eileen_icon.gif francois_icon.gif

Scene Title Monstrous
Synopsis Francois leaves his room at the Garden to explore its grounds in the frosty morning haze. He's caught in the act by Eileen, who mistakes his curiosity for flight and implores him to stay.
Date November 15, 2009

The Garden

It's cold enough that come morning, frost will crust the grass and window panes. Towards the east, the sky has gone a slightly lighter shade of whale-skin grey, indicating that dawn will begin. But not for some time.

The Garden's cottage is dark and quiet, most of everyone asleep save for one. He'd gone out via the window, not out of some adolescent impression that he had to escape, but to minimise the sound of his own foot steps creaking through the listing building. Francois' bare feet had found icy cold soil and tangling brush immediately beneath his window, but fortunately it was the ground storey anyway. Minor discomfort was dismissed, even when he'd gained a leaking scratch on his ankle for his trouble.

Which he can't heal. The thought is pushed out of his mind as easily as the itchy laceration, and wandering foot steps had— not taken him very far. Rather than travel beyond the unknown, Francois moves, now, around the perimeter of the iron, ivy-wrapped bars that fence off the property. His numbered fingers wander it, looking for all the world like the inpatient that got away in comfortable sleep pants and a borrowed T-shirt hanging from his torso, shoulders slack.

A male bluebird alights on the iron fencepost, its vibrant plumage flashing muted periwinkle in the looming dawn. Bright orange stains its chest and throat, much more garish and colourful than the female equivalent of its species. Brittle blacks legs the width of bobby pins hold its body aloft as it curls clawed feet around metal and cants its head to peer down at Francois with glittering eyes and an inquisitive expression on its plump little face. There's a beetle clasped in its beak, which it hastily snaps back before letting out a shrill warble to announce its presence — or perhaps alert someone else to his.

"I can see why Kazimir had such a difficult time tracking you down," says a voice from behind the Frenchman in a soft, lilting accent that resembles the bird's trill call. Whoever the speaker is, they are distinctly British. "You don't stay in one place for very long, do you?"

The bird is watched with all the vague interest of someone who doesn't expect more than a bird to be peeping through tiny black eyes, Francois' hands sealing around the cold iron as he peers up at the creature for the time it takes to make that shrill cry. It splits the silence enough for the lines at his eyes to deepen in a wince, although he doesn't truly expect the presence of another until he hears it. Rather than twisting around all the way, Francois only glances over one cotton-clad shoulder, before his hands release from the fence.

"He did not spend that much time tracking me down. Only towards the end." The last decade and change, which, to many, would probably count as a fair amount of time.

He shivers, once, in the chill, his arms coming to cross over his midsection which had been bleeding so liberally early that same evening. Not now, however, the barest traces of scars on soft skin as if a hunting knife had never driven through it three times. "You call him Kazimir."

A pinprick of ruby-coloured light gives the speaker's position away. It also illuminates the shape of her slender face, pale eyes bright and alert in spite of the early hour. Dressed in a woolen coat, cashmere scarf and a pair of leather gloves, Eileen Ruskin wasn't at the Garden when Abigail left it, but she's here now — a lit cigarette hanging loose from the corner of her mouth and moving with it as her lips purse to form words. "He was my dziadzio," she explains. "I think the word for it in your language is pépère. Not by blood, of course. His ability made it impossible for him to be intimate with anyone, so he had to collect his family instead."

She removes the cigarette from her mouth, blowing thin tendrils of sweet-smelling silver smoke from her nostrils. "I wanted to thank you for reaffirming my beliefs when no one else would listen." Which is a strange thing to say, especially for someone Francois had never met until a few hours ago. She's reaching into the interior of her coat with her other hand, though it isn't to pull a knife or pistol on him as he might expect from a member of the Vanguard, former or otherwise. "Here," she says. "I have something that belongs to you."

Why she would help bring him forward to slay him on soil a decade and a half later, Francois does not know. But that doesn't stop his eyes tracking the movement of her hand, flicking between it and what he can see of her eyes. After Deckard's very assertive entrance into Francois' life, he can expect just about anything. There is confusion, as well, but only behind the stoicism for the idea that he affirmed anything for a woman he doesn't know.

He remembers her saying that the nineties were before her time. Kazimir's family. Despite himself, despite all of that, he takes a step closer towards her as wind tugs at slightly damp hair, pulls at cotton and wool. The tracks of needles are still in his bared arms, Deckard having withdrawn his power before the blood IV could be.

Eileen offers Francois his journal, unchanged by time, its leather cover as smooth to the touch as it was when he last held it in his hands. "I wanted to keep it for myself," she says of the memoir. "Did, actually. For a long time. All I had left of him were somebody else's words in a book."

The cigarette is flicked to the ground and snubbed out beneath the toe of her boot. If it weren't for the beads of moisture clinging to the grass as dew, she would never do this anywhere but the pavement — and even so, she kicks it into a sodden pile of mulch and trash rather than leave it in the open. "I think I was afraid that sharing it would diminish the value of what was written. Ask anyone and they'll tell you he was a monster. Even I was telling people that, and I loved him."

Not a naturally expressive person, save for a few select emotions, Eileen will have to guess as to the surprise written on Francois' face, which is obscured as it is in the darkness of still coming dawn. It only takes him a moment before another step forward carries him near enough, bare feet sinking into the dewy, cold grass, hands out for the journal. His palm skims familiarly over the leather cover, the tassel attached, before he opens the pages. This is where age begins to show, but he doesn't pay it much attention.

"I sold these." He glances up at her, then back down towards his own practiced penmanship. "When they were old enough to be worth anything at all. It was not often that they'd be taken."

But it was, and has found its way, somehow, back into his hands. "I cannot imagine that anyone ever really knew him. Only what he did. Volken was the same way." The journal is tucked into the fold of his arms, kept cosy against his chest where residual warmth from being in Eileen's coat is leeched. "He was monstrous, but a man."

Whatever else Eileen might have said on the subject of Kazimir Volken is lost around a rueful smile. She's quiet, listening to the thrushes in the trees as they begin to stir and join the stalwart little bluebird in the waking world. From here, it's impossible to detect the rumble of early morning traffic all the way over on the mainland — this is something that makes Staten Island unique and cannot be said of any of the other boroughs that make up New York City. Grisly reputation aside, it fills the space between them with a dark kind of calmness, utterly still but for rustling branches and the whisper of waves crashing up against distant shores.

She holds out her hand for the bluebird, coaxing it from its perch on the fence to her index finger's bony knuckle with a small, almost imperceptible gesture of her wrist. It flutters soundlessly down, hooks barbed toes into the leather of her glove like a miniature falcon. "I hope you aren't planning on going anywhere dressed like that. You don't even have any shoes."

His head goes down, chin tipping to chest as he regards his own feet, numb mostly to the dirt and grass. When he looks up again, a smile manages to slice across his face, for the first time since their conversation, or even for as long as they've known each other in the flesh. "Non, I do not. I was going no further than the fence. There are more than a thousand miles between Louisiana and New York, est-ce que tu sais que? I don't think I have to travel for a while. That is not counting the years. I was enjoying the cold."

Although his stiff huddle from it would dictate that his body says otherwise. Francois isn't rushing to get such practicalities, however. When you've never had a cold, or lasting frostbite, what's a little discomfort? Instead, he stares at the bird on her hand curiously, but he doesn't ask right away. Instead—

"I met Volken in Germany. I was his prisoner, he was a scientist. We were never family, but I believe he is capable of having some. How did you do that?"

If Eileen is relieved to hear that Francois isn't leaving — and she is — then it doesn't show on her face. Shadows distort her features, making it difficult to pick out the visual cues that point to a single emotion. "You and Kazimir had the power to give and take life. Mine allows me to communicate with birds. I'm lucky that it made me as valuable to him as it did, or he might not've let me live long enough to get attached."

She brings the bluebird to her shoulder and nudges it off her finger with a brush of her nose. Its wings quiver against her cheek, sending ripples of trembling motion through the wispy curls of dark brown hair that frame her face. "Abigail will tell you everything if she hasn't already — she's the one who killed him, using your ability." Then, "What does that mean? Est-ce que tu sais que?"

There is uncertain silence, incredulity at the prospect of someone who can talk to birds, despite— well. Everything. But it breaks after a moment of watching the bird and the girl, uneasy acceptance settling numb inside him as he tips his chin up a little, eyes hooded. There's a lot of catching up to do. "I've only ever met healers, prophets and time travelers," Francois says, with some apology in his voice. "And it means, 'did you know?'"

If he's ever made such a journey himself, making it so that he did know, he doesn't elaborate. "Abigail told me about Volken's death, and then what came after. I do not know what to think. My ability served Hiro's purpose, but it did not end it as I would have ended it. But then, had I not given it at all, Abigail would not have had it to know to come back to me— "

And he stops. No wonder he's not sleeping, a hand coming up to rub at his face as he mutters, "merde," into his palm.

Eileen knows what that means. "There are thousands of people like us, all across the globe. Healers, prophets, time travelers, bird and insect whisperers, men and women who can hold fire in their hands without being burned, others who can understand how an object works just by looking at it— I once knew someone who could turn his body into shadow, and he was in no way unique. A few years ago, the heart of New York City was razed to the ground by one of our people. It was like the entire world opened its eyes overnight."

She slips her hands into her coat pockets, the tips of her ears and nose flushed pink by the cold. Cheeks, too — raw and rosy, mottled in places like quail's eggshell painted in pale shades of coral and cerise. "Everyone is afraid," she says finally, as if these three words explained everything and are all Francois needs to know. "They should be."

"And that part," Francois says, once more with a smile that puts lines in his face that have nothing to do with age, "is the part I know. Everything else is very strange. The world changed more in a decade and a half than it did for me in thirty years." Despite the quiet curse of before, he doesn't seem bitter about this, if only because he's had only so long to grapple with it. "Or so it would seem. Tell me—

"Did you save me out of kindness, or for a function?"

"The world needs more people like you in it, Francois. You and Abigail. Pastor Sumter, who you haven't met yet." The bluebird fluffs its feathers against the breeze and leans its flank into Eileen's cheek for warmth. "I saved you because I was asked," she tells him, "but also because I wanted to. Sibyls are singing songs about the end of the world again, and our city's prophets seem to believe that the Vanguard is somehow involved in what's shaping up to be some sort of nuclear holocaust. If they're right—"

She lets that hang in the air along with the opaque fog of her breath. When that dissipates, so does the silence. "You knew Kazimir better than anyone, even those of us who stood by him. I don't want to put all my faith in what people are saying, but I'm not stupid enough to discount it entirely either." Not anymore, at least.

He gives a soft chuckle. "I had almost hoped you'd have simply answered 'out of kindness'," Francois notes, and he begins to move back for the cottage - his own window, too, rather than the front door, following his own invisible foot steps through the grass. "And I could get some rest. But that wouldn't have lasted long. So— "

A pause, then, before he can quite pass her. The journal is more or less forgotten in his hands, despite clutching it close. "Thank you. I will have more questions, soon."

Queedle~, says the bluebird. Tur-ee, tur-ee. It launches off Eileen's shoulder in a flurry of abrupt motion, either startled by Francois' movements or summoned back to its nest by its less remarkable-looking mate. With all the competition for roosts this time of year, it can't afford to be gone for more than a few minutes at a time lest the Garden's starlings and house sparrows take over in his absence. The young woman watches him go without complaint, verbal or otherwise, then shifts her gaze back to Francois and the journal he holds in his hands.

"I will, too," she says by way of farewell. "As soon as I can remember them. Abigail knows where to find me if you need anything else."

His fingers tap against leather book cover, and judges that all that's needed to be said once he shares with her a nod. Showing her his shoulder, Francois quietly moves back towards the cottage, disappearing around the brick wall corner to climb back into his room with as much grace as unadmitted fatigue permits him.

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