The Grand Scale


benji_icon.gif nick_icon.gif

Scene Title The Grand Scale
Synopsis Benji and Nick weigh up what it was all worth.
Date November 8, 2017

The Ruins of Pollepel Island

This late in the year, the usual picturesque trek up the river is a bleak and dreary affair. A few weeks earlier, the trees would have been dressed in an array of autumnal russets and golds, like ladies at a Victorian harvest ball; a couple weeks later, and they probably would have found the area blanketed in snow, making everything softer — cleaner. Today, the cold, gray sky is the backdrop for skeletal trees.

Bannerman itself resembles a dilapidated cemetery, the rubble left from the remnants of the castle so very like broken and cracked tombstones forgotten and left behind.

There is an actual cemetery here, but those who fell on this date six years before are not buried there. And so it isn’t toward the little plot of graves that Nick heads, after tying off the boat on the broken dock. He carries a bouquet of wildflowers, grown in a greenhouse of course. Hardly seasonal. He squints up at where the sun hides, its hiding spot given away by the muted glow, then begins a slow, walk to the broken remains of the courtyard.

The woman, already present, is hardly recognisable, and yet inevitably familiar. It isn't often that she attempts to dress finely, her lifestyle favouring coarser fabrics, pragmatic cuts, although she hasn't wandered far from her favoured palette of black and grey. But rather than a hooded jacket proofed against the rain, she wears a long coat of smooth, heavy wool, deep grey houndstooth, black fur at the collar and cuffs, lined in satin. The dress beneath is simple and black, a side slit giving her room to sit with a knee crossed over the other, sheer stockings disappearing into sensible heels.

Benji Ryans has dressed up for the occasion, but not for Nick, who is a surprise — but only just. At the sound of someone approaching, her posture starts to stiffen, until her mind catches up with her and reminds her that there are only a few people this could possibly be. When Nick appears, he confirms her best guess.

The courtyard is wild and overgrown, if less green than it might have been earlier in the year. Snowfall and wind and rain has long since washed away the site of bloodspill and bone, but they don't need such markers to know the exact spot that's drawn them into its orbit. Benji doesn't stand from where she's found a perch on broken castle ruin, but does offer a smile — of kinds. It's very subtle.

Next to her is a folded umbrella, and in her hand is a silver flask. It's the latter that she offers out, by way of greeting.

Nick is watching his feet, given the rubble that’s likely to turn an ankle, so when he looks up to find he’s not alone in his pilgrimage to this place. He startles just a touch, brows lifting and heart jumping, in that split second where it takes a moment for the brain to make sense of what the eye sees.


His breath, sucked in a second before, comes out in a plume of vapor and his smile echoes hers. Small. But not unhappy to find her here.

He takes the flask. “Cheers,” is offered in that British manner, before he takes a swallow, and hands it back.

Nick glances at the bouquet in his hands, looking a little uncertain of what to do with it, before leaning it against what remains of a wall. He moves to sit near Benji, an arm’s length away.

“It’s good to see you,” he offers quietly. “Even here.” Maybe especially here.

The liquor in the flask tastes like raw alcohol first, its finer flavour second, but longer lingering. Juniper and orange peel, as British as Nick's manner. Benji accepts the flask back into gloved hands but keeps it open for the moment, balancing it on her knee.

"And you," she says.

This seems like a bad time to catch up, as if they were meeting on a park bench and not where a family member plummeted to her untimely death during a military raid. On the plus side, Benji has never completely enjoyed the routine of small talk. The air feels cold in her lungs and her heart has been burning since she arrived. The steam of her breath on the air could be smoke. "I never thought about what this place would become," she says, instead, "when we came back to change things. Like it would be immune, or. Necessary, still.

"Which doesn't make any sense." She lifts the flask to sip from. When Nick had handled it, it had been half empty, which doesn't mean it was full at any time — but she's probably been drinking before he arrived.

Nick’s eyes hold fast on that spot that they last saw Eileen — where they each knelt by her, in the glitter of broken glass and rain. He nods as Benji speaks, before lifting his shoulder once in his usual half-hearted shrug.

“It makes as much sense as anything else I think,” he says, finally glancing back at her, a small smile curving his lips, a smile that’s more about commiseration than pleasure or humor.

“I think,” he says, slowly, as if trying to find the right words, “for me it’s only necessary if she was in this world, still. I can’t imagine it without her.” Which also doesn’t make sense, since they’re sitting in the middle of it. “I mean, as it was, then.”

He looks over to the remnants of the building. “It seems impossible it was just a year that the Ferry called this home.” He glances her way. “Is November 8 a terrible year every year in your history too?” There’s the smallest of smirks at the absurdity of the question — that their two histories are not the same, despite being, on paper, about the same age.

Setting the flask down, Benji wraps her arms around herself, gloved hands gripping the sleeves of her coat, her own series of characteristic gestures and postures unchanged by whatever she might be wearing, or the place she is in. She gives a soft mirthless laugh-sound at his question, a match to his smaller smirk.

"This is my history," she says, her tone a little hollow, oddly neutral. "Now."

She shakes her head, glances to him, follows his eye line. "In my other history," she says, foot rolling idly at the ankle, "Eileen was killed on a beautiful spring day, a decade more than she had in this time, sometime in April. Better flowers for occasions like this, I suppose.

"I'm sorry," after a second, and she means it, tone shifting from its aloof cadence to something quieter. Bitterness distilled over so many years doesn't mean it has to get on other people.

The news of Eileen’s other death surprises Nick and his brows draw together in an unhappy scowl. It’s not so surprising that she died, as he knows how terrible that future was, but that Benji chooses to tell him so.

This time, his gaze moves to the river for a moment, jaw tensing and untensing, before he speaks again. “I am, too,” he says, because Benji was obviously close to Eileen. Closer than to him.

There’s a lot to be sorry for.

“She deserved a better life than she got. No matter how many more years,” he adds, before looking back at Benji. “Do you think it was worth it? Coming here?” The question is genuine — no trap door hidden in its diction, no anger in its delivery. “On the grand scale, you know, not personally. Unless you want to answer about the personal level. Player’s choice.”

The silence that Nick's question gets could signify one of two options. That Benji has never thought about it before, or that Benji has thought on it far too much. From what he knows of his future's daughters nature, it wouldn't be difficult to divine which one. She swallows, and takes up the flask once more.

"On the grand scale," she wonders, bringing the flask up to her lips. Another modest sip. "I don't know how to answer that. I mean. Yes, I mean, yes, it was, of course. In my world, plagues wiped away people like tsunamis, and mechanical hunters killed Evolved in the street and left their bodies behind. Next year, international communities would be plotting to lay waste to our cities."

But they still didn't win. There was a war. Maybe a necessary war. And here they are, drinking over Eileen's grave.

"It doesn't feel worth it," she admits. "On November the 8th."

He listens, finding a thread on the cuff of his peacoat’s sleeve to pick off and drop onto the rubble at their feet. “Jesus,” he murmurs. He’s heard a few stories but never enough to truly piece together what the future would have held, if his daughter and her friends hadn’t come back to alter the path of their forefathers.

“I’m not sure I ever said it,” Nick says, a small smile lifting one corner of his mouth, “since — no offense — it didn’t necessarily feel like a good thing back then… all of your arriving.” The dreams. The flu. Finding out at 23, 24 years old that one has a child older than they are from a wasteland of a future.

“But thank you. It was brave.” His smile widens. “And on the personal level, I’m glad to know you. Be family.” Such as it is. Stilted and awkward.

Benji pauses, and then reaches out. She takes Nick's hand, and holds it, tangled together on the length of crumbled ruin they share as a perch. She would likely have said that it's Nick that knew Eileen better, that she only barely feels like she has a right to grieve, but it seems to matter less, all at once. She returns his sentiment, silently.

Stilted and awkward is fine. It's where she lives, most of the time.

"Ingrid has a flower shop," she says, idly. "And a wife. And as much as this place was my home, it makes a better monument. I just wish— "

The sentence cuts itself off, and she lets out a fluttery sigh. It's too obvious to even put to words. She squeezes his hand, and then goes to stand up.

Nick studies their hands together, idly thinking whether it’s his or Delia’s that Benji’s take after. He nods at the mention of Ingrid, one of the ubiquitous Ryans that he is tied to by Delia and Benji. He watches when she stands and follows suit.

“Do you have a way back home? I didn’t see another boat…” his words trail off and he turns a little to look off to the other places a boat might have landed, other than the one he’d rented for the day. “I’m heading back down to the city. You can come with, if you like. If not…”

He shrugs. It’s such a mundane thing to say, that feels so out of place in this cemetery of sorts. “Anything you want me to tell your mum?”

"Send my love," Benji says, a little formal, a little aloof, but not insincere.

She picks up the umbrella and opens it carefully, kept away so that it doesn't shower them both with the rain water gathered in its batwing folds. She brings it up to rest against her shoulder. "I'm going to wander," she says, a glance out at the ruin, the trees. Graveyards and gardens and broken rock. "My ride will be here soon enough. You should— "

Glancing to the flowers, she picks back up her flask and slides it into a coat pocket. "Have some time," is the phrasing she settles on. "With your thoughts, I mean. That's what you came here for."

Nick’s brows draw together and his eyes drop once more to that spot on the ground where they last saw Eileen. He nods once, in silent agreement that it is why he came, but he looks up again, his eyes seeking Benji’s.

“I’m glad we both did. I’ll only be a few minutes. In case you need your time here, too.” He smiles, and adds, “After your wandering.”

A hand reaches into the pocket of his peacoat, pulling out a slim and weathered volume of poetry. He won’t read aloud, but dips his head to read a few of the pages in a companionable silence with the memory of his sister.

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