So About Your Marriage (And Other Stories)


francois_icon.gif nathalie_icon.gif

Scene Title So About Your Marriage (And Other Stories)
Synopsis Nathalie comes to offer an ear to Francois and they both learn a few things about family.
Date May 18, 2019

The Bunker

There have been a lot of changes around Wolfhound lately. For Nathalie especially. But she isn't so buried in her own issues that she doesn't notice that other people are going through it, too.

Especially after the tea has been spilled.

She carries doughnuts with her as she knocks on Francois' office door. It's gentle enough to allow for him to ignore it, if he needs— or wants— to go uninterrupted. But she is determined to catch him at some point, even if he's unaware of the inevitability of the coming conversation. She hopes to handle it delicately, although historically that is not her strong suit.

The option to just let it be has not entered her mind. No one ever introduced her to The Beatles.

"Come in."

The sound of someone who is all too willing to be interrupted.

Behind the door, the office space harnesses mostly natural light through broad windows, warming up what could otherwise be a cold interior of concrete and steel, the decor in keeping with much of the rest of the Bunker. Modern austerity, which will stand in contrast to the raw brick and wood of the New York City offices, when they open.

That Francois never really decorated maybe catches notice in the context of why Nathalie is here — a few books cosy up to a set of glasses on a shelf, a few bottles of wine, make up all his personal touches. His actual living space is a little better, but not by much. As she enters, there is the scent of black coffee, and the barely detectable trace of past cigarette smoke.

"Hallo," is what he says, when he sees who it is. The open laptop in front of him is partially closed and slid aside.

"Hi," Nat says when she pops in the door, her smile gentle as she lifts up the box in her hands, "I brought snacks." She closes the door behind her and comes over to set them down on his desk like she might be laying a tempting treat just out of reach to lure out a shy animal. She even opens the lid.

But mostly that's so she can grab one before she sits down opposite him.

"I hope I'm not interrupting too much. I just thought we could talk some." She pauses, pulling a piece off her doughnut and even taking the time to eat it before she continues. "How are you?" she asks, in the tone of someone who already expects the answer to be a negative one.

Francois is naturally given to analysis when it comes to other people. Any aberration he might pick up of Nathalie's manner as she moves through the door, friendly and intent, might not be immediately attributed to an agenda so much as he can sympathise with not exactly knowing how they might socialise together, in wake of revelation, knowing that they might like to. He looks at the box of donuts and then up at her, tipping his head in invitation for her to sit, when she suggests that they could talk.

She has his focus, ready and willing to listen, mild and cardigany and grateful for the distraction from emails and spreadsheets, and maybe there's a little bit of figurative feedback when she turns such intent focus on him.

He takes a donut, with some degree of affected suspicion.

"Much improved now," he says, working pastry into two pieces, and regretting this immediately at the feeling of cloying sugary grease on his fingers. Hmm. "And non, you are interrupting nothing. Ça va?"

As Nathalie settles, she sets a small stack of napkins next to the box. "Good," she says, her smile brightening some— she'll take the compliment. "It's weird, right? Because I feel like I know you, but logically I know that's a bit of an illusion. Even if it weren't so long since you were carrying it, the memories are scattered. So sometimes I want to say something but don't because maybe it's too… personal." Her smile turns a bit wry there. What is privacy to someone who lives with other people's lives in her memory?

"All of this is to say that usually I don't know what to say, because the line is a little blurry. So I hope you'll forgive me if I run over it." It's just a warning, and one he needs because she barrels straight on. "I heard a rumor that there was some trouble with you and your husband. I wondered if you needed an ear." Hers, presumably.

Francois manages to eat half of his donut by the time Nathalie gets where she's going. His aura of patient, engaged listening seems to evaporate, an intangible shift in manners that externally looks like very little, a pause where stillness was already in effect. He doesn't blink. If he doesn't blink, then maybe his expression won't change and give away anything.

Of course, inside, there are klaxons going off, emergency drills in dramatic effect, flashing red light, mechanical flood-proof doors suddenly slamming down. Something critical has gone wrong, if Nathalie LeRoux is asking him about his marriage, in his office space, attached to the word rumour.

He sets his donut half down.

"Where did you hear that?" is not remotely the right thing to say in the context of empathy and understanding, as mild as he keeps his tone, but damage assessment is an immediate instinct.

"Francois," Nat says, her tone staying soft, her head tilting gently. His name is spoken in reassurance, rather than reprimand. "He has a roommate," she explains, because she doesn't want him to panic, "she's— we're re close. No one here knows anything. Except me, obviously." There's a beat during which it occurs to Nat that she could employ some give and take here. "She's my sister. Half sister. Emily, that's her name," she notes, "Emily Epstein."

She sets her doughnut down on a napkin, wiping off her fingers before she folds herself into the chair, arms resting on her knees as she looks over at him. Emily would probably say that she's crossed over into meddling now. "I just want you to know you have someone, if you needed some support."

Threat of panic — not that he, Francois Allegre, panics, haha — is at least temporarily put on hold as invisible math equations drift by his expression when a more complex pattern of happenstance and connection is inferred than he had initially braced for. He'd been drinking coffee when Nathalie had arrived, and reaches for his cup now — more for something to occupy his hands, a prop, than his concern that it's dropping to room temperature.

"How long have you known that? About your family," he asks — gently, genuine inquiry. In case she thinks it's not, he adds, "I'm not avoiding what you— I mean— it is as you say, we don't know each other in the practical ways people know each other. I would like to."

"Just a few weeks," Nathalie says with a soft sigh. "I had met Emily before, we were already friends. That's helped." She doesn't mind the detour, perhaps because of his reassurance that it isn't entirely avoidance. "My mother was a woman named Sarisa Kershner. By all reports, I have some very interesting parents."

That part is a little dry.

"It's a little weird, suddenly having names and faces. I'm not really sure what to do with it. It feels a little bit like I've slipped into someone else's life." That feeling hasn't been helped by the visions that they experienced several months ago. Other girls named Nathalie sometimes had family. She's come into hers a little late.

Sarisa Kershner is not a name that Francois has heard in some time. It's by virtue of the fact he is not much of an open book that he doesn't immediately emote surprise, although Nathalie may have the sense of a focus pulled in sharper, even more so than it was before.

As a result, there is a long pause after she finishes speaking, where it is Francois' turn to resume the speaking. He is instead just looking at her, a little mystified at the way this particular world operates, its machinations. It seems like a bad time to volunteer even more information about Nathalie's own origins, and equally a bad time to withhold it. "I knew Sarisa," is what he settles on. "And yes, she was quite interesting.

"But not bad, right," he says. "Weird, but not bad."

The pause is long enough for Nathalie to start filling in the blanks. She's heard stories from people about her mother, ones that don't paint her in the best light. Her expression starts to dim the longer he just… looks.

So the words he gets out, they surprise her. It shows in a slow blink and in her fingers running through her hair. "Not too many people have said that. You don't have to sugarcoat her for me," she says, her hands spreading out in front of her. "Avi is nicer about her now," she says, a slight, crooked smile forming at the corner of her lip. Just a hint. She's not sure if he does that for her sake or for his own piece of mind. Maybe both. "Anyway, she wasn't a mother to me, so it's, you know, fine."

It isn't fine.

Francois starts to speak, then seems to think better of whatever it is — or at least, the impulse, the phrasing.

"I would like to say of her that she followed the wrong path," he says, eventually. "I am not sugarcoating — it is difficult for me to speak very ill of her, actually, despite everything. She cared for me a great deal. I would have liked to care for her properly, to have saved her. It was not exactly a friendship between us — not romance, either," feels relevant to add, given context, the way he has spoken thus far, "but she and I perhaps latched onto a kinship."

Sarisa more than he, he thinks, by virtue of her ability, her own psychology, but he doesn't want to sound like he is distancing himself, pulling away. "Her ability allowed her to see into the past, and it was stronger with those she had a blood relation to. That is how we discovered it. We are separated by some generations, dating back I think to when I was still in France, I believe. But." There that is.

New York City

February 28, 2010

It's freezing in New York, a cold morning with a sky the colour of marble. Francois Allegre and Sarisa Kershner are alone, where no one else is foolish enough to come out in the frigid air. It gives them privacy. Clandestine meetings.

Personal ones, too.

"If— If you're not too busy, between sometime once you're moved in, and…" Sarisa's head shakes, brows furrowed and head downcast. She's awkward and it shows, it's not something that a woman so used to being in control will admit to, let alone acknowledge.

"I'd like to visit you, once you're settled in." The request comes a bit awkwardly stated. "I— I could talk to you about family," Sarisa's blue eyes flick up to meet Francois' stare, "my mother, your— your family. I… I don't know much of my family from— from your time." It sounds so weird to say, let alone admit.

The glass goes back up, like magic. Non-reflective, very unobstrusive, but indestructible, or so it might feel like. Only for as long as it takes for Francois to reach his hands out, gloved against the cold and another barrier against memory-seeking skin over the sleeves of her coat, a grip above the elbows and simultaneously formal and familiar. "I would like that very much," Francois says. "S'il vous plait. Outside of anything we owe each other, this seems an overdue thing."

They look the same age, or thereabouts. Maybe Sarisa even looks older, a touch, if younger all at once because she's awkward and Francois is less so. Reassuring. "Although," and his hands drop back down, "perhaps considering the Vanguard's current M.O., it should wait a time, non?" Reluctantly stated, as if maybe the risk is worth it.

Nodding her head slowly, reluctantly, Sarisa turns to offer her profile to Francois, arms folded and eyes now focused out on the water again, and the way it reflects the slate gray color of the skies overhead. With the growing chill in the air, the coming of spring feels like it's going to be a long ways off. By tomorrow, that pond will have frozen over again and be dusted with snow and ice skaters looking to enjoy the winter weather while it lasts. Tension crosses Sarisa's features as she considers the implications of hiding from Skoll and his men, letting the terrorists win as it were.

But Francois is as mortal as she is now, and she knows better than to take the risks the younger and more impetuous part of her wants to. It may taste bitter on her tongue when it comes out, but French isn't meant to always be a sweet language.


For now they can have that victory, and she'll let Francois have his life back.

Present day

"I didn't know she had children," he adds, a little lamely. "A child, I mean."

"I think I understand. When the timelines were… thinning or whatever, I had a glimpse of another life where she came back for me. Every orphan's dream, right? That they come back for you." Nat smiles there, but it's a little strained. No one came back for her in this life, after all. "But that version of her was aware, I think, that she didn't always make the best choices. I'm not sure how much it helped her, in the long run, but I like to think she at least made her choices fully informed." That makes her feel better about it, somehow, that Sarisa wasn't just playing games, but was trying for the best outcome she could manage. "I think she could have been. Saved, I mean, if we'd had the time."

It's her turn for a contemplative silence when he takes her through his connection to Sarisa, and therefore his connection to her. It strikes her as an odd happenstance that her mother saw into the past and that she does, too. For someone hungry for a bond between mother and child, that works fairly well . But, too, how she ended up so close to the family she didn't know she had, buried inside the family she's been trying to build for herself.

"Well, that seems fitting to me," she says, a warmer smile spreading across her face to match a sudden glisten in her eyes. She's aware of it, too, because she wipes at her eyes. "I've always had more affection for you than the others." She taps her temple, so he knows what others she means.

Francois knows he is tempering himself in a way that is probably not great. Disingenuous at best, actively harmful, sabotaging, at worst. He wants to care about Nathalie's feelings before his own feelings. He isn't entitled, he doesn't think, to the same rush of powerful kinship he had felt when she admitted to him about the conduits she harbours. The beginning embers of such a feeling are kept dim as he watches her with the same mild inquiry.

But there's that glimmer of eye water he can't hate himself enough to think isn't in some way positive, and he kind of reaches across his desk to flatten his hand on it, some breaking through the invisible divide even if he doesn't go and touch her. It is, in a lot of ways, an offer of comfort — and maybe underneath that, an offer of something else.

And smiles, an almost-laugh at this news. "That's kind of you," he says, "considering."

He has good memories. He's not sure they're the kind that would leave the impression necessary to be channeled through a Conduit. If he knew someone only through restless dreams, he's not sure how fond he'd become.

The offer is only considered for a moment before Nathalie reaches over to put her hand over his, her fingers wrapping around with a gentle squeeze. She could explain, of course, about the people in her memories. About the self righteous and the ambitious. About the fear and the privilege. The memories aren't often easy, but she's learned a lot about how honestly a personality shows during duress. But the explanation only comes in that squeeze of her hand and how her expression borders on grateful.

"I was supposed to be comforting you," she says after a lingering silence, "not the other way around." It's a tease, mostly, reminding him of her purpose with her words, but letting him off the hook with her tone. Her hand holds onto his, though, perhaps looking to give as much comfort as she gets.

Francois' hand squeezes back, smile crooked. Incidentally, it's the hand with the rings on it, the left one, as tradition dictates. That there are two is less traditional, for a man, but tells the whole story. Both are white-gold, gleaming grey, one plain and stately, the other inset with a band of sapphire. When his gaze dips to their hands together and at her reminder, that's where his gaze catches. He squeezes her hand again, and withdraws back to his side of the desk.

He could probably deflect this conversation. She is not needling him, only making an offer.

"I don't know that comfort is what would help," he says, after a moment of thinking through the things he could say. "Help me, I mean. If it is something I deserve. I don't know what you know about it." He allows himself an inquisitive eyebrow raise, because he desperately wants to know everything she might know but has a certain amount of pride against asking directly.

What does 'trouble with you and your husband' sound like, when filtered through hearsay? Perhaps it is witness account. Perhaps it is Teo's account, filtered by way of the littlest Epstein. Either way, it is a little like a wound you don't want to touch, but is begging to be scratched.

"Nothing specific," Nathalie says as she drops her hand back into her lap, "just that you aren't living together and Emily thinks it's about as bad as it gets. She mentioned divorce, but I think maybe that's her take on it?" She understands why Emily might see divorce in every fight, but Nat seems to be leaving a lot of room for nuance. Perhaps out of hope. Or kindness. "She didn't say why. It came up because she was commenting on how wrapped up she keeps ending up with people in Wolfhound." There's a few ties there to the younger Epstein, poor girl. "Not because she was gossiping, exactly. Not on purpose.

"But. I think relationships are complex enough that everyone involved deserves some comfort. When it gets rough, I mean." She takes the long view, out of necessity. She herself has the possibility of a very long life ahead of her and she can imagine that love only gets stranger the more you deal with it. And it's fairly strange to begin with.

The word 'divorce' garners zero outward reaction, save for the fixed nature of Francois' focus, which could go unnoticed, save for how she had picked up on his internal response a few minutes back. Nathalie's qualification of subjective accounts and unreliable narrators arrives late, despite living in the same sentence, his imagination leaving the station and already halfway en route to a whole other conclusion that is only more accurate due to random chance rather than sensible deduction. He manages to arrange his expression into something like it agrees with her, as to Emily not gossiping, or anything too nefarious or involved.

Sure, whatever, what if His Husband wants to divorce him though.

But we're not dealing with that right now.

He has to stop and replay the last thing she just said, pulling himself back. "Thank you," he says, unsure if that's the right thing to say, but it's what he has after scrabbling around in his brain for some words. "It's kind of you, I mean. We're not divorcing, or we haven't. Started divorcing. We haven't spoken of it yet," is admission, trying to land somewhere that approximates truth. "We've been separated for a while. I think until a couple of months ago, we hadn't spoken in person for about a year.

"Teo believed this was fine, and I did not. And I handled it badly." Certainly, Francois never brought him in for social Wolfhound gatherings — the ones he himself even attended, anyway — or just to the Bunker. And he'd lived in the Bunker, with the occasional departure too infrequent to suggest otherwise. If it wasn't for the rings on his hand, it'd be easy to have missed the memo that he'd been married at all.

He adds, wry, too cynical and flippant for how he actually feels, "So we will see."

"You can't just see, Francois," Nathalie says, her arms folding on the desk as she looks over at him, "you have to, you know, fight for what you want. I mean, not fight fight, but you know. If you want to fix it, you gotta get in there. It won't fix itself."

This is a pep talk. It is possible that she's not very good at them. But she remembers a lesson another her learned from her mother. That people don't get what they deserve, they get what they fight for.

"That's… if you want to fix it," is added with a little sheepishness. "It would be nice to see you happy, like deliriously happy, even if it doesn't go with your aesthetic." Her words come with a little smile— an attempt at something more lighthearted.

This a pep talk, and part of him resists, says that Nathalie is much too young — in spite of her wealth of memory, the old nature of her soul — to either understand what she's talking about or to develop a salient opinion. Another part of him points out that age hasn't exactly done him any good, in this arena.

This last part — a call out — startles a smile out of him, despite the anxious tension recently knotted up around his heart. It would probably be inaccurate to say that Francois shyly looks askance, but it comes across that way, nearly. "It has been known to occur," he says, of delirious happiness, even if he thinks maybe such things come to him by proximity and absorption of the delirious happiness of others, sometimes. That there'd been a time when he had certainly gotten that from Teo.

"I do wish to fix it. I intend to fight," he does say, finally — still with the impulse to reassure than be reassured. "I do, I am just in the midst of strategic retreat."

This is a lie, because he has formulated ten possible text messages in the last two minutes, but it's a lie he believes.

"I feel like we are all very belatedly taking care of our own houses," he says. "The war was longer, for Wolfhound, than for most."

"Good," Nathalie says, and she seems to relax some into her chair. She even picks her donut back up. "I'm sure when he knows you want to fight for it, he will, too." As to the actual work of fixing a marriage, she doesn't have any advice for that. There are some things even her unique situation doesn't give her insight into. Or rather, she knows enough to know that everyone's situation is different enough that any advice she might have buried away would be too vague to be useful.

She ends up not taking a bite of her donut, though, because those last words bring around a more sober expression. "That's true. And it's hard to be a warrior and anything else at the same time. We're not at war now, though." For now, anyway. The thought brings a frown to her face, because it isn't like they've chosen a particularly peaceful existence, either. "I hope it works out, Francois."

'It's hard to be a warrior and anything else at the same time.' Is that what Francois means? It stands to reason that it's what Francois means, but he's not so sure. The narrative of him grimly devoting his entire self to the cause while Teodoro toils away on his farm while pining for his husband off being heroic, staring at that self-same starry sky, or perhaps, worse still, doesn't mind it out of empathy— well, it all feels a little off to him, by a factor of degrees.

He desperately wanted to be a warrior and anything else, for starters. Thinks he could have been. Thinks Teo saw it differently.

Francois' attention seems to drift, having lapsed into a silence when it's his turn to speak. She says his name, though, and he responds with a quick, crooked smile. "Merci," he says. "I think when we both want it to, it will. And thank you for…" He splays his hands a little, to indicate the general circumstance, as distinctly uncomfortable as it might feel, as it might have been for her to knock on the door. But he says, making a joke, "The donuts."

The thanks get a nod in return, but a moment later, Nathalie seems to feel like that isn't enough. She gets up from her seat to cross over to his to give him a quick but warm hug.

"Anytime," she says as she straightens, but given the joke, she speaks with a dry sort of tone and a crooked smile. "If you ever need a donut run, you know where to find me." Which is certainly true, but it's more likely that she means more than just donuts. Company. An ear. "And if you need someone to yell at your husband, I'm good for that, too," she adds, her own joke. Mostly. She probably wouldn't actually yell.

The hug is a surprise, when perhaps it shouldn't be — but a surprise that doesn't lurch all the way into startle, or anything, he's not that awkward. He isn't on his feet before she rounds the desk, but his hands come up, alight on her arms, and Nathalie withdraws before Francois can return affection more than only that. He does take her hands as she speaks, though, his expression a little warmer.

A mild smile breaks into a quicker grin at the offer. "In the case of emergency," he concedes. "And…" Francois trails off, initially, as of doubting the next thing he says, but it is too late, anyway. He squeezes her hands. "I did not know Sarisa very well, but if you had any questions, or if you simply wished to talk of her, or anything like that—

"You know where to find me. Any time."

Nathalie curls her hands around his, her expression dimming, but shifting to something more sincere at his offer. "Thank you," she says softly, earnestly, glad for someone who thinks well of her mother. She doesn't say more, but settles back across from him to be a bit of quiet company while he works. Not one to drop a bomb and run, generally, but at least she knows how to be quiet.

It helps, too, that this is where the donuts are. But that's probably just a bonus.

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