Seeking Monsters



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Scene Title Seeking Monsters
Synopsis Francois deals with the difficulties of helping father a child who is not technically his — in a world where technicalities do not actually matter.
Date August 10, 2011

In Dreams

Twelve is a difficult age. No longer a child but not yet a teenager — it's a time when boys and girls are first realizing that they will soon be young men and women, and the only thing more important than what they are is discovering who.

For Walter Trafford, getting to know who he is means getting to know the world outside of his parents' influence. Exploring it even seemed a good idea at the time. Hands scraped and knuckles bound in bloodied gauze — the careful, tender work of Benji's mother — he sits on the subway platform with his long legs dangling over the concrete side and head bowed, chin tucked in tight against his collarbone. The mop of ginger hair on the top of his head is caked with so much dirt and grease that it appears more brown than it does red.

There are only two things he can be even remotely happy about. One: the layer of filth plastered to his skin also hides his freckles. (He hates his freckles.) And two: Francois is taking him home to his mother.

If he thought he could make a break for it and escape punishment, he would, but the boy knows he's being watched while he waits even though the station feels empty. After today, no one is going to leave him alone again for a very long time.

Soon, footsteps indicate that Walter isn't going to be alone— imagined or not— for long, as another presence makes obscure shadows in the strange light of the underground. Through the tunnel, boots avoiding the trecherous edges of the rails themselves, but moving as if he comes down here often, and Francois does, and has for years. His identification, for all that is it expired and useless to him, tells a story about how he's almost fifty, and looks it in a lean, physically fit kind of way, age becoming something that is honed and sharpened behind green eyes rather than yet turning him silver and grey and slow. He has, in other words, more youth than should strictly be afforded him.

All dusty leather and denim, his head ducks some as he spies Walter on the edge of the platform, his walk slowing, grit crunching underfoot and hands tucked into the pockets of his scarred jacket of ribbed wool and brown leather. His expression has settled into a sternness that is the usual, these days, all shadows and harder edges, although—

Although, fortunately for Walter, there is possibly a little irony in the tsk that follows at the sight of him.

Walter looks up enough to twist his head to his shoulder and confirm that the shadow is who he thinks it is. The tips of his fingers pick at the frayed edge of his bandage; his reluctance to slap his hands down on the cement and push himself to his feet has only a little to do with the physical pain it would cause.

He might stay sitting here forever if he could, and in a few years his ability might even allow him to do just that. His eyes dart back down to the hands in his lap and he thumps the heels of his sneakers against the platform itself, producing a sound that's louder than it would be in any other environment, but not quite the petulantly booming echo he was probably aiming for.

"I don't wanna go," he says.

"But look what happens," Francois points out, approaching in that slow manner that is less cautious, more liesured, "when you get what you want." This position means that Walter has some height to his advantage — Francois doesn't mind, for all that he isn't giving the child indulgent smiles and there-there's. Worry has scored at the lines at his eyes and settled a tension in his shoulders, and it shows, even to the somewhat limited reading comprehension of a twelve-year-old. Still, that doesn't stop the sliver of amusement that exhales through his nose, unable not to, when he is close enough to get another look at the boy.

Somewhere under there is a boy, anyway. Green eyes then swoop a sharp and needling gaze to the bandages, and that has Francois sealing approach — he moves forward in a sweeping, decisive step, his cleaner hands out to take Walter's bandaged ones to inspect. No dirt, hands always looked after, despite the defunct wedding ring, tarnished and marking on the appropriate(?) finger.

"Do you understand how much worry this has caused everyone?" he asks, his voice growing clipped.

Walter's hands flinch at the touch and he curls his fingers until he can feel his nails digging into his skin through the gauze. He makes a pained sound at the back of his throat in response. "Yes," he lies, and it's a lie only because a parent can understand the sort of worry he's caused today. Boys his age don't pretend to understand everything — they sincerely think that they do.

"Nobody got hurt," he adds, in case Francois missed the memo. "Just mad." He scrunches up his nose and lifts an arm to scrub at it with his sleeve. Apart from the bandages on his hands and a cut above his eyebrow that will heal without the assistance of stitches, he appears mostly unharmed and true to his word.

"It was an accident."

It's the dirt. The dirt and open wounds, these are things Francois is paranoid about — infection. Even back when he was a healer, there was little his healing hands could do for an illness that is blood-deep, tenacious, for all that they do have access to simple medicines and rubbing liquids that Walter will no doubt be exposed to.

But someone has seen to the cut at Walter's head, cleaned a streak on his skin, just as they've bandaged his hands, and there is little for Francois to do, medically speaking. He gives the boy the space he is entitled to, own hands withdrawing without conceding territory. "In my day," has to be said, has to be thrown out there on occasion, "you would have been beaten from head to toe for being so reckless, for putting your friends in danger. But I think leaving you with your mother will be even worse and stay with you much longer, ah?"

Still, he doesn't yet summon Walter to heel. "What is it out there that you wanted to see?"

On the subject of being beaten head to toe, Walter's face goes beet-coloured beneath the grime and he presses out a slow, uneven breath. His hands find the edge of the platform, levering him off it, and he drops down onto the tracks. A tear in the sweater he wears exposes another layer of fabric below it but not his skin. That will be sewn rather than replaced; getting rid of clothes when they start to come apart is a luxury no one in this part of New York City can afford anymore, much the same as it was in Francois' day.

Walter wipes off his palms on his jeans. "Eileen hit me," he tells Francois, jutting out his chin, and he sounds almost proud to say it. It is not quite the same as being beaten head to toe, but the boy is arrogant enough to assume it compares. Francois' question gives him pause, some humility, and he rolls his shoulders into an uncomfortable shrug.

"I dunno. Monsters."

"«And did you see any?»"

Francois is not making fun of the boy, when he asks that, even if it's an abrupt lesson and refresher in French. The world is full of monsters, really, from the human kind to the ones of steaming metal that he can only thank his own genetics have never turned their bright red stare to him, but have done so to his friends and peers. Backing up a roaming step, Francois tips his head in sharp, and unsympathetic gesture to follow, brooking no room no resistence. Not that Walter doesn't, as a general rule. Resist.


Walter is old enough to understand that the things he once thought lived under his bed and in the darkness of his closet are a fantasy — that what he should really fear is made of the same stuff he is. It may even be what compelled him to go looking in the first place.

He's old enough, too, to realize this conversation isn't going his way if he allows Francois to continue directing its course, and although he does not physically resist his lead, he decides he's going to rebel regardless. He changes the subject. "«How come you still wear your ring?»"

He is ninety, but twelve-year-olds still hold the capacity to catch Francois off guard — maybe them, more than anyone, adults being predictable creatures of habit. Boring, and hurtful. Too schooled to compulsively clutch at the little piece of jewelry or purposelessly hide it in a pocket, he can't quite help the look down at the boy as they begin their walk. His mouth twitches, the beginnings of a smile, but his eyes don't really support the warmth a smile needs — that is also predictable. "«'Divorce' is what the English do,»" is a joke he. Suspects the boy won't understand. It's probably not fairplay to verbally mislead a kid.

"It reminds me of better times, that is all," he settles on, in prim, firm English. "There is a reason we do not go seeking monsters."

Walter's grubby hands find their way into jean pockets and poke the tips of his fingers through the holes on the inside of his pants. "Maybe there wouldn't be as many of 'em if we did," he says. "There used t'be lions and tigers too. Lots. And then one day there weren't no more. Only reason we gotta live the way we do is because the council wants t'hide."

He lets the ring go even if the word divorce is a mostly unfamiliar one to him. It's harder for relationships to turn sour when human beings themselves don't have half the shelf life they used to. "Things'll be different when Mum lets me join Special Activities. You'll see."

That inspires a hand to go out and snatch the collar of Walter's sweater — it's not a harsh movement, smoothing into a small shove forward, the gesture appropriate to deal with a kid of twelve for all that Francois' expression is less forgiving, and the crispness in his voice is like that of a whip when he says, "Do not call the council cowardly. We hide to live and fight when it is necessary, and not for the sake of ourselves, but for you and your friends. I do not expect you to learn this now, but in time— " In time, he could grow into Teo, so. Francois leaves his point at that, own hands tucking into pockets as he moves.

"Besides," is a little gentler, "you will probably be grounded until you are my true age, and Special Activities no longer needs such heroes. Never mind what your mother will let you do."

There's something on the tip of Walter's tongue — either about his mother's inability to keep him grounded from beyond the grave, or maybe some not-so-innocent inquiry into Francois' true age, but he ultimately decides that talking back at this point is a Very Bad Idea. If the latter, there will be other opportunites to ask how old his father's ex-husband really is, which is older than he looks and old enough to have participated in a war that Walter's read about in books and occasionally heard referenced by Francois' peers.

He knows genocide is a dirty word and that once upon a time they made movies about it. By the time he can be called an adult, he might even understand. "She won't be the boss of me forever," is what he says instead.

"She will try very hard," Francois predicts, voice even coming across warm, a tone he reserves for a few people — and Walter is one of them. He allows them to lapse into silence, then, barring any more needling questions from the youth. Out of the mouths of babes, is one of those phrases that do not refer so much to the ridiculousness of what children have to say, but of their own wisdom — and of what adults do not say. But not necessarily what they do not think.

In the hidden recesses of his pocket, the ring is edged off his finger to drop into the inner seam of fabric, bare fingers curling into his palm. At least for the walk home.

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