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Scene Title Isolation
Synopsis Eileen pays Francois a long overdue visit, not to return his journal but to check in on him after his last encounter with Dreyfus. How are you feeling turns to conversation about sickness, Teodoro and plans for the future.
Date May 7, 2010

West Village: Maison d'Allegre

On a street made white with packed snow, most of the buildings show dead eye windows of abandonment — the powerlines that stand out as black against a white, morning sky, run with nothing. Francois car is mostly a mountain of snow, showing shiny black and glass through where ice has shifted under its own gravity. A shovel leans against the wrought iron railings of the stoop leading up to number 57 West 11th, where the concrete steps have been cleared as best they can save for the snow currently falling in continual, punishing, flour-fine drifts.

The door is unlocked, but only after Francois had to grapple with the bizarre!! shotgun setup that Teo had made since their executive decision to move back into the brownstone home when the still working Ferryhouses proved to overcrowd quickly in the wake of blizzard. He'd allowed the Sicilian to go mad with locking off rooms, creating Ghost-inspired, Raith-reminiscent trappings for invaders, had managed to persuade him out of knocking a hole through the bathroom wall for an extra escape route, and has since made sure that the bird-whisperer won't be filled with buckshot upon her arrival.

Good thing she called ahead.

There's a fire in the hearth, steeping tea in the kitchen, and a brick of pasta sauce thawing in the sink — an all day affair, considering the weather. There is also the still lingering aroma of bleach, which is at least probably better than the scent of blood it has since replaced.

For most people, the brownstone would be a welcome change of pace from the Dispensary's cold stone floors, winding staircases and the shrill howl of the wind passing through its dark and yawning corridors, but Eileen is not most people; the Dispensary is home, and although she enjoys Francois' company, there will always be a part of her that would rather be warming her hands by the cast iron stove with a pot of coffee on the burners, secure in the knowledge that at least two of the people she loves the most are only a hoarse bark away.

She sits on the couch, wool coat draped across its back, her small frame clothed in an oversized sweater worn over several thinner layers, including a long-sleeved shirt and a black tank top that clings to her body like a second skin, plastered to the first by a fine sheen of fever-sweat that makes her pale face appear pallid and her hair greasy even though she smells clean beneath her perfume and the ever-present stink of cigarette smoke.

If she has any on her now, she's either still too cold from her journey across the water, too tired or too considerate to light one in Francois' home. "How are you feeling?"

Francois is dressed as if he has not left the house today, nor intends to — and who would want to, save for kind-hearted matchstick thin bird women? The sweater he wears is woven of a thick wool, vertical tracks marking its make, the same colour as a sky gone teal, shades that always make the green in his eyes seem vaguer. His legs are clad in age-soft jeans, feet in socks, but his hands are bare when he comes to hold out a mug of tea that spills garden-like aromas and steam. "You came all this way to ask that?" he inquires, not necessarily rudely if one measured offense by the tone of his voice, which seems to default to a complete lack thereof.

Noticeable since she first arrived would be the new marks of scars that, like the others, looks like they've been there for years. In comparison to crooked fingers or the asymmetric affect of missing pieces from his ear, the white seam along his throat is not so ostentatious — the subtle pinch of skin that resembles a puckered silken seam that only seems to shift when he swallows a mouthful of tea himself.

"No," Eileen says, and it isn't a lie — not entirely. She accepts the mug with cupped hands, gloves discarded in her coat's pocket for the time being, and uses it to warm her palms, heat seeping through porcelain and into the delicate bones of her fingers, which sometimes resemble the hooked claws of an aerial predator with their angular joints and glassy nails she's allowed to grow long. They're a little pink today, swollen around the joints where leather lined with fur has failed to protect her skin from getting frostnipped in the subzero temperatures outside.

Apart from some mild discomfort and difficulty coordinating her fingers when she wraps them around the mug and lifts it to raw, chapped lips, her condition doesn't appear too serious, though that could easily change if hypothermia were to enter the mix. "I wanted to be sure you were looking after Teo, too."

A joke.

Hooking up his legs to tuck feet into the corner of the armchair that Francois has taken to curling up on, with the hearth heat hitting his left side and curtained off windows acting as his backdrop, he deals her a halved-smile. "I would disappoint you. He is forever being shot, becoming ill— " getting young women pregnant is on the tip of his tongue, and he hastily takes a sip of tea as if to scald words away. "Being Teo," he finishes, over his raised cup, steam disturbed with those muttered words as he lifts a shoulder.

Moss-green ringed eyes go down to her hands, back up to grey. "Last I saw, he was alright. I think I am too. You should stay," a hand drifts up, wearily rubbing at the softer skin above a cheekbone, beneath an eye, "and say hello to him when he returns. He would appreciate it." A beat, before he feels it necessary to add, "As do I. The worst thing about seeking isolation is how few people pursue."

Something about Francois' words causes Eileen's grip to constrict around the mug whether she's consciously aware of it or not. She lowers her eyes, satisfied with their assessment of his health, and focuses on the steam rising from her tea and the shapes she imagines she can see in it. Firelight flickers across the liquid's surface and over the washed out, silky texture of her skin, lending it colour where there is none.

What he says about isolation is true. She doesn't have to try to remember how many days it's been since she last exchanged a glance with Gabriel; of late, the number is never very far from her mind, and neither is the knowledge that, at least in this case, loneliness is a choice.

Her life would be much easier if pride was, too. "A few hours," she concedes, "then I need to be on my way before the weather gets any worse. What do you mean, ill?"

Nodding once to his agreement about the weather, a twist of a look cast back to where only white shows through the slivers of his curtains, Francois adds, "I would be happy to see you home, if you like." And takes a long sip of hot tea, as if drinking it down now would later fortify him against the inevitable chill outside, where there is ice, darkness, and a significant lack of electricity, unlike this building. One can hear the hum of the generator over the hum of the fridge.

"Ill, as in, he had the five-ten," Francois says, softly. "I do not believe he's contagious anymore, many of his symptoms have resolved — I only knew when I saw him interacting with a hallucination, and running a fever. Very late, in its stages." Francois pauses, as if struggling to come up with his next sentence, before taking the simplistic and honest route; "I am a doctor, supposedly. I should have seen it sooner."

And Eileen is his friend. Or supposed to be. Rather than raise her eyes again to Francois' face, she lifts them just above his shoulder and focuses on a point somewhere past it, saying nothing. The expression on her face has lost the mirth curling at the corners of her mouth, and although it's almost certainly a trick of the light, the shadows created by her lashes appear to sap the brightness from her whites and irises when she hoods their lids.

She curves her thumbnail around her mug's lip but does not drink again. The aftertaste of her previous sip still lingers in her mouth, and it is suddenly very bitter. "I think I'll manage," she says of his offer to see her home, "but thank you."

There are a lot of injuries and illnesses where Francois is forced to only treat the symptoms as opposed to alleviate the cause. The five-ten is a fantastic, frustrating example of this. So is AIDS, incidentally. Broken hearts, too, and guilt, ambient discouragement, and he's having trouble pinpointing the location of what is currently ailing Eileen, although from the content of the conversation, he can maybe make a guess. Anxiety and sadness set in as unexpectedly as frostbite, sometimes, and he hasn't learned to lift that burden from himself, either.

"Where are you living?" sounds abrupt, especially considering that she declined his offer.

"You've been there," Eileen says, perhaps for lack of a better answer. "We have food stores, portable generators in the basement. Kerosene heaters to keep warm. It was a good find." She leans forward, bent at the waist, and blows out a low breath as she places her mug on the coffee table. One hand braces against her knee, the other splaying fingers across her midsection when she straightens again and rests her back and shoulders against the couch. This at least is to be expected; a little pain is part of the healing process, and she wasn't injured that long ago.


Drawing in a lazy breath, Francois diverts his attention to the crackling hearth set into the bare-brick wall, never truly uncomfortable in his home. Except when hanging by piano wire, that— wasn't very comfortable. But they got a new shower, so. "Because it isn't enough against the cold, I don't think," he says, still with his profile angled to her, chin lifted. "Frostbite only gets worse unless your conditions change, ah? Perhaps you should retire somewhere better for as long as it's still snowing. Your hands— "

His smile quirks, abrupt, turning a speculative glance back to her. "You only get the one set, and they are very useful tools."

Eileen flexes her fingers and turns her hands over in her lap as if inspecting the damage for the first time even though she's undoubtedly examined them before. She can still move them without too much difficulty in spite of their appearance, and when she brushes her knuckles under her chin she observes only a slight change in their sensitivity to touch since she last checked.

"The Dispensary isn't the problem." She experimentally touches her thumb to her lips, murmuring around the nail, "Moving between it and everywhere else is."

"Alright," is spoken with a clear tone of I don't believe you, Francois' eyes slightly crescent over his mug of tea, before he can't quite leave it there. This is part of the brand of insanity that Teo has mentioned to Abby on one occasion, even if this is but a mild brand of tenacity. "I have been there, like you say. Wide open rooms and spaces don't lend themselves to warmth, but if it is not the problem— my car's heater is quite good."

Eileen's hand falls away from her face, and for a few moments she simply watches Francois in silence that would sound a lot more incredulous if silence made any noise at all. As it happens, it doesn't; the flames sputtering in the hearth and peeling apart the firewood in its brickwork belly do the talking for her until she can find the words she wants to say.

"You're offering me your car." It's spoken like a question but isn't really. Lacks the sharp incline at the end, that upward lilt begging an answer. She shakes her head. "Francois," because she's much more likely to use someone's first name instead of their last when she's alone in a room with them, "I'll be fine. The Dispensary is my home. You wouldn't abandon yours either if Teo was in it."

"I'm offering to drive you home," Francois corrects, with a broader smile. "I like my car too much — on Staten Island, I may never see it again. It will be swallowed by too much snow and wild dogs, if I don't take it myself. That, and— "

He hesitates, something on the tip of his tongue, a possible allusion to other things that Eileen tends to keep when borrowed, perhaps, but if it's not politeness that has him veering off course, it's something else equally obnoxious. "It's a Lincoln," he opts for instead, moving to set his tea aside as well, with little of the strain that Eileen must put into the motion for all that tired limbs and old scars might twinge in minor symphonies. "But you are correct. I should likely not be here either — it's just warm." Goes without saying that it has a Sicilian too.

"Warm," Eileen agrees, and if she can guess at the cause for his hesitation she also lets it go unsaid in favour or resting one arm across the back of the couch and her chin in its crook. "I wouldn't say no to a ride to the waterfront," she says. "I've an arrangement with someone who docks there. He'll see me the rest of the way." Or at least as close to the rest of the way as she'll allow anyone to come where the Dispensary is involved, which probably means that she has a walk ahead of her if she didn't think to take one of the trucks.

She draws her legs up onto the couch, folding them beneath her, and crosses small feet in their heavy wool socks. "What's the first thing you're going to do when this is over?"

"Merci," might be an odd reply to someone accepting an offer of a ride, but there it is, Francois resting his arms around his midsection and leaning heavily on the tall arm of the loungechair. "Do you mean the snow," and it's kind of strange, the way the residents of New York still talk about the snow, like maybe it isn't a permanent fixture, in the same way they talk about when the ruins will get reconstructed, when the crime rate dips back down, everything temporary and nothing to indicate that this is true, that these features are not here to— "or Dreyfus?"

— stay. The same could potentially be said of the Englishman, his pet mercenaries, his ongoing revenge as constant as precipitation.

"Both." The only thing stopping Eileen from amending it to everything is the fact that every time they resolve one crisis, more arise to take its place. Life is a little like doing combat with a hydra that way, even when clandestine organizations dedicated to issuing in new world orders involving viral apocalypses, nuclear warheads and enough snow to collapse the infrastructure of a city of more than eight million people. "Humour me."

"The world was meant to be saved back in January," Francois says, a hand up to rub the back of his neck, as if to relieve himself of the tension that has been there since January. "Humouring you, in the idea that it will eventually be any time soon— " Or at least, not in the kind of danger that immediately impacts him. Silence falls as he looks at the hearth again, almost still as the statue he'd once been, for a time.

His shoulders go up, go down. "I had talked to Sarisa Kershner about such a thing, and I didn't have a very impressive answer then, either. I have entertained finding a career with the Suresh Centre, or a small clinic. Creating one myself. But I am too used to battlefields — I would have to relearn the medicine I forgot in favour of simple healing, and discover a passion for it in the first place. But as for a first, first thing—

"I will sleep dreamlessly," he opts for, with a quick smile, though it fades as he holds up his scarred hand, turns it over. "And perhaps get this fixed properly."

It takes more effort than it should for Eileen to keep from making a needy, anguished sound at the back of her throat when Francois mentions the word sleep and slightly less to bite back her breathy laughter. That had been her answer, too. "There's someone you should meet," she says, though it isn't clear whether she's talking about Francois' desire to return to medicine or the possibility of fixing his hand. "Remind me to introduce you to Constantine."

Exhaustion delays her movements, languid and sluggish beside the fire, and makes a sloth's arm of hers when she reaches out for him, tacitly requesting permission to feel the damage for herself. "I used to know a woman who could help with this. She's why Daiyu hasn't been able to find Ethan."

There is only the most miniscule of self-conscious hesitations before Francois is extending his own limb in a same lazy slothness, larger hand coming to rest on her's, with his other palm cupping his chin, elbow against armchair. There has been no natural healing or reversal since Kozlow had first worked his magic on his hand, and Eileen's searching fingertips will find the some weaknesses — the broken feel of knuckles where his fingers don't line with his others as they should, and superficial keloid in milky white rivets through flesh.

"A healer?" he guesses, fingertips of his other hand absently grazing against his slightly unshaven jaw in a lazy itch. "Teo, I think, would want similar help, but I have not wanted to urge him to find it— " Hesitancy enters his voice, discomfort obvious. It's a tricky situation, the tipping balance between making sure Teo knows his scars are okay, against the need to resolve a problem, tempered with the uncertainty that it can be. Francois' silence is pensive.

"You don't want to hurt him," Eileen guesses, correctly or not. She compares the feel of Francois' hand between her fingers with her knowledge of human anatomy, mapping the injury to the best of her ability using a combination of sight and touch. It's not something she often thinks about, but impossible not to when Delphine is the subject of conversation; if she'd done this exactly a year ago, Francois would be withering in her palm.

She releases his hand and draws hers back in, folding it across her belly as she grows tired of keeping her eyes open and allows them to slip the rest of the way shut. "Not quite a healer. She puts things back the way they should be."

Correct or not, it's a truth, and one close enough to the heart of the matter to brook no objections from Francois. He takes his hand back, studies it over with his eyes and better fingers in a way he doesn't often do when there are people around, and curls his left hand into a fist. The familiar ache pangs, forces him to loosen his grip, and he settles deeper into where he's curled up on the armchair. "That sounds better than a healer," he says, gentle laughter in his voice, some small amount of marvel. "So many things could be made better if simply undone. And your friend, Constantine?"

There's the slight creak of Francois' weight picking up off the armchair, the soft scrape of porcelain mugs being collected up off the table with a sense of quiet and unobtrusive duty.

Even though Eileen's eyes are closed, she can clearly hear Francois' footsteps and the sound of tinkling porcelain, allowing her to pinpoint his location within a few feet when he moves through the room. He's right about her hands being a useful set of tools; the only thing she has a harder time imagining life without is her vision, and yet she does not open them again to observe the Frenchman's progress.

She wouldn't say no to a ride to the waterfront. Wouldn't say no to a pillow and a blanket to wrap herself in, either. "He's a doctor," she murmurs into her arm. "Used to operate a clinic out of the island's Rookery. You've a lot in common."

There's no response, save for the sound of his foot steps away — still not quite rude, a continuation of the motions and noises he'd begun upon asking her about her friend. The steps take him to the kitchen, the distant slosh and whine of water through chilly pipes, the water that spurts from it stunningly cold and avoided by Francois' fingers as he manages to rinse out the dregs of cool tea without dropping anything. The time he takes is indefinite — a brief detour into the laundry just next to the kitchen, and then—

Then soft wool landing on her after a brisk, vaguely cold breeze of the blanket in motion. "You should sleep," is invitation for her to shut her eyes without the labour of conversation to maintain, dismissal for her obvious diversion into doing just that. "Or rest, for a little while."

She'd been halfway between worlds. Revival, however brief, does not go unwelcome; she turns her cheek against the blanket's weave, makes a non-committal noise that would graduate to a verbal protest if Eileen wasn't so exhausted, and tucks her hand under her chin. At some point between the squeaking faucets, running water and footsteps retreating into the laundry room, she'd forgotten what she and Francois were talking about.

It will come to her again. Later. "Wake me before it gets dark?" she asks in a voice made slightly less bleary by a concentrated effort not to sound how she feels.

"Oui. Bien dormir, faits de beaux reves." If Eileen has been working on her French, she will know that he invites her to have good dreams, in favour of having bad ones, or none at all. Talk of what could or could not fix terrible scars and disability can wait for alertness, sharper conversation — it's been long enough, after all, and Francois did chastise her for sleeping in cold places. With this well-wish, he leaves her with the sound of creaking floorboards, and the continual crackle of the hearth.

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