Of Our Era


constantine_icon.gif francois_icon.gif

Scene Title Of Our Era
Synopsis Following the recommendation of a friend, Francois meets fellow veteran Constantine, who provides a solution to a lingering problem.
Date June 23, 2010

The Old Apothecary

One part traditional druggist's and one part antique shop, the Old Apothecary does not number among the brightly-lit boutiques that sell similar but more common items at an inflated cost. Lights are intentionally kept low, providing a subdued, intimate atmosphere and a warm glow designed to illuminate the store's wares without banishing the shadows to the far corners of the room. Just to the right of the entrance is a wooden counter with a sign hanging from it that reads: Cash Only. There is no digital register, no accompanying card reader. Apart from the electricity that powers the overhead lights, the most contemporary piece of equipment in the entire store is the French coffee press and unpolished steel carafe, though even this looks as though it could have come from a different era. Coffee is advertised at sixty cents per cup.

The walls - papered in dark green with widely spaced, thin vertical columns of tiny, deep red rosebuds - are lined with shelves made from wood stained a dark brown to match the floorboards, which are haphazardly covered by a collection of faded, Persian-patterned rugs. Many of these shelves are home to a variety of books spanning at least one and a half centuries, ranging from dusty old tomes to more modern reading material that includes a small selection of New Age titles published by respectable authors, all of it non-fiction. Others display glass bottles containing essential oils, jars with more exotic contents - snake wine, roasted crickets and dried tree lizards - as well as small tins of loose leaf teas, painted ceramic bowls, cups and pitchers, although there appears to be no particular ordering to any of it. Beneath these shelves are rows of apothecary cabinets, labeled but locked, their drawers acting as storage for herbs, seeds, roots and other ingredients that the shop's proprietor values enough to keep inaccessible to customers.

Most of the store's floor space is occupied by other goods that have either been specially imported or acquired from flea markets, the quality of which varies from very low to extremely high depending on the nature of the individual item. A selection of pocket watches, ladies' jewelry, fine silver and war medals stands behind glass. One corner features a stack of vibrantly-coloured rugs from Turkey and Iran, another a bin of glass plate negatives, old postcards and water-stained letters still in their envelopes, some dating back to the First World War and in languages other than English. Ornate oil paintings, antique swords, knives and firearms, perfume bottles and decanters of every shape and size imaginable, boxes of brass and silver keys that unlock nothing - the store's collection is constantly changing as new items are purchased and sold by the owner.

Behind the counter is a velvet curtain that divides the front of the store from the back, public from private, and in case anyone should be tempted to cross this barrier without permission, a small monkey skeleton standing on a bird's perch inside an iron cage keeps watch.

It's Francois' logic that there won't be so many people willing to get up as early in the morning as he is, although if he's ever since a crowd at the Old Apothecary at any time of day when walking by, he certainly doesn't recall. Despite the summer, the morning air is biting enough for a black leather jacket, woolen collar pushed down and drawn over his sensible, neutrally coloured clothing, the sun hidden far east behind a smoggy veil of cloud. Pushing open the door, Francois' eyes immediately track for a store occupant, only to get distracted by the display within.

So different to the bright, sterile lights of modern storoes, the slightly old world bent of the interior has his attention, moving on in a little further without regard to the figure of the keeper at the counter as green eyes roam curiously over antiques, book spines and flea market debris alike.

It's not a secret when Constantine Filatov is no longer alone in his shop, and it is with a quiet glance away from his book that he regards his visitor. First time coming in, definitely. With this in mind, the man inserts his bookmark and rises up from his chair. "Early riser," he remarks, "I was beginning to think no one would ever come in this early in the morning. I've been proven wrong." With a simple gesture, Constantine the steel carafe further down the counter, asking of Francois, "Coffee?" First impressions are everything, as much the one Constantine leaves as the one that his potential customer will.

His attention sharply jerking from the tea selection lining the shelf towards the sound of someone's voice, Francois doesn't— so much look startled as he does politely surprised. Maybe he thought Constantine would be older than he appears. That expression is banished by an easy smile, his right hand splaying once in quiet refusal before it comes to grip over his left hand, but rather than shyly return to perusing the goods that the store has to offer, Francois moves on over. "You are Constantine Filatov?

"We have a mutual friend named Eileen. She said I should come by here. Pardon, you're not entirely what I expected." For all that his manner of speaking has a stilted formality, he sounds mostly American, just certainly no native. Other oddities would include the piece seemingly taken out of his ear as some old injury, the slight ripple of scarring over his throat near hidden by his collar, for all that he probably doesn't seem like the type to get in a great deal of violence.

"Oh, yes, Eileen!" Like magic, almost, Constantine's spirits have risen higher still. "I haven't seen her in some time. Nearly a month, I would say. I trust that she's well? Although I just admit it's not often she directs her other friends, or even acquaintances here. Perhaps she just wanted to surprise you in some way? It seems to have worked." It's impossible for Constantine not to notice Francois' 'owies.' Once a doctor, always a doctor. It may be just as impossible for Francois to not notice that Constantine is, likewise, not a native speaker of English, although he has clearly had more time to smooth out any 'discrepancies' in his tone and pronounciation.

It may be just as impossible still for Francois' to not notice that he and Constantine are not the shop's sole occupants. Or so he might guess, given the snorting and sniffing that comes from near his shoes as the ever-ancient Ranger finally inserts himself into the conversation in the only way a bulldog can: Loudly.

Ahh dogs. Francois' distaste is, as ever, a politely veiled thing, but dog owners know, as do many dogs. A flicker of a distracted glance downwards, before he's studying Constantine again, the lines at his eyes deepening a little in a smile at the response the connection gains. "She seems to believe that you might be able to help me," he says, reserve lacing his voice, and almost instinctively listing into a different subject. "Although I had hoped she would see you before I did — she is not so well, I'm afraid, and might require a second opinion."

His hand waves briskly, not so much to dismiss the issue, but to excuse himself of laying it on so early in the conversation. "I suspect she has the Evolved virus, in any case. She will see you about it, I think, when she is ready to."

With them mention of what Eileen may be ailing from, the smile vanishes from Constantine's face. "I don't think that she will," he replies, "She has a bad habit of, underestimating the breadth of my knowledge." No sense keeping it a direct secret: If Francois does not know about the 'additional' services Constantine provides, he's bound to find out sooner or later. "I may have to visit her myself. Which I will do after I've given her the customary length of time to come to her senses, however rarely she does. You, however, I believe I can help more immediately."

Dogs get it, and Ranger must get it as well. A few seconds of sniffing and snorting, and he turns around and ambles back around the counter to his cushy and warm bed. Fit for a king (if only a very small king. Napoleon-sized, perhaps).

Francois only silently nods his approval of Constantine taking a more direct approach, rueful amusement fading as the conversation turns back to the reasons behind his arrival. "Oui, perhaps," he agrees, nerves showing briefly in his hesitation before he almost laughs at himself, just a quiet snort, and he extends out his left hand to show. As opposed to the superficial scarring more readily visible, what's happened here is a slightly deeper problem, with white scars branch out from the join of index finger and middle, those fingers set slightly askew on knuckles that seem both broken and healed.

It probably hurts. "But then, I do not know the breadth of your knowledge either. The only hint Eileen provided me was that you may lower the price of a consultation if I were to mention that I am a veteran of the same war as you," he says, words careful and a little reluctant, as if fearing he misunderstood something.

Now, Francois doubly has Constantine's attention. His hand drew nothing short of a lock of abject shock. After all, what on earth could have caused such an injury? But when the mention of war surfaces, it is with careful, scrutinizing eyes that one doctor looks back to the other with. For several moments, Constantine studies Francois, and then casts a quick glance towards the door before he focuses forward again. "I wonder how you reacted," he begins, "When the fascists occupied your home?" Far from establishing his allegiance in 'the war,' at least he has told Francois who his enemy was.

Hand retracting just a little, his right hand settles over his crooked left in a comfortable join that's become more or less instinctive now. At the question, Francois' mouth twists ruefully. "Not well," is how he puts it, right set of fingers splaying briefly in gesture. "I was a healer, for the resistance, and eventually the Allied. In more recent years, my power has left me, but not without granting me some measure of longevity, so." So. "I have not met anyone…"

And that trails off into uncertainty, glancing down at his hand again. "Ah, this was a more recent injury than it looks. It was only a bullet wound, but a man who has a gift like I had, he healed it wrongly." Succinct, Francois shrugs, and casts another curious and sweeping look over Constantine. "Et toi? You must have a story also."

"Everyone has a story," Constantine replies, slightly less on edge now that he is assured, apparently, that Francois was not a fascist himself, "I was a Soviet, and the rest I prefer to keep to myself." Nothing good, seemingly. "But, your hand. May I see it again?"

Francois certainly isn't going to push, even if it might delay what seems inevitable to him. Still, there is no hesitation behind pushing back his sleeve and inch and holding out his hand fully between them, his fingers at a lax and loose curl, the knuckles turned for the ceiling. Beneath all the exaggerated scarring and unnecessary damage, it's probably not hard to see where the bullet would have entered, catching snugly between knuckles.

With the practiced precision of a medical professional, Constantine takes the Frenchman's hand in both of his, giving it a careful look, manipulating the fingers to assess the extent of the damage. "And the bullet was removed, correct?" he asks seriously, "If it wasn't, you will need surgery. Perhaps not much surgery, but some."

"Non, it was removed," Francois confirms with a quick nod. "It had a few days of no interference before it was— " He nods down at the hand, more watching what Constantine does with it rather than meet the eyes of the other— older?— man. There's overt tension in the sit of his shoulders, in his sharp attention, and his breathing hitches mildly when Constantine urges his fingers to curl inwards. "It is painful to hold things for very long. I was a surgeon," he adds, which, for a fellow doctor, is a self-explanatory problem — if only half truthful.

A sigh escapes Constantine's lips. "I understand your pain all the more clearly, then," he says, "A doctor lives by the use of his hands. Doctors of our era, at least. Hold still. This will probably hurt. A lot." Allowing Francois' fingers to rest as they will and sandwiching the hand they are attached to between both of his, the ex-Soviet draws in a deep breath and calmly stops the clock, the change in the flow of time signaled by little more than the momentary lapse of feeling in the Frenchman's hand. An instant later, feeling returns as the clock is rewound, although it's a feeling alien to anyone unaccustomed to experiencing time moving in any direction but forward.

Rather that an abstraction based on elapsed time, Constantine instead relies on appearances to tell him when enough is enough. Old feelings return, eventually, as Francois' hand takes on the aches he experienced when his last healing when horrifically wrong. Scars begin to shrink and recede, his knuckles feel perhaps that they've been broken a second time as they move back to where they should have been all along, and perhaps most terrifying of all, the feeling of a bullet being inserted gingerly into his hand and then 'fired' from between the bones inside of it: The original event played in reverse. And then, time slows and stops for a second time… and then restarts, the metaphysical clocking once more saying 'tick, tick,' as the former Soviet, Francois' half-ally on the other front, removes his hands.

"Like it never happened."

It does hurt. A lot. Some nearby wooden structure shudders as Francois' right hand comes down upon it to steady himself, eyes going momentarily wide at that initial feeling of breakage, as white-hot and jarring as the first mis-healing had been, before squeezing shut. All the same, his hand remains patient and still within Constantine's clasp, if knotted with tension that makes steel of his shifting bones and tendons standing against his skin.

He gives a groan at that sickly feeling of a bullet extraction in reverse, silencing when the pressure is abruptly alleviated with a jolt from shoulder to wrist. Already pale face gone pallid, he steals back his hand as quickly as Constantine says it's okay, breathing shallower and that prior worry now unveiled, anxious as his right hand comes to loosely grip his left.

Smooth skin is tested with a brush of a thumb, before he does what would have pained him before now — simply makes a fist of his left, the lack of sharp strain almost as shocking. "Ah— oui. What was that?" It's rude, to not be instantly grateful— which he is, but eclipsed by simply wanting to know the trick, his question mild but stare demanding when he turns it back up to Constantine.

"The man who deformed you had his tricks," Constantine replies blasely, shutting his eyes briefly and then opening them again- even with as many years of practice as he's had, it's no small matter bronco-busting the space-time continum- "That was one of mine. A sort of, reset button, if you will."

His right hand investigates the left in almost the same manner that Constantine did, less respectful and less thorough in that he has a shortcut by owning the limb. The explanation, despite his adament desire to hear it, is nearly unheard by the time Francois finally allows for a smile — a grin, even.

"It is a fantastic trick," he says, looking up again, demeanor abruptly bright from the subdued, almost hazy mood with which he'd entered the shop, expecting nothing at all. "Thank you. I don't entirely know what I could owe you— but I do."

"Eto nichego, tovarishch," the time manipulator says, hand raised with the palm facing forward to say 'no,' "It's nothing. So many these days say they hate fascism. How many of us are left who raised arms against it? Not so many left, now. Soon, it will just be you and me, and eventually, just me. We have to watch out for each other while we still can." It's a sly sort of smile that he gives to Francois as he points finger towards the wall.

"That tea you were eying earlier? That still has a price, no matter who you raised arms against."

Both hands— symmetrical, functional, these simple things easily taken for ganted— splay together in a gesture of perish the other, Francois' smile much easier lit now. "Je comprends — perhaps next time I come here." He doesn't do shy very well — reserved, considerate, quiet, these things apply, but true self-consciousness is left to romance-related situations, and even then— not often. So his hesitation is less that, more thoughtful, before he offers; "I would like to come back, some time. There would be other things to talk about that do not involve the war — and I am surrounded by young people."

And now, Constantine laughs. A hearty, friendly laugh. "That is our curse, friend," he says, "The older you are, the fewer people you have to talk to. And the less the people around you seem to know. Next time, then, if not now. The shop isn't going anywhere, so long as I can help it.

"But are you sure you wouldn't like some crickets for the road?"

There is a hesitation, where Francois might linger after all, a darting look taking in his surroundings before mirth makes lines at his eyes and he shakes his head, attention back towards the other man as he rocks a step backwards. "Ah non. I'm allergic." In the end, it's the burning desire to show off that makes his decision for him, along with putting forward something of a recommendation. "I will come back. Thank you, very much.

"If you see Eileen before I do, you can extend my gratitude to her too." And with that, Francois is casting one more near brilliant smile before headed for the door.

"I shall." Although Francois is leaving, Constantine doesn't move to follow him. It would make sense, the shopkeep staying behind the shop counter. "Travel safe," the Russian finishes, thinking to add one last tidbit to the conversation: "Viva." Turns out there are more revolutionaries in New York than he initially thought.

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