New Beginnings


eileen_icon.gif francois_icon.gif

Scene Title New Beginnings
Synopsis Francois and Eileen share a table at the mess hall, and Francois asks her to hold onto his journal for him.
Date January 11, 2010

USS George Washington

"May I join you?"

Polite words interrupt a solitary meal, close enough to break through the noise of cutlery and conversation plaguing the populated mess hall. Francois doesn't immediately sit down, the question genuine in its asking for permission, though his shadow spills readily over the moderately clean table. He holds a tray, sectioned off into its fragmented meal, thogh in truth he's not very hungry — just knows he should eat, and instinct of his to always get sustenance when one can. You don't know when you'll get it again, or when it will be snatched away from you. The threat of that is diminished by his very mundane genetics, but old habits die hard.

He's not dressed like a Naval soldier. The loose-knit blue woolen sweater worn over grey cotton visible through its links is informal and not one hundred percent practical, though the jacket pulled over it. Jeans are more blue, making green eyes seem duller, and one hand is tightly bandaged and helping balancing the tray with his palm as opposed to his fingers.

Like Francois, the young woman seated alone at the table doesn't fit in with the uniformed masses gathered around them in small, drab flocks of light brown and contrasting cobalt and steel blues. A pale gray sweater brings out the green in her eyes and the rosy cast of her pastel-toned skin while a pair of wool stockings, a knee-length black skirt and unremarkable flats on her small feet identify her as one of the USS George Washington's civilian passengers.

Of course, the Frenchman already knew that. Eileen doesn't belong here any more than he does. Her lips form a smile around the rim of the porcelain mug she's holding to her mouth. "Of course," she says as she lowers it, careful not to spill any of the steaming liquid it contains as she places it adjacent to her tray and the half-eaten meal spread across her plate. "Please."

Kicking out the chair with an ankle, a polite scrape of its legs against the floor, Francois sets down his tray opposite her as opposed to somewhere more discreetly down the length of the table, and the missing bite of his ear is only attention-snagging if it's looked for, if he turns his head to evaluate the room which he does, briefly, picking out familiar faces. Eileen's among them, and he doesn't say much at first as he picks up cutlery, saws into steak that hasn't gone grey if overcooked. His movements are awkward, but awkwardness is concealed in a sort of practiced way, the fingers of his left hand refusing to work the way God intended.

"You do not have many friends here either?" he asks, glancing up towards her along with his inquiry, tone of voice taking any particular jab out of it.

Eileen's eyes flick between Francois' face and his hand, swallowtail-swift, a twitch of movement so quick that it's likely to go unnoticed if he blinks at the wrong time. Until recently, she was experiencing similar difficulties with a mangled wrist. Now, though, her arm is bare beneath her sweater's sleeve, splint and gauze discarded at some point during the last few days. Only a few bruises and the thick black stitches above her eye remain visible, half-hidden by loose curls of dark brown hair made wispy and wild by her time above deck.

"None that are in any mood to speak with me," she says, her smile taking on a rueful quality as she frees her fingers from the mug's grip. "Or maybe they just aren't hungry. It isn't their fault."

He smiles with his eyes, generic sympathy that isn't not genuine, and sympathetic in the traditional definition of the word too — he can understand that. And his own gaze ticks on over towards her injuries, swift like a flea hops from area to area before he focuses on his food and eats as he came here to do. Conversation continues amicably, if ignorantly. "It is a large boat," Francois says, green eyes down and half-smile wry, "and I almost forgot that you would be aboard it, as you stayed for a time in the medical bay when you first arrived, I believe. I'd have come to see you then but there was much on my mind. You are recovering well?"

She searches her memory for Francois' face but uncovers nothing except for the smell of old parchment, the feel of a rawhide tie pinched between her fingers and a few lines from a poem by e.e. cummings. Each is a part that belongs to a larger puzzle — unfortunately, she lacks enough pieces to begin fitting them together into something that resembles a familiar identity. What In Time of Daffodils has to do with the man sitting across from her is a complete mystery.

Eileen chases a baby potato from one side of her plate to the other, skewers it with the point of her fork and dips it in a generous dollop of what looks like steak sauce but has the consistency of watery ketchup. "I'm not in any pain," is the answer she supplies Francois before popping the potato into her mouth and washing it down with a sip of her drink. The sodden bag of loose leaves bleeding into her paper napkin suggests that it's tea. A tag attached to a short length of white string stained brown confirms it. "Where were you assigned?"

"Russia," Francois says, steering peas onto the lump of meat and mashing them down with the flat of his knife. If there's a puzzle to figure out, he doesn't know about it — if he did, he'd make efforts to make his words make more sense. Probably. Or perhaps veer away from it altogether, pick up his dinner and go and allow things to remain the way they are. Then again, that's not entirely his style. He spears steak, switching fork from left to right to do so, shrugging his shoulders. "Because I had known some things of the Vanguard there, I think — outdated things. So you were right about that.

"Wrong about my knowing Kazimir," he adds, with a glance towards her, some question going unvoiced but occurring to him in that moment, even before he'd made a point to seek out Eileen Ruskin.

"Grigori," Eileen says in quiet understanding. "Yvette and Sasha, too. I'm sorry." She lays her fork down on the lip of her plate, appetite suitably suppressed, and returns her full attention to her mug. No steam rises from the liquid — it's long since gone lukewarm. Although Francois has no way of knowing what's going through her head, or even how long she's been sitting at the table by herself, the shape her brows make is a troubled one.

Her eyes lift from her reflection in the tea to the line at the kitchen, searching for dark heads of hair, heads with no hair — any sign that she might be able to use to excuse herself from the discussion now that she knows she possesses a history, however short, with the man she's conversing with. No such luck. Wherever the other members of the Remnant are, it isn't here.

"How was I wrong?" she asks.

If Francois senses her discomfort, it's without context, without assumption. Probably they could all use a break from talking about their situation, and he has the decency to lose his appetite as well, setting down a fork and letting his fingers link together beneath his chin, awkward though it may be. He doesn't look for Team Charlie to draw him away and leave the girl in peace, just considers her question. "He has taken control over this situation, to undo his mistakes. But I suppose that if I am to claim to know him as you did, then, this shouldn't be such a surprise. But it does — so you were wrong. I do not know him as well as we both thought."

He didn't grab a drink, himself, though his mind drifts to one of three bottles of white rum Teo had smuggled onto the carrier, mouth quirking into a half-smile, wistful. "Where did you go?"

"Antananarivo," Eileen says. "Madagascar. I thought I knew someone — it turns out you aren't the only one who isn't the best judge of moral character." She could be referring to Gabriel. More likely, she speaks of Rasoul. Her thumb traces the rim of her mug, nail dark where dirt has become wedged beneath it during her last trip to Marion Island, though this isn't something a good scrubbing with a bristle brush under some hot water won't fix. The young woman's hands are clean, at least, and smell faintly of sea breeze and lavender soap.

"They've promised me a pardon," she continues. "A fresh start in exchange for my help with the Vanguard. I haven't decided what I'll do with it yet."

There's not much to say to that. Francois has lost some of his more verbose habits— starting from being jerked into 2009 and hop-skipping over the 2010 mark, passing a birthday marker for the first time in a long time that might signify age as opposed to a second glance, and now here. The world moves much faster than he remembers it to, words flying away along with the shift of time. He also doesn't know Eileen, what she would like, where she should go, and ashy advice doesn't get granted the dignity of forming words. Instead, he stabs a potato, makes a half-hearted attempt at finishing his meal, before remembering. "Mm," he says, to command she wait a moment, injured hand going up to accompany it before he goes to unzip his jacket.

The journal he takes out from beneath it, tucked away beneath the protective fold of fabric, should be familiar. That it isn't goes missed. "I was wondering if you would keep this for me," he says, placing it down on the narrow stretch of table between trays. "As long as I have it, I keep going over it, but I cannot bring myself to throw it away either. Would you keep it a little longer?"

Eileen places her mug down on the table once more, desiring to use both hands when she reaches across and picks up the journal. Her fingers linger on the leather cover and revel in its texture which is both smooth and rough beneath her skin at the same time. The tie is briefly toyed with as her small, pink mouth adopts a more rueful expression. "Yes," she says without thinking, and opens the journal to skim the first few lines.

It's heartening to discover that her shadow memories are based in reality and not something invented by wishful thoughts. If there were any lingering suspicions about whether or not what Gabriel told her is true, they dissolve as she traces the scrawl with the tip of her left pinkie finger. "Thank you."

"This was the part where I thank you, actually," Francois points out, but nods his head to her words. A glance down at the unappealing dregs of his dinner seems excuse enough to leave her be, and so, politely, he stands up from his seat and picks up his tray, as awkward as it has to be and no more, no less. "But you're welcome. Good luck, Eileen, with your new beginning." And with that, he's pushing in his seat with a nudge from his thigh, heading towards the nearest waste receptacle for cold steak and the last scattering of peas.

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