Loving All of Them


eileen2_icon.gif jasmine_icon.gif

Scene Title Loving All of Them
Synopsis Benji seeks out her aunt the best way she knows how.
Date March 19, 2019

In Dreams


And then a flame, struck on a match, its orange light showing pale fingers and glossy nails, hands curled as it puts lit match to candle wick. It catches, wax spitting, generating a glowing radius of light that reveals more of the person presiding over it. Long black hair, curled ends hanging slightly too near an open flame to be comfortable, but this is a dream, and so it doesn't matter.

Firelight glows, and shows the pale face framed by raven waves. A configuration of cheekbones and jawline that straddles the line between pretty and handsome, a full mouth, large eyes which should be a clear blue but in this light, seem more like a tepid grey, soaking up the golden radiance of the candle. Depth of shadow implies a body with limbs swathed in black, but it's hard to make out. Hands, hair, face, nearly disembodied in the surrounding shadow of the nowhere she has conjured.

She breathes out, a calming stream of air between pursed lips, and the flame jumps and hisses. She should blow it out, probably. Before something dangerous happens. Or hurtful. Or ineffective, like a real seance.

Instead, Jasmine closes her eyes and projects this idea of herself. Imagines it being carried on bird wings.

Her world changes.

Shadows dissolve into brown brick layered with fresh snow. Tall, threadbare trees survived the siege of Pollepel Island when large portions of Bannerman’s Castle did not. It lies in ruin, half-collapsed by a combination of mortar rounds and a much deadlier, more effective enemy: time.

Of course, time has no real influence here, but the vision Jasmine finds herself standing square in the middle of accurately reflects the last time she saw it through her waking eyes.

Water laps gently against the shore and dilapidated wooden dock sinking into the river. Large black birds with eyes like pieces of bright obsidian turn their attention on her from their perches in the trees and amidst the castle’s icy remains. When the wind picks up, it rustles feathers and makes the hundreds of old, weather-worn photos pinned to the island’s central memorial rattle like brittle autumn leaves stubbornly clinging to their branches.

The woman she’s looking for is positioned in front of it, the tips of her fingertips moving between faces. Some of them Jasmine recognizes as belonging to victims of the siege. Others, and this is where Eileen’s dream diverges from reality, are people Jasmine has only read about in books or remembered in television documentaries that did not necessarily portray them in a positive light.

They all have one thing in common: They’re either dead or missing.

Eileen gently pries a yellowed polaroid depicting Ethan Holden astride a motorcycle from the board, his long, thick arms draped lazily over the handlebars like a large, wolfish predator surveying his territory from on high.

The finger of flame still burning off the candle wick merely dances rather than extinguish itself as the cutting wind circles her. Jasmine holds onto the candle with both hands as she feels her heart sink right down as she recognises, immediately, where she stands. She used to dream of it differently, a long time ago, but that place has been replaced with this place, and it doesn't surprise her that perhaps this is what her mind conjured in an attempt to reach a dead woman.

But it's only a momentary lapse of perception. Photographs flutter, and her attention is inevitably steered towards the figure standing at the memorial.

Breath caught, Jasmine approaches, boots sinking into damp earth. Under the cold wintry light of day, she's dressed herself in black, where a long skirt snags at her ankles, and a more masculine woolen coat shrouds her shoulders. Long black hair flutters wild. No mask, today.

Eileen doesn't hear that she has company, not yet. The wind tugs at the photograph she's caught between her fingers, and although it doesn't feel like it's trying to take it from her, it does feel curious. A flash of colour, then — where most butterflies ought to be dead, caterpillars, or hibernating in their husks, this one braves the wintry air, black outlining electric blue. It flutters into view, lands on Eileen's hand where her thumb curves into her palm, and then takes off again, circling back and around behind her.

Jasmine offers out a hand to it.

Eileen turns in the direction the butterfly floats away. Going off the expression on her face alone, Jasmine might think her aunt has just been shot twice in the chest.

The shock of seeing her niece — because that’s who this is — renders her immobile and almost as white as the freshly fallen snow underfoot. The only person who could have surprised her more is Astor, and Astor is nowhere to be found except on the memorial board.

Like Jasmine, she’s bundled in dark wool. Unlike Jasmine, she keeps her hair twisted back, confined in a bun at the nape of her neck by strategically-placed bobby pins.

Her memory of Eileen is nothing if not pragmatic. This is at least something that hasn’t changed in the past seven years.

“Oh,” Eileen breathes, “it’s you.”

The butterfly lands in Jasmine's outstretched hand. Jasmine nods, mutely, confirming identity before the rush of realisation — of what recognition means — thrums a chord through her soul.

Impulse. The dream splits into two moments. In one, Jasmine rushes forward and folds Eileen into an embrace, the candle dropped and allowed to roll loosely across the grey stone ground. In the other, she stays where she is as the butterfly lifts away again, and she shyly moves aside. There's something like an altar formed of tumbled stone, the remains of circles of wax and long dead flowers now joined by the pale yellow candle that Jasmine carefully sets down.

The twin moments resolve. The former never achieves tangibility, as gentle as a change of the wind, gone in a blink. The latter stabilises.

"I'm sorry," she says from by the altar, looking down at it and partially hiding her face — by which she means to add, it took me this long, but it peters out, opens itself up into multi-faceted meaning.

Eileen’s hand, still clutching the photograph, goes to her heart. She can feel the echo of the embrace-that-wasn’t, and she tries to draw it into herself as though such a small, understated gesture might somehow preserve the sensation of physical contact.

It doesn’t, of course.

The distance between the two women is as vast as it ever was.

She moves forward to close it of her own volition, but her boots do not leave prints in the pristine snow underfoot or even disturb a single perfectly-formed flake.

Eileen Ruskin is a ghost, even here.

“For what?” she asks Jasmine as she approaches her with the same caution and mindfulness she might show a wild animal — like if she moves too quickly, she’ll disappear in a flourish of indigo blue wings.

It's not an unreasonable caution. From one sleeve, another crawling winged insect climbs out to explore the back of her hand, and then take off at a flutter, circling the candle. Jasmine keeps her attention on the flame she lit, tension raising her shoulders beneath her coat. That she can maintain a steady pace of breathing is the benefit of having near godlike control over a dreamspace.

Most times, anyway. Somehow, words are still difficult to transmit, getting tied up in her throat.

"For everything," is offered, a little helplessly, her voice hush. Her hands curl against the cold stone, fingernails worked against the cracks. "Maybe I could have found you, after. Or. Or saved you, to begin with. And I left you there, we just left. I don't know. Everything."

At first, Eileen isn’t sure what she means. It does not even occur to her yet that she’s dreaming; as shrewd as she is, this is a place where she takes things at face value regardless of whether or not they make any sense. Her thoughts are hazy. Nothing seems amiss. She feels neither dead nor alive.

By the time her ego provides her with the context she needs to parse what Jasmine is saying, she’s right there beside her and seeking her out with her hands. She used to do this when Jasmine was much younger, coaxing her to sleep with a gentle but affirming touch. Astor sometimes needed his shoulders rubbed, too.

Her palms press against either side of Jasmine’s spine, just so, and she rests her cheek upon her back.

“But I’m the one who left, Benji,” she murmurs into the wool of her coat.

It’s not quite the same as a hug. Close.

Jasmine's response is a soft, protesting sound, but not for the gesture — one hand creeps up to touch past her own shoulder, a compulsive and meaningless response when Eileen is huddled out of reach. It brings comfort anyway, eyes closing, letting go of some small degree of the tension wrapped around her heart, her lungs.

Being here, existing in this timeline, has always felt a little wrong. Like her own feelings of love and family are too big for the people they assign themselves to, when they didn't raise her. Delia's heartfelt generosity, her motherly protectiveness and pride, makes her feel ashamed, as does Nick's attempts to be kind, or better than the idea of himself that Benji holds in her mind. This moment is no different, but she can't bring herself to disappear and leave Eileen Ruskin to preside over her wall of memories in peace.

Not yet, anyway.

She shakes her head, denying this concept of Eileen having done anything wrong (ever!!), even as she asks, "Are you back?"

“I think so.”

Eileen’s eyes, half-lidded, focus on distant shapes. The castle’s crumbling battlements. An ambiguous forest on the other side of the river. She’s gradually coming to understand that none of this is actually real, and yet the psychic tether that binds her and Jasmine together does not weaken or begin to fray under the strain.

“I don’t always feel like myself,” she admits, “so I hide in the shadow of other people’s expectations of me. It’s safe there. Dark, too.”

Movement draws Jasmine’s attention across the river to where sleek, hungry shapes prowl along the bank with luminous yellow eyes and ears pricked.

Wolves. An indeterminate number of them.

Eileen must see them as well, because Jasmine feels her shrink back. There is no shadow of expectation to hide in here, but Jasmine’s will do instead.

Jasmine's posture straightens. She has several inches of height on the woman behind her, and a hand wanders back like one might ensure their ward is safely hidden behind them, but these gestures of caution don't betray a real fear. It's with interest that she evaluates this new element slinking into the borders of this dream state. Apex predators, sniffing at the edges of her territory.

"I think I know what you mean," she offers, mildly.

She moves forward, embodied enough that her boots leave prints in the snow and the earth — not headed all the way down to the edge of the river, but putting a little distance between herself and Eileen. She looks back to her, then. "Who are they?" she asks.

“The pack.”

Eileen remains where she is, neither drifting after Jasmine nor retreating back in the direction of what’s left of Bannerman’s Castle. Indecision has her at a literal standstill.

“We could run with them,” she offers, “but they’ll scavenge the meat from your bones if you fall.”

Now she does step forward, past Jasmine, toward the river’s edge. Her boots squelch in the half-frozen mud, so she bends at the middle to loosen their laces and leave them on the land. Although Eileen has always harboured a fear of deep water, this doesn’t stop her from wading in.

First: Her feet. Then: Her calves. The current flows around and between her legs until she’s submerged all the way up to her hips.

Then she takes the plunge.

Jasmine opens her mouth, like she might protest, but she can feel the momentum of Eileen's decision already altering the makeup of the dream. The crystal clear winter day is already darkening, and the sound of rushing water on stone is rising in her ears. She watches as Eileen disappears beneath the surface of the ice-thick water, and knots her hands into fists.

Looking to the wolves one last time, she follows suit, booted feet sinking into mud. Memories of cold water stab needles into her skin as it soaks through cloth, up over her knees, up over her pelvis, her stomach, her chest. Memories, held at bay through practice, and she pushes her hands forward beneath the water and sinks down into it, a grimmer undertaking than Eileen's lithe plunge.

She lets darkness envelop her, that peculiar weightlessness, and reaches out a hand.

Fingers close around Jasmine’s wrist and the universe seems to rotate on its axis. Down becomes up. Dark becomes light. She resurfaces someplace else entirely; it’s still a river, of course, but this is where the similarities end. Here, the water is warm and damp, heavy with the promise of the next rainfall. Bruised clouds congregate over a lush, verdant canopy that’s alive with tropical birds.

The colours in this jungle are deeper, more vibrant. They might be in Madagascar, or they might be in Argentina — and yet there are details in her surroundings that point to neither.

Eileen laces her fingers between Jasmine’s. A long cotton sundress soaked through with river water has replaced her heavier winter clothes, leaving her pale shoulders and arms bare. It clings to her narrow frame, which is lacks the weight and curves of the thirty-something woman who had stood on the shores of the island beside her.

Her aunt is sixteen again.

So is Jasmine, for that matter.

“Come,” she urges in a clear, soft voice without any wear to it.

The creature that climbs her way out of the river is an even ganglier version of the one that went in. Shorter hair, now, razored close the back of her neck, coming down as damp curls on her brow, around her ears. Her clothes are a guess, pulled out of some far flung memory — butterfly-blue satin, tied tight around the waist, enough to overlap up near her throat. Trailing and floating on the water that comes up to her knees as she emerges, bare feet clumsy and coltish in the slick river floor.

Her eyes are up, looking at the way cloud-diffused light speckles through alien tree canopies. Her freckles stand out strong on her face, which is clear of makeup or powder or the mask-like countenance she gives herself.

She turns her hand to hold onto Eileen's.

"No wolves in the tropics," she says. But she's been asked to come, so she does, trying to shake off the last of her disorientation.

“You’re my blood,” Eileen tells her. “That makes them your family, too.”

She guides Jasmine into the shallows and up onto this new, leafy riverbank where dew-speckled ferns glitter like stars in the sky. A low peal of thunder booms in the distance, filling the caverns of their chests with sound. It’s dusk. Fireflies wink playfully in the gathering shade.

It turns out they don’t need shoes. A dirt road opens up on the other side of the ferns, soft but firm under their bare feet.

“I’ve been to all the continents,” she says, “traveled the world into Volken’s wake like gulls chase big steel boats. He gave me many gifts, but that was the best one. You would have liked him.”

"I'd like travelling."

Not explicitly denial. After all, there are people who wonder why Benji likes Calvin so much, Calvin who could have ended the world in the name of a cause, and it is always the same thing: the human side, first. Jasmine knows that Volken had one too, or else those that cared for him so deeply would never have turned on him in the end.

Ahead of them, a bright butterfly falls out of the tree line, dances and weaves in the air, ultimately keeps ahead of them by some paces. It's a helpful tool, of kinds, and Jasmine feels her control reassert itself, although this is an imperceptible happening to the other dreamer. "Was this your favourite?"

A favourite.” Insofar as it can be one thing, which it isn’t. Their feet leave prints in the earth as they follow the path, and at some point the rain the clouds had been holding begins to fall. It’s cooler than the river had been, if only by a few degrees. The humidity in the air prevents their clothes from drying out completely even as it feels as though time compresses along their journey.

There is a town up ahead built from old stone and clay shingles that soak up heat like an oven. Its architecture is distinctly Mediterranean and reminds Jasmine of the picturesque Italian hilltowns she’s seen in photographs. Like the ferns, these structures don’t quite belong in the jungle, but there’s something about their aesthetic that doesn’t feel entirely out of place either.

“People used to ask how we could be complicit for so long,” Eileen says, turning her face toward the sky so she can enjoy the sensation of summer rain washing over her skin, “but it was never about the ideology. Not for me. It was only ever about the people.”

Eileen can enjoy the feel of rain. Jasmine holds out a hand and flips an umbrella open, tilting it against a shoulder. White, like a sail.

"That was why we came back," she offers. "We knew that we had to change the world, too, but we also knew we could only do that through the people we loved. And that we could only do it for them." Another roll of thunder, and she watches the butterfly dart in and out between the pattering rain, occasionally dipping with the impact striking on one coloured wing, but persevering anyway.

She still has a hand in Eileen's, and it tightens. "You were a child. You grew up."

Eileen looks back over the milky crescent of her shoulder and levels a wry look at Jasmine from beneath her lashes. “I’ll tell you a secret: We don’t grow up, we grow out. Who we were as children… that’s a fixed point. And it’s a part of us forever.”

Her hand slips from Jasmine’s at the same time a voice shouts, “Princess!” And as if to demonstrate her point, Eileen lopes toward it. Ethan Holden, who had been a weathered photograph pinched between her fingers, emerges from a doorway as flesh and blood. He hefts the teen by her hips and swings her around in a wide and boisterous circle before gathering her in an embrace.

A hug from her father is something Eileen can only experience in dreams. He hasn’t been seen since the war’s onset, and while she’s many unflattering things — she isn’t stupid. She understands what that probably means.

Ethan lifts his chin, resting it on the top of her dark head so he can study Jasmine’s unfamiliar figure without moving Eileen out of the way. “Friend of yours?” he gruffs, not unkind.

Jasmine stops where she is, observant, reserved, the butterfly returning to land on the stalk of the umbrella, seeking shelter. She knows what she's looking at because she has a creepy amount of knowledge about a lot of people — and now what she is trying to detect is if this is a memory, this guy, this nickname, or something constructed, or both. Hidden beneath, her heart hurts — mostly because it doesn't know what else to do.

She makes an odd sight, barefoot on the dirt road, silk robe still dripping, white umbrella, boyish haircut rain tousled. She spreads a hand in a still wave.

"I think the fixed point is where we are right now," she contradicts, a little airily, as if they were still walking alongside each other rather than Eileen still circled in Ethan Holden's arms. "And the past streams out in our wake like a train of stars. It moves, catches. Holds us back, sometimes."

But maybe that's just something she has to believe. "Hello, Mr Holden."

Eileen isn’t going to make this easy for her.

“Hullo,” Ethan returns. “You should come inside, love. Mosquitoes’ll eat you alive.” He steps back, coaxing Eileen into the darkened doorway with him. Jasmine’s aunt has no argument to her point, or if she does then it isn’t spoken aloud.

She lets their surroundings make the case for her: a communal bar lit by a strange marriage of candles and outdated electrical fixtures that haven’t been changed since the late seventies or early eighties. This corner of the world is sheltered in much the same way a part of Eileen wishes she still were.

There’s a radio playing, because of course there is. It sits at the center of a game of poker played by Zhang Wu-Long, Sasha Kozlow, and a man who once went by the name of Yancey. Static fuzzes atop the music, making it difficult for Jasmine to recognize the song or pick out any of the lyrics. Such is the nature of dreams, she knows.

Yi-Min Yeh and Iago Ramirez wouldn’t be out of place here, except Eileen’s imagination is not where they presently reside.

She skirts past their table, letting the tips of her fingers skim across Sasha’s back and shoulders while simultaneously ignoring the glance he darts out the corner of his eye. He’s the only person in the room she can flirt with — because he flirts back, when no one else is paying attention.

In another corner, Amato Salucci studies his bible, his face serene but unimpressed. He knows all the words already.

“You’re a far way from home,” Ethan says. “But where’s that?”

A rogues gallery of faces that are only familiar to her as the stuff of history. Jasmine pauses at the door, her umbrella gone, and so is the blue silk and the adolescence. Her features have hardened up with a little more age than before, and the length of her hair grown back to its prior indulgence, but now comes down in red curls and waves. Her clothing is safari chic, now, but not immodest — trousers that flow like a skirt, a fitted shirt with a breastpocket and shouldermarks, all in a soft tan.

She leans at the doorway, eyes roaming faces with acute fascination despite herself and sundry heartaches, and looks to Ethan. Suspiciously. Not of him, really, but of how he is being used. Still, her small, Mona Lisa smile remains.

"Home is supposed to be where the heart is. I'm still looking."

Sasha barks something in Russian across the table. The cards are down; Yancey’s expression seems smug. Wu-Long surrenders his cash without protest, but Sasha is not so gracious about it, which seems very much in line with the Sasha Jasmine has met.

Not everything here is an interpretation.

At the bar, Eileen pours three shots of whiskey. Neat. Some of the fireflies from the jungle have found their way inside, settling in high corners or on flat surfaces to rest their wings and gain respite from the rain.

Thunder squalls again, much closer than the last round — so close that the building rattles and shakes. Unperturbed, Ethan slides the closest shot glass down the bar to Jasmine with a practiced flick of his wrist.

“That so,” he says. What he really means is: What do you want? She sees the question in his eyes, their irises a smoky hazel. Not like Eileen’s.

Jasmine curls her fingers around the whiskey shot, finding her attention split between Eileen and Ethan, even as Ethan is doing the talking. She brings the drink up to her lips, hesitates, before downing half of it. (In her mouth, it tastes of tea and flowers.) She sets the glass down again, delicately turning it around with her fingers.

"I've been running with wolves since the last time Eileen and I spoke," she says. "Different ones. Sometimes it feels like— "

Bang. That would be the sound of Yancey's fist coming down on the table surface, underscored with a cowboy whoop while Sasha is grimacing, and the subtle clatter of glasses and a bottle close to jumping and spilling everywhere.

Jasmine, having twitched a nervous glance in that direction, shakes her head as if to clear it. "I was in the neighbourhood," she excuses, instead.

“Fucking cheater,” Sasha mutters under his breath. “I’ll piss in your shoes.”

How did Kazimir Volken unify these people, again?

Eileen smiles a wan smile around the rim of her shot glass before knocking the whiskey back. Her free hand scrubs her palm’s heel against the side of her face on its way down. It isn’t American whiskey. To her, it does not taste like tea or flowers, although she enjoys both of these things apart and together.

“What does it feel like?” she prompts Jasmine, redirecting her back to the last fork in her thought process.

Jasmine's focus drops, looking into her drink. Rain patters on a tin roof and streaks down grimy glass windows, and the sound of cards being reshuffled are just perceptible beneath the garbled hum of the radio. Perhaps she ought to have waited until they were in the flesh, to have this conversation — but then, she so rarely feels comfortable in her own flesh.

"Like I lost my home," she admits, finally. "Because other people came through different alternate worlds, and that can only mean that we never saved mine. Not really."

When she looks up, her eyes are glossy. It's possible she could hide that, conceal her emotions as deftly as her own hair colour, but some things are harder to do than others without breaking things entirely. "But I'm happy," she adds. "That you're here. Alive." She slides a hand over the bar surface, reaching for Eileen without attempting to take her hand, just leaning in. "I thought I ruined it. All these years."

Ethan, uncomprehending, turns his attention to his own glass. He heaves a large sigh — it’s the long-suffering kind Jasmine has heard so often from other people — and pushes away from the bar to finish the argument at the card table before it has the opportunity to even start.

More importantly: To give Jasmine and Eileen some space.

The latter is more cognizant of what’s happening. She sets her empty shot glass down on the bar’s surface: a punctuation mark at the end of Jasmine’s last point.

“I think I said something to someone,” she murmurs, “about how our worlds are all different, but the people must all be the same.” Her conversation with Iago seems like a lifetime ago in this space, and she gropes for proper context.

“Here.” She lifts the glass again, only to dash it against the counter so hard that the glass shatters, splintering apart into dozens of fragments.

The men in the room do not seem to notice. Nor do they care that Eileen’s hand is bright with blood. “How many glasses do you see?”

Jasmine rears back sharply, that slightly mournful, doe-eyed earnestness flinching at the musical sound of breaking glass. One tear streak releases, coursing clear down the side of her nose — because she may cry a little in dreams, but her mascara never runs — but it goes unchecked and unfollowed by any more as she looks at the broken fragments that glitter along the bar top.

She taps one of the larger shards with a long, glossily painted nail, setting it to spin.

"I can't help it," she says, after some silence. "Loving them. All of the Ryanses. The Ruskins."

Agreement, in some small way — because she badly wants to believe it, lest the alternative eat her alive. If everyone is a shattered piece of a whole, then love is something that refracts through them, brightly coloured. It's a nice thought. Calvin would make fun of it. Calvin isn't here. She lifts her eyes from the broken pieces. "Is this what happened to you?" A little beside the point, she knows, but she has to understand. It's why she came.

“In a sense,” Eileen concedes.

Closer inspection of the shards reveals images twinkling in the glass. In the one closest to Jasmine, Astor’s dark head rests on his mother’s shoulder as she combs fingers through his hair. In another, Eileen and Gabriel seal their wedding vows with a kiss under a torrential downpour, not unlike the one drumming hard against the roof outside. Iago Ramirez, whose absence Eileen feels intimately in this tumbledown bar in a secret, not-existent corner of the world, finds representation too.

This last one she palms in her bloodied hand, hiding it from Jasmine’s view. Out of sight, out of mind.

“I feel fused together,” she says, “like I’m two people. Both, but also neither. I’m not sure he’d still have me if he knew.”

She isn’t talking about Iago.

Jasmine keeps fidgeting with the glass shard, as if both charmed and bothered by the thing it reflects, drawing her mind away from the temptation of the melancholy it inspires instead to listen. Interest of a different kind shines through, knowing not very much about worlds that exist beside one another, really.

She spiders that hand back over her half-full glass. The he she imagines, first, is Nick Ruskin, before the romantic connotations settle — it's been a while since she had given thought to Astor's father, who everyone kind of knew as not dead, but believed it anyway. Just another reason to call herself a coward, she supposes.

"If he's anything like anyone of us who love you," she says, "it won't matter. I could— "

She tips her head, offer turning shy. "My ability — I could help you settle in, if you like. With your memories, in your dreams."

Eileen’s finger traces patterns on the counter, leaving bloody smears in the shapes of birds. If it hurts, her expression does not betray the pain; her face wears a more tranquil mask. “Thank you,” she says, which could be interpreted as either a yes or a no, except there’s a note of affirmation in her tone that points toward the former. Then: “I’d like that.”

She has no desire to bury her counterpart’s memories so deep that they become inaccessible to her, but she imagines it would be nice to be able to always distinguish between what belongs to her soul and what belongs to the body it presently inhabits.

Less uncertainty. Fewer nightmares.

Without raising her eyes, she begins the outline of a wolf mixed in among the gory flock. She gives it eyes, ears, teeth.

“There’s something else you could do for me.”

Jasmine feels the urge to fix minor wounds come and go — in dreams, that's not exactly how it works, and Eileen is already painting in the blood. Her own hands clasp together, lax on the countertop, and between the loose gaps of her long fingers, a butterfly squeezes itself out to perch on a knuckle, its bright wings kept demurely folded.

She touches it with one gentle finger, like you're not supposed to do.

She tips her head.

"What's that?"

“Gabriel,” Eileen starts, and the name sounds strange to her own ears when she says it out loud. She has few people to talk to about him in Providence, and even fewer reasons to if she’s to preserve her disguise of a dead woman’s skin.

“Would you—” she tries, but falters. Then: “I just want to know.”

If he’s alive, she means. With Molly Walker buried in the ground, Jasmine is the only person Eileen knows who can answer that question, regardless of its answer.

Jasmine nods, slowly. If she's nervous at the prospect, it isn't betrayed in posture, expression, voice when she eventually speaks. It might be betrayed in the gust of wind that throws rain hard against the windows, or the condensation on the other side of the glass coming down in jagged trickles.

"Okay," she says. "Sure. Is there, um."

Her hands part from the tangle of her fingers, and the butterfly readjusts accordingly. "Is there something I should say to him? Or show him."

There are lots of things Eileen would like to tell Gabriel. All of them would be extremely unfair for her to speak through Jasmine’s lips.

She considers her options with the same quiet intensity she shows the blood beginning to dry under the crescent whites of her nails.

Something in a code that only Gabriel and Jasmine might be able to interpret, she decides, because she’s a very private person who is presently unaware of what has become of Delia Ryans or the shadow of Hokuto Inchihara.

“Tell him,” she says, her dominant hand coming to rest flat upon the bartop, “that mother cuckoos are resourceful little birds.”

Jasmine nods, maybe just now thinking of the unwieldiness of all she has agreed to do and all she has offered, and so her agreement is made silently and implicitly. Her eyes go down to Eileen's bloodied hand, not very concerned for the injury, the potential pain of it, but she reaches out anyway, the object being to hold on.

The butterfly is already in the air, fluttering, landing on Eileen's bare arm.

"Is it safe?" Jasmine asks. "For me to find you?"

Eileen’s fingers curl around Jasmine’s.

“The pines,” she says. “Follow the Oswego into the dark until the river grows slow and fat. There’s an old tunnel that yawns open. Let it swallow you whole and I’ll find you on the other side.”

She doesn’t say yes because it isn’t ever really safe — not if Jasmine abides by the word’s traditional meaning, but the dreamwalker comes from a place and time in which its definition is extremely loose.


The dream disintegrates, and Eileen feels herself falling backwards as if the gravity of the room had changed. The last tangible thing she feels is Jasmine's hand, gentle around her own, the soft tickle of insect legs crawling over her wrist. The Argentinean tavern is gone, and so is any physical sense of self, sense of up or down, sense of anything as lucidity explodes from her mind like the seeds of a dandelion.

Firm ground, underfoot. The scent of rain. The photographs, papering the stone wall, and one in her hand of Ethan Holden on his motorbike.

Eileen is alone at this memorial, and her eyes catch on the faces of those been and gone. There are more, now. Joshua Harrison's smiling face dipping into the frame of an old polaroid, a blurrier background image of Calvin Sheridan's haughty profile. Another photograph, this time of a woman that Eileen doesn't recognise, dark hair and tan skin. Another, and her memory offers up the quiet Hannah Kirby, or Sumter, an adult and itching her nose, obscuring her face. Kincaid Russo is handsome and clean cut, standing stiffly.

And others. More than she can remember. Familiarity draws her in, and she sees her own moon-white face, and her long arms wrapped around two little boys (back when they didn't know any better, anyway), one younger than the other, but both with tousled black hair.

At the edge of the river, the tree line is free of wolves. For now.

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