Life After Volken


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Scene Title Life After Volken
Synopsis After returning to the Garden, Eileen catches Flint in the kitchen making some tea — only Flint isn't Flint, and things aren't exactly as they seem.
Date October 24, 2009

The Garden

Situated in a copse several miles away from the nearest stretch of asphalt, the Garden is accessible via an old dirt road that winds snakelike through the woods and dead-ends at the property's perimeter, which is surrounded by stone wall plastered with wicked coils of rusty barbed wire to keep would-be intruders from attempting to scale it. Those with a key can gain entry via the front gate.

The safehouse itself is a three-story brickwork cottage over a century old and covered in moss and ivy. It slants to one side, suggesting that the foundation has been steadily sinking into the wet earth; incidentally, this may be one of the reasons why its prior occupants never returned to the island to reclaim their property when government officials lifted evacuation orders and re-opened the Verrazano-Narrows shortly before its eventual destruction.

Inside, the cottage is decorated in mismatched antique furniture including a couch in the living room and an armchair nestled in the corner closest to the fireplace that go well with the safehouse's hardwood floors and the wood-burning stoves in some of the spare bedrooms. A heavy wooden table designed to seat eight separates the dining area from the rest of the kitchen, which is defined by its aged oak cabinetry and the dried wildflowers hanging above them.

He'd been tasked with packing up left over sandwiches for those on Ferrymen shifts to help themselves to for as long as they'll keep, the kid-size triangles of both white bread and the grainier kind, more creamcheese than jam left over, each labeled. Stored into the refrigerator, it might then seem a little out of character that Flint Deckard has opted to put tea on.

The kitchen is dim, with a singular light flicked on when they'd first arrived, and orange sunset light struggling in through the window as light rain continues to patter its presence against the glass. His coat is heaped over the back of a chair, knit cap bundled into a pocket, and he sets earthenware mugs out onto the kitchen counter as water boils to bubble on the stove. The usual smells of baked food and herbs is contended with the scent of red tea, sweet and aromatic. A jar of honey has been discovered, too, laid out in preparation as he moves to exchange boiled water to teapot of the same make and design as the two mugs.

He'd intended to finish up and go, maybe pace around in case Eileen needed an escort back to wherever, but rather than linger awkward, it seems as though Flint, or whoever resides in him currently, has opted to stay a while and make use of the slightly exotic, if still simple things available to him.

Flint Deckard has always struck Eileen as more of a coffee person, so it's with some interest that she watches him from the kitchen doorway with one slim shoulder leaning into its wooden frame. She hasn't changed out of the clothes she wore on the hike, but it's warm enough inside that her body doesn't have to resort to shivering to keep itself warm, which means she wears her pea coat open with the collar turned down and her leather gloves poking out of the left front pocket. Having abandoned her muddied boots at the door, she's been able to move around the Garden in relative silence and avoid alerting Mage's successor to her presence — it would not do to linger here any longer than the time it takes her to complete a few chores. As long as Feng Daiyu is still alive, it's in her best interest to stay away.

Fortunately for the person who was tasked with bringing in fresh water from the well outside, however, the young Briton doesn't have her best interests at heart this evening. She sets the bucket down on the kitchen floor, careful not to slosh any of the iron-rich liquid over its lip and onto the wood upon which it rests.

"I appreciate you coming out," she says. "The little ones from the Lighthouse ask after you every time I drop by to visit. You've been missed."

Pausing, he glances over his shoulder, and while Eileen can only see a limited angle of his face, lines there deepen in a rueful kind of way. Less hang dog than Flint has looked in a long time, he appears healthy, with meat lining his arms and filling out the hollows of his face. A soft sigh, before he's pouring steaming liquid into the mugs designed to retain heat, both in material as well as make, the top curling inwards and then outwards again in a subtle indent. "That would be good for him to hear."

There's a subtle clink of metal against ceramic, as he stirs honey into one of the mugs. "You should sit down, and take off your coat. So much walking through the rain is never pleasant and perhaps we can talk some, Eileen Ruskin. Do you take honey, or sugar?"

There's a long silence in which Eileen says nothing, does nothing except affix Flint — or the man she mistakenly assumed to be Flint, as the case may be — with a stare that increases in hardness and intensity with every moment that stretches between them. In the end, it's broken by the sound of metal tinkling as she removes her coat and the pocket watch she keeps in it silk-lined interior bumps audibly against the buckle that holds her shoulder holster in place. "Some of us happen to like the rain," she says as she crosses to the kitchen table and hangs it on the back of the nearest chair to dry. Like her clothes, her dark hair is still damp and clings as oily-looking curls to her cheeks and forehead, providing a stark contrast with her petal white skin. "Else we wouldn't be out in it as much."

First Peter, now Deckard. Eileen doesn't know which is worse: that the dead don't stay dead, or that Cardinal might have been right about something when he sat here at this very table and expressed his fears to the Remnant. "Who are you?"

Both the small pot of sugar and the jar of honey are set down on the table, in the off-chance she desires either, rather than repeat himself. Swiveling back, he picks up the two mugs of tea, uses his ankle to hook and nudge a chair back from the generous table, and comes to sit. "They've been calling me Francois Allègre. There is truth to it. I would not be opposed to being called Flint Deckard, either, but, ce n'a pas d'importance."

The steaming, aromatic rooibos tea, a deep brownish red in colour, is pushed towards her, his own long fingered hands coming to clasp around his own. Escaped pieces of loose leaf float to the surface, dried berry. "The rain can be nice," he agrees, presently.

Adopting a seat opposite "Francois", Eileen makes a move for neither the honey nor the sugar. Instead, she curls fingers around the mug to warm her palms and raises it to her lips, testing the flavour of the tea against the tip of her tongue before swallowing a mouthful of the elixir. Not only does this loosen the muscles in her throat — it gives her the time she needs to process what she's hearing as well.

"I don't speak French," is what she settles on as she places her mug back down on the table and reaches to claim the honey pot with the dominant of her two hands, "but I've read your journal. Thank you for writing it in a language I can understand."

A generous spoonful of honey is scraped from the jar and transferred to her mug with a fat plop. Rather than stir it in, she waits for the honey to melt and gradually infuse itself with the rest of the liquid. "What do you want from me?"

He doesn't seem surprised that his journal has been read by the girl opposite, a small smile at the thanks and then an uncertain nod. "France seemed somewhere very far away, by then. You're welcome. I said, that it is nothing of importance, as to what I am called. I am only slightly more Francois than I am Flint. Or Abigail," is added, with a soft chuckle at the bottom of his throat. Pale blue eyes regard the richly red tea in the mug, rough thumb scuffing along the edge before he takes another warming sip.

"You read my journal. Perhaps it is you who desires something from me."

Eileen runs her tongue across her front teeth behind her lip in thought. With only two small steam trunks worth of belongings to her name, she has few possessions and fewer still that are as cherished or as valuable as the Allègre journal. One is in her coat pocket. The others are all back at the Dispensary, which is — incidentally — where she should be. It's also the furthest thing from her mind right now as she studies Deckard's eyes from across the table, dewy lashes casting shadows across her pale eyes and emphasizing the dark circles under them.

So many questions. Such a nebulous idea about which one she should ask first. "What happened to you?"

His head cants a little, reaction to the question subtle but far from negatively - it's pleasant surprise that ladders his forehead, a hand up to scrub against his somewhat unshaven jaw. "What happened… in the end, it is all you and I can do to guess. I was in Louisiana when Volken sent a man after me. A hunter. He drove me off the road, dragged me from the car and struck me with a blade three times, and left when I stopped moving. Or perhaps he sensed someone's approach, I couldn't say, but I survived for a time."

There is a certain detachment, despite the possessive words of 'I' and 'me', that goes with the story. Perhaps time has numbed it, or even more than that. "A little girl— you know her, Abigail Beauchamp— found me, and I was passed on from him to her. I know nothing after that. After that I only recall…"

The slopes of his jaw narrow is some consternation, searching for a way to describe it before simply finish with, "A bird."

Eileen takes another sip from her mug. This, too, has a numbing quality and leaves her lips tingling. She's read the contents of the journal so many times that she's committed the dates of every other entry to memory, and although what she's just been told does not match up with what she knows, there isn't even the faintest trace of skepticism in the angle of her brows or the slant of her pursing mouth.

Her throat contracts in a swallow. When she speaks again, there's an anxious quality to her voice that wasn't there before. "What kind of bird?"

It's a strange question to ask unless your name used to be Munin, and Eileen's did. Her fingers tighten their grip around the mug, knuckles bulging, flooding white. Green eyes do not so much as twitch from the man sitting across from her.

"A chickadee, I think. Even for a young girl's hands, it was very small." Francois smiles across at Eileen, his shoulders rising and falling in a shrug, and though her gaze is intent, his is prone to wander. It skips over the shapes and lines within the kitchen, travels back to his beverage - not so much shy, or guilty, as habitual. "I remember my time with Abigail like a dream someone else had."

Now, he switches his attention back to Eileen, curious warmth conveyed in eyes. "You speak to them. Birds. And you were Vanguard. There is not much else that I know of you, admittedly, other than the fact Flint likes you, and you found life after Volken."

"Life after Volken," Eileen echoes, the words a murmur spoken around the rim of her cup. Now her gaze does divert, angled down at the reflection of her face in the tea's rose-tinted surface. Ripples spread outward, distorting its shape like their view of the world beyond the kitchen's rainy window. "Volken was my life."

And that's all she has to say on the subject. Breath slips through the gaps between her teeth and past her lips in the form of a thin, reedy hiss that quakes as her hands would if they weren't clutching a mug between them. "The sibyls are saying that something dark is coming. I have paintings—" The word is spoken with no small amount of disdain, sneered out from beneath a curled lip that exposes a sliver of pearly canine and its tapered point. She reaches up with one hand and rubs its heel along her jaw in a display of what likely amounts to exasperation, eyes rolling up toward the ceiling. "I don't know what to believe, or what I should do.

"Did Kazimir ever tell you anything about his vision?"

"I don't know much of prophecy. Only fate." He eases back into his seat, taking tea with him, huddled there as the rain makes its gentle assault against the walls and windows of the three-storey building, gutters down drains and rings in tin. "What I am, what I know… I know preservation. I know that life is sacred. I also know that life is not light, and what Kazimir is not darkness."

Another sip, quick to drain the liquid while it still lets off damp curls of steam, before it can become sour with chill. "Volken would have disagreed. He never listened, not to Francois, or to the gift inside him. He tried to discover what he was, and saw only the Moroi. The monster. His vision…"

Uncertainty traces in his look away, and he frowns, shrugs a shoulder. "I know of Vanguard. His vision was to do as he was compelled as I do as I am compelled. Volken was my life too, for a long time."

Kazimir is not darkness. Hearing these words spoken aloud by someone who is not herself lifts an invisible weight from Eileen's shoulders. The bow curve of her spine grows less pronounced as she straightens in her seat and lifts her chin, jaw set. "No one else believes it," she tells Francois. "I know it. I see it in your writing, feel it in the ink under my fingers when I let my hands roam over the pages. No one understood him like you do.

"Did." The correction is sharp, stringent and leaves a bitter taste in her mouth that has nothing to do with the rooibos. Her hand clasping the mug hooks a thumb over the rim to keep her grip from slipping as she lowers it to the table once more. Then, "What if Francois didn't die? What if he's still out there, alive? Powerless? Could you know?"

Hesitation is a bit like a shield, slamming up and blocking that former inquiring warmth. "It isn't my concern," Francois says, words falling flat and somewhere insincere, while perhaps not necessarily lying. "His body was cold when I left it, though I never witnessed him dying. I do not know what happened and— " A hand moves from the mug, palm tilted upwards. "You can perhaps understand that I never looked back. It is not fair to Abigail, to Flint, to look back."

And he falls silent, bringing the earthenware mug up once more to drink from, eyes roaming the table top. When they go back up, he tilts his head a little, allows a smile as he adds, "I am glad you could see him for what he is. Or could have been, at least."

Eileen is rising from the table, a sort of weariness about her movements that comes from walking too long in the rain as Francois had so aptly pointed out. She pushes the hair from her eyes and uses her fingers to twist of the more stubborn pieces into a less stubborn shape, which she then tucks behind her left ear. "Everything I loved about Kazimir," she says, "I see in another man. More. I might have been too late to help him, but I won't let the same thing happen to this one."

No more steam blooms from her mug. It sits abandoned at the edge of the table as she removes her pea coat from the back of her chair and slithers into it one sodden sleeve at a time. "If you could go back in time to save Kazimir from himself— to stop him from falling into that spiral of self-destruction, what would you change?"

His own chair scrapes against the floor as he rises up as she does, moving to clear away teamaking implements, from pot to honey, the gentle clack of wood and metal as things as shelved or left to the sink filling the room. By the time he's stopped running water to rinse out the cups, Eileen is asking her question, and there's bitterness in the laughter the croaks from his throat. "I do not know. Francois— I— did everything we knew. Perhaps, we should never have given up when we were told it was not our fate to end or save Kazimir Volken."

Moving to steal up his coat, he sweeps it back over his shoulders with more flourish than what Deckard might. "The journal I believe you have speaks of these regrets. These doubts. But there is reason that my purpose was also to destroy him." The knit cap is pulled put, pulled over his head, straightened with the shove of worn fingertips. "Would you prefer to walk with Flint?"

Uncertainty etches lines across Eileen's face that belong to a much older woman. The sunlight bleeding in through the window casts her figure in a red glow and underscores its somewhat haggard appearance by emphasizing her cheekbones and the sunken hollows of her eyes. It's not that she isn't eating well, but sleeping — sleeping is a whole other story, and something she's going to have a difficult time doing tonight.

Naked fingers work the buttons of her coat, and soon she stands with her collar pulled up, hands tugging on the leather gloves stashed away in her left front pocket. "No," she says at the tail end of another of those long silences. "I want to hear about Añatuya. Santiago del Estero. Tell me everything about Argentina."

There's a pause, a hesitation, before Francois is nudging his seat back neatly under the table and moving around it, getting gloves out from his pockets and pulling them in as he heads for the door. "I believe I am here and able to talk with you all now so that I can do better in helping Flint. My time, that of Francois Allègre, is ended. This is Flint's era., as much as it might have been meant for Abigail.

"But there will be time, mademoiselle. Ne t'inquiete pas." Francois lifts an arm, now, hand open in gesture towards the door. "We should walk while the rain is still light."

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