe lack of effort put towards humour, but his hands squeeze her slender wrists with affection and maybe some sort of apology, even if he doesn't feel the need to verbalise it.

If it's an apology, she accepts it by squeezing back, still too stunned to put her arms around him in a hug. When she does release him, it's only with one hand, and so she can place it against his cheek, then brush a strand of hair away from his brow to tuck behind his ear. A few minutes ago, she would have told him that she was too exhausted to feel elation, but that's exactly what this is, quiet though it may be.

He isn't gray. His hand is still smooth in hers, no aged cracks in old chapped skin to speak of, his fingers still young and strong and pliable. His is one vision that did not come to pass on the eighth of November in some way or another, and she makes a tight sound at the back of her throat that sounds as tired as it does joyful. "I should throttle you."

"Ah, non, je ne crois pas. Not yet." Francois' hand goes up to wind fingers with hers before she can steal her own back, darting in to kiss her cheek. "Not until you've had a drink at least." And then the other. "Come, in." His hand slides from her's, turning from her to move deeper into the house that in many ways, hasn't changed. Needed some extensive clean up, and whether that's before or after he came back is unclear. Either way, he's had some time to restore it to the lived in impression that two people give a home, even after the day of the 8th broke its back.

The scent of heated alcohol and spice finally registers once deeper inside, the kitchen light on in the dimming dusk pulling towards curfew. Rather than go retrieve anything from the coffee pot, or one of the tall bottles of wine that stack inside the fridge, Francois pads back to the stove, riding his sleeves back up towards his elbows a little, his feet in socks and soundless on the floor. There's a residual tension in his shoulders, one he couldn't justify with words to Eileen even if she asked him what's up.

"You can tell me what you think."

This is the safest Eileen has felt since the dome went up. Her shoes come off at the door so she doesn't track the gritty, greasy combination of snow and dirt onto the swept floors of Francois' home. She can pretend, for a few minutes at least, that there aren't standing orders to shoot her on sight — that it's just another frosty winter in New York, that she's here seeking Francois' companionship because she's lonely and has been missing him, that her visit isn't ultimately a matter of life or death.

She thinks a lot of things. Dark things that would turn blood in her veins a few years ago but have become necessary and almost routine in the time since, leaving her feeling exhausted instead of nauseous, weary rather than weak.

She wants to tell him what she thinks but deduces that he wants her opinion of what's the stove, which is just as well because she's much happier to give that to him. Eileen follows him into the kitchen, loosening the scarf at her throat. "That smells warm."

Ladle scrapes along the lip of the pot, left to simmer and warm on the flat glass plane of the electric stove, and a churn of the liquid inside highlights the scents. Red wine, honey and spices, and when Francois goes to carefully fill two ceramic mugs with the liquid, it's dark and deceptively thin. "Good, it is meant to be," he says, his back to her as he works. "There are parts of Europe that need such things, and other parts that would call this a waste of wine." Francois, for example, is probably meant to be from such a place, but Eileen isn't. Up closer, she can see rough ground peppercorns, unidentified herbs sitting in the wine like they would a soup, and it warms rather than burns her hands on either side.

"I spent a third of a spring season in south France. I forgot how fucking awful the New York winter can be until I was skipped along a few months into its heart. You were looking for Teo?" is belated guess — if Eileen was surprised to see him, than that means she came here for some other purpose that probably has little to do with testing his attempts at best house not-husband for the year. Or the product of idle boredom.

While Eileen deliberates on the best way to answer Francois' question, she drinks from her mug, mouth pressed to the rim, and experiences the sensation of heat diffusing through her throat when she swallows. It sparks warmth in her belly and loosens her vocal chords, producing a low murmur of approval that she voices against the porcelain.

That's very nice, Francois.

"Yes," she confesses, lowering the mug from her mouth and drawing it into her chest so the steam can rise, billowing up over her neck and face, melting the flakes of snow that cling to her lashes and flyaway strands of brown-black hair escaped from scarf before she removed it. This she places in a loose bundle on the counter, and in the light of the kitchen Francois can see that the fabric isn't just gray, but with silvery blue threads woven throughout in a pattern that doesn't have enough contrast to be immediately visible. "I need a place to stay for the night and thought I might ask if I could borrow one of your rooms."

Francois sequesters himself into a corner, his fingers rigid around his own helping of rich wine, heat in at least three different ways, from the burn of alcohol to the chemical false-heat of spices, and the languid, tepid warmth of the stove. His eyes track towards the scarf for some reason, before darting down into his drink, then back up to her look at her, nodding once. "We still have a bedroom on the third floor. Perhaps if others remember this place also, we shall outfit the rest of them. You can stay as long as you need." By necessity, he's learned what it is to be hospitable, the importance of being transparent in one's welcome.

He's not entirely sure what might have happened, had Corinne deigned not to be.

Long haul had been the phrase Gabriel used, and Eileen's mouth tightens painfully at the memory. "As long as I need and not an hour more," she says, eyes shying away from where her robin tells her his gaze has settled. Her thumb curves around the mug's rim. "Or even a minute. My being here puts you and Teodoro in danger both, and the last thing I want is to see all this taken from you because of my carelessness."

She moves to sit at the table, a chair pulled out and slim legs folding, one pointed foot tucked beneath her and the other touching the tips of her toes to the hardwood. Her posture has not suffered; she carries herself as Kazimir would have intended, chin high and back straight with a gently curved spine that softens her body's harder angles, presenting a quietly dignified appearance both vulnerable and not.

"I have no right to ask it, but will you do me another favour?"

"Teo told me, how you helped. That you helped him." This is gentle correction, like a teacher pointing out the error in a student's work in a kindly kind of fashion that is just as righteous and certain. "Of course you have a right to ask favours, Eileen, even if we were not friends." Of course, Francois has been gone long enough that being 'friends' might be an overstatement to the more reserved — in contrast to Elisabeth and her squealing embrace, the Englishwoman carries herself as differently as she loves.

But this probably feels like friendship, warmed wine with Romanian mixtures. Favours.

He smiles at her, almost shy, and dips a shrug. "I've been in danger for longer than you've been alive. What do you want to ask?"

"The island that Leonardo Maxwell purchased for me," Eileen says after another pause, made shorter by Francois' firm reassurances. "Pollepel. We evacuated as many people as we could on the eighth — it's almost exactly as I told you it would be, and because of your help, but I need it again. The head of our medical branch once worked as a nurse in an emergency room and served in the American military before that, and you know Jensen—

"There are a few others. A man named Benjamin Ryans who once worked for an organization like the Institute, but he's caught under all that— glass." It's not the right word for it — a close enough approximation, though, and Eileen steadies herself with a breath. "I would feel immensely better if you would go in my place and look after them while I'm here in the city. The other council members are capable of maintaining order and looking after everyone's best interests, but I'm afraid of what might happen if they're found."


Francois squeezes a blink in surprise — not for Pollepel Island, mind. Teo had mentioned it enough that Francois knew what he was talking about, when it had just been words on a paper and numbers in a bank account and a patch of neglected, damp land. And it doesn't surprise him that Eileen and the others had built it in the wake of disaster. It surprises him, maybe, that this is the favour she chooses, but more so, his own hesitation surprises him.

Because he does. Hesitate. And immediately feels bad about it, jaw tensing and thumb edging against the mug's rim. "Perhaps Teodoro is the better pick," he offers, a little lamely, trying not to sound like he's requesting flowers and flattery (even if that will literally get you anywhere with Francois) in his passing the buck and managing instead to do a shitty job of masking anxiety for himself. Recognises it, at least, and adds, "Hiro took me out of the timestream in the middle of a raid on a secret Institute facility. This, as you say, has been taken away from me already."

He turns from her, hand fussing over the dial on the stove to lower the heat, and cap the pot over with a glass lid that immediately steams up. "And I wasn't here for the 8th," he adds, like maybe that would matter.

"Teodoro is a boy of twenty-seven," Eileen answers, and there's no hesitation in her voice when she says it. Guilt, yes — not only for asking this of Francois, but for the word she uses to describe him. She herself will be but twenty-two in a week. "As you were, once. There is a part of him that is more than that, yes, but it is only a part — he did not spend his youth defending his country and its people from a full-scale invasion. You have lost more friends than he has ever had, and he is the best-liked of anyone.

"There is no one on this earth left alive, Francois, who understands this more than you." Her grip on the mug has tightened to the point of shaking, and she must not realize — if she did, she would place it down on the table to make her emotions less obvious. She cannot see the quiet desperation in her own eyes, either. "If he is a good pick, then take him with you. I want the man whose journal the people on that island would not be alive without."

Francois' not going to say no, and it has little to do with flowers and flattery, but her own shot-nerve demeanor and the anemic pale setting in on the joints of her fingers. Francois' hand goes out to line against the back of one of her's, a replacement for the eye contact that is necessary when he says, "D'accord." Okay. The consent is easier than his excuses had been, but. You know. So would bleeding. To be melodramatic. "I think you are overestimating my capabilities and giving me too much credit for their bravery, and I can go anyway, if you let me know what it is you wish of me. But where will you be, if you are in danger?

"Here, if Teo stays?" And Francois feels a little twinge at the concept of separation, and then cherishes the twinge as if it were a token on Valentine's Day, all done behind a mask of an expression, one that conveys polite, non-invasive concern. "Because you may do that. Beyond what you need and into what you would like."

"Here," Eileen confirms, "whether he stays or not, if you'll consent to it. I don't need," or want, her tone implies, "protection. Only a safe place to come back to after curfew. My priority now is finding a way to get the people who are trapped inside out. Ryans, my father, my partner — I can visit you and Teodoro, if he goes, but I can't stay at Pollepel when my heart is here."

She places her other hand on his, two slimmer, smaller sets of fingers folding up around his like a velvet clamshell. "He knows how to get there. The women you want to ask for are Lynette Rowan and Barbara Simms — tell them you're there to help, and they'll let you know where hands are needed most, whether it's in the infirmary with Nurse Young or out on patrol. The ones they catch are treated no better than animals, beaten and left hanging. People are frightened. Angry. There was something reckless in Raith's eyes last we spoke, so please — encourage temperance, if just for now."

The wince that writes itself across Francois' face is subtle, at least. Picturing how the guy who got a free vacation in the middle of one of the worst times in New York City history docking at the island to tell everything to relax. These are concerns he doesn't voice aloud, because he knows they will, inevitably, be his to deal with. And Eileen seems to have enough on her plate. He takes a long sip of warm wine, searing mingled warmth from the back of his tongue until it hits his stomach.

"There are things I should do before I go, then. People I should see also, that I neglected to before." His hand squeezes her's in tactile reiteration of his words. "I'm sorry to hear you have people close to you in that thing. I'm sure it's lonely."

"Not nearly as much as what you've endured these last few months." Eileen's tone is sharper than she'd meant it to be, and this realization makes her swallow. She is abruptly aware of her ring's fit — she slips her hands from Francois', careful not to drop her mug, and sets it down on the table. "Do you know— it sometimes feels that way even when I'm surrounded by other people. Ever since I was small, but I like to think I've grown into it now — the melancholy. Trees in beech forests do. Swans. I should consider myself so dignified."

Depression talks much more than the wine does; she's not had nearly enough for it to affect her judgment the way grief and exhaustion seem to. "Thank you for this, and for everything. You are very much my friend, Francois. One of few."

"Ah, you honour me." It's a friendly kind of dismissal, one that comes with a smile eclipsed then by a sip of warm wine and spices. Francois stops short of thanking her for coming here and giving him favours to carry out, prolonged hesitation filling words as silence before he shrugs once beneath the soft hug of home sweater. "Come, you should tell me of your last few months. I've only had one, but I can exchange with you what France is like in the spring." In contrast to what New York City gets up to in the last of fall and beginnings of winter.

He moves to lead her, where the hearth is lit warm against the chill, preferring the organic heat of a raw fire. It's probably as good a place to sleep by as the third floor bedrooms.

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