francois_icon.gif sadie_icon.gif

Scene Title Thorough
Synopsis Francois visits Sadie and attempts to strike another bargain.
Date August 7, 2010

Queens: Near Roy Wilkins Park

The tenement building on the opposite street of Roy Wilkins Park is dark. Most complexes are this late at night, only a few hours shy of curfew, when the sky has gone black and the moonlight rippling off the Hudson is brighter than the city itself. It rained earlier, but the only evidence left behind are shallow puddles, clingy dewiness and the lingering smell of damp concrete combined with wet earth.

Inside, the air is drier, staler, and even outside Sadie's flat it smells of smoke. Although Francois neglected to make an appointment with the old hag, his timing could not have been better; as he crests the top of the stairs and rounds the corner, the door is opening. A young woman dressed entirely in black with a unruly mop of pale blonde hair steps out into the hall, wiping at her eyes with a handkerchief clutched between knobby white knuckles. The look in them is vacant, and knowing what Francois knows— maybe this doesn't come as much of a surprise.

It's been since the tail end of May, since he came here, and because the interactions of memory and history are mystical, incomprehensible, it feels like a shorter period of time than the eighteen days with which Teo has been missing. A little longer, actually, having not seen him all that weekend, but these minor details have been bleached out entirely with the malleable stuff that ticking clocks only pretend to measure. There is white wine in his blood, right now, but from seeing hm in a dim corridor, one would never know. He only smells of it up close, the slight flush to his pale face obvious beneath brighter lights.

His eyes find her's, and then avert, Francois moving past the woman so that he can capture the opened door. He is dressed well, in clean jeans, sensible shoes, a pale blue shirt with the sleeves rolled back, the colour of which not completely him, better in jewel tones and earth colours. His hands are even, now, free of hindering scars, and the watch on his wrist is of good quality.

It shines, now, when his hand goes out to make sure the door doesn't close, appearing suddenly..

Bent over the kitchen stove, lit cigarette pinched between old, gnarled fingers, Sadie provides Francois with a view of her back as she pours tea from a kettle into a small porcelain cup with a floral pattern in shades of pale blue and gray. The cats are there to greet him in their mistress' stead. One winds a figure-eight around the Frenchman's legs. Another curls back its lips around a warbling meow from its perch on the back of the living room sofa.

The flat is exactly as he remembers it. "Ah, Mr. Allegre," says Sadie from the kitchen, and without turning to face him. It's possible that she's caught sight of his reflection in the kettle or one of the silver ladles hanging from the hooks beneath her cupboards — or maybe there's more to her ability than Francois is aware. "Shut the door behind you, if you could be so kind?"

The cat is gently nudge away with the blunt toe of his shoe, which is a kindness — Francois is avoiding stepping on its tail when he goes to move inside. His foot steps are light and quiet, and he closes the door with prim obedience, breathing in the textured scents of the apartment, the soak of smoke in the air just veiling the mustiness of mold and cat hair. "Thank you," he says, simply, probably for admission inside, a hand up to scratch and smooth through combed brunette strands.

He shuffles inside, arms awkwardly folding around his midsection. "Do you have another appointment soon?" He means now.

"No." Spread open on the coffee table is a copy of the local paper — specifically, the obituaries. Francois doesn't recognize any of the black and white photographs printed in memory of the deceased, but a young man in military uniform stands out amongst older faces with deeper lines and eyes that aren't as bright as they used to be. The only thing that connects Sgt. Tommie Cabrera, killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan less than a week ago, to the wilted blonde in the hallway outside are the still-drying tears spattered across the pages and a half-finished cup of tea not unlike the one Sadie is lifting to her lips.

"Take a seat," she murmurs around the rim, smoke trailing from her nostrils. There is a twinkle of something dark and hungry in her pale blue eyes. "I was expecting you back much sooner."

His hand feels along the arm of the couch, rounds it, sits down with the kind of posture and caution of someone about to endure an interview. Not like with the ER administrator, whose half-heartedly held magnifying glass might have seared him and brought up so many flaws if she knew how to angle to, already making it make him sweat without even knowing it. No, this feels more like a meeting with extended family who hold a different criteria in their minds, a wealthy relative, or Teo's mother in Palermo. Feeling young and a little shy, two things Francois never is.

That startles him, though, has his gaze snatching up from the news article about the dead soldier, silent suspicion strung between them. He had a line, but it disappears, and he says instead, "Why?"

"Intuition," Sadie answers. "You don't strike me as the type of man who lets others make your sacrifices for you." She lifts one fine gray brow as if daring Francois to offer some other explanation as to why he's here. The cat on the back of the couch settles near his shoulder and, filling his left ear with the sound of its purring, tickles the nape of his neck with its bottlebrush tail.

The slippers on the old woman's feet make very little noise as she meanders out of the kitchen and into the living room where Francois is seated, body swathed in a robe of white silk that would appear flattering on someone half her age or younger but the most it does for someone of Sadie's advanced years is pull out the few threads of red that remain in her hair.

That sounds like a selfless explanation. A lot of people imagine he's a good person, and are willing to run head first into Institute raids on the back of this knowledge. Mouth twitches a little at the feel of cat tail sliding over his collar, but ignores it, largely, his hands folding and tucking between his knees.

"Maybe," Francois agrees, his blearly gaze focused on the entanglement of linked fingers, pale like bones and unmarked. No rings, no scars, no work rough calluses. Well kept surgeon hands, as he remembers them to be. "But if that were true, I would be here to pay you to hold onto those memories, non? For such a time that Teo can come here and reclaim them. That would be taking back a sacrifice." He can be verbose, but he hesitates, it seems, sucks in a breath and offers something more concise; "I want to pay for them, for you to give them to me."

It's not the response Sadie had anticipated. Francois can tell by the way she pauses before lowering her teacup and taking a seat in the chair opposite him, floral upholstery saturated with the stink of cigarette smoke, cat dander and the same vaguely uric smell that wafts out of the flat's bathroom where the litter pans are kept.

Her legs are too brittle to cross like she might if she was still the age that the man on the other side of the coffee table appears to be. Instead, she has to settle for ankles hooked together and a lax slouch that has her shoulders hunching more than she probably likes. "To what end?"

Because he's had a hard day. Female friends that uproot feelings, try to inject light and laughter into the mausoleum of his home, buying him groceries that he tumbled the majority of into a garbage can after they were gone, touching him, mouthing promises, fixing the wrong things. He can feel warm prickles at the corners of his eyes, but through willpower that defies gravity, that's about as far as that frustration gets. It's the alcohol, anyway, and that knowledge helps. "Because he will come back for them," he says, hearing himself talk as opposed to feeling attached to his own words. "Maybe. If he is able to take them back, he will, and come to you.

"I will want him to come to me." He distracts himself, distracts the conversation, takes out the slender wallet from his pocket. He has money, opening up the felt-lined folds into a diamond, showing the notes inside. He didn't have money before.

Sadie's eyes aren't as good as they once were, but behind her owlish glasses she's studying Francois' posture and the shape of his mouth as he speaks. She watches his hands, the creases around his eyes, the bob of the thyroid cartilage that surrounds his larynx. Her cats are as attuned to his emotional state as she is and a great deal more sympathetic — an orange tabby springs up into his lap and curls in on itself with forelegs pressed against the flat of his belly, its great gold eyes half-lidded and whiskers quivering.

"I don't want your money," she says at last, though it's not entirely cause for despair: the feline curl at the corners of her wrinkled mouth suggest this may be because she's more interested in something else.

"You took them to sell." This, borders on accusation if incredibly mild-mannered in tone, more injured than demanding. His bright eyes up to regard hers, and Francois not putting his money away even when the cat lands in his lap, a flick of tail sending a fifty dollar note tumbling free. He ignores it, somehow, leans back and shows a little bit of mercy for the pet animal, skims his palm down its curving back. Finally, Francois closes his wallet, but just sets it aside, numb-fingered, resting that hand back down on the dagger-knife points of the tabby's shoulder blades. "What do you want?"

"I've seen what's inside Teodoro's head," says Sadie. "The two of you know such interesting people." She takes another drag from her cigarette, its tip flaring an angry orange. Tissue-fine flakes of ash drift down like tufts of snow and settle on the pristine white of her robe. "Choose one. Don't worry: I'm not asking for the very best of your friends, but I'll be very disappointed, Francois, if you try to cheat me in any way. They won't be hurt, I promise you that."

He's tempted to ask for a cigarette — the last one he has was back in Russia, when he needed an excuse to loiter outside and stalk Carlisle Dreyfus. Didn't want one, at the time. They taste like South America, to him, filterless stalks of smoldering leaf, and it would be nice to transport back there. Memories are important, and some light in his eyes dies when their negotiations turn, inevitably, to this. "I know fewer people than you realise," Francois says, voice in its quiet rasp. "I was transported here, out of my time. My history in this world is less than a year old. If you will take someone before, I will give it to you."

At this, Sadie lifts both her silvery brows, brow rumpled, and purses her lips around her cigarette's filter. The nod she offers him is one of acknowledgment rather than agreement. Her cigarette dangles between her fingers as she places her teacup back on the saucer and takes advantage of its lip, tapping off the excess ash in an attempt to spare her robe from further contamination. "If there is anyone still left alive who's worth my time and effort," she concedes, "then yes. I might accept them as a form of payment.

"Who are you thinking of?"

Leaning back into the couch, fuzzily comfortable despite the strong smells, the cat on his lap and the one at each shoulder shedding their itchy, clinging fur on his nice clothes. He shouldn't have been drinking before this, but he might not be here if he hadn't been drinking. "Why alive?" he asks, instead of answers, desiring to know the terms before he tries to do math, tries to select a name, tries to stop veering sharply towards names like Daphne or Elisabeth or Abigail, the ones of worth.

The ones who would be hurt, he thinks. "What does it matter, if they are only memories? Unless you are punishing me."

"Oh, Francois." Sadie's brows knit into an expression of mock sympathy, the compassion in her voice as dry and brittle as the leaves used to make tea in her cup. "You misunderstand. I'm afraid I haven't explained myself very well at all." She leans forward to place both cup and saucer down on the coffee table, strategically positioning them so they cover the late sergeant's handsome face but not the specks of tears belonging to the young woman who is probably his widow.

"When I say that I want someone special, I'm not asking for what you have to offer of them. I'm asking you to bring them here — to me. My library isn't as extensive as it once was, you understand, and I don't get out as much as I used to."

The idea of dragging someone else into this tangled web seems ridiculous, and so it takes this, the spelling out of explanation. It's not quite a smile that curves his mouth, but it holds a similar shape. A glance down to the teacup, then back up to her, wandering, a little drunk. The first thing Francois does is guide the ginger tabby off him, patiently unhooks the claws that set into his denim-clad lap, pushes the orange beast off where it flows like fluid from his knees to the ground, and dusts off his hands of its loose fur. "I bring them here. And then?" he asks, and there is a clipped quality of his words, his eyes anywhere but at her's.

"And then," Sadie makes a vague gesture with her hand that wields the cigarette, trailing smoke and embers, "I take what I need and make them forget they were ever here, that you ever approached them. No one will be the wiser." Except, her eyes add, seeking his, you and I.

On the floor, the tabby arches its back and stretches out one leg at a time before it loses interest in the conversation happening above its head and winds its sinuous way around the back of the couch, retreating from the living room. "You can't miss what you don't remember having. It's harmless."

"Non." For all that his feelings over this matter are fuzzy and blurry, hopelessly convoluted, foggy and containing all the direct of a bumblebees flight— that's a rather definite answer. It could just be the mock up of one, a read line he doesn't mean, but he manages to make it sound good. Non, nyet, nein. "You can take the money. Or take memories of the first time I made love to a girl. To a boy. Summers in Perpignan from the twenties, a Bruce Springsteen concert, I don't care, it was a mistake to not offer it the first time. But I am not bringing anyone to you."

He catches the shape of the fifty on the ground, bends at the waist to pick it up. "It won't be harmless. Nothing is harmless." He's not sure how to make her pity him. He didn't like the way she said his name, and he focuses on his fastidious fingers as he puts the fifty back in.

"Think about it," is Sadie's recommendation, "and so will I. You don't have to make any decisions tonight. There's always the possibility I may choose Perpignan after all." She runs her tongue over her front teeth, yellow and crooked, and strokes her fingertips along the arm of her chair. "Come back in a few days and tell me non again, mon petit poussin. Take the time to decide which is more important to you: Teodoro, or someone you do not love as well. I'll respect whatever you ultimately decide, regardless of the outcome. Fair?"

Fair, like an unexpected consultation is fair, and fair, like he's not paying her for it. Francois is standing, now, mostly for room to slip his wallet back into his pocket, and then to rub cat hair off his thighs, feeling disoriented, empty handed. "It will have to be within a few days," he says, his words a little thick and his gaze still evasive. He does not say why. Knowledge is, after all, the mainly commodity. "We will speak again." For now he's going to drink, and he's going to watch, and he's going to do nothing about the people he watches.

And maybe they won't speak again. Even if this desire was embered from the first time he watched Sadie place her hand on Teo, not completely fueled via alcohol, maybe he will change his mind too. One might hope so. His hip connects against the arm of the sofa; spins him a little, as he makes for the door.

Sadie leans back in her seat, arm bent at the elbow, and curls lips around the filter of her cigarette, observing Francois retreat from behind a thin veil of smoke. She did not smell the wine on him, but she can see it running its course through him now — maybe, she thinks, she should have pressed harder.

A sigh trails out on the next stream, and when Francois is gone she reaches down to scratch the chin of a Persian that's materialized at the foot of the armchair. "Not as easy as his friend, mm?

"We've just got to be patient."

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