Silver Bells and Cockle Shells


benji_icon.gif eileen_icon.gif

Scene Title Silver Bells and Cockle Shells
Synopsis With the necessary hoops jumped, a mildly very inebriated Eileen informs Benji of some new found freedoms.
Date December 7, 2010

Pollepel Island

Marks of ownership are slowly beginning to define the room as Benji's, new since the last one had its lock disabled. But in such temporary ways that it could be taken away again within a minute of picking up after himself. A dinner tray with used cutlery is stashed off to the side, and a chest contains several items of clothing he's been rotating through since he first arrived on the island. A blue scarf hangs at the end of his bed, snaking around the frame to dangle. The windowsill is home to several books to wile away the hours when he'd been confined to the room before, and now, he lounges belly-down on his bed as if entirely at ease with his surroundings.

Facing the door rather than the more conventional angle of sleeping, and he isn't. Sleeping. The lantern light casts just enough golden illumination for him to read by, propped on his elbows with a hand pinning open an old edition of The Secret Garden, other hand holding his chin. His feet are bare where they kick up a little, but he's dressed in comfortably warm clothes, with the addition of a woolen blanket draped over him, from shoulders to knees.

He isn't expecting company, but rarely expects to be always left alone either.

The sound of music has been floating down the corridor outside for several hours, distant and whispering — Benji thinks he can hear the antiquated tinkle of a dulcitone — but the wind in the trees outside his window is louder, accompanied by the patter of rain glancing off the glass. There was a violin, too, for a short time, though that has long since stopped, replaced by choruses of laughter and singing, a dull, ambient roar like a far-off ocean even if the edge of the Atlantic is more than fifty miles away.

The knock at the door, in comparison, sounds like knuckles are rapping against his skull and not the other side of the heavy wood barrier that stands between Benji and the rest of the world. Before he has the opportunity to respond, the handle turns, hinges fill his ears with groaning, and a small, pale hand seeks the edge of the door frame for support as a woman dressed in a combination of wool and leather, a heavy cardigan pulled over a functional dress with tall boots, stockings and a high collar that buttons at her throat but has been unfastened, exposing the lower half of her neck and the slope of her clavicle.

Her other hand grips a bottle of wine loosely between her fingers, and that the little robin struggling to remain aloft on her left shoulder has to flick its wings to keep its balance when she pushes inside the room is a better indication that she’s been drinking than the sweet reek of it on her breath.

Mister Foster,” sounds unnecessarily formal, a little stilted in spite of the drunken facetiousness beneath it.

Frances Burnett's adventures are temporarily put on pause when the door is creaking open, and looking up is mostly all that Benji has time to do between the rap of knuckles against wooden surface, and Eileen's slight frame appearing in the portal. His dark brows knit a little as he glances from her face, towards the distinct shape of the wine bottle, and neither of these things give him cause to be wary, at least. He hasn't been especially so, in the last few days.

He flips the book closed after dog-earing a page, turning the faded watercolour image of gardens and children to the bedsheet, and goes to fold his hands together as if they were placed upon a desk rather than his mattress, without making moves to roll out of his position.

"Hello," is polite; fills in the silence enough to prompt.

"Don’t worry," says Eileen, "I'm not here to seduce you," which is terrible reassurance considering this isn’t something that Benji probably has to worry about in the first place. The door clicks shut behind her, and she puts a visible amount of effort into making as little noise as possible. This translates to the soles of her boots brushing the cold stone floors under her feet and the rhythmic slosh of the wine in the bottle as she crosses the room, the tips of her fingers skimming along the edge of his bed in spite of her promise, all the way to the window, which she opens a crack.

Cold air washes over her face, and she fills her nose and mouth with it, picking up an empty glass that had been used for water and delivered with Benji's supper some hours ago. She angles it so the sparrow on her shoulder can dip its head, look inside and confirm that it is indeed empty before she begins pouring a generous amount of wine into the vessel, red as blood and almost as thick. "Would you like a drink?"

Oh my, is what raised eyebrows might communicate if her seeing-eye bird weren't more concerned with the path Eileen takes and the items she utilises, rather than Benji's expressions. "Hm," is neutral reply, now shifting enough to get his legs beneath him, folded, and come to sit on the mattress with that spilled nest of bed blankets making a comfortable moat. "Thank you." Answer enough, but Benji also obliges her by leaning to take the cup from her hand, able to smell the heady fragrance of red wine from here after days of rain just outside, plain food, mild teas.

"Is there a cause for celebration, downstairs?" he asks, watching her with a little fascination. She doesn't seem quite so stern, this way.

"Someone brought us a piano." That's not entirely accurate but spares Eileen from explaining the difference between one and the almost comically tiny instrument people are still taking turns at in the castle's dining hall. "I think we'll keep it in one of the common rooms.

"My next project's going to be a library, you know. Books." And she gestures with her hand still wielding the bottle to the copy of The Secret Garden on the bed beside him before setting it down on the window sill. As tempting as it is to drink directly from it, she's sober enough to recognize when she's had enough. "One of the rooms with a hearth, of course. We'll lay down a throw rug in front. Two armchairs and a sofa with a squat little table for putting your feet up. Sumter's a carpenter — or used to be. He can build the shelves right into the walls."

He brings the wine up to sip, never taking more than a teaspoon's fill at a time and eyes slightly hooded as he regards some empty corner of the room, listening otherwise. Then a glance towards the bottle, wondering if it's there to stay and the wisdom of partaking if it does, but isn't about to derail this particular path of conversation. "That sounds cosy," Benji comments, voice a little muffled as it's spoken into his wine, before lowering the vessel.

His discomfort is not something she needs to be able to see to sense. It's audible in the ice beneath his naturally gentle tone, the very minor hesitations before words that disguise some unspoken question, and the very deliberate evasion that should have come naturally, like asking what she's doing here instead of remaining amongst her peers and comrades.

The chill feels good. Eileen reaches up and tucks a stray strand of hair behind her ear that escaped from the knot at her nape at some point during evening and inhales the scent of rain, damp earth and wet rock, listening to the sound of water carve paths down the side of the castle. A flash of lightning with no thunder to accompany it illuminates the left side of her face in the same instant it spiderwebs across the sky, defining the edges of each roiling gray cloud.

The rain doesn't bother her. She might prefer to be standing out in it. "I wanted to tell you that, starting tomorrow, you're finished with the Adynomine." Whether this has to do with the infirmary's dwindling supplies or what Benji did for Nicholas she does not say, but there's an explanation on the tip of her loosened tongue that she has to bite back, then swallow. This time, she chases it with a mouthful of wine against her better judgement, and although she didn't need to consume her three or four glasses in order to find the courage to come up here, the alcohol certainly makes this easier.

"You can leave your room without supervision, go and do as you please, but not the island. I need you, if you would, to stay for a few more weeks. Will you do this for me? Benjamin?"

"Merry Christmas to me," is muttered, but not bitterly, now watching her from his perch on the bed once he slides to position himself on the edge, bare feet finding the ground. Crosses his legs at the ankles, cradles the glass full of red wine between hands and knees both. Though the smile that curls the corners of his mouth is small and slight, it's also compulsive and difficult to will away — not that he has an audience anyway.

It does dim, a little, at this last condition, head tilting quizzically and gaze cautious. Then, Benji pays his attention back down into his wine, shoulders at a stoop beneath the loose, warm fabric of grey wool. "'Benji'," he corrects, while he thinks, dragging his gaze towards the door, the faded cover of his book.

"I'm not objecting, but I'm curious… if this is still a security issue— ?"

"No one names their son Benji," Eileen admonishes in a quiet voice with more arrogance in it than its soft volume should allow. If she wasn't inebriated, she might have better control over how much of this bleeds through into her tone, but she is, and her accusation comes with a wry rasp of laughter from under her breath.

She wipes the corner of her mouth with her thumb. "It is," she says. "A security issue. Insofar as the council isn't yet confident that your friends won't betray our location to the government, but a few weeks is all you and I are going to need to convince them otherwise." That she's still in the process of trying to convince herself goes unsaid. "If you want to visit your friends in New York City, that can be arranged. On our terms."

"Mm." There's a pause, there, taken up with finishing off his wine, but does not yet go for a second as Benji steals himself a second to brace for the feeling of alcohol so swiftly coursing warmly through him. He tilts, set the glass aside, and graduates leg crossing to a knee over the other. "You and I," he repeats, and she can hear more than see the sentiment behind a raised eyebrow.

Interesting strategy, but then again, judging by Howard's particularly electric responses to Benji's situation, and even Nora's severe if misdirected threats concerning his well-being—

A slight roll of clear blue eyes at the memory, smile faded to nothing as he thinks. "Not every son grows up to be exactly what their mothers wanted," he argues, meanwhile, arms folding around himself. "And I would like my card back from your friend. If it goes missing— with that seal on it— it's more conspicuous anyway and if you have something to worry about, it would easily replaced."

"As you wish." Eileen swirls the wine around in the bottle, making a circular motion with her hand as she steps away from the window. Her robin tolerates the slight sway of her body in patient silence, except for a sharp peep of alarm when she almost veers into the bedpost. Her free hand goes out at the last moment to grip it, and even drunk there's a fluidity to her movements that makes this decision seem natural, as if she'd intended to swing halfway around it, using the post to support her weight by leaning into it the same way she'd utilized the door frame.

The robin shares a pleading, exasperated look with Benji. "Not a lot of people would have gone back to help him," she says, then, and not on the subject of mothers and sons. "Thank you."

There's a soft sound in reaction to the blind woman's unsteadiness, a hand twitching up like Benji might help, but ultimately does not. Mostly because she doesn't seem to require it, and he retracts that hand, curling knuckles to his chest and glimmering a faint smile to the beady-eyed stare of the bird. "He was humouring me and my walks. I would have felt terrible," he demures, and for all that sounds insincere on paper, there's a genuine emphasis beneath it. Maybe reading too much Victorian literature has this effect.

"What happens in a few weeks, Miss Ruskin? After I've earned their trust?"

"That depends on whether or not you enjoy working with us." On her next exhale, Eileen draws away from both post and bed. The robin watches Benji's hand rather than Benji himself, its little head cocked sideways when it lifts, then falls away again, but if the Englishwoman notices she does nothing to reassure him that she's all right.

Reassuring him means acknowledging there's something wrong enough for him to have noticed. She stops at the door and explores the its texture with her fingertips, following the feel of the grain with a breathy contemplative noise she makes at the back of her throat. "For the record," she says, "I sincerely hope that you do."

The cant Benji's head takes is minutely cynical, but his stare is assessing as he watches the woman make for the door, declining to stand and see her out when she very obviously knows the way herself. Pulling the hem of blanket up past his shoulders in comfortable warmth, he brings his hand up to his mouth like he might set teeth against the glassy edge of his nails, but doesn't quite make it there, habit repressed to simply touching his chin as he tries to think of his own set of words.

His thoughts, first, then words. "I— " He mostly says that so that she doesn't leave instead of waiting for him to speak, darting a quick, blue-eyed look back to her and earnestness making his quiet voice hitch in his throat. "I'd like to. Stay."

Eileen's fingers hook around the door's handle. She hesitates. He'll know he's caught her off-guard when she gives the handle the same amount of attention she provided the door itself, exploring its shape, which she curves along with the edge of her thumb. It's identical to the one she has in her own room, and there's no reason she should be so absorbed in it unless the handle isn't what has her entranced.

In real time, only a few seconds pass — up to the count of three — but the silence that settles over the room, muffled by the sound of the rain and the rustling of the robin's feathers, makes it feel much longer than that.

"You'll keep out of my head," sounds like it should be a demand, but her tone is that of a quiet request.

A breathy sound in reply, at first, and it's difficult to tell if it's a sigh and what kind of sigh it might be, or a repressed chuckle. Maybe just breathing. There's only a short amount of silence that transpires; shorter than her pause, and his thoughtful quiet a few moments prior — but it's a hesitation either way, of working out how best to speak.

Benji opts for something simple: "Yes." The mattress squeaks a little as he shifts to sit more upon it, lifting his feet up from the chilly floor, tucking them beneath bed covers. She won't know it, but he isn't watching her anymore — instead, he lifts his chin in a quietly proud sort of tilt, though likely it's not meant to communicate pride, ever unconscious, and watches the world outside through his window.

The handle turns, Eileen's bottle of wine clunks against the door frame with just enough force to echo in the rafters of Benji's room. "Yes," she repeats airily, abruptly distant, and this marks the conclusion of their conversation because in the moments that follow she's moving out into the hall and pulling the door shut behind her with a gentle, understated click.

It does not lock.

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