I See France


francois_icon.gif gwen_icon.gif

Scene Title I See France
Synopsis Just for the record, Francois could take her entire security detail. If he wanted to. If he felt like it.
Date July 20, 2018

Rochester, 19th Ward

That there is nightlife to speak of in the still struggling city of Rochester is testament to a few reasons. The first is the lack of curfew, the lack of overt military presence, the lack of oversight in general that creates as many tensions as it does freedoms. Days bleed freely into the evenings and the town wakes to less industry than the constant backdrop of construction that pervades its neighbour, New York City. The second are its neighbourhoods, particularly that of the 19th Ward, where the poor and the pretentious mingle into something a little like the French Bohemians that Francois is not quite old enough to remember personally, but carries a resonance of romantic nostalgia all the same.

The third is simply a matter of human nature.

It's very late. Those that still inhabit the bars down the main drag have likely started their evenings elsewhere. Francois Allègre had not, personally, having begun his evening closer to the witching hour than to sundown, feeling sodden with wine and cigarette smoke and paltry conversation until he'd sunken into a comfortable rhythm with a woman he is meeting for the first time, who has an accent resembling his.

He has an old fashioned affect and green eyes and is wearing a nice jacket and tonight it is almost 23 degrees Celsius at midnight, which is why they are outside, in a courtyard, with music playing over speakers. He left his wedding ring back in his room at the Bunker. Tonight, he is without affiliation.

"I'll pick up the tab," he offers, gallantly and in French, because he's probably going to die next week.

If he was a betting man, anyway.

"Or perhaps we escape over the fence."

It had been a dinner engagement that originally brought Gwen to Rochester, along with the expressionlessly muscular gentlemen who take up sentinel-like positions far enough away to provide the illusion of privacy and close enough to get in quick grabbing distance; that wrapped up hours earlier, leaving her at a loose end that she should have taken, dissatisfaction with the discussion's outcome and all, back to New York and Bay Ridge. She's out of her element, there are too many questions unanswered, and

while that would be sensible, it wouldn't make her feel better, which is what she tells herself flirting cigarettes out of a probable countryman is doing. She could demur—she can more than afford to—but she taps ash in the tray with fingers wearing rings that it would be unwise to flaunt if she were as alone as she's letting herself pretend to be, and says, "What a gentleman!" because men who are probably trying to sleep with you are supposed to pick up the tab, it makes them feel masculine and important and more generous in bed.

"Do you think we would make it very far?"

(Security Blanket #1 has the look of a man who does not want to have to chase her over a fence.)

"You should take your shoes off before we go," Francois says, affecting a lazy kind of furtiveness in his glance back towards the bar proper. "Perhaps then someone can create a distraction."

He doesn't have much of this cigarette left, as he tap-taps it into the ashtray set into the wooden table. He looks to her, and then to one of the discreet gentlemen shadowed nearby. There are those that drink or idle alone, but not many, and he isn't so drunk that he can't recognise a light security detail when he sees it. He has, after all, lived for this long.

So, he adds, with a toothier smile, "Perhaps one of your friends will provide."

The frown is very slight but immediate, and prompts a laugh from Gwen that is not entirely kind as she gives this suggestion too much thought to be entirely comfortable with. Yes, absolutely, what the fuck else is she paying for these men and their work visas for if not to make distractions in bars while she dashes off with strange, handsome men? A few months ago, she'd have already been toeing her heels off under the table, and calling his bluff. Halfway over the fence and into adventure, with or without, even if the only adventure she ended up having was watching her own bodyguard's ass from over his shoulder, being hauled back to the car.

But she pays for them because she doesn't know who, or where, or why, or when or if she can expect to know any of those things. And 'you've got to stop being so reckless' was funny coming from him until she had to identify his body before it could be released.

"I have a better idea," she says, putting out her own cigarette and then taking his, taking a thorough drag off the last of it and putting it out, too. "Why don't you pay the tab and join me in the car?" Because it's not letting down the French reputation for smooth seduction if everyone in earshot is, in fact, French. Gwen cocks an eyebrow; is he in, or what. Her slight lean forward is not uncalculated, and it's a lovely sternum from this angle—beneath the man's jacket she's wearing, she could never get away with a neckline like that on a dress so flimsy if she actually had tits to put under it. "I am very distracting."

And direct.

And let's be real — the French reputation for smooth seduction only works half a damn on the non-French. Francois should know.

"Is that what I've fallen for," he says, easy on the tail of her directness, responsive in kind. His gaze dips with a flicker, almost undeliberate, blood already warmed with liquor and oppressive summer heat stirring down narrow channels. The fingers that were gripping his cigarette before it was taken idly fidget together, knowing that he's deep down made the decision before his brain can catch up with him.

The car, she says. Not my car.

Francois stands up, hands light on the edge of the table, balance in check. Considers the very real possibility that he is being gotten rid of and swindled, considers that he is more or less okay with it and that it's not really swindling because women don't owe him things just because he is buying their drinks. He knows feminism! He also knows a good bar where he can fight someone too drunk to damage him beyond being able to participate in military operations in the Mojave Desert, as a fall back for stress relief.

This is fine. He's fine.

"It is the better idea," Francois says, in absent-minded switch to English, moving to take his temporary leave. "There wasn't a getaway vehicle in mine."

The car.

Outside, it turns out to be a large vehicle with windows not tinted to the point of illegality, but dark enough that at this hour and without light within, the difference is moot. And anyway, who in Rochester would give a shit if they were. Who in New York is going to quibble with her about it when she knows the MP is stretched thin, the NYPD is a daydream and there are bigger problems in the world than one cunt with money getting away with things just for the sake of having got away with them—is the sort of thing she would have said, if she'd been visiting her father and not moving into his apartment.

Philanthropists here to help do not need blacked out windows, or to play petty power games with road laws.

Probably they don't need to be doing whatever she thinks this is, either. She waits, so this isn't a hustle but it still could be a kidnapping, half of her two-man security detail starting the car and the other half standing beside her, waiting for her to get bored of waiting and want the door opened for her.

Francois pays the tab, an easy flick of a credit card and an absence of looking at the numbers that come up. He'd been saving, and they are paid well. Maybe if he lives through this, he's going to buy his own car.

A really nice car.


Maybe he'll go places in it.

These are the thoughts that churn through his head as the bartender takes his card, not thinking of the lady he is reasonably certain will still be waiting for him. There will be plenty of time to think about the lady in a moment, certainly, and for now he imagines fast cars and emptied bank accounts, before accepting back his card, slipping it into his wallet, slipping the wallet into his pocket, and wandering outside to see what happens next. He sees a car that one would reasonably describe as the car, and the lady and her shadow.

He considers this detail, and the borderline blacked out windows, and thinks how furious Hana Gitelman would be if this were some kind of inelegant ploy to take him hostage, because there's been some of that going around lately. Volken is alive, he's been told. There are probably other antagonistic forces in the world who might know to lure him into a dark place, cock first, but Francois reflects that Volken would be this petty. He reflects, also, that thinking about Volken right now is a terrible fucking idea.

"Bonsoir," he says, and doesn't mean goodbye, moving closer with the swagger of someone who's had a lot of wine.

Security Blanket #2, who is not completely convinced about this even if he probably is paid enough for it (and for the kidnapping, come to think of it), straightens into François's way. It is not precisely a denial, because behind him Gwen is already fluttering her hands at him like a misbehaving pet, and in his impassivity it isn't quite an outright threat, either, but it is the suggestion that it would be in François's best interests not to merit one.

Gwen, who has already refrained from doing two whole insane things and therefore has earned this one, says, "I'd like you to open the door for us, Anatoli," and he has enough experience (as former military gone into private security; as someone who has been working for Mlle Baudin long enough to pick his battles) that his expression doesn't move when he does.

He even holds the door open for François. What a champ. At the distance Gwen chooses to be during this process, taking François's hand as if it could be possible for him to get lost on the way, it is intimate to the point of borderline menage a trois. Everybody has fun here, but security gets in the front, and night's shadows and the size of the car make it almost like being alone in the back. She doesn't bother with a seatbelt, and


when her hand encounters something firmer than she was expecting.

"Now," she says, very seriously, "I am sure you were very happy to see I hadn't left without you, but that feels excessive."

Francois' hand is on her thigh as she makes this observation, head lifting to allow for close range eye contact as he says, "Now, I know you know what guns feel like."

Most people living in America do, these days. Even the tourists. Sometimes especially.

"Pardon me," he obliges, shifting now to undo the buckles that strap in the pistol close and hidden to his body, the top of his head and the nice swooshy haircut on it brushing the felt lining of the car ceiling. His eyes trail over the hiked hem of her skirt, and the lurch of the starting car feels like a pulse through his veins. "Don't tell your shadows," he says, in lower, uttered French, a crooked smile that shows a fang, reaching to tuck safetied pistol into a compartment in the door. "Spare them this minor humiliation."

She thinks: she should probably tell them. On the other hand, she also thinks: that would bring an abrupt and annoying halt to what has thus far been a massive improvement on the evening she expected to have, and she would probably have to listen to the kind of lecture that comes carefully balanced between the two poles of 'security experts' and 'that she pays', and anyway, he put it aside. And he let her find it in the first place. And he's right: most people living here are going to be familiar with guns. She remembers believing that before it was the nightmare that it is now, too, so she doesn't turn her head and call a halt, but feigns arch disapproval:

"You've gone native."

Remember when 'Americans and their guns' jokes were still funny? She might as well take the opportunity to get this one out of her system when none of them are actually in earshot to remind her that they weren't ever that funny and definitely aren't now. (And nevermind that she had a gun license in France, or that she paid for what her shadows are carrying.)

He may not find it funny, either, but she doesn't give him a lot of time to decide; with presumably nothing else immediately threatening on his person except the rest of it, Gwen grips the handle above the door and lifts herself wholesale into his lap. When her skirt rides high on her hip, there's nothing underneath it to expose. "It'll be our secret."

And then there are no more secrets shared, only made, as Francois kisses her pretty mouth and puts his hands in her hair, at least to begin with. The car drives on through roads that require more care than Rochester can afford, the occasional white noise effect of gravel shattering against the wheel guards and undercarriage. Sometimes, street lamps struggle in through the shaded windows, and sometimes darkness seems to flood inside as thick and ready as water.

He is drunk enough to feel as though the car were spinning in place at a slower pace as well as hurtling forwards. It's not the worst thing, even if he knows how alcohol works and the way they both get drunker despite only indulging in each other.

Having at one point tipped her down onto the generous — but not generous enough — width of the backseats, he considers the column of her neck from the perspective of the way his face is pressed against it, trying to get his breath back and also, you know, a grip. Dragging himself up, a hand moving between them to clutch at where his own clothing has flagged loose.

There's a pause, there, like maybe he is trying to judge if she'd welcome a kiss, which, like bonsoir, can also mean goodbye.

The backseat of even this car is not really big enough for this, indulgent but not intended for indulgences, and although she had intended to make some witticism about her better idea involving keeping her high heels on (the whole time—) taking them off makes fitting together marginally less awkward with her bare feet bracing on the seat, the door (which cannot easily be accidentally kicked open) and the process of doing so presses them together in appealing ways. She is still holding one shoe in her hand when she meets his gaze, eyebrow rising: are you feeling lucky, punk? Like the elegant stretch of a cat which might purr, or turn savage.

She doesn't wait for him to decide; she kisses him, the heel of the shoe in her hand digging into his back where she holds onto him for purchase in a way that is like to leave a dull coloured and just-sensitive-enough-to-be-annoying memento of this ill-advised encounter. She bites—

both of their lips, harder than she'd actually meant to, when they take a corner, and she laughs against his mouth, unsure if that is her blood she can taste or his. Or both.

"I would apologise," except she is still laughing, so it wouldn't be very convincing.

"Ow," Francois says, but with a grin — the rare kind, foolish, youthful — and is a little too inarticulate in this moment to craft some jest about the driver's intentions and where the blame truly resides. "But you would be lying," he finishes, instead, voice huskier than usual. He leans back in and plants a kiss next to her mouth, avoidant of teeth, a deliberately blunt kind of nosing in to impress this gesture down onto her face before he is, in the next movement, sliding up and out of the pleasing tangle they've made.

He hasn't been driven to an anonymous warehouse on the shores of Lake Ontario, to be interrogated and ransomed and discarded. She has not been shot in the head by an anonymous maniac.

They are batting a thousand, as the Americans say.

Just a few bite marks and strangely placed bruises.

He also has no fucking idea where they are, now.

From beneath him, Gwen observes not displeased the picture that he makes in the dim light of whatever fucking street they're—

oh. Oh, right. Oh, shit, right:

"Anatoli, stop the car."

Anatoli is not actually driving the car. This is irrelevant, because who is isn't deaf and everyone present has at least a general idea of how much Gwen has been drinking tonight and how much attention she might be paying to less pressing details like that. The car, obligingly, stops.

"You might want to get out before we leave city limits," she says, in a sort of vaguely apologetic way for almost inadvertently kidnapping him, although apparently she's completely fine with just dumping him on the side of the road god only knows where. "We are going back to Bay Ridge."

And if they'd actually got that far, then she might have felt moved to have them drive him back, but since they didn't.

It does take Francois a few seconds to understand what's happening now to him personally, having gotten as far as doing back up his pants and looking across at her in the ambient lack-of-light. When it does click, he weighs this situation up against saying something like can you perhaps drop me off at the military, or the notion of spending the necessary several seconds trying to remember street names in a way that doesn't sound unnecessarily shifty, before he just clicks his belt back into place.

Fortunately, for everyone's sense of pace and continuity, this is where the guilt normally kicks in.

"Until next time," is only irreverent rather than sarcastic, in the tone they've been operating in all night, and in what he hopes is an affect that is both charming and rogueish, Francois collects his gun, flashes a smile, and levers himself out of the car and into the tepid, early, early morning air.

That he ensures his wallet and phone are still on his body before he closes the door is just a matter of professional courtesy.

Very sensible of him; there's a snatch of her laughter behind the closing car door, but it goes with the wind when presumably security in the front seats judge him sufficiently clear of that door to kick back into gear, and onto the road out of Rochester. The rolling blackouts will likely mean navigating a dark apartment when they reach Bay Ridge—there are candles stored in almost every room against that irritating eventuality—but she's unlikely to do more than leave her shoes somewhere on the way to falling into her bed.

Until next time. It occurs to her, tucking her feet up on the backseat and belting herself in, finally, when her minder holds eye contact in the rearview mirror for too long to ignore, that she's not even sure she actually got his name at any point.

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