Dying Arts


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Scene Title Dying Arts
Synopsis Gabriel and Eileen visit the Ichihara Bookstore on Roosevelt Island to pick up an order of Mandarin children's books and are gifted with a family heirloom that turns out to be something neither of them expected.
Date August 14, 2009

Ichihara Bookstore

Nestled in the heart of the main street marketplace, the Ichihara Bookstore is an old and crooked structure pressed between two newer high-rise tenement buildings. The old glass windows and creaking wooden door on the shop's front give it a rustic and old-world feel. Catering to both antique books and newer prints, the narrow aisles and tall shelves are packed full of literature. A single shelf for periodicals lies near the front counter, while signage both out front by the register and in the back of the store indicates that tarot card reading is done on-site at request for ten dollars per reading.

Behind the old and weathered wooden counter that contains the register and a small stack of reserved books, a narrow wooden staircase leads upwards to a black wooden door with peeling paint, revealing red paint in narrow strips beneath, a rope crossing in front of that door hangs with a small sign that reads, "Private".

When your time is divided between working for Jensen Raith, helping out with whatever the Ferry needs to have done and volunteering at the Lighthouse like Eileen's is, you don't have much left at the end of the day for yourself — which is why she's set aside its beginning for errands that are personal in nature. Although daybreak was many hours ago, the sun is still only partway through the steady climb to its highest point. The Ichihara Bookstore on Roosevelt Island will just be opening, and with any luck its proprietor is a morning person because this time the young woman has brought company.

The bell above the door heralds their arrival, a cheerful jangle of metal tinkling against metal as Eileen steps inside and is greeted by the familiar scent of dusty wooden floors with hints of mildew and varnish lurking in its periphery. It smells the way most of the older buildings in the city do: worn. Like she told Gabriel, she's here to pick up the Mandarin children's books that she asked Hokuto to order the first time she stopped by, but if the dreamwalker isn't the one behind the desk today, then this is something that might bear repeating. "Hello?"

Corpses don't much respond to hellos and chiming bells, or at least that's the first impression of the pale body laid out across the counter by the front door, one bare leg and one bare arm dangling down over the customer's side. The black shorts and white vest are free of bloodstains at least, so perhaps she just died peacefully in her sleep. Though all thoughts of the dark-haired and all too often feline proprieter of Ichihara Books' death fade when the sound of soft snoring comes from beneath the copy of Home and Garden magazine laid out over her face.

Sound asleep as she is at this hour of day, it's a small wonder how the door got unlocked, and looking from the cleanup of half-stocked books that lay in cardboard boxes on the floor around the New Releases shelf, she likely never finished work the previous night, and simply left the door unlocked. "You've…" her voice is soft, murmured beneath the glossy pages of the magazine, "Mshm… have to find it yourself…" A trail of inky black hair spills down over the side of the counter as she stirs, rolled onto one side, and unfortunately chooses the side that she was already laying half off of.

For all her feline traits, Hokuto Ichihara does not land on her feet. In fact the muffled shriek and the loud clunk her dead weight makes once it makes the short journey to the floor is quite indicative of her landing on her face. There's a groan of discomfort, black hair tangled and down in her face in unkempt waves, pale fingers pawing at the hardwood floor as she pushes herself up.

"Fine, don't listen to me…" Hokuto mumbles to herself, raking her fingers over the top of her head as she pulls her hair out of her face, only to make embarassing and startling eye contact with Eileen Ruskin standing head and shoulders over her hunched form. There's really no words for this situation, nothing that an embarassed flush of her face and wide, shocked eyes can't convey at least. Though when she does try and vocalize something, it comes out as a hoarse, dry-throated "Good morning?"

The sunlight cuts dustily through the rustic little bookstore, and is further obscured by Gabriel standing in the doorframe, lingering upon the threshold as if there were anything here, remotely, worthy of wariness. There isn't, that much is clear— nothing scary about books, or the mice in the walls, or the bookstore owner thudding to the ground when roused from her sleep. Finally, inevitably, Gabriel steps inside, drawn in if only thanks to Eileen's proximity, playing the part of her shadow in this production, and dressed suitably in dusky blacks and blues, scuffed boots, old jeans, a nondescript shirt, and—

And sunglasses. If there's anything worse at disguises than simply dying your hair and putting in contact lenses, it's expecting that a pair of Ray Bans is gonna do anything for you when you're the most wanted man in America. But you don't keep alive as long as Gabriel Gray has without trying. Despite, possibly, being mocked by your companion.

Once inside, these are drawn off his face and pocketed, not readily introducing himself as his gaze draws lazily up and down Hokuto, then away, taking in the interior of the bookshop with a hint of bored interest.

"Good morning," Eileen returns, reaching down with both her hands, palms facing the ceiling, the tips of her fingers curled inward. The implicit offer of assistance is there if Hokuto wants it. Gabriel, too, is spared any mocking in spite of his fashion choices, lest he turn it back around on her; clothed in a short gray dress that cuts off several inches above the knee, a black cardigan and matching heels designed to give her a small boost in height, she's looking a lot more respectable than she probably deserves to, and only because her standard fare is scheduled to be put through the wash as soon as she returns to the Garden.

She doesn't have to glance back over her shoulder to ensure that Gabriel has followed her inside. Even if she couldn't hear the floorboards creaking beneath his weight, she can still feel his presence prowling somewhere behind her. Once, she'd threatened to send him to pick up the order in her stead so Hokuto could corner him into a reading. Instead, she's invited him with. This may be a step in the right direction. "Remember me?"

Immediately, there's a look of recognition in Hokuto's eyes on spotting Gabriel, something that she has no aptitude at hiding. Her dark eyes immediately sweep towards Eileen, a crooked smile angling her lips askew in some knowing girl-talk way of showing at least some form of approval. Yes, it seems, she remembers. "I think the better question is," her hands move into Eileen's, grunting with a bit of effort as she pushes herself up to stand, a grimace making her lips somewhat lopsided, "do you remember me?" There's a raise of the woman's dark brows at that, grimace turning into a Cheshire smile as her hands part from Eileen's, and dark eyes switch to survey Gabriel.

Her lips press together, brows stay alighted, and she dips her head down into a nod, trying to hide a teasing smile. "It's nice to finally meet you," she says with a playful tone of voice, trying to act a bit demure despite just earning that large red mark on her forehead.

Sliding past Eileen, Hokuto wanders behind the counter, bending down and out of sight for a moment before re-emerging holding a cardboard box that is laid out on the counter and pushed forward. "Your order." She notes with a succinct nod, "Not to be confused with the other cardboard boxes everywhere. It's… donation time this month for the library. Darien and I have been skimming things off of the shelves, but most of this is old musty things from the basement that my mother absolutely refused to get rid of."

Turning dark eyes up to Eileen, Hokuto leans over the counter, hands folded and eyes settling on Gabriel after a moment. "You're much taller than I figured."

Gabriel's drifted a few steps to the left, intending to perhaps lurk around the longer shadows of the bookstore until Eileen was ready to leave, when suddenly! and without warning!, Hokuto hurls a conversational hook his way and reels in his attention. It's Eileen who gets a flick of a glance, narrowed and mildly accusatory, mostly baffled, before Hokuto is focused on. It's weird. Most people thought he'd be taller. Then again, that's coming from a whole different perception of who he is.

"I wasn't aware of any expectations," comes Gabriel's stilted reply, hands coming to rest in the pockets of his jacket and still remaining nearby the perimeter of the store, the hazy sunlight filtering through aged windows mostly bouncing off his back than lending detail to the rest of him, collections of shadow making up his features. Which read awkward confusion, mainly. "Likewise." The first bit, presumably. She's about the right height for a bookseller, after all.

There's nothing pretend about the sudden interest Eileen takes in the box that Hokuto asserts is her order. The fact that it allows her to avoid Gabriel's eyes when the other woman starts making remarks about his height just happens to be a happy coincidence. She pries open the top flap with her fingers, lifts her chin and peeks inside like a child peeling back the wrapping of a present on Christmas Eve, then flips it the rest of the way so she can get a better look at its contents. She wouldn't be so curious if she knew exactly what her money was buying.

"Hokuto does tarot readings to supplement her income," she explains as she removes the topmost book from the box, turns it right-side up and begins thumbing through the pages. Children's books are children's books no matter what language they're written in — the pictures are just as important as the words, and these are something Eileen can at least understand. "I was curious." Now she does look up, if only to squint over at the woman in question. The look she gives her isn't quite the same as the one Gabriel shot her when she pointedly had her back to him, but it comes close. "How do you know he's the one I told you about?" she asks, not without a little bit of mirth.

"It's obvious that it's him," Hokuto notes off-handedly, but her smile diminished just a touch as she steps around the boxes. "I've been taking things out of storage, mostly because something was sticking in my head the last few days." She completely diverges from the topic at hand, "I bring this up, because part of me thinks it's relevent…" To what, she doesn't exactly say, but she's not doing anything to get to the point, but rather making sure the fiction new releases are going up on the shelves.

When her dark eyes rise to Gabriel's again, the dark-haired bookseller tilts her head in a subtle angle. "I do readings, but not today," her brows furrow together, "or at least I don't think today would be the best of days." Her lips pucker to the side, a book shifted over and then finally her shoulders rise and fall.

"Eileen," Hokuto turns to regard the younger woman over her shoulder. "There's a box that smells like a basement up on the counter," she so eloquently describes, "there should be a small leather book in there. It's got a little rawhide tie on the front?" One hand waves in the direction of the box. "You can take that with you, with the rest of your order. And— I did my best to find things in Mandarin for your littlest, I… hope what I got's alright. I read them over, but I'm not really sure what he's into."

Dark eyes divert to Gabriel again, then she simply motions him with a tip of her nose towards Eileen and that same box. "The little book's for the two of you. My mother had it for years before she passed away, I remember reading it when I was younger, and some things in there stuck with me. I…" teeth draw over Hokuto's lower lip, "well, I think that about covers everything you were here for."

During this exchange, Gabriel stays mostly still, his spine stiffly straight and expression drawn, eyebrows angled into mild consternation as his mind ticks over with question like— what's obvious? Curious about what? Mostly what's, and none of which get spoken out loud. If he thinks to, he can always shake such answers out of Eileen, letting go of the weird lens of paranoia that has him so focused.

"Tarot," he repeats, and allows, now, a slight smile to play across his features - cynical, amused in equal measures. "How novel. You'd think in a world of precognitives and telepaths that maybe it would be a dying art." The floorboards creak as he resumes his little wander around the store, hands brushing along antique wood as he notes; "I guess it still is."

To be fair, the store is probably the most thriving thing on this entire island, but there's still that sense of old world, antique death. "He's into stabbing, mainly," Gabriel adds, presently.

Eileen is no scent hound, and yet she finds the box easily enough. Must is one of those smells that's difficult to mistake for anything else. She places the book she was looking at back in her own and then moves across the one that Hokuto directed her to, her expression more concerned than it is inquisitive. Upon opening it, she treats the flaps with much more care than she did the first and handles the cardboard like she might an antique that could crumble apart at any moment. Depending how long it's been in the basement, it just might.

The leather book with the tie on the front is removed from the box with the same tender caution and gingerness that she showed the container it was stored in. "He isn't into stabbing," Eileen mutters under her breath, more to Hokuto than to Gabriel, though her tone prickles with reproach. "He's got an unusual attachment to cutlery, that's all." She pauses to trace the crescent of her nail along the book's spine before she attempts to loosen the tie without damaging it — a feat that ends up being much smaller than she initially anticipated. This done, she lifts the cover and opens the book — she thinks it looks more like a journal — to a random page. "Did your mother ever say where—"

All of a sudden, she's very quiet.

"No," Hokuto says quietly, her eyes downcasting to the floor as she ghosts between the aisles, holding a few softcover mystery novels against her chest with one arm, beginning to stock them on the shelves. "No, she didn't…" She hesitates, turning dark eyes not up to Eileen, but over to Gabriel as she watches the man with a momentary scrutiny, then closes her eyes and lowers her head down. There's something conflicted in her stare, something that was searching of the man in her shop, in a way accusing but none of it is spoken. She merely lays out the books, one by one, keeping a full shelf between herself and Eileen.

That page in the old journal, left open as it is, catches rays of light that spill in through the bay windows at the front of the store, light that makes the handwritten text on the pages stand out so much more sharply on the yellowed paper inside. Hokuto takes the last book and places it on the shelf, and Eileen is still quiet. In that silence, she turns, regarding the younger woman now with concern, as well as curiosity.

A book is picked up without much regard to what it is— it certainly isn't 1000 Ways To Build a Clock, in case anyone was wondering— and flipped through with a flick of his thumb, barely taking interest in the book recommended for them, as unusual as such a thing is. Gabriel's back is mostly turned to Eileen, ignoring the look sent his way by Hokuto as he says, over his shoulder, "Stabbing isn't as weird sounding as an unusual attachment to cutlery," in a quietly bickering tone.

It's when Eileen doesn't actually respond that has him looking up, turning to look at her with the random book half opened in his hands, not nearly as intently stared at as the leather-bound text in the woman's grip. A questioning glance is sent to Hokuto, and when she seems to only be looking on at Eileen in the same way, he prompts with, "Eileen?"

The rings on Eileen's fingers bite into the book's leather binding as she further tightens her grasp on it, bending the cover and crinkling the pages, then reflexively loosens again when she appears to realize just how much pressure her hands are exerting. The colour has left her face, replacing her pale complexion with a pastier one that would compliment the dress she's wearing if she were laid out in a casket with rouge on her cheeks and lips. She looks like death.

Although her mouth works to form words, it takes her several additional moments to find a voice capable of expressing them, and when she does it's hoarse, crackling with an emotion that's impossible to identify. "Why—" She stops and swallows hard, fighting back the bulge she can feel swelling like a balloon in her throat. "Why are you giving this to me?"

There's a reluctant look from Hokuto, standing between the aisles as she does. The dark-haired bookseller turns her head away from Eileen, black bangs shadowing her face from that angle. She pulls at the corner of one book's spine on the shelf, then pushes it back in with two fingers; a nervous gesture. "You don't remember…" the words are more for herself than Eileen's sake, but clearly heard by both, if quiet. "I know who you are," she adds quieter now, "why you hurt." Her dark brows crease together, head turning to stare down at the floor.

"I knew the name from somewhere, and it'd been haunting me ever since I saw one of the nightmares he was in…" Hokuto's voice goes distant, sounding like some faraway orator as her hand rests there on the corner of the book, neither pushing it the rest of the way in or pulling it out. "I finally found it. I'd hoped you would take it, and not question the truth… only that he's there, living in the pages like any good story. Only this one's real…"

Fwip. That would be the sound of Gabriel sharply closing the book he has with one hand, his eyebrows drawn into severe angles of consternation and suspicion. He puts his own now forgotten text down as he turns towards Hokuto, though her words aren't intended for him, not entirely. "I don't understand," he gently, if firmly reminds both of the women in the room, before he thinks to focus on the book in Eileen's hands. A journal. Not even old in an interesting way - just getting on its years.

"What is it?" Impatience is putting an edge in his voice, cutting through the dulcet murmurings of the bookseller and the rigid, silent tension Eileen is exuding as she stands stiff.

Sometimes all it takes to fit a memory into place is a gentle nudge. Realization dawns bright and terrible across Eileen's face and drains the light from her eyes, which have suddenly grown very wet and begun to sting. She's not sure what she's experiencing right now, only that it leaves a bitter, ashen taste in her mouth and makes her want to wilt and curl in on herself. Hokuto knows who she is. Has looked into her dreams. Seen—

"Kazimir." She chokes out the name, and with it tears that leave greasy tracks on her cheeks in their rolling wake. The release is so abrupt and without warning that she doesn't even realize she's crying until she remembers to breathe again and discovers that she can't. This is all too much, too fast. Everyone has a breaking point; this just happens to be Eileen's. "It's Kazimir."

Hokuto looks away with a slow nod of her head, turning her back to Eileen as her eyes fall shut; dark lashes brushing against her cheeks. "There's a box of tissues behind the counter…" she says quietly, keeping that low bookshelf between herself and Eileen, an intermediary of paper and wood divine all that hurt from one another, leaving Gabriel in the middle and able to go to her or away with equal ease. "I'm sorry," she adds just as quiet, for what it's worth — and that ultimately isn't much.

There are few things that Gabriel could think of that might make Eileen snap like a twig. Things he knows he could probably say and has come close to doing so and perhaps the same could be true of her for him. Let it be said, though, that such things can only be counted on one hand, and amongst those would be the name repeated wetly within the bookstore and stiiill—

Still not making sense. With an accusatory glance back at Hokuto, Gabriel sets aside the book he'd picked up to approach Eileen. A hand goes out to touch the spine of the journal, to tilt it so he might see what's written on the pages, the neat handwriting catching his eye as he tries to gently extract it from her grip, or turn it at the very least.

Lending comfort is not something Gabriel is good at. Even before. Lending strength, perhaps, but not comfort. All the same, a hand smooths over to wrap warm around her wrist.

Strength and comfort are not mutually exclusive. In some cases, including this one, they are instead synonymous. The hand at Eileen's wrist steadies her arm and prevents tremors from spreading — the mere proximity of his body has a fortifying effect on hers, and although the tears do not immediately stop, they don't get any worse either. Her breaths are shallow but not gasping, interrupted by the occasional hitch and nothing more severe than that.

She doesn't resist Gabriel when he attempts to angle the journal so he can better view its contents. There's no need for her to help him thumb through the pages; everything he asks after is on the parchment in front of him, yellowed and watermarked though it is. As he reads, Eileen's focus returns to Hokuto, more beseeching than it is accusatory, searching her face with watery eyes that plead. "Who wrote this? Are they still alive?"

Biting down softly on her lower lip, Hokuto's eyes fall shut and her shoulders slouch down in a guilty motion from the tone of Eileen's voice. "I read the journal once when I was little, I think my bookwork of an assistant has read it as well…" she turns, slowly, regarding Gabriel and Eileen with a mixed bittersweet expression. "His name is Francois Allegre," the bookseller's arms wrap around herself, head hanging down as locks of dark hair spill out from behind one ear, hiding the side of her face.

"I don't know if he's still alive, but I haven't ever been able to find him," her dark eyes wander to the side. "Some people are harder to find that others, the further from me they are." Those dark eyes wander back now, reluctantly searching for Eileen's. "But given how old the journal entries are," her brows crease together, and Hokuto's eyes fall to stare at the floor before they meet the younger woman's, "it's unlikely."

Gabriel occupies the moment by scanning the pages laid visible to him, gently turning one back. His eyes automatically go towards where a date is printed legibly in the corner, a month within the year of 1978, and he flicks the pages gently back to see how early it stretches. By looks of things, the early 60s, and he lets the pages fall back into place upon the entry Eileen fell on.

Quite plainly, there's a name written in cramped letters in the middle of the diary entry. Volken. And also quite plainly—

"Francois?" Another name, and it's not one Gabriel hasn't heard before - if very fleetingly. His tone, however, is one of mild confusion rather than recognition, as if to mask it. A second ticks over, and while he's aware of Eileen still gathering her composure mere inches from him, pragmatism has Gabriel's focus locked on Hokuto. "Is this the only one you have?"

Eileen folds the journal shut after Gabriel has had the opportunity to look. One hand reaches up to rub its heel across her cheek, smudging at tears and smearing make-up. She could probably use a tissue but ends up wiping the oily mixture away with the sleeve of her cardigan instead. Fortunately, the fabric's weave is dark enough to absorb the mess without noticeably discolouring or damaging it. The same cannot be said of her dress, and while there are only a few droplets clinging to the garment's collar and buttoned front, they will leave stains when they eventually dry.

Fingers fumble with the journal's rawhide tie in a haphazard attempt to fasten in it. No more questions. Gabriel's asking the only one left that matters.

There's a subtle nod of her head in regards to Gabriel's question, the murmured, "Yes…" that comes with it is equally swallowed by some misplaced sense of guilt or remorse that briefly paints itself across her delicate features. Finally stepping out from the aisle between the low bookshelves, she begins making a meandering path towards the counterspace where the boxes are stacked. "I only know of the one, unfortunately." Teeth draw across Hokuto's lower lip as she comes to stand on one side of that counterspace, looking back and forth apologetically to the two.

"I'm sorry to have… lured you here for this." Swallowing tightly, Hokuto's eyes drift away to focus on an indistinct point in space, her voice taking on the same quality. "You at least deserve some measure of truth, what with all I've done." And it would seem, the truth of her only having one journal is the truth she's offering. "I don't know what purpose it will have for either of you, but the name alone… I just thought you should have it, not me."

"Thank you," Gabriel states, in a tone that both acknowledges this perceived error and dismisses it in the same two syllables - reluctant gratitude. If there's such a thing as curses, the journal could well contain one, written into the yellowed pages with pen ink and flourish signatures. He glances sidelong towards Eileen, brief assessment that in the next moment has him steering towards the box of Mandarin reading materials, hefting it up. Whatever words of parting there should be, he leaves them into Eileen's more than capable hands.

For a moment or two, it looks as though Eileen might not say anything at all. Her eyes move between the journal, Hokuto and Gabriel's back, uncertain, then settle on the bookstore's door and the dirty light seeping in through the storefront's aged windows. "Excuse us, please," is the most gracious farewell she can offer, her voice tight yet steady, each terse syllable bitten off with deliberate curtness. If she wasn't angry before, then she is now, but as far as transgressions go, the other woman has committed only a mild one — like the nausea creeping up on her gut and the wetness in her eyes, resentment too will pass.

As Gabriel picks up the box that contains their order, she goes fishing in her cardigan pocket for the roll of cash she keeps on her person and leaves it — clip and all — on Hokuto's desk. It's enough to cover her purchase but not the journal she holds clutched to her chest as she walks out the door and steps onto the curb outside the shop, heels clicking in tandem with the hammer of her heart. It isn't something she can assign a price to, nor would she if she were able.

Swallowing dryly, Hokuto watches Eileen make her way towards the front door of the shop with a guilty conscience, eyes turning to Gabriel in the moments it takes for him to start turning to follow her. Too close is their precession together for Hokuto to intervene to speak with one without garnering the attention of the other, but to a man as acutely perceptive as Gabriel is, her expression says the words that her voice cannot, that she still has things to talk about with him, but words best not shared around his companion.

Maybe the guilt in her eyes is over what she did to Eileen's mind, maybe part of it is because of the emotion she sees on the young woman's lips. Though quite possibly, the guilt on Hokuto Ichihara's face is from the unfathomable feeling of misplaced resentment layered on the dark-haired man leaving her shop — the one she's always has been told is responsible for her father's death, even if the guilt there is misplaced.

She has words for him, some personal and some not. No words for the moment now, though, no words that won't come out wrong.

Patience, they say, is a dying art.

March 2, 1978

I attended a funeral today, in the city of AƱatuya, Santiago del Estero. My searching of other people like me ends in ash and it would not be the first time. A child, now, with rumours that he could speak the future words of those who haven't heard nor spoken them yet. A small prophet. I broke my journeying to travel, to find him and to tell his family about his nature if the stories turned out to be true, but rumours have a way of reaching all ears.

They reached Volken's. I was told his remains were turned into ash as if he'd been through a terrible fire and then longer years of decay, but they put him in a coffin regardless. He was almost thirteen years old.

This is my destiny, now? To watch from such a distance as Volken feeds the calling of his power, to make amends only in the healing of those he has not yet touched? I wonder sometimes what madness drove me to listen to Hiro and his companions that I should let this demon do as he will in all corners of the world, to save, what? A rhetorical future, a hypothesis. I'm letting people die for a theory.

They should have scattered the boy's ashes, cast it out into the river. It is a waste of a coffin.

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